"I'll get it," said Josh, jumping up and practically running to the stairs.
"That's right, bail on me," I laughed.
"I'll be right back. I need to go to the bathroom."
Everyone was quiet, even Scott. It felt like everyone was staring at me. It was probably my imagination, but it was kind of uncomfortable. I'm sure they just didn't know what to say or want to say what they were really thinking out load… or at least in front of me. Maybe I should have gone with Josh. I almost wanted to say something like 'nice weather we're having' just to break the silence.
"Dan," said Josh, as he ran downstairs. "Lieutenant Henderson is here. He wants to talk to you. He wouldn't say why."
I looked at my Dad. He looked surprised. I was too. I wondered what he wanted. We had just seen him yesterday when we took Nick home. I've told him everything I know. I couldn't imagine what else he needed. Maybe something new came up in his investigation into what Phil did, but then he'd ask for my father too. What could he want with me?
"Let's go," said Dad. "We'll continue this in a few minutes. Let's see what he wants."
"We'll wait here," said Mr. M.
Both my parents and I walked upstairs. I reached out for Josh's hand to let him know I wanted him to come as well. Having him close felt good.
Lieutenant Henderson was standing just inside the door looking around. I couldn't tell anything from the look on his face. He never gave much away. He must be a good poker player. That's probably what made him a good cop too. You never knew what he was really thinking. When he saw me though, even he couldn't hide his surprise. Seeing him try made me smile.
"Lieutenant," said my father. "What can we do for you?"
"Well, I really came to see Dan. I wanted to see how he's doing, but I'm also here on business. You look like you're feeling better," he said, looking at me, confusion on his face.
"I guess sleeping in my own bed has a healing effect," I said. He obviously didn't know what to make of things, but I wasn't going to tell him my dead boyfriend had healed me. "I woke up this morning and felt fine."
"That's remarkable. I just saw you yesterday. You looked better yesterday than in the hospital, but today you look as good as new. I'm glad you're feeling better."
His reaction was actually kind of funny. I'm sure I'd be getting a lot of that over the next few days. It made me wonder what my parents had told Aunt Carol. I can imagine Jake's reaction. He probably cheered when he heard I got my ass kicked. He would definitely be disappointed when he saw I was fine. It's almost worth him coming just to see the look on his face.
"Lieutenant?" asked my father when he didn't say anything.
"Oh, sorry… yes, I wanted to see if Dan was up to answering a few questions."
"Questions? Did something else come up?"
"No, this is unrelated. I'm looking for some information. You said you know Kyle Allard, right?
"He's a friend of mine. Is he okay? I haven't heard anything from him since he got out of the hospital but that's not surprising. What about him?"
"Do you know where he might be?"
"I don't think he's missing. We just can't find him and need to ask him a few questions. That's all."
"What about? Is this about what Phil did to him?"
"I can't go into that. It's an ongoing investigation."
His demeanor was unlike the way he was at the hospital, or even yesterday. Today he was in cop mode. I didn't like the way he said he couldn't talk about it. Maybe he couldn't... or wouldn't, but I could feel myself getting tense. Josh felt it too. He gave me a look that said calm down when we made eye contact.
"I have no idea where he is," I said, more abruptly than I should.
"Dan?" said my Dad. "The lieutenant is just doing his job. Answer him."
I shrugged. "I don't know. The last I knew he and his mother were going to a hotel and then finding a place to live. She was leaving Phil's father."
"We went to the hotel she told us about. They've checked out. We can't find her either. You haven't heard from him?"
"I've been in the hospital," I said. "I haven't really been in touch with anyone."
"How about you Josh?"
"I've been here or with Dan. I haven't seen him. Have you asked Travis?"
"That's his friend?"
"He and Kyle are boyfriends. He should know where they moved or where they are."
"He hasn't heard from him either, so he says. Neither of you have any idea where they might go? Did he ever say anything?"
"I really don't know him that well. I know him from school and he came to the party I had, but we don't really hang out. He's a couple years behind us. I probably shouldn't have invited him to the party because Phil did what he did to him, and to some extent me, because he was here. He probably would have done something sooner or later anyway, but that was the final straw from Phil's perspective. Anyway, Josh and I went to the hospital to see him but that's the last time I've seen or heard from him."
I did have Kyle's number, but assumed he already had that. Besides, I didn't feel like volunteering information even though I probably should. I was worried about Kyle, but Lt. Henderson looking for him and not saying why bothered me.
"Is there anything else Lieutenant?" asked Dad. "We have company and are getting ready for Thanksgiving. We have more relatives coming."
