I was getting ready for work the next day feeling tired. I'd had to shut my phone off, because my mom had been blowing it up with 'ideas' for making the move easier. Selling my car, going down with just clothes and really making an adventure out of it. She really called it that. When I turned my phone on I got a bunch of notifications – all these stupid things about the town she wanted to go to, pictures of beaches and articles about the area she had in mind.
I made sure to have a coffee to perk me up on my way in, and I met Zac in the basement room where we assembled for our assignments. I guess we did okay, because they paired me and Zac together again, and we started talking on the way to the floor we were supposed to work on.
“You look tired,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said with a nod. “My parents were at the house last night at the same time. Mom thinks I should move out of state with her.”
“Oh,” he said. “Well, I was going to ask if your boyfriend kept you up, but that's kind of shitty.”
“Hah. I wish I was tired because of Jack,” I said with a chuckle. “But no, just drama.”
“Parents. They can be so shitty. Like my mom.”
“How are your folks now?”
“They are totally different,” he said as we arrived at the custodian's closet and began to gather the supplies for cleaning out the classrooms on that floor. “Hal is younger, and he's good at stuff I'm being taught in school now, and he's annoying as fuck with all his 'This education is for you, not me' talk. I like him, but he's a pain in the ass.”
“Brandon is more patient, and he explains things like you have a brain. Even when he pisses me off, I can see his point – even if I won't admit it,” he said and grinned.
“Yeah. I'm like my mom in that way, too. Like, I can get mad quick, but then I can calm down fast – and neither of us admits we were wrong, most of the time.”
“That sounds dickish,” Zac said and looked at me with a frown. “Like, what, you can't say you fucked up or what?”
“No, not like that. I'm saying it wrong.” I thought for a moment. “Like, I'll say I'm sorry, but I won't be all like 'Oh, yeah, totally my bad' or anything. I figure if I get pissed, I get pissed. I get over it, other people should too.”
He shrugged. “I guess.”
“What? You have no flaws?”
“I'm pretty perfect,” he said and laughed as I shoved him. “I guess I just don't think it's so bad if you admit you were wrong. I mean, if you get really pissed at me and you're not really right for doing it? I'm going to be expecting a lot more than, 'Sorry, bro. My bad.'”
“Well, it's probably all you'll get,” I told him. “I don't get pissed like, screaming at people. How did we get on this business of my flaws, anyway?”
“Because mine are massive.” Zac smiled in a defiant yet rueful way that is really hard to describe.
“Okay. Tell me one huge thing you did wrong.”
He tilted his head from side to side and rolled his eyes before saying, “Okay so, I was on this message board, and these guys would send you stuff from a wish list if you did certain things. Like this guy gave me a laptop – admittedly it was a shitty one, but I didn't know that when I picked it out – and all I had to do was send him a pair of my used underwear. I was like, here! Take them!”
I raised an eyebrow. “Really, Zac? That's some sketchy shit.”
“Well, it was a dumb move,” he admitted. “But my real mistake was I sent him the box – and my own address was on the return label.”
I goggled at him. “No way!”
“Totally. Guy showed up and tried to steal me.”
“You're fucking with me,” I stated.
“Ask my dad. When I fuck up, I'm not screwing around, so I try to limit them,” he said and shook his head. “Okay, let's change subjects – this crap brings me down.”
We skipped out on talking as we emptied a class room of its desks and chairs, moving them into the hallway so we could begin to dust the vents and light fixtures before moving to sweeping and mopping.
“So. Have you decided if you should date Liz or Tim?”
“I figure I should lead them both on, just to fuck with them,” he said in a considering tone. “I mean, they like to mess with me. It's fair, right?”
“Yeah, fair,” I agreed.
“Glad you agree, 'cause I told them how I'm spending the days with you, and they are probably laying a VooDoo curse on you right now,” he said with a mischievous grin.
“Wait, what now?” I asked, laughing.
“I did what you said,” he replied with a shrug. “Told em you licked me. They keep asking where and I'm being quiet, so...they're drawing conclusions, and it's funny as fuck.”
“You shithead!” I exclaimed and laughed harder. “You did not!”
“Did,” he said with a quick nod and a fierce grin. “Tied both of those connivers up in knots. Kari – my sister – she started a new job, too. She says there's this guy she works with that's gay, so I told her I need a picture with him to screw with Tim and one with another co-worker to mess with Liz.”
“Don't you think that'd screw with them both?”
“Yeah. But don't you think Tim'd be more jelly of a guy than a girl? I mean, if it's a guy he thinks he has a chance, right?”
“So you're saying he has no chance?”
He sighed. “I'm saying that would aggravate him more, using his own assumptions against him. Right?”
I thought for a moment. “Did you always think this strategically?”
“No. Having two parents instead of my half-missing mother meant I had to up my game.”
