My thanks to Cole for editing and Ricky for beta reading.
And then she kissed me. Right on the lips. I think she even tried to put a little tongue into it. All I could see, though, was Lucien. Staring from the doors of the school, face slack.
“Thanks again, Robin,” she said with a smile and turned from me, as did Lucien in the distance. Troubled, I dashed past Misty Wade, the girl at the center of my new problem, and headed for the school doors. In the parking lot Lucien's bus was easy to see as it backed out, with people yelling and a horn blaring.
“Something wrong? You look upset,” Misty said as she caught up to me.
“Why did you do that?” I asked, turning to her in frustration.
“Kiss me!” I said, my arms flapping in frustration. “You know I'm dating Lucien!”
“Oh...well...Robin,” she blushed. “We've been neighbors for a long time and, well, you were so nice this week with my car laid up and...well...”
“Well, what?” I asked in exasperation.
“I saw Jamie earlier and I asked him – I thought I remembered you, you know, liking girls before. I was just thinking...”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I asked, my eyes going wide. “You think I'm going to dump Lucien because I used to kiss a few girls? What the hell did Jamie say to you to make you think this was a good idea?”
“Robin,” she said, looking from side to side, “please don't shout at me! Jamie just confirmed you used to like girls. I just thought...if you did before, maybe you could again.”
“That's...the stupidest fucking thing I ever heard!” I snarled. “And as for thinking? That's not thinking – it's a wish. Jesus, now I have to fix this.”
I spun on my heel and stalked to my car. I angrily punched the speed dial on my phone for Lucien, but he wasn't answering. God damn his jealousy! I didn't need this! Not with the stupid wedding to deal with too.
I shivered and was climbing into my car, muttering darkly to myself when the wind grabbed the door from my hand. Who has a November wedding? I mean, who is stupid enough to plan something in the same month with another huge event? I knocked my head against the steering wheel in frustration. Keying the ignition I was almost surprised when Jamie held the passenger door open, climbing in the back and letting Sean up front.
“Leaving me behind?” Jamie asked.
“If only,” I muttered.
“What's got your panties in a knot?” Jamie asked.
I glared at him. His confident smirk faded as he seemed to realize that 'now was not the time'.
“Did something happen?” Sean asked. I glanced at him, so like Jamie and so different all at once.
“Misty Wade happened,” I said and then slammed the car into gear. I glanced over my shoulder and backed out and headed for Lucien's on the off chance he'd gone home.
“She was talking to me today – she's so hot,” Jamie said from the back seat. “She's kind of dumb though. She was asking me if you'd ever tried dating girls before.”
I remained silent. This wasn't Jamie's fault and I didn't want to be unfair to him – he was just a close target for my frustration. The real problem was Lucien's jealousy and insecurities, fanned to flames by Misty. Jamie'd just been an unwitting match to start this off.
“Uh, Rob? Where we going?”
“Okay. You know mom wants us home to finish packing though, right? She only told me like eighty times.”
I gritted my teeth. “Misty kissed me.”
“She did what?” Jamie was up between the seat now, hanging his head into the front of the car. “Why'd she do a dumb-slut thing like that?”
“Because someone told her I used to date girls,” I said, glancing at him.
“Hey, I didn't say you'd go back or anything!” Jamie said in protest.
“I know you didn't. She just heard what she wanted to.” I downshifted and took a turn faster than I should have. “The problem is that Lucien saw her do it.”
“Well, you and Lu are solid though. He doesn't think...he wouldn't think you're cheating?” Jamie asked.
“Lucien is...kind of jealous,” I admitted.
“But, Rob,” Jamie said seriously. “He has to know you're not a cheater, right?”
“It's not that simple, Jamie. I just need to talk to him.”
However Lucien's bus wasn't at his home, nor was it at Derek's or Hamster's – and it's not like you can hide that thing. I tried the phone again, only to get his voice mail. “Lucien, call me babe. I love you.”
I got a hold of Austin, and Derek was with him so it saved me another call. Unfortunately, he hadn't seen my boyfriend either. “Okay. If you guys hear from him, call me, okay? Thanks, Hamster,” I said before hanging up.
Sighing, I pointed the car towards home and my next fight.
“Honey, I'm sorry you guys are having a fight, but the answer is no,” my mom said. She and I were in the kitchen and I was trying to get permission to follow them up in the morning so I could solve this issue with Lucien first.
“Mom, come on, this is serious!” I said, my frustration getting the better of me.
“No,” she said firmly. “Next thing I'll get a phone call tomorrow telling me you overslept and won't make it – that's setting aside that you're sixteen and you're not making a four hour drive on the highway! No!”
“Mom!” I said, throwing my hands up. “First you said no to taking him with us, then no to Lucien and me paying for the difference, and then when I called them and got permission? You said no anyway. What's your problem?”
“My problem? My problem?” she said, turning and leaning back against the counter. “Listen, Robin, you seem to forget you're sixteen and have a family right here with obligations that go with that.”
“Lucien is my family, too!” I said through gritted teeth.
“You know what I mean, don't twist my words!” she said and threw down the hand towel she'd been holding down on the counter. “You have to accept that you asked for something and were told no. You got an answer and then you go behind my back and try to undermine me by asking your cousin directly?”
“What did you expect me to do? You were being unreasonable!” I said, raising my voice.
