This story contains FICTION of a male-male nature. Do not read this if you are:
- too young, or
- too narrow-minded, or
- living in a city/state/country where it is illegal.
Again, this is FICTION. While I have bumped into the BSB here and there in Orlando, I do not make any claims about any of their sexualities.
NOTE: If you have not read 'Forever', I suggest you do so before reading this story.
I woke when my glass hit the floor. I'd been lying on the sofa in my living room, listening to music and drinking more than I should again. Or trying to, anyway. I'd fallen asleep after only my second drink, the lack of sleep and stress of the last few days having finally caught up to me.
"Damn!" I cursed to myself as I realized that my glass had still been half full when it hit the carpet.
I shook myself awake and turned to a sitting position. The quiet strains of `Enya' still drifted through the room, so I knew that I couldn't have been asleep for long.
I stirred from my place on the couch, slowly waking up as I made my way down the hall to the kitchen. I grabbed a towel from the counter, wet a rag with warm water, and pulled a bottle of carpet cleaner from under the sink.
I dropped to my knees back in the living room and began to scrub out the whiskey now staining the white carpet. I pressed hard into the carpet, forcing the cleaner in. I found myself pushing harder and harder, rubbing faster and faster. Tears were starting to make their way down my face.
The stain wouldn't come out. No matter how hard I tried, it wouldn't change.
It felt like a bizarre metaphor for my life. So many stains that wouldn't come out. So many things I couldn't change, couldn't handle.
I'd long since decided that my ability to freeze everything out was a blessing. That being able to completely shut down my emotions, to suppress everything inside, was a good thing. It kept people from hurting me.
Or so I'd talked myself into believing. Lindsay's words haunted me, though.
`Some day, you're going to wake up and realize that this life isn't for you, that you need people again. And no one's going to be left to welcome you back.'
"God, I'm such a coward," I said softly to myself.
Somehow, saying the words aloud made them more real. I was a coward. Instead of facing my problems, no matter how overwhelming, I'd run. And it hadn't been the first time. Only the longest.
I sighed, settling back to lean against the couch, tears flowing freely down my cheeks. It was the first time I'd really cried since leaving Dylan's...MY life. And now, it seemed I couldn't stop.
`And no one's going to be left to welcome you back.' Lindsay's voice echoed again.
Would anyone welcome me back, even now? I'd left, walked out on everyone, left everything behind to start this new life. I'd convinced myself that I was so strong, so independent.
In fact, I was a fool. I'd given up everything to start over, and, in return, I'd accepted nothing. I had refused friends, refused happiness of any kind. It was no life; it had no purpose.
Could I change it?
Did I have the strength?
More important...did I have the courage?
The quick answer was, of course, `no'. If I possessed that level of strength, I would never have left. I would've dealt with the loss of my son. I would've dealt with the consequences of Kevin's...indiscretion.
I sobbed aloud at that point, curling up to fall into a ball on the floor. I lost control, almost wailing in agony.
`Oh, Kev, what I've done to you,' I thought, pain flowing through me.
Would he welcome me back?
My innate pessimism said `no'. A tiny voice inside whispered `yes', struggling to hold on to the frailest of hope.
I couldn't know the answer and wasn't ready to face it, anyway. All I knew at that point was that there were other things waiting for me. Other things I needed to deal with before I was ready to make a decision about taking back my old life.
I pushed thoughts of Kevin aside for now. I knew I would have to face him eventually, no matter what I decided about my life. If Nick had been tracking me all this time, then odds were good that Kevin knew about me, too. It would be too cruel not to give him the chance for closure.
No matter where life now took me, whether here in San Diego or somewhere else, I wasn't going to do that to him. He deserved better, if he hadn't already found it.
I gathered myself and stood, making my way to the phone and address book in my desk. I sifted through the listings, trying to find the right one. When I finally found it, I picked up and dialed.
"Jefferson Travel, this is Sophie, how may I help you this evening?" a pleasant voice responded.
"Yes," I replied, then hesitated. "I'd...I'd like to book a plane ticket, please. Earliest possible flight to Kalispell, Montana."
"Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of all of us at Horizon Airlines, I'd like to welcome you to Kalispell. The current local time is approximately 4:50pm. Skies are overcast and the temperature is a brisk 20 degrees."
