'52 Panhead


Chapter 47



Maggie's oncologist had an office in Patterson, but operated in a hospital on the edge of the city, about 45 minutes away. Her surgery was scheduled for 8:45am, but she'd asked us not to come early, that she wanted only Don there. If Evan had been hurt by that, he took it well and assured her we'd be there around nine so that we could keep Don company during the several hours her surgeon had told them to expect. I'd walk through hell and back for Evan, but I couldn't think of a worse way to spend a day than helplessly waiting while someone you love is under the knife.

We planned to leave the house by 7:30 to drop Chew at Kenny's, so when Evan's cell rang at 6:45, we were already up. I'd just climbed out of the shower and Evan was standing at the vanity in his boxers, shaving. He listened for a few moments, going, "uh-huh... uh-huh," a few times, then said, "Ok, see you then, thanks." He flipped his phone shut and blew out a big breath before catching my eyes in the mirror.

"That was my dad. The doctor got called to an emergency, so they've postponed everything till tomorrow morning at six." He dropped his head back and stared at the ceiling for a second. "God, I was all psyched for this. Shit... well... I guess I'll go to work since I'm up and ready. There's no way I can sit around here another day."

We hadn't really resolved anything yesterday. I still wasn't sure how to cope with my need to do something to make Evan feel better when there pretty obviously wasn't much to be done, at least by me.

I still felt the need to hover, as well, but that hadn't worked out so hot yesterday, so I just said, "Me, too, and I'll bring home something for dinner so we can just relax and get to bed early."

Evan nodded absently, his mind already off on some private thought. I watched him for a couple moments as he gazed into space, then he sighed and went back to shaving.


Chewy was overjoyed when we pulled into Kenny's drive. After three days of moping around the house with me and Evan, he was ready for some rough-and-tumble with Elvis and leaped out of the Jeep before I could get the door open. I watched them sprint around the front yard a couple times, then dash into the house, narrowly missing Kenny, who chuckled as they sped past.

He sobered up when I came in and asked, "How you guys doin'?"

He hadn't asked how Evan was doing, he'd asked about both of us, and when I saw his sympathetic expression, I blurted out the truth. "Terrible. We had a big blow out yesterday."

He followed me down the hall and into our office, watching as I plunked down my backpack and dropped into my chair. After a long silence, he lobbed a paperclip at my chest and said, "So? What about?"

I just sat there, waggling my foot back and forth, unwilling to admit that Evan and I were having problems. I still thought I felt a bit of `you're not good enough for him' from Raf now and then, so I was a little reluctant to confide in Kenny, since it was sure to go straight into Rafael's ear the minute he got home.

Or maybe I was imagining the whole thing with Raf. God knows.

When I hadn't replied after a couple minutes, Kenny turned his chair away from me, flipped on his computer, stuck his coffee cup in his lap and left the office without a backward glance. Great, just what I needed, to have Kenny pissed at me too. I sat there for another minute or two, waiting to see if he'd come back, and when he didn't, I shoved out of my chair and went into the kitchen. Kenny was sitting by the sliding doors watching the dogs run around. I went over and put a hand on his shoulder as I got a bottle of water out of the fridge.

"Sorry. I'm having a hell of a time with this and don't even know where to start. Evan's so... distant from me. He's never been like that and it's freakin' me out."

I slumped into a chair and slowly spun my bottle on the table. Kenny stayed by the slider, watching the dogs, and for several minutes, the kitchen was silent except for the hum of the fridge. Finally, just before I was about to get up and go back home, he spoke.

"Seems like I remember Evan mentioning you weren't real close to your folks?"

I snorted. "You could say that."

"And they're both dead now?" he asked me.

"My mom is and my old man might as well be. I have no idea."

He nodded and studied his fingers for a moment. "Then I think maybe it's really difficult for you to understand how Evan feels about Maggie... how important she is to him."

As he spoke, I remembered something Evan had said to me once. "He told me she kept him sane, afterwards."

"She kept all three of us sane, Jeff," he said quietly. "Sometimes at night, I'd be lying there, trying to imagine what the rest of my life was gonna be like, rolling instead of walking, looking up at everything, and just when it'd get so bad I was ready to scream, Maggie would show up. It'd be like 2am and I'd figure it was a nurse coming to check my damn pulse for the 300th time, but then I'd look and she'd just be sitting there, watching me. She'd take my hand and sometimes we'd just sit there, and sometimes we'd talk, but she never tried to tell me it was all gonna be all right, like everybody else did." He paused for a moment and turned to look at me. "You know what else?" I shook my head mutely, transfixed by his words. "I never saw her cry. I'm sure she must have, but she never did in front of us."

