The coffee maker beeped while Seth was frying up the bacon, and he nodded with satisfaction. He was right on schedule, and it would only be a matter of time. Getting up this early was something he was starting to get used to, even though doing it on a Sunday morning like this one seemed completely absurd.
It was for a good cause. This morning was one of the most important mornings of his life, and the next few minutes were crucial to making it work. He heard the sound of water running in the bathroom upstairs, and hurried to get the bacon out of the pan, adding it to a plate lined with paper towels and covering it with the lid to the skillet. He heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs and poured a cup of coffee, holding it in his hands right as Grayson rounded the corner in his boxers, rubbing his eyes and failing to notice Seth.
"Good, you're finally up," Seth said with a slight smile, "it's about time."
Grayson took a step back as he pulled his hands away from his eyes, staring at Seth and blinking away both sleep and disbelief all at once. "What the hell are you doing here?" He asked after a moment, his face contorting in a scowl. "Where's my mom?"
Seth knew this would be the most difficult part; these first seconds were crucial to everything, and he stuck to his script. "I asked her if I could cook you breakfast, and she went back to bed," he said with a disarming grin. "Seems I've been getting up early a lot, lately. I guess I just needed something to do."
Gray crossed his arms over his naked chest and shook his head firmly. "I don't know what game you're playing, but I'm not going to participate."
He started to turn around and Seth was quick to change his tone to a serious one. "It's not a game," he said. "Sit."
Despite his anger, Grayson stopped and turned back toward Seth. "Why should I?"
Seth put the cup of coffee on the table in front of one of the empty chairs and pulled it out from the table, patting the back of it. "Because the coffee is not only fresh, but your favorite roast," He said, letting his seriousness fade a little as he added, "and there's bacon." He watched some of the anger disappear from Grayson's face as he bit his lip thoughtfully. A hungry rumbling echoed through the kitchen, originating from Grayson's stomach. "See, your stomach agrees with me," Seth continued, letting his grin spread wide across his face, though he was quick to add, "I'm here to talk, Gray, and if you don't want to hear it, that's fine I guess, but I really hope you'll hear me out."
Grayson stared at Seth for several seconds as he thought over what to do next, but then he nodded once and walked slowly toward the offered chair, taking a seat in front of the steaming cup of coffee. "Okay," he said as he reached out and took hold of the coffee mug, "you have at least until I finish this cup."
"That's something, I guess," Seth said, pouring himself a mug and sliding into place across from Grayson. "I can live with that."
Grayson looked up at Seth and said neutrally, "You said you were here to talk. So talk."
Seth nodded and began, "You wanted to know why I stayed away for so long. Why I didn't come and talk to either of you about what happened, after I walked away."
"Among other things," Grayson said with a shrug before taking a sip of his coffee. He closed his eyes and sighed in contentment after tasting the coffee, forgetting for a moment that he was supposed to be angry, but then he opened his eyes and said bitterly, "I want to know why you said we were friends when you clearly didn't think much of the friendship."
"That's not it at all, Gray," Seth protested. "I care about you more than you know."
Grayson snorted and took another sip of coffee. "Oh really? You have a funny way of showing it. You shut me out and never let me explain. You never gave me a chance to tell my side of the story. Why should I believe you care what I think?"
"Before you make that your final verdict, let me tell you what I've been doing for the past month," Seth said, smiling diplomatically. "Maybe it will shed a little light on things."
Seth saw Kristin coming through the crowd toward him and instantly turned around. It had only been a week since he'd broken up with Logan and Grayson, and he still didn't feel like talking about it. He was almost there, but it was still too soon. He hoped she hadn't seen him, but those hopes were dashed as he heard her shout down the crowded hall toward him.
"Don't you dare walk away from me, McAllister!"
Seth sighed, looking up and uttering a prayer to whatever god listened to teenage problems and turned to face Kristin, smiling wide. "Kristin! What can I do for you?"
"You saw me and turned the other way," Kristin accused, stopping ten feet away and speaking loudly. "What, do I get the cold shoulder, too? I thought we were supposed to be boyfriends."
Raising an eyebrow, Seth closed the distance between them and said quietly, "You and I both know the truth of that, why are you making a scene?" he eyed the crowd suspiciously, noting how most of the students were eagerly eavesdropping to find out what new drama was about to go down which they could gossip about later.
"It got you to stop walking and talk to me, didn't it?" Kristin asked, lowering her voice and crossing her arms over her breasts.
"I'm sorry," Seth sighed, "I'm really not trying to avoid you, it's..." he shook his head, still not wanting to talk about it, "it's not you."
Kristin snorted and said, "Yeah, genius, I knew that. You're avoiding Logan at least, and I assume Grayson as well. None of you will talk about it, though, and it's starting to piss Maggie and I off. What is this shit?"