"No, just if you hear from him then please tell him to call me. I need to talk with him."
"I will," I said although both he and my father knew I wasn't very enthusiastic.
"This is serious Dan. Just tell him to call me if you hear from him. Don't do anything else. I know you. I know you mean well, but if you want to help, then tell him to call me. There's a BOLO for both him and his mother. It won't be long before we find them, but it would be better if they called us."
'Better for whom?' I thought.
"BOLO?" asked Josh.
"Be On the Look Out," said my father. "That's serious guys. It means that police all over are keeping an eye out. If you know anything then now is the time to say something. And Lt. Henderson is right. Stay out of it."
"I don't know anything. I swear. What's he done?"
"We don't know he's done anything. Right now we just want to talk with him… and his mother. Listen to your father though… stay out of it. If you want to help him, then tell him to get in touch with me or the department. Don't do anything else."
"I will Lieutenant. I promise."
"Thank you Dan… Josh. I'm sorry for interrupting your day or that this couldn't have been a more pleasant visit. I like you Dan. You're a good kid and I know you care about your friends, but leave this to me. Just take care of yourself and have a good Thanksgiving. You have a good Thanksgiving too, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. You guys have a lot to be thankful for."
"Thank you Lieutenant. You too," said my Mom, who hadn't said a word.
"Well, my plans have changed. I have to work so I'm not going to be able to go skiing," he said. "I'm still hoping to get Thursday off however."
I watched as he walked to his car. Before leaving he said something into his radio and then backed out of the driveway. My first instinct was to try calling Kyle. I knew I couldn't do that however. At least yet. I had my own problems. Mr. and Mrs. M were waiting downstairs. Plus my father was looking at me. He knew what I was thinking too. I could tell by the look on his face.
"Remember Dan, don't get involved. If you hear from him then tell him to call the police."
"I will Dad, but I wish I knew what it was all about."
"Phil's house did just burn down," said Josh.
"What??? Kyle wouldn't have anything to do with that. You can't think he'd do something like that can you?"
"You just said you don't know him that well," said my father. "And you of all people should know anyone can do anything if they're pushed far enough. Think of what his life was like and what his step-brother did to him."
"No way," I said. "He wouldn't. Like you said, what his life WAS like, past-tense. His mother was getting a divorce and that was behind him. Plus he's hurt. He's got a broken arm and he could barely move. There's no way. I don't believe it. Do you?" I asked, looking at Josh.
"I don't know. The Kyle we know wouldn't have done anything like that, but I can relate to how his life was. His was probably even worse because in addition to a step-father, he had to deal with Phil. I don't want to believe it, but I don't want to tell you the things I thought about doing the last few years."
I just looked at Josh. I hadn't even considered that. I don't mean as far as Kyle is concerned. I mean about Josh. It reminded me how his life was.
I leaned in and gave him a hug. "Thought about doing," I said. "Not did. You didn't do anything because that's not you. You're strong. You toughed it out. Kyle is strong like that too."
"I hope so," he said.
Dad said we should go back downstairs, reminding us the Michaels were waiting. I wondered how they would react seeing pictures of Aaron. Not to mention hearing him talk to them. At least Mrs. M said she believed me. Hopefully, seeing the pictures would show everyone Josh and I were telling the truth. It's not like I blame them for not believing us. It is pretty unbelievable. I was glad we had the pictures. It's amazing that worked.
"There's no hurry. Scott is entertaining them."
"Then they're waiting to be rescued," he said. "Stop stalling."
"Did you get my phone?" I asked Josh, who smiled and handed it to me as we walked downstairs.
"Is everything okay?" asked Mr. M.
"Yes, just the police looking for another one of Dan's and Josh's friends. He's the step-brother of the boy who attacked Dan. They can't find his mother either. Their house burned down last night and the police want to talk with them."
"Sounds like a good family to stay away from."
"Kyle is a good kid," I said. "We don't know he was involved. And it's not his fault his step-father and step-brother are jerks."
"Okay," Dad said. "Let's not worry about them now. What time are you supposed to meet Nicky?"
"I said we'd pick him up at 1:00. It's still okay to go?"
"You're sure his father is okay with it? I know he's been coming around, but are you sure he's okay with Nicky seeing you? Maybe it would be better to give him more time."
"I asked Nick about that. He asked his dad and said he's okay with our going to lunch."
I thought there was a good chance he'd say I couldn't go. He rarely actually said I couldn't do something, but given everything else, I wasn't so sure. I figured it was fifty-fifty.
