I scowled at the tie in my hands. Broken. How the hell did it get broken? It just, SITS in the closet doing nothing for months and on the day I actually need it the stupid plasticy clip on bits just fall off?! Life isn't fair. That's all there is to it.
The five other, non-clip on, ties in the closet laughed mockingly at me and started taking bets on which one of them I'd strangle myself with first.
I fantasized about strangling THEM instead.
Maybe no one would notice if I didn't wear a tie? No, my mom was gonna be there, she'd notice. And, damn her, the stupid things really did tie all my good outfits together still.
"Maybe no one will notice if I just don't show up?' I muttered to myself.
"It's our twelfth anniversary party, so I think a few people might notice," Owen said wryly.
"Seventeenth," I said absently. It was an old 'argument'; Owen insisted on using the day we got married as the starting point and I used the day we got together back in high school, since they were pretty much the same day anyway. I never liked the idea of resetting five whole years of our relationship just because we got married, although it's easier than trying to explain it to new people we meet. Not that I'd ever tell him that.
Then I realized that Owen was actually HERE talking to me and I spun around in surprise. "Hey!," I said, smiling because even after seventeen (or twelve) years there was no way I couldn't. "What are you doing home so ear-" I glanced at the clock. "-late! Oh God, why are you so late? Our reservation's in like a half hour and you know my parents always get here early! You're not even dressed. I'M not even dressed! The k-"
While I was panicking, Owen was walking. Over to me. He cupped my cheeks and tilted my face up to I was looking right into his eyes. Oh. So pretty. What was I saying again? Words?
Owen aged really well. It was almost unfair. I always remember back when I saw him for the first time in high school how relieved I was that he was just cute instead of some gorgeous boy god. If I believed in God, I'd have suspected he made Owen cute so I could get used to the idea of someone loving me before letting time pull out the sexy, almost impossibly good looking man hiding inside. His jaw had firmed up and widened slightly so his mouth didn't look that little bit too big anymore, his skin still soft looking and clear, but he had a few faint lines around his mouth and on his forehead and the ones by his eyes that you could only see when he smiled really wide that I always wanted to lick because, sigh, so sexy. And don't even get me started on the stubble. Puberty had done an amazing job on Owen, and given me more than a few new fetishes, and sometimes I seriously just rubbed my face all over his just for that scratchy feeling. He'd even started growing his hair back out after the Dark Years of the Gel Spikes so it was just as long and curly as it was back in high school and college. I loved it.
Me on the other hand, time hadn't been good to me. Of course, no one else agrees with me, especially women. Apparently looking like I'm twenty at thirty two is a good thing, but it just annoyed me. I couldn't even get a laugh line or a gray hair or two? SOMETHING so I at least didn't get carded when I tried to buy Drew or the twins one of their violent, rip-people-apart-with-a-chainsaw-arm video games? About the only thing that age had given me was a tiny bit of a belly that you could only see if I was naked (and that Owen thought was adorable) but I'd have rather had the ability to grow facial hair that wasn't patchy and rodent like.
"Love," Owen said, cutting into my thoughts. God even his VOICE had aged perfectly. I was a lucky little bitch, as Kevin liked to say. "Calm down. We have plenty of time."
"But my tie-" I said.
"I'll tie it for you, kay?" He smiled.
I sighed. "I'm so jealous of you."
Owen grinned, and I had to fight the urge to lick the corners of his eyes. "Well, I AM pretty amazing."
"No arguments here."
"But YOU'RE perfect," he said softly.
I melted into him and his arms closed around me. He'd had a growth spurt his senior year of high school and got a few inches taller than me, so my head now fit perfectly on his chest. I smiled and inhaled, then realized my mistake as I got painfully hard in less than a second. I pushed him away.
"Not now!" I groaned. "You can't be all lovey and romantic now when we don't have any time for sex. It's not fair."
"Sorry love," he said, not sounding anything of the sort, and I bit my lip.
"Ok, maybe you could just slide my pants down a little bit and have a quickie?" I suggested. Yeah, that would be very nice.
Owen's eyes heated up, but then he sighed reluctantly. "Remember what happened when we tried that at your mothers birthday party last year? You walked funny all night-"
"Because your-" I glanced at the door to our bedroom, saw it was open, and lowered my voice, "-semen was leaking out all night!"
"That's right," Owen said. I tried to pretend the slight smugness didn't turn me on, with about as much success as usual. "And I don't think we'd have enough time to clean up now-"
"Fine, fine!" I scowled. "But you're doing me through the roof tonight."
"The roof?" Owen asked.
"Yep. You figure it out," I said. "But it's getting done."
Owen laughed. "Whatever you want, love."
I started to smile, but it turned into a curse when I caught a glimpse of the clock again. "Shit! So late!" I reached into the closet, yanked out the nearest tie and tossed it to Owen. "Here, put this on me."
He started tying it, and I relaxed slightly. One less thing to stress about. "So, why WERE you late anyway?"
Owen finished up tying it -in like three seconds, SO jealous- and gave me a once over as he adjusted my collar. He nodded once in approval, then stepped back and started going through the closet for his own outfit for the party. I sat on the bed and went over my mental checklist, trying to figure out if I'd forgotten anything.
"Work was crazy," Owen said. "Bob found Brian-"
"Who's Bob?" I asked.
"Security guard," Owen said.
"What happened to Frank?" I frowned. "We liked Frank."
"YOU liked Frank because he let you play with the equipment. I could have done without him crushing on you like a teenager," Owen added in a barely understandable grumble.
I grinned. "You're just jealous that I could have had a sugar daddy."
Owen poked his head out of the closet and glared. "On a security guards salary you'd be lucky if he could buy you actual sugar. Brian would have been a better sugar daddy."
I shuddered. We did not like Brian. "So what happened to Daddy Frank?" I asked innocently.
Owen scowled. I got turned on. It wasn't fair to either of us so I decided to drop it. "Seriously, what happened?"
"He retired," Owen said slowly. "Last month. There was a party-"
"What? There was a party? When was this?" I frowned.
The fifteenth of... Wait a second... "Oh, was that when I had to take Justin to the emergency room because he ate a Lego and I couldn't get a hold of you for three hours and I flipped out and they had to sedate me?" I asked suspiciously.
Owen paused in his rummaging, then poked his head back out looking sheepish. "Uh, yeah." He rubbed the back of his head. "Um, with all that it might have slipped my mind to tell you about Frank, now that I think about it."
I raised my eyebrow. The Great Thorazine Incident was still new enough that bringing it up didn't start a fight, and I still had to get Owen back for telling Cheryl about the time I accidentally went out on a date with a female co-worker that I thought was a dinner with friends and ended up with a drunk woman trying to shove my face in her breasts, but as much as I would have liked to drag this out, we didn't have time for it either. I shooed Owen back into the closet and he slipped back in gratefully.
"So, Bob found Brian...? I prompted.
"Oh, yeah! Bob found Brian in the bathroom doing coke-"
"What? Really?" I asked eagerly. "What happened? Did he get fired?"
"Oh yeah," Owen said. "Big time."
"Yes!" I pumped my fist.
"I figured you'd like that," Owen said wryly.
"So, what happened with the show? Was it canceled?" I asked with a sudden frown.
The Flyin' Brian Ryan Radio Show -and yes that's his real name, his parents were apparently pure evil- wasn't the best show in the world, but Owen was on air every day except Sunday and he loved it, even if he was basically the token gay sidekick. He probably could have gotten a show of his own somewhere else, but he refused to move away from the area we grew up in since all our friends and family were here. I would have moved with him in a second, I would have done almost anything for Owen, but I was still glad that he'd never wanted to leave. After years of dreaming of getting away, when I finally went to college all I wanted to do was come back. It was weird.
