The words came like a long-awaited awakening from a deep slumber. Seth had forgotten what it felt like to wait for things to happen. He'd distanced himself from that feeling, no matter how much he'd desired specific outcomes in the past. It seemed better to let things happen naturally.
And Thanksgiving was supposed to be about family, the most natural thing of all, right? Wasn't he supposed to be okay with letting things develop? But no, not this time, because this time he'd spend time with his cousin. Not his cousin by birth, of course. Seth and his sister Sora had no blood kin left. Their adoptive father's sister's family would be coming. Seth wasn't related to any of them, but still . . .
Gabriel Fjeldsted was the first one to walk in. He was a tall man, with grey-speckled brown hair. It had been several years since Seth had seen the man, though looking at him now, Seth could see the ways his uncle Gabriel had influenced his opinion of what handsome was. The man had a stoic posture, but his eyes were kind. Gabriel was the kind of man you wished your father was, because he loved you well and disciplined you fairly.
Seth wished all parents could be like that, and was glad he had also been lucky enough to have had two sets of good parents.
Gabriel was the first to speak, even though it was Gregory McAllister, Seth's father, who had opened the door. "Gregory, it's been so long!" Gabriel exclaimed, dropping his bag and wrapping Gregory in a hug. He soon switched to Seth's mother and embraced her as well. "Tasha . . . you're looking quite well."
"You do too," Gregory said, immediately reaching for the handle of the bag at Gabriel's side just as Gabriel's hand reached out to grab it again. "Please, let me take that bag from you," Gregory insisted. Gabriel retained his grip, and Gregory went on, "Oh, come on now, don't fight me. You're our guests and I'm helping you."
Tasha greeted the next person at the door and took her bag; a young, beautiful woman with long, dark hair and an athletic build. Angie could kick your ass, and you wouldn't be surprised in the slightest. "Angie," Tasha said, waving Angie forward, "come on. I'll show you to the guest room. It's so good to see you."
"Yes, it's good to see all of you," Gregory said, looking between Angie and Gabriel. "But you seem to be missing one of your number. Where's . . . oh there he is."
A scrawny youth stood in the doorway carrying three large bags. He'd carried the most luggage inside, looking like he had simply drawn the short straw and was trying to be a good sport about it. Despite his grunting at the three bags in his hands, he smiled as soon as he saw Seth and unceremoniously dropped all of them.
"Clint!" Seth exclaimed, rushing to greet his cousin.
"Seth!" Clint replied, greeting Seth with a huge embrace and pulling him tight. "Fuck, it's been too long—"
"Clint!" Gabriel snapped.
"Oh, there's no need to worry about that here. He won't offend us," Gregory interjected on Clint's behalf.
"You're just like your sister . . ." Gabriel said, chuckling softly to himself. Sadness had crept into his eyes while Seth wasn't looking, and his uncle's expression was still conflicted as he turned his eyes back on Clint. "Clint, you can curse here, but you better not do anything to ruin your cousins' reputation while you're here."
Even as Clint nodded with a mischievous grin, his sister Angie poked her head around Tasha and asked. "Is Sora here?"
"She had to work, but she'll be back later tonight," Tasha replied. "Don't worry, she's excited to see you too."
"Clint, you'll be bunking with Seth, is that okay?" Gregory said.
A moment of indecision flashed across Clint's face before he turned that same broad grin on Gregory. "Yeah. It should be fine."
"Come on, I'll show you up," Seth said, wondering what that expression had meant. They quickly gathered the bags Clint had been carrying and took them to the proper rooms before Seth finally guided Clint and the last piece of luggage to his own room.
Seth set Clint's luggage near the door and gestured around the freshly cleaned room. "I set up a sleeping bag so you can have the bed if you want," he said, pointing at the red sleeping bag on the floor beside the bed. "I hope you won't mind stepping over me if you need to get out at night."
"We could just . . ." Clint started, then stopped, staring at the bed with the same conflicted look as he had worn at the entryway.
Seth wondered if Clint already knew the secret he had to tell. Of course, it wasn't really much of a secret anymore. Seth spoke openly about many things on social media, though he had never officially come out to anyone but his family and friends.
Still, Clint deserved to know the truth if they were going to be staying in the same room together. Or, at least that was the way Seth saw it. "If you're about to suggest that we share the bed, you might want to reconsider that in a minute."
"What do you mean?" Clint asked. He was avoiding Seth's gaze, looking anywhere but his cousin's eyes.
"I . . ." Seth began, hesitating for just a moment. He had to get this over with, and the sooner the better. Taking a deep breath, he said, "Well, I'm bisexual, and I'm currently in a relationship with a guy from my school. His name is Foster."
Clint's eyes widened in shock, and he turned to Seth with a slight smile. "Heh . . . and you think I might not want to share a bed with a bisexual guy?"
Seth shrugged. "Basically."
"Well, I have actually done that a few times. His name is Travis," Clint said, but there was a glint in his eyes that showed he was up to something. Seth had long ago learned to read that look, as Clint was famous for his mischief.
"Wait, you're dating a guy too?" Seth asked cautiously, unsure if he was being set up for a joke or not.
Clint shook his head. "Travis and I aren't dating. He's just my best friend."
"Oh . . ." Seth said slowly, still guarded, "so you're not gay or bisexual?"
Clint flashed a satisfied grin and said, "Oh, I totally am gay. Travis just isn't my boyfriend, heh."
They shared a laugh, and the tension finally broke between them. Seth couldn't believe his luck. He had been so worried about this conversation, but it had gone in a direction he hadn't expected.
"Seems like we have a lot to talk about," he observed.
Clint nodded enthusiastically and replied, "Definitely. My boyfriend's name is Zane, by the way."
"Cool! You have to show me a picture!" Seth said excitedly. "It's been what, three years? Who'd have thought we'd both end up dating guys?"
Clint grinned at that and said, "Especially with you dating Foster."
"What?" Seth asked with surprise.
"Dude, the last time we came over here for Thanksgiving it wasn't long after you two had your falling out, you know," Clint said, "When you were ten or something?"
"Fuck . . ." Seth said, putting his hands to his cheeks to cover his flush of embarrassment. "So, you probably thought I was some homophobic little shit."
Clint sighed, then nodded reluctantly. "I mean, you did tell me everything."
Seth groaned, then spoke with a sheepish smile. "Yeah, he and I talked about that. I'm honestly surprised that he was willing to let me back into his life after what I did to him."
Clint's smile faded entirely, and his eyes showed some internal conflict Seth couldn't identify. "Well, people have different reactions to trauma," Clint said gently.
"Yeah . . ." Seth said, his own mind drifting to Foster. There was a lot of truth to those words, from both Seth's own experience, and that of his boyfriend. "Sounds like you have a story there."
