I slept fitfully. It seemed like I woke every hour or so and had to pee. I watched Cole sleep more than once, just thinking about how much things had changed in a few months. He was mine. He wanted me, and I wanted him – and not just because he was cute as fuck. I actually liked who he was, now that I knew who that person was. I got up again at eight-thirty, threw my tee shirt on, hit the bathroom and went to the kitchen to call Theresa. I hadn't ever called in, so I didn't think it would be a major problem, but I still didn't like doing it.
It took a minute to get her on the phone, but I gave her a summary of staying at a friend's, some physical issues and police being called and being up half the night. I then related how I'd have to take a parent to the police station and she told me that was more than enough – I could have just told her I was sick. She said to be safe and she'd see me for my next shift.
Cole's dad wandered into the kitchen a moment later.
“There he is,” he said with a little smile. “Why don't you go back to sleep?”
“I'm not sure I can,” I admitted.
He leaned against the counter. “I've never seen her like that. I'm sorry you had to deal with the situation.”
I shrugged. “My mother is getting treatment for some kind of mental illness. I'm actually used to getting hit, scratched or bruised. I'm more worried about Cole.”
He smiled gently. “Cole will be fine. I'm more worried, right now, about you. Where is your father in all this?”
“It's some Jerry Springer shit,” I said, blushing slightly at swearing in front of him, but fuck it. I explained the circumstances of my parentage, the deception of the adults in my life and how much I wasn't looking forward to Mr. Petrakis having to actually identify himself to someone as my parent.
“Wow. You've been dealing with an awful lot. How did you meet Cole?” he asked, and smiled again.
I tilted my head. “I'm pretty sure he pretended to suck at science so I'd help him,” I said, smiling back. He caught on way too fast for it to all have been ignorance.
He chuckled. “That sounds suspiciously like my son.” He pushed off from the counter and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Go try to rest. Even if you can't sleep, you'll avoid Emily in the morning – and she is a bear.”
Thinking I was in no mood to entertain a small child, and that I was going back to my boyfriend, I took his advice. Once in Cole's room I took my shirt back off and climbed under the covers. He opened his eyes sleepily and gave me a muzzy smile. Thinking I had been too out of it to take his dad's advice to have 'just a snog' before going to sleep, I pressed myself to him and kissed him. No tongue. Not until we brush. Still, his lips felt nice. I laid my head down and looked at his face.
“Does that mean it's time to get out of bed?” he asked softly.
“No. I just saw you were awake and I wanted to kiss you.”
He hummed lightly and smiled, blinking owlishly. “I have to pee.”
“Well, go,” I told him.
“Comfortable,” he grumbled. “And you're in here.”
“I'm not going to the bathroom with you.”
“Drew,” he whined.
“No!” I said firmly, even though I giggled a little.
“Fine,” he said, the word stretched out by a yawn. He crawled over me and I admired his body as he crossed the small room and left. I moved over to where he'd lain, taking in his scent on the sheets. I looked around the room at his junk – sports gear, some pictures and school stuff. He came back into the room and slipped beneath the covers. He snuggled close to me, pulling me tightly to him and kissing me lightly.
“How are you doing?” he asked softly.
“I'm okay. Called out from work.” I ran my fingers through his hair. “How are you doing?”
He sighed. “I knew it was going to be bad with my mom. I can't believe she ended up in jail, though.”
“Will you go to your dad's house today?”
“Probably. Me and Emily. Dad will probably have to get a lawyer now and...things are going to get messy.”
“I'm here,” I reminded him.
He gazed into my eyes. “Yeah. It was worth it.”
I blushed. “When did you get so slick, huh?”
He chuckled lightly and ran his fingers through my hair before letting out a deep sigh. “Okay if we just cuddle for a while?”
“Yeah. Of course.”
So we did. We didn't talk anymore. We didn't make out. No grabbing for crotches or any other stereotypical expectations were met. Instead I held him, moving my hand over his smooth skin. We were both...excited, but I'm glad we didn't give in to our hormones. If nothing else we may have gotten it through our heads that we didn't want a door opened on us again. I think, for me, it was just being lost in having him. I could hold him, perhaps fill him with confidence that I'd be there to support him through this process. I'd told him I wanted to have him for a long time, not just a quick rebound and then head our separate ways. Eventually we spooned and drifted back to sleep.