"Weeeeeell," Owen said. "Not exactly."
I waited for him to go on, then rolled my eyes when he didn't. "And? What happened?"
Owen poked his head back out. "They let me go on by myself!"
I gasped. "You were on the air alone?!"
Owen grinned. "Yep!"
"Oh my God!" I screeched. I shot off the bed and flung myself at Owen. He barely caught me and kept his balance, but I latched onto his neck and climbed up his body until my legs were wrapped practically around his now bare chest. I peppered kisses all over his face. "Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! You did the show by yourself! I can't believe I missed it! Was it great? Did you love it? Did the station people love it? But wait, what about Sarah?"
Sarah was the token girl on the show. She was there basically to jokingly chide Flyin' Brian for being a sexist douchebag and talk about her sex life, but with the way the show was presented she was the 'second in command' who always took over as host when Brian was on vacation.
"I fucking loved it," Owen said, grinning. "And Sarah's on vacation this weekend, so it was supposed to be just me and Brian. And then it was just me." He grunted a bit as I lost my grip and he had to catch me. "You're wrinkling your suit love."
"Oh shit! I am!" I scurried off of him, smoothed myself out, then gave him my full attention again. "But what happened? Tell me! Did they love it? Hate it? I'm practically dying here."
"Well," Owen said teasingly. "That's why I was late. Jill-" She was one of the studio execs in charge of dealing with the actual 'talent' "-called me in for a meeting. She said that the station got a bunch of positive calls from people who liked the show, and since she didn't have replacement ready for Brian she was gonna let the show go on with just me and Sarah, with me as the new host!"
"Oh my God!" I screeched again. "You finally have your own show! Oh my God! That's amazing!"
"I know!" Owen grinned and caught me as I leaped at him again. After a few minutes of frantic kissing, and more frantic suit straightening, Owen told me the rest. "We haven't decided on the name yet, but Jill's a little reluctant to go with 'The Owen Greene Show' since it sounds too similar to The Tom Green Show and since he killed all those kids in a woodchipper a few years ago..."
I winced. "Yeah, don't want people thinking about chopped up kids when they hear your show."
"Yeah," he said. "So, she said she'll email me a few name suggestions tonight and after I pick one they'll start recording some promos and bumpers and on Monday I'll have my own show."
He smiled, and I started to tear up. It kind of all hit me at once. Owen finally had his dream. He'd worked so hard and refused to sacrifice the life he wanted for the career he'd dreamed about since we were kids and it finally paid off.
"I'm so proud of you," I said. I gently rubbed my fingers across his cheek, barely even noticing the blond stubble that usually sent me into fits of lust. All I could see was a brilliant, talented man who had everything he'd ever wanted, who could have had anyone he wanted, and never wanted anyone but me.
I am DEFINITELY the luckiest bitch ever.
"I couldn't have done it without you," he said softly.
See what I mean?
I said the only thing one can say to something like that. "I love you."
And then I kissed him.
When we finally broke apart who-knows-how-long later, I looked over at the clock and groaned. "My parents are gonna be here any minute."
"I should probably finish getting dressed then," Owen said.
I looked at his slim, bare torso -not exactly super defined but that treadmill was still the best decision we ever made- and his unzipped jeans showing off the top of his red boxer briefs.
"You're perfect the way you are," I whispered.
Owen snorted. "I think your parents would disagree."
"Prudes," I murmured.
He laughed. "Go on, let me get dressed. We can have another celebration later tonight and I'll wear what I'm wearing now just for you."
I looked up at him through my eyelashes. "A sexy celebration?"
"Well," he winked. "I do have to figure out how to fuck you through the roof after all."
I giggled. "Then you better be wearing a hell of a lot less than this."
Owen grinned. "Go. Stop getting me horny and let me get dressed."
"Yes sir!" I saluted sharply, then jumped out of the way when he went to slap my ass.
"Go!" he said, laughing.
"Ok, ok," I held up my hands and reluctantly backed out of the closet.
I checked myself one more time. The tie kinda clashed horrible with the rest of the suit, but I didn't really care. In fact, it was probably a good sign. All my good clothes were dark blue, black and purple. It was time to diversify. Maybe a nice magenta vest... I shook my head. I could figure it out later. Right now, I had the most unpredictable part of my checklist to deal with.
I walked out into the hallway, but before I could even try to figure out where to start, a black, furry thing jumped on my pant leg out of nowhere and started to climb me.
I jumped back and screamed. Then I kicked my leg trying to get it off me, but the stupid thing had its claws in tight and wasn't letting go. When I realized what it was, my scream of pure terror turned into a growl of supreme frustration. I reached down and grabbed its long body with one hand and pried its claws out with the other. Marco looked at me with all the narrow eyed, ferrety disdain he could fit onto his little wedge face.
A little wedge face that was supposed to be locked in its cage at all times.
A little wedge face that probably just got done squirting ferret poo in some recently cleaned corner of the house.
"Are you ok?" Owen called from the bedroom.
"I'm fine," I said through clenched teeth. "Drew is dead though."
"Marco?" he asked.
"Yep," I said sharply.
Owen sighed. "Just don't beat him."
"No promises," I muttered darkly.
Owen just laughed. I took a deep breath.
"Andrew Allen Baxter VI you get your ass over here right NOW!" I yelled.
A sudden feeling of horror welled up in my chest. Oh God. It's finally happened. I've turned into my father.
A door at the other end of the hall opened slowly and a dark haired, ten year old boy poked his head out. He had my hair,(everything except the length, we kept it to the bottom of his ears or above) nose, eyes, skin tone and build, but his mouth and jaw were all Cheryl. I think that's probably why I always wanted to smack him around a bit when he did something wrong. Not that I ever did, but still; worst parent ever.
It might seem a bit weird for a thirty two year old gay guy to have a ten year old kid that's so obviously his, but you have to understand me and Owen. We'd gotten married during our second year in college, only a few months after it became legal in our home state, which just happens to be the same state we went to college in. It was like kicking open the last door between us and the normal relationship we'd always wanted, and we kinda went a little crazy with the happily married domestic couple stuff. We got a house way before we should have, leased a ridiculous SUV that had worse gas mileage than a bottomless pit, got a dog -which died last year, hence the ferret- and got a decent amount of credit card debt. And we loved every second of it. Honestly, I'm shocked we waited as long as we did to have a kid.
I'm even more shocked that Cheryl agreed to be the surrogate when we half jokingly asked.
I'm even MORE shocked at how excited my dad was about the whole thing, since I had no idea his ideas on adoption and surrogacy had changed. In fact, I was expecting a huge fight with him about it, which is probably why I agreed to keep up the Baxter naming tradition without even putting up a token resistance. If I was as paranoid as I used to be, I'd suspect he planned it that way from the start.
But his name didn't really matter at the end of the day. He was my son, and I loved the hell out of him.
Most of the time.
"Yeah, dad?" Drew asked innocently. As mad as I was, I still had to hold back a laugh. He's such a horrible liar. Something else I'm glad he picked up from me and not Cheryl. His wide eyes were darting back and forth between my face and Marco and he was chewing his lip like he was trying to eat it off. He couldn't have looked more guilty if he was trying.
I didn't say anything, I just held up Marco and waited.
"Hey, you found Marco! Um, h-how did he get out?" he said with a way too wide, I didn't do anything wrong smile.
I hoped I at least looked less obvious when I was his age.
