Greetings, my readers. Starting with this chapter, I will be providing a recap of the previous chapter so you won't have to go back and re-read it (unless you want to). I want to get back to posting chapters weekly, but with everything else going on in my life I can't guarantee it, which is why I've decided to do this. Thanks to my reader (you know who you are) for suggesting this.

I still encourage my readers to join my Yahoo! Group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/the_long_road_series/) That being said, here's the recap of chapter 20.

In chapter 20 Mitch begins to realize that something is wrong between him and Aaron. As Aaron tries to explain that he and Cameron are engaged and that he and Iukekini were together. He things about it then gets angry at Aaron and basically throws him out of his life. When Cameron comes to see him, he explains what happened and Cameron goes off on him, defending the devastated Aaron. And now, without further delays, chapter 21. Please enjoy.

Jim

Chapter 21

"Aaron, it's Cameron. I don't know if you're in a dead zone or you're just not taking my calls, but PLEASE call me back. Mitch told me what happened. I'm so sorry that he was such a dick to you. He was way, way, way out of line. Please call me. I need to see you. Bye." After waiting about an hour she decided to stop by Iukekini's apartment and talk with him. She couldn't bear the thought of their friendships ending which she was scared Mitch would insist on.

A sudden knock on the door startled Iukekini awake. A look of surprise covered his face as he opened the door to reveal Cameron. "Cameron. I tried to call you. What's going on?" he said as he stepped aside to let her in.

"I don't know. Mitch has turned into some horrible person I don't even know anymore. How's Aaron?"

"How do you think he is?" Iukekini snarled, allowing some of his anger to come out.

"I can't even imagine how he's feeling."

"I'll tell you how he's feeling. He's devastated. First you turn on him, and now Mitch. The two most important people in his life, ones he'd gladly lay down his life for, turn on him. No, I take that back. You two didn't just turn on him, you two turned on him so viciously that I don't think he even trusts me anymore."

Cameron hung her head. "I know." She whispered. "For what it's worth, I've already apologized to Aaron and I'm considering breaking off the engagement and leaving Mitch."

"Why would you leave him?" Iukekini asked, surprised.

"I can't be with a man who would so quickly turn on his best friend like that. I know you heard what he said to Aaron in the hospital."

"Yeah I did, and I have to tell you, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. What's going on with him?"

"I don't know, but right now I'm more concerned with what's going on with Aaron."

"I'll tell you what's going on with me." Aaron's voice startled everyone. Keeping his eyes closed, he continued, trying unsuccessfully to keep the pain out of his voice. "I thought I knew you guys, but it's obvious I don't. I don't know what I did to make you guys hate me so, but I knew that this charade was a bad idea. I just never expected to lose my best friends and my boyfriend over it." He got up off the couch. "I need to go." He headed for the door, but Cameron was quicker, intercepting him just before he reached it.

"Aaron, can't we talk about this?" She begged.

"What's there to talk about? You both made your feelings very clear. You both want me out of your lives."

"No, Aaron, we don't. I apologized earlier for my actions and what I said to you, and I meant every word. I don't know what's going on with Mitch, but he's not the same man I fell in love with. I'm seriously considering breaking off the engagement and leaving him. I can't be with someone who can so quickly and easily turn his back on his best friend. All these years I never knew he was secretly a homophobe."

"Cameron, you guys have been together for seven years. Don't leave him over me. I'm not worth throwing away your relationship. The day we met, I told you I'd always be there for you. I broke that promise and that's something I'll always regret." She replied, placing her hand against Aaron's cheek.

"You were put into a situation you never anticipated, having to choose between me and your fiancÚ. You chose your fiancÚ, which was the right choice to make."

"Not in this case. I saw a side of Mitch that he kept hidden and I can't deal with that. It's so wrong. Please, Aaron. Can't we try again?" Tears were flowing freely down her face. Aaron held out her arms and she rushed into them. They clung to each other, crying healing tears. Eventually they separated. "I have to go. I have an appointment with my doctor for my annual checkup. Thank you Aaron. It means a lot to me."

"Me too. I'll see you later." He replied as she left.

Iukekini jumped up and placed his hand on Aaron's shoulder. "Baby, where are you going?"

"Home."

"Why?"

"I need some time to think."

"About what?"

"What about us?" A note of fear crept into Iukekini's voice.

