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"What the hell is this???" Were the first words out of his mouth as Joel and I stood frozen at the door. My mom and his both turned to look at us, and the instant tension in the room hit us both like a runaway train at top speed!
Joel's mother stood up from the couch, half angry, half relieved. I didn't know if she was worried about him and getting ready to give him a big hug, or if he was in the biggest trouble of his LIFE and was going to pull out a belt and whip him right in front of us!
"Do you have ANY idea how long I've been LOOKING for you???" She said.
"Yeah, like I'm really going to believe that you cared enough about me to go looking for me..." Joel scoffed.
"Where the hell have you BEEN???" His mother said, and my mom looked at me in a way that made me worry whether or not I was in trouble too over all of this.
"I've been with people who actually WANT me around! People who aren't so damn selfish that they'll take a few moments of pleasure over somebody that they're supposed to love and care about!"
"Don't take that tone with me! hat is the matter with you? Do you know that if Derrick's mother hadn't called me today, I would have been hounding the POLICE to go out and find you?" His mother shouted. "How can you put me through something like this? How can you just up and run away from home?"
"I didn't run away, you kicked me out! You TOLD me you didn't want me there!"
"I did NOT say that, and you KNOW it, Joel!!!"
Things were escalating fast between the two of them, but I had no clue as to how maybe calm Joel down and difuse the situation. Looking over at my mom, I don't think she knew how to calm Joel's mom down either. We both seemed to just stay out of it for the time being. What other choice did we have?
"I'm not going back there if that 'Ron' guy is going to be there! If you two are so lovey dovey, then I'll just stay out of the way..." Joel told her.
"Ron isn't there anymore, ok? Listen...I made a mistake. I understand that. But I can't just have you running out into the streets every time something goes haywire. You could have TALKED to me!"
"How was supposed to talk to you when you were in that...condition, Mom? Tell me how!"
"JOEL!!! We can talk about this more when we get home..."
"I'm not GOING home! Screw that! You totally betrayed me! For HIM! For a 'mistake'! And you expect me to just pack up my stuff and come home? You expect me to ever fucking trust you again????"
"Don't you use that language with me, young man! I will NOT have you talk to me like that!!!" She said, almost ready to jump across the room and strangle Joel until he passed out at her feet.
"Great. That's just great. NOW you want to be a model mom? What happened? Did the cops start asking you questions that you couldn't answer about where I was? Afraid they were going to think you 'offed' me and buried me in the backyard, I'm assuming..." Joel said. It was strange, as he would have defended his mom most of the time, flaws and all. But not this time. He was in full attack mode. And I couldn't tell if it was because he was extremely angry, or extremely hurt. Either way, he refused to back down, and the whole argument just started getting really uncomfortable for my mom and me.
"Haven't I always done right by you? Don't I work to put a hot meal on the table? Keep a roof over your head?"
"Any random hotel with room service can do that! I need you to be my MOM! And you decided to go rolling around with some guy instead of giving me the love and attention that I deserved! Because it was EASY! It didn't require any effort on your part, did it? Well, I'm sorry if loving me taxes you in some way, Mom! If I'm such a burden, maybe you're better off with him! I'm sure he won't give you half the grief that I do!"
"OH MY GOD, YOU DRIVE ME FUCKING CRAZY!!!" His mother screamed, clutching both sides of her head and practically ripping out handfuls of her own hair.
My mother put out a hand to keep her from going overboard, and Joel turned his back on her, folding his arms as he stared back at my front door without saying a word. They were clearly experiencing a major standoff at the moment, and it was beginning to look like this 'little' temporary problem that Joel told me about when he first came to stay here with me ran a lot deeper than he was letting on.
I said, "Dude...maybe you and your mom just need to talk or something. I mean, maybe that's what you need."
Joel's head snapped over in my direction, staring daggers at me as he said, "I can't believe you and your mom sold me out, Derrick! That's low, man. Really fucking low!"
I said, "WHAT?!?! What are you talking about? I didn't know anything about this! And my mom has basically been taking care of you for the past few weeks without asking any questions at ALL!"
"I told you...if you didn't want me here, you could have just said so. You could have kicked me out in the street, and it would have been better than having you rat me out when I trusted you."
"Now wait just a goddamn minute...!" I started, but my mom spoke up and offered a suggestion.
"Derrick? Why don't you and I go upstairs, and give them a chance to talk things out. Ok?" She said. She looked at Joel's mom and said, "Sheila...take a moment and breathe. Alright. Why don't you two sit on the couch and say what you have to say to each other. We'll give you guys some privacy."