"Sounds like we both do," Clint said, noting Seth's expression.
Someone knocked on the open door behind them, and they turned together to see Seth's dad standing there. "Boys, I hope you're ready for dinner," he said, smiling warmly. "We just finished setting the table, so it's time to start."
"Yeah, definitely," Seth replied. "We'll be down in just a minute. I just need to go wash my hands."
Mr. McAllister nodded and left with a smile. Seth beckoned for Clint to follow him and moved down the hallway toward the bathroom so they could both wash their hands.
"Do you know what we are having?" Clint asked as Seth stepped up to the sink.
"I cooked, actually," Seth said proudly. "Well, Mom helped, but I made the entrée and one of the sides. We'll be having some grilled teriyaki chicken with pot-stickers, fried rice, and a few vegetable sides Mom made. We've been keeping them all warm in the oven since we heard that your rental car showed up late."
Clint moaned softly at the mention of all the different foods, and said, "It all sounds delicious."
"You won't be disappointed, trust me. But I guess this means we'll have to share stories later," Seth replied as he finished at the sink and stepped back, giving Clint room.
"It's a date," Clint said, then added with that typical twinkle in his eye, "A platonic date between unrelated cousins who both have boyfriends, that is."
Seth snickered loudly at that and said, "As weird as ever, I see."
"You know it," Clint laughed.
After eating dinner, the two boys returned to Seth's room. Both were satisfied by the meal, though Clint wasted no time in flopping back on Seth's bed, patting his stomach, and exclaiming, "That dinner was so fucking good!"
"I'm glad you liked it," Seth replied, beaming at the praise of the dinner he'd cooked.
"I need the recipe so Dad can make it," Clint said, sighing contentedly. "I need more of that chicken in my life."
Seth grinned and said, "I'll make sure to send you home with a copy. Or I could just take a picture of the recipe and text it to you."
Clint sat up, fluffing one of Seth's pillows before returning it to its proper spot. He turned to Seth at last, and asked, "Why don't we text more?"
"I don't know. We should," Seth replied.
"Really though . . ." Clint said, grinning. "Like, how are we not already best friends?"
"You live in Colorado and I live in New York, and we only just realized how much we really have in common?" Seth replied with a shrug.
"But we . . ." Clint began, but after a moment he nodded and changed direction. "You have a point, but that shouldn't stop us. I still text my friends from Salt Lake every so often. I should be able to spare some time for my cousin."
"Your 'unrelated' cousin," Seth said, struggling to maintain a straight face as he stared intently at Clint.
"You know that I just meant 'unrelated by blood' right? Fuck, dude, you're family. I never meant anything else," Clint said, standing and offering Seth a hug.
"I know," Seth said, accepting the embrace and laughing. "Just giving you a hard time."
Clint playfully pushed Seth away and stuck out his tongue. When they finally finished laughing, Clint said, "So, Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and then we have the whole weekend to hang out."
"What are the chances I'll get to meet Foster?" Clint asked.
Seth sighed and said, "About the same as the chance of me meeting Zane."
"Is he gone for the weekend?" Clint asked.
"Yeah," Seth said, frowning. "He has family in Virginia, and he needs to be with family right now."
"His brother died recently. They need some time to grieve, even if the guy was a total bastard," Seth replied, smiling weakly. He didn't feel the smile, but he wanted to reassure Clint that the serious statement wasn't affecting him personally.
Still, Clint latched onto the emotion behind the statement and asked, "Does that mean I get the story now?"
Before Seth could respond, Angie walked into the room and fixed Clint with a stare. "Clint, have you seen my phone?" She asked. There was a bit of accusation in her voice, as well.
Clint shook his head, his expression innocent and his tone concerned as he replied, "No, Ange. Did you leave it in the kitchen maybe? I know you had it when you were getting a slice of that cake."
Angie's face scrunched up in disgust, and she said, "I don't eat cake."
"Liar," Clint said.
Angie glared at him. "Jerk." She stuck her tongue out and left. The sound of her descending the stairs soon followed, and Seth heard her ask someone in the kitchen if they had seen her phone.
Instead of listening for a response, Seth asked, "What was that about?"
Clint shrugged and said, "Twins being twins. Close the door."
"What? Why?" Seth said.
"Just do it," Clint insisted.
Seth did as he was told. When he turned around, Clint was pulling his shirt over his head and tossing it on the foot of Seth's bed. He then went to his luggage and started rummaging through it.
"Why are you taking off your shirt?" Seth asked.
"So I can put this one on," Clint said triumphantly, pulling a light blue blouse from the luggage.
"Is that one of Angie's blouses?"
"Yeah," Clint said, then started slipping into the shirt. The twinkle in his eye was back, suppressed somehow during his interaction with Angie, and he nodded toward the bed. "Hey, would you grab her phone from under your pillows?"
"What . . ." Seth said, then shook his head, unsure of what he was walking into. Nevertheless, he went to his bed and retrieved Angie's phone exactly where Clint had said it would be. He tossed it to Clint and asked, "What are you planning?"
"Angie's boyfriend, Parker . . ." Clint said, scrolling through the contacts on Angie's phone and then showing one to Seth. He was a very attractive boy, about their age. After showing the picture, Clint opened the camera on the phone and said, "I want to give him a surprise."
Clint lifted up the edge of the blouse suggestively, as if he was trying to seduce Seth by showing a bit of skin around his navel. He held the phone close, making sure to get just the blouse, his skin, and the top of his jeans in the shot. "Just gotta get the angle right and . . ." He made a couple minor adjustments to how he was holding the camera, and then snapped the picture, "there we go."
"Oh no, you're not going to . . ." Seth began, catching on to Clint's plan at last. Parker was going to be in for a surprise when he received the text.
"Definitely am," Clint replied, grinning as he sent the picture to Parker. "Now I just have to text 'thinking of you', unbutton my pants and take another pic."
Clint did as he said he would, quickly setting the stage for another picture. Once he had it, he sent it along with the other one. After a moment, the phone vibrated. Clint checked the message log again, and his eyes widened with delight.
"Oh boy, he thinks I'm Angie . . ." He said, suppressing a snicker.
"How do you know?" Seth asked.
"Because he just said 'I thought u were mad'," Clint replied, showing Seth the text. "Sounds like them."
Seth sighed and sat on the bed, wondering at the amount of trouble Clint might be in when this was over. Clint had always been somewhat notorious for mischief, but that had also meant that his father let him get away with a lot. Of course, Clint's father would be the least of his worries this time. Seth would be far more afraid of Angie.
"What are you going to do now?" Seth asked.
Clint started typing, then looked up. "I'm sending 'still am, but getting over it', and let's give him more pubic hair in that shot," he said, taking another picture. He was careful to keep the hem of his underwear out of the shot, folding it in so that the brand logo would not be visible. Of course, that simply allowed for more pubic hair to get in the shot.