Kenny hadn't ever talked to me about the accident, so this was a side of him I'd never seen. He always seemed so even-tempered, so well-adjusted Evan said one time. He went back to staring out the door, but after a moment, he heaved a sigh and rolled over behind me, wrapped a long arm around my chest and rested his chin on my shoulder.

"Anyway, this one ain't about you, buddy. It's about Evan and Maggie, and you're gonna take a backseat to that... we all are... whether you like it or not."

I nodded. "I know, I know. It's just... it's like... it's like I'm not even in the room."

Kenny pulled me close in a tight squeeze, and when he spoke, his breath tickled my ear. "Yeah, but you are, and he knows you are, so give him some space to deal with this. You're the best thing that's happened to him, and he knows that, too, so just tough it out."

He planted a smoochy kiss just in front of my ear and pushed away. What he'd said made me feel a bit better and I gave him a smile of thanks. "Ok."

He studied my face for a moment before smiling back. "Just makin' sure you believe me. You ready to get a little work done? Webber wants an overhaul on his whole goddamn site."

We went back down the hall to our office, talking about work the whole way, and the day passed without me thinking (too much) about Evan and me. At lunch time, we went out back to throw balls for the dogs but it had gotten hotter as the day went on, so we hopped in the pool instead. I'd told Kenny about Maggie's surgery getting re-scheduled and now he offered, "You guys should hang out here this evening. We can get Chinese or something and stay wet 'til it cools off."

That sounded good to me in more ways than one. Maybe being around Raf and Kenny would take some of the strain off both me and Evan. A few beers probably wouldn't hurt, either. Back in the office, I punched #2 on my speed dial 2 for the two of us (everybody say awww) and Evan picked up after a couple rings.

"Hey," he said. "Were your ears burning? I was just talking about you."


"Yeah. Tracy starts back to school this evening, and I mentioned that you were thinking about it." Silence from me. "You are still thinking about it, aren't you?"

"Yeah, I guess."

Evan correctly read the reluctance in my voice. "Well... good. Anyway, you called?"

"Just seeing if you wanna spend the evening over here since it's so hot. Get some food, some beer, hang out in the pool."

"Um... yeah, ok. Whatta you guys want to eat? I'll grab it on my way out of town." I conferred briefly with Kenny, then came back to the phone. "Chinese, I guess. Get some of those dumpling things, with the sauce."

"Potstickers," Evan supplied.

"Yeah, those, and two things of fried rice."

Evan actually chuckled. "You and your fried rice. Ok, I'll be there around six."

We knocked off work at five to make a beer run, then came back and iced them down in a poolside cooler so we wouldn't have to get out of the water. Raf showed up a few minutes after we got back to the house and gave me a long look when he came into the kitchen. I returned it as neutrally as I could, and there we stood, staring at each other while Kenny was down the hall in the bathroom. We hadn't seen each other since I'd refused to let him talk to Evan on Friday and he was obviously still pissed about that. Finally he glanced away as he walked over to the counter and began to unpack his lunch box.

"You got somethin' to say?" I asked, wanting to get it over with before Evan showed up.

After a long pause, he said, "Nah, I was just..."

"Scared, is what you were." Kenny completed the sentence as he rolled back into the kitchen. "You thought something had happened to Evan."

Raf regarded him for a second, then smiled slightly, said, "Whatever," and walked out of the room.

"Whatever." I mimicked Raf and rolled my eyes. "We're gonna duke it out yet."

Kenny laughed. "No, you're not. You're both just too fuckin' much alike, that's all. Coupla dogs growlin' over a bone."

"I gotcher bone right here," I told him, hefting my crotch in one hand.

"You keep sayin' that..."

We were still chuckling when Raf joined us on the patio, all smooth brown skin and enticingly bulging red speedo. Talk about a bone...

I could tell he was in a better mood, but he grumbled, "What's so fuckin' funny?" as he walked to the edge of the pool.

"You are," I said, and took a long step toward him, wrapped my arms around him, and tipped us both into the water. Unfortunately, when he saw me coming he hunched his shoulder to fend me off and I caught it square in the mouth. When Evan showed up ten minutes later, I was laid out in a lawn chair holding a drippy ice cube to my split lower lip. It had quit bleeding by then but was all fat and oozy. He put the bags of take-out on the table and looked around at us.

"What happened?"

"We were just horsin' around," I told him.