“Hey, what's going on out here?” my dad said, coming down from their room.
“Robin is having some trouble in paradise and doesn't want to go to the wedding,” my mom said in a tone I didn't like.
“Oh, since it's my boyfriend, it's not a big deal? Not worth the trouble?”
“Watch your tone,” my father said sharply.
“Why? I have to go see some cousins who don't even know me. Meanwhile my boyfriend not only can't go, no matter how much we try to work it out, and now? Now he thinks I'm cheating on him and still these unknown cousins are more important than straightening that out?”
“Well, it's a high school romance. You guys probably need a few days apart,” my dad said.
I put my hands on the sides of my head and wanted to scream. “I'm not going.”
“Yes, you are,” my mother said.
“No. Lucien is more important; I'm fixing this,” I said angrily.
“Hey! You don't say no to your mother! What's gotten into you?”
“What's gotten into me?” I said, frustration boiling over. “My relationship is in trouble! All anyone cares about is this stupid wedding! It's bullshit!”
“That's enough!” my mother said, taking a step forward. “Robin we've cut you plenty of slack with this relationship. But you need some perspective – it's a high school romance. Yes, he's a very nice boy and we like him – but your family comes first. In this case, it means going to a family function without him.”
“I told you,” I yelled, “ he is my family!”
“Okay, I've had enough of the yelling. Keys, Robin.”
I felt tears welling in my eyes, hot, angry tears. I pulled my keys out and threw them on the counter.
“Phone, too. You're grounded.”
“It'll wait. Phone, now,” my dad said firmly. I pulled the phone out and looked at the screen, no messages. “Now, Robin.”
“Here,” I said angrily and tossed it by my keys before going upstairs and slamming my door. I threw myself on my bed and let tears of frustration run down my face. What the hell kind of reasoning was that, anyway? I had to accept no for an answer just because it was no? That was the lesson? Did she forget I have a brain in my head?
Fucking Misty! Not only that, but what the hell was it with Lucien's jealousy? I'd never so much as looked at someone else, but he was always watchful. Jesus I just wanted to pound his head in before I kissed him all over and told him to grow the fuck up! I glared around my room and my eyes settled on the half packed bag – likely started by my mother. I got up and pulled everything back out of it and put it away. I was tempted to dump the bag out the window but didn't see the point.
When this whole wedding thing had come up, my first thought had been how handsome Lucien would look in a suit. But then I'd been told he couldn't come. Their points were that he hadn't been invited and that there was a cost associated with each dinner and bed that was being provided. It sounded like a discussion, to me, so I figured out the cost, roughly, and Lu and I had enough between us to cover it. We figured that, even if my estimate was off, we could work up the rest of it through shoveling or something this winter.
But then my mother had said no. She really didn't give me a reason, that time, other than some offhand comment that it would be an inconvenience to the people who'd made arrangements. So I'd done the next logical thing and gotten the number from my mother's phone and called.
I spoke to my Aunt Sharon, someone I don't recall ever meeting, and she didn't seem to know who I was right away either. I had to name my parents before anything clicked for her, and then I explained my situation. She readily agreed, saying it would be no problem. Happily I'd told my mother, only to be told no again. No explanation, just no.
When we were little Mom used to say 'because I said so' and we'd have to be satisfied. But I wasn't four anymore and that answer really didn't fly. Plus, her answer that I had been told no and just had to accept it? What the hell kind of answer was that? I flopped on my bed and brooded, contemplating my chances of sneaking out without being seen.
A quick tap on my door and Jamie poked his head in. “I know it's only four but, there's dinner on the table. Mom wants us to eat before leaving.”
“Not hungry,” I replied and went back to staring at the ceiling.
“Rob...I'm sorry if I did this. I didn't mean to.” He looked miserable and I sighed, not wanting to take my anger out on him.
“It's not you, Jamie. Like I said, Misty heard what she wanted.”
“Okay. I just...” he stepped into the room, keeping the door in his hand. “I just feel bad. You never argue with Mom and Dad. You're supposed to be the good one.”
I snorted. “Yeah. Well, I guess not, huh?”
“Do you want a plate, if they'll let me bring it up?”
“No. Don't say anything to them, Jamie. Just, stay out of it, buddy.”
He started to close the door, and put his head back in the room. “I don't like this. I'm used to being in trouble...this just feels wrong.”
I didn't respond and Jamie closed the door after a moment and I heard him go back downstairs. I was both relieved and angry neither of my parents decided to come press the issue. On the one hand I was angry, frustrated and was spoiling for a fight. On the other hand...I just wanted to fix this with Lucien.
I wracked my brain, trying to find a reason for Lucien to act like this. He was always possessive and, usually, I liked that – or at least didn't mind it. Sometimes it made me feel pretty good to feel so important. But he was always sure someone was flirting with me, always telling me I was too good for him and that he hoped I never realized it. That wasn't true, of course – just the opposite! He'd taken me even after all my screw-ups and I felt whole with him.
I was interrupted by the sound of a car in the driveway. My heart leapt for a moment, hoping it was Lucien, but no. The sound was wrong. I walked to my window and peeked out to see Kale's car. I went back and sat down. He'd be up soon, I knew. He'd ask where I was, maybe, unless he assumed I was with Lucien. No, he wouldn't, my car was out front. So yes, he'd wonder. Someone would tell him something and he'd come up.
