Running Toward Love (Chapter 1)

Chapter 1

Leo rolled over and reached for his phone, 4:47. Ugh. Even earlier than yesterday. Sleep, for Leo, was becoming harder and harder to come by. He just couldn’t shut his brain down. He felt his entire world collapsing around him, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He needed to go for a run. Running focused his scattered thoughts. Leo slid out of bed, grabbed a pair of shorts and a t-shirt from the pile of clothes on his desk, and walked into the connecting bathroom towards his brother Kam’s room. Once in the bathroom, he splashed icy water on his face and ran his fingers through his tangled curly black hair. Leo desperately needed a haircut. He would start his senior year of high school tomorrow, and his hair looked like a giant black rat’s nest. Leo wet his hair some more and pushed it back out of his face. He slipped his shorts on over his slim hips and peered into Kam’s room. His brother still slept soundly.

“Kam, wake up. It’s time to run.” Leo flopped down on the bed next to his brother. The two boys looked remarkably similar, though Leo was three years older. The significant difference between the boys was their hairstyle. Both had jet black hair, but Kam kept his hair cut short in an almost military-style haircut while Leo wore his hair almost to his shoulders, and the long curly hair continually fell across his face. Leo flipped his hair out of his face again and pushed against his brother’s back. “Come on, Kam. Get out of bed. You said you wanted to run with me!”

Kam groaned. “Leo, it’s just after 5 am. What’s wrong with you? Sleep in. It’s the last day of summer break!” Kam glanced at his cell phone then looked at his brother. He saw the pleading look in Leo’s eyes, and he relented. “Ok, ok! Give me five minutes.” Kam threw back the sheet and got out of bed. He padded slowly to the bathroom, glancing back at his brother. “The beach again?”

“Of course! Maybe we’ll go for a swim to cool down afterward.” Leo grinned at his brother even though troubling thoughts clouded his mind. At seventeen, such heavy burdens should not continually invade his mind.

Leo tried to put the troubling thoughts out of his mind as he waited for his brother to return from the bathroom. Maybe the run would help. He was glad that Kam ran with him. They had some of their best talks while they ran. Kam stepped out of the bathroom dressed in tan cargo shorts and a red tank top. He wore no shoes since they would be running on the beach, and they preferred to run barefoot. Leo glanced up when Kam entered the room. “Ready, bro?”

“Yeah, let’s go.” They quietly left the house, trying not to wake anyone else up. They broke into a jog, crossed the street, and jumped the fence onto the beach, landing with a soft thump in the sun-warmed sand. Kam nodded his head towards the south. “To the lighthouse this time, Leo?”

“Sounds good to me. That’s just over three miles. Down and back should be about six and a half. Last time we went that way, we did it in fifty-seven minutes. Let’s beat that today. Let’s go.” The boys set the timers on their watches, bumped fists, and took off down the beach.

While they ran, Kam tried engaging his older brother in conversation. He knew his brother well enough to know that he had a lot on his mind. “Leo, what’s up with you? Talk to me. You know it’ll stay between us.” He gave Leo a light push to the shoulder.

Leo swatted his brother’s hand away. “Don’t make me hurt you, Kameron. Yeah, you’re right. A lot has been running through my head. I haven’t even been sleeping much.”

“Talk to me. I might not have any advice, but maybe it’ll help just to say it out loud.” Kam said as he kept pace with Leo, stride for stride.

Leo sighed. “Starting senior year is one thing. All that drama with Jasper last spring, I just hope everyone has forgotten about it and moved on to other gossip. The breakup was hard enough, but him outing me at school hurt bad. Ugh. I still have feelings for that jerk, even after what he did. I’m scared that if he asked me out again, I’d say yes.”

“You better not, Leo. I’d punch both of you. That asshole cheated on you! You walked in on them for crying out loud! That scumbag can’t even deny it, Leo. I know you can’t control how you feel, but you’d be an idiot to even think of going back to him.” Kam’s face showed the anger he felt. Not anger at Leo, but at Jasper for what he put Leo through.

“I know. I know. I won’t do it, but I’m just saying that seeing Jazz every day won’t be easy. We were best friends for ten years before we even started dating.” Leo said, trying to calm his brother’s anger. “I won’t go back to him, Kam. I promise.”

“You’ll find someone else before you know it, Leo. Forget about him.” Kam said.

“Yeah, well, that brings me to the second problem. Dad. He’s still not accepting that I’m gay. Hell, if I got a new boyfriend, it would probably make it even worse. And I feel like shit that dad and mom argue about me all the damn time. Allison’s attitude about it improved a lot from last year, but dad hasn’t changed even a little.”  Leo said, sadness creeping into his voice. “Why can’t they all be like you, little brother?”

“I am quite awesome, aren’t I?” Kam smirked. “I don’t know. You’re right about Alli, though, and mom. They have both turned it around. They’re not waving pride flags, but they’re getting there. I hope dad comes around, too, Leo. I really do.”