"Not even necessary!" Joel said. "I'm not going anywhere with her. I'm out of here.." But I took a step in front of him to keep him from leaving. It was then that I kind of remembered that...um...Joel is a little bit bigger than I am. I hope it didn't show too badly in my eyes as he stepped up to loom over me with a snarl. I'm barely healed up from my last ass kicking. I'm REALLY not in the mood for another one. "Are you sure you want to do this right now?" He grumbled.
"The least you could do is hear her out." I said, hoping that it sounded...you know...not wimpy. "You can't just keep running away forever, dude. You know it, and I know it."
My mom slowly came over and put her hand on my shoulder, guiding me towards the stairs as Joel and his mom stood stubbornly at opposite ends of the couch. From they way they were looking at each other, we might have an olive branched passed between them...or a bar room brawl on our hands. Either way, at least they'll get this out of their system. For now, anyway.
My mom and I didn't say anything on our way out of the living room, but as we got to my bedroom, I noticed that she listened at the door for a moment or two to see if they at least tried to start up a dialogue or something. It wasn't long before we heard a few curse words and hurtful insults hurled back and forth with a fury...but at least it was a start.
My mom closed the door and came over to sit on the foot of my bed with me, both of us letting out a sigh at the same time. "It's safe to say that I didn't see this coming today." I said.
"You act like I wasn't just as surprised." She said. "Derrick, how could you do that?"
"Do what? I was trying to help..."
"You didn't tell me that Joel had run away from home."
"He didn't...run away...not exactly. He just needed some time to straighten things out."
My mother gave me a stern look, "And you made me a part of it. Joel's mother had NO idea where he was or if he was ok. He wasn't going to school...Derrick, if anything had happened to him..."
"Nothing happened, ok? I just...you should have seen him, Mom. He had nowhere to go. He made me promise not to tell. And he said it was only going to be for a couple of days, initially. I didn't know that he was just going to stick around like he did."
My mom wasn't really upset with me as much as she was worried about the whole situation. I mean, I'm sure she would have tried to help out regardless, but Joel trusted me. I think he just needed a friend for a while, that's all.
I said, "I'm sorry, ok? I should have said something."
She shook her head slightly and sighed to herself. "Have you got any other big surprises for me this week? So far you're two for two on the 'near heart attack' scale. So if you've got any more secrets that I should know about, tell me now."
"Well...I think the government is covering up that whole Roswell incident thing..." I said, trying to hold back a bit of a smile as she rolled her eyes. "...You know...the spacemen and stuff?"
"Nobody likes a smartass." She said, but offered me a bit of a grin anyway. "What am I going to do with you? And what's with this room? You used to be so neat and tidy."
Ugh! The LAST thing a teenage boy wants is to have his MOM looking around at the contents on his bedroom floor. "Please don't..." I said.
"What? I mean look at your socks. The hamper is literally two steps away." I grunted in frustration and she stopped, but I doubt she'd leave it alone for long. Listening out for what was going on downstairs, we noticed that the roars and curses had died down a little bit. The muffled voices still sounded a bit hostile, but at least they weren't screaming at one another any more. My mom looked down at my wrist and said, "What's this?"
"What?" I followed her eyes and noticed that I was still wearing Chris' bracelet from earlier. "Oh...yeah, it was a gift."
She smiled. "Something from Tanner?"
"No. This was from...somebody else." I really didn't want to get into the whole Chris situation with my mom. Hell, I'm still trying to figure that mixed up chaos for myself. Trying to explain it to her would be disastrous at best.
"So when are you going to invite him over again? Maybe I can make us a nice dinner or something. Does he like catfish? I've got a recipe that rivals the so-called 'famous' catfish that we've got at the diner. Maybe I'll even spring for one of those small apple pies, and a little tub of that cookie dough ice cream that you like so much..."
"Hehehe, you've definitely put some thought into this, haven't you?" I smirked.
"WELL...I think it's sweet that you have a sweetie! I want to have him over ome time."
"Mom, you're acting like you've never met him before. It's just Tanner."
"No, he was Just Tanner before I knew he was your boyfriend. Now he's family. Which means that I automatically get more face time. So...I'll find out my schedule, and the first weekend I have off, you invite him over and we'll all sit down for a nice dinner. Make it happen." She demanded.
"Hehehe, Mom...you're gonna embarrass me..."
"Yes. Yes, I am. So you might as well get used to it." I didn't expect her to say that part, hehehe, but it made me blush just the same. She really was making all of those years of hiding and secrets and fear of rejection seem like a total waste of my time. She was soooo happy with me being gay. Not that I expected her to disown me, but the whole 'proud and giggly' thing...I never expected it for a minute.