Seth's eyes widened in shock. "Wow, it takes a lot to get you to curse, even if it's a light one like that. You must really be upset." He shook his head emphatically and said, "I'm so sorry, I really didn't want to involve you in this."
"You didn't want to..." Kristin echoed with a tone of disbelief, then rolled her eyes and said, "Seth, we care about you. All three of you. Grayson may be a recent addition to the group, but you both love him, so of course we care about him, too. Like it or not, we're involved."
Seth looked away as he felt blood rushing to his cheeks, bringing the pain of his current situation with Logan and Grayson along with it. "Can we not talk about them?"
"You haven't spoken to any of us for almost a week," Kristin said impatiently. "You have to talk about it sometime. Unless you're saying we wouldn't understand." With a mirthless grin she added, "Maggie would beat you senseless if she heard you talking that crap."
Seth couldn't help but laugh at that image and replied, "You might have a point."
"Good to see you still have some sense," Kristin said, smiling approvingly. "So, how about you join us for lunch and-"
Seth shook his head immediately and interrupted her. "That wouldn't be a good idea. Trust me. I can't be around Logan and Gray right now."
Kristin bared her teeth and said in an annoyed tone, "You didn't let me finish. How about you join Maggie and I for lunch on Saturday at her dad's restaurant? It will just be the three of us."
Seth's mouth scrunched to one side as he thought about that idea for a moment. "Just the three of us, huh?"
"Yeah," Kristin replied. "Would that be a problem?"
"I guess not," Seth said, shrugging. "Saturday works for me. I work in the morning, but I'll be off by noon."
"Perfect," Kristin said enthusiastically. "We'll pick you up at Perks."
"When did you start calling the café, 'Perks'?" Seth asked, grinning at the nickname.
"Oh, it's the nickname Maggie gave it once you and Grayson started working there, since you both give us free drinks sometimes; it's one of the 'perks' of you working there." Kristin laughed and added, "Of course, that's one more reason why we have to have this conversation."
Kristin nodded. "Yeah, ever since you got in a fight with your boyfriends, you've been too distracted to give us freebies. We want our perks back."
Seth snickered and said, "You're terrible."
"And you're in trouble," Kristin replied knowingly. "You know how Maggie loves her hot chocolate. You better get your head on straight, soon."
Seth stuck out his tongue and said, "Sorry, I don't do straight anymore."
"Keep talking that way, boyfriend, and I might just have to dump you," Kristin replied with mock seriousness.
Laughing, Seth rolled his eyes and replied, "See you Saturday."
Grayson took several sips of his coffee while Seth moved back to the stove and turned the burner for the skillet back on. He took the pan of bacon grease and drained it into a paper cup before taking the pan to the sink and cleaning it. Grayson watched the entire process with thoughtful expression, and Seth wanted to give him a chance to process what had been said.
Seth didn't have to wait long, as Grayson soon drained his cup and then said quietly, "So, Kristin and Maggie did get through to you. I didn't know they'd had any success."
"Yeah, they did," Seth said, pausing in his scrubbing. "I wasn't too comfortable with it, though. I just wanted to keep my distance."
"But why?" Grayson asked in a bewildered tone. "Seth, we wanted you to come back. We wanted you..." He shook his head helplessly and stood up from the table, walking toward the coffee maker. "Fuck, I don't even know what I'm saying anymore. It's too early for this shit. I need another cup of coffee."
Seth turned toward him and nodded at the coffee pot in Grayson's hands. "Does that mean you're staying?"
"For now," Grayson replied, then grinned wide and asked, "and where's that bacon?"
Seth put the skillet in the drainer to dry for a moment and said, "Coming right up." He reached for the plate of bacon and removed the lid covering it before setting the whole plate in front of Grayson.
"Thanks," Grayson said and smiled. The smile made Seth a little less nervous about the conversation, as Grayson seemed genuinely pleased at the prospect of food.
"As to why..." Seth said as he looked down at Gray, considering how to phrase what he needed to say next. "Gray, I did it for you and Logan. I didn't want to intrude."
Grayson's expression was one of genuine confusion as he asked, "Intrude on what?"
"Your relationship," Seth said, shrugging. "I'd been there the whole time and, well, I thought you'd want some time to yourselves."
Grayson's eyes widened as he shook his head. "That can't have been the only reason."
"No, it wasn't," Seth replied, then turned away, not wanting Grayson to see the emotion in his eyes. He reached for the skillet again and then grabbed a hand towel, drying the pan off to keep his hands busy as he explained, "I was hurt, that's true as well. I really did need some time to sort it out, too. I forgave you both quickly, but that didn't mean I wasn't in pain."