"That's a very good question Andrew" I said. I wonder if I'll ever get used to how weird it is calling some little version of me by my name. I wonder if it was ever weird for my dad? "How DID Marco get out? From his locked cage. In your room."
Drew's smile wavered. "Um. Magic?"
"Drew," I said sternly. "What did we say about lying?"
He sighed. "That it's wrong and if you're gonna do it you should do it good and since I can't I shouldn't even try because I'll just get in more trouble."
"'Do it well'," I automatically corrected. Apparently you turned into a grammar nazi after you have kids, something they definitely left out of the brochure. "But it's good to know that you CAN remember things your told. Now we just have to work on things like 'keep the ferret locked up' and 'don't let him roam around the house'."
"But dad, he was in my room and I had the door closed-"
"You mean that door with the big, inch and a half gap under it? The one that he's squeezed under before?" I said.
Drew smiled sheepishly. "Oh. Right."
I felt my anger start to bleed away, -the little shit was way too cute for his own good- but I forced myself not to let it show. Totally ruined the effectiveness of the lecture.
"What's the rule about ferrets?" I prompted.
"You have a lot of rules about ferrets," he mumbled, just loud enough for e to hear.
"Yep. I do. But which one am I asking about?"
Drew winced slightly, probably at being overheard. "Um, don't let them poop in the house?" His face fell. "Do I have to clean something up?"
"Probably," I muttered darkly. Mentioning ferret poop made me remember that there was probably at least one mess around here somewhere. I had the urge to toss Marco out the window, preferably when there was a large hawk flying overhead. "But that's not the one I mean. If the hole or gap is bigger than their head..."
"Then they can squeeze through it," Drew finished. "I know, I know."
I raised my eyebrow.
"But...maybe I forgot?" he said with another way too cute grin.
I shook my head. "You are so getting punished later. For right now just get this thing and put it back in its cage. And if it ripped my pants with its claws the next pair's coming out of your allowance."
Drew looked like he was gonna argue, but apparently he saw all the 'don't push me kid' written on my expression and he just sighed, his face falling again. "Ok," he said sullenly. The door opened fully and he stepped out.
Wearing cargo shorts and his vintage The Dark Knight t shirt.
"You're not even dressed?!" I yelled, probably more shrilly than I'd want anyone else overhearing. "Grandma and grandpa are gonna be here any minute and I told you to get dressed an hour ago and you're still wearing that?"
He blushes just like me too, all over his whole face and completely impossible to miss. A long time ago I'd decided that Cheryl and Owen were right; it is pretty adorable.
"S-sorry!" he stammered. "I lost track of time-"
I pushed how cute his very adult excuse was coming out of his ten year old mouth. "I don't care! Go get dressed, now! You are SO grounded this weekend by the way!"
Almost as if on cue, a door on the left side of the hall opened up and two six year old twin boys practically leaped out into the hall.
"Drew got in trouble! Drew got in trouble! Drew got in trouble!" they started chanting.
As mad and, let's be honest, panicked as I was, I still couldn't stop the smile that tugged at the corners of my lips every time I looked at the twins. They had little upturned noses, wide (and loud) mouths, the lightest hazel eyes I'd ever seen and their blond hair was pale to the point of being white and even curlier than their fathers. In short, they were freaking adorable.
And I finally had my little Owens.
They weren't Cheryl's either. After giving birth to Drew, she made it really clear that she was only gonna go through that one more time to have her own kid and then she was getting her tubes tied because, "the miracle of life is gross, Andy. And sticky. And it hurts. It hurts a lot." So we went with a regular surrogate for our next kid when I decided that it wasn't fair that Owen got his little me and I still hadn't gotten a little him, and we ended up with two identical little Owens instead. I was fucking thrilled. The surrogate is a nice lady named Shelby who lives out in California. We send her pictures of the twins every year but other than that she didn't want anything to do with them. Which is exactly what we wanted in the first place, so it works out.
"Shut up, buttheads!" Drew yelled.
"Don't call your brothers names," I said.
"You're a butthead!" the twins said.
"Don't call your brother names," I sighed.
"Are you gonna punish them too?" Drew asked.
"Everyone's getting punished if you're all not dressed and ready to go in five minutes," I said.
"Yeah, go get dressed Drew," Justin said.
"Yeah Drew, go get dressed," Leon said.
Since we never really got to think about a name for Drew, Owen and I kinda got really excited about picking out names for the twins. After some really horrible ideas (such as "Arron" and "Carter", "Taylor" and "Avril" and "Han" and "Solo") we decided to make them after historical figures we both liked. We decided on Justinian and Napoleon, but then at the last second realized that we might as well beat them up ourselves every day after school if we went through with it so we shortened them to Justin and Leon.
"Stop it!" I yelled. Ok, so maybe they aren't angels all the time. "Drew, take your ferret, put him away, and get dressed."
He shot the twins another dirty look, then stomped over to me in a huff like only a grievously wronged ten year old can, grabbed Marco, stomped back to his room and slammed the door. I decided to let the door slamming go because I was starting to feel way too much like a prison guard as it is.
"Boys, go get-" I stopped. "Oh. You're already dressed."
They were wearing identical white polo shirts with beige slacks. I'd always wondered why parents with twins thought it was oh so cute to dress them in the same clothes. It always seemed stupid to me. After having twins of my own though, I totally got it; shopping for kids is really boring and only having to find one outfit makes it go so much faster. Especially when you're dragging around the twins older brother who would rather be anywhere else and isn't shy about letting you know.
They both beamed at me. I sighed, knowing I was being manipulated somehow, then shrugged internally and smiled at them. Fuck it. They could needle their brother all they wanted as long as they behaved otherwise. Tonight at least. "Good boys. Now go wait downstairs for me and daddy, ok?"
They both nodded, then scampered off.
I let out a breath. Kids are exhausting.
But, surprisingly, so totally worth it.
I bent over to check and see if Marco Polo the intrepid exploring rodent -I could almost hear Drew rolling his eyes and saying "he's a polecat, dad" in that exasperated ten year old tone- had ripped my pants. Whew. No holes. Or at least none big enough to see. I'd have screamed if I had to go change right befo-
A hand grabbed my ass. I screamed, spun around and stood up straight at the same time. Owen grinned at me.
"No holes back there," he said. "Well, none that I can see right now anyway." He winked.
I glared at him, but he was smiling and winking and if seventeen years together has taught me anything, it's that I'm pretty helpless against such a powerful combination. "You are so lame," I said, smirking.
"You love me anyway," Owen said.
"Duh," I said. I frowned. "Do kids still say duh? Or am I aging myself and being horribly uncool right now?"
"You're never uncool," Owen said instantly. I shot him a Look. "Well, to me anyway."
I gave him a slightly tired smile. Lust -who over the years had taken over the empty rooms a lot of my former insecurities had left behind, knocked down the walls and made a nice little penthouse for himself- helpfully suggested that a blow job would be a better thanks than a smile. Common sense -thankfully Lust's lawfully wedded husband- drew a picture of my parents coming to the door while I had Owen's dick in my mouth and showed it to Lust, who then covered his eyes and ran out of the room.
"Thanks," I said. I heard a closet door in Drew's room slam and sighed. "Could you maybe do me a favor and talk to Drew about that ferret? He always listens to you."
Owen chuckled. "Probably because I don't punish him all the time."
I scowled. "Because all he has to do is smile at you and you completely cave in."
"Oh like you're any different with the twins," Owen scoffed.
I sighed. "We shouldn't have had kids that look like us. We're our own kryptonite."
"Bite your tongue, I love mini you," Owen said. "Nice reference by the way."
