As Aaron returned home, his thoughts turned to the events of the previous day. There was no way he could deny the attraction he felt for Jay. He had a great time last night playing darts with Jay and Tommy. It was one of his favorite sports, next to surfing, and while he wasn't a great dart player, he could hold his own and really loved the game. After climbing the stairs to his small apartment over a seedy strip club, he opened the door and for some reason, felt reluctant to enter. He looked around as if seeing it for the very first time. If Jay were to ever see this place, he'd know what a total loser I am and that would most likely be the end of our friendship. He knew something else was there, but his mind refused to acknowledge what his heart was trying to tell him. He searched around and found what he was looking for. He got out his cell phone and dialed the number on the business card he was holding.
"Kyle Matthews-Williams Foundation, Kailani speaking. How can I help you?"
"Hi, this is Aaron Suarez. I was wondering if I could make an appointment to speak with Tommy Adams. He was the grief counselor who helped me when my boyfriend was killed by a bunch of drunken boaters a year ago."
"One moment please." Music filtered into the phone as he was placed on hold. A minute later, the receptionist came back on the line. "Tommy has openings tomorrow morning, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. When would be a good time for you, or do you need to speak with one of our grief counselors sooner than tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow morning would be fine."
"How about ten o'clock?"
"That would be perfect."
"Okay you're all set for ten tomorrow morning with Tommy. Is there anything else I can help you with?'
"Nope I'm good. Thank you and have a great rest of your day."
"Thank you, Mister Suarez. You have a great one too. Bye bye." The receptionist hung up.
Great. Maybe he can help me figure out what's happening to me. He grabbed his car keys and, after checking to see how much money he had in his wallet, headed out to go grocery shopping. An hour later he returned and started unloading groceries. Okay, they invited me to spend the afternoon with them. I'd like to do something for them to thank them, but what? Despite Jay's reassurances regarding his financial situation, Aaron still felt that once they found out how poor he actually was, they'd drop him like a hot potato. He wasn't looking for anything other than some friends to hang out with. When his boyfriend Iukekini died, he basically shut out all of his friends, most of whom he had met though him. Fair or not, he blamed them for Iukekini's death. Aaron had been in the Air Force and was stationed at Hickham Air Force base when they met. It was love at first sight. When Aaron's time in the Air Force was up, he decided to stay in Hawaii and, with Iukekini's help, was able to get a job with the fire department. He loved being a firefighter and had contemplated becoming a paramedic, but after his death, he gave up on the idea, his death affecting him deeply, so deeply that it started affecting his job performance. His station chief ordered him to take some time off and get counseling. It was at Kyle's post-funeral party at Nighttown Waikiki that he learned about the Kyle Matthews-Williams Foundation so he decided to go and see if he could talk with a grief counselor. He was given an appointment for that afternoon with Tommy, which was lucky because they were very busy.
One year ago...
When the appointed time arrived he announced himself to the receptionist who buzzed Tommy to let him know that his next appointment had arrived. Tommy came out of his office and asked the receptionist to point him out. No one was ever called by name in the lobby. Privacy and anonymity were the utmost priority. Tommy approached Aaron and said simply, "Please come with me." Aaron just sat there for a minute or two before he realized that he was being addressed. He expected his name to be called by the receptionist. After an awkward moment he got up and followed Tommy. Once they were inside the office and the door was closed, Tommy extended his hand. "Hi, Aaron, I'm Tommy. How can I be of help to you?"
"I'm not sure. My station chief told me that I had to take some time off and get counseling."
"What type of counseling?"
Aaron replied by shrugging his shoulders. Tommy decided to take a different track. "Why does your station chief feel you need counseling?"
"I guess because I'm having problems concentrating at work."
"What type of work do you do?" Tommy guessed that he was either a cop, firefighter or in the Coast Guard due to his reference to his station chief.
"I'm a firefighter."
"That's a tough job, and I, for one, appreciate you and your fellow firefighters putting your lives on the line and the sacrifices you all make to protect us, our lives and our property." Tommy responded sincerely. Aaron nodded in response, clearly not expecting to hear that. "So why are you having problems concentrating at work?"
"A few days ago, my boyfriend was killed." The floodgates opened. Tommy quickly held out a box of tissues and sat there silently until Aaron calmed down.