"You said you don't believe I trust you anymore. That means you don't trust me. Is there an us? I don't know anymore."

"Of course there's an us. Baby, please don't do this. Please."

"I'll call you tomorrow." He left, leaving a hurt and confused Iukekini, whose emotions mirrored his own.

What do I do know? My best friend hates me, my boyfriend doesn't trust me and I don't have a clue as to what's going on with Cameron. Sitting on a park bench Aaron slowly came to the realization that he needed to talk to someone who could advise him, someone not directly involved. I hope I still have the number. He looked through his wallet and was grateful to find the card he needed. He dialed the number on the card and was not surprised when he was routed to voicemail.

"You have reached the voicemail of Major Andrea Peretti. Please leave your name, number and a brief message and I will get back to you as soon as I can. Your call is important to me so please let me call you back."

"Andrea, this is Aaron Suarez. I know it's been a while, but I really need someone to talk with. Please call me anytime at (520)555-5409. Thanks. Talk to you soon, I hope. Bye."

He sat on the bench for a few minutes trying to figure out what to do. He was at a complete loss and getting more and more frustrated with each passing minute. Finally he decided to take out his frustrations on the Nautilus equipment and free weights at the base gym. After his customary hour-long workout, showering and eating a tasteless dinner, he decided to head back to the NCO barracks and watch some mindless television to help get his mind off things if only for a little while. After about a half hour his phone rang.

"Hello." He answered without looking at the caller ID display.

"Hi, Aaron. It's Andrea returning your call. I'm sorry it took so long, but I was with a couple of patients and wanted to wait until I had plenty of time to talk with you. How are you doing? Judging from your message I take it that things are going a little rough at the moment?" She began, knowing from past experience that it wouldn't be easy to get him to open up.

"Thanks for calling me back. I'm sorry to bother you, but I just needed someone to talk to, someone who will listen and not judge me. I'm in a real mess."

"Aaron, I told you before you left Nellis that you could call me anytime, day or night and I meant it."

"I know and I appreciate it. I don't really know where to start."

"At the beginning is usually the best place to start."

"Okay. Well, I never thought this would happen, but I've fallen in love again. He's a local Firefighter and up until recently, it's been really great." He went on to tell her about Iukekini and how they met at Candle Crafts.

"Aaron that's wonderful news on both counts. I'm happy that you found someone and that you're doing something you're passionate about. I still have the candle you made me sitting on my coffee table at home. So what's wrong?"

He told her all about his past with Jerry, running into him at Barber's Point, Cameron, Mitch and their plan to keep him from being outted. Tears started flowing down his cheeks as he told her about Mitch's accident and the aftermath. "Mitch hates me now. My best friend hates me and it's all because of that damned charade which I knew from the beginning would backfire somehow. I haven't a clue as to what's going on with Cameron. One minute she's a royal bitch to me, the next minute it's like nothing ever happened."

"What about Iukekini? How's he responding to all this?"

"After the blow-up with Mitch, I went to his apartment while he went to get stuff to make pizza. He made my favorite, but I couldn't eat it. I eventually fell asleep. I feel so bad about the pizza. Iukekini went out of his way to make it and I just couldn't bring myself to eat it. He's an awesome cook and he's very meticulous. He put a lot of effort into it and I couldn't eat it."

"I'm sure he understood and I'm willing to bet that he put it in his refrigerator for you to eat later."

"Probably not. He doesn't trust me anymore."

"Why do you say that?"

"When I woke up, Cameron was there. I heard him tell her that he doesn't believe I trust him anymore. For him to say that means that he doesn't trust me."

"Did you talk with him about it?"

"No. I couldn't. I just had to get out of there, so I left."

"Did he try to stop you?"

"Yeah, he did, but I left anyway."

Damn that stubborn streak of his! He can be more stubborn than a whole pack of mules and donkeys combined!! "Okay, let's forget about Mitch and Cameron for a moment, and concentrate on you and Iukekini. What makes you think he doesn't trust you?"

"Because of what he said, that he doesn't think I trust him."

"Do you?"

"Of course I do. I love him, just like I loved Clark."

"Aaron, I don't know Iukekini, unfortunately, because he sounds like a wonderful man, but I really feel that you're wrong in your assumption that he doesn't trust you. It sounds like he's afraid of losing you because he's lost your trust. Has he? Has he given you any reason to not trust him?"