I rolled my eyes. "With all the superhero movies you and the kids dragged me to over the years, I could probably write Superman comics myself."
Owen smirked. "You'd turn him gay within two issues."
I snorted. "Turn him gay? Please. Ever since they killed off Lois him and Jimmy Olsen have practically been married. And, really, 'Man of Steel'? A psychologist could make a career out of dissecting all the suppressed urges behind THAT nickname."
Owen laughed. "Alright, fine. Superman's obviously gay. It's kinda weird and hot that you've thought about it so much though."
"You're weird and hot," I said.
"Thanks," Owen said with a quick grin.
I smiled back at him. "You look great by the way." And he did. He picked out my favorite suit of his, the dark blue one with that was practically indecent with how tight it was.
"Thanks," Owen said again. He gave me a quick kiss.
And that's when the doorbell rang.
I sighed. "And that would be my parents."
"Probably," Owen said, unconcerned.
Suddenly, I wasn't looking forward at all to cramming in the back of my parents minivan for the thirty minute ride to the restaurant where everyone else was meeting us. Especially not with a still upset Drew and the twins apparently in one of their 'drive their brother crazy' moods. Of course, if I didn't wreck our own SUV last week we wouldn't have to get a ride from my mom since there was no way we could all fit into Owen's convertible, but I wasn't gonna be thinking about that right now. There should always be a five second delay from when one light turns red and the other turns green, that's all I'm saying.
"I wish we could just skip to the party," I said.
"Hey, you're the one that insisted we all eat there first," Owen said lightly.
"It's the restaurant where you proposed," I said. "And we eat there every year. Of COURSE I wanted to go there."
"Then what's the problem?"
I sighed again. "Nothing. I'm just whining. I think I'm starting to resent our kids. I'm the worst father ever."
Owen laughed, pulled me into his arms and kissed the top of my head. "Don't even start. You're the best parent ever. You're the only one that can get the twins to do anything and all our kids love you. And no matter what you say you've never actually beaten any of them and if you were going to, you probably would have already, so you've got that going for you."
I laughed quietly. "'Probably won't beat my kids', totally father of the year material now." But my weird mood was gone, banished by Owen like a million other moods throughout my life.
"You know, I wouldn't be even half the parent I am without you," I said.
"Same to you," Owen said softly.
The doorbell rang again.
"Daddy!" One of the twins yelled. It's always harder to tell them apart when they're not right in front of you. "The door's ringing! Gramma and Grandpa are here!"
"I can hear it, thanks, uh, you!" I yelled, flushing slightly at Owen's snort. "Open the door for them and tell Grandpa we'll be down in a second! And quiet you," I added at a much lower volume to Owen.
He just snickered.
I reluctantly pulled out of his arms. I straightened myself out and took a deep breath. "You ready to go?"
"Yep," Owen said. I smiled and went to go bang on Drew's door in the vain hope that he was actually ready, but Owen caught my arm and pulled me back to him. "Before you go," he said. His voice was low and sexy and it still did that lilting thing that I fell in love with when I was fifteen. I swooned. Big time. "Happy Anniversary."
And then he gave me the hottest kiss in the history of ever.
I stumbled a bit when he let me go. Major after-swoon. "Oh, um. Thanks. Um. You too."
Owen grinned smugly, gave my cheek one last caress, then went downstairs to rescue my parents from two thirds of their grandchildren. I smiled stupidly after him until he rounded a corner and I lost sight of him, then turned to go to Drew's door only to see him standing in his doorway staring at me.
"You two are really gross," he said seriously.
I blushed slightly, hoping he didn't catch the whole kiss but knowing it was probably a pointless wish. "You're gross," I said and stuck out my tongue.
He laughed, then remembered he was supposed to be mad and tried to smother it. Totally failed at it too, but at least he gave up after a few seconds. "Your grosser," he said, smiling.
I grinned at him. "I don't think so. But if you really want to I could drag your dad back up here for another kiss and we could see-"
"Ewwww!" Drew said, looking horrified. I burst out laughing.
"Or we could just go downstairs and say hi to grandma and grandpa?" I suggested.
Drew nodded rapidly.
"Good boy," I said. I gestured for him to lead the way downstairs and ruffled his hair when he went by me.
"Dad!" he said, scowling and straightening out his hair.
"Sorry, couldn't resist."
He rolled his eyes, but he only looked at me suspiciously when I reached out to put my arm around his shoulder instead of ducking away. We walked towards the stairs.
"Hey dad?" he said, stopping just before we started walking down.
"Yeah?" I said, looking down at him.
Our eyes met and he gave me a small smile. "Happy Anniversary."
I grinned at him. Ok, maybe I didn't do to bad. With this one at least. "Thanks, son."
He wrapped his arms around my waist and gave me a quick hug before we continued downstairs.
Dinner was great -even if we had to wait like an hour for enough tables to get freed up so they could push them together for our 'party'- just like I knew it would be when I made the reservation a few days ago. One of these days I'm gonna really have to stop second guessing myself. My first instincts have around an eighty percent success rate, pretty damn impressive for someone like me. But now we were all back at our house for the rest of the celebration. Which basically meant sitting around and talking until one of the kids got bored with his video games and demanded attention. Us adults are kinda boring that way.
I was sitting in Owen's recliner in the living room across from my parents who were on the couch. I had to fight to keep from sniffing the chair, because it smelled like him. I didn't think dad would appreciate that. Or mom. Or the chair.
I'd apparently got my lack of aging from my mom because aside from her gray hair, which she died, she looked almost exactly the same in her 60's as she did in her 40's. My dad on the other hand, definitely looks his age. The salt and pepper hair is a good look for him, but me and mom are still fighting the war to convince him to use Just For Men on his gray mustache. That thing is just...wrong.
"So I stopped by the library the other day," my dad was saying.
I raised my eyebrows. "Oh? I didn't see you. We could have had lunch or something."
"We'd just had lunch," my mom said, rolling her eyes. "He made me wait in the car while he looked at the new renovations."
I sighed. "You made her wait in the car again? Really?"
"You don't disturb a man while he's at work," my dad said stubbornly. It had the weary ring of a very old argument. And I should know, since I'd been a part of way too many to count.
"Andrew, I'm sure Andy wouldn't mind if we stopped by to say hi while he's at work," my mom said.
"I really wouldn't," I said, even though I knew it was pointless.
And of course, my dad totally ignored me. "We'd just be disturbing him."
"You really wouldn't," I said.
"Oh come on," my mom said. "A five minute conversation is disturbing?"
"It really isn't," I said. Neither one seemed to hear me and, to be honest, I was looking around for Owen instead of really paying attention to the "conversation". At some point everyone except for Juan's parents and Chris' wife had left the living room and it was only a matter of time before Antonio and Luis went outside to join Cheryl's parents for some beers in the backyard.
"When you're trying to get work done it is," my dad said. "And it's a library, you're not supposed to talk there anyway!" He sat back on the couch and gave my mom a smug look.
I sighed again. I really wish my dad would get off this whole, can't disturb Andy at work thing, but out of all the other things he's budged on in his life I should probably be glad this is the thing he decided to be stubborn about. Although to be honest some days are so slow I'd kill for some "disturbance" at the library.
And, yeah, I work at a library. Not exactly the career in radio I'd kinda always wanted, but it suited me a lot better. The year after I met Owen I joined the A/V club at school and got to sign up for radio station duty. At first, I stuck with Owen while he fielded all the calls and taught me how to work the equipment. That part I loved. It was basically just clicking around a computer and flipping a few switches, but it was fun and I got to hear the songs I clicked on playing on a radio station that hundreds -ok, fine, maybe dozens- of people were listening to. It was great.