The boys reached the halfway point, the lighthouse. They started their return trip when Leo stopped and dropped to his knees. He felt dizzy. Kam noticed that his brother was no longer at his side, and he turned back, “Leo, you ok?” Kam knelt, resting his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “You don’t look so good. What’s wrong?”

Leo took a deep breath and looked up at his brother and smiled, even though the world still felt like it was spinning out of control around him. “I’m fine, Kam. Just a little tired, I guess. Go on ahead, and I’ll catch up. I know you planned on meeting up with Tommy later. Just go on ahead. I’m fine.”

“Bullshit. You’re not even close to fine. Tell me what’s wrong, Leo.” Kam kept one hand on his brother’s shoulder, and he placed the other hand under Leo’s chin, forcing him to look into his eyes when he answered.

“Ok. Ok. There’s been one more thing bothering me lately, but it’s probably nothing.” He pulled back from his brother just enough to sit down on the sand. “I’ve had these dizzy spells. And headaches. Bad ones. You can’t tell mom, Kam. Promise me. Not yet. I’ll tell her if they get any worse or if they don’t go away soon.” He looked pleadingly into his brother’s eyes.

Kam sighed. “It’s from the accident, isn’t it? You think it’s more than just your migraines. God, Leo, you have to tell her. I promise I won’t rat you out, but you have to tell mom soon. We almost lost you back then, and I couldn’t even begin to imagine losing you now.” Kam made a show of wiping the sweat off his forehead, hiding the fact that he also wiped tears from his eyes. Kam thoughts drifted back to six years ago, he was only eight, and Leo was eleven. Leo died, only for a couple of minutes, and the medic brought him back, but Leo still had a lot of lingering problems.

“Kam, it’s probably nothing. I’ll keep an eye on it. You know if I tell her, she’ll have me in the doctor’s office the next day. I’ve had enough doctors, hospitals, and tests to last a lifetime. The six-month check-ups are bad enough. I don’t want more tests if I can avoid it. I promise I’ll tell you everything and I’ll tell mom if it gets worse. Please? Ok?”

Kam still looked concerned but stood up to go. “Alright, if you’re sure. I’ll hold you to that promise, though. See you later at home. If you take too long getting back, I’m coming to look for you.” Kam turned and headed towards home, leaving Leo alone on the beach.

Leo took a few deep breaths as he watched his brother disappear into the distance. The dizziness started to pass, but now he had a severe migraine. Leo needed to get home and take one of his pills. He forced himself to his feet and started walking towards home.

Leo heard him before he saw him. Matt Henderson. The guy that Jasper cheated on him with. Leo started to walk faster. Matt yelled from behind him. “Kennedy! Hey, Kennedy!” He ran up beside Leo and grabbed his arm. “Hey, I want to talk to you. Stop walking.”

“What do you want, Matt? I have nothing to say to you. Not today. Not ever. Just leave me alone!” Leo tried to break free of the bigger boy’s grasp but couldn’t pull away. Leo pulled back harder, and suddenly Matt just let go, and Leo fell to the ground. Looking up at Matt with a scowl forming on his face, Leo said, “You’re an asshat, Matt. A boyfriend-stealing skanky asshat!” Leo fought back the tears, not wanting this jerk to see him cry. Leo started to get up, and the next thing he saw was Matt’s fist hurtling towards his face. Before he could react, Leo felt pain explode in the right side of his face, and he fell back onto the sand.

Matt roared, “Do you think you can say things like that and walk away, Kennedy? No way! And I didn’t steal Jasper. You couldn’t keep him happy. I can.” Matt drew his foot back and began kicking Leo.

Leo saw Matt’s foot swinging towards him and quickly covered his face with his arms. He felt the kicks strike his arms, his sides, and his back. He rolled himself into a ball to try and protect himself from the attack. Leo felt himself starting to blackout. Then he heard a yell and the thump of two bodies colliding. More shouts and more thumping sounds closely followed the collision, and then Leo heard screams of pain and rage. The kicking stopped.

Leo opened his eyes and found the most beautiful face he had ever seen hovering just above him. For a moment, Leo feared that he was seeing the face of an angel. He wasn’t sure if he was dead, dreaming, or just hallucinating. It had to be one of those. This guy was far too beautiful to be real. Leo blinked a few times to try and clear his head. The face above him smiled and spoke. “Hey, are you ok? My name is Charlie. If you’re feeling up to it, I think we better go before my new friend over there gets back up.” Charlie extended his hand down towards Leo.

Leo couldn’t even respond. The beauty of the guy in front of him left him speechless. Jet black hair combed back, framing a tan, smooth face. Slim features but a strong jawline. And those eyes. The darkest brown eyes that Leo had ever seen. He felt butterflies fluttering in his stomach, and he thought he could lose himself in those brown eyes forever. He blinked again and saw the boy’s hand extended down towards him, dripping with blood. Leo finally found his voice. “Oh, my God. Are you hurt? Your hand is bleeding. Did Matt do that? Is he still here?” Leo tried to get up but groaned in pain, clutching his ribs and falling back to the sand yet again.