I suppressed a shiver, drawing a slight chuckle from the man sitting next to me.
"First time up north?" he asked as the plane continued to taxi.
"No," I responded politely. "I grew up in the Dakotas, so 20 isn't too bad. I've just lived in more tropical climes for the last several years."
"What brings you to Kalispell?" he wondered.
"I'm not really sure," I answered truthfully. Fortunately, the flight attendant got on the intercom to announce our arrival at the gate, forestalling any further questions.
I'd managed to avoid talking to my seatmate for the duration of the flight from Seattle. I wasn't really sure I'd have been able to handle conversation. My nerves were shot. I hadn't felt so scared in longer than I could remember.
Of course, I hadn't felt much of anything in a long, long time.
I made my way through the small airport, headed for the rental car area. I had a car on reserve, figuring it would be better than trying to have someone come get me. More time for me to worry, and more time to gather what courage I had remaining.
I drove into Kalispell, taking the road to my brother's house. I hoped he hadn't moved. A small part of me hoped that he had. I quickly quashed that thought, as I knew I needed to do this. If nothing else, I needed to say goodbye to Mom.
I pulled up a block from my brother's home and just watched a moment. There were a number of cars out front, although I didn't recognize any of them. There were also lights on, and I could see into the living room through the large bay window.
It was difficult to make out who was inside. There were a number of shadows passing by, and people further back in the house that I could see. I sat there, staring through the window of my car in to the house. Finally, I knew it was time.
I slowly climbed from the car, each step a challenge. I'd been gone almost two years. I'd shut everyone off, not speaking to anyone, not allowing anyone to speak to me. I'd never been so scared in all my life.
I made my way up the front sidewalk, being careful not to slip on the icy walk. It appeared that winter had visited Kalispell a lot this year, as there were several large snow piles next to the walk.
I reached the door and raised my hand, then hesitated. I don't know how long I stood there, my hand raised as if to knock. Eventually, a cold breeze blew by, reminding me that I couldn't stand there all night. I may've been a fool this past year, but my cold instincts were still intact. I knocked several times, then let my hand drop.
I could hear movement behind the door. Someone yelled that they would get it. A moment later, footsteps across the floor, then down a few stairs, then, finally, the door opened to a familiar face.
"Hi, Kris," I greeted my sister-in-law.
"Dylan!" she almost sobbed my name before wrapping her arms around me tightly. She was only a little over five feet tall, so she didn't reach very high. But, as I'd always done, I found myself stooping to allow her to hug me.
"I'm so glad you came," she whispered softly against my neck. "I wasn't sure you would."
"Neither was I," I whispered back, feeling her tears against my skin.
"Kris, who is it?" My brother's voice drifted down the stairs behind her. I pulled away slightly to look over her shoulder. "Dylan?" He questioned.
"Hey, bro," I replied tensely.
He slowly walked over to us. Kristin let go, turning to the side to face us both. Jeremy reached me, staring, giving me no sign about how he felt.
"I'm glad you made it," he said softly.
"Me, too," I replied, just as quietly. "Jeremy, I..." I started to explain, then faded. There really wasn't an explanation.
"We'll talk about it later," he said, delaying the inevitable for both of us. "For now, come on inside. There're a few people who want to see you."
"Oh? Who?" I asked, trying to keep the fear from shaking my voice.
"Your niece and nephew for two." He gave a small smile, which faded a moment later. "Mom."
"How is she?" I inquired as I moved inside.
"She's...she's not in pain anymore," he said. If it were anyone else, I would've expected to see tears in his eyes. But, I knew Jeremy, and I knew he wasn't the type to express his feelings. I guess that ran in the family.
"Couple of days. No more."
Kris took my coat, and I slipped my shoes off, thankful for the thick socks I'd worn this morning. She reached behind me to close the door, but I intercepted her, turning to shut it myself. She smiled, then turned to hang my coat up.
"You came after all," Nick's voice drifted down the stairs. I turned to face him.
"Nick," I said, acknowledging his presence. "I didn't really expect to see you here."
"Feeling's mutual, I guess," he replied, a surprising note of hostility in his tone.
"Nick, leave him alone," Kris stepped in, taking my hand. "He's here, now, and that's what's important."
