Three Roads: Chapter 44, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (Part 2)
For anyone that was listening, there was tons of activity and noise that was occurring on the street that Eric, Toby, and Cooper had called home. A little girl, of no more than seven, was screaming her lungs out as she ran as fast as her legs would carry her. Her younger brother had picked up a helpless bug and was now maliciously chasing her with it. She was terrified as she ran, and therefore didn't notice the older man who was revving his motorcycle, a recent purchase in an attempt to recapture his youth. His two teenage children looked on in amazement and argued over who their dad would take for a ride first. His wife looked on disapprovingly from their open front door and made a vow that she would settle for nothing less than seeing the abomination in front of her crushed into a pile of indiscernible metal. As she stared on in disbelief, a young man, coming home from college for a home cooked meal, sped down the street leaving tire tracks as he stopped to avoid hitting the little girl. He yelled an obscenity at her, but she didn't hear him as his bass was stretching his speakers dangerously towards their limit.
All this was going on and Cooper was hearing none of it. He sat, staring blankly at the table in front of him, not sure of what to do. He stared at his cell phone, wishing that it was a dream. His mind was still trying to process everything his sister had said to him, but his mind wouldn't let him. Instead he kept replaying his last words to her before he had received the terrible news, "Ang, you scaring me. Is everyone ok?"
He heard Eric giggle and he snapped his head in the direction of his room. He felt like he was in a fog as he consciously told himself to get up and to walk to Eric's door. Before he knew it, he was there and he watched his right arm come up to the door. The noise from the other side stopped immediately. It took Eric almost an additional twenty seconds to open the door, but Cooper didn't notice. Once Eric opened the door, he also didn't notice that Eric's shirt looked like it had been hastily put on, but Eric did notice the look on Cooper's face.
Cooper opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. Eric saw the tears starting to fall out of his eyes and he walked forward and put his arms around Cooper, "What happened?"
He felt the taller boy convulse in his arms and Eric was surprised that he felt a strong urge to cry with him. He fought it, mainly because he had no idea why he would be crying. He heard Cooper whisper softly, "My dad had a heart attack."
"Oh my God, is he ok?" Eric regretted saying it as soon as he heard it because it sounded like the worst possible question to ask someone in Cooper's position.
"I don't know, Angela said...he looked pretty bad. She said I should come home."
"Do you want me to get online and find you a ticket? I can do that."
"She already ordered me one."
"When does your plane leave?"
Eric looked at his watch, "That's in like two hours. You need to go pack, do you need my help?"
"I can do it."
Eric heard the front door open and he called out, "Toby?"
Eric turned back to Cooper and he spoke like he was speaking to a small child, "Go pack, I'll be there in a minute to help you ok?"
Eric turned around to go into the living room and almost ran into Jon.
"What's going on?"
"Cooper's dad isn't doing very well, he's gonna go home." Eric said quickly walking away.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Jon called after him.
"Just go back in the room."
Toby was in the kitchen shuffling through the refrigerator. He heard Eric come up behind him, "What's up?"
Eric took a deep breath, "Cooper's dad a heart attack."
"Yeah...he's still alive apparently from what Cooper said. He's pretty out of it."
"Cooper or his dad?"
"Where is he now?" Toby asked concerned.
"In his room packing. Will you stay here with Jon while I take him to the airport?"
Toby made a funny face, "Why is Jon here?"
"He broke up with this guy he was seeing and he's drunk off his ass so I thought it would be best for him to stay here."
"Then doesn't it make more sense for me to take Cooper so that you can stay here with Jon?" Toby said in a matter of fact tone.
Eric's face dropped, "I guess so."
"Don't worry, he'll be ok."
Eric nodded, "I'm gonna go see if he needs any help."
"I'll come with you...but wait...what should I say?"
"I have no idea." Eric shrugged.
Toby followed Eric through the living room and into the hallway. They peaked their head into his room and he was sitting quietly on his bed. Eric stepped in first, "Have you finished packing?"
"I haven't started."
"Oh, well I can help you." Eric said as he grabbed the duffle bag that was lying in front of Cooper's feet, "How long do you think you'll stay for?"
"I don't know. I guess it depends on if he dies."
Eric opened his mouth to say something, but decided against it. Toby stepped into the room, "Hey, I heard what happened and I'm really sorry."