"I'm very sorry for your loss. Do you want to talk about it?" He said gently.
Aaron blew his nose and nodded. "He was waterskiing when a bunch of drunks cut across his tow line and he was dragged underwater. He was pulled into the propellers and killed." Aaron started crying hysterically. Tommy wanted to take him into his arms and comfort him, but that would have been unprofessional, so he settled for laying a compassionate hand on his arm. Eventually Aaron settled down and they began to talk about his life with Iukekini and what he was feeling. Once a week for several months they met and just talked. Aaron had long since returned to work and, as far as work was concerned, was back to normal. His personal life, however, was far from normal. He had withdrawn from all of his friends, and eventually had to move out of the apartment he shared with Iukekini because he could no longer afford it. After that his life consisted of work and home. He only went out when being at home became too unbearable. When he did go out, he'd sit by himself, not talking with anyone and refusing any advances. He would get quietly drunk then have the bartender call him a cab. Eventually his friends stopped calling him and just left him alone. His co-workers tried everything they could think of to help him, but after a while they too gave up. Now, though, he found himself not wanting to be alone anymore. He needed a friend, and it would appear he found one in Jay. His mind wouldn't accept the possibility that Jay could be more than just a friend.
Aaron returned a several hours later. "Yes?" a disembodied voice asked over the gate intercom. "It's Aaron Suarez. Jay invited me over this afternoon." There was no response, but the gate slid open. He drove up to the house and was met at the door by Jay.
"I'm glad you came back. What's all this?" he asked, noticing the various bags he was carrying.
"I stopped by the store and bought some supplies to replenish what I used for breakfast and also thought that I could make you guys dinner. I really love to cook, but it's hard to cook for just one. I hope you don't mind."
"You really didn't have to do all this. Dinner does sound nice, though. What else ya got?" indicating the square black bag slung over one shoulder and the small gym bag slung over the other.
"You told me to bring my swim trunks and a change of clothing." He indicated the gym bag. "Last night in the living room I noticed that you had a lot of games, so I kinda figured you guys like to play board and card games. I brought a really cool one over that I saw you didn't have called Chaos Isle."
"Awesome. Let me help you put the stuff away and we can play. Or do you need more than two people?"
"Chaos Isle can be played with anywhere from one to six people."
"Really? You can play it by yourself?"
"Yeah, that's just one of the ways."
"I take it that that's what's in the black bag?"
"Damn. The game must be huge if it fills up a bag that size."
"No, actually it's quite small. I just have multiple copies of it."
"Really? Why's that?"
"I'm what you call a Chaos Isle Survivor. I go to different game stores and put on demos of the game and host tournaments as part of their organized play program. I have four complete sets for tournaments, and one starter set for teaching and demoing the game."
"So it's like Magic: the Gathering then?"
"Yes and no. It's expandable, but not collectible. Unlike Magic where you have to buy a lot of starters and boosters in hopes of getting all of the cards, when you buy Chaos Isle, you get every card."
"So it's more like Killer Bunnies?"
"You guys play Bunnies?"
"We used to. We haven't played since Kyle died. It was his all-time favorite game."
"Which one, Quest for the Magic Carrot, Journey to Jupiter or Ultimate Odyssey?"
"Quest for the Magic Carrot. I've never heard of the other two."
"I don't have Odyssey yet. It's brand new and is sold out as soon as the store gets a shipment in. They've promised to hold a set for me. As for Jupiter, perhaps some time I can bring it over and show you guys how to play. I actually like it better than Quest."
"Like what better than Quest, Aaron?" Tommy asked, coming in after finishing up cleaning the pool.
"Apparently there are two other Killer Bunnies games out there, Killer Bunnies and the Journey to Jupiter and Killer Bunnies and the Ultimate Odyssey."
"Awesome. I'd love to check them out. Bunnies rocks!"
"I was just telling Jay that I don't have Odyssey yet, but I could maybe sometime bring Jupiter over to show you guys, if you want."
"We definitely want." Tommy replied, enthusiastically. "We haven't played Bunnies in so long..." His voice trailed off. He cleared his throat and turned away.
"Anyway, Aaron brought over a new game to show us. Chaos Isle. Care to join us?"
"Sure. Let's get some lunch then we can play while we wait for it to digest before we hit the beach."