I was thinking about it. Just...having Tanner over at the house, laughing and talking and holding my hand while my mom squirmed with unrestricted delight in her seat. It would only be a few minutes before she couldn't resist the temptation anymore and went running for the camera. I swear, if she tries to take just ONE goofy picture of us, I'm taking Tanner to my room and locking the door behind us. Which...you know...might be fun.
I didn't realize that I had gotten quiet until I saw my mom looking at me smiling. "You're thinking about him right now, aren't you?" She said. Hehehe, with a blush, I nodded. "You really love him, don't you?"
"You have no idea..." I whispered. "You know, you always have this ideal boy in the back of your mind of who would be the perfect person to spend the rest of your life with. Someone who looks the way you want them to look, and laughs the way you want them to laugh...who loves the way you want them to love..." I found myself staring off into space as I thought about it. "...You create this magical boyfriend and he's everything that you could ever want him to be. It's fun for a while...but you never really expect to GET a guy like that. It's just for pretend, you know?" I smiled to myself, and said, "Then...every once in a while...it's like fate points right at you and says, 'Ok, kid! I'm going to give you everything that you could ever want. A love soooo big that it totally sweeps you off of your feet and launches you into the stars. Let's see how you handle it! Don't screw this up. It won't be happening again."
"And that's Tanner in your eyes..." My mom said. I nodded, and I think she got a little misty eyed on me.
"Sometimes, it's the scariest thing in the world. There are times when I seriously just don't know what to do with myself. Times when I look into his eyes...God, Mom...his eyes are sooooo beautiful...and I feel so untouchable. I mean, it's like he loves me for no reason at all. No matter what I say or do, no matter how nervous or silly I'm being, no matter what I look like or how I fix my hair...the love is always there. I can, like...see it. And it's unconditional. I can't describe what it feels like to just have someone so perfect love me like that. To put me up on a pedestal and tell me that I can do no wrong. It just boggles the mind sometimes." I turned to her and said, "You know...I don't remember what my life used to be like without him. And now? I don't know what my life will be like in the future...if he's not with me. Some days...it's really hard to breathe. I need him to breathe, Mom. Or at least to give me a reason to do so. How crazy is that?"
My mom wiped her eyes for a brief moment, and said, "It sounds to me like someone's in love. Truly in love."
"Yeah..." I said. "...I am."
She gave me a quick hug, and I realized how good it felt to finally get that out of my system. It was a huge relief for me to talk about him this way. Then...my mom said, "Well...I guess I'm a little bit late on having the sex talk, then."
"What? What's wrong?"
Was she kidding me? I said, "I don't...I mean...Tanner and I don't..."
She raised an eyebrow and gave me a look to let me know she wasn't buying it. "Don't do it, Derrick. I'm not as stupid as you think I am. I know that look." She said. "There's the whole 'love from afar' kind of look, then there's the 'holding hands and trading notes' kind of look, followed by the 'making out on the couch everyday' look. The lovey dovey glaze you've got waxing over your eyes right now, you don't get to that level of joy without making a little whoopee..."
I totally covered my face with both hands and groaned out loud! "Ohhhhhh my God, Mom...you did NOT just call it 'whoopee'....!"
She giggled a little bit, but I didn't deny it. What would be the point? "I just want you happy. Safe. Careful. Ok? When you get a shot at a love that strong, you've got to give it your all. Every second of every day. You got your miracle. You show your appreciation by enjoying it to the fullest." She told me as I leaned over to lay my head on her shoulder. "You know...there times when your father and I..."
"NO!" I shouted! "Mom...so help me, if you tell me a story about you and Dad having sex, I'm going to vomit right here in your lap!"
She smacked me lightly on the back of the head. "Hahaha! Smartass!"
She held me for a moment, and I asked her, "If he were still around...do you think...?" I almost didn't want to finish the question, but a part of me had to know. "Do you think Dad would have liked Tanner too?" I lifted my head. "Do you think he would have been ok with all this?"
"Are you crazy? Your father would have taken one look at that hysterical grin on your face, and he would have turned backflips over the fact that his son was so happy. If you think I'm enthusiastic...your dad would have had window decorations and bumper stickers plastered everywhere by now." It made me smile, but she lifted my chin to make sure that I was getting the message. "Derrick...your father loved you very much. He was proud of you. Nothing would have changed that. Not for him. Not for me. Got it?"
"Good." She said. And it was then we noticed that the little summit of warring nations downstairs had come to a close, and there were footsteps coming up the stairs to my room.