He handed the phone to Seth and turned around, pulling his pants down slightly as he asked, "Would you mind taking a picture of my ass? Has to be the right angle so it looks like breasts."
Seth took the phone, shaking his head in amusement. "This is the weirdest platonic date between unrelated cousins who both have boyfriends that I've ever been on," he said with a grin. After a moment, he shrugged and held the camera in position and took a picture. "But sure."
"Did you get it?" Clint asked excitedly, still holding his pants down.
Seth stared at Clint's ass for a moment longer, then quickly said, "I think so."
"Hell yeah!" Clint said, turning around without pulling his pants the rest of the way up. He looked over the photo and then cackled madly. "Perfect. I'm going to send it."
"What happens next?" Seth asked.
Clint flashed Seth another grin and then reached for the doorknob, finally adjusting his pants. "I put the phone back in Angie's room and pretend I know nothing."
"She'll totally know it was you," Seth said.
Clint shrugged as if it didn't matter and replied, "The point is for her to not have proof. Got somewhere to stash the blouse?"
Seth sighed and nodded. Before Clint left, he took off the blouse and threw it at Seth, then ran out of the room shirtless, closing the door behind him. He was gone for less than a minute, and when he returned, he was panting heavily as if he had run the whole way.
"Did you place it somewhere good?" Seth asked.
"Yeah, but I have to get out of these pants now too. I brought some that are the same color, but the clasp is different," Clint said, rummaging through his luggage again.
"You really thought this through," Seth observed with wide eyes. In past years, Clint schemes had often blown up in his face, and quickly. Of course, there remained many holes in this one to be exploited, and at any point things could go south.
"Pranks between Angie and me are legendary," Clint said, triumphantly holding up the pair of pants he'd mentioned. He unzipped his current pair and lowered them to his ankles before stepping out of them. "I hope you don't mind me stripping in front of you," he said as he stood in just his boxers, grinning at Seth.
"I hope you don't mind me looking," Seth replied, and then took one very long, obvious look across Clint's entire body. Clint was a bit scrawny, though there was some tonal definition to his legs and arms, the product of long hours climbing rock walls. His chest and abs were both beginning to show a bit of definition too. Clint's overall appearance was only average, but the way his smile lured you into his soul . . . that sent his attraction through the roof. If Clint weren't family, Seth would have sprouted a full boner, instead of only going to half-mast. "It's purely platonic," he said confidently, not worried about hiding his partial erection from Clint. "I promise."
"Whatever," Clint said, his eyes knowingly darting to Seth's crotch. Their eyes met, and a moment of understanding passed between them. They were on the same page; feel free to look, but don't touch. "I'd do a show for you," Clint said slowly, "but that'd probably cross the line."
'Probably'. That was the word Seth focused on, and in Clint's eyes, he read the question. Clint was giving Seth an opening to redefine the line, but that he would only be willing to redefine it somewhat.
"Well, we're not related, so . . ." Seth began, then shrugged. He decided to be candid. "The only line it actually crosses is the boyfriend line. I just want to be clear that, if circumstances were different . . . I have no problem telling you that you're attractive. If you were to do something like that, I'd enjoy it, but Foster probably wouldn't."
"Thank you, Seth," Clint replied, nodding. "I feel the same way. Tonight, the best you'll get is a cuddle. And it might be accidental, because I just tend to do that. "
"Does that mean we're sharing the bed?" Seth asked.
"I'm down if you are," Clint said, then stepped into his new pair pants. He quickly stashed the other pair at the bottom of his luggage and went to retrieve his shirt. As he passed near Seth, he caught Seth's eye and said gently, "I trust that all this flirting really is just you and I trying to act normal around each other?"
"It was," Seth said.
"Good. Because even though you're attractive, you're still family, blood or not," Clint said. There was an unspoken 'but' to that statement, one Clint hinted at with his eyes.
"I agree," Seth replied, his eyes momentarily taking in the sight of Clint's still bare torso before returning to Clint's eyes. But . . .
"Fuck . . ." Clint said, pulling his shirt on and sitting down next to Seth. "I thought these conversations would be a lot more awkward."
"To someone listening in, they probably would be," Seth replied. Especially if they could see our eyes right now.
"It's good to see you again, Seth," Clint said after a moment.
Seth nodded. "You, too, Clint."
Clint playfully bumped his shoulder against Seth's, then nodded toward the floor as they heard Angie yell something unintelligible from downstairs. "I figure I have roughly ten minutes before she finds her phone and the madness starts. Do you want to start on Foster's story?"
Glad of the opportunity to think about anything other than the sexual tension in the room, Seth said, "Sure. It all started earlier this year . . ."
Foster stumbled from the bed, his black hair matted to his face in a fierce sweat. He rushed to window and pushed it open, panting as he sucked in the night air. The cold bothered him, but he couldn't be in that bed any longer. Didn't want to be in this room, or even this body.
"Hey, are you all right?" Seth asked, jumping out of bed to rush to Foster's side. Cool March air instantly pebbled Seth's bare skin and chilled the sweat he had worked up less than thirty minutes ago during their lovemaking.
"Yeah . . . y-yeah, j-just g-give me a m-minute . . ." Foster said between breaths, nearly gasping each word. He swooned momentarily and fell, his head narrowly missing the windowsill on his way down.
"Foster!" Seth said, reaching out to catch him.
Foster scooted back, throwing a hand up to stop Seth. "Don't touch me!" He yelled.
"Okay . . ." Seth said, reminding himself that this was not about him. Foster had anxiety attacks every now and then, and while Seth originally had taken it personally, Foster had explained that it was not Seth's fault. This had allowed Seth to be more supportive, and he was grateful for Foster's reminder regardless of his tone. "Um, can I get you anything? Some water?"
It took Foster a moment to answer. "Yes, water w-would be nice."
Seth picked up a glass from earlier, still on Foster's nightstand. He entered Foster's bathroom and filled the glass from the bathroom tap before returning to Foster's side. He knelt a short distance away and set the water between them.
"Here you go."
"Thank you," Foster said weakly, reaching out and taking the glass. He put it to his lips and sipped, coughed, then sipped again.
Seth studied him in the moonlight streaming through the window. Foster's eyes were red and puffy, as if he'd been crying. He shuddered every so often, though whether from the cold or his anxiety, Seth couldn't tell. Seth wanted to comfort him, but there was nothing he could do but stay there and wait.
He should've known better. He did know better. He knew that Foster needed to sort things out before he could talk about it. That didn't stop the wanting, though.
"I'm sorry," Foster said suddenly, "about before. I didn't mean to yell at you."