A few hours later Cole's dad got us up. We took turns showering, and he looks so damn adorable after he gets cleaned up. He loaned me some clothes and his dad took us to breakfast, along with little Emily. Ginger snottily declined to go with us. The next two hours were a little crazy. Alessia was texting, wanting to know if we boned. Does anyone say that anymore? Cole was really good with his little sister. His dad was on the phone with Keith, explaining how they were going to have two kids with them for at least the weekend.
We didn't really get into any specifics, maybe because of Emily or maybe because his dad didn't think I needed to hear about their personal business. Of course, going to the Petrakis house was another thing entirely.
We were in the living room – all of us. Mr. Petrakis, Alessia, Teo, and me with Cole and his dad. Mrs. Petrakis took Emily into the kitchen to bake something, both to occupy her and to get herself away from me, no doubt. I told them that I was going to tell my siblings anyway, so we may as well have it in the open. I also added Alessia would be a pain until she got all the details anyway, so this was less painful. She threw a pillow at me.
“So I am to go to the police station? My God! Andrew, why did you not call me?” Mr. Petrakis asked, his tone reproachful.
“Well,” I said a little uncomfortably, “it was the middle of the night, I wasn't hurt badly, and it's still a little new and weird to think of you as my father and ask you to show up in some official, legal way.”
He nodded slowly. “I can see why you would feel that way. But you have to remember, you need a parent-”
“Actually,” I said, cutting him off, “I've been raising myself for a while, considering the wreck of a parent I've had. I'm a junior and turning seventeen in a month. I'll be a senior next year, eighteen and going to college. I really don't have a lot of use for a parent.”
“If I may,” Cole's dad interjected politely. “Andrew, you've been very direct about your history, and I'd like you to consider that you could still learn and benefit from adults in your life. Despite the situation, your father is here for you. You're obviously important to my son, and my children mean the world to me – which means I'm available to you as well. Adults in your life won't just vanish – you have to have a better strategy to dealing with them than pushing them away.
“Also, legally, you're still a minor and can't sign for things or enter into so much as a phone contract. You can't pay your own way – nor should you.” He smiled gently. “I'm not saying you forget your past, but I am saying that you can still work with what's on the table.”
“Mr. Thomas,” I said, practically growling. “I appreciate what you're saying. But that man – my father – has left me in the care of a mentally unbalanced person who has beaten me, shamed me and held me prisoner for the last sixteen years. I didn't call him because I don't respect his authority or judgment. They are both obviously fucked up.”
The room erupted. Alessia was yelling at me that I should have called her. Teo was saying something along the same lines, I think. Mr. Petrakis was frowning and trying to be heard, and finally stood and waved his arms, yelling for them all to just stop.
It took a moment, but Mr. Petrakis had the floor. He looked at me, both in anger and sadness. “I have made many mistakes over the course of my life. When I strayed with your mother...I have been paying the price for my mistake for sixteen years as well. I couldn't leave my wife and family so that I could be your father and her husband. I couldn't bear to let another man raise you. So I have tried to be there, to provide for you. My wife has grown to hate me. My children insult me daily for hurting their mother. I am only a man.”
“I don't hate you, Theódoros.” We turned to see Mrs. Petrakis standing in the doorway. She was looking at her husband impassively. “I don't know why I wasn't enough for you. I bore you two beautiful children. You betrayed not just me, but our oath before God.” She lifted her chin a little. “The circumstances of his birth weren't Andrew's fault, and yet when I look at him I can only see your betrayal.” She turned her dark eyes on me. “I'm sorry for that. I felt bad, but I couldn't seem to help myself.”
I cleared my throat. “Once I found out, I understood completely, Mrs. Petrakis. You don't owe me any apology.”
She looked at me steadily. “In life, Andrew, it's very important that blame be placed where it belongs. Sometimes our emotions confuse the issue, and we make poor decisions that we regret. I regret punishing you along with my husband.” She looked back to her husband. “You will take care of this business with the police. And when you get back, we will go speak with the Father. It's time you atoned before God.”
“I think we should let them finish this in private,” Cole's dad said as he stood and placed a hand on Cole's shoulder. Cole looked at me with concern.
“Go. I'll text later,” I told him.
“Wait.” Alessia stood up and looked at us. “Is this official?”
Cole squared up, but she raised a finger. “Not you, Thomas. I'm asking my brother.”
Cole looked down at me. “Is she always like this?”