Cooper nodded but didn't say anything. Toby sat down next to him on the bed and didn't say anything for a few minutes. He watched Eric open and close drawers looking for various articles of clothing. Every minute or so Eric would ask Cooper where something was and Cooper would sometimes respond and sometimes he wouldn't.
"I'm gonna take you to the airport ok?" Toby said softly to Cooper.
Eric dropped the full duffle bag in front of Cooper, "I need you to check it to make sure you'll have everything you need."
"I'm sure it's fine. Thank you."
Eric persisted, "Do you need anything? Are you hungry or anything before you go?"
"Ok." Toby and Eric exchanged looks, not sure of what to do.
"I don't think I'm a horrible son," Cooper started, "I think I'm a pretty good son, but I don't call home as often as I should."
"None of us do." Eric agreed.
Cooper continued, "I know and it's bad. He doesn't even know me. I've never told him I was gay."
"We all do it on our own time." Toby said. For the first time since he had spoken with his sister, Cooper smiled. He appreciated the irony of that statement coming from Toby and he would never know how much that meant to Cooper to hear him say those words, even if he didn't mean them.
"I just won't...he can't die before I get there."
"Are you ready to go?" Toby asked.
"I think so. I need to go to the bathroom first."
"Ok, we'll wait for you here." Eric said.
Eric waited until he heard the bathroom door close before he spoke, "Maybe, we should take Jon home so that I can go with you."
"I know you want to go and give him your support, but we don't have time. He has to go through security and get his ticket and everything."
"Can I bring him with us?"
"I'm sorry. I have to do something, I need to help or...I don't want him to think that I am picking Jon over him."
Toby was confused, "Why would he think that?"
"I don't know."
"He'll be ok."
"Will you just stay with him as long as he needs you to?"
Toby heard the bathroom door open and he jerked his head up right when Cooper appeared in the doorway, "You ready?"
"I'm ready." Cooper said walking into the room. Toby put his hand on the duffle bag that Cooper was reaching for, "I got it."
"Ok, so..." Eric again wrapped his arms around Cooper. Cooper should have been the one who didn't want to let go, after all, he was the one in pain, but Eric found himself not wanting to let go of Cooper. If he could have stayed there, he knew that everything would work itself out, but Cooper pulled away first, "I have to go."
"Yeah. I'm with you in spirit and don't worry about classes or anything I'll talk to all your professors."
Cooper and Toby turned to leave and Eric thought about following them to the airport in his own car and making Jon wait as he said goodbye to Cooper, but before he could fully process the thought, he heard the front door close. He stared at the door for a few moments longer almost as if he was expecting his roommates to walk back into the house. He slowly walked back to his room and sat on the bed next to Jon. It was now Jon's turn to comfort Eric, "Are you ok?"
"I'm fine." Eric said abruptly.
"Do you want me to leave?"
"No," Eric lied, "It's fine."
Jon shifted on the bed, "Ok then. Relax."
He began to massage Eric's shoulders, but Eric quickly shrugged him off, "If you think I'm about to start making out with you again then you are sadly mistaken."
"No one said anything about that. I'm just trying to help you out."
"Well there's not anything you can do."
"Do you want to talk about?" When Eric didn't say anything Jon continued to press, "You really like him don't you?"
"Would you stop? If you continue to annoy me I'm going to make you get out. I just want to be left alone."
"I was just trying to be nice. But if you don't want to talk, I'm gonna crash. I'm tired as hell."
"Then do that."
Jon decided to speak one last time, "He'll be ok."
"It feels really weird to be at school today." Eric said as he and Toby walked from one of the many parking lots on campus.
"It does, but what else are you going to do, but sit at home and be worried all day?"
"I know. I have a test today too."
"Then you need to focus."
"How can you be so calm?" Eric asked suddenly.
"I feel for Cooper...I really do. And even though I can imagine how I would feel if this were my dad, in the end it isn't. To be honest, I don't think you're that concerned about his dad either, you're concerned about Cooper."
"Of course I am," Eric scoffed, "He's my good friend. Why wouldn't I be concerned?"
"How well did you sleep last night?"
"Not good at all," Eric complained, "Partly because I was sleeping on the couch. It's comfortable to sit on, but I will never attempt to sleep there ever again."
Toby laughed, "I could have told you that. My point is as concerned as I am for Cooper I slept totally fine last night. Some would call me a heartless bastard..."