Where it all fell apart was when, in a fit of totally out of character confidence and enthusiasm, I asked for and got my own time slot for my very own show. The problem? I actually had to talk. On the air. To people. Who were listening. To me.
Doing it from that end isn't much easier than calling in, as it turns out. I crashed and burned harder than the last Nickleback reunion tour. Compared to that, being a librarian was peaceful and soothing. The verbal interaction bit was minimal and it didn't matter of I was a bit awkward about it because, let's be honest, no one expects librarians to be master conversationalists. It was mostly quiet and I got to hang around books all day. Every once and a while I got to turn someone on to a book or a series that I loved and, if I was lucky, have them come back in and tell me how much they loved it too.
It was the dream job I hadn't even known I was dreaming about.
"They have a break room where you could talk to him if you wanted to," my mom was saying.
"So I should make him take his break just because I want to talk to him? That's inconsiderate. And what if his boss walked in and he got in trouble for having me back there?" my dad asked.
"I'm the boss, dad," I said exasperatedly. "Remember? I got promoted last year?"
"I mean if one of the people on the board of directors for the library came in," my dad said, acknowledging me for the first time in almost ten minutes.
"Oh, so you can hear me?" I asked. And was ignored. Of course.
"You think the board of directors for the library is suddenly going to burst into the break room and fire Andy for talking to his father?" My mom raised a skeptical eyebrow.
"Do you know how a library works behind the scenes?" my dad asked. "For all you know they could have surprise inspections all the time."
"They don't," I said. Neither one of them even glanced at me. "Not that anyone's listening to me."
And judging by how into this argument they were getting, it didn't look like they were gonna be starting anytime soon. I excused myself -because if I just walked away THAT would be the thing they noticed and started in on- and went off to look for Owen. I loved my parents, but since they'd hit their sixties they'd really gotten into being an old sitcom couple for some reason. These days they were best taken in small doses or with a grandkid as a buffer.
I walked out of the living room and went into the den. I figured Owen would be hiding out playing Mario vs Street Fighter 3 or Final Fantasy Kart Combat with the kids. Instead, Chris and Kenny had taken over the TV while Cheryl, Juan and Kevin watched and cheered them on. Drew was nowhere to be seen, probably hiding in his room with that evil ferret, and the twins were dragging Alex around by the arms, probably off to traumatize the poor kid by shoving him in their old Halloween costumes again. I don't think they got yet that Cheryl's three year old son wasn't actually their pet.
I couldn't help laughing.
Not at all surprisingly, Cheryl latched onto the idea of being with her one true love after the end of the year dance. She's always been a closet romantic, and she totally ate up having her own fairy tale moment, especially in front of all the people she was never quite good enough for. They'd been together since that night, and not a day went by where I didn't think Juan deserved some kind of medal for putting up with her for so long. After the dance she didn't do so well at holding back her Cherylness, but for some strange reason Juan seemed to love it and even though I spent all of high school and a good chunk of college silently worrying that she'd drive him away, if anything they only got closer.
Juan, to Antonio's eternal horror, worked as a bartender all through college. He ended up liking it so much that during his junior year he switched his major to business management and ended up opening up his own bar/club a few years later. It wasn't actually supposed to be a gay bar, but Juan's parents were right about him being homo bait and the crowd usually had a good number of gay guys in it. After struggling to build his business for a year Juan started to hire young, good looking guys that didn't mind wearing revealing clothes and within a few months the last confused, red faced straight guy fled through the exit trying really hard not to gawk at the more convincing drag queens. To this day Antonio's refused to step foot inside unless he knew that Juan wasn't gonna be there, but he grudgingly admitted that it wasn't as sleazy as it could have been and him and Luis make a point to go there a few times a year to "relive the old days". I didn't wanna know.
Cheryl ended up competing in martial arts competitions professionally for a few years during and after college, even trying out for the Olympics once and making it as an alternate. The twins had just been born and sadly we couldn't fly all the way to Russia with them, but when three of her teammates got in a car wreck and couldn't compete, me and Owen screamed our lungs out on our couch watching her kick ass. She didn't medal, but she did make it into the top ten and I was ridiculously proud of her. We all thought she'd definitely make it when she tried out next time, but right before the Olympic trials started up again she decided that she hated international travel and gave up on competing. Since she was pregnant like a month later I always suspected she'd got hit in the head hard enough to forget how much she hated giving birth and gave in to the urge to start her own family. These days her abs weren't as rock hard as they used to be, but all the moms down at the playground were still terrified of her.
Sometimes when she's having a bad day, she'll just go down there, perch on a bench and scowl at anyone that got too close. It always makes her feel better.
"Yes!" Kenny shouted and threw his arms in the air. He always looked so deceptively small when he sat down because he slouched, but if anything he was even taller than he was in high school. He still wore his glasses thin and his hair short, but the awful soul patch of his college days was long gone so he looked good.
"Oh come ON!" Chris whined. Out of all of us, he's the one who looks the most adult with his full beard and slight pot belly. He wore the weight, and the facial hair, well though. "That's so cheap. You can't just juggle me for the whole fight like that."
"He kinda can actually," I heard Cheryl say to Juan. He snickered.
"You're the one who keeps picking Wario," Kenny said. "You know he's got shit juggle defense, especially against Sakura, it's not my fault you can't pick a good character."
Chris scowled at him. "We can't all spend all day playing video games. Some of us have real jobs."
"And some of us are sore losers," Kenny said with a shrug.
Chris opened his mouth to say something back, but Juan picked that moment to walk up to the couch and roll over the back of it. He landed half on Chris and half on the space between him and Kenny with his feet flailing in the air. Kenny rolled his eyes and pushed Juan's legs away with a, "get off me, idiot."
"Hey!" Chris squawked when Juan used his crotch to push off and straighten himself on the couch.
"Enough of this boring shit," Juan said, totally ignoring Chris. He'd gotten a bit taller over the years, but he had that 'Asian eternal youth' thing going on and he hadn't aged much since college either except for a little bit of premature graying on his temples. Thankfully there wasn't any awful facial hair in his past, probably because he was too busy making fun of Kenny's to grow any. "My turn!"
"Daaaaaad!" Leon said. "Uncle Juan said shit again!"
"Language!" Me and Cheryl said at the same time, I'm not sure either one of us knew who we were talking to, Leon or Juan. We shared a small smirk.
"Sorry little dude," Juan said, trying so hard not to laugh. "Won't happen again."
"That's what you said the LAST time," Leon said, rolling his eyes. I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. He looked so serious. Like a tiny, adorable adult. It was too cute.
"Shit!" Alex said proudly.
I snorted, then covered my mouth.
"Bad Alex!" Leon scolded. He bopped him on the head lightly. Jesus, he really does think Alex is a dog...
Alex pouted. Wow, when he gets old enough do use it on purpose that bottom lip is gonna be deadly to anyone trying to punish him. "Sowwy," he said dejectedly.
The twins were the only ones in the room totally unaffected.
"Just don't do it again," Leon said sternly. He gave Alex's hand a squeeze.
"Come on," Justin whined, tugging on Alex's other arm. "I wanna put him in my Spock costume!"
And just like that, adult Leon was gone and kid Leon was back. He grinned at his brother. "Kay!"
They dragged a docile Alex out of the room with them.
"Dude," Juan broke the silence a few seconds later. "Your kids are retardedly cute."
I opened my mouth, closed it, then cocked my head. "...did you just call my kids retarded?"
"I'm married to the only retard here," Cheryl muttered loudly, shaking her head.
"No!" Juan protested. Then glanced at his wife. "And hey! That was mean."