We talked for the rest of the day, covering a wide range of topics. My mom kept texting me, and around two she called.
“Derry, have you followed some of those links I sent you? You should really read them,” she said with enthusiasm.
“Mom, I'm at work.”
“Well, you can find a new job down there, and-”
“Mom!” I snapped. “I'm not moving. My life is here. I think it sucks ass you're taking off and I think you should be the one thinking this over a little harder, because you're leaving me behind for what? A fresh start? What does that even mean? You don't know anybody there!”
“Well that's kind of the point, Derry. A fresh start means you don't have any of that to weigh you down,” she said in a clipped tone.
“You think a failed marriage and that you have a teenage son won't follow you there? Mom, come on!”
“How can you want to stay with him?” she demanded.
I growled. “It's not about choosing one of you. Why are you stuck on that? If you were staying and he was going I'd be saying the same thing. I want to finish my schooling here and then figure out my next step, not be forced into a final year with new people and no Jack – and I wish you'd see that.”
I angrily disconnected and hissed a breath out.
“Harsh, man. At least your mom wanted you to go with her. Mine just up and left my ass behind,” Zac said quietly.
I took a breath. “What about your father?”
“Never knew a bio-dad – not sure my mom knew him, either. Brandon's all I need. Well, him and Hal – if Hal would quit riding my ass so much.”
I smiled weakly and then looked at him. “My dad has said to me before what Hal is saying to you about your school work. If it makes you feel any better, it's probably what I'd say to my own kid. He's probably passing on the same advice he got. Pretty dad-like stuff.”
Zac rolled his eyes. “I didn't say he didn't mean well. Doesn't change that it's annoying.” He grinned and I laughed lightly.
“I see what you mean about getting mad and getting over it. Maybe you're right about others getting over it.”
“Yeah? I don't stay mad that long, but sometimes I can say something stupid or hurtful. Gift from my mom. Which one of your dads are you most like?”
“Hmm. Probably Hal, just because he can stay up past ten o'clock.” He grinned and I laughed at him.
“Do you talk this much shit to your dads?”
“All the time,” he said confidently. “But, you know...I say other things, too. Like, not normal stuff.”
He was quiet for a minute and I glanced over at him. He was looking out the window at the sports fields and the sound of a mower drifted on the breeze.
“Yeah,” he said, without distraction. He wasn't lost in thought, but I don't know what he was thinking.
“You don't have to answer me. You say a lot of personal stuff, but I don't really mean to pry,” I told him, taking a few steps toward the guy.
He glanced at me. “No, I was just thinking. I don't know if this will make any sense to you...I never knew what I was missing. Like – didn't know. I was never sitting at home and going 'Gee, wish I had a dad'. Things just...were. My sister and I got along off and on, Mom was kind of not there even when she was there.”
“I'm sorry, dude,” I said quietly.
“I'm not,” he said quickly. “Not now. I give Hal and Brandon a lot of crap, but I also give them all the credit. I used to...well hate is a little strong. I wasn't much of a school guy. I didn't see the point. My world didn't include educated people with goals or anything. Now I'm on the honor roll. Now Brandon is talking to me about colleges and careers and pushing me to try new things – which sometimes totally sucks, let's be honest.” He paused. “But other times, I think I can see...buying a house. My own house. Putting crap in it that I actually like. Learning something new and being able to accomplish something with it.”
Softly I said, “That sounds awesome, Zac. Why would you struggle to say that?”
He tilted his head to one side. “Because you're losing a parent. You've had what I have now for your whole life, and that's changing. I didn't want to be a dick.”
I admit that hit my heart way harder than it should, considering I barely know this kid. “It's cool, Zac. My parents still love me, just not each other so much. Once my mom calms down...this will change. Won't be so hard.”
Zac looked away. “I hope so.”
The next week was filled with my mother putting various forms of pressure on me – she even told me she was going to see what 'we' could get for my car. The lows at my house were filling me with dread about being there as my mom's stuff disappeared into boxes. She even packed some of my shit, and I had to go take it back. It was fucking stressful. Jack's parents were fighting openly, bitterly, and we both wanted to be anywhere but at our own homes. We hid out some at Jared's – his dad told us we could crash in Kyrstie's old room.
We talked to Luke and got to know his boyfriend via phone apps and speaker phone. We made another trip to the Springs the following weekend, and then Nik came to visit the weekend after that. Jared distracted us with stuff to do – paintball, movies, even hide-n-seek at dusk, which made me feel ten for a little while.
“Nik, tell me about Romania,” I said to him one day as we all hung out at my house around the pool.
“The capitol city is called Bucharest,” he said with enthusiasm. “It was built to look like Paris – a true capital. There are streets with fountains down the middle and a big...arch! Like the one in Paris.”