"No to both questions. He's been nothing but supportive throughout this whole mess."

"So you do trust him and you do love him?"

"Yes I do."

"Then you need to let him know. I'm willing to bet he's really upset over this situation and would have done anything to have prevented it from happening in the first place."

"Yeah, he would. It was his idea to have the joint training sessions so that we could become friends legitimately in the eyes of the Air Force, even though it wasn't necessary since we met at Candle Crafts."

"So go to him and let him know that you do trust him and that nothing has changed between the two of you."

"But what about Mitch and Cameron?"

"I would guess that Mitch has some issues that he needs to work out and it appears that Cameron is trying to be as supportive of both of you as best she can."

"I guess I owe them both an apology. I just hope they'll forgive me for being such an ass. I have to go see them."

"I'd be willing to bet that, from what you've told me about them, they already have. Let me know how things work out. Just remember one thing, Aaron."

"What's that?"

"I'm only a phone call away. Take care and keep in touch."

"I will. Thanks for everything, Andrea. Take care and I'll talk to you soon. Aloha" He disconnected the call and slipped the phone into his pocket. He sat on the bench for a few minutes before sighing deeply and getting into his car, driving to Iukekini's. He knocked on the door so quietly Iukekini didn't hear it at first.

God I wish I knew what was going on in Aaron's head. I want to help him through this so bad, but I can't. He's closed himself off and won't let me in. I hope to hell he doesn't break up with me over this. I love him so much...what was that? He opened his front door just as Aaron reached the door to the stairwell, heading out to where he didn't know. Being a fitness nut, he never took an elevator if stairs were available. "Aaron, wait. Please." He called out. Aaron slowly turned and walked back to the apartment. "I'm glad you came back."

"Can I talk with you for a minute? I promise I won't take up much of your time." Aaron said so quietly it was almost a whisper.

Iukekini motioned him inside, but didn't touch him for fear of his reaction. "Please, come in and sit down. Why did you knock instead of coming right in?"

"I wasn't sure you would want to see me. Iukekini, I'm so sorry about all this mess. I do trust you and I know you trust me too. I love you and don't want to be without you. I just don't know what to do about all this. It hurts so much."

"Shh, baby. C'mere." He gathered Aaron in his arms and held him tightly. "I love you too, Aalona and I want to help you through this, you and me together." He kissed Aaron on his forehead gently. Aaron snuggled deeper into his arms and once again fell asleep.

After about an hour Iukekini disentangled himself from Aaron, went into the kitchen and reheated the leftover pizza. When it was ready he gently shook Aaron awake and told him that dinner was ready.

"Thanks, but I'm not really hungry" he mumbled.

"We're not going through this again. You are going to eat. You're a Firefighter. You need to be ready to respond at any time, and in order to do that you need your strength. You need to bring your `A' game." Being the conscientious Firefighter that he is, if that doesn't bring him around, I don't know what will.

He stretched and slowly raised himself into a sitting position. "Okay. Thank you baby. I'm sorry I've been such a pain in the ass lately. You know what I just realized? All this was for nothing. Jerry wouldn't be stupid enough to out me because I could turn around and out him. If I were to come under investigation I could say that the reason he knew I was gay was because we slept together many times. If the investigators were to ask our parents, they'd find out how many times we've slept over at each other's houses, even though nothing ever happened between us. We were both in the closet back then. No more hiding. I'm coming out."

"Aaron, think about this for a minute. If you come out, they'll kick you out of the Air Force."

"What do I care? I only have two months to go. It will take them twice that long to do the required investigation and do the paperwork to kick me out. I'm not going to re-up and take the chance of being transferred away from here. I love it here and I don't want to leave you or Hawaii."

"Why would there be an investigation? You are going to admit that you are gay."

"A lot of people have lied and said they were gay in order to get out early ever since they made the discharges honorable instead of dishonorable."

"Okay, so what do you intend to do when you get out?"

"I don't know. I guess the first thing would be to see if I could get unemployment. I need to start looking for a job and a place to live now so I'll be prepared."

A look of hurt flashed across Iukekini's face. "You wouldn't want to live with me?"

"Of course I would, but I didn't want to presume you'd want me to live with you, since you've lived by yourself for so long."

"Aalona, I've wanted you to move in with me since the first time you stayed over."