"It's okay. I just want to know how to help you," Seth said quietly.
Foster didn't respond immediately. When he did, his voice was quiet. "I don't know what anyone can do."
"Can you tell me what happened?" Seth asked.
"I had a nightmare," Foster replied, then shook his head, frowning. "Except . . . I was awake. It was like an anxiety attack but worse than any I've had before."
"Like a hallucination?" Seth asked cautiously.
"Not really. More like . . . I felt my body responding to . . ." Foster trailed off, then sat up, pulling his knees to his chest as he continued to stare out the window. The moonlight hit him directly, and Seth was certain Foster was looking at it.
"To what?" Seth asked.
Foster closed his eyes and breathed deeply before responding, "It's because we had sex, Seth."
"This is the fourth time we've had sex, Foster. Why was this different?" Seth asked.
Foster didn't answer for several seconds. "Probably because I bottomed for you."
"You did seem nervous about that. But why did that trigger something?" Seth asked. "If you're willing to talk about it, that is. I don't want to pressure you."
Foster hesitated, then met Seth's eyes and uttered a single, pained word. "Royce."
"Royce?" Seth asked. Royce was Foster's brother, and one of the worst people Seth had ever known. While it had been years since Seth had interacted with Royce, the older boy was notorious around school; even more so in recent memory. He had been arrogant and selfish, up to the point of raping another boy at school. He was now in jail, his trial pending.
"Seth . . ." Foster said. "Seth. Could you go get my weed?"
"You want to smoke right now?" Seth asked.
"If I'm going to have this conversation, yes," Foster replied a tad forcefully. He raised his hand in apology and added, "And yeah, I know you don't like me doing it all the time. It's not that, this time, I promise. I'm not trying to avoid anything, I just want it to relax me a little while so I can explain."
"Okay," Seth said, rising to his feet. "You're cool if I don't smoke any though, right? I'm not really feeling it."
"I never want you to do anything that you don't want to do. Consent is super important to me," Foster replied.
"Right. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have even asked," Seth replied, smiling. He moved over to Foster's desk and opened the bottom drawer. He withdrew a small bundle comprised of an old beanie wrapped around a mason jar full of laundry dryer sheets, two bags of weed, and a small, blue, glass pipe.
"It's okay, I just . . . I only need a little," Foster said as Seth returned to his side.
"Okay," Seth replied. "Do you want me to load your pipe for you?"
"That'd be great. Just a pinch, really. Just enough to help me calm down," Foster replied appreciatively.
Seth began the process of grinding the weed between his fingers and loading the bowl of the pipe. He followed Foster's instructions exactly, making sure to only take a small pinch, then held it up for Foster's confirmation that the amount was appropriate.
Foster nodded, and Seth handed him the pipe. "I'm glad you've stopped doing so much of it," he said.
"Me too," Foster replied. "I don't crave it like I did for a while, but it still helps with my anxiety. I wish I didn't feel like I had to use it at all, but . . . well, maybe I just don't want to stop completely."
Seth suppressed a sigh and said, "I understand. I'm not going to pressure you either way. You know that."
"And I appreciate that," Foster said, then reached out and took Seth's hand for a second before letting go. He took a moment to grab the lighter from the windowsill next to his incense burner, then proceeded to smoke his bowl. When he was done, he set everything on the windowsill to air out.
"I'm going to get right to it. I don't think I'd benefit from beating around the bush on this one," Foster said as he turned toward Seth. He locked gazes with Seth as he stated plainly, "Royce used to rape me."
Seth staggered under the weight of that statement. "He what?" he asked with surprise.
"When we were younger. Started around the same time that you and I . . . we had that falling out," Foster said, shifting uncomfortably. "He found out I was gay about that time and figured he could use me. Royce was always an asshole, even before what he did to Griffin."
By the time Foster was done, Seth was shaking with anger. "I'll kill him," he growled. "I'm going to fucking murder him."
"He's in jail, Seth. I appreciate you coming to my defense and all, but it's not like you can do much to him where he's at, and at least he's being punished for some of it," Foster said gently.
After a moment, Seth nodded. Foster was right; Royce had already been taken care of. That left Seth to help Foster, and that was a task that was far more manageable. "So . . . when we, earlier . . ." Seth said, trying to figure out how to ask a question he needed answered.
"Yeah. That was the first time anyone has fucked me since then. I'd hoped that, since it was you, I'd be okay, but I was nervous the whole time. It felt good, up until it didn't, but by then we were done," Foster replied, sighing. He glanced out the window again, fresh tears glistening in his eyes. "I've been lying awake since then, and the sensations have just gotten worse and worse."
"Have you told your therapist?" Seth asked.
"No," Foster replied immediately. "I need to protect my mother."
Seth raised an eyebrow. "What does that mean?"
"She'd never forgive herself if she learned that Royce had done that to me and she'd done nothing," Foster replied. "I'm fine to let him go down for what he did to Griffin. I sort of wish I'd said something though. Maybe it would've spared Griffin?" He sighed again, and then started to shake.
At first Seth thought that Foster was crying, but it quickly became apparent that the shaking was shivers. He quickly got up and went to the bed, grabbing a blanket for both of them before returning to the spot by the window.
He handed the blanket to Foster and said, "You can't blame yourself for what happened to Griffin. That was all Royce."
"I can. Part of the blame is still mine," Foster replied, without meeting Seth's eyes.
"No. It isn't," Seth insisted. Encouraged by the way Foster had reached out to him earlier, Seth placed a tentative hand on his boyfriend's shoulder and continued. "Only the one who commits the crime is guilty. You couldn't have known that he'd do something like that to someone else, regardless of your own experience."
Foster turned to Seth and seemed to be searching his gaze for something. Whether he found it or not, he smiled after a moment and took Seth's hand again. This time he held onto it as he said, "I love you. I love that you believe in me, even when I don't want to believe in myself."
"I can hopefully convince you to do it too, somehow," Seth said.
"Maybe," Foster replied, his smile widening. "Kiss me and find out."
"God, what that must have been like for him!" Clint exclaimed, throwing himself backward onto the bed. He rubbed his hands over his face, groaning at the thought of what Foster must've gone through.
"It did a lot of damage, obviously. Foster's still recovering, and it may honestly always be a part of him," Seth said.
"At least he has you there to help him through it," Clint replied, shaking his head wordlessly for a moment. "I know that if I hadn't been there for Zane when his father—"
The door burst open, and Angie stormed into the room, her phone clutched in a white-knuckled grip. "Clint!" She roared, her eyes blazing as she turned them on her brother. "You asshole!"
"What?" Clint asked, somehow managing to keep his face straight. Seth wanted to applaud, but on seeing Angie's eyes, he thought the better of it.