“Really?” I asked, my interest piqued. “Did you live in the capitol?”
He shook his head. “My parents had a small home in the country, small town. I lived in the capitol for a time after my parents died.”
“Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring up bad memories.”
“I used to be very sad, it's true,” Nik said. “But I cannot change things in the past. I have my family – my brothers and papas. My best friend in all of Romania is huge pain in the ass, but I am very happy to have him here.”
“Mat, right?” Luke asked. “He's pretty cute.”
“Yes, very,” Nik agreed. “But past with him is complex. He is happy Averi likes him so much – and forgives him being huge pain in the ass.”
“You keep saying that,” Jack said, looking up from his sketch pad. “What does he do?”
“He is like Loki – trickster. He thinks he is funny,” Nik said with a roll of his eyes.
“And he's cute,” Luke said. I thought that was weird until Nik playfully shoved him.
“You want me to ask him if he will date you? Jerk.”
“Nah. I like my boyfriend better,” Luke said, leaning into Nik. Nik said something I couldn't hear and they both laughed.
“Luke,” Jack said quietly. “Put your arm around Nik's shoulders.”
“What is?” Nik asked as Luke complied with Jack's direction.
“My boyfriend is an amazing artist. He's drawing you guys,” I told him.
“Oh!” Nik said in a pleasantly surprised tone, and he looked more fully at Jack. “You are sneaky, but nice – not like my Matei.”
“I like drawing new people,” Jack said in an absent tone of voice. “And you have great features. Weird choices in boyfriends, but great features.”
“Asshole,” Luke told him, and Jack just smiled.
“So Nik, you were first attracted to Luke because of his butt?” I teased.
Nik turned a little red and laughed, looking at Luke, who also blushed a little. “Yes. He was the umpire, so we could not see his face. Very nice butt, though.”
I glanced at Luke. “What about you, Luke?”
“Well, I also think I have a very nice butt,” he said, laughing as Nik pushed him.
“Come on,” I said, once they'd calmed a little. “What drew you to Nik?”
Luke leaned against Nik and looked at me. “He's cute, but when we were texting...he accepted me with all my baggage. We talked a lot and were friends before we dated. I guess his patience is pretty sexy.”
“Nik, what's the deal with Matei anyway? Is he from Romania, too?”
Nik groaned. “Yes. Matei is my best friend from Romania. We live together in the orphanage in Bucharest.”
“Okay,” I said with a chuckle. 'Why did you groan?”
“Can I tell him,” Luke asked. Nik rolled his eyes but nodded. “So Nik used to date this guy, Nate. But part of the reason he liked Nate was because he reminded him of his friend, Matei. So last summer there was some high-level shit that happened, and Matei came to live with Nik. Nik claims he's been a pain in the ass ever since!” Luke started to laugh, and Nik did too.
“Is true,” Nik said, nodding. “In Matei head he is still in Romania, sometimes. He is much better, but for some time....” He held his hands together and mimed strangling.
The words finally connected for me. “Oh! That's why Mat looked familiar! I met Nate, I think!”
Nik's eyes widened. “You know Nathan?”
“Is his boyfriend Elliot?”
“Yep! Nate was hanging out while Elliot played piano for my singing group. Remember, Jack?”
He nodded his assent.
“Kind of cool. Small world,” I mused. All in all it was a pleasant afternoon with my friends, and Jack did a really nice job of drawing Luke and Nik together. I felt good for Luke, to see him being more of the person I thought he was when we'd dated, and Nik bringing it out in him.
The real solace, though, came from Jack. We needed each other in the most intimate way possible, and we shared our bodies with one another over and over. As my mother pressed harder and Jack's parents made life at his house a misery, Jack became my world, and in the dark all there was to be had was Jack – the way he felt, his scent, his heart were all right there exposed. I lost count of the number of times we made love. The need to be together was consuming.
That weekend both houses blew up at the same time. The Tuesday from Hell started with me walking out to go to work and finding my mom talking to some guy in the driveway. They were by my car, and I wasn't in any mood for her to talk to me about moving – she hadn't even been staying at the house, so I knew her being here wasn't for anything good. I didn't see a moving truck, so it wasn't for her stuff.
“Yeah, it's in really good shape for the year – it was my mother's – but I thought three thousand was fair,” my mother said.
“What's going on?” I asked, suspicion lacing my voice.
“Oh!” my mother said in her Realtor-sales voice, “And this is my son, Derry.”
The guy waved half-heartedly at me. “Well, three is a little high for what it is. I'm closer to two.”
“Hey! Are you selling my car? Mom! What the fuck?”
“Whoa!” the guy said and put his hands up. “I don't want any part of that. I'm out.”
“No, we can negotiate!” my mom said, her voice rising.