"Sounds like a plan."
Suddenly Aaron exclaimed "Oh shit! I forgot something in the car. I'll be right back." He ran out then rang the doorbell a few seconds later.
"I wonder who that could be." Jay said as he went and opened the door. "Aaron, you could have just come back in. You didn't need to ring the doorbell."
"It's not my home. Otherwise, I would have."
My home. Jay mentally repeated. I like the sound of that. "So what did you forget?"
"This." He opened the bag and pulled out a deli tray of assorted cheese bits, sliced pepperoni, sliced salami and crackers. "I thought we could munch on this while we played Chaos Isle. I like to munch when I game. Usually it's a veggie platter, but the deli didn't have any made up, so I had to settle for this."
"Aaron" Jay began carefully, "what we said to Tony and Billy also applies to you. You don't have to give us a bunch of stuff, or cook for us."
He held up the platter. "I'm not giving this to you. I'm sharing it with you. Like I said, I like to munch when I game. As far as the cooking goes, I love to cook and entertain. I used to do it a lot before Iukekini died. Now, I just can't."
"After he died, I couldn't afford to keep the apartment, so I had to move into a one-room shithole apartment above a strip joint." He took a deep breath, afraid of the reactions when he told them the rest. "You could fit my entire apartment in the room I slept in last night and still have plenty of room to spare."
"Aaron, I'm sorry. I didn't know. You can come and cook for us anytime you want, but just don't feel that you have to."
"It's a deal. Now, what do you say we go kill some Zombies."
"Kill some Zombies? I thought we were going to learn how to play Chaos Isle?"
"We are. That's what Chaos Isle is all about."
"Okay, let's play."
Aaron spent the next few minutes explaining how to play the game then they played for several hours without even realizing it. Soon it was too late to go swimming. "I'm sorry guys. I hadn't intended for us to play so long. I knew you wanted to hang out at the beach."
"Don't be. We can hang out at the beach anytime. I had a lot of fun. I want to get the game as soon as I can. It's awesome." Jay glanced at his watch. "Shit! It's five-thirty. We need to start thinking about dinner."
"That's my department. If you will permit me..."
"You know where the kitchen is. Do you need any help?"
Aaron gave Jay a shy, sweet smile. "No, but you could keep me company, if you'd like."
"If you guys will excuse me, I'm going to look over my case files and prepare for my appointments tomorrow." He left the guys to make dinner and went upstairs.
While Aaron made dinner, Jay kept him company. The conversation was easy and light. After an incredible dinner, they spent the evening playing Chaos Isle using the various game styles. Around eleven they decided to call it a night and Aaron left, promising to return in a few days. At last the time for his appointment with Tommy came and once again he was sitting in Tommy's office. "It's been a long time since you've been here to see me, Aaron. How are you doing?"
"I'm confused, Tommy. Something's happening to me that I don't understand."
"And what is that?"
"I think I'm starting to develop feelings for someone."
"You think you are, or you are?" Tommy queried.
Aaron blushed. "I am, but isn't it too soon? Iukekini died a little over a year ago. Wouldn't getting involved with another guy be an insult to him and his memory?"
No, it wouldn't, Aalona. Iukekini's voice slipped quietly into his mind, addressing him by the Hawaiian equivalent of his name. I want you to be happy, baby. You've been sad for so long. Aaron stiffened in his chair.
Seeing Aaron's eyes glaze over, Tommy tapped him on the arm. "Aaron, are you okay?"
"No. I think I'm losing my mind."
"I think I just heard Iukekini's voice in my head telling me that he wants me to be happy and that it was okay to be with someone new."
"I don't think you are losing your mind. What you just experienced is not unheard of, and no, you would not be dishonoring him. You've grieved as is proper. Now it's time to move on. It's been what, a year you said?"
"We usually recommend waiting about a year after the death of a spouse before dating again, just to make sure that you are ready to begin dating again."
"So how do I know if I'm ready?"
"I'm afraid there's no mathematical formula to determine that or a cut-and-dry answer. Everyone is different. Tell me this. How do you feel when you're around Jay?
"How did you know it was Jay?" Aaron asked, caught completely off-guard.