"I know you did this," Angie said, holding up her phone and showing off one of the pictures Clint had taken earlier.
"Did what?" Clint asked.
"My boyfriend has just spent the last ten minutes jacking off to pics of you," Angie replied, her glare intensifying even as her volume decreased. Somehow, that only served to make her more terrifying. Her next words were said in almost a whisper, but each one carried tremendous weight. "You. Are. Dead."
Somehow, despite the weight of that terrible anger, Clint didn't change his expression at all. "I'm confused about what's happening here, Angie. Did you forget that you sent him pictures?"
"This is not me," Angie said, pointing at her phone.
"Isn't that your blouse though?" Clint said, still pretending to be confused.
"You're wearing the same pants," Angie insisted.
"Uh . . ." Clint looked more carefully at the picture, squinting slightly. "Do you see the clasp?" He asked, then leaned back and lifted his shirt to show the clasp of the pants he was wearing. "Clearly different."
"You . . ." Angie began, but she didn't know what to say to Clint. She stared at Seth for a moment, and Seth did his best to keep his face neutral. Angie seem to see something in his expression anyway and turned back to Clint. "I know it was you. I bet if I searched your luggage, I'll find my blouse."
"Search if you want to, but you're not going to find anything," Clint replied, shrugging.
"Are you going to help him?" Angie asked, looking at Seth.
"I'm a neutral party here. Sorry, Ange," Seth replied, shrugging.
Angie turned back toward the door, pausing as she stared into Clint's luggage. Gears turned in her head, but after a few seconds, she simply looked back at Clint and said, "I'm going to get you back, Clint. You mark my words." With that, she turned and left.
Seth stood to close the door again, then breathed a sigh of relief once it was done. He looked at Clint and asked, "Aren't you afraid of her? She looks like she could kick your ass, and definitely wants to."
"Yes, but she won't. She doesn't get physical in our squabbles, just even," Clint replied, shrugging.
"Squabbles. Who uses a word like that?" Seth asked.
"My boyfriend," Clint said with a chuckle. "I suppose he has simply rubbed off on me in certain ways."
"I know what that's like," Seth replied, grinning.
"So that's why you're wearing eyeliner," Clint observed.
"Yep," Seth confirmed. "I'm thinking about dyeing my hair too. Something crazy."
"Hey, you do you. If it's what you want and you're not just doing it because of Foster," Clint replied.
Seth shook his head. "No, definitely not. He introduced me to that world, but I've simply grown to like some of the elements. I'm thinking a fiery red to contrast with the blue he's currently rocking."
"Your boyfriend has blue hair?" Clint asked with surprise.
"Yeah, do you want to see a picture?" Seth asked.
"Of course!" Clint replied.
Seth pulled out his phone and scrolled through his pictures. It didn't take him long to find one of Foster, and a particularly flattering one at that. Foster was shirtless, his guitar in his lap, was completely lost in the music. His blue hair framed his face nicely, even though was a bit wild.
"Here you go," Seth said, showing the picture to Clint.
"How long as he had it like that?" Clint asked. "I like how the blue brings out his eyes."
Seth nodded. "He's actually been wearing blue for a while. But it did coincide with something else . . ."
"I still think you need to tell your therapist," Seth said, setting a cup of coffee in front of Foster. Even though Foster didn't care for coffee much, he'd grown accustomed to drinking it while he was at Seth's house in the morning. They were in Seth's dining room after a long, restless night. Thankfully, Seth's parents had already left for the day, and Sora was at work.
It was April now, and Seth had been doing his best to stay out of Foster's decision, but it was becoming difficult. Often, they couldn't even get past a few kisses anymore, before Foster started to fidget and grow uncomfortable. Foster continued to assure Seth that it had nothing to do with their relationship, and Seth believed him. But from Seth's perspective, things were only getting worse.
"Seth . . ." Foster said slowly, raising the coffee mug to his lips. He sipped, decided it was too hot, and set the mug back down. "This is the third time you've said that."
"Yes, but you've been having anxiety attacks all month," Seth replied.
Foster snorted and stared into his coffee. "Are you sure you're not just worried about the lack of sex?" he muttered.
Seth took a step back as if Foster had slapped him. He counted his breaths, trying to calm down as he poured a cup of coffee for himself and then sat down at the table. "That honestly hurts, Foster. You know it's not that. I care about you. I want you to be able to work through the pain you've experienced, and that's what your therapist is for."
"But she'll have to tell my parents. What Royce did . . . it's one of the things she can't keep between us, because I'm a minor," Foster replied. "I know he did terrible things, but, like I said, I don't want to hurt my mother."
"Then don't use his name if that helps," Seth replied. "Leave out the details that will incriminate him and stick to the emotional side. Your therapist can't do anything if she doesn't have the information. That'll be true as much for incriminating Royce as it is for helping you."
Foster shook his head. He took another sip of his coffee, then blew across the top of it before responding. "I'm not sure I can keep it from her if I start talking. She'll figure it out and I'll break down."
"Foster . . ." Seth sighed.
"I think I need a change. Something drastic and daring, to get me out of this emotional rut," Foster replied.
Seth frowned and took a drink from his own mug. "If you say so," he said after a moment.
"Look, I know that you care, and I know there's a lot of logic in what you're saying, but I'm just not willing to cause more damage to my family. They're going through a lot. On top of what Royce did to Griffin, this legal shit is stressful. One lawyer has been fired already, and now the new one is . . ." Foster trailed off, shaking his head as he realized he was beginning to get worked up. "It's just a mess. My parents are always arguing about it, and they don't have time to focus on me anyway."
"But Foster, you need to talk to someone who can work you through this," Seth insisted.
Foster looked up at last a met Seth's eyes. "I am. I'm talking to you."
"Yeah, but I'm not a professional," Seth replied, trying not to sound patronizing. "What about talking to my mom? She's a child therapist, and I might be able to convince her to do a special 'off the record' thing for you."
Foster's eyes widened at that suggestion. "No. First, she's your mother and that's weird. Second, I wouldn't want to put her in that position. She'd feel compelled to tell but then might not, because of you, and that's just not right either."
Seth sighed again. No matter how many suggestions he made, Foster always had an excuse as for why he didn't want to do it. "Then what are you going to do?" Seth asked.
"Buy some new skinny jeans and dye my hair blue," Foster replied, shrugging. "I don't know . . ."
"Because I want to be a different person, Seth. And because there isn't another option for that," Foster said.
Seth left his seat and moved around the table, sitting next to him and taking both of his hands. He held them as he put his forehead against Foster's and said softly, "I love you the way you are, but I'm sure I'll love you no matter what path you take. You know how I feel, but if this is something you think will make it easier, then of course I support you."
"I know," Foster whispered.
"But . . ." Seth said, then bit his tongue. Foster already knew what he was going to say.