I looked at her steadily. “Yeah, she is.” I stared at her for a minute more, just to make her wait. Cole had called me his boyfriend in front of his father. We'd stuck together in a really pressurized situation. I didn't feel like I was a rebound to him – he'd said I was the goal. I looked back at Cole.
“Did Fitzpatrick actually tell you to ask me for help?”
The question seemed to throw him, but then he smiled slyly. “She suggested I needed help. I took the opportunity.”
“Thought so,” I said, giving him a smug look before I looked back to Alessia. “Yes. We're official.”
“And you didn't call me right away?” she demanded.
“My boyfriend, not yours,” I told her.
She narrowed her eyes and then looked at Cole. “You're a bad influence. You're corrupting my sweet, innocent baby brother.” Then she smiled and came to me for a hug. It was kind of awkward at first. Teo nodded at me and I smiled.
Alessia let me go and turned to Cole. “You break his heart, I break your face.”
“Christ, Allie,” I said, moving between her and Cole.
“He needs to know,” she said firmly.
“Alessia,” I said just as firmly. “Leave. My boyfriend. Alone.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Watching you.”
“Watch this, then,” Cole said and turned me around for a kiss. Jesus Christ. I pushed him back.
“You don't kiss me to win an argument with her!” I groused.
“Whoo!” Alessia cooed, fanning herself with her hand. She looked at Teo. “What do you think?”
“Boy has it bad,” he said with a nod. “And you better back off before little brother takes you out, Allie.”
“He loves me,” she said. She turned back toward us. “Imma need some details.”
I almost hated to say it, but it was the only thing I could think of to stop her in her tracks. “He kisses better than Teo. Way better. Did I tell you how Teo kisses?”
“Hey!” Teo protested, but Alessia got a sour look on her face.
“Okay, fine! He's all yours, I get it,” she said and then smiled. I was instantly nervous. “Did you tell your new boyfriend how long you've thought he was – what was it? Stupid cute?”
“I think he knows,” I said through clenched teeth.
“How long?” Cole asked, and I could hear the smile in his voice.
“Okay, we'll head out, now,” Cole's dad said, chuckling under his breath. “Good luck with everything. Drew – I expect I'll be seeing a lot of you.”
I nodded, still blushing. I would have to find a way to get back at Alessia.
Fifteen minutes later Mr. Petrakis and I were in the car and headed to the police station. We made a statement, essentially him making things legal for the fact I spoke to the cop the night before, I guess. Maybe. I don't know. I didn't ask. I was just uncomfortable. Things were changing fast around me, and for some reason it seemed right then that it all caught up with me. When we got back I went back to my house to brood in my room. I didn't even want to text Cole. I just needed...to decompress.
Everything started to pop up mentally and make itself the center of my attention for a fleeting moment. First the lack of noise – specifically the TV. It was stupid to notice now, but it was really bothering me. I even considered going downstairs and turning the thing on just because I was used to it. I wouldn't go so far as to say I missed my mother – I think I'd be seriously sick if I did. I did sort of feel like the place was haunted; it was as if she could pop out from behind a door or around a corner at any moment. I shivered.
That brought me to the mess next door. Alessia and Teo were my best friends, and they were awfully god damn important to me. But I'd kissed my brother. Made out with him. Twice. Ick. A wave of resentment washed through me and crashed against my insides. My father left me with an unstable person. I was a virtual prisoner in here. She'd beaten me how many times, and I'd taken it – thinking I had nowhere to go and no one to stand up for me. Sure, he'd go talk to her – or maybe was helping her get treatments, but he covered up at least as much. His poor wife, suffering the humiliation of her husband's mistress next door and his bastard coming to eat at her table.
Alessia was going to interfere in my relationship unless I figured out how to get her to mind her own business after all these years. She meant well, or at least I think she did. She'd been defending her father that morning, and getting angry with me while trying to make Cole think this was a three-way relationship somehow. The thought made me throw up a little, not that my stomach wasn't already in knots.
Then there was Cole. The guy who wasn't just another jerk with a pretty face. We knew each other's damaged states. In some ways it made things easier – no awkward phase where we hid things, thinking the other may reject us for it. It set my head spinning to think I'd gone from wanting to take things slowly and not be his rebound to being nearly naked, making out in his bed. Sleeping with him – literally. Feeling his hard dick pressed against me.
It was so much, so fast. I should have called Cole, but I didn't think I could manage to talk to him right then. I would be a mess. Why was it so quiet?