"Some would." Eric interrupted.
"But," Toby continued, "I think yours goes beyond what is normal for friendship."
"Not this again."
"All joking aside Eric, I think you have some very real unexplored feelings for Cooper. It was very obvious last night. If I had let you, you would have dropped Jon immediately to be with Cooper up until he got on the plane."
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"Deny it all you want to, but in the end it'll be your loss." Toby said, "I'm going this way, I'll see you later."
As Toby and Eric were going their separate ways, Jack was meeting up with his best friend Carly on his high school campus. Despite the early time, Carly had already texted Jack several times making sure that he was going to be on campus early. She was sitting on their favorite bench that they ate lunch on every afternoon.
"So what was so fuckin important that you couldn't tell me on the phone or online last night?" Jack asked as he sat next to his friend, "Are you pregnant?" he teased.
"Fuck you, no, I'm not, it's actually very serious."
"You know Linus?"
Jack laughed, "How could I forget anyone with that name?"
"Ok anyway, he said that he and his girlfriend were at the ice cream parlor yesterday after school."
"Were you there?"
"This is what you wanted to talk about?" Jack asked incredulously.
"Just answer the question."
"I did go to pick up some ice cream."
"Oh." Carly said sounding disappointed.
"Are you mad because I didn't bring you any or invite you to come with me? It was an honest mistake I thought you were still dieting."
"Yeah, say that loud enough so the whole fuckin campus can hear you." Carly said throwing Jack one of her infamous death stares.
"Sorry. So just get to the point."
"Linus said he saw you kiss that boy who was on the news for breaking into the Sunnydale campus."
Jack tried not to show the shock and panic that he felt inside on his face. He couldn't tell by the way Carly was looking at him if he had succeeded, "Yeah, Tim," Jack chuckled, "I know him cause he used to work in my dad's office. It was just a joke between friends. It wasn't like we were making out."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah I think so. I was there after all."
"Sorry," Carly said putting her hands up, "I was just asking."
"Well, I'm just making sure we're clear. And since when have you and Linus been buddy buddy?"
"We're not, but he told me I guess because if you were gay wouldn't I be the first to know?"
"He actually asked if I was?"
"Not really. He said something like, `Hey Carly, just so you know your boyfriend's gay. "And I was like what the hell are you talking about? And he was all I saw him kissing some guy at the ice cream place. At first I didn't believe him, but then I remembered that guy, Tim, works there so I thought it might be true."
"Well, it is. I did kiss him, but as a joke I'm not gay or anything."
"Good, I was worried there." Carly said relieved.
"I don't know. I mean I have a cousin who's gay, but he's a little weird, I wouldn't want you getting all..." She made a gesture with her hands instead of finishing her sentence.
"Way to be homophobic." Jack said.
"I'm not homophobic. I just don't get it is all. I mean if you were I'd get over it, but our friendship is so perfect now why make it all weird."
"Yeah, the perfect friendship." Jack said sarcastically though his friend didn't catch on to his tone. She lightly hit him in the arm and motioned for him to look to his left. They watched as Linus walked towards them. He smiled when he recognized the two of them. He didn't stop, as he always wanted to be first to class to make sure no one took his seat, but he didn't hesitate to yell to make up for the few feet of distance separating them, "Don't worry Jack, you'll get to see this buff sexy body naked later today at P.E."
"Real mature!" Carly yelled after him.
"Let it go, he isn't worth it."
As the day went on, Linus seemed to be everywhere that Jack was. Every time he saw Jack, he had a new comment about Jack's perceived sexuality. Jack had decided early that morning that he was simply going to ignore Linus, but as it kept happening and the day continued, he slowly began to lose his patience.
"Hey!," Linus waved as he passed Jack going to his last class of the day, "got a fag?"
"You really need to shut the fuck up. You're not even funny."
"What are you talking about?" Linus said with a fake attempt at seeming innocent, "I'm talking about a cigarette."
"Yeah, whatever, you just need to stop talking to me."
"The homo's got his panties in a bunch."
Jack turned around and started to walk back towards Linus, "I dare you to say it again."
Linus smiled. He had a couple of inches and a good twenty pounds on Jack. If it came to that, he was sure that he could more than handle himself, "You heard me. I said the homo's...mmmph!"
Jack's fist connected solidly with Linus' mouth. Linus was on the ground, spitting blood into the palm of his hand surrounded by a few students who were asking him if he was ok, "I'll kick that faggot's ass!"