No one contradicted that statement, though Raf glanced at me briefly, and after a moment, Evan came over to get a closer look, inspecting my lip and shaking his head sadly.

"Why is it always your mouth? Can't you mess up some other part of your body, a part that isn't so... useful?"

When I gave that the leer it deserved, Evan chuckled and patted my knee before turning back to the table. We dished out platefuls of Chinese and filled our faces until we were down to scraping the bottom of the containers with our chopsticks. Evan didn't talk much and we left him alone to eat in peace. I was hoping this time with his old buddies would be a pleasant distraction from sitting around the Farm thinking about Maggie. We slid into the pool after we'd eaten the last noodle, and stayed there the rest of the evening, floating around, bumping into each other occasionally, slipping into the water to cool off. The temperature didn't go down much even after the last orange glint of sun was gone from the sky, but in the semi-dark of the quiet back yard, we finally began to talk.

Kenny started it, telling a story about the time Maggie caught him swiping a brownie from the plate of goodies she'd made for a garden club meeting later that day. The boys were playing in the pool that afternoon, perfecting their cannonball techniques when Kenny needed to take a leak. After peeing, he was headed through the kitchen for the back yard when a 3-tiered display of baked goods on the table caught his eye. Thinking he'd be slick, he stuffed a brownie in his mouth and was in the process of rearranging the pile to hide his pilferage when Maggie cleared her throat from the doorway. He told us that she just slowly shook her head at him, which was far worse than getting yelled at, so he apologized and promised to do anything she wanted to make up for it.

Anything? she asked.

Yup, he said, utterly mortified by her lack of anger.

That's how he came to spend the following Tuesday after school modeling a sweater she'd knitted for Evan. Only he wasn't just modeling it for her; he was modeling it for a shopful of women at the yarn store, who oohed and aahed over it and him, patting his shoulder and saying what a nice boy he was.

"I've never said `thank you, ma'am' so many times in my life," he groaned.

After twenty minutes or so, Maggie let him take the sweater off and leave. As he skulked out the door, she handed him a small sack. When he got around the corner and peeked into it, there was a baggie of brownies and a note that said `since you like them so much.'

"The red and black sweater?" Evan asked now.

"Yeah, that one. I cringed every time you wore it."

I, of course, didn't have a childhood of Maggie stories to draw from, and the few times she and I had interacted weren't ones I wanted to share, at least yet, so I just listened. As the others told their stories, I watched Evan smile and chuckle and occasionally tip his head back and stare up at the night sky. Around nine thirty we climbed out of the pool and into our cars. Chewy was asleep in the passenger seat in seconds, worn out from chasing Elvis and tennis balls all day.

I drove slowly, not because I had too many beers in me, but because it just seemed like that sort of night. Once we got home, I waited for Evan, and then draped an arm over his shoulders as we walked up the steps. He reached up and squeezed my hand, and although we hadn't said more than a dozen words directly to each other in hours, he seemed closer to me then than he had since I'd gotten home Thursday night. I kept my mouth shut and let the pressure of my fingers do the talking for me. It hurt my lip to talk, anyway.

"I'm gonna have one more," Evan said as we came into the kitchen, "and then shower. Join me?"

His invitation was unmistakable and when I carefully grinned my acceptance, he handed me a beer and twisted open another for himself. Evan headed down the hall instead of out to the back porch, so I followed along, watching his butt as his shorts tightened and relaxed over each cheek of his ass as he walked. There are a lot of things I like about Evan most things, in fact but if I had to pick one body part that I could keep forever, guess what it would be? I suppose I should be all high-minded and say his brain or something, but that just wouldn't be me, would it?

No, as you probably figured, it's his ass. I love looking at it, the way it fills out his slacks, the soft fuzzy whiteness of it in the shower, the mound of it under the sheet when he lays on his stomach. I love touching it, cupping its sweaty curves in my hands, sliding my fingers along its warm divide. But most of all I love burying myself in its center, seeing my cock disappear to the hilt, knowing how that feels to him, listening to his quiet grunt of accommodation when I first push into him.

God, I get hard just thinking about it.

Anyway, Evan went straight to the bed and dropped his shorts before he lay face down, presenting that ass to me. Since my mouth was out of commission, he handed me the lube and I did the honors for both of us, playing with Evan a bit as I finished my beer. With no foreplay to speak of, I went slowly, so slowly that Evan finally told me through gritted teeth to get on with it. So I did, and once I was in him, he reached back and wrapped his hands around my wrists. I took his squeeze to mean `hold on a minute,' so I quit moving while he did some deep breathing and shifted slightly beneath me.