And so the thoughts swirled again, one following the other like an endless loop of stupidity. I kept glancing at the clock, thinking time was moving slowly, and then even slower. Nothing stopped the whirlpool of thoughts that were winding me tight and bringing me down all in one. How could I put any sense to any of this? What would happen when my mother came back? Would she come back? What if she didn't?
A new thought intruded. There was the Harvest Ball next week. Cole said Haylee had taken him to an empty classroom to fuck during their first dance. Was he expecting that from me? I was pretty sure I wasn't ready for full-on sex. Someday. Not next week. Then again, last night I wasn't going to move forward with him yet, but there I was being a hypocrite.
What about Haylee, come to think of it. Would she cause trouble once word got around that the boyfriend who'd gotten her pregnant and boffed her brains out on the regular was now chasing dick? Fuck, my head hurt.
I heard a door close downstairs and then a voice called out my name.
“Upstairs,” I called out, not moving from my spot on the floor.
Footfalls echoed on the stairs and a moment later he poked his head in and smiled. “Hey, bruh. How's it going?”
“Very weird. What are you doing here?” I asked in curiosity.
“Well, first I'm allowed to visit my friends,” he said and crossed the room to sit on my bed. “Second, I hear you and my boy are a thing and I have to say, thank God! Guy was losing his mind trying to figure out if you liked him.”
I frowned and wrapped my arms around my shins. “So you're checking up on me because we're dating now?”
“Not entirely,” he allowed. “I did talk to Cole today, and it was nice to hear the guy happy for once. I also talked to my girl, and she seems a little worried about you.”
“So...you're here because she said to?”
He frowned, hard. “You're my friend. I can count my friends on one hand. You never invited me over, but I totally understand now. Alessia doesn't really get how much you being my friend means to me. When she told me about the shit that went down, I wanted to make sure you were okay. I think she's planning to back off a little, at least for tonight.” He leaned forward. “But I'm here for you, not for her. I'm taking her to the movies later, but now I'm just checking on my bruh.”
I let out a small sigh. “I'm sorry, Brax. I'm wrapped up in my own head and it seems like everything that's happened in the last few weeks is slamming into my brain all at once.”
“Anything you want to talk about?”
I should talk to him. Maybe I can get my mind to break this loop if I can just think in a different direction. “How long have you known about Cole?”
“Hm.” He paused, probably thinking about the question. “He told me about the second week of school. He was real nervous, but I kinda suspected him. I had a guy down home who likes the boys. He and me? We weren't friends. But I realized that the looks he gave some guys were the same looks some guys give girls. It made me think, maybe for the first time, that there wasn't that much difference between guys who like girls, and guys who like guys.”
“When did he tell you he...liked me?”
“October. Halloween party. You weren't there.” He paused again and smiled. “Haylee was telling Alessia that she was going to get laid that night, and Cole was looking like 'Oh hell, no', and I asked him for the hundredth time why he didn't dump her. I was like, 'Do you have your heart set on someone else?' and he's all shy at first, but then he says there's someone. He's asking them for help in science, and I thought Alessia had mentioned something about that, and I'm like, you like Drew?”
I raised an eyebrow.
“Hand to God, bruh,” he said and started to laugh. “He lost. His. Shit. Asking if he was obvious, did you say something to me, and holy shit – guys can be so dramatic!”
I smiled, not having seen Cole being dramatic at any point.
“Anyway, I told him he should be talking to you. He was working up the courage, but his mom was all up in his relationship. She's always talking about what a 'real man' does, and honestly, she's trash. I'd never treat Alessia the way she thinks men should act.”
I sighed. “Cole and Haylee had a lot of sex,” I said.
“Some, yeah. I wouldn't know, except Haylee talked about it all the time. Cole wasn't really into it, though. That what's got you down?”
I frowned. “No. I'm trying to distract myself by asking you about him.”
“Oh. Ask away, but you should really talk to him – damn! I have to tell both of you to talk to each other! Do gay boys usually have this much relationship trouble?”
I glared at him. He threw his hands up and laughed.
“I was just thinking...no, you know what? I'll ask him. Later.”
“You want me to tell 'Less to back off?”
I tilted my head. “You know she'd give you a ration of crap for telling her how to deal with me. Right?”
The corner of his mouth tugged up in amusement. “Sure. But it's only because the girl loves you. She talks a lot, but she's got it where it counts. You can't buy that kind of real. She will jaw at me for a while, but that's okay.” He fixed me with a look. “I can do that for you, Drew.”