I heard footsteps on the stairs and then a quick tap on my door before Kale was inside. I glanced up at him and fresh tears threatened.
“Jamie called me. What's going on?”
I spilled. I told him how I'd just given Misty a ride to school this week because her car was in the shop. She'd been waiting for the bus Monday morning and I thought I'd be nice and bring her to school. I said miserably, “I didn't do anything extra but she got this stupid idea in her head that...I don't know, that if she tried I'd give up Lucien and date her or something.”
“She's not the brightest,” Kale said and pulled out my desk chair, spinning it around to rest his hands on the seat back and sitting down. “Then what?”
“She kissed me. At school, in the hallway.” I glanced up at him and said miserably, “Lucien saw.”
“I see. I'm guessing he won't talk to you? Did he drive off dramatically?”
I glared. “This isn't a joke, Kale.”
“No, I know, I'm sorry,” he said and sighed. “I didn't mean it to sound like that, Robbie. I just...it's kind of dramatic. I figured you guys would fight about something sometime, but...”
“Mom's being a bitch,” I said.
“I...kind of got that.” Kale said slowly. “I've never seen them so bent out of shape about you. Have I missed something?”
“No!” I said, slapping the bed uselessly. “Things have been good, like always! My grades are better than ever, Lucien made honor roll for the first time...”
“We made a new friend, Derek. We're always hanging out with he and Hamster – homework, whatever. Everything was great; but now? Mom has some bug up her ass about this wedding.”
“I wish I knew what to tell you, Rob. I'll call Alec, though. If Lucien won't pick up for you he sure won't pick up for me. But he probably will for Alec.”
“Thanks,” I said quietly. “Not much I can do, anyway. They took my phone.”
“Well, if I get a chance, I'll accidentally drop mine in your room,” Kale grinned. “Uh. Listen, I know you told them you wouldn't go...”
I frowned and opened my mouth, but Kale cut me off.
“But, listen,” he said and held up his hands. “I'm not going against you, I definitely understand how you feel and...I agree. But, the way I see it, you have two options. One is you really do refuse. If you do that, it's like declaring war. If you do that, I'll back you up – but I wish you'd think about it really carefully, first. There could be a lot of hurt feelings.”
I closed my mouth and pursed my lips.
“The other choice is you ride up with me. Maybe we can figure out what's going on and I'll have my phone. What do you think?”
I looked up at him and felt my lip tremble. “I really, really want to go to war with them over this. Mom said to me,” I said, levering up into a sitting position. “She actually said that sometimes you have to do stuff with your family and that this was one of them. Like Lucien isn't my family!”
Kale winced. “Robbie, you know what she meant, though – even if it was a shitty thing to say.”
“But it's bullshit, Kale! Then they both said something like this was just a high school romance – like it was nothing! They just...dismissed the whole thing!”
“I think...I think you're hurting and that makes everything worse. I know I can't change their minds, but you have to think this through and figure out what you gain from going to war with them. Maybe if you give them time to think about it they can admit they didn't handle it as well as they should.”
I looked up at him miserably. What do I do? “Kale...I'm kind of screwed up. I'm not sure what to do.”
He sighed and gave me a tired smile. “I think you should ride with me. We'll work the rest out, but I don't see anything good coming out of staying here all weekend – I just see it getting worse. Plus, I have to go back on Sunday so that means I won't be here to help you.”
“Oh...okay,” I nodded. I wasn't happy, but neither choice was going to accomplish that.
Kale nodded and put the chair back. “I'll go down and tell them. I'll help you pack, we don't have to leave when they do.”
Kale left the room and I felt a little odd. Displaced. My room – my home – felt alien to me. I stood and walked to the top of the stairs, considering getting something to eat even though I wasn't really hungry. But voices were rising again and I waited.
“This sucks! You guys aren't being fair to Robbie!” Jamie said angrily. “You know how important Lu is to him and you're acting like you don't know that – like it doesn't matter! I guess if Robin and Lu are just some high school thing then what does that make Kale and Chase?”
“Jamie, that's enough. You don't know the circumstances or...” Dad said.
“Uh, Dad?” Sean's voice. “Um. I'm sorry but...I keep hearing all this fighting and, it's kind of makes me nervous.”
“I'm sorry, Sean. This is an unusual circumstance,” my mother said.
“I get that. Usually Robin is the nicest guy. But I'm worried, now. If I ever get lucky enough to find a relationship as good as the one he has – if I ever find someone I care about that much...are you going to tell me it doesn't matter?”
Silence. I felt a fierce pride in my little brothers, sticking up for me. There was some scraping of chairs and my father's voice telling Sean and Jamie to go get the bags in the car. I saw them pass by the stairs and beyond, heard the closet door opening and coats being put on and then the sound of the front door opening and closing as they headed out to load the car.
“Mom? Dad? I came home to a real mess. The whole family is upset and the one guy that's always happy is upstairs with a broken heart. Please...what is going on?”
There was silence, the sigh of seat cushions as seats were retaken. My mother's voice, first.
“Kale, when you started dating Chase you were spending every free minute together for the first month or two. But, as time passed, you settled into a more reasonable relationship. You both were content with phone calls when either family was on vacation, and so forth
“But, with Robin and Lucien...that hasn't happened. They seem to be stuck in that stage of having to be near each other constantly. We're worried that this relationship is turning into something unhealthy and, we thought, a few days separated might be a good thing. I never thought it would go as far as it has, though.”