"Yes, you can go. It's up to the Michaels whether Josh can go. We're not mad at you Dan. Speaking for myself, I'm not happy with what you did to Jake, but I tend to agree with your therapist. Everyone can be pushed to their limits. I still want to talk with your mother though, so don't think you're off the hook yet. As for everything else, it's not that we don't believe you but..."
"Let's just say proof would be nice. How about you show us those pictures?"
"Okay, "I said. "We really didn't expect taking pictures to work. Aaron said things didn't work like that. He said we weren't really physically there, that we were really still in bed but I had my phone so I wanted to try."
"How about we turn on the TV? I can send them there. It'll be easier to see. How about this one?" I asked Josh, who nodded. I thought a picture of the three of us would be a good place to start. "This is a selfie of the three of us."
Reactions were definitely not what we were expecting. I thought my parents would be surprised... happy… something! I didn't expect them to be frowning. I thought them seeing the three of us would prove what we'd been saying, but they looked more upset than happy. I couldn't tell what Mr. and Mrs. M were thinking either. Mr. M also looked like he wasn't very happy, but Mrs. M gasped and had tears in her eyes. I felt bad because she looked so sad seeing Aaron.
It occurred to me maybe they thought we faked the picture. I mean, we could have used Photoshop or something to add Aaron from another picture, but we'd never do that. It hurt thinking they might think that. I thought the picture was pretty cool. Looking at it, it was the first time I noticed that while Aaron and Josh were obviously twins, Aaron still looked like he did when he died. Josh looked like he does now. Maybe they'd expected Aaron to look a little older too?
"Well?" I asked, when nobody said anything.
"Cool," said Scott.
"Dan, is this a joke? If it is, then it's not funny. How could you?"
"What? What are you talking about? It's no joke. Do you think we faked it?"
"Dan, there are only two people in that picture. I see you and I see Josh… nothing else… definitely not Aaron."
"Kevin!!!! What are you talking about?" asked Mrs. M. "Of course it's Aaron. Josh looks like he does now, but Aaron looks just like he did when he died."
"What?" my father asked, obviously confused.
"Jackie??" said Mr. M. "You see Aaron?"
"Of course. Dan is in the middle, Josh is on his left and Aaron is on his right. I can't believe this. It's true. How could this be?"
Scott looked totally confused. He hadn't said anything other than 'cool' and he was looking at Dad and Mr. M like they had three heads.
"Daddy, don't you see Aaron? He's right there," he said getting up and pointing to Aaron on the screen. "There's Dan, there's Josh and there's Aaron. They're standing in front of a cabin."
Holy shit!!!! What the fuck was going on? How could some of us see one thing and everyone else see something else? Josh looked equally confused. I never expected this. I was glad it wasn't only Josh and me who saw Aaron. That would have been bad. They definitely would have thought we were crazy, but now I felt like I had entered the Twilight Zone."
"Mom? What do you see?"
"I'm sorry Dan, but I only see you and Josh as well, just like your father."
"How can that be? We're all looking at the same picture. How can some of us be seeing Aaron and others not? It doesn't make any sense."
"To be honest Dan, none of what you have said makes any sense. I was willing to listen and be open-minded, but you really expect me to believe you talked to Aaron or that he healed you? And now this? I don't even know what to say right now," Dad said.
"Kevin!!" said my Mom. "You don't think they're lying do you? They wouldn't do that. I believe they think what they're saying is true."
"We're not lying and we're not making it up," said Josh. "If we're making it up then why do both Mom and Scott see Aaron?"
"Sweetheart, sometimes the mind plays tricks on us," said my mother. "It lets us see what we want to see. I'm not saying that's what this is, but I'd believe something like that before I really believe you talked with Aaron or that he healed Dan. I'm sorry. Please understand, we just want to help you."
"We don't need help," I said. "We need you to believe us. Mrs. M? What else do you see?"
"I see the cabin. There are two chairs on the porch. It looks like there's a field on the side. I can't really tell."
"That's what I see too," said Scott.
"I don't believe this," said Dad. "Dan, I'm trying. I really am, but what do you want me to say?"
"If our minds are playing tricks on us then why do Mrs. M and Scott see what we do? Are their minds playing tricks on them too?"
"I can't explain it. Maybe. I just know Aaron isn't there."
"I'm not trying to be wise here," said Josh, "but could it be your mind that is playing the trick? Maybe your minds won't let you accept it's possible. If it was only Dan and me then maybe, but Mom and Scott see Aaron too."