We barely had a moment to brace ourselves before Joel opened the door and came walking in. He stopped for a moment to look at us. His eyes were red. His lips stuck out slightly in a pout. He maintained a stubborn and angry aura about him...but you can't imagine the relief I felt when I saw him reach under the bed for his duffel bag. "I'm just grabbing enough stuff to take with me in one trip." He mumbled. "I'll come back for the rest of my stuff later." It was almost as if he didn't want to admit that he was going home. As if there was shame in working out this huge conflict with his mother. But as I saw him shoving his clothes into the bag and letting out an occasional sniffle here and there, My mom gave my shoulder a squeeze and got up to leave us alone while she went back downstairs.
I was speechless for the first minute or so. But I didn't want him to think that I was harboring any feelings of 'good riddance' or anything. "Joel...? I didn't mean for any of this to happen today. But, for what it's worth...I'm glad that things worked out for the best."
"The best? Well, that has yet to be seen. But whatever. All she can do is try, right? That's all any of us can do." Joel turned to look at me, such a hurt expression on his face. "She promised me she'd try." We held our eye contact for a moment, but Joel was quick to put up a front to keep from looking so vulnerable. "Anyway...thanks for letting me crash, man."
"Hey...any time." I told him. Our eyes only connected for a quick moment, but when I moved in for a hug...he didn't move away. "You know...it would be nice to have you visit every once in a while."
"We'll see how I feel, Preppy." He said with a teary smile.
"I'm not that far away, you know? So...make it a habit."
"Two busses and a short walk. I think I can manage that." He said, and he hoisted his duffel bag up on his shoulder to leave. It's weird, but in the short time that he's been staying with us...it was starting to feel like I had a real life brother to play with. I think I'm going to miss having him around. Petty arguments and all.
I saw Joel and his mom walk out to her car, and I wondered if maybe one day I'll be able to tell him about me. Would it matter to him? Could I trust him to be as understanding as my mom was? Or is that a conversation that I should dread having with one of my best friends for a long time to come? It's hard to tell with Joel sometimes. Then again, I haven't been disappointed yet. So only time will tell, I suppose.
My mom seemed rather happy about being able to do some good for those two, and I was too...but my mind kept wandering back to Tanner. Something about talking to my mom about him in such an open and honest way...it made me crave his soothing presence and beauty even more than usual. I pictured his smile, and his blush, and the wy he runs his fingers back through his hair to keep his pretty eyes visible whenever he leans forward. Everything about him contained a certain level of grace that I found alluring beyond my control. I wish I could kiss him right now. I wish he were here.
The random thoughts became a near obsession for me that night. Even as I was in my bed, I just kept playing the same old images in my head, over and over again like a broken record. Tanner's first kiss...his soft lips touching mine, and causing my knees to buckle like a knock out punch. Waking up with my head on his shoulder on the bus. Our Valentine's Day walk along the river. Our extended afternoon in the pool. The tape I made for his birthday. As HOT as Tanner was...as orgasmic as the sex was...it's funny that it's the little intimate smirks and shivers that I remember most. The rest all seems so forgettable now.
I tried to go to sleep around 11 o'clock....but I couldn't.
I tried to force myself at midnight....but I couldn't.
I tossed and turned in my bed until 1 AM...and the anxiety in my heart was only getting worse.
Then...when it was almost a quarter to 2...I couldn't help myself anymore. I felt so BAD for doing it, but I...I actually picked up my phone...and I dialed Tanner's number. I didn't expect him to be awake. I certainly didn't think he'd pick up. But if I just...UGH!!! If I could just leave him a quick message to tell him that I love him...just a few words to let him know how grateful and how lucky I am to have this merciless beauty in my life...then maybe I could relax enough to get some sleep. That's all I needed. Just a quick message. Then I'll hang up. I figured that he could make fun of me for it tomorrow, but for tonight...I had to get this out. Otherwise, I was going to go batshit crazy AND go to school without any sleep! That doesn't make for a very good combination at all.
After the third ring, I tried to get my thoughts together for Tanner's voicemail. And that's when he picked it up...
"Hello?" He sounded groggy. Half asleep and gravely in his tone. If I thought that I felt bad before, I felt even WORSE now!
"Awwww, dude....I'm sorry. I woke you up." I whined.
"Derrick? What's wrong? What's the matter? Are you ok?" He asked, rubbing his eyes.
I felt this sudden rush of shame wash over me for being so corny, my pre-rehearsed speech of love and admiration had been scattered to the four ends of the Earth, and I was stuck trying to improvise in front of someone that I loved more than life itself. GREAT plan, derrick! Way to go, genius.