Once we got going again, things moved right along and by ten o'clock, I was flat on my back still catching my breath as I listened to him start the shower. I gave him a couple minutes, then staggered into the bathroom and climbed in behind him. We were back in bed in under fifteen minutes, but with tomorrow looming, I could tell that Evan wasn't gonna fall asleep any time soon.

As I rubbed his back slowly, I asked him, "Did I ever tell you about how I almost wrecked the bike I had before the Pan?"

Evan snorted softly. "No."

So I told him a meandering version of the night a deer jumped out in front of me on the way home from the bar. The deer escaped without a scratch, but I ended up in the woods about fifty feet off the road, still upright on the bike. I didn't break anything that time, but the scuffs and scrapes from the trees left permanent scars. Evan shook his head and chuckled at the right spots, and as I wound the story down, he settled back against me with a sigh.

"Thanks," he whispered. "See you in the morning."

After Evan was asleep, I eased out of bed and went into my office to check email. The one from BWNF was only a couple minutes old. I hit Reply and typed you still up?

After a moment, I read yeah cant sleep. COD?

Sorry, gotta get up early

So whazup?

I thought about that for a minute and decided it'd be easier to tell him here, where he could take a moment to think about his reply.

Evan's mom has cancer. Operation tomorrow AM.

Long pause...

Really bad?

Bad enough. We'll know more tomorrow.

Another long pause.

I like her. She was really nice to me.

For some reason, that really got to me, and I blew out a big sigh and scrubbed my face with my hands before continuing.

Yeah, I like her too. Go to bed.

Ok. Let me know...

I will. Goodnight.



You forget what a hospital smells like until you're in one. At least I do, and when we walked in the front door, it brought back a quick, sharp memory of the one time I visited my mother before she died. She'd barely seemed conscious, but she opened her eyes when I stood by her bed and looked at me for a moment. Then she said, "Good luck, kid," and turned her head away. That's it, that's all she had to say to me the last time I saw her. So, yeah Kenny's probably right when he says I can't possibly understand what's between Evan and Maggie.

So although my experience with hospitals was limited to that unfortunate encounter, Evan had much more reason to dislike them, and when he stopped short just inside the door, I put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed as I led him to the elevators. He blew out a breath as the doors closed and gave me a tight smile.

"God, I hate this place. Nothing good ever happened to me in here."

Until he said that, I hadn't given much thought as to which hospital he'd been in after the accident. Now I looked at him. "Were all three of you here?"

He nodded. "Yeah. They had a decent burn unit for Raf, and Kenny's dad flew in some hot shot spinal guy, for all the good it did." The elevator doors slid open and we headed down the hall. Evan glanced around, the muscles in his jaw knotted. "I can't believe I'm back here."

We found Don in the main waiting room, sitting on the couch with his eyes closed and his hands sort of folded in his lap. I thought maybe he was praying, so I kept quiet, but Evan walked over to him and said, "Dad? I'm here."

As Evan sat down next to him, Don opened his eyes and reached out a hand, which Evan took in his. I felt like a major third wheel and decided to give them a minute, so I went to hunt down coffee. You always hear about how shitty hospital food is, but someone had a stroke of genius when they convinced Starbucks to stick a coffee kiosk in a corner of the cafeteria. I mainlined a mocha, burning my tongue in the process, then took a tray of coffees and a bag of scones back upstairs where Evan briefly smiled his thanks.

And so we waited.

After an hour or so, I made another coffee run, then tracked down some decent sandwiches from a deli down the street cause we were getting jittery from all the caffeine. Nobody felt much like talking, and after leafing through a National Geographic and not remembering a thing I looked at, I gave up and just sat there watching Evan and his dad from across the room. They were very easy with each other, touching often, sitting close, and I wondered for the umpteenth time what it must be like to have a father who loved you, a man worth loving in return. I'd read someplace that boys learn how to be men from their fathers and wondered where the hell that left me.

I was about to take a walk around the block or something when the door swung open a few inches and Raf peeked in. "Here they are," he said as he held the door for Kenny.

We all said hey, they hugged Evan and Don, and then we waited some more.

The hours dragged on and we'd been so quiet for so long that when the surgeon came through the doors, it startled us. We all jumped up, and Evan put his arm around Don's shoulders as they waited to hear about the woman they both loved. The doctor walked up to them and clapped a hand onto Don's shoulder as he spoke.