"I'm sorry, Seth," Grayson said after a moment. "I didn't mean for things to end up this way. It really wasn't something we planned, you know? I wanted you to be part of it. Logan and I both wanted you there. The last thing either of us wanted was to hurt you."
"I know," Seth said, pausing after he finished drying the skillet. He set it on the stove and reached for the bag of bread on the counter before turning toward Grayson again. "If I believed you had, do you think I'd be here?"
"No, I guess not," Grayson replied, then he eyed the bread hungrily as Seth reached for the bowl of eggs he'd beaten earlier. "Are you making French toast?" Grayson asked, licking his lips.
"Of course," Seth replied, grinning. "It's your favorite, isn't it?"
Grayson nodded. "Damn, you're really trying to impress me, aren't you?"
"Not impress," Seth replied, "just trying to show you I'm committed to making it up to you."
"I forgive you, Seth," Grayson said, smiling apologetically. "I don't know why I've been so angry. I can't say I completely understand, but I do forgive you. It certainly wasn't just you who made this situation what it is. I felt so guilty that I didn't want to press the issue when you said you didn't want to talk."
Seth sighed, partly in relief but also frustration as he remembered how the last month had gone. "If it's any consolation, I probably would have talked to you earlier if other people didn't seem completely intent on pouring salt in my wounds."
"Yeah. Remember that Saturday where you relieved me at noon at work?"
It wasn't hard for Seth to figure out that Kyle knew his two youngest employees were having trouble with each other. Seth looked at the schedule to see who was coming in to relieve him and winced when he saw Grayson's name. Seth was off in five minutes, which meant Grayson would be there momentarily, and sure enough he looked up and saw Grayson coming through the door just as he thought about it.
Grayson smiled and waved half-heartedly, and Seth frowned, watching him walk past and toward the breakroom. By the time Gray was out of sight, he'd lost his smile and the spring in his step, but Seth couldn't get past the pain. It was still there, dying down, but there, and he wasn't ready to talk to Gray or Logan yet. Maybe, if things went well with Maggie and Kristin, he'd be able to approach them. Maybe.
"Seth, you have got to stop this."
Seth turned around and saw Damon standing to his side, staring at him with concern. "What are you talking about, Damon?" Seth asked.
"I saw that look on your face when Gray walked in," Damon replied seriously. "You've worn that same face for over a week, now. What the funky monkey junk is going on?"
Seth met Damon's eyes and raised an eyebrow. Damon was his boss, and a generally nice guy, but they hadn't grown close and Seth wasn't about to open up to him. He decided he was going to clock out early and stepped around Damon, thinking to avoid answering as he headed toward the register to clock out. Damon put his hand out and gently stopped him, and Seth finally said, "I don't want to talk about it."
"The longer you avoid it, the worse it's going to be," Damon said quietly.
"I just want to distance myself from it, okay?" Seth replied, shrugging off Damon's hand and looking at him defiantly. "I don't have the ability to concentrate on it right now. I have someone else demanding my attention."
Damon's eyes widened and his eyebrows shot upward. "You've already moved on to someone else?"
Seth nodded and replied, "Something like that."
He looked up as a van pulled into the parking lot, recognizing it as Mr. Bianchi's, Maggie's father. He made it to the register and started to clock out, then noticed Damon coming up from the side.
"Hold up," Damon said, stopping next to him.
"Can't," Seth said quickly, nodding toward the car, "that's my ride."
Damon shook his head and replied, "This will take just a second."
"Okay," Seth said through gritted teeth as he turned back to Damon and forced a thin-lipped smile to his face. "What is it?"
Damon kept his tone neutral as he asked, "Did you cheat on them?"
Seth reeled backward as if Damon had slapped him, his eyes widening with shock as his wounded heart burst open in a raw fountain of pain. "No," he whispered, unable to come to terms with how awful the question made him feel. "How could you ask me that?"
"You're already seeing someone else, and you can't have been broken up for much more than a week," Damon began as Seth began to recover. "It doesn't take a genius to-"
"Apparently it does," Seth snapped, his eyes smoldering as he trembled with rage, fists clenched at his sides. "You don't know what you're talking about, Damon. And if you think..." He took a deep breath and flicked his hand in Damon's face dismissively. "Fuck it, I don't have time for this right now. Don't assume you have any idea what I'm going through, because you can't possibly imagine. Get out of my way."
Damon was so caught off guard by Seth's response that he stared open-mouthed at Seth instead of moving out of the way, and so Seth simply stepped around him. He wasn't sure he'd been angrier in his life than to be wrongly accused of such a thing, and as he moved past Damon he was tempted to slug him as hard as he could, but he managed to keep his rage in check and let it go long enough for him to get out of the café.
If he thought he'd been close to moving on from what had happened, he was nowhere near it now. Damon's question had ripped the scab from Seth's wound and Seth's recovery had been set back at least a week if not more. Images of Grayson blowing Logan came flooding back into his mind, and his eyes were filled with angry tears as he reached the Bianchis' van and tore open the handle.