Turning red in the face, I murmured, "Nothing's wrong. I'm ok...I just...I couldn't sleep." That hardly seemed like it would be enough information, so I kept going. "I was thinking about you, and I....I just feel like I'm a million miles away from you right now. You might as well be on the Moon, you know?"
Tanner paused for a moment, no doubt still trying to get his wits about him after being asleep. Then he said, "Wait...I don't get it. What do you mean? Derrick, I'm right here."
"I know. But you're not 'here', Tanner. You're 'there'. I just...I miss you, you know?" UGH! How am I supposed to put a feeling like this into words for anybody but me to understand? "I'm sorry. I'm not making any sense. I shouldn't have called you this late..."
"No! No, it's cool. I wasn't sleeping or anything." He lied.
"Hehehe, why would you even try to pull that? That's a boldfaced lie, and you know it." I giggled.
Tanner yawned, but tried to pull the phone far enough away from his face so I wouldn't hear it. "Ok, so...maybe I dozed off on accident or something. But I'm here. I'm awake. What did you want to tell me?"
At a loss for words, I said, "Heh...I don't know. Something. Nothing. Everything. I sort of had this planned better in my head. Now...I think it would do my heart a world of good to just hear you breathe for a while." I know that I was being confusing and weird and borderline psychotic about it all, but it was the truth. I just had to hear Tanner's voice tonight. Even if it meant repeat dialing him and listening to his voicemail message. Anything would have been better than the unforgivable agony of us being apart. I guess I was just experiencing a few pangs of withdrawal. More than usual. "I need you to know, Tanner...you're the best thing that's ever happened to me. I don't have any life at all without you. I just hope that you know that."
Worry crept into his voice. "Derrick? Are you sure you're ok?"
I felt a tear drip from my eye, and I said, "Yeah. I'm fine. I'm having a bit of a freak moment, that's all. I love you, k?"
"I love you too..." He grinned.
Then...silence. Not a brief silence. Not a long silence. It was just long enough for that unspoken emotion to travel the distance needed to touch both his heart and mine. I could feel it...right there in my center. My core. A warm, bubbly, sensation that made me smile, even as more tears dripped from my eyes.
"I wish you were here with me right now..." I said.
"I do too." He whispered. "God, I can't believe you're being so cute this early in the morning." He said, and gave me a little phone kiss to punctuate the sentiment. "I want you so bad that it hurts right now. Hehehe! I'm gonna totally jump you on the bus tomorrow. I hope you'll be ready for that."
"Hehehe, I definitely will." I said. "I want you too. I need to see you. I mean...we need a place...you know?"
"Yeah..." He whispered. "I know." Then I heard Tanner shuffling a bit, and he said, "Great. Now I can't sleep either. What's on TV?"
"I'm serious. Turn your TV on, let's watch something. We can spend some time together." I thought Tanner was just being a cutie about it, but I heard some noise in the background and he actually began to channel surf right then and there.
"You're not kidding, are you? Dude, it's like 2 AM..."
"Hey, you called me, remember?" He smiled. "Ooh, do you get channel 46? There's, like, a black and white giant tarantula movie on. Quick, turn to it!"
"No there isn't. You're making that up."
"No really! I'm looking right at it. This big tarantula is crawling across the desert right now. Hehehe! Wait, let me see what the name of it is....hmmmm....'info'. Oh, well it's called 'Tarantula'."
"Of course it is. Otherwise the title would be misleading." I snickered. I found the remote and turned my TV on, found the channel, and sure enough...there was a big tarantula spider scurrying across the desert doing spider stuff. Hehehe....and yeah, it was late, and yeah, I was sure that I was going to look and feel like garbage tomorrow for staying up so late...but I had my baby on the other end of the line. We laughed, we joked around, and during the commercials...well, we had a few sweet moments to share with one another. Priceless moments. Certainly more important than any product they could hock on a TV commercial break in the middle of the night.
I can't explain what made me long and ache for Tanner's presence that night. I have no idea what emotions came into play when I found myself in a state of sudden despair over not having him in my arms. But I called...and he was there. Just like he promised me he would be. And he doubled his level of perfection with every opportunity that I gave him to do so. He was a true beauty...in every sense of the word.
I don't know...maybe I will expose my boyfriend to the embarrassment of a dinner with my mom and me. Hehehe! I mean, Joel's back home now. My mom knows that I'm gay. Why not? I've been wanting to open up for a long time now.
Maybe this is fate's way of pointing the finger in my direction again.
I don't plan to screw it up, either. That I can guarantee.