“Mom,” Kale said, and I could see him in my mind's eye, shaking his head and frowning seriously. “You should know all relationships are different. Robin is different. Jamie and Sean will do things their own way, too...if he was happy and he wasn't getting hurt, why mess with it?”
“Kale...you know how badly Robin was hurt when Charlie died. I've never been so afraid for my child excepting your surgery,” Dad said. “I was afraid he might...hurt himself. Now? I see him wrapped so tightly around this other boys' finger, like Lucien's some...Svengali. What happens when it goes bad? Robin is so sensitive, so empathetic...it would crush him. Look how destroyed he is and they're just bickering!”
“Dad, they aren't just bickering. Misty Wade kissed Robin and Lucien saw it. I'm sure he's afraid Robin has cheated or is going to leave him.” Kale said, leaving unsaid the pain cheating can cause. “Look, I'm not defending whatever Robbie might have said, even though I agree with him. All I'm saying is...if things were okay with Lucien around but Robin changed when you denied him his boyfriend...I wonder what that tells you.”
I heard a chair scrape back and Kale continued. “I found the love of my life in high school. Did you guys think Chase and I would last this long? Who knows what's going to happen with Lu and Robin – but they should get to decide that. I'll go help him pack, now. We'll follow you up.”
Kale walked away and I saw him seconds later ascending the stairs. He noticed I was there about halfway up and gave me a tight smile. I stood as he hit the landing and threw an arm around my shoulder and steered me back into my room.
“I'd give you a hug, but Lucien says...well, he says I suck at them,” Kale said. I smiled weakly and hugged him.
“Thank you for what you said. I appreciate it.”
“Yeah. Of course, Robbie. It's was true, so it was easy to say.”
Disengaging, I set about packing my bag while Kale texted on his phone. I placed my dress clothes in the bag, a change for Sunday and then grabbed my toiletries. I wasn't dawdling, exactly, but there was no energy to my movements either. Once packed I quickly ate a plate from dinner and got on the road with Kale at just about five-thirty.
“So...Misty Wade, huh?”
I snorted. “She's an idiot.”
“Well,” he said with a chuckle. “Can't really blame her for wanting my brother.”
“Well, he's taken,” I retorted.
“So...you think Lu was mad about the kiss?”
“I don't know,” I said miserably. “He was a little far away for me to see his face really well. Then he was gone – but I know he saw it.”
“Man,” Kale shook his head. “I know he's a little...territorial? But I had no idea he was this bad. Is it bad, Robbie?”
“Not usually, no. Most of the time it's kind of funny – even makes me feel good, if you want me to be honest. He'd do something and my ego would get huge,” I smiled. “Really, Kale. It's not like Lucien is abusive or gets angry. Sometimes I think he's a little nuts with how much he thinks other people flirt with me, but after Misty...maybe he has a point.”
“Well, I'm sure he's right some of the time. I guess I want to be sure he's not...you know, abusing the fact you guys are together.”
“Oh, no. He's just abusing my patience right now. I'm going to slap him and then kiss him when I get a hold of him. That and tell him to knock this shit off because I love him.”
“You would tell me if it wasn't...cool though, right?”
“Of course, Kale. But Lucien isn't crazy – he's just going to get my foot in his sweet little ass.”
Kale laughed and then asked, “Why is he like that? I mean, I know he had a hard road before Alec but...do you know why?”
“No. He's just...never wanted to share me. Like,” I sighed inwardly but it was the best example I could think of, “that...whatever that was you all did in the basement? That will never happen with us.”
“Well, Rob, it's not...”
“No, I'm not asking. That's your relationship, not mine. I'm just saying, I don't think Lucien would ever consent to it even if it were something I was interested in.”
“Well...don't you think that's something you guys should discuss? I mean,” Kale said, wiping his face with his hand, “I'm not advocating for you to open up your relationship or telling you what to do or feel. But, I think your needs and wants are just as important as his.”
“They are,” I agreed. “But in this, he and I are united. I don't want to kiss or sleep with anyone else. If that changes, then we'd have to talk about it – but I'd never cheat on him. I respect him too much and I respect myself too much.”
“Well, that's what I wanted to hear.”
We rode in silence for a while. This stretch of highway to Albany was bleak and unlit. The road was smooth and I found myself lulled by the stress of the day and my comfortable seat. Soon, I was dozing.
“Robbie. Wake up.”
I struggled into wakefulness, stretching and looking around. We were in a parking lot, but I didn't see any signs or anything.
“Sorry I left you alone the whole trip,” I said with a yawn.
“We're in Albany. I decided to stop and see Alec and Sash, it's been a few weeks. Come on,” he said, climbing out.
“Oh. Okay,” I said, waking up. “Maybe Alec's talked to Lucien.”
“Maybe. There's Sash!” Kale said, breaking into a trot towards a dormitory building. I could see Sasha waving to us and I sped up, too. When I caught up Sash had just broken a hug with Kale and given him a kiss on the cheek.
“It's wonderful to see you, too, Kale. Oh, Robin!” he said, turning to me and giving me a hug I felt I needed. “I don't know how, but you get cuter all the time. You look great!”
“Thanks...Uncle Sasha,” I said with a small smile.