I looked at Josh and smiled. I'd never have thought that. Or have the balls to say it. He just shrugged.
"You're saying it's me, your father and Kevin who aren't seeing things right? If I believe the mind can play tricks then I guess that could be possible too, but it's a stretch. I don't know."
"I have an idea," he said. "You think Mom and Scott see Aaron because they kind of expected him to be there. They wanted to see him. Maybe they see the cabin because we mentioned it before. Maybe Mom sees the chairs because she kind of expects chairs to be on a porch. And maybe Scott sees them only because mom does. Is that what you're saying?"
"I don't know. That could be. That's more explainable."
"I'll be right back. Don't do anything," he said running upstairs. "Here," he said when he came back down. "Here are seven pieces of paper. We'll bring up another picture and everyone write down what they see. Be as detailed as possible, anything you see, what we're wearing, what colors things are, what's in the background, anything you see."
"You're pretty smart," I said. "No wonder I love you."
I could tell my mother was intrigued. She was a psychiatrist after all. She dealt with the mind all the time. If we all saw different things then that would be one thing, but if Mrs. M and Scott saw what Josh and I did, then wow! What would people say then?
My father sighed. "I'm not sure I like this, but admit it is a good idea. Chris? Jackie?"
"I admit I'm curious," said Mr. M. "I don't like the idea of me being the one whose mind is playing tricks though."
"Let's go Dan."
"Okay, I'm not saying who or what is in this picture other than it's one of the ones I took last night." I scrolled to a picture with only Aaron standing in front of the waterfalls and showed it to Josh. He nodded and smiled as I touched the icon to send it to the TV.
"This won't take long," said my Dad.
He took about five seconds to write something, fold the paper, and put it on the table. I could see him shaking his head but he didn't say anything. It was obvious he didn't believe us. Mom just looked like she was going to cry. Mrs. M was too but I don't think it was for the same reason. Both mom and Mr. M took about as much time as Dad to write what they saw. I wrote down everything I saw, Aaron in tan cargo shorts standing on a rock in front of the waterfalls, a birch tree off to the side, a sunny day, a log along the shore.
"Okay, is everyone done" asked Josh. "Scott? Do you need more time? Just do the best you can if you can't spell everything. This isn't a spelling test."
"I'm done," he said. "I tried to draw what I see too. Is that okay?"
"It's fine Scott. Now let's see what everyone said."
"This should be interesting," said Mr. M.
"That's one way to put it," Dad said.
"Let's go around," said Josh. "Mrs. J?"
"I don't see anything. It's a blank screen."
"That's all I see too," Dad said.
"Same for me," said Mr. M.
"What's wrong with you?" asked Mrs. M. "There's Aaron standing on a rock in front of the waterfalls. He's wearing his tan cargo shorts, no shirt. He looks just like I remember. There's a birch tree on the side. There's a bird sitting on a branch overhanging the water. There's more but that's all I wrote."
"What? There's nothing there Jackie."
"Scott? What did you draw?
He showed his picture. "There's Aaron. He's on a rock. There's the tree. It's just like Mrs. Michaels said."
I don't think my parents knew what to say. They almost looked scared.
I put down my paper. "Aaron, on a rock, the waterfalls, tan cargo pants, no shirt," I smirked.
"Just focus on the picture, not Aaron. What else?"
"I missed the bird but I see it. I also wrote down a log that's along the shore. Plus it's sunny."
"Yeah, I see that," said Mrs. M.
"How about you Josh?"
"The same thing, Aaron, rock, tree, bird, tan cargo pants. I didn't get as excited about no shirt," he smiled.
"Sorry," I said smiling.
"I don't know what to say," said my father. "I don't get it. I can't see any of that. How can that be?"
"Should we do it again," asked Josh.
"You said he made a video?" asked Mrs. M. "Can I see that? Can I hear my boy?"
"It's kind of private Mom. Aaron made it himself. Neither Dan nor I heard it. He wanted to talk to you and Dad."
"Why don't I send it to you," I said. "You and Mr. M can try watching it."
"But I won't be able to hear him," said Mr. M. He looked sad. "Why can't I see him?"
"I don't know. This is strange. Do you believe us?"
"I don't know. I want to, but I still find it hard to accept. Stuff like this just doesn't happen. My head is spinning."
"I think all our heads are spinning," said Dad. "Let's take a break. I need some time to wrap my head around all this and it's almost 12:30. Just know I love you Dan. I love you both. I can't explain this. It doesn't make any sense, but I know you're not making it up. We'll figure it out. I promise."