"If you say so." He turned away from the stairs, walking into the living room.
"I guess not everyone's glad to see me," I said in a lame attempt at humor.
"Are you really surprised, Dylan?" Kris asked, turning to look down on me from a few steps above.
"You've been gone for almost two years. No word, no explanation." I could see the hurt in her eyes, and, underneath that, the anger. "We're your family, Dylan. You should've trusted us."
"I...I couldn't, Kris. I'm sorry."
"Kris, leave it be," Jeremy spoke up from behind me. "We'll deal with it later." They fought a brief battle of wills over my shoulder before Kris turned away.
"You're right," she answered with a sigh. She led me up the stairs into the house.
"Mom's in the spare room at the end of the hall," Kris said when we reached the top. I glanced over into the living room and saw Nick playing on the floor with Jana. Another little one was off to the side, on a blanket.
"Is that...is that Dylan?" I wondered, amazement in my voice.
"Yes," Jeremy answered. "Named for you and, to some extent, for Dad."
I nodded. Both Jeremy and I were named for our father, Jeremy Dylan Weston. He got Dad's first name, I got Dad's middle name.
Kris walked over and picked up my nephew. She walked back and held him out for me. I took him, careful to support his little body in my large hands. He looked up at me with his mother's shining blue eyes. Jeremy's eyes were green, so I knew he got the blue from Kris' Nordic heritage.
"He's so beautiful," I whispered, smiling at him. He gurgled as babies do, then smiled back.
"It's too bad you won't see him grow up," Nick said from his spot on the floor.
I glanced up at him, the smile fading from my face. I turned to hand Dylan back to Kristin. She took him and settled him on his blanket again, playing lightly to distract him.
"Nick," I said, turning to face him, "what's the problem? I thought you'd be happy to see me."
"What does it matter if I'm happy or not, Jacob?" he asked, emphasizing the name. "It hasn't mattered since you left, why should it matter now?"
"The other night," I started again, but he interrupted me.
"The other night showed me what you were really like. When Janie is gone, you'll be gone, too. Won't you?"
I looked away, unable to handle the intensity of his gaze. I didn't know the answer to his question, so it was difficult to come up with anything to say. He knew it, so he pressed on.
"See? You aren't even planning on staying, are you? Already making plans to go back to your `life'," I could hear the sarcasm in his tone, "in San Diego." For some reason, his words angered me.
"Look, Nick," I said, my voice tense with emotion, "I don't know if I'm going to stay. I don't know where my life is going now. You showed up at my door the other night, and my life, such as it was, turned upside down. All I do know," I hesitated before continuing in a quieter tone. "All I do know is that, right now, I'm here. And...I'm trying."
We faced each other, blue eyes on blue again. I was once more impressed with the strength, the spirit I saw in him. While always a man of strong character, Nick had still managed to seem like a kid in many ways. From what I saw on his face, the kid was gone. I wondered how much of that was my fault.
"Dylan?" Jeremy interrupted our staring. I turned to face him. "You wanna see Mom?" I just nodded, sparing Nick a glance before turning to follow my brother down the hall.
"How long has he been here?" I wondered softly as we moved away.
"Just since yesterday," Jeremy replied.
"I didn't realize you all were so close," I told him. He turned to face me.
"Look, Dylan," he said, "a lot has changed. You disappearing...we all started to hold on to each other a little more tightly. Nick's...he's become a member of the family."
"When Mom got sick a few months ago, Nick stepped in and tried to help as much as possible. He paid for doctors, specialists, trying to save her. It wasn't enough, the cancer had spread too far, but he tried."
He stopped speaking, then, but there was an unspoken phrase hanging between us. I could even hear it in his voice: `That was more than you did.'
I was staggered to say the least. I had no idea that Nick would do that. I knew he was a good person, but his getting so involved in my family was something I hadn't conceived.
"And the others?" I wondered. "Howie? Brian? AJ?" I hesitated. "Kevin?"
"We," he hesitated, "we don't see a lot of Kevin. I think...we remind him too much of you."
"Is he," I began, then choked off. But, I had to know. "Is he...alright?"
"I don't really know, to be honest," Jeremy said. "Like I said, we don't see much of him. You'll have to ask Nick."