Jack had already turned and walked away. By the time Linus had finally gotten up and was being escorted to the nurse's office, Jack had already made his way to the office of the principal. When he walked into the office, the secretary looked up absent mindedly from the computer screen. She opened her mouth to talk, but Jack cut her off, "I punched a kid in the mouth."
"Let me see your summons." The woman said a bit taken aback.
"I don't have one. I punched the kid in the mouth just like a minute and a half ago. I was going to inevitably be summoned here anyway, so I thought I'd just save all the drama so I can get yelled out, have my dad called, and probably get grounded."
"Wait here." she said as she went to fetch the principal.
Jack was right, that was exactly what happened. Forty five minutes later his dad entered the principal's office alone.
"Jack, what the hell is wrong with you?"
"Nothing. My hand hurts a little bit, but that's because I punched somebody in the mouth."
"Don't be smart. I need to hear an explanation, because you`re in a lot of trouble."
"I tried to ignore him, but he kept picking at me all day. I told him to shut up, he didn't, so I shut him up."
"Did you ever go to a teacher or adult and tell them what was going on?"
Jack rolled his eyes, "They wouldn't have done anything, plus he wasn't saying anything when there were teachers around."
"Jack, you know I don't condone violence. There is no reason to hit anyone unless they are in your physical space."
"Yes there is. He kept calling me gay every time he would see me."
"I don't expect you to understand."
"I understand one thing," Dr. Brown said raising his voice, "I got called from my responsibilities because you couldn't control yourself, your issue wasn't solved, and as a result of your actions, you'll likely be suspended."
Jack shrugged," It was solved if you asked me. I wanted him to stop talking to me and as soon as I hit him in the mouth he stopped."
"I'm glad you think this is funny, do you know that things like this go on your permanent record? What if his parents decide to go to the police and press charges?"
"I'm gay, wouldn't his harassment be like a hate crime?"
"So I guess you've decided." Dr. Brown said referring to Jack's sexuality.
"I didn't decide, I figured it out."
"I don't understand," Dr. Brown said honestly, "Why did you get mad at this kid for calling you gay if you are?"
"Does the whole world need to know? You know how many kids would make fun of me? The teasing would just get worse. Is it that difficult to understand?"
Dr. Brown put his hands up in an apologetic gesture, "I'm just trying to find some common ground."
"That would take an act of God." Jack said quietly.
"Things haven't been perfect, but you have had a childhood that most people couldn't even dream of. Seventeen or not have some damn perspective. Whatever your problem is, you need to get over it, because I'm sure whatever made up problem you have with me isn't anywhere near as bad as what some other kids your age are dealing with."
"I guess you killing my mother is not a big deal."
Dr. Brown didn`t give any visual reaction, "Go get in the car. I need to talk to your principal."
Jack grabbed his backpack and swung it over his shoulder. He walked past his dad without looking at him, "I'll try not to punch anyone on the way out."
Cooper sat in the chair as he watched his mom and dad lay silently in the hospital bed together. His mom slowly stroked her husband's hair as he slept. He had never noticed how good his parents looked together and he smiled at how sweet they looked. His older sister, Angela, walked back into the hospital room with an unhappy expression on her face. She sat down in a chair next to her brother, "The cafeteria food looks absolutely uneatable and I need a break anyway, do you want to go home for a few hours?"
Cooper immediately shook his head no, "I want to stay here."
"Cooper, the worst is over. Nothing is going to happen to him while we're gone."
Cooper stayed firm, "No, it's fine. I'll just grab something from a vending machine."
Cooper's mom overheard the whispered conversation her children were having, "Go. I'll stay. You guys go take a break."
"See. It's not like dad's going to notice, he's asleep."
Cooper looked at her harshly, "How could you make a joke about something like this?"
"Oh please," Angela scoffed, "You joke about inappropriate things all the time."
"Not about people I love dying."
"Ok," Angela said grabbing Cooper by the arm, "You now don't have a choice in the matter, you're coming home with me. Whenever you lose your sense of humor I know something's up."
Cooper looked over to his mother, "He'll be fine." she said as confidently as she could, "Go with your sister."
"We'll be back in an hour or two, do you want anything from home?"
"No, I'm fine," their mother yawned, "I'll probably go myself later for a little while and pick up a few things."