"I know, you still think I should tell my therapist," Foster said in confirmation. "I'll think about it, but I'm dyeing my hair either way."
"I'm sorry; the flight was long and I'm tired. I don't mean to keep yawning," Clint said, stifling a second yawn even as he finished speaking.
"It's okay. We should probably get to bed anyway," Seth said. "I've got to hit the bathroom first, though."
"Me too," Clint said.
They took turns using the bathroom—Seth first and Clint second—and when Clint returned to the bedroom and shut the door, he said, "I think you're right, by the way. He needs to talk to someone."
"Yeah . . ." Seth said quietly. "Sometimes it takes people awhile to take care of themselves and their needs when they feel it will negatively impact those they care about."
"I know what that's like," Clint replied with a sigh. He started lifting up his shirt, then paused. "Um . . . so, we agreed to share the bed?"
"Yep," Seth confirmed.
Clint bit his lip thoughtfully and asked, "How do you usually sleep?"
"Boxers," Seth replied, shrugging. "I can wear more though if that bothers you."
"No . . ." Clint said, almost painfully. "I can keep my boxers on tonight."
"You were going to sleep naked?" Seth asked with surprise.
"Not if it bothers you. I was just trying to figure out your comfort level," Clint replied. His eyes communicated something else, however. He wasn't asking just about Seth's comfort level with nudity, he was asking about in general.
Realizing this was another opportunity to clarify boundaries, Seth considered what Foster would appreciate and said, "You're welcome to do whatever, honestly, but I'm keeping my boxers on. It's fucking cold in New York this time of year."
Clint nodded and tested the waters. "All right, naked it is," he said.
"Like I said, I really don't mind," Seth replied, confirming the understanding between them.
With that being said, Seth began undressing, and Clint followed suit. Both sneaked glances at each other, and eventually looked openly. Seth didn't feel weird or awkward standing in his boxers in front of Clint; he felt accepted, and overall natural.
When Clint removed his underwear, Seth almost did the same, despite his earlier misgivings regarding the cold. He appreciated how casual Clint could be about his body, and wanted to meet him on the same level.
He continued to think about it as Clint climbed into bed and settled against the wall. Stalling, Seth asked, "Okay, anything you need before I turn off the light?"
"Nope, I'm good," Clint replied, smiling.
Seth reached for the light switch, then hesitated. He turned, meeting Clint's eyes, then lowered his boxers and stepped out of them. Clint gave him an appreciative grin, and Seth turned off the light.
He climbed into the bed, temporarily overloaded by the sensation of having his sheets and blankets up against his completely naked body. He normally only slept naked with Foster, and now that he was in bed with another boy—an unrelated boy who was not his boyfriend—he started to second-guess his decision to leave his boxers behind.
"Hey," Clint said after a moment.
"Yeah?" Seth asked, his pulse racing. He hoped this wasn't the moment that Clint decided to try to cross the line.
"Thanks for . . . not being weird. Or thanks for respecting my weirdness, anyway," Clint replied.
"You're welcome, I guess?" Seth replied, laughing nervously. "Thanks for being weird."
Clint laughed at that, and the tension evaporated like magic. Suddenly they were cousins again, and there was no danger of impropriety. "I really wish we got to see each other more often," Clint said. "You're my favorite cousin, you know."
"Likewise," Seth replied warmly. He shifted slightly, and his arm bumped up against Clint's. He left it there and was glad when Clint did the same.
"Aren't Angie and I your only cousins?" Clint asked.
"Yeah," Seth replied, laughing. "But you're still my favorite. And I'm glad you were willing to come out here. It's nice to be able to talk to someone who isn't involved in everything going on, you know?"
"Definitely," Clint said. "Just hearing you talk about Foster is giving me ideas for how to help Zane, and that's something I've been really stressed about."
"He's been through a lot recently, too. I'll tell you about it tomorrow maybe, but I want to ask more about Foster if that's all right," Clint replied.
"So, did the changes help at all?" Clint asked.
Seth was sitting in the lunch room with his best friends, Logan and Grayson. He was waiting for Foster to arrive at the table, but his boyfriend was still in line getting his lunch. It was Monday, several days after Foster had dyed his hair a medium blue, and this was the first time most of the students at the school had seen him that way.
Not Seth, however. He'd spent the entire weekend running his fingers through that hair and loving the way that it brought out Foster's eyes. Foster seemed happy with it, too, though there were still issues.
"I can't believe it's the same Foster. Blue of all colors . . ." Grayson said, his eyes wide with disbelief.
"You think it looks bad, Gray?" Logan asked.
"No. Just unexpected," Grayson said with a shrug.
"I think it looks great, personally," Logan said, nodding in approval. "Not everyone could pull off that color, but it goes with his style."
Gray pursed his lips thoughtfully for a moment, then nodded. "I can agree with that. I mean, just because I would never wear it, doesn't mean that it doesn't fit him."
"But what do you think about it?" Logan asked, turning to Seth.
"Oh . . . I like it," Seth said, considering Foster and the way he was interacting with the stares he received from the other students and faculty. On the one hand, Foster seemed to be enjoying the compliments, but not all the words being said around him were positive. Seth hoped this decision wouldn't backfire on his boyfriend.
"That didn't really sound like you like it," Logan said.
"Well . . ." Seth said, turning away from Foster to face the others. "I can't really talk about it, even with you guys. There's some personal stuff going on in his life, and I have to keep it between us, if you understand."
"Of course," Grayson said, shrugging as he shared a look with Logan.
"Yeah, that's what boyfriends are for, right?" Logan replied. He nodded past Seth and added, "Speaking of which, yours is on his way over."
Seth turned as the conversation died, smiling at Foster as he set his tray down and sat next to Seth. "Hey, you guys all talking about me or something? You all just stopped as I came over here," Foster said with an amused smile.
"Oh, just about your hair. I love it, by the way," Logan said. "It really brings out your eyes."
"Thank you, Logan," Foster replied, beaming at the compliment. "I really appreciate it. It's a really fun change for me."
"How do you feel about it?" Grayson asked Foster before taking a bite out of an apple.
Foster shrugged and replied, "I feel different, you know. People don't look at me the same way they used to. I'm half-convinced most of my teachers think I'm a new student, and most of the kids don't know me at all."
"And the school year is almost over too. If you keep it up over the summer, no one will have any idea," Logan observed, laughing.
"That's true. You could completely change your style going into the next school year and really throw them off," Grayson added with a wide grin.
"You think so?" Foster asked.
"Hell yeah!" Logan said enthusiastically. "If that's what you want."
"I think I might just do that," Foster replied. "I was already thinking of getting into some skinny jeans or something. I've heard it said that 'clothes make the man'. Hopefully they can make the boy, too."