"Then don't be a retard," Cheryl said flatly.
Kenny burst out laughing.
"Hey, what's going on in here?" Chris' wife asked as she walked into the den from the other doorway that the kids didn't leave through. "Baby have you been in here playing video games for the last hour?"
"No," Chris said guiltily. His wife raised an eyebrow. "Maybe?"
Amanda rolled her eyes and sighed. "I thought you were gonna help me and Owen with dessert?" She didn't seem like she was mad though. "Did you at least win?"
"Um," Chris said.
Kenny laughed again.
"Oh shut up," Chris scowled at him for all of a second before a smile tugged unwillingly at the corners of his lips. "Cheater."
Kenny flipped him off.
"Hey," Amanda said. "Don't be a sore winner."
"Yeah," Chris said. "It's a bad quality to have."
Amanda sighed. "Come on baby," she said, taking Chris' hand and guiding him up off the couch. "You can come into the living room with me and I'll comfort you over your loss."
She was teasing him, but Chris just smiled at her, put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her in for a quick kiss. She shrieked playfully, but kissed him back all the same. It was nice to see him still so in love with her after all these years, even if out of all the girls in the world he had to fall in love with Amanda Ritter.
To be fair, she was like the complete opposite person she was in high school these days. Apparently being a stuck up bitch in high school isn't the best way to hold onto friends because once she got to college, she was all alone. She told me once after she and Chris got married that with as much of a bitch as she was, she didn't blame her 'friends' for going to different colleges and never talking to her again, but at the time it really messed with her. She went from being high school royalty to just another ex-cheerleader struggling to adjust to college life. It left an impact, especially when no one at her new school wanted to be friends with a bitchy complainer. For the first time in her life, she was the outcast.
Well, that's her overly dramatic way of putting it. Chris told me that no one really cared about her either way. She tried joining a sorority but when everyone didn't fawn over her she threw a fit and got herself kicked out, but that was it. Definitely nothing like what she used to do. But it was enough. After her freshman year she decided to change and even got a personality that wasn't "giant dripping cunt".
Chris didn't run into her until their junior year. He got into a different college than me, Cheryl, Owen and Juan, so all he had was Kenny and Kevin and they all had different classes. By the time his third year of college started, he was starting to get a bit lonely and he said -after swearing me to top secrecy- that that was the only reason he even talked to her when she started flirting with him. When he first told me about it over Skype back then, after we laughed about it of course (and yes I feel a bit bad about that these days, whatever), I thought she might just be looking at him as a stand in Jarred. I got really worried a few months later when they started getting serious. But apparently she never even recognized him as Jarred's always-in-the-background little brother and when Chris told her who he was, she almost passed out. Chris said she was frantic, telling him that she loved him (also the first time either of them said the 'L' word, making it probably the worst love confession in our group) and begged him to believe that she had no idea and she wasn't just using
him or whatever he was thinking, but if he didn't believe her and never wanted to see her again she'd totally understand.
Instead of taking the out he was so graciously provided, (and, in hindsight, would have been a mistake because they were great for each other and stuff) he told her he loved her too and a year later they were married.
Cheryl was the maid of honor. To this day she's still half convinced she accidentally slipped into an alternate universe at some point.
"No having sex in Andy's bathroom!" Cheryl called after them right before they left the room. Chris winced and blushed slightly, but Amanda just laughed.
"Don't worry, his bathrooms aren't as big as yours," she said with a wink.
There was an incident at Cheryl's Christmas party last year. The rest of us don't like to talk about it. Or any of that party for that matter. Some things can never be unseen. Or undone...
"Hey, let's get back to the game," Juan said loudly.
"Yeah! That sounds great," Kenny agreed quickly.
"I've got winner," Kevin said, pointedly side stepping away from Cheryl.
"I'm gonna go find Owen," I said to no one in particular.
Cheryl burst out laughing as I quickly left the room blushing furiously.
I let out a tiny breath and thanked any god that ever existed for about the millionth time that we left the kids with my parents during that Christmas party. The horrors of that night would have scarred their precious little minds.
I shook off the flashbacks before they got started. I really wanted to find my husband right then. Amanda had mentioned helping Owen with dessert, so I figured the kitchen was probably a good bet. I walked through the small hallway separating the den from the side of the house with the dining room and went into the kitchen.
The smell hit me like a soft, loving kick to the chest. The long, rectangular kitchen table was practically covered with homemade sugar cookies, macaroons, cupcakes, danishes, donuts and right in the middle like a creamy vanilla king was a large white vanilla cake with "Happy Anniversary Owen and Andy" written in light blue frosting. The cake at least was store bought, but still mouthwatering. I think I came, just a little bit. I love totally loved the smell of fresh made, right out of the oven dessert stuff. I even forgot why I was there for a second as I inhaled deep and wondered if anyone would notice if I ate just a little bit of that cake or a few of those cookies or maybe that lopsided pastry; it really upset the aesthetic of the rest of the plate so really I'd just be doing everyone a favor if I ate it. No one wants to look at asymmetric dessert...
"Don't touch it Baxter," said a voice from my left.
I'm not too proud to admit that I shrieked, just a little. I spun around towards the voice, pressed my right hand to my chest to try and keep my heart from pounding its way out and glared at the man standing behind the open refrigerator door holding a beer bottle. He was still ridiculously fit and like Owen age had only made him more handsome, but there was a softness around the mouth and eyes that had never been there when he was a kid.
"Your husband said he'd kill me if I touched any of it, so I'm pretty sure you'd at least get a beating," Jarred said, smirking.
I tried to glare even harder, but I gave up after Jarred started laughing. I probably looked like I was trying to squint myself to death. If there's one downside to having a kid that looks just like you it's that you know exactly how stupid some of your faces look. I sighed and gave one, last longing look to the table of delights. "How many times did he say it?"
"Huh?" Jarred asked.
I tore my gaze away from the goodies. "How many times did he threaten to murder you?"
"I kind of stopped listening after five," he said.
I slumped. "Damn. He probably would kill me then."
Jarred laughed and for just a second I hated him like I used to back in high school. It passed, and I sighed. "Any reason you're playing Dessert Cop?" I asked.
He lifted up the still unopened beer. "If I have this I've officially had 'too much' to drive and Owen won't let me crash on your couch if I let anyone eat all his hard work."
Lust chose that moment to knock on the walls and hold up a picture of me eating Owen's hard something else -with a darkly drawn in 'later tonight' written in bold letters to clearly show that my parents wouldn't be around- but I quickly looked away. "Can't Ben just come pick you up?"
Jarred let the fridge door close with a soft 'thwok' sound and twisted the cap off his beer with one strong twist before taking a sip. "He's gotta be at the restaurant until two in the morning, I didn't think you guys wanted him ringing the doorbell in the middle of the night."
I cocked my head. That actually made sense. I hated when people who were keeping me from enjoying deliciousness made sense. "When the hell did you get so considerate?" I grumbled.
"Hey, I'm the king of considerate, bro," Jarred said with a cocky grin.
I rolled my eyes. He only ever said 'bro' around me because he knew how much I hated it, but these days his teasing was done with something like genuine affection so it didn't bother me nearly as much as I liked to pretend.
Even all these years later it was still a little weird to see Jarred in my house drinking Owen's beer. Part of me still couldn't reconcile the boy he was in high school with the friend who screamed at the TV during UFC fights with Owen and watched the kids for us sometimes when we wanted to have a date night. But mostly I was used to him being around. Out of all of us he was the one who changed from their high school selves the most, and with good reason.