"Why didn't you say anything? Being an E-5 I could have moved off-base at government expense. They would have paid me to live off-base."

"I wasn't sure if it would scare you away, thinking that it would be too soon. As far as a job goes, I'll talk with my chief. You made one hell of an impression on him during our joint training exercises. He wants you in our company, but he knows you can't join us until your enlistment is up."

"Can you get me an application? I have thirty days of leave saved up, so I'll use that as terminal leave, which means I'd be able to start right after the end of next month. I need to find a job as soon as I can. I don't want you to foot all the bills by yourself. It wouldn't be fair."

"It doesn't matter to me. I want you living with me like yesterday. When can you move in?"

"After I get out. They won't pay me to live off-base when I only have two months left. I'd have to reenlist."

"Two months. Baby I don't want to wait that long. I can understand where you're coming from. What if you stayed with me but kept everything but your clothes on the base?"

"How about if I stay here on my off-days? If I miss an alert during my duty days I'll be in deep shit."

"I'm guessing that's the best I can hope for?"

"For now. I don't want to take a chance of missing an alert. I could be court-martialed, given a dishonorable discharge and sent to Fort Leavenworth Prison for the rest of my life."

"Let me ask you this. What would happen if, on one of your off days, an alert went out and you didn't respond?"

"They would call me on my cell phone and I'd have two hours to get back to base and respond to the alert. If I'm on terminal leave, however, I wouldn't be required to respond."

"So we make the best of it until you can move in permanently. I'm off tomorrow but I'll get you the application next week. Are you off tomorrow?"

"Yeah. I have the next two days off."

"Why don't we go waterskiing tomorrow?"

"Sounds great. What time?"

"When we get up and decide to go. Remember you're staying tonight?"

Aaron sighed and hung his head. "I'm sorry. With everything going on I totally forgot. Do you still want me to stay?"

"Of course I do, baby. I want you here always."

"Okay. Let me run back and get some clothes for tomorrow."

"Why don't you bring back a bunch of your clothes? That way you'll always have some here."

"Okay, that's a good idea. Be back soon."

One month later...

"Well, that's everything." Aaron told Iukekini as he brought the last of his belongings into the apartment. "Tomorrow I have to out-process and then I'll be on terminal leave. I called Chief Hutchinson and let him know that I can start any time after tomorrow."

"Awesome. You know, the guy that's in charge of training is retiring next week. I wouldn't be surprised if the Chief tagged you for that job."

"How could he put me in charge of training new guys when I'm a new guy myself?"

"But you're not new to firefighting and thanks to the joint training exercises, you know most of our procedures already. I see it taking a week, two at the most for you to be up to speed. Besides, being in the Air Force, you know more about firefighting than a lot of us do."

"I'm not so sure about that." Aaron replied as he put away the last of his things. "Well, that's it. I'm all unpacked and moved in."

"Yea! Let's go celebrate. How about The Steak House for dinner, on me."

"Okay, but I think the management might have a problem with me using you as a plate."

Iukekini slapped him upside his head. "Bitch! You know what I meant." Aaron just grinned as they headed out the door and jumped into Iukekini's car. A short time later they arrived to find the place packed. "Wow, for a Tuesday night this place is sure packed." Iukekini remarked as he scanned the busy restaurant. Oh fuck! Cameron and Mitch are here. This could get ugly.

"Welcome to The Steak House. Do you have a reservation?" The hostess inquired.

"No, we don't. It was a last minute thing and we didn't expect the place to be this busy."

"I'm afraid you might have a bit of a wait. Let me get your names to put on the waiting list. Perhaps you would like to wait at the bar?"

"Thank you Miss." Iukekini responded as he gave them their names. As they headed for the bar he made sure to walk next to Aaron in such a manner as to block his view of the diners.

"Excuse me. I have to go to the ladies room." Cameron told Mitch. As she went to the restroom she notice two guys who, from the back, looked like Aaron and Iukekini. Coming out of the restroom their identities were confirmed. Seating herself she told Mitch "Honey, Aaron and Iukekini are at the bar. I bet they're waiting on a table. Since we haven't ordered yet, why don't we ask them to join us?"

"I don't know if that's a good idea, especially after the way I treated him in the hospital. He'll probably tell me to go fuck myself, and I wouldn't blame him." He replied quietly.