"Seth, you look mad as hell," Kristin said as Seth climbed in and sat next to her. "What happened? Did you and Gray just get in an argument?"
Seth looked at her and blinked several times, realizing he was completely on autopilot and was about to say something terrible to a person who didn't deserve it. He took a deep breath as he met the three pairs of eyes watching him. Kristin, Maggie, and Mr. Bianchi were all concerned, and Seth was sure he looked like he'd just been through hell. "No. My manager, he..." Seth began, but then shook his head, not wanting to get into it right then. "Never mind. He just set me off. It's nothing to worry about. He just rubbed salt in my wound without meaning to. I'll get over it."
"We'll talk about it at the restaurant," Maggie explained from her position in the front passenger seat. She nodded at her father who put the van in reverse and started to pull away from the curb. Maggie, clearly relieved that they were moving again, turned back to Seth and said, "We'll have one of the private rooms all to ourselves while my dad meets with some of his cooks."
"Wow," Seth said, smiling weakly as he tried to focus on the current situation instead of the pain he was feeling, "you're really going all out for this."
Maggie matched his smile and replied, "Not really. Since we're not getting dressed up for this, we can't enter the normal dining room. They won't let you in without a suit or a dress, and they enforce it at all times of day. Apparently they don't have a lot of private room rentals around lunch time, though, so we can get in on a technicality. It helps if your dad's the chef, though."
Seth laughed at that and said, "I could have dressed up. I don't get a lot of opportunities, and I kind of like wearing a suit sometimes."
Kristin placed her hand on Seth's arm and explained, "I was coming straight from dance practice, and knew I wouldn't have a chance to make myself pretty."
"It's all right," Maggie said, turning toward her and blowing a kiss. "I still love you."
Mr. Bianchi smiled and winked at Seth in the rearview mirror. "Girls, you're going to make Seth pass out from all of the blood rushing to his cheeks!"
"It's nothing he's never seen before," Maggie replied, rolling her eyes.
Seth smiled and nodded. "It's true, I don't mind."
Mr. Bianchi sighed, but the grin on his face only widened further. "But aren't my girls beautiful? How can you not be overcome by that?"
"Oh yes," Seth replied, nodding enthusiastically. "I'd date either of them if they were straight."
Mr. Bianchi laughed and replied, "Good answer."
"And if I didn't already have someone special," Seth added, smiling as he let his mind be drawn toward Foster.
Maggie shared a look with Kristin then said, "That's new. What does that mean?"
"We'll talk at the restaurant," Seth said cryptically.
Kristin smiled and said, "Good thing we're almost there, huh?"
"Shit," Seth said, throwing his hands up in the air dramatically, but his grin made it clear he wasn't really upset. "I guess I'll just have to walk slowly to make sure I drag this out as long as possible."
Maggie shook her head and chuckled. "And then you're going to tell us everything. After we order, of course. I recommend the penne arrabiata, it's delicious."
"What if I want something different?" Seth asked, crossing his arms over his chest defiantly.
"Do you think you have a choice?" Maggie asked, eyes narrowing suspiciously. "Some things are meant to be, and the penne is one of them."
"You went a little off track there, Seth," Grayson said before shoveling another forkful of French toast into his mouth. A drop of maple syrup fell from the bottom of the piece and landed on Grayson's chin, but he didn't seem to notice.
"I don't think so," Seth said as he handed Grayson a napkin. "I thought that was pretty important."
Grayson stared at the napkin for a moment until Seth pointed to his own chin and Grayson got the message. He started to wipe the syrup up as he asked, "Why?"
"How's the French toast?" Seth asked, grinning.
"Are you going to avoid the question?" Grayson replied, raising an eyebrow.
Seth shook his head and said, "Just answer mine, and you'll get your answer."
"The French toast is pretty good," Grayson answered as he cut off another piece of it with the side of his fork. "It's almost as good as my mom's."
"Considering how awesome your mom's is, that's a good compliment," Seth replied, nodding appreciatively.
"So, what does that have to do with our situation?"
"Nothing, but I had to know what you thought of it," Seth replied, earning a laugh from Grayson. "Somehow, even though I love to cook, I never ended up cooking for you or Logan."
"That's really too bad," Grayson said quietly, and with a touch of sadness. "You're good at it."
"Thanks," Seth said, nodding slowly. He then looked away, unsure how to handle the conflicted emotions in Grayson's eyes. "I guess the point I was trying to make earlier was that sometimes you don't get to choose how things work out. Look at Maggie and Kristin, for instance. Did we ever tell you how they ended up becoming our friends?"
Grayson shook his head. "Not really. They've just always been there, well, ever since I started hanging out with you at least."