“Uncle?” Turning to my brother he said, “Kale? Do you have something you want to share?”
“Uh, no, not right this minute.”
“Please,” I said. “You guys will have the huge wedding with an obscenely large wedding party.”
“He's got you pegged,” Sasha laughed. “Come on, Alec's upstairs.”
The building was nice, but not special. There were flyers for various things that I didn't pay any attention to, a common waiting area and then a bank of elevators. We rode up a few floors, I didn't notice how many, and the doors opened on a long hallway. We headed down and entered an open door that opened into a medium sized room with two beds, a small counter and a love seat with Lucien looking miserable.
Wait. He was here, hiding. I was across the room before Lucien fully gained his feet and glowered.
“You listen to me Lucien Kutsenko! Don't you ever scare me like this again!” I grabbed him, pulling him in close and shaking with relief. “You don't get to run away from me, you understand?”
I shook him within my embrace, “No! You never run away! We work it out, no matter what.”
“Okay,” he nodded, putting his face into my neck. I felt him breathing, inhaling deeply and relaxing into me.
“I'm going to go downstairs and get a candy bar. Uh, you guys want candy bars?” Alec asked.
“You are so clumsy,” Sash laughed. “Come on, let's let our lovebirds work this out.”
“Wait,” Kale said firmly, “wait a damn minute. What is that?” He was pointing to a picture of himself from the previous summer. Kale was shown in a pool, shirtless, with water streaming down his body and his hand running through his wet hair.
“Haven't you heard of pin-ups, Leafy?” Alec asked.
“Alec! I told you to get rid of those!” Kale groaned.
“Hey, don't be offended,” Alec said as he put an arm around Kale and steered him to the door. “If you should be mad at anyone it's Sash; he wouldn't let me put it on the ceiling over the bed.”
The door closed behind them and I continued to hold Lucien, feeling his breath move across the skin of my clavicle. I kissed his hair and felt him shudder against me.
“Does this mean...you're not breaking up with me?” Lucien asked, his lips moving against my skin with his words.
“Why don't you ask me to do something simpler, like to stop breathing?”
He leaned back, the ghost of a smile on his face.
“Lucien, seriously. Why are you so...look.” I broke the embrace and stepped back. “I'm actually pretty pissed. You know things were already strained at home, and now this? After you ran away I got into a huge fight at home and I'm grounded because I was arguing that I had to fix things with you, first. What in the hell makes you so jealous?”
“Seriously?” Lucien asked, his eyes wide.
“Yeah! I don't even look at anyone else but you always think someone's flirting with me!”
“They are! One of them kissed you today and you just...let her!”
“I didn't let her! It came as a total surprise!”
“But...you didn't fight her or anything,” Lucien said quietly.
“Lucien, I was shocked! And then I saw you and how upset you were, and, well, she could have set me on fire and I wouldn't have noticed.” I scowled and added, “Besides, you ran away so fast I didn't have a chance to explain. You took off and didn't answer your phone and...for Christ's sake, Lucien! Why don't you trust me?”
My words, my frustration hung in the room like a poisonous cloud. There it was – trust. We trusted each other with a lot and I knew that we weren't lacking in love or affection for each other. But underneath it all, there was a trust issue. I knew that I trusted him completely – every cell in my body trusted him.
“I...I trusted my dad,” he said quietly. His eyes were dry, but his face was moving restlessly, unsure what emotion to express.
Lucien sat down and looked away from me. “I trusted my dad. He used to take care of me, taught me things. He died, and left me behind. I trusted my mom. She gave birth to me, she was supposed to take care of me and love me. Then there was another cruel joke; I trusted her 'till she came after me with a knife. I trusted my sister and she betrayed me, turned her back on me for God or something.”
“Lucien,” I said, taking a seat next to him and pulling his hand to me.
“Everyone leaves me, Robin,” he said, bringing his eyes up to mine. “Sooner or later they all leave and I get hurt, forgotten. My dad should have never been behind the wheel after drinking – he was irresponsible and it cost everyone. My mom...well, I guess you can't really blame her, she's sick. Do I blame God, Robin? Does God hate me?”
“No, no,” I said.
“Then my sister. We were all we had and she left me, too. For God. For religion.”
“Lucien,” I said softly. “She left you for comfort and safety. She was wrong and I know this because no one could hate you.”
“That girl was just proof people want you for themselves, to take you from me. I just don't want you to leave me.” Lucien's lower lip was trembling and my heart broke for him.
“Lucien, you ran from me!” I said, gently.
“I was scared!” he said, shaking his head. “Seeing you kissing her, knowing you used to date girls...” He stood quickly, sliding his hand out from between mine.
“The night we first made love. When we talked, you were telling me how, before Charlie, you'd never thought about a boy, loving one. When you said that, I...” He hesitated and pursed his lips before admitting, “I thought you were about to tell me that Charlie was the only boy you could feel that way for. That you were about to let me down easy and tell me that I wasn't special enough or that...he was the only one – the only boy – that could have your heart.”
“I panicked, Robin.” His hands ran randomly across his shirt and pants before he stuffed them into the pockets of his jeans. “I've loved you so long that my worst nightmare is you leaving me behind, too. I thought my world was ending and...I couldn't go to you – so I went where I could be safe and think.”
“Alec.” I said.
He nodded. “If you don't love me, don't want me anymore...If I can't have you...”