"I know what they make this boy feel," Seth said, putting his hand on Foster's inner thigh and kissing him on the cheek before whispering loudly, "Like they're in the way."
"I, uh . . ." Foster stammered, his face going red. Seth felt a tightening in Foster's jeans, and then Foster was moving. "I need to go to the restroom. Catch up with you guys in a minute," he said, then gave Seth a quick peck on the lips before adding, "Love you."
"I love you too," Seth replied, then let his boyfriend go.
"Wow . . . he seems different too. A lot more comfortable," Grayson said.
"Confident too," Logan added thoughtfully.
"Why'd he run off so quick though?" Grayson asked.
Not wanting to state the obvious that Foster had gone to take care of his erection, Seth said, "He feels better about PDA than he used to, but he's still . . . A hairstyle change doesn't make him feel any worthier of love."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Logan asked, sharing a concerned look with Grayson.
"Nothing," Seth replied, chastising himself for failing to think through his earlier statement. "Forget I said anything at all."
"Worthy of love?" Clint asked incredulously. He turned on his side, facing Seth.
"You sound wide awake now," Seth said, propping himself up on his elbow to face Clint.
"Yeah . . . that's because . . ." Clint seemed to be searching for the proper words to say to describe his mental state, and eventually settled on, "that's crazy. Who isn't worthy of love?"
"You sound like you're trying to wrap your head around it for more than one reason," Seth observed, searching Clint's face as well as he could in the mostly dark room.
"It just reminded me of something with Zane, that's all," Clint replied. "Could you explain what you mean?"
"Yeah, sure. I mean, unlike with Logan and Grayson, I don't have to worry that you'll be interacting with Foster anytime soon, so I don't mind telling you," Seth said. "What I mean is that the style changes . . . they helped with some of the symptoms of his overall problem. Changing his hair and his clothes—and he was experimenting a long time with the latter—helped with his anxiety and his confidence a bit, but there was still a darkness inside him, you know?"
"Sure. Changing surface qualities only gets us so far," Clint replied. "Thankfully, that's something my dad ingrained into me."
"Exactly," Seth replied. "It's like, if you don't work on the problem causing those symptoms, they're still going to come up again, and they just might present in a different way. In Foster's case, he didn't feel like he was worthy of love."
"That's still so crazy."
Seth nodded and continued. "It's like trying to have a good Thanksgiving dinner with a family that hates each other. You've seen it before, I know. The families that pretend that they like each other because it's a holiday and they're supposed to. Yeah, they might be able to put away their dramas for a few hours, but someone is gonna slip and you'll end up with arguments at the table. Better to find out why those arguments are there in the first place and resolve your differences, that way you can all share a meal while enjoying each other's company."
"Thanksgiving metaphor for mental health. I like it," Clint replied.
"Well, the meal tomorrow is on my mind, because I'll be helping to cook it. I know we won't have that kind of dramatic Thanksgiving dinner, but it was something to draw on," Seth replied with a slight chuckle.
"I should apologize to Angie though," Clint said, sighing. "Maybe even call a truce on the prank war for a while. I think maybe I went too far with this one. It's possible that I baited Parker into sending pics, and now I feel guilty that I essentially catfished him."
"That could be a good idea," Seth replied, "apologizing to Angie, I mean. Since we're on the subject, you should probably apologize to Parker as well."
Clint sighed and nodded. "Someday I'll learn that if a prank works too well, it probably means it's wrong. But I see what you mean on Foster. Changing surface qualities doesn't fix the problem, even if it seems to help you deal with it."
"Exactly," Seth replied.
"So, what happened?" Clint asked.
Seth went to Foster's house after his afternoon shift at the coffee shop, for their planned sleep over. He wondered how long it would be until Foster's parents were no longer blind to the fact that he and Foster were sleeping together. With everything going on with Royce, they hadn't noticed. He hoped that would continue for a long time to come.
When Foster answered the door, however, he was particularly fidgety. Seth once again fought the urge to make assumptions, knowing that Foster's state likely had little to do with their relationship, if their relationship was even a factor at all.
"Are you all right?" Seth asked as Foster stepped aside to let him in.
Foster waved Seth upstairs and didn't answer until they were inside the bedroom with the door shut and locked. He went to his desk and retrieved his weed stash, then showed that it was empty. "I got rid of my weed."
"Okay . . ." Seth said cautiously.
"All of it," Foster went on. "Last week. Did you notice any changes?"
Seth considered the time period in question and answered honestly, "You've been a little more erratic. I assume now that's withdrawal?"
"I crave it a little bit," Foster conceded with a nod. "Not it itself; I just want to get out of my head, you know? But I know that I can't do that. I know I have to deal with my issues. I'm trying, Seth, but it's so hard."
Seth opened his arms for a hug but waited for Foster's nod of assent before embracing his boyfriend. "I know," Seth said as their bodies pressed together. "I'm here for you. If you need to escape a bit by talking about it, I'm here for you any time."
"It's not going to be enough," Foster lamented, his breath quickening as he returned the embrace. Seth could feel Foster's heart pounding, and it only grew in intensity as Foster continued. "I can still feel him. My parents keep talking about the trial. They keep talking as if this new lawyer is going to figure out how to get Royce a lighter sentence. They think they can get him home sooner. Home!"
"That shouldn't happen," Seth growled.
Foster pulled away then, frowning apologetically at Seth. His eyes showed intense pain and anger, and his voice was tempered by rage as he said, "No, it shouldn't. He deserves to do time for what he did. He deserves to be punished."
"I love you. I won't let anything happen to you," Seth said.
"I . . ." Foster began, then looked quizzically at Seth. "Why aren't you trying to convince me to tell anyone?"
Seth reached for Foster's hand and was grateful when Foster unclenched his fist and took it. "Because I know where that conversation leads, and I'm not here to question your decisions on it anymore," Seth replied, giving Foster's hand a gentle squeeze. "I'm just going to support you, to love you until you feel like fighting for yourself. I know all the goodness in you, and I just want you to see it when you look at yourself. It's not in the blue hair or the way you wear your clothes, it's in the way you treat me and others. It's in the way you make beautiful music while your heart is breaking."
Foster stared at Seth with wide eyes, all traces of anger and pain momentarily forgotten. "You really do love me, don't you?" he asked in awe.
"Completely. I will never back down from loving you. This is where I stay, and I'll always fight for you," Seth said firmly.
Foster kissed Seth. It was short and to the point but communicated so much emotion at once that it nearly overloaded Seth's mind.
Then Foster pulled away, the momentary surprise fading as his pain and anger resurfaced. Neither emotion came back as strongly as before, and a new emotion had joined them. Confidence. "I don't want to see your mother," Foster said, meeting Seth's gaze and holding it.