"Logan had a crush on Maggie, and he accidentally hit her in the face," Seth replied, smiling fondly at the memory.
Grayson snickered at the memory and nearly choked on his French toast. "Shit, that's kind of funny, I mean, it's not, but it totally is."
"Yeah. Logan felt awful about it, and after that he couldn't ask her out. I tried to get him to, but he couldn't do it. Then, Maggie surprised us and asked us out. She then set me up with Kristin."
"Wow. So, this must have been before..."
"Yeah," Seth confirmed, "Logan hadn't realized he liked boys yet."
Grayson shook his head in wonder. "Crazy..."
"I liked both Maggie and Kristin from the beginning, but no matter how much I like them, I could never be in a relationship with either. I might be bisexual, but they're both lesbians. I can't compete in their dating pool, not unless I grow a pair of breasts, anyway."
Seth and Grayson shared a laugh and then Grayson asked, "And, what happened after that?"
"We agreed to become Maggie and Kristin's fake boyfriends, so that Kristin could more easily hide her relationship with Maggie from her parents," Seth explained.
"I couldn't have changed the way they felt about each other, no matter how much I might have wanted at one point to be with either of them. They're a solid couple, and they aren't interested in me like that. We care about each other, but..." Seth shrugged and added, "some things are just meant to be."
"You're right, that was an excellent choice," Seth said contentedly, patting his stomach. "The penne was delicious."
"He still thinks he had a choice," Kristin said, grinning at Maggie. "Adorable."
"He still hasn't talked about what's going on, I'm a bit more concerned with that," Maggie said, turned an impatient glare on Seth, "and that isn't adorable at all."
"Hey, don't talk about me like I'm not here," Seth protested, sitting up straight in his chair.
"Why?" Maggie asked, crossing her arms and giving him a pointed look. "You might as well not be if you're going to keep avoiding the subject. What's going on, Seth?"
"Fine..." Seth sighed. "I'm no longer with Logan and Grayson. We've had a falling out."
"Yeah, but about what?" Kristin asked, leaning toward him and adding to the pressure from Maggie. "Are you officially broken up, or is that part of the unresolved tension?"
Seth had stopped looking at them, letting his mind carry him back over the past week and a half and remembering all the times Logan and Gray had tried to talk to him. "I thought I made it pretty clear. If they still think I'm part of it, then they're fooling themselves. They belong together, and I'm not going to spend the rest of my life as a third wheel. As far as I'm concerned, the relationship is over, though the friendship will continue." He shrugged and added, "I'm just not ready to be around them."
"Wow, that's..." Maggie began and then shook her head, her voice becoming quiet, "that's not what I was expecting."
"Really?" Seth asked, cocking his head to the side in confusion. "What were you expecting?"
"Well, you and Logan have always been, I don't know..." Maggie shrugged, letting her thoughts trail off as she stared at Seth helplessly.
"Try," Seth urged.
"You and Logan have always felt right together, too," Maggie replied. "It's weird to think of you two apart."
Seth sighed and said, "He's still my best friend as far as I'm concerned. I'm just not ready."
Kristin reached out and took Seth's hand consolingly. He stared at her hand in surprise. It was strange to get a physical response from her, and he latched onto that gentle expression of friendship, feeling her sincerity through her hand as she asked, "How long will it take until you are?"
"I don't know," Seth asked, exhaling slowly as he thought about it. "It's been what, a week and a half?"
"Sounds right to me," Maggie replied.
"I honestly don't know," Seth said, shrugging helplessly. "I'm a bit distracted right now, though I feel like I'm in a bit of a haze."
"Is this part of that new special someone in your life?" Kristin asked, giving Seth's hand a gentle squeeze before letting go. "Is it Foster McGuire?"
Seth looked up in surprise and then realized he shouldn't be. "Yeah. You've seen us together?"
"It's not that hard to miss," Maggie said with a grin. "Neither are the looks you've been sharing with him, now that I think about it."
"It has always been difficult to pull one over on you, Maggie," Seth said, chuckling. "It's definitely Foster. Everything is Foster right now, though that does terrify me a little."
"Why?" Kristin asked.
"I have to ask myself if I'm just rebounding. I mean, the same day I broke up with Logan and Gray I was kissing Foster," Seth said, shaking his head in disbelief. "I don't know how it happened, but it did. Doesn't that seem a little...off? Everything is going perfectly, but what if I'm..." his voice broke and then he continued in a horrified whisper. "What if I'm using Foster without realizing it?"
"You're the only one who can answer that question," Maggie replied. This time she was the one to reach out and take Seth's hand. "Why don't you tell us more? We'll be happy to listen if you want to talk about it."