"It wasn't hard to figure out. All someone has to do is see the way the two of you look at each other. Jay looks at you the same way he used to look at Kyle, and you look at him the same way."
"But he hasn't said anything."
"I'd be willing to bet that he's questioning himself the same way you are. Did you know that he and Kyle were together for twenty-five years?"
"No, I didn't know. Wow, what a selfish asshole I am."
"Why do you say that, Aaron?"
"Here I am feeling guilty about betraying Iukekini, who I was with for only three years. I never even thought to consider what Jay might be going through."
"You couldn't have known, and you're not being an asshole. Let me tell you a little something. Two years ago, when Kyle died, Jay absolutely refused to sleep in the room he shared with Kyle. He slept every night since then in one of the guest rooms."
"Yeah, I overheard you tell him that there would be more room if he slept in his own room, which didn't make sense to me at the time. Now it does."
"Right. Well, the night you stayed over when he went to bed, he went to bed in his own room. Not only that, but the next morning when you left after breakfast he went to clean up the kitchen. He was whistling as he unloaded the dishwasher, and I heard him singing in the shower, neither of which he's done since Kyle died."
"Why is that, I wonder?" Aaron asked.
"I can tell you why. You came into his life. He's finally opened his heart and let someone in and about time too. You need to do the same. Open up to him. Let him in. I can tell he's head-over-heels in love with you, and I think you are in love with him as well."
I agree, Aalona. It's time you let me go. Be with Jayson. The two of you will be very happy together. You have so much love to give. He needs that love. Do this for me, please. Share your love with him. Nothing would make me happier than to see you happy again. Iukekini's words floated gently into Aaron's mind. He started crying. This time, Tommy didn't hesitate to pull him into his arms and let him cry.
"It's okay, Aaron. Everything will be okay." Tommy whispered.
Aaron pulled himself together and pulled away from Tommy. "I know it will. I heard Iukekini's voice in my mind telling me to let go and be with Jay. I don't know if he wants me or not, but I'm willing to give it a shot."
"Believe me, he does. You'll just have to take it slow and easy, one day at a time. Let me warn you, though, if you hurt him, you'll have me, Andy, Tony and Billy to deal with, not to mention his kids."
"Don't worry. I have no intention of hurting him. Wait a minute, he has kids?"
"You didn't know? He and Kyle adopted a boy and a girl. Adam is thirty, happily married with a son, and Janita is twenty-seven and has a wife."
"Wow. That really changes things big time."
"In what way?"
"What if we get together and his kids don't like me? It may come down to Jay having to choose between his family and me, and if that happens, it will be over for us. He'd have to choose his family over me. It would be wrong to choose me over his family. That plus the fact that I'm only fifteen years older than Adam."
"Trust me, that won't happen. As long as you make Jay happy and treat him right, they will love you. The age difference won't matter either. The only thing that matters in that family is how everyone loves and treats one another"
"I hope so, but first I have to win Jay over, then his kids."
"Both of which will be a lot easier than you think. Like I said earlier, he's crazy about you. It will just take time for him to come out and say it. Be patient with him."
"Anything worth having is worth waiting for, right?"
"You got it, and I don't think you'll have to wait long."
Aaron stood up and extended his hand, which Tommy shook. "Thanks so much, Tommy. I appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to talk with me."
"Any time Aaron, but don't bother to make an appointment next time. Just give me a call or stop by the house. That's what friends are for." He gave him his business card.
A couple of tears escaped Aaron's eyes. "You don't know how much that means to be to be called your friend. I lost all of my friends when Iukekini died. I didn't realize until last night when I got home how much I missed having friends to cook for, play games with and just hang out with."
"You're welcome to come over anytime you want. Just be sure to call first and make sure someone is home. I would hate to have you drive all the way out to the house and have nobody there."
"I will. Thanks so much, Tommy." He pulled Tommy into a hug of gratitude, then left.
 Chaos Isle is copyright © and trademarked ™ by ReamsMasters Game Forge, 2008, all rights reserved.
 Magic: the Gathering is trademarked™ and copyright © Wizards of the Coast, all rights reserved.
 Killer Bunnies, Quest for the Magic Carrot, Journey to Jupiter and Ultimate Odyssey are copyright © 2002-2010 by Jeffrey Neil Bellinger and Playroom Entertainment, all rights reserved.