In the car, Cooper remained almost completely silent as Angela drove them home, "Are you asleep? She asked.
"No," he said turning his head from the window towards her, "I'm awake."
"I want to apologize again. You know if there was any other way I wouldn't have told you over the phone."
"How are you holding up?"
Cooper sighed heavily, "I still feel like I just found out. I don't know how you and Mom can be so positive about it. It just happened."
"It's an act. I'm just trying to hold together for mom's sake."
"Come on, you know Mom. A gunman could be pointing the AK right at her temple and she'd still try and act like nothing is wrong."
They shared a laugh for the first time in what seemed like ages. Cooper yawned, he didn't realize how tired he was; between the flight and staying up all night worrying about his dad, he was exhausted, "Do you pray?"
Angela looked at him a little surprised, "Not as much as I should...or need to, do you?"
"Not normally," Cooper started, "I kinda believe that God already has made up his mind. Things happen as they're going to and no amount of praying will change that."
Angela nodded her head as if she were thinking it over. Cooper continued, "But on the plane ride over, I must have prayed a million times that dad wouldn't die. Even though I knew it had already been decided, I also knew that I wasn't ready to lose him."
"I don't think we'll ever be ready to lose him."
"I know," Cooper agreed, "but I would hate myself forever if him and mom passed without knowing I was gay. I just couldn't live without them having ever known that part of me."
"You know I totally support you, but do you think now is the time and place to do it?"
"Yes. Maybe that's why all this happened."
His older sister looked at him skeptically, "Uh, I certainly hope God didn't give Dad a heart attack so that you could come out."
"I didn't mean it like that. I meant that sometimes things happen for a multitude of reasons. Like, it's always the seemingly bad times that make people able to tell you how they feel about you. The last couple of hours made me realize that I need to stop finding reasons and giving excuses to not tell them, because they'll be gone one day or I could die before I ever tell them."
"Wow," Angela said pulling into the driveway, "Look at my little brother being deep."
"The last 12 hours have just been one big joke to you huh?"
"I say this at the risk of you using it against me later, but lighten up."
"Yeah, I will probably use that against you later." Cooper laughed.
They entered the house and it felt weird for Cooper to be here when it wasn't a major holiday or mid summer. He saw one of his dad's sport suit jackets laying across the back of the couch. He rubbed the material lightly as he walked by it.
"Do you want anything to eat?" His sister asked.
"Yeah, that sounds good. I'm gonna go take a quick shower."
Cooper walked up the stairs and again felt the effects of the last several hours. He really wanted to take a nap, but he knew that he and Angela weren't going to be home long; he didn't want to anyway as he really wanted to be back at the hospital as soon as possible. He pulled a towel from the hallway closet and made his way to the bathroom. He took off his clothes and heard a thump when he dropped his jeans. He remembered that he hadn't checked his cell phone messages in quite some time. He retrieved the cell phone and saw that he had a missed call. He quickly keyed up the voice mail and smiled when he heard Eric began to talk.
"Hey, Cooper, it's Eric...I just got out of a test that I probably failed...umm you don't have to call me back or anything, but...I just wanted to let you know that I'm thinking about you and I hope everything is ok with your dad. Hopefully I'll talk to you soon, bye."
Cooper found Eric in his phonebook and pressed the green send button. He was disappointed when Eric's voice mail came on immediately. Cooper normally was a person who didn't like to leave messages, but he decided it would be appropriate under the circumstances, "Eric, it's Cooper. Everything is fine with my dad. He's still pretty weak and not talking much, but at least he's still alive. I don't know when I'll be home, but I'll probably call you guys later...I miss you too."
**********A Few Days Later**********
Tim made a grunt of disappointment when he looked up at the sky on his way out of the ice cream parlor. It looked like it was about to start pouring any minute. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone standing in front of him and he stopped immediately as to not run into them. He saw Jack in front of him staring at him strangely, "What are you doing?"
"I was looking to see if it was going to rain," Tim said still trying to gather himself, "do you like run here after school or something?"
"I didn't go to school today...or the last couple of days, I got suspended or a week."
Tim shook his head, "I can only imagine what you did."
"I punched a guy in the mouth. Believe me he deserved it. Do you have to be somewhere?"
"Uhhh..." Tim was trying to thin of an excuse fast enough, but he couldn't and frowned slightly, "Not particularly."
