“That’s what he said?” TJ huffed.
“I want to punch him in the face so badly.” Cass put his hand over my fist and gave a nervous snort. “Somehow I doubt that will help matters,” he told me.
“Besides,“ TJ added, “he’s my brother so I should get the privilege.”
We watched Cass roll his eyes at us, but there was a smile pulling at his mouth too, which was a relief. TJ had texted me that Cass had a rough day, so I gladly took the excuse to come over. I wanted to support him without crowding him, though I also needed to talk to him soon. It was going to be shit timing, but the fall was passing and my time to head to the Philippines was getting closer by the day. I took a deep breath as I looked into Cass’ eyes.
“What is it?” he asked, brow creasing. Damn, how did he see through me that easily? Did I put the discussion off or bite the bullet? “Hey, TJ, could you let us talk alone for a bit?”
He blinked, but nodded. “Sure. I’ll just heat something up for dinner.”
I smirked towards Cass. “That code for him calling somewhere for take-out.”
“I heard that!” he called from the kitchen. Cass and I chuckled as his footsteps sounded on the stairs to the basement.
“So, what is it?” Cass gave a half-hearted smirk. “Keep in mind, I’m already in a vulnerable state. So don’t be a jackass.”
My hand went to brush his cheek. “I’m sorry coming out as been so tough.”
I heard him pull in a deep breath. “Are you about to make it harder? Are you breaking up with me?”
“What? No.” I sighed. “But we do have to talk—I would’ve needed to soon anyway—because I do still have plans to go overseas towards the end of the year.”
His eyes darted away. “Right. I hadn’t exactly forgotten, but…haven’t thought about it either.”
“I suppose I could put it off until after Thanksgiving,” I said, without any forethought.
His eyes were back on me. “You’d do that?”
With a nod and a shrug, I told him, “I can look into changing the dates.” I knew I was just delaying the inevitable, but Cass appreciated it all the same.
“Thanks, Will.” Then he sealed his gratitude with a kiss—a kiss that would’ve turned into more, but pressed him back. “We probably shouldn’t get caught necking on TJ’s couch.”
To my relief, Cass chuckled instead of looking rejected. He was stronger at his age than I would’ve been, given the same set of circumstances. “You’re pretty amazing, you know that?”
For a moment he looked surprised, then he veiled it with a smirk. “Oh course,” he said with a shrug, “did it take you this long to figure that out?” I laughed with him and wanted so badly to tackle him down onto the couch cushions to tickle his body, then nuzzle him, then--
“I’m coming back up!” came TJ’s voice. Cass and I gave ourselves a bit of distance and TJ looked between us as he stepped into the doorway. “Everything ok?”
“Yep,” Cass replied easily. I didn’t know how he managed such an easy attitude, even if I knew a lot of it was just for show.
Sitting down in his armchair, TJ passed us some beer he’d brought up from the basement fridge. We talked for a bit, put on a movie, and ate the buffalo wings TJ had “made”. In short, we all kept everything light and did our best to forget the weightier issues hovering outside.
I definitely didn’t want to leave, but I couldn’t really spent the night. Cass caught me as I making my way across the lawn to my car. “Hey, wait,” he called, snagging my arm. “I didn’t want to ask right in front of Uncle TJ, but,” he leaned in closer, “can I stay at your place? Not tonight. Not for days or anything. Just, sometimes this week?” He hovered his lips over my neck, just behind my ear. “I need you. Want you.”
Fuck he was direct. “Me too,” I breathed. “What about work?”
Cass pulled back. “Fuck work. I’m not going back.”
“No. Way.” His eyes leveled me. “You don’t know what those guys can be like. When I was in the closet, it was awkward enough. Now…” He shook his head, letting out a long, heavy breath. “I know I have to figure all my shit out, but, well, I can’t do it all in a night.”
I caught his chin in my fingers. “I know, Cass. For what it’s worth, I think you’re doing pretty damn good, considering everything.”
He opened his mouth, looking as if he was about to argue, then shut it. His face softened, “Does that mean I can spend the night?”
Unable to withhold my chuckle, I nodded, slanted my mouth against his, and told him, “Yeah, as long as TJ’s ok with it.”
I turned to unlock my car and could sense his frown without even looking back.
“Is that really necessary? He’s not my dad.”
“Nope, but you’re living in his house for the foreseeable future.” He scowled. “And he’s my best friend, I want to make sure he’s comfortable with us.”
“Fine,” Cass grumbled, but he bent down as I sat in the car and smothered my lips with a rough, wet kiss. “Sext me later,” he said with a wide grin, then turned and trot back to the house. Troublemaker.
I ended up having Alia with me most of the week, so Cass and I didn’t have much chance to be alone, though he came over to help watch her. Which was nice of him, really. Except…though I didn’t want to admit it, his presence made certain things more difficult. Alia was fine with me, but she adored Cass. Sometimes that was a big help. If, say, I had to cook for us, she didn’t come toddling into the kitchen while I had a hot stove on or water boiling. In turn, I had to deal with her turning her nose up at the food—unless Cass passed the plate to her, or feed her, or promised to play with her after. Who knew rejection from a kid could be so infuriating?