"You two were so close. I can't believe he'd do that. I'm going to ask them to join us." Be right back." She went to the bar and said hello.

"Cameron. This is a surprise. How are you doing?" Aaron asked, giving her a hug. The rift between them had them all hurt deeply, but they were able to get their friendship back on track over the last two months, with the exception of Mitch, who kept out of sight.

"I'm doing good. You guys here for dinner?"

"Yeah, but it seems we have a bit of a wait on our hands."

"Why don't you join us? We haven't ordered yet."

"We wouldn't want to intrude." Aaron replied.

"You won't be. Come on." She cajoled.

"Are you sure?" Aaron asked, reluctantly.

She grabbed his arm. "Yeah, I'm sure. C'mon, big guy, and bring that gorgeous Hawaiian hunk with you."

Mitch stood as they reached the table. "Aaron." He began, looking at the floor. "I don't know what to say. My behavior in the hospital was beyond unforgivable. You have every right to beat the crap out of me. I wouldn't blame you in the least if you did. There's nothing I can say to excuse my actions. I wish I could tell you how sorry I am. The psychiatrist helped me get my memory back and when I did, I realized that none of this was in any way your fault. It was all me. I know there's no possible way that you could forgive me. Just know that I'll regret it for the rest of my life."

"Mitch. Mitch, look at me." Mitch raised his head, barely able to maintain eye contact with Aaron. Aaron held out his arms toward Mitch, who fell into them in a flood of tears. "I've missed you and Cameron so much. I'll make you a deal. I'll forgive you if you forgive me."

Mitch pulled back. "Huh? You've done nothing wrong. It was all me."

"Let's all sit down." They sat and placed their drink orders with the waiter. "What happened to you, Mitch, was all on account of that damned charade to protect me, which I came to realize was totally unnecessary. If I didn't have my head up my ass I would have realized long before this that Jerry wouldn't out me because one, they'd want to know how he knew I was gay and two, I could out him. Any investigation would reveal all of the sleepovers we had at each other's houses. It wouldn't matter that nothing ever happened between us. The fact that we slept over at each other's houses, usually in a camping tent and sleeping bags, would be enough evidence to get him kicked out as well. So can we be friends again?"

"I'd like that, very much." They stood, hugged and sat down again. "So what's been happening with you?"

"Well, I'm on thirty days terminal leave..."

"Terminal leave? What's that?" Cameron interrupted.

"Terminal leave is where you use up any leave time you have before you're discharged. As of the end of this month I'm a civilian again. I'm staying here in Hawaii. Iukekini was able to get me a job with the HFD and I just finished moving in with him."

"Wow. That's great Aaron! Sounds like everything is working out great for you." Mitch replied, smiling and genuinely happy for him.

"That's not the best part. The best part is that I can be out in public with Iukekini and we can hold hands, kiss and hug without having to look over my shoulder. I can come out of the closet and be free to be myself."

"Oh, Aaron! That's so awesome! I'm so happy for you and Iukekini." Cameron replied, tears flowing down her face."

"We're happy for you guys." Mitch corrected her. "But what happens if someone from the base sees you kissing Iukekini?"

"Nothing. Being on terminal leave, there's nothing they can do. All of my discharge paperwork has been completed and I've cleared the base. On the last day of my leave I have to go to the personnel office and turn in my ID card, then the cop shop to turn in the tags on my car."

"That's awesome. Anyone up for the club?"

"Hell, yeah!" was Aaron's enthusiastic response.

When the bill came, Mitch snatched it up. "This is on me, guys."

"You don't have to do that, Mitch."

"I know, but I want to." Aaron acquiesced.

They left the restaurant, each couple holding hands as they walked to Nighttown Waikiki. Just before they reached the club, Jerry jumped out from the alley and took their picture. "Now I have you, cocksucker. I can't wait to show these to your commander."

Aaron looked at him in pity then smiled. "Be my guest. In fact, if you want, I'll go with you."

"Wait. What?"

"Yeah, we'd be happy to go with you. That way I can introduce my boyfriend to him."

"Great." Jerry called what he assumed was Aaron's bluff. "It will add validity to the pictures."

"Except, asswipe, I'm on terminal leave. They won't do anything about it, and there's nothing you can do to me now."

Jerry gave him a murderous look. "Want to bet?"