“Lucien, you...beautiful little idiot – you have me!” I said as I stood to face him. “If you only knew! My parents think you're some kind of magician – my dad said a Svengali – and that I'm totally under your spell. They're right! All I want to do is be with you – homework, school, college...”
I reached out and touched the side of his face tentatively, just my fingertips. He leaned his face into my palm and I stroked his face with my thumb.
“I don't want it to stop there. After college there's our whole lives. Buying our first home. Holidays with friends and family – maybe even our own kids. Lucien,” I said seriously, “this is no passing infatuation.”
He wasn't crying, and I was thankful for that. Crying would reduce us both to a sorry state and we had things to hash out yet.
“But you have to trust that I'm not going to hurt you, at least not intentionally. You have to trust that I'll be true to you – to us. How can you love me if you don't trust me?” I pleaded
“I do, though!” he protested. “I always keep my cool, even when I get nervous. But this was different. You've never...kissed someone else before.”
“I understand you didn't want to see that and that it hurt you – and I'm sorry for your hurt, Lucien,” I said before resuming my seat and patting the space next to me. He sat down and put his hands between his knees. “But, what if I want to? What if I want to kiss...Derek? Or Hamster?”
“But...do you?” his voice shook, his worst fear made real.
“No,” I said firmly. “But what if I did?”
He sat quietly. “I can't stop you. But I wouldn't like it, Robin. I wouldn't like it at all.” His voice quavered at the end, full of fear – desperation.
“That's right, you can't stop me,” I said softly. “That's why you have to trust that I'll follow the rules we make for us. I promise, I won't be kissing other guys – or girls! - unless we agree on it.”
“I'm never going to agree to you doing that, Robin.” He looked up, afraid. “I need that for me. I can't watch you give that to someone else.”
I smiled. “Agreed.”
His eyes opened wider and then, slowly, he smiled. Just a little one. “Are you sure? You're really okay with that?”
“I promise. My kisses my...romantic love, they're all yours.”
He leaned into me, pulling me to him and I wrapped him in my arms.
“You better be. If you run again I'll kick your cute little ass.”
“So, just to make conversation, the parents are pissed at me, too,” Kale said. We were driving up the Northway and heading to Lake George for the stupid wedding, having left our friends and my boyfriend behind.
“Because we stopped on the way up and, like an idiot, I mentioned Lucien was there,” he grumbled.
“I'm sorry, Kale,” I sighed. “But I appreciate this more than you know.”
“I know, Robbie. That's why I did it.” Kale smiled and said, “besides, they had that coming.”
We rode in silence for a few miles and I finally decided to broach a subject that Kale had clearly been uncomfortable with since the summer.
“Hey...you know, I don't think you'd have done this for me last year.”
“Go against our parents? I don't know,” Kale replied.
“It wasn't you. I could always talk to you and you'd defend me, but you never defied our parents before unless you were just pissed. This...trip, this is different. You're different.”
He sighed. “Yes, I am.”
“You still don't want to talk about it, do you?” I said softly.
“Robbie...I'm not sure I can explain it to you. You and I are such different people despite growing up together. My insecurities are confined to me. And you? Well, as far as I can tell you have nothing but confidence.”
“I do,” I said plainly. “Mom and Dad are usually pretty great, but Lucien has opened the world to me. Did I tell you he suggested Engineering to me?”
“No. How'd that happen?”
“Working on his bus,” I chuckled. “The diagrams – electrical, hydraulic – they all made sense to me, I could figure them out where he was scratching his head. He said it kind of offhand, but I looked into it and I think it's really for me.”
“He's good for you, huh?”
“Amazingly. I know Chase has been for you, too. So it confuses me...what you guys did...and how come you're different now.”
“You don't have to tell me, I know you're not comfortable...”
“Rob, it's not just that. I...” he hesitated and then spoke evenly, choosing his words with care. “I don't want you to think we had some kind of orgy, something cheap. There was a lot of emotion and a lot of...growth. I got a whole new level of confidence and Chase and I are stronger than ever.”
“That doesn't seem like that makes sense,” I said slowly.
“I know. Look, I'm not going to go into anyone else's issues, I can only speak for me. But here's the deal,” he said. “Ever since Alec came out, I was attracted to him.”
“Smart Alec?” I said with a grin. “I guess he is handsome.”
“Very. He's also sweet and loyal...and he loves me.”
“Everyone can see you guys love each other, Kale,” I replied.
“Yeah, I guess that's true.”
“See, that would have freaked you six months ago,” I said with a shake of my head.
“Yeah, that's true too. See,” Kale worked his lips for a moment, lining up the words. “Chase never made me feel badly about my scar, but I always felt like he couldn't look at it and find it...attractive. There was a little voice in my head that said Chase was just trying to be nice; to spare my feelings.”
“Chase doesn't...” I protested.
“You're right, Chase would never be deceitful. But sometimes we tell white lies to people we love, so we don't hurt them.” Kale sighed deeply and I appreciated that this was difficult for him, since he rarely spoke of his feelings. In fact, I was deeply impressed that he was telling me as much as he was.
“Do you remember when we all went bowling? The night that guy was going to beat the crap out of me?”
“I do. Alec was there to help.”
“Yeah. He, uh, told me that he thought my scar was beautiful – that everyone who loved me loved that scar because it meant I survived.”