"I don't know..." Seth began, letting his thoughts go to Foster as he smiled fondly, "everything feels right with him. It was the most natural thing in the world to talk to him after I walked in on Gray and Logan having..." Seth paled as he realized what he was about to say and looked up in horror. "Shit. I didn't mean to, you can't..." he glanced frantically between Kristin and Maggie who were staring at him open-mouthed and wide-eyed. "You can't tell them I told you. Please?"
Maggie was the first to recover as she asked, "Logan and Grayson had sex without waiting for you?"
"Fuck," Seth said, pulling his hand away from Maggie so he could use it to hide his face. "Please, don't tell them?"
Kristin and Maggie shared a quick look and a nod before Kristin said, "Okay. We won't. Anything said here will be just between us. We promise."
"Thanks. I..." Seth began, then was forced to swallow to get his voice under control. "I don't want to make a big deal out of it. I just want to quietly move on, get past the pain, you know? I want them to have time to get to know each other better, to..." he paused for a deep breath, "to be happy."
"You really do still love them," Kristin said reverently.
"With everything I am," Seth confirmed, cursing the tears which were forming in his eyes. "I just want them to be happy. I was selfish for so long."
"What does that mean?" Maggie asked.
"I knew..." Seth began, then fought back a sob. "I knew it was only a matter of time. I knew I was the odd man out. I just wanted to be Logan's number one for a little while longer, and I wanted to be Grayson's best friend for a little while longer, and I wanted to be..." His whole body shook as he laughed bitterly. "I wanted them to love me first before each other, because I was there first for both of them. I let it drag out, let the relationship fester, and now...now I can't even look them in the eye without knowing that I'm the reason they've been kept from being together for this long. I've been waiting for this to happen, but I've taken it a lot harder than I thought I would."
"Seth..." Kristin said gently, "I'm sorry you're in pain, but you have to understand that they are, too. You've got to talk to them."
"I will, just..." Seth sighed, angry at the tears which slid down his cheeks. He sniffled and then began again. "Damon reopened the wounds today. He didn't mean to, but he...he accused me of cheating on them, and I lost it. Part of it was the guilt I felt, and part of it was the hurt they caused me, but right now I can't. It's raw again, and I need time. I need...Foster."
"You need him. Why?" Maggie asked.
Seth smiled as he thought of Foster's brown eyes. Those deep pools of loyalty and enduring love which he'd been lost in time and time again ever since they'd been reunited. "I need him because he's the one who listens without expecting anything in return. I need him because kissing him makes me feel like I've finally found where I belong. Nothing feels more natural than touching him, being next to him. It doesn't hurt anything that he was my best friend years ago, and those memories are slowly coming back to me. When my family first moved here, he and I went to the same daycare. I was five, and I'd just lost my parents, and I was now in a strange city where I didn't know anyone other than Sora, and my adoptive parents whom I barely knew. Do you know what Foster did?"
"No," Maggie said, "but I want to know."
"Me too," Kristin said, nodding in agreement.
"He kept pestering me to play with him until I finally did," Seth replied, smiling fondly. "We ended up in the sandbox together, and he taught me how to build my first sandcastle. Then we destroyed it together. Now that I've remembered it again, I'll never forget what he said."
"What?" Kristin asked.
Seth laughed at the memory before he explained, "With all the wisdom of a five-year-old he said, 'the castle always gets broken. You build and build, but it gets broken anyway. You just have to build a new castle.' Do you wanna know what he said after that?" He looked up and saw Maggie and Kristin were leaning on every word, and he grinned wide as he went on. "He said 'hand me the shovel.'"
Maggie laughed and Kristin said, "He sounds like a smart guy, even then."
"Yeah, he is," Seth said. "He's..." he choked on his emotions for a moment before going on, "he's everything I ever wanted."
"Seth," Maggie said quietly, "I don't think this is a rebound."
Seth nodded and replied, "No, I guess not. He's still holding the shovel. He's ready to build again, and I can't wait to see what we create. Maybe it happened fast, but I guess that's because he's always been there, ready to help me, even after all I've done to him."
"So, Foster McGuire, huh?" Kristin asked. "I don't know a lot about him. Tell us. And next time, you better bring him with you."
"You can bet on it. Let's see..." Seth began, thinking about all the wonderful things he'd learned about Foster so far. "I know he plays guitar, because he has one in his room, but I haven't heard him play it yet, so..."
"Why'd you stop talking?" Grayson asked. "I don't mind hearing about Foster."
"Logan should be here, soon," Seth explained as he took Grayson's plate to the sink and rinsed it off.
"You invited him?" Grayson asked with a touch of surprise.
Seth nodded. "Yep. Foster too."
Grayson smirked and replied, "You must have had a lot of confidence I'd forgive you."
"I like to think I know you pretty well," Seth said as he prepared some soapy water to clean the dishes with.