"Can we go somewhere and talk or something...I need to...yeah."
Normally, Tim would have been very skeptical of Jack's intentions, but he could tell the boy seemed stressed about something, "Yeah, sure. We could just sit in the car and talk until it starts to pour." Tim suggested, also giving himself an out later.
They walked the short distance to Tim's car in the silence and hopped into the car, "So what do you want to talk about?"
"That day that I came to the ice cream shop and gave you a kiss..."
"Oh, you mean when you sexually harassed me?" Tim interrupted.
"That's not where I'm going with this!" Jack retaliated, "Someone from my school saw and started making fun of me. The only way to make him shut up was to punch him."
"I'm sure your dad loved that."
Jack let out an angry sigh, "Anything not by the book and he gets all upset."
"The school suspended you for a week?"
"Yeah and I got grounded for a week. I'm not supposed to leave the house."
Tim laughed, "Jack, you are one of a kind."
"I don't feel like it," Jack started, "I feel good about myself and confident about everything else. Why is being gay different?"
"It's hard to be different. Trust me I know."
"Were you out in high school?" Jack asked.
"No, but everyone assumed I was gay anyway. That's what happens when you're not popular in high school. People assume you're either retarded or gay."
"Did you get made fun of?"
Tim nodded, "Yeah, but what kid in school doesn't these days?"
"I guess," Jack shrugged, "But that's not ok. I'm not going to let people just say whatever they want about me."
"Well, you can't punch everyone in the mouth." Tim joked.
"Ok, that's really scary that you said that so seriously."
"Maybe now that I punched Linus people will know what will happen if they mess with me."
"You can't go through life thinking like that and plus, and I'm just throwing this out there, but how do you know that like things aren't supposed to be this way?"
"You mean like God or fate or something?"
Tim nodded his approval, but Jack's look told him he didn't believe that for a second, "Relying on God got old when I was like nine. I make my own fortune."
"So you don't believe in God?" Tim questioned.
"Whether He exists or not is not really something I think about. All I know is that ever since my mom died, I've felt completely alone. My mom was the best person you would ever meet and if God didn't save her from dying, He can't do anything for me...I don't need any help anyway."
"What happened to her?"
"My father killed her."
Tim brought his hands to his mouth, "Like murder?"
"No, but he might as well have. She killed herself."
"I'm confused." Tim said.
"My dad has always been about his career and let me and my mom fend for ourselves."
"But why did she kill herself?"
"She just couldn't take it anymore."
Tim didn't really feel that that was a valid excuse for a mother to kill herself and leave a child behind, but he thought it best not to say what he was thinking out loud, "That's sad."
"It is," Jack agreed, "And I'll never ever forgive my dad. And I've honestly tried to forget about it and just let it go, but it's not fair that he gets to have all these people thinking he's this great guy and this great leader when my mom is dead."
"Maybe you'll get a little older and you'll see it's not so cut and dry." Tim suggested.
Jack shook his head, "It's simple. And it's something I know I have to do."
Joey made sure that all the lights were out, the computer was off, and that everything had been put in its place before closing the door of the Pride Center. He smiled at Brian as he jiggled the knob to make sure it was locked.
"Everything good?" Brian asked.
"Yep, no one yelled faggot at me today." Joey smiled.
"Always a good thing. Anything else from Chase?"
"He's sent a couple of e mails to the Pride Center account profusely apologizing. Dr. Taylor cancelled the basketball game though. She said she thought it'd be best for everyone involved if it was indefinitely postponed."
"Do you agree?"
"It kinda sucks we did all that planning, but yeah it's probably a good idea."
"I guess," Brian shrugged, "Do you think he's really sorry?"
"I have no idea. Dr. Taylor said she wanted to file a complaint with the campus police."
"Is that really necessary?" Brian asked skeptically.
"Of course it is," Richard said coming up from behind them.
"Are you here for extra muscle in case we need it?" Brian asked, smiling at Richard.
Richard grinned widely, "You look like you can definitely handle yourself."
"With those scrawny arms?" Joey joked.
"I wasn't talking about in a fight." Richard said.
Joey rolled his eyes, "And the flirting continues."
Brian and Richard exchanged looks and smiled, "But really," Brian said, "Why are you here?"
"Going by the Pride Center real quick. Thinking about changing the layout a bit, so it's more customer friendly. You guys want to join me?"