I let out a shaky breath. “I've been sitting here thinking. Like, everything that's been going on is smashing into my brain all at once. My mother being gone, knowing she's actually mentally ill – which makes me wonder if I have any right to even be mad at her for all the abuse she's given me since forever.”
He winced a little. “Man, I don't know. I mean, me? I'm on your side – she's just fucked up for doing that to you. But I hear what you mean. If it's not really her fault, how do you hold her responsible? What do you do with all that pissed off-ness. Am I right?”
“Exactly!” I said, excited by this bit of insight. “Then you add in how quiet my house is with her gone, but I don't miss her – it's just different. Then there's the Petrakises and that whole mess of a family tree. There's me telling myself I won't be a rebound for Cole, but now we're a thing and I-”
“Whoa, whoa,” Brax said with a chuckle and put his hands up. “Bruh, you're no rebound for him. Look, rebounds kind of happen by accident, in my experience. I've rebounded a time or two. He wasn't happy in the relationship he was in, but he didn't see a way out. Add in his mother and breaking up became really difficult to do. You're his guy, Drew. He's not going to bounce from you to some vag somewhere.”
I bit my lower lip. “What about Haylee? When she finds out her ex is...gay.”
He chuckled louder. “She'll be having Naveen's babies soon enough. She's done with Cole, so I don't think she cares that much. She's kind of stupid, but not mean.” Brax stood up and pulled his phone out. “I gotta head next door. But listen, bruh. He's happy you like him back. I hope you're happy with him. Next week, we can hit that dance and be all up in it.”
I let out a little laugh. “Thanks, Brax.”
He just grinned and sauntered off to pick up his date. I felt a little better for his visit. Stuff was still banging around in my head, but it wasn't quite so...loud. I decided I should call my boyfriend.
“Drew? What's going on?” he asked, sounding slightly out of breath.
“Are you running somewhere?” I asked.
“Ugh,” he groaned. “My dad said I couldn't have my phone until you reached out. He said you needed some time and I had to not be a fucking pest. You believe that?”
I smiled. “Well, I did need some time, so he wasn't wrong.”
“Yeah, okay. But I'm your boyfriend. I get to blow up your phone with concern and being supportive.”
He sounded so sincere it was honestly adorable. “What are you doing, nerd?”
“Just hanging. Dad is making dinner, Keith is drinking wine – I think that's because Emily and me are here. I think having a girl so close threatens his masculinity.”
“You are not so funny as you think you are,” came a voice from the background – Keith, I guessed. I heard a door close while Cole snickered.
“So, can you come over?” he asked.
I looked around my empty room. “Yeah. What's the address?”
A moment later I decided to shower and put on some fresh clothes. I'd need to do laundry soon. In the meantime I started walking over to Cole's dad's apartment. Cole was sending me pictures of himself. First just looking seriously at the camera, then lips pushed out for a kiss, then his mouth open and his tongue waggling. He sent me pictures of him winking and just...he was going to fill my phone up with his face. Then he started texting.
Where are you?
I'm walking there, relax.
Get over here so I can cuddle the fuck out of you.
Jeez, demanding much?
Dreeewww! It's been hours!
I grinned, shedding some of my previous melancholy. I'm almost there.
He sent another picture. He was sitting in a chair with the corner between his legs. One arm was behind his head, on his neck. The other hand was between his knees, gripping the corner of the chair. His legs were spread. It was low-key sexy.
You look nice. What was that for? And who took it?
Emily. I said I'd read to her later if she took the pic. And that's me being chill while I wait for you. And wait. And wait? WTF you so slooow? Need boyfriend now. Nao!
I broke into a smiles and giggled a little. Nerd. I'm looking for your apartment.
The complex was made up of several free-standing buildings rather than a tower or something. I was looking for building six when I heard Cole yelling my name. He was in bare feet, walking gingerly across the parking lot to me.
“Nerd! Where are your shoes?” I asked.
“Fuck shoes. Boyfriend,” he said in a silly tone and hugged me. I melted. Jesus Christ, Cole, don't hurt me.
“Mmm. Boyfriend,” I said to him, more to make him giggle a bit.
“That's right. Come on, meet Keith. He'll feel better with another male around.” He took my hand and we started walking back, but he was stepping on pebbles and stuff. I ended up carrying him on my back, and we were laughing and I was off balance – and it was glorious. Fun, stupid and nonsensical, but glorious.