"She's doing great. It was all very routine, no surprises. You should be able to see her in thirty minutes or so," he told Don, then turned to Evan. "You'll have to wait until tomorrow, my boy."

The relief that flooded Evan's face was quickly followed by a moment that would stick with me for the rest of my life. He turned toward me and as tears started in his eyes, he smiled, a huge joyous grin that lit up his face, and then he held out his hand to me. I was there in an instant, gripping it tightly as he drew me close and pressed his forehead to mine for a second. The surgeon, seeing that I was with Evan, put his other hand on my shoulder and gave me a squeeze, then left us alone.

When Evan let go of my hand to put his arm around me, he brought me uncomfortably close to Don. Just as I was shifting my feet to put a little distance between us, Don put his hand on the back of my neck and pulled the three of us together. After a hesitant few seconds, I put my hand up onto Don's back, and we all sort of hugged for a moment.

I know it sounds kinda melodramatic, but that hug changed something in me. Being part of what Don and Evan were feeling, combined with their physical touch, tapped some part of me that had never seen daylight. Without conscious thought, I moved my hand further around Don's back until I was holding him like Evan was holding me, and tightened my grip on both of them. After a few moments, Evan loosened his arm and we all straightened up and took a step back.

Kenny and Raf repeated what they'd done on arrival - hugging Evan and Don and we all stood there looking at each other for a few aimless moments. Finally, Don buried his face in his hands for a moment, and then gave us a shaky smile before hugging Evan again.

"Go on home, son. I'll kiss her for you."

When the four of us got into the elevator, Evan pushed 3 instead of L, and got off when we stopped at the third floor. He turned to the right and walked slowly down the hall to the fourth door on the left. I glanced at Raf, who was back by the elevator staring at the floor, and then at Kenny, who was following Evan. We stopped behind him when he peered in the door and then took a step into the empty room. Evan looked around, then drew a deep breath and turned to us with a grimace.

"First time I've been back."

Didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this was where Maggie had broken the news of Luke's death, so I just nodded and returned his gaze. After a second, he turned away and went to the window. Other stories like Evan's had taken place here personal dramas large and small but the room had no personality, no particular feel to me as I looked around. Kenny was silent behind me and Raf was nowhere to be seen. I gave Evan a few moments, then walked up behind him and gripped his shoulders.

"Guess what?" I said softly into his ear.

He didn't turn to me, but I saw the corner of his mouth curve slightly. "You're hungry."


"How hungry?" he asked, the smile in his voice now.

I thought about it for a second. "Pretty fuckin' hungry."

He snorted out a laugh and dropped his head back onto my shoulder. "Me too. Let's get the hell outta here."

We stopped partway home at an all-you-can-eat steak and salad place, and I demolished half a bar-b-qued chicken as I worked my way from one end of the salad bar to the other. Raf had a steak, Kenny and Evan tried all three soups and pilfered some of my chicken, and we all finished off with hot fudge sundaes from the dessert bar.

"Bye," Evan said, as we stopped next to Kenny's van. "Thanks for coming."

"Wouldn't have missed it," Kenny said. Evan hugged each of them, and I stepped hard on the surge of irritation I felt seeing Evan wrapped up in Rafael's arms for what seemed like way longer than necessary. I flipped a goodbye wave at them, and we all left for home.

Evan's cell rang when we were still about twenty minutes from Patterson. "Sharon," he told me as he flipped it open.

"Hi... yeah, she's good... thanks... uh, ok... yeah, see you there."

"She's gonna pick up Chewy and meet us at the Farm. She said she hasn't seen us in a while and wants to hear about my mom and has to drive past Raf's to get to our place, so she might as well get the dog."

Sharon was throwing a stick for Chew when we pulled up in front of the house. Two pizza boxes were stacked on the porch next to a 6-pack of Coronas. I was still full from lunch but the beers looked pretty good. She came over and grabbed Evan in a big hug as he got out of the Jeep. For the second time this afternoon, I watched as Evan hugged someone other than me. Obviously, our recent, uh... issues had put me on hyper-sensitive when it came to Evan, but getting worked up over Sharon was ridiculous. Get a grip, Jeff. Jesus...

After several seconds, Sharon loosened her grip, but then Evan buried his face in her hair and pulled her close. They stayed like that for a minute or two, Sharon rubbing slow circles on his back; then he released her, and as they stepped apart, she turned to me.

"Hey, you. I brought food."

So even Sharon thought I was always hungry. "Just had lunch but I'll take a beer."

"Oh, man, what happened to your lip?"

"Goofing around in the pool."