"Uh, no. We're hungry and I just spent a 6 hour shift there." Joey said.
Brian spoke up, "How about tomorrow? I can help you tomorrow."
"Sounds like a date." Richard smiled.
Cooper walked into the hospital room and gave his sister a funny look, somehow signaling to her that it was time.
"Here's your granola bar Mom."
"Thank you very much. I'll give you a dollar later."
He looked at his dad laying in the hospital bed and he took a deep breath to try and muster the courage to tell his parents that he was gay.
"What's wrong?" His mom said looking at him.
"Nothing...I just kind of want to talk."
"About what?" his father said weakly.
"Shh! Don't talk." Cooper said.
Angela moved from her chair to right beside Cooper and grasped his hand tightly. He looked over at her and smiled warmly.
"Umm...I love you guys so much and I know that you guys love me and that you're always there for me and supporting me."
"I don't like the sound of this." His mom said.
Angela put her hand up, "Mom, let him finish."
"Uh... I'm telling you guys this because I love you and I want you guys to know everything about me. And everything that happened with dad, just made me remember how much you all are important to me. But...I'm gay."
"Did you know?" His mom said glaring at Angela.
"Why didn't you tell me?!"
"Mom, he told me in confidence. I couldn't break that trust."
"My children talk to each other more than the person who created them." She said to herself. Cooper knew his mom well enough to know that she was a lot more disappointed that she hadn't been in on the secret more than she was mad or disappointed that he was gay. Cooper shook his head as his mom stared off into space. One down was what he thought. He looked to his father who had a not so happy expression on his face, "Are you sure?"
Cooper had half the mind to tell his dad not to talk, but he answered firmly, "One hundred percent sure."
"Think of it this way, dad, you don't have to spring for a wedding now, since the gays can't get married." Angela said joking.
Their dad nodded in approval, "That is true."
"That's not funny!" Cooper yelled as he dropped Angela's hand. Angela was speechless as she looked at him in surprise, "This was really hard to do and I was scared shitless wondering what you guys would say. And I don't appreciate..." Cooper turned and quickly walked out of the room without finishing his sentence.
"I'll go." Angela said. She didn't have to go far, she found Cooper sitting right outside the hospital room on the floor.
"What was that about?"
"You guys are making jokes about something that's not funny." Cooper said without looking at her.
"Come on, you know I didn't mean anything by it."
"I know." Cooper said.
"I'm thankful I have you and can trust you, but it's still not the same. Do you know what I mean? As much as you try, you just can't understand. It just seemed like you guys were laughing at me, which you normally do anyway, but I guess it can be a sensitive subject still sometime."
"I think we're just so used to you being ok with everything and loud and boisterous. Plus, and I mean this in the kindest way, because you live so far away our family dynamic has changed. I don't want you to get a big head or anything, but you are the life of the party. When you come home we laugh more, we talk more, in part because we miss you and love you and love when you're home, but it's also because you bring that out in us."
Cooper simply smiled, "Thank you."
"I mean it," Angela continued, "I know this time you're here under not so good circumstances, but the humor is how we've all learned to deal with everything, especially with you being gone."
"I understand." Cooper said standing up. He gave his sister a big hug and held it for much longer than he normally would, "Where would I be without you?"
"I don't even want to know." Angela laughed.
Eric raced to his room as he heard his cell phone ringing. He thought it might be Cooper and he wanted to make sure there were no last minute changes before he picked him up from the airport tomorrow afternoon.
"Hello?" Eric said slightly out of breath.
"No, it's Mike."
"Oh," Eric said very surprised, "Hey, what's up?"
"Are you busy?"
"No, if you need to come by the house for something, I'll be here."
"Oh no, I don't need anything from the house, I was actually calling to ask you a favor."
"Ok, go ahead."
"I wanted to know if I could pick Cooper up from the airport. I've barely talked to him this week cause he's been busy with his family, but I really want to see him and I think it'd be a nice surprise if I picked him up instead."
Eric stayed silent for so long that Mike looked at the phone to see if the call had been disconnected, "Are you there?"
"Oh, yeah sorry. Uh Toby was saying something to me. Yeah sure, if you want to pick him up you can."
"Thank you so much. It'll be nice for him to see his boyfriend after a while. I'll talk to you soon Eric." Mike said ending the call before Eric could respond.