“No, you can't!” I yelled, standing in front of her as the guy turned and walked to his car to leave.
“Derry! You lost me a sale!”
“You're selling my car! One titled and licensed to me! They call that stealing!”
“What's all the yelling?” my dad asked loudly, walking out of the house in his sleep pants.
“We can use that money, Derry. I told you!” my mother said, her tone sharp.
“And I told you I'm not fucking going anywhere. If you're going to run, go ahead – but your problems will be right there with you – and stealing my car doesn't make me want to be closer to you!”
“For Christ's sake, his car?” my dad thundered.
“Don't you start!” my mother shrieked.
I was beyond pissed and got in my car, driving too fast as I blasted into reverse and squeaked the tires pulling away. Engine has no balls – can't really squeal the tires. I pulled over for a coffee, even though I was wide the fuck awake and my hands were still shaking. I called Jack.
When he answered I could hear the raised voices. “Derry? You okay?”
“No. My mom tried to sell my car. What's going on? Are you okay?”
“I'm just leaving,” he said. “You going in to work?”
“Yeah. Was going to get a coffee, but my hands are shaking,” I confessed. “Just wanted to talk to you.”
“I'm glad you did,” he said. The voices cut off with the sound of the door closing. “Listen, go to work. I'll get you a coffee on my way. I'll come see you.”
“Oh,” I said, smiling a little. “That would be perfect. Um, can you grab something for Zac? He's my work buddy.”
He chuckled. “Sure. I know he's been keeping you sane.”
I sighed in release. “Thank you, Jack. You're a fucking miracle.”
I went in to work, and Zac and I got put on cleaning classrooms again. We headed to the third floor. Zac was making me laugh.
“So Kari worked last night and I went with my Grandma to pick her up – plus Gram was saying I could use a few things for summer, so new clothes, you know?”
“Always nice. Go on,” I urged. I loved his stories.
“So I get there, and that guy I told you about? The gay one? He's talking to this skater guy and this hot chick – who turns out is the gay guy’s sister – comes in and starts to scream at him.” He raised his pitch. “I knew it! Stop fucking helping him! I'll fucking kill you!”
I know my eyes were bugged out and I was laughing – it's just in the way he tells a story.
“I couldn't get the details, but man – I need to know what that was all about. Kari didn't know, but I told her I needed the details.”
I chuckled. “So the sister was hot, but not the gay guy? Does he have a name so we can stop calling him the gay guy?”
“His name is Hunter,” Zac said. “And I guess he's hot, too. Kari said they're fraternal twins, so if one is hot the other must be, right?”
“Uh huh. You're riding this not picking a sexuality thing like a rodeo cowboy,” I said, teasingly.
“It's part of my mystique,” he said with a grin.
Jack texted and I told him where we were. “Want to meet Jack?”
Moments later Jack strolled in with a drink carrier and handed me my preferred drink, and then he handed Zac the super sweet shit he likes.
“Dude! I like you already,” Zac said. Turning to me he added, “You should keep him.”
“Thanks, I'll keep that in mind,” I said with a roll of my eyes. Jack and I walked a few feet away, and I leaned into him as he put an arm around my shoulders.
“What was going on at your house?” I asked quietly.
He sighed. “I'm not sure what started it. I heard a bunch of things being said, and I'm honestly trying to flush the whole thing from my mind – which is why I came to see you.”
“I'm sorry to bring it up,” I said. “I was pissed this morning, and I thought you might be upset, from what I heard.”
“Don't be sorry. I hate not knowing what they’re going to do. They’re screaming about how to divide things, who deserves what share of what things – I'm just wishing it was over. Whatever the end is, just get there.”
“Yeah. I guess I can understand that.”
“So your mom tried to sell your car? What was that about?”
“She seems to think it'll make me want to leave town with her,” I said with derision.
“You know...if you go, I'd understand.”
I leaned away from him. “No. Fuck you for saying that. I'm not leaving you.”
He smiled a little. “I just meant I'd support you if-”
“Fuck. Off. I'm not leaving you,” I said, enunciating my words. I paused. “Are you leaving me?”
“God, no,” he said and moved closer. “I'm just saying I want to preserve us no matter where we are.”
“Well. I want to be here. With you here. It's where I'll be. You?”
“I'm with you.”
I looked at him uncertainly for a moment.
“He gets mad fast, but calms down.” We both looked at Zac, who was watching us, then innocently sipped his drink as we stared. Then he said, “You got loud. I just want to see if Jack gets over you being pissed like you say everyone else should.”
I looked at Jack. “Did I say I liked him?”
Jack chuckled and kissed me. He looked at Zac. “I don't stay mad at him.”
Zac sipped his drink and then tilted his head. “Interesting. I should try that on Tim and Liz, just to see what they do.”
“Oh, please record it if you do!” I said with a laugh.