"I suppose you do," Grayson said quietly. "After all, I wouldn't have Logan without your help. I'm sorry I was so angry, Seth."
"Apology accepted." There was a knock at the door and Seth turned off the water. He'd have to get to the dishes later. "That's got to be one of them," he said as he dried his hands off on a towel.
A song began playing above them in Grayson's room. Seth knew it instantly as one of Logan's favorites, and he looked at Grayson with a raised eyebrow. "Logan," Grayson said with a shrug. "He just texted me."
"Right on," Seth replied. "Let's go greet him, then."
They walked toward the front door together and Grayson opened it, smiling as he blinked out at the bright sunlight. "Hey, Loga-" he began then stopped short as he realized both Logan and Foster were standing on the doorstep, staring at each other awkwardly. "Well, apparently you both arrived at once."
"Yeah," Logan said, giving Foster a sidelong glance and a weak smile. "We actually met up at the end of your street, Gray."
Seth looked from Foster to Logan and said hopefully, "I guess you got a head start on getting to know each other, huh?"
"Yeah," Foster said, returning Logan's smile with the same level of enthusiasm. "We're cool."
An awkward silence settled over the four of them, and Seth realized it was up to him to get this meeting to work. He stepped aside so the others could come inside and said, "Foster, I don't know if you've met Grayson before."
"Nope," Foster said as he stepped in and extended his hand to Grayson. "We've been in the same year since we were kids, but I don't know if we've ever talked before. It's nice to meet you, Grayson."
Grayson smiled politely and took Foster's hand. "Call me Gray."
"Done," Foster said, shaking Grayson's hand firmly before letting go. "You can call me whatever you want. I'm pretty easy."
"Cool," Grayson said and then stepped away. He gestured down at his boxers and said, "I'm going to go get some clothes on. I feel a bit underdressed."
Seth led Foster and Logan into the kitchen and offered them some French toast while they waited for Grayson. Both boys hungrily agreed, and Seth eagerly filled two plates with food before handing them out, and then filling a third for himself. They ate in silence while Grayson took his time getting ready, and were just finishing when he returned to the room.
Seth finished first and stood up, taking his plate to the sink as Grayson stepped around the table to help him. Everything seemed natural for a moment but the awkwardness returned quickly as Logan and Foster pushed their plates back at the same time. They clattered against each other and the resounding sound seemed to amplify the awkwardness. "So..." Logan said after a moment. "What do we do now?'
"We talk," Foster said. "That's why we're here, isn't it?"
"Yep," Seth began, then attempted to lighten the mood. "We need to get things straight, er...I guess none of us are doing too well at the straight thing, huh?"
"At least you and Logan can fake it if you wanted to. I'm all gay," Grayson said with a grin.
"Me too," Foster offered, shaking his head as he added, "women scare me."
"They scare me, too, but I do still like them," Logan said.
Seth laughed and said, "I agree."
"Well, you're both entitled to be wrong," Foster said, sticking his tongue out at Seth. Seth stuck his own tongue out in response then darted back toward the table, giving Foster a quick peck on the lips.
Grayson and Logan laughed at the exchange then Grayson asked, "Where'd you find this guy, Seth?"
"Behind the bleachers," Foster answered for Seth. "I was waiting for him, though I didn't really expect to see him. I'm glad he did, though."
"Me too," Seth replied, staring into Foster's eyes as he gently stroked Foster's cheek. "I love you. I know it may sound weird to the two of you," he continued, looking up to Grayson and Logan, "but I really think this was the right thing for all of us."
"Seth..." Logan began.
"Hear me out, please?" Seth said, silencing him with an upraised hand. "I spent a lot of time being unsure of where I fit in, worrying about how I was supposed to act and who I was supposed to be. You probably don't know this part of my history, but Foster and I were best friends when we were younger. I did something terrible and pushed him away from me, and that's probably the only reason he and I weren't together sooner. Then I had the shit beat out of me, and it nearly destroyed me. I think sometimes you need to get broken down in order to see where you went wrong, though."
"Like sandcastles," Grayson offered, earning him a bewildered look from Logan and Foster.
"Yeah, like sandcastles," Seth said, smiling gratefully at Grayson. "I'd been lying to myself about something for years, and I was slowly coming to terms with it when Logan reached out to me." He turned toward Logan and felt his eyes begin to moisten. "I'm grateful for everything you did for me, for your friendship and your love. I love you, Logan, but I think we both know that our love is different than what you share with Grayson, and what I share with Foster. You and I were exactly what each other needed for a while, and I'd like us to continue our friendship if you'll have me."