"Thank you Dad. I love you too."
I needed to change before going out. I was still wearing the workout pants I put on when practicing with Scott. Josh and I went upstairs assuming my parents would want to talk with the Michaels.
"God, I'm exhausted," said Josh, collapsing on the bed when we got upstairs. "That was intense. I feel like I just took an all day math test."
"It definitely wasn't what I expected. I didn't think they'd necessarily believe us right away, but I didn't think there'd be a problem once they saw the pictures. That was just weird."
"Weirder than having breakfast with a dead guy?" he asked, laughing.
"At least you believe me."
"I believed you before."
I smiled. "Thank you. I love you. And thank you Aaron," I said, looking up.
"What?" I asked when Josh looked around.
"Nothing," he laughed. "I was half expecting the room to shake when you thanked Aaron."
I laughed. "Maybe we should ask if he wants to go to lunch with us. Who knows? Nothing would surprise me at this point."
"Can you imagine what they'd say if we walked downstairs and said the three of us are going to lunch?"
"You're bad," I laughed. "Scott would go ape though."
"I'm worried about him. I was thinking. Maybe you should go out to lunch with Nick while I stay here with him. I think he might need one of us around."
"That might be a good idea. You don't mind? You're sweet. No wonder he likes you best."
"Only for the people I love," he said, giving me a kiss. "And I only kiss the ones I especially love, especially like this."
"Ones?" I asked.
"One," he said, giving me another kiss.
"Much better," I smiled, putting my forehead against his. "You sure you don't mind staying? He's probably a little freaked out. He'll be happy if you play Nintendo with him."
"Maybe I'll take him to get ice cream or something."
"Like I said, you're sweet. I wish Nick wasn't waiting for me. I'd much rather cuddle with you all afternoon."
"We'll cuddle all night," he said. "Now go."
Scott and I went downstairs to play Nintendo right after Dan left. Mr. and Mrs. J were happy I'd stayed. Maybe it was because they thought Scott should have someone to talk to even though they cautioned me to remember he's only eight. It also could have had something to do with them wanting to go to lunch with my parents and talk. I guess the pies were going to wait.
"What do you want to play?"
"Why am I not surprised? I think it's because you know how to cheat!" I said, teasingly.
"I don't cheat!" he said, causing me to laugh. "You just don't know how to play good. I can beat Dan too."
"Maybe that's why he was too chicken to stay and play."
We played seven games and he beat me all but once and I think he might have let me win that one. He made it look easy. I was glad Dan wasn't here. He'd be giving me all kinds of shit.
"Are you sure you don't cheat? You make it look easy."
"How about we get something to drink?"
"Can I see more pictures of Aaron?"
Fortunately, they were on Dan's phone and not mine. I wanted to get them but was glad I could tell him I didn't have them.
"What did you think about this morning?"
"It was cool."
"It didn't scare you?"
"Aaron wouldn't hurt me."
It was amazing how Scott simplified things. It was like he didn't think anything of seeing pictures of a dead guy. It just made sense to him. I wonder what he'd say when he saw the video Aaron made for him. Dan hadn't told him about that yet. I was curious though. He did have a unique way of looking at things. I wondered why he thought he could see Aaron while his parents couldn't. I'm not sure Mr. and Mrs. J would like me asking but like I said, I was curious.
"Why do you think we could see him and your parents couldn't?"
"You believed you could see Aaron. So did Dan and your mother. I did too. Mommy and Daddy didn't believe you. Neither did your Dad. We could see them and they couldn't. What's so hard about that?"
I just looked at him. How did he come up with that?? It made sense. At least it made as much sense as anything else. Probably more. I was amazed, but to him it was no big deal. He just looked at me with an 'are you really that dumb' look. At least that's how I felt.
"Are you sure you're only eight?" I asked, causing him to laugh. "Are you hungry? How about you and me going out to lunch. Everyone else is gone."
"Can we go to the arcade too?"
I laughed. "Let me call your parents to see if it's okay if I drive you mom's car."
I was a few minutes late getting to Nick's house. That's better than it could have been, given the morning I had. I knew my parents didn't believe us, but they couldn't explain things any better either. Hopefully they'd come around. It helped that both Scott and Mrs. M could see what we saw in the pictures.
Mr. Wade was surprised when he opened the door. I just smiled and asked if Nick was ready.
"Are you alone? I assumed you wouldn't be able to drive. You look good, like nothing happened."
I laughed. I wasn't going to tell him the truth. "I feel good, just a little sore," I lied, "but I'm fine. I must heal fast."