I nodded, refusing to say anymore. I was already overwhelmed with this whole reunion, with Nick's involvement in my life while I wasn't even around to live it. And now, I had to face my mother.
"She may not wake up," Jeremy filled me in as I reached for the door handle. "She's been in a lot of pain today, so we upped her dose of medication. But, just talk to her. She'll know you're there. I think...I think she's been waiting for you."
I nodded before turning the handle and easing the door open. The room was stale, which I should've expected. It was too cold outside to open the window, so the smell of medicines and sickness hung in the air. Only the multitude of flowers surrounding the bed helped cut down on the odor.
Mother was lying in a hospital style bed. She looked...she looked like she was dying. Her lustrous black hair was faded, unkempt. The pallor of her skin emphasized the myriad lines on her face. She had tubes in her nose, I assumed to provide additional oxygen. I could barely see her chest rising under the coverlet.
I moved over to the bed, my feet and legs leaden with the burden of my weight. I made it to a chair someone had placed next to her before collapsing into it. My eyes were wet with unshed tears.
This was the woman who'd birthed me, who'd nursed my childhood wounds, who'd molded me, directly and otherwise, into the adult I'd become. I found myself wondering abstractly if she was proud of me, particularly in light of what I'd done the last two years.
I reached over and took her hand, surprised at its emaciated feel. I noticed the IV line in her other hand and realized that they were probably feeding her intravenously. Just enough to keep her body going, not enough to put a lot of meat on her bones. It wasn't really necessary if she was as advanced as I'd been warned.
I leaned down, bringing her withered hand to my lips. Her skin was dry to the touch, at least until the first of my tears struck the back of her hand.
"Oh, mama, I'm so sorry," I whispered.
I didn't say anything else. There wasn't anything else to say. Seeing her lying there only served to emphasize what a selfish fool I'd been. And now, I was stuck picking up the pieces of all the lives I'd impacted when I'd run.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. I flinched, more from habit than anything else. I hadn't been one to accept gentle touches for a while. The hand began to withdraw, but I reached over and grabbed it, keeping its owner close.
"She looks so...so different," I whispered, struggling to find my voice.
"Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I guess, it's been a pretty fast decline." The voice belonged to my brother.
"When she wakes up, is she...coherent?" I wondered. "Will she know me?"
"She might be a little muddled from the medication," he answered softly. "But, she should still know you."
"It's not like Gram, then," I stated, thinking of our grandmother's death from cancer several years before. Elaine had been diagnosed with several brain tumors, which, in addition to slowly reducing her to a vegetative state, ultimately killed her. Within two days of being diagnosed, she hadn't remembered any of her family.
I hadn't been around to see this first hand, however. My father had withheld the fact that she was dying from me because of the fight we'd had about my being gay. I hadn't been able to see Gram before her death. I'd been told about it after the fact by Jeremy.
"No," he confirmed. "Nothing that's affected her mind at this point. She still has her faculties."
I finally turned to face him, then. His face was inscrutable to me in the dim light of the room. I found myself almost relieved that I couldn't tell what he was thinking. It just seemed easier to begin the long climb back to myself when I couldn't read, or perhaps misread, his expression.
"Jeremy," I began, then hesitated, dropping my eyes back to the floor. "I'm sorry. I know, it doesn't really mean anything, doesn't even begin to make up for what's happened, but..." I faded, unsure how to continue. He didn't say anything, I assumed because he wanted to hear more. I sighed before moving on.
"When Preston died, I felt so guilty. It was my fault, because I wasn't paying attention. It was my fault because I hadn't been there for him like I should've been, even before the," I choked, "the accident." I stopped, looking up into my brother's eyes again.
"I was a bad father, Jeremy," I whispered the words. "I wasn't home, wasn't around when I needed to be. I was traveling all the time, showing up here and there to take him to Disney World or Wet `n' Wild or something. I wasn't the one he looked to for support. Ke...Kevin was." I had to pause for a breath. Jeremy didn't say anything.
"When Preston died, it was like...like God was punishing me for not taking care of my son, not loving him enough. God took him away from me because I was negligent, because Preston deserved more than I gave him."