Cass tried to help, but every time he tried to pass her over or leave early Alia lost her shit and started screaming. I would be leaving in less than two months, for the entire winter, so Alia’s rebuffs shouldn’t mean anything. I should’ve been happy she wouldn’t care when I left. Why wasn’t it that easy?
I couldn’t deny that part of my irritability was the fact I wanted to cling to Cass just as much as she did, and I didn’t like the feeling that part of me was going to remain here when I left for my trip. Leaving Nate behind was tough, but he understood and we found ways to work it out, usually. With Cass, for whatever reason, it was different.
By the time the next week had come around and we still hadn’t been able to make any time alone together, we were both frustrated. Lately, TJ had Cass helping with upkeep and repairs on the house that he’d been meaning to get to for years, which worked out for them both. TJ obviously got the help he needed, and Cass was able to contribute and feel he was more of an asset than a burden. Secretly, I thought TJ was also keeping Cass busy so he wouldn’t have as much time to come over.
That Friday night he managed to slip away, though, and I wasn’t even sitting Alia. A very promising start to the evening. My heart did a ridiculous skip when I heard Cass’ knock at the door. When I opened it, however, he looked beat.
“Hey,” I said, taking his wrist and leading him in, “get inside here. Miss you.”
“Miss you too.” His arms came around me and he breathed in. I pulled him over to the couch. I wasn’t sure what had him so gloomy, so I took a guess.
“No word from your dad?” I asked.
Cass shook his head.
“I’m sorry,” I said, though I’m not sure I was. If Doug was determined to be a jackass, best for there to be a clean break between the two of them.
“Honestly, it wouldn’t be that big a deal, but…” He paused, staring at his hands between his legs. “This weekend is kind of, well, for lack of a better word, the ‘anniversary’ of my mom leaving.”
“We usually go out together. Used to get food, last couples years we got shitfaced.” He shrugged. “It’s weird not to hear from him. To think we spend the day apart.”
Biting my lip, I had to ask, “Do you want to call him?”
“No,” he snapped, then shook his head. “I don’t know.”
I did the only thing I could and put my arm around him to hold him against me. He nuzzled into my chest like a cat. “This sucks,” he mumbled.
“It does.” Leaning in, I dropped a kiss over his head. I would’ve thought consoling him this way might’ve been awkward, but having him in my arms, trusting me to smooth his heartache, it reached something in me and gave me a sense of warmth I’d never had before.
We stayed that way for a long time, letting the quiet stillness wash over us as we held one another. Eventually, Cass straightened and stretched out his back.
“Doing ok?” I asked kissing his cheek.
“Yeah. I’ll call him tomorrow.” He moved his shoulder and cracked his neck. “Can we watch something and have a drink?”
With a laugh, I nodded. “And dinner. I’ve got some pasta I can make quick.”
“Sounds good. Drink first, though.”
I stood to do my man’s bidding. After putting water on to boil, I grabbed us a couple pilsners.
“Here you go.” I handed him the beer, and moved to my DVD rack. “What are you in the mood for?”
I glanced at my merger collection, wondering what might lift the heavy atmosphere.
“Hey, Will?” Cass asked behind me.
“When’s the anniversary of Nate’s death?”
Now that I had not been expecting. The question took me totally off guard. “Um, May. Why do you ask?” I turned around to see him spread his hand.
“I don’t know. Just realized I didn’t know it. I guess I already missed it this year.”
Missed it? Why was he talking like this? “What do you mean?”
His thoughts kept going on without me. “Well, we could still go together. Maybe before you leave. Before the holidays.”
Cass finally saw my confused look. “I don’t understand. What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Well, I can go to his grave with you, if you want.”
“Why would I go with you?”
“No, why would you assume I go in the first place?”
“Haven’t you before?”
“How do you expect to move past his death if you don’t acknowledge it?” As he sat there on the sofa looking at me, eyes earnest but unknowing, he suddenly struck me as very young, and very unworldly—which rarely was the way I viewed him.
“Stop trying to psychoanalyze me. I don’t go to graves, ok? I don’t go to my father’s grave.”
His eyes widened, looking at me like I was crazy. “Never?”
“Why are you obsessed with this?” I could feel myself losing my temper, but he was really pushing my buttons and I didn’t see why he had to make a damn issue out of this.
“Do you ever ask yourself why you don’t go?”
“It’s just not something my family does. My Mom’s never took us to my dad’s grave. It wasn’t a big deal. I don’t go now because I’m not in the habit.”
Cass was shaking his head. “No wonder you have such trouble with all this.”
What the hell? I was the one having troubles? “Cass, what I don’t need right now is you making whatever assumptions you’re making about my life. I know you have a lot going on that you probably don’t want to think about right now, but don’t avoid dealing with that by trying to analyzing me, got it?”
He looked at me in a penetrating way that was much too perceiving for a person of 23—but he still was only 23, and he had a lot to learn.
“The fact the topic pisses you off is a sign I’m getting close to the truth,” he pushed.
“What is this? The X Files? You want the truth? I’d like you to leave now.”
That hit him hard, and I immediately regretted it. Only I didn’t know how to backtrack.
The moment he was gone, I was picking up my phone.
“Hi Will, what’s up?”
“Hey, TJ. Can we, huh, talk?” This wasn’t the kind of thing I usually asked. There was a pause on his end, then a reassuring, “Sure, man. When and where?”