"You must. It's amazing."
"Is Nick ready?"
"He's getting dressed. I just heard the water shut off so he should be right down. Why don't you come in? There's something I'd like to say before he comes down."
'Oh, oh,' I thought. My father had said he wasn't too pleased with me. I thought he was over that, since he'd already apologized, but maybe there was something else. He must have sensed my discomfort.
"No, no, it's nothing bad. I know I apologized, but I want to apologize directly to you and give you the chance to say whatever you want, without your father around. I said some terrible things about you. I was terrible to both Nick and your Dad. I've learned a lot, but it wasn't easy. I'm sorry I hurt you. So if you want to tell me off, now is your chance."
"Thank you, but it's okay. I know finding out Nick is gay was a shock. He's been worried how you'd react when you found out..."
"Rightfully so, I guess."
"It's hard. They keep saying things are better now and they probably are, but it's still hard. Not everyone is accepting. Look at what's happening to Danny. Nick is a really good kid though. You should be proud of him."
"I am and I've told him that. I still let him down."
"You've made up for it Dad," said Nick, who had just come downstairs. "I love you. I'm hungry though. Dan said he's buying lunch," he laughed.
"I did? I said we could go to lunch."
"That's his tactful way of saying he wants some money so he can pay," laughed Mr. Wade. "Here, take this. It's on me."
"Thanks Dad," smiled Nick, holding up the money. "Let's go Dan."
"You're bad," I said, as we walked to the jeep.
"He's been falling all over himself apologizing. I might as well take advantage of his generosity while I can," smiled Nick. "Are you sure you're okay to drive?"
"I got here by myself Mom."
"Okay, I'm just surprised. I thought Josh would be coming too. The only times I've seen you alone has been at karate."
"He's home with Scott. We had an interesting morning."
"You guys okay?"
"Yes," I laughed. "Just a bizarre morning. How are you doing?"
"I'm doing okay. Things with Mom and Dad are better. Can we not talk about it for a while? I need a break."
"Sure, I get that, let's just go to lunch. Where do you want to go?"
"How about that new place over on Sycamore?"
"I didn't know there was a new place on Sycamore. To be honest, I didn't even know there was a Sycamore. Have you ever been there?"
"No, but there are always quite a few cars. My Dad says that's a good sign."
Nick gave me directions. I really should learn my way around. I pretty much know how to get to school, the gym, Josh's old house, Chris's house and that's about it. It took less than ten minutes to get there. Nick was right, there were quite a few cars in the parking lot, one of which was my father's SUV.
"Oh, oh, my parents are here. They must have known about it."
"You want to go somewhere else?"
"It's okay. It looks big enough."
The restaurant was obviously new. The building itself looked new. It looked kind of fancy too but I guess it didn't matter since Mr. Wade was paying. It was after the lunch crowd, but there were still quite a few people inside. There were a lot of empty tables though.
"Can we sit over there?" I asked when the hostess started to put us at a table next to my parents. "We don't want to sit near the people," I said as we went by. "I hope you're giving this party the senior citizen discount."
"Charge him double," said my father. "Wait, don't, I'm paying for it anyway."
"I take it you know each other," said the hostess.
"My parents," I laughed. "And you're wrong, Mr. Wade is paying. What did you do, leave Josh alone with Scott?"
"Actually, he just called. He and Scott are going out to lunch too. How are you doing today Nick?"
"I'm okay. My Dad is coming around. I'm glad I don't have to worry about that any more. Thank you for talking with him."
"I'm glad I could help. I hope things work out."
"I'll see you at home. We're just going to have lunch," I said, before the hostess led us to another table.
"Marc will be right over to take care of you," said the hostess, as she handed us menus and left.
"Thanks for getting Danny's granddad to give him a cellphone," Nick said.
"I thought you didn't want to talk about things."
"I just don't want to talk about how I'm doing."
"I get that. People mean well, but in some ways they just make things worse. It's stressful. They either want to tell you what you should do or they don't really know what to do but are sympathetic. Just try to remember they care. I know that's easier said than done though. It took me a year."
"What do you mean? What happened to you?"
I gave him a funny look. I couldn't remember how much I'd told him. I thought of when I really had a chance. I wouldn't have told him when we'd first met and I really don't see him that much. I see him at karate and Josh and I saw him when we'd gone to Josh's house and when he came to the hospital we mainly talked about Danny. Could I really not have told him anything?
"Shit!! I'm sorry Nick. So much has been happening so fast I can't keep track of who knows what. I never told you about Aaron?"