“Wow,” I said, stunned. “I didn't know Alec had something like that in him.”
“He's a truly great guy, Robin. After he said that I actually started to heal, inside. But this summer...I have to back up a bit. This is kind of embarrassing to talk about, but it's important to me you understand. I don't want to tell you more than once.”
“Okay. But you don't have to.”
“I do. What you saw...you have to understand that Alec and I both have a hard time telling people we love that we love them. I mean, not like you and I, you know I love you – but I don't tell you much.”
“Hang on,” Kale said, “Let me just...get this out.”
“So, Alec and I...we really did love each other. When he gave me that stupid pendant for Christmas that year...I couldn't speak. Alec is just such a...he's way more than a great friend but something different than a brother.” Kale hesitated. “When the idea came up – what we did, you know? - my heart kind of leapt and I felt guilty about that because I didn't want to feel disloyal to Chase. But we were all in agreement.”
I stayed silent, rapt by this peek into Kale's most private thoughts.
“When Alec and I...he was looking down on me, at my scar, and he told me he loved me. I realized, then, that it was the same way Chase loves me. That my scar really didn't matter – that it was possible for someone to find me attractive and worth loving despite my...damage.”
“But we all love you, Kale.”
“You don't understand, Robbie,” he said, keeping his eyes forward. “My insecurity was holding back my relationship with Chase. I thought he was telling me white lies. But then this other guy who I love and trust looked at me and said he loved me and that I'm beautiful and then he...well, he made love to me. My confidence and self-worth have just gotten better and better. My relationship with Chase has gotten so much better – and I didn't even know it could.”
“I knew Alec was important to you, that you loved him even, but...”
“I think you begin to see, now, why Lucien ran to him. He's strong for everyone, but he's also very tender. I've seen the parts of him that hurt and I can tell you, Robin, if I'm ever not around to help you – Alec will not let you down.”
“You think so?” I said thoughtfully. “I used to think he liked me okay, but then he's never been happy I deflowered his little brother.”
“Robin,” he said, turning to look at me briefly. “Alec would give any of us a kidney. His emotions run so deep I hope to God none of us ever needs a heart.”
I fell silent and thought that over, a little shocked. I decided that, even though I'd always liked Alec, I'd misjudged him a little, too. The change he'd made in my brother was all for the good. He'd brought Lucien to me and, while I'd always liked him he'd also made Lucien miserable about our first time. I resolved to be more thankful to him and for him in the future.
“Wasn't Chase a little...jealous, though?”
“No. We all decided together. That's why we were all in the same room so there would be no mysteries, no jealousy and no drama. If someone couldn't go through with it, we'd all stop.”
“Did you...like it?”
“Uh. Alec is...was very good to me.”
“Okay, then.” I grinned and shook my head. “Lucien and I will never do something like that. I love Hamster and Derek, but Lucien is mine and I'm his. I don't want anyone in bed between us and I don't want anyone else, period.”
“That's fine, your relationship, your rules. I just...since you asked, I wanted you to understand why it was the right thing for me. Just because it's right for me doesn't mean it's right for you or Lu.”
“Are you guys...was that a one time thing?”
“Uh, no.” Kale smiled without looking at me. “I'm very happy to say, it isn't a one time thing.”
“I...don't know what to say.”
“Rob...do you guys ever look at each other when you're...together?”
“Yeah, a lot.”
“Can you see in Lucien's eyes how much...emotion he has right then? The love, the desire, the...”
“Yeah,” I said, blushing in the darkness. “I definitely can.”
“When we were together, I was getting love physically from Alec, from his expression and I turned and took Chase's hand and got more from his eyes. Robin,” he sighed, “I've built up so many walls to keep myself safe. When I opened myself up to this...when I realized how much love I was denying myself...”
“I'm glad for you,” I said. “You're a different guy, now. You seem happier and you never would have said any of this to me a year ago. I like the new you.”
He smiled. “Me too.”
My parents were unhappy, which suited me just fine. When we'd arrived last night I'd refused to speak to them and they'd not pushed it. But now it was Saturday and I'd refused to speak to them at breakfast either. So, we sat in their room around the small dinette in their suite. Even though their discomfiture was plain, I was serene.
After leaving Lucien the night before I felt confident in my path and my choices. I knew that over time, our views on some things might change, but I felt that we would be able to talk about them. My future was bright and it calmed me as I faced the ugly present.
“Robin, this situation has gotten out of hand,” my father said.
I lifted my eyebrows at him. You think? I kept my eyes on him, telegraphing the obvious response.
“Robin,” my mother took a turn, “as your parents we make decisions for you that you may not always agree with. You have been inappropriate with me and your father in this situation and we'd like it to stop.”
I glanced at each of them, so sure of themselves. Of course they were. I was Robin, the one that always did what they wanted. I may not like it but my respect and love for my parents had always ensured compliance. In a distant way I felt sorry for them, because that was over. They would have to learn.
“Don't you have anything to say, son?” my father queried.
“I have a lot to say, actually.” I looked at him steadily as I continued. “In a little over a year I'll be in college studying for my future. Right now I have the best grades I've ever had. Even though Kale was never a problem for you, I was even less so – in fact, to accompany my stellar academics you know for a fact that all the times I've told you we were doing homework at Lucien's...well, my grades certainly back that up.”