The saying 'karma is a bitch' was probably written with Jarred Walters in mind. Except I'd probably put an 'unfair' before the 'bitch' in his case.
The beginning of the school year after the end of the year dance was probably one of the weirdest of my life. Owen went into the first day of school wanting to kick Simon's ass no matter how much I begged him to let it go, only to find out that he'd gotten expelled almost right after running out of the bathroom at the dance when a teacher caught him drunk and with more than a little bit of coke in his pocket. My biggest fear about coming out came true when Kyle broke Owen's nose after Homecoming. Luckily Nurse Amy went into full on Avenger mode and within a week had rallied enough of the previously apathetic parents and teachers to force the principal to resign. Although he was pretty much on his way out anyway because of what happened with Coach Williams. The new principal -who ended up being Mr Brooks, that weird teacher that kept Simon and Jarred from kicking my ass that one time- instituted a zero tolerance policy for bullying which, after the first two expulsions actually ended up working for the most part, to the point where by the end of our junior year and for our whole senior one me and Owen could walk down the halls holding hands and the most we'd get from anybody was a dirty look.
The biggest shock, though, was the Coach Williams drama.
According to the newspaper article, the first time I'd ever read a newspaper by the way, before Coach Williams came to or school he used to live in West Virginia with a wife and son. The article never really said why, but one day he got into a huge fight with his son, like a literal fight with punching and throwing him through a glass door, and put the kid in the hospital for a week. For whatever reason, the son never told the police that it was his dad who beat the crap out of him until almost two years after it happened. Luckily all his injuries were documented by the hospital and with both Coach William's son and wife testifying, there was more than enough evidence to get him arrested and shipped back to West Virginia for a trial. The real drama came when the cops went to arrest him. It was right after football practice a week before Homecoming. They burst into his office and found him bare assed naked having sex with a student, even going one step beyond the previous gym teachers by being the only one actually caught in the act. Oh, and the student?
To this day, I still have no idea what kind of 'sex' they were in the middle of. Jarred never went into details and I honestly never wanna know. The rumors flying around school ran the whole Kama Sutra, with the most common two being Jarred blowing the coach or Williams being bent over his own desk. Either way, gross. Whatever happened, it completely destroyed Jarred's reputation at school, perversely more for getting the rest of the football season canceled by the state Board of Education than having sex with a male teacher. None of his friends wanted anything to do with him and enough of the rumors had Jarred as a not exactly unwilling participant for no girl to want anything to do with him, so he spent his senior year as the new Andy of the school, as much as someone could be with a zero tolerance policy anyway. The students ignored him or laughed at him and the teachers were even wary of being around him. It wasn't much better at home. Not surprisingly, Jarred got most of his more racist and homophobic opinions from his father and I remember Chris telling me that after he got caught his dad wouldn't even talk to Jarred anymore. The only good thing about that was that Jarred and Chris ended up getting closer before Jarred escaped to college.
I never really figured out how to feel about the whole thing. On one hand, here was the guy who'd been tormenting me since the second grade and the gym teacher who'd made my sophomore year a total hell getting the biggest karmic payback you could think of. On the other hand, you have a kid who was most likely being molested by his gym teacher. It's not something you should feel happy about, but I couldn't deny that part of me thought that Jarred deserved it. Especially since, while it explained a lot about how Jarred treated me that year, it still didn't excuse the asshole he'd been ever since he was a kid and it seemed like I changed how I felt about it almost daily. It didn't help that aside from one time I looked up from my locker and saw Jarred staring at me with a completely blank, emotionless look on his face, he totally ignored me after getting caught. It would have given me some clue how to feel if he'd taken it out on me or tearfully apologized or something, but whenever we were anywhere near each other he just pretended I wasn't even there.
The only regret I carried with me from high school was never even trying to talk to him before he graduated.
After Jarred left he went to college up in New York. When he came back during my last year of college he came back with a smile, a brand new attitude, a basketful of apologies and, almost more surprising than the apologies, a boyfriend. Ben is almost heartbreakingly beautiful, and the only guy I'd ever seen who wore his blond hair longer than mine, but he always seemed to hunch in on himself whenever he wasn't around Jarred. He's gotten better over the years, but he still never smiles as brightly or laughs as loudly as he does when he's with Jarred, and it took him forever to feel comfortable around my friends when it was more than two of us. He works at the restaurant we went to tonight now as a waiter, which was a big deal for him a few years ago when he got the job with how uncomfortable he was around people. I never got the full story, but apparently he'd been somewhat of a bully in middle and high school until something happened and almost overnight he became the me of his school. He never really got over realizing that all the 'friends', who he really thought he was close with, only hung out with him because he was popular and all the real friends he'd had he'd driven away with his meanness. When you think about it, him and Jarred are perfect for each other, even if Jarred to this day insists that he's not gay or even bi.
The first time I ever talked to Jarred after high school was awkward, but it went a long way to finally letting go of some of my less pleasant childhood feelings. He apologized for how he treated me and explained about his dad and all the pressure Jarred was under to live up to what he wanted and all the hate he grew up listening to. He didn't even try to use it as an excuse, since Chris grew up the same way but ended up totally different, he just said it was the reason he was the way he was and he regretted everything he's ever done to me. He also explained that after he started seeing Coach Williams after school -that's how he referred to it- he started to feel weak and powerless and he hated anyone who reminded him of how that felt, which was why he hated me so much that year. In his mind I was the quintessential victim- which, yeah, I pretty much was back then- and the embodiment of everything he hated about himself. Strangely, he swore never actually wanted to beat me up that year. He said he only did it because his friends expected it. What he really wanted was for me to stand up to him because if I could stop being a victim, even for a minute, it gave him hope that he really wasn't as weak and pathetic as he thought he was.
A few months later he'd admitted to me that the reason he'd felt so weak about his 'after school' time with Coach Williams was because even though he wasn't there willingly, part of him liked it and he felt like he couldn't even control how he felt or what he wanted anymore. I could understand how something like that could seriously mess with your head, but I had an entire childhood of issues to work through where Jarred was concerned so it took almost a year after he came back for me to finally start forgiving him, and a few more years after than before I'd started to think of us as friends.
I'm not even gonna get into everything that happened with him and the rest of my friends. Especially not the horrible awkwardness with him, Chris and Amanda. It'd practically be a whole book itself. But by this point in our lives Jarred and Ben were just two more of the group. They didn't even get invitations for holidays and anniversaries anymore, just marked the days on their calenders and asked whose house to show up at and what to bring, just like everyone else.
"Just don't pass out until the twins go to bed, they like to jump on people when they fall asleep on the couch," I warned. Although the real worry were the magic markers that kept going missing. So far they only used them on each other, but I had a feeling that was gonna change any day now.
Jarred winced. "Yeah, I learned about that the last time I watched them. They don't even take their shoes off, the little shits."
I probably should yell at him for calling my babies little shits, but sadly I've been known to call them way worse on occasion. I pushed the thoughts of my questionable parenting skills out of my head and focused on the reason I'd come in here in the first place. "So, if you're not gonna let me eat anything, can you at least tell me where the chef is? I've been looking for him for like fifteen minutes."
Jarred took another swig of beer and shrugged. "Dunno. He left a few minutes ago with Amanda."
Who went into the den alone to get Chris. Great. I sighed. "Thanks. You wouldn't think it would be so hard to find your own husband on your own anniversary."
Jarred laughed. "I wouldn't know."
I shot him a look. His stupid fear of getting married was one of the only things I could tease him about and always get a reaction. "Don't be so sure about that," I said menacingly.
The grin froze on his face. "What do you mean?"