"Of course," Logan said, his own expression filled with the same level of emotion as Seth's. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Seth nodded and reached for Logan. Their hands touched for a minute, and they gave each other a gentle squeeze before parting again. Then Seth turned his attention on Grayson. "As for you, Gray..." he began, having to pause for a moment to fight back the tremor in his voice. "When I was struggling to understand my relationship with Logan, you were there. I was able to talk to someone who understood me in a different way. We shared more personal thoughts over coffee than I've shared with almost anyone, and it drew us closer together while I was slowly starting to set you up with Logan."
"Wait, what?" Grayson asked. "You were trying to set us up?"
"I love you in much the same way I love Logan. You're two of the best people I know," Seth replied with a shrug. "I knew how you felt about him, and I wanted you to have that experience. I also knew Logan would reciprocate, because he was a nice guy, though I didn't account for him developing such strong feelings for you. I think that's where I started to get a little jealous, and as a result these last few months I've been abusing my relationship with both of you."
"What do you mean?" Grayson asked, swallowing hard.
Seth sighed and looked between his two ex-boyfriends. "I wanted to be the most important person to both of you, because for a while I was, but I could see it slipping away. I knew it was changing from the moment you two first kissed at the dance. It was clear to see there was something in that kiss which I didn't have with either of you. Whatever it was, I was jealous of it, because I knew eventually I'd be pushed aside. What I'm trying to say is, I'm sorry. I should have just talked to you both about it, but the night of the dance, I lost my nerve and decided to pursue a relationship with both of you instead of breaking up with Logan like I should have." He shook his head helplessly and asked, "Can you imagine how much freer we all would have been if I'd simply supported you both instead of trying to make something happen which couldn't?"
"Are you sure it would have failed?" Logan asked quietly.
Seth nodded and replied, "Yes. I'm sure, because I didn't have what you had. I know it now, for sure, because I have it now. Foster is..." He looked back at Foster and smiled warmly. "I knew from the moment I kissed him, just like I'm sure you knew from the moment you kissed Grayson. It's just...right."
"But where do we go from here?" Logan asked. "What do we do to make us 'right' again?"
"We rebuild," Seth said. "It's what you're supposed to do after everything comes crumbling down. We start a new friendship, based upon our new understanding of each other. At least, that's what I want to do. It's up to you as much as it is me, and if you don't want to go through it again, I guess I can, I don't know, I-" He kept rambling until Logan stood up and stepped around Foster, before wrapping Seth in a hug, holding him tight as Seth nearly lost control of his emotions.
"Seth, of course I want to," Logan said, gently stroking Seth's back. "I may not know what to make of all of this, but I do know I would never forgive myself if I pushed you away now. But one thing has to change; you can't refuse to talk to us again. We have to be able to work things out in the future, because I can't afford to put my life on hold for you again."
"I agree with everything Logan just said," Grayson said as he stood and placed his hand on Seth's shoulder. Logan pulled back and Grayson continued. "Now, let's hug and move forward." While Grayson and Seth hugged, Grayson whispered in Seth's ear, "I'm going to miss your kisses, but I think Foster would get jealous."
"I'm not really the jealous type," Foster offered with a supportive smile. "As long as Seth comes home to me, I'm not really worried about it. He's proven himself to me already."
Seth looked at Foster and Foster nodded. With a shrug and a wink, Seth turned back to Grayson and gave him a quick peck on the lips, then repeated the gesture with Logan while Grayson stood in stunned silence.
"I still share something special with both of you, and though we may no longer be boyfriends, I'm comfortable showing you how I feel," Seth explained. "If you're cool with it, I don't mind the kisses. No making out, though."
"You're still my best friend, Seth McAllister," Logan said, grinning wide. "I can live with that arrangement."
"Again, I agree with everything Logan just said," Grayson replied, touching his lips reverently. "You'll always be my best friend, too."
"Now I have three of those," Seth said, no longer caring about the tears in his eyes as he grinned wide. "I must be the luckiest kid in the world."
"I don't know," Foster said, drawing Seth's attention. "I'm pretty sure that's me. I'm the one who has you, after all."
Seth laughed and said, "I love you, Foster."
"I know," Foster replied, grinning wide as he opened his arms and waved Seth toward him. "Now get over here. I'm ready to get you back in the sandbox."
"You remember?" Seth asked in surprise as he took Foster in his arms and stared into his eyes, awestruck.
Foster kissed Seth long and hard, holding their bodies close as he communicated everything he felt to his lover. When they parted, there was no doubt left to anyone in the room that Seth and Foster belonged together.
"Seth, I fell in love with you when I was five, and I've remembered every moment together since," Foster said, gently stroking Seth's cheek. "It took me only a moment to realize what Grayson meant about sandcastles. You and I..."
"We'll rebuild," Seth said, grinning. He then included Grayson and Logan in his gaze and was pleased to see them smiling. "We'll all rebuild, and this castle's going to be better than all the rest. I can't wait to see what we can create, together."
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