Toby opened the front door and was surprised to see Joey, Brian, and Richard standing in front of him.
"We wanted to be here when Cooper got back to show our support." Joey said.
"Of course seeing you is never a bad thing either." Richard shrugged.
"Come in." Toby said allowing them passage.
"Has Eric left to pick Cooper up yet?" Brian asked.
Toby put his finger up to his lips in a gesture that told his friends they would need to speak quietly, "He's in his room moping. I think he wanted to be the one to pick Cooper up from the airport."
"Is Mike picking Cooper up?" Joey asked. Toby nodded.
Joey gave a sly smile, "The shit is gonna hit the fan soon."
They heard Eric's door open and they all quieted up and turned to watch Eric come into the living room, "What?" he asked as they all stared at him.
"Nothing," Brian said, "Are you ok?"
"Uh yeah. Why are you all here?"
"We wanted to show our support for Cooper." Joey said again.
"Well, his boyfriend will be here so who knows how much time you'll get to spend with him."
They all exchanged looks as Eric walked by to go into the kitchen, "So do any of us doubt that he likes Cooper?" Joey said whispering.
Brian playfully hit Joey in the shoulder and Richard did the same to Brian, "Pick on someone your own size." Richard laughed. Brian and Richard then proceeded to try and poke each other in any exposed area.
Joey turned to sit on the couch, "Ok, girls this isn't about you, we're here for our friend, not to watch you too dry hump."
The doorbell rang and Eric immediately appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. Toby was the closest so he opened the door and saw a smiling Cooper and Mike standing in the doorway.
"Welcome home." Toby said giving his friend a hug.
"Good to be back." Cooper smiled.
"Hey Mike." Toby said extending his hand.
"Hey...everybody" Cooper laughed, "Are you all here for me?"
Joey rolled his eyes, "You would think that."
"I missed you cutie." Cooper said as he blew Joey a kiss.
"Hi." Eric said still standing in the doorway of the kitchen.
"Hi," Cooper smiled, "Can I have a hug?"
"Yeah," Eric said walking forward. Their hug lasted a little bit longer than everyone else in the room had expected and Brian, Richard, Joey, ant Toby all looked at Mike during the hug. He was smiling as he watched the two friends hug.
"How are you?" Eric asked as they finally pulled apart from each other.
"Really tired. It's been a crazy week."
"Yeah no kidding," Brian said, "How's your dad doing?"
"A lot better. He'll probably be home in a few days."
"Wow, that long?" Richard asked.
"Well, he's an older guy so they just want to make sure he understands the new changes in his diet and all that stuff."
"Makes sense." Richard said.
"Do you want me to help you carry your stuff to the room?" Eric asked.
"Yeah, that'd be great." Cooper said handing Eric the duffle bag. They walked to Cooper's room leaving everyone else behind. Eric shut the door as they entered and it made Cooper turn around, "You ok?" he asked.
Eric nodded, "Yeah. I just wanted to make sure you were ok with everyone here. I can kick them out if you want."
"No, it's cool. But we can chill here for a few minutes just to get myself together." Cooper said sitting on the bed.
Eric joined him a few moments later, "I'm glad you're back, the house felt empty without you here."
"It felt weird to be home and have it not be so happy go lucky. But I guess it all makes sense in the end. I told my parents that I was gay."
"Oh my God, how did it go?"
"Well. My mom was more upset that Angela already knew and didn't tell her, and my dad was just kind of out of it in general. I think he's a little disappointed that he won't get grandchildren from both kids, but yeah...it's probably good that we have a two week break before the Christmas break."
"Yeah, I let all you professors know about what was going on and they said you can talk to them after you get back."
"I know, you already told me." Cooper laughed bumping Eric. Eric bumped him back and they shared a laugh.
"No really though," Eric said patting Cooper's thigh, "I'm glad you're home."
Eric's hand felt very warm on his thigh and despite knowing that it was a friendly gesture, he started to get a little aroused. He looked up at Eric and was jolted by the fact that Eric was staring at him directly in the eyes. They weren't saying anything to each other, but they both knew the other was thinking of the possible implications and difficulties that would arise if they gave into the strong temptation they were feeling right now. Eric leaned forward first which melted any resistance from Cooper. Neither of them knew it, but as they kissed, a higher power watched them from above and smiled. There was nothing more beautiful to Him than watching two people exist in a moment, exactly where they were supposed to be.