"And then Kevin...I found out Kevin slept with Kari, and I," my voice caught again as tears started to gather in my eyes, "I just couldn't face it anymore. I couldn't stand to be me anymore. So, I...I ran away and became someone else so I wouldn't have to be Dylan anymore."
I fell silent, waiting for some sign, a word from him. Jeremy and I'd never been all that close, but he was still my brother. I figured that he ranked pretty high on the list of people to whom I owed an explanation. Eventually, he sighed and dropped his hand from my shoulder.
"It's always about you, isn't it, Dylan?" he asked, his voice still low in the room. There was anger in his tone, but also sadness, resignation.
"Everything's always about you. YOU'RE a bad father; YOU were to blame for Preston's death. I bet you thought, somewhere in that mind of yours, that you were the reason that Kevin cheated, didn't you?" I didn't answer. I didn't have to answer, because he already knew it was true.
"It's always been like that," he continued after a moment. "The world revolves around you. I don't know if it's because you were the baby in the family or the cycles of the moon or what, but it's always been that way. Why don't you get the fact that it's not always you? That you're not always responsible for everything, good or bad, that happens?"
"It's because he was my baby," a dry, quiet voice spoke from behind me. I jerked around to face Mom's bed.
"Mom, you're awake," I stated the obvious to her. She smiled slightly at my foolish statement.
"For a little while, Dylan, I'm awake," she agreed. She seemed obviously tired, but her eyes had a sharp, focused appearance. "And you, my sweet boy, are back where you belong."
"For now," I said, looking into the eyes that matched my own.
"No, Dylan," she softly denied my words. "It needs to be for good this time. You've run long enough. It's time to face things again. You need to pick up your life again."
"Mom, contrary to everyone's opinion, I do have a life," I started again to defend myself, but she squeezed my hand, cutting me off with that simple gesture.
"No, Dylan, you don't." She said this in the tone that said she knew what she was talking about...and that she knew that I agreed with her, even if I wouldn't admit it. "You have a retreat, a hiding place. Where you live, how you live...it's not a life."
"Perhaps, it could become a life, if you choose," she continued. "But, you need to close the door on one before you can start another." She was wheezing slightly as she spoke.
"You should rest, Mom," Jeremy interrupted. Mom just shook her head slightly.
"You and I both know," she paused to take a breath, "that I'll be resting enough very soon now. This needs to be said."
"What, Mom? What needs to be said?" I wondered. From Jeremy's words and tone earlier, there really wasn't anything to say.
"Dylan," she said, "you're...a...good...person." She paused between words, emphasizing her point. "You made some bad choices, some choices that hurt a lot of people, but right here," she released my hand to point at my heart, "right in here, you're a decent man."
"I'm not so sure," I whispered back.
"Don't argue with your mother," she used the sharp tone all mothers possess when scolding their children. "Especially when she's dying."
"The fact is, Dylan, that you fucked up," she said. I gasped. I couldn't remember her ever using the f-word before. She just gave a slight chuckle, which turned into a small cough.
"Yes, Dylan, contrary to popular belief, I do know how to use the word. I just choose not to. But," she squeezed my hand and stared into my eyes, "I wanted you to know how strongly I felt about this. It's time for you to face what you've been running from."
"And," she paused, "I think you already know that, don't you?" I stared at her for several long, drawn out minutes before finally giving in and nodding my head.
"Yeah, I do, Mom," I acknowledged in the barest of whispers. "It's part of why I came back. I just..." I lapsed into silence.
"You don't know what to do?" she wondered, filling in for me. I nodded, glancing over at Jeremy.
"I have so much to make up for, I don't know where to begin," I continued to whisper.
"That's the easy part, Dylan," she said softly. "Just answer one question, completely and totally honestly, to yourself if to no one else." She paused, making sure I was paying attention.
"What do you want?"
Well, sports fans, there it is. The first steps in the long-anticipated return-to-the-fold of one Dylan Richardson. Will he stay? Will he go? You'll have to stick around to find out.
I want to thank everyone who's written me. I'm in the process of getting back to all of you. If I haven't written you back, I either lost your e-mail or am still working my way down the list. Feel free to mail me again, or just wait and see if I get back to you.
On the e-mail note, Ana, if you're reading this, I responded but your mailbox was full. Clean house, honey!