I smiled innocently. "Nothing." I said sweetly. I turned to leave the kitchen.
"Wait!" he called. "Did Ben say something to you? Is he-"
"Can't hear you!" I yelled back. "Gotta find my husband." I put special emphasis on 'my' and tried not to cackle as I slipped away through the hall.
I heard some more yelling and a very loud, Cheryl-sounding "Suck it, loser!" coming from the den when I walked by. I shook my head. I swear to God half the inappropriate shit the kids repeat comes from her. I can't imagine how much Alex must absorb. Sometimes I wonder if he'll even be in nursery school for ten minutes before he says something that gets the child service gestapo called on Cheryl.
I went back into the living room. Someone had turned the TV to one of those channels that plays classical music. I smiled and relaxed, then internally rolled my eyes. Even when we're all adults I'd still rather sit around listening to a 'radio' than play video games with my friends. I decided I was tired. Yep, too tired to go looking for Owen. He'd just have to come to me. I wanted to sit down and listen to Bach or Chopin or Amy Lee instrumentals -because they honestly all sounded the same to me- and enjoy a few minutes of quiet. The only problem was, where do I sit? My parents were still on the couch and Chris and Amanda were sitting in the recliners talking to them. Maybe I can just lay down on the floor-
"Ack!" I squeaked as someone grabbed my left arm and spun me around. Arms slid around my waist and suddenly I was face to face with a grinning Owen.
"Hey," he said. "I've been looking everywhere for you."
"YOU'VE been-" I bit off what I was gonna say. Somehow, it didn't matter who'd spent more time looking for whom when I had an Owen wrapped around me. I sighed happily and leaned into him. "You found me."
"I'd noticed," he said softly.
I shivered slightly at his tone. Dammit Andy, you better not get aroused in the same room as your parents. Owen smiled and pulled me closer. Sigh. Too late.
I wrapped my arms around his neck and rested my forehead on his. He smelled so good. Like baking and frosting and lime shampoo. Without even realizing it, we started swaying to the music.
"This is nice," I murmured a few seconds later.
"Yeah," Owen whispered. "I always love dancing with you."
"I hadn't noticed," I said with a tiny smirk. Owen smiled and kissed me lightly on the nose. I giggled and held him tighter.
We danced, and for a little while it was just us. No party, no guests, no kids, just me and Owen like it used to be. Not that I regretted the kids or the friends, but they made me realize how much I treasured the moments where I could just be with Owen. They were infinitely more precious to me now that they were rare.
At one point I saw Kenny and Kevin walk through the room hand in hand out of the corner of my eye, and I smiled. It was good seeing them so relaxed and obviously in love. They'd spent so many years getting together and breaking up because of Kenny's angst about his sexuality and not knowing if he could ever be happy with a single guy or girl. Which was stupid in my opinion, but it was his issue to work out and I'm glad he finally did. Kevin deserves his happy ending after going through all that. They both do.
I think that's what I liked best about our group. Friends or family, everyone was in love. Whether it was a comparatively new relationship like Kevin or Kenny or a solid relationship that had stood the test of time like my parents or Luis and Antonio, it was impossible not to be surrounded by love. And in the middle of it all, like always, was Owen. The thread that tied it all together. At least I thought so, and you'll never be able to convince me otherwise.
I was smiling and relaxed and totally at peace with myself and the world, so of course that's when Owen decided to dip me out of nowhere.
I shrieked and grabbed him tighter. "H-hey! Don't do that!"
Owen grinned. "What? This?" He dipped me again.
"Yes, that!" I scowled. "I was totally having a moment there and you ruined it."
Owen laughed. "Sorry."
"Because you just sound so sorry right now," I grumbled.
"I am. Seriously." He leaned in close. "Maybe we can make our own moment?"
It was cheesy, but my heart sped up anyway. He was so close that I could feel his breath ghost over my lips. "Ok, may-" I stopped and cocked my head. Why did his breath smell so much like frosting? My eyes widened and I pulled back. "You dick! You ate some of those cupcakes!"
Owen at least had the good grace to look guilty. It only lasted a second before being replaced with a grin through. "I had to taste them to make sure they came out right."
"You are so full of it," I said. "I can't believe you're keeping everyone else from having some, with threats of death no less, and you're in there stuffing your face with delicious frosted goodness! Unbelievable."
Owen laughed. I tried to squirm away, but he just held me tighter. It was one of the few times his wiry strength was more annoying than a turn on. "You wanna taste some delicious frosted goodness?" he asked.
"Yes!" I said indignantly. "I-"
He swooped in and kissed me, the bastard. I made a small sound of protest that died right about the time he shoved his tongue into my mouth, making it really hard to remember why I was mad. His mouth even tasted vaguely like frosting, damn him. I didn't even put up a token fight, just deepened the kiss. After a few seconds, I didn't even notice the dessert taste, or really anything that wasn't a part of Owen touching me. Our kissing got a bit frantic and I was so turned on that if Owen hadn't pulled away with a gasp I didn't know what I would have done right there in front of everyone.
We looked into each others eyes, panting heavily.
"Damn," Owen breathed. "See what you do to me?"
"I...things...YOU...cupcakes!" I swallowed and blushed as I waited to get my words back.
"Oh. My. God." Drew said. I looked over Owen's shoulder and saw him standing in the doorway staring at us with a look of horror on his little face and Marco sitting on his shoulder. "That was the most disgusting thing I've ever seen. I'm traumatized for LIFE."
He said it so seriously and with such conviction that I couldn't help snorting with laughter.
The twins poked their heads around the doorway behind Drew. "Me too!" they both said. They started running around the room chanting, "TRAU-MA-TIZED! TRAU-MA-TIZED! TRAU-MA-TIZED!"
Owen and I burst out laughing. It startled Marco, who jumped off of Drew and ran right towards the couch. My mom and Amanda screamed, Chris and my dad laughed and a wide eyed, panicked Drew raced after his pet, his still chanting brothers right on his heels. There was a crash, followed by a "Son of a bitch!" from my dad and a "Grandpa said bitch!" from the twins.
Owen and I just stared at each other as our perfect moment dissolved into chaos around us.
"We should probably do something," I said after the second crash.
"Yeah," Owen said. There was a third crash and a "get it out of my pants!" from a suddenly less amused Chris. "Actually, fuck it, it's our anniversary. Let someone else deal with it."
I grinned at him and gave him quick kiss. "I knew there was a reason I fell in love with you."
Owen smiled back. "You fell in love with me for my avoidance skills, huh?"
"Well," I said. "I technically I fell in love with your voice."
"My voice?" he said in mock outrage. "Not my brain?"
"Not even my hot body?"
"Nope." I smirked. "But it's definitely a plus."
Owen chuckled. "Well, I guess I can deal with that."
"If you can deal with me, you can deal with anything," I said.
"But dealing with you is always the best part of my life," he said.
I smiled stupidly up at him.
"Don't hurt him!" Drew yelled.
"The damn thing bit ME!" Chris shouted.
"Uncle Chris said damn!" Leon said.
"Damn isn't a bad word, dummy!" Justin said.
"Don't call me dummy, jerk!"
There was a loud thud then the much bigger crashing sounds of two six year old boys wrestling.
"Don't crush Marco!" Drew shrieked.
Owen smiled back at me and leaned closer. "Hey, love?"
"Yeah?" I asked breathlessly.
I sighed happily, the sounds of my house being destroyed and a family pet possibly being squashed to death fading away until all that was left was Owen. Even after seventeen years he could still make everything seem not so bad just by being there. And that, more than any other single thing, was why I'd always loved him. And why I always would.
"Happy Anniversary, radio boy."