"Okay," Seth replied with a single nod.
"But I'll start talking to my therapist. I'll tell her a little, and then . . ." Foster trailed off with a shrug. "We'll see what happens."
"I'll be here the whole time," Seth said, squeezing Foster's hand again.
"I know," Foster replied, returning the gesture as a smile crept onto his lips. "Would you come to my next appointment with me?"
Seth smiled back. "Definitely. Just give me the date and I'll make it happen."
"Seth . . . you're crying," Clint said, laying a concerned hand on Seth shoulder.
"I know," Seth said between sobs. "I'm j-just . . . h-he's g-getting so m-much buh-b-better, and . . ."
Clint sniffled, then snaked his arms around Seth, pulling them close together. "Here. Come here."
They remained together like that for so long that Seth lost track of the time as he cried into the crook of Clint's neck. Though their naked bodies were finally up against each other, Seth did not feel a hint of his earlier lustful thoughts. There was nothing but familial warmth in this embrace. It was comforting, a gesture of unbridled and unconditional platonic support and love.
Through it all, Clint gently caressed and massaged Seth's back and arms, whispering soothing words into Seth's ears. He didn't try to stop Seth's crying; only bolstering his ability to get through it.
"Clint . . ." Seth said, nearly a full minute after his sobbing finally subsided, "thank you." He remained curled up against Clint's chest, not wanting to let go of the warmth and support. "I'm sorry for being a mess," he mumbled.
Clint simply held Seth tighter and said, "Hey, cousin, it's all fine. You're going to be okay."
After a moment, Seth took a deep breath and resumed the story. "Foster told his therapist, and everything started to change. Rapidly. His parents were in denial at first, and that was a hellish few days, but Foster stuck by his story and eventually they saw the truth in it. After that they confronted Royce. They told him they wouldn't support him getting out anymore, that he needed help and reformation."
"Did he get either?" Clint asked.
Seth took a few more deep breaths before responding. "Royce died before his next court appearance. Managed to hang himself."
"Ouch . . . that . . . that can't have been easy," Clint stammered.
"No. Their family is still . . ." Seth let out an exasperated sigh. "They're trying to deal with it. Foster is doing better than he was before, but he's still grieving. He blames himself for his brother's death, but he's working through that. This time openly, with his therapist's and my help. No drugs, either."
Clint smiled at that. "That's good."
"It really is," Seth replied, then snuggled even tighter against Clint. "I still cry when I think about Foster's pain though. I still . . . I hate what happened to him, and how he felt he had to hide it for so long. It's messed him up."
"It's a good thing he has you," Clint observed.
"I just wish I could help him more, you know?" Seth asked.
Clint sniffled, connecting strongly to the emotion of that statement. "We always do," he said. "We always do."
"Clint?" Seth said sleepily.
"I'm really glad you're here," Seth replied. "Thank you."
Clint chuckled softly, and tenderly brushed the hair away from Seth's face. "I'm really glad I'm here too. I love you, cousin."
"Love you too," Seth replied with a yawn. "Now let's get some sleep."
Seth had been pondering his conversation with Clint throughout the meal preparation for their Thanksgiving feast. He felt better about Foster now, than he had before, and he couldn't wait until his boyfriend got back from his trip to Virginia.
He didn't get to see much of Clint during the day, as he was grounded by his father after Clint confessed to the phone incident and apologized to Angie. Clint was relegated to cleaning tasks that Seth's dad put him to, at Clint's father's request.
Now, however, they had finally set the Thanksgiving feast on the table and everyone was seated. Thus began the traditional recitation of what everyone was thankful for, starting with Seth's dad.
Seth didn't listen to most of the remarks as he was too busy trying to think of what he would say. He didn't pay attention until Clint stood up next to him and started speaking.
"Angie . . ." Clint said, and continued even as his sister's eyes narrowed in suspicion, "thank you for putting up with me all these years. I'm sorry for being such an ass, and I'm grateful to you."
"Sure, brother . . ." Angie replied, her eyes remaining suspicious. "But this truce is only temporary."
"If you say so," Clint replied with a nonchalant shrug. He then looked around the room until his eyes finally settled on Seth. "I also want to say that I'm thankful for being here. It's been nice to be around some extended family again. Especially you, Seth. You've helped me a lot more than you may realize." He sat down as the others thanked him for his words.
"Seth, it's your turn," Seth's mother urged.
Seth stood, and as he spoke, his eyes continued to flick toward Clint. "I'm thankful for conversation with people who care. I'm grateful for the people who invest time into you, who will go the extra mile to make sure you're okay. All of you have done that for me, or at the very least done it for people I care about. We all need to be open about the problems we have if we expect to work through them. Having good friends and family who will stand by you through that . . . that is the greatest thing a person can have. I don't know where I'm going with this, but I love all of you."
"Well said," Clint said, wrapping Seth in a one-armed hug as he sat down.
Seth's phone vibrated in his pocket. "Oh . . . I just got a text, hang on," he said, then swept it open without caring if Clint saw. "It's from Foster," Seth said, smiling warmly. "Just a simple text to tell me he loves me."
"That's it, huh?" Clint said.
Seth nodded. "That's all I need." He said. Sliding his arm around Clint's back, he returned the embrace. "I love you, cousin."
"I love you too," Clint replied.
The feasting began and everyone ate their fill and then more. Clint and Seth each ate as if they believed they were eating for two. Once the meal was over—and a suitable amount of time had passed for them to also eat pie—the boys returned to Seth's room.
"I just realized I never gave you a chance to talk about Zane," Seth said sleepily.
"We've got all weekend," Clint said, yawning. "Let me tell you a story about my fearless feats of daring do."
"What?" Seth asked with a laugh.
"Nothing . . . just being weird," Clint replied. But as he kept speaking, all thoughts of napping faded from Seth's mind. "It all started when I wanted to come out at school, but I just couldn't figure out how to do it . . ."
Author’s Note: If you liked this story, please feel free to email me at Samuel.D.Roe@gmail.com and let me know. (If you didn’t like it, you can still tell me… I promise I don’t bite)
Thank you for reading one of my stories! I appreciate the fact that you’ve taken the time to view something I’ve done. Although this is probably shameful of me, I’m going to do it anyway! I have a Patreon page where you can support me and help me make writing my career instead of my hobby. The way Patreon works is that you pledge a small amount of money (Even as much as $1 still helps!) per creation that I produce, whether it be a short story or a chapter of a serialization. Each time I produce one of those things, you’ll be charged. The good thing is that you can set a monthly maximum! That means that if you pledged $3 per creation and set a monthly maximum of $8, you would never be charged more than $8 in a month even if I released 5 stories/chapters. Here’s the link: http://www.patreon.com/cynus Thank you for your support!