"Hey Dan, are you going after the younger crowd now?" someone asked before Nick could answer.
"What?" I said, looking up and seeing Marc Watson with a grin on his face. "You're our waiter? I want another table."
I was surprised he was our waiter. I didn't really know him. I'd only talked to him that one day he told Josh and me what Phil had done to Kyle. I'd always assumed he was just one of Phil's asshole friends, but I had misjudged him. He'd actually warned us about Phil. I wasn't completely convinced, but after talking with him, I thought he might be an okay guy. The jury was still out however.
"Won't work. I'm the only one on right now. It's after the lunch crowd. Besides, my parents own the place and my sister is the hostess so you're out of luck," he laughed. "How are you doing? You're looking good. I heard Phil really did a number on you."
I laughed. "Reports of my demise are premature. Josh jumped in before he did too much damage."
"Josh Sullivan really put Phil in the hospital? No offense, but that's amazing."
"People can do amazing things when they have to."
"I've heard that but never really believed it. I'm glad you're okay. I should also thank you. I finally see Phil for what he is because of you. I meant what I said the other day. I'd like to work out sometime."
"Sure, I'm looking forward to kicking something… a heavy bag," I said, when he gave me a worried look. "Maybe after Thanksgiving? So, what's edible in this dump?"
"Oh, you want our special menu?" he laughed. "Not to worry. Everything is good. Excuse me for a minute. Jaden, can you clear table four?"
"Sure," said a cute boy about Nick's age. "Hey," he said to Nick. "Remember me? I saw you yesterday? You were with your parents."
"Yeah, I remember. You work here?"
"Jaden is my cousin," said Marc. "We take pity on his parents."
"A real family business," I said.
"You got it. What can I get you to drink?
"Dr. Pepper for me, if you've got it. Otherwise, a Coke."
"Same for me," said Nick.
"Be right back… table four," he said to Jaden before he left.
"Hey," said Jaden, after Marc walked away. "Do me a favor and don't say anything about what I did yesterday when Marc is around. He doesn't know about me."
"No worries," said Nick. "You shocked the shit out of my parents. They just found out I'm gay. It was the first time they noticed me checking out another guy. Then you came over. It was perfect timing," he laughed.
"Jaden is the guy who gave me his number yesterday," said Nick, when I looked confused.
"The guy with the big balls?" I asked.
"What?" asked Jaden looking surprised but happy. "You think I have big balls?"
"I said brass balls, Dan."
"Nope, maybe you meant brass balls but you said big balls. I can prove it. I've got your text right here."
I almost added they didn't look that big but I didn't want to embarrass the kid. Maybe I would have if he was an asshole but he seemed okay. Plus he was cute.
"Just please don't say anything. I don't know what Marc would do. But if you want to know whether I have big balls or not, then call me," he said, with a smile and gleam in his eyes.
I laughed. Jaden was funny. He might not want his cousin to know about him but he wasn't bashful when Marc wasn't around. I wanted the best for Nick and Danny, but part of me thought Nick and Jaden would make a cute couple. There was something in Nick's eyes when he looked at him too.
"I won't say anything to your cousin," Nick said, "but I don't know about calling you. I have a boyfriend. At least I hope I do."
"That sucks. Maybe we can just hang out then. The only other gay guys I know are online."
"Be careful with that," I said. "People don't always tell the truth."
"I know," he laughed. "I don't really have a 10" cock. Even if I do send out pictures of it."
I couldn't help but laugh. I liked this kid. He should probably be more careful with what he says, but you have to like his spirit.
"Anyway," I smiled. "Now you know two real live gay boys."
"You too? Are you his boyfriend?"
I laughed. "We're just friends. I have a boyfriend. By the way, I'm Dan."
"And since we haven't really been introduced, I'm Nick, and I'd like to be friends. I do have a boyfriend though, so it would just be friends. But who knows, we do know other gay guys," Nick smiled.
"Cool. I'm so horny. Maybe you and your boyfriend would like a threesome? Just as friends, of course."
"Uhh," said Nick.
I shook my head. Not that it was any of my business, but I don't think Nick would do that. I'm sure he was a little curious though. It was obvious he thought Jaden was cute too.
"Jaden!" said Marc putting our drinks down. "Stop goofing off and go clean table four."
"Alright, I'm going. What's the hurry?" he asked walking away. "There's nobody waiting."
"Cousins," he said. "He'd stay here and flirt all afternoon if I didn't keep after him."