My mother shifted in her chair, but wisely held her tongue. I knew in my heart of hearts I was still angry with them and still spoiling for that righteous fight – ready to go nuclear if they wanted to push it. I'd regret it later, because I don't like to hurt anyone – but that would be for later.
“As my parents I love and respect you. But I'm not four, anymore. Telling me 'no' because you said so invites conflict with anyone who has a brain in their skull. Not only that,” I said, boring in on my mother, “you stopped using that excuse years ago when you knew it caused more problems than it solved.”
I looked over at my dad. “I heard all your reasons last night. I heard my brothers understand me far better than you did. You interfered in my relationship like you knew better than I did what the situation was. Let me be clear,” I said, glaring at them both, “you don't. You never did and you never will.”
“Robin,” my father said slowly, but that was all I allowed him.
“No, Dad, your reasons were based on fear and had nothing to do with talking to me. You both decided to act and cut me off from someone I love completely.” I sighed and said, “I'm going to make this as clear as I can. You can take away anything you want – my car, my phone, whatever. But Lucien is my future and you don't get to decide that.”
There was silence in the room as my parents exchanged looks. The heating unit turned on and the sound of air rushing in dominated the room. When it turned off a few minutes later it was as if its silence was consent to allowing us to speak. My mother folded her hands and began.
“Robin, can you tell me why you feel the need to spend so much time with Lucien? I want to be clear – you see him at school, you go to his home nearly every night and you are both together every weekend. A day does not go by without you being together. It seems...obsessive.”
“Sure I can,” I said, smiling as I thought of Lucien. “And I will, but I want you to know – it's really none of your business.”
“Robin,” my father said in warning.
“No, you don't get it both ways, Dad. It wasn't so long ago we got a new brother – and I love Sean, he's great. But you expected everyone to fall in line and accept what you'd done. Even though it affected us it was supposed to be none of our business. My relationship affects you even less – and it's totally none of your business.”
His face creased into a frown and I deliberately looked at my mother and began speaking. “Firstly I want to see him everyday because he makes me happy. There has never been a circumstance that wasn't made better by him being there with me. Secondly, we see each other almost every night because we have homework almost every night. Oh, and it's not just me, either. Derek and Hamster join us practically every night and it's a big help because Lucien is doing tenth and eleventh grade work so we all get the benefit of working together.”
I looked at each of them and said, “There's also the fact that I'm irrevocably in love with him. There were some things I did that I wasn't proud of. But Lucien? The Svengali? He was only concerned for me – that I forgive myself. Now let me ask you,” I said as I put my elbows on my knees and faced forward. “Does that sound like the kind of man you want your son to have with him?”
They shared a glance again before my father spoke. “Everything you've said is positive. But, let me play devil's advocate for a moment.”
I nodded to him to continue.
“What if you break up?”
“I'll be devastated,” I said simply. “My heart will be broken and I know this because I love with my whole heart. I don't love him just a little – I don't love anyone just a little. I either do or I don't. If I lost him I'd be heartbroken – like anyone would be. If I were to find someone else and lose them, I would be just as heartbroken.
“This is who I am,” I said in earnest. “I'm not going to hold myself back from him because we might break up someday – on the contrary! I'm going to eat the very marrow of this love and celebrate it every minute I have it.”
“Your...reasons are well thought out,” my mother said slowly. “I have to admit I thought this was all emotion with very little thought behind it. I can see, now, I was wrong about that.”
With a gentle look at me she added, “Sometimes when we're in a relationship it's hard for us to see what others can. I can see, now, I should have asked you about your relationship, even though I still feel like you spend so much time away...that I worry.”
“Well,” my father said, “Robin, why can't your friends come study at our home a few nights a week?”
“We could,” I said. “I was trying to be respectful since you have to help Jamie and Sean with their homework – I thought it could be overwhelming for you or distracting for us. Who knows, though? Maybe it would be a good thing.”
“I'd like that,” my mother nodded. “I'd feel better about the situation if I could see you more often and see your relationship as it really is rather than what I thought it was.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You should get to know Lucien better since I'm going to marry him someday.”
“That's a bold statement,” my father said.
“He's like me. He loves me with his whole heart – and if you can't see that, you're just not looking.” I smiled at them and said, “I'm graduating next year and going away to school. You have to trust me – he's going to be your son-in-law.”
The wedding was a terrible bore. The person officiating droned on and on as if people had come to hear him speak instead of to see these people – that I still didn't know – get married. Kale and I spent time trading his phone back and forth to text our other halves and I had to remind Jamie – twice – that he really couldn't hope to start anything with the pretty girls he was dancing with since he was likely related to them.
Even though it had been stressful, I felt good about the outcome. Lucien and I had come out stronger for this and I was more confident about him coming to me with our problems than running to Alec. I was also grateful to Alec and Kale for being so understanding and being there for us while we got all dramatic.
My relationship with my parents would be better, too. Even though I had recovered from Charlie's loss, they were still fearful of the grief I'd endured – and that everyone around me had been forced to endure as well. Now, I think they'd be more at peace with who I was and that I would survive – was, in fact, thriving. Perhaps parents don't always see their children growing in front of them; perhaps they too get held prisoner by their fears.
As it was, Lucien and I had set our sights on Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I was going to be an engineer and Lucien had a ton of majors to pick from, but he said it didn't matter as long as we were together. Lucien and I were built to last.