We sat on the back porch while Evan brought Sharon up to speed on Maggie. I learned that she was still facing chemotherapy and radiation. You'd think I'd know stuff like that, being Evan's Significant Other and all, but he and I hadn't gotten into details. I was sort of coasting along on the surface of things and I didn't like it. When they got up and went inside to get another beer, my frustration level maxed out, so I whistled up Chewy and headed off into the woods. Just as we got out of sight of the house, I tripped over a branch buried in the grass and crashed my shoulder into a tree as I tried to catch myself.


I reached down, grabbed the branch and swung it as hard as I could against the tree. When it didn't break the first time, I swung it again, putting my whole body into like Barry Bonds trying to hit one out of the park, and smiled in grim satisfaction when the end broke off and spun away into the bushes. My anger was all out of proportion to tripping over a stick and I knew it, but out there in the woods by myself, I just let it rip. After the end broke off the branch, I whacked it a few more times for good measure, and then flung it as hard as I could off into the forest. I glanced around to make sure I was still alone and saw Chew standing there staring at me like I'd grown a second head.

"What're you lookin' at?" I asked him, and when he tipped his head to one side and perked up his ears, I almost smiled. Almost, but not quite cause I was in a pretty bad mood. I tromped off toward the dog cemetery and dropped down into one of the Adirondack chairs. The grave stones in late summer were mossy on one side, with vines winding here and there, and a patch of small blue flowers bloomed at the base of Pearl's stone.

After a few moments, the place had its usual effect on me and I relaxed enough to lean back into the chair with a sigh. Getting wound up over this whole thing wasn't working, so I began to wonder if detaching myself emotionally might be a better idea, but I wasn't real sure I could do that. Evan was so important to me that I doubted I could act like it didn't matter to me when his attention was elsewhere.

I tilted my head back until it rested against the slats and looked up through the trees. Who was I kidding? There was no way I could pull that off for more than a day or two, if that. Evan was just too important to me. That thought rolled around in my mind for a bit and morphed into me wondering what if Evan died? What if I lost him like he'd lost Luke?

That was a big mistake. In a matter of seconds my respiration kicked up, my foot began to tap in the grass, and I shifted in my seat, trying to lose the feeling of discomfort. Evan wasn't dead and wasn't likely to be any time soon, but putting myself through that little exercise gave me some insight into what Evan was probably feeling about Maggie. He'd already lost one person he'd loved, and now a second was gravely threatened by something he could do nothing about. That sense of helplessness was probably the worst thing about it all.

I really needed to get my emotions under control. My usual (juvenile, I know I admit it) response of getting angry wasn't getting me anywhere and it wasn't good for my relationship with Evan. I thought I'd burned it all out on my wild bike ride on Sunday, but apparently not. Gotta find a way to deal with this...

My thoughts wandered back to the waiting room at the hospital that morning, and the way Evan and Don had brought me into their hug. I thought about what that had felt like, the sense of inclusion and belonging, a feeling my own family had never given me. Maybe if I'd had a more normal family, one where the various members actually liked each other a little, I'd be a more understanding person, better able to cope with shit like this. I closed my eyes and recalled the feeling of Don and Evan's arms around me, the way our foreheads had met. They cared about me; they considered me `family.'

And that ended up being the key to it all, the thing that finally allowed me to settle down and understand what my role was in this chapter of my life with Evan. Much as I wanted to be front and center in Evan's life, I was a supporting player for now. Kenny was right Evan knew I was there, and he needed me to be steady and strong, not needy and insecure like I'd been recently.

Jesus. I shook my head, then sat up and looked at the gravestones, one after another. The dogs of one man's life. My dog was sound asleep in a pile of leaves next to the second Buddy's stone, his nose buried in his paws, one ear inside out.

Ahhh, Evan, I thought. I'm sorry it took me so long to figure this out.

I pushed to my feet and began to walk back to the house. The shadows were long and I was surprised to see it was almost 6pm. When I came out of the trees, I could see that the porch was empty, so I went up the steps and into the house, careful not to let the screen door slap shut. Evan was asleep on the couch, one hand on his chest, the other along his side with his hand hanging off the sofa, palm up, fingers slightly curled. I stood looking down at him for a few moments, noting the dark circles under his eyes and the hollows in his cheeks.

He was the first person I'd loved in my adult life, and, watching his chest rise and fall, I knew that I would be able to be what he needed right now. I picked up my book from the end table and sat down across from him to read so that I'd be there when he woke up.


* * *


Thanks to David of Hope for the proofing.


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