"It's kind of hard not to notice. He's a good kid but he hit puberty and well, you know. Plus he's obvious. He doesn't think I know, I take advantage of that, but he practically drools when he sees a cute guy. It's funny to watch. He does need a boyfriend though, so if you're interested, I'm sure he would be as well," he said looking towards Jaden who was looking at us.
"You're cruel," I laughed. "Give the kid a break. Talk to him. He's worried how you'll react."
"I will. I'll let him squirm a little more though. He is my cousin," Marc laughed. "Do you know what you want to eat?"
I ordered a grilled chicken salad while Nick ordered a cheeseburger and fries. I gave him a hard time about all the fat and grease, but he told me I wasn't normal.
"So, do you want to hear about my last year or do you want to talk about Danny?" Not that I didn't know the answer.
I spent the next few minutes summarizing the last year. I told him about Aaron, how he died, what my last year was like, how we moved here, meeting Josh and finally how we'd just learned that Josh is Aaron's twin brother who I hadn't even known about. He just shook his head. Evidently, I'd mentioned Aaron when he'd visited the hospital but I hadn't mentioned who he was although he'd assumed an old boyfriend. That was when Jason was there. We only stopped talking when Marc brought our lunch. He didn't need to hear what we were saying. I also didn't tell him about Josh meeting Aaron or him healing me. Maybe sometime.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you," I said. "I didn't tell many people when we first met, but then everything happened so fast. We only found out about Josh when I got hurt."
"It's okay," said Nick. "You had bigger things to worry about. I'm sorry Danny and I have added to it."
"Actually, that's been a good thing. The situation is better now, still bizarre, but worrying about you and Danny gave me something else to think about."
"Kind of like this. It's been good talking about something besides my problems," he said. "You're telling me the truth, right? Josh and Aaron are really twins who were separated at birth and the people with your parents are really Josh's parents?"
"Yeah, it's all true, but don't say anything. They still need to prove it in court or something to officially get custody.
We finished eating and Jaden came over to clear our plates. Maybe it was one of those restaurants that liked to rush people through but he was right there and it wasn't like anyone was waiting. My bet is he was waiting for another excuse to flirt with Nick. I had noticed he was never that far out of sight. He set place settings for every table around us, made sure salt and pepper shakers were full, tables clean and anything else he could think of to be within sight. It was funny but I wasn't the one he was flirting with. Nick didn't seem to mind though.
"Jaden, just clear the table," Marc said shaking his head. "Do you guys want dessert?"
"Cheesecake," he said.
"Alright, make it two," I said. "It'll make up for all that hospital food." I smiled, when Marc practically dragged Jaden into the kitchen. I hope he wasn't too hard on the kid.
"This has been great Dan. Thank you. It's nice not to think about things. I feel bad though. I shouldn't be looking at other guys when Danny is suffering," he said, glancing at Jaden who was back doing whatever.
"It's okay to look Nick. You've been through a lot too. Besides, it's tough not to look the way he's been walking around. He's cute and we're gay. It'll be our secret."
"Yeah, he is. I'd never cheat on Danny though, especially now. I could never hurt him."
"Do you want to talk about him?"
"It's hard. I don't know what to do. I'm glad you got him the phone, but things are so bad for him. He sounded so down when we talked last night." Nick had tears in his eyes and wiped them the back of his hand. "Sorry… he told me I should forget him, that I should find someone else. Does he really think I could do that? He actually said that would be best."
"That doesn't mean that's what he wants, even if he said it's what he wants. He loves you. He doesn't want you to suffer either."
"I don't care about me. All I care about is him. There's no way I'm going to bail on him."
"That's because you love him. What would you tell him if you were in his place?"
"What should I do? He wouldn't tell me much but what he did say was worse than what you had said. He has to meet with that minister every morning, all morning long. He wouldn't say anything about what they do. Then he has to read the Bible and pray every afternoon. He has to pray God will take his gay feelings away."
"I've heard of praying the gay away. I can't believe anyone thinks that works. They're just going to fuck his head up. I can just imagine what that minister is telling him. He really has to spend every morning with him? It sounds like brainwash."
"What are we going to do? They're his parents."
"We need to keep talking with him. At least he'll know someone is on his side, that we haven't forgotten him. We need more information… some help too. Our fathers are lawyers. They should be able to help. What they're doing to Danny isn't right. They can't keep him a prisoner. Can they?"
"We need to be careful texting him. That phone is his only lifeline. If they find it then he'll be in even more trouble."
"I know, but I can't just not do anything. As of now, Operation Save Danny, is on. Are you in?"
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