Charlie lightly touched Leo’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about me. Most of it isn’t even my blood.” He pointed behind him. “If that’s Matt, then he didn’t leave. He’s too busy spitting up blood and deciding if he wants to get up or do the smart thing and stay where he is. Let’s leave before he makes his decision.” Charlie grabbed ahold of Leo’s wrist and gently pulled him to his feet. “Do you think you can walk with some help, or should I just carry you?”

Leo swayed on his feet and leaned into Charlie. “I couldn’t walk on my own, but with some help, I think I can. My left ankle hurts like hell, and I might have a broken rib or two, but if you help me, I can walk without you carrying me. Though that does sound divine.”

Charlie smiled despite his anger. “Save the flirting for later. Let’s get you out of here.” Charlie looked back at Matt and emitted a low growl. “If I didn’t need to get you out of here, I would pick him back up and knock him down a few more times. It didn’t look like he was going to stop kicking you anytime soon when I arrived.” Charlie slipped his arm around Leo’s waist. “Put your arm around my neck. I’ll help you to the cottage where my mum and I are staying. It’s just over there.” He motioned with his head towards the lighthouse. He couldn’t point as both his hands were busy supporting Leo.

Leo groaned in pain and leaned more heavily against Charlie, his head coming to rest on the taller boy’s shoulder. “I didn’t know anyone lived in the lighthouse,” Leo said. Even with all the pain, he didn’t mind at all the close contact with this boy. He let Charlie lead him down the beach towards the cottage near the lighthouse.

“Me and mum rented it while we see some of the sights around here,” Charlie said. “Let’s get you inside and look at your injuries. We can talk once we get you inside.”

Half carrying Leo, Charlie slowly made his way to the cottage. Once inside, he glanced around, looking for his mum. “Mum! Are you here? I need some help out here!” Hearing no response to his yells, Charlie guided Leo towards the couch and helped him to sit. He pulled the ottoman over and made Leo put his feet up. Charlie knelt next to the other boy. “Are you sure you don’t want me to take you to the hospital or call your parents? You look pretty beat up.”

“No. I’m fine. Just let me rest here. I don’t want to have to explain to my dad what happened.” Now that he could sit back and relax a bit, Leo took a closer look at his rescuer. His eyes raked up and down Charlie’s body, absorbing his beauty. Charlie wore a worn grey t-shirt, tan board shorts, white ankle socks, and red Nikes. He was slightly taller than Leo’s 5’9”. He must spend a lot of time on the beach or at least outdoors.  His athletic body was a deep golden tan, probably from lots of time in the sun. Leo’s gaze returned to Charlie’s face and that beautiful hair. How much hairspray did it take to keep it that perfect? Charlie had a sly grin and a twinkle in his eye as he looked back at Leo.

“See something you like?” Charlie’s grin opened into a broad smile.

“You’re not from here, are you? Your accent is pretty hot.” Leo smirked.

Charlie laughed, “No. As I said, we are on holiday. We’re from Australia, the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, to be specific. I just graduated from school, and we have always wanted to see America. This was the perfect time for a holiday. Perfect timing to save you, too.” Charlie continued to lock eyes with Leo.

Leo sighed. “I knew it. Even without the accent, I would have known you weren’t from here. I would have noticed you.”

Charlie’s smile faded a bit, and he looked at Leo with concern. “I enjoy your flirting, and I don’t care that you’re gay, Leo. But you don’t know me. I just as easily could have joined in with the guy that was beating you. You need to be more careful revealing your sexuality to strangers.”

Leo blushed and looked down. “I know. I know. You’re right, Charlie. I just couldn’t help myself when I saw you. I’m not usually this forward. There’s just something about you.” Leo sighed.

It was Charlie’s turn to blush now. “Anyway, let me check out your injuries and see if I need to talk you into going to the hospital or not. I’m going into nursing school when I get back home. Mum is an emergency room nurse, and I have learned a few things from her already. Tell me if anything hurts.” Charlie reached forward and lightly grasped Leo’s right ankle. He carefully watched Leo’s face for any sign of pain or discomfort. He grabbed Leo’s foot with his other hand to see if he could bend his foot with no pain.

Leo yelped in pain. “Ow! Yeah, that hurts when you bend it.”

Charlie let go of Leo’s leg and foot. “It’s swollen and tender, but it’s not broken. I’ll wrap it in an ace bandage and give you some Tylenol for the pain. Now let me check those ribs. Off with your shirt.” Charlie blushed just a bit as he said that. He looked up towards Leo’s face and gasped. “Holy hell. I didn’t realize he also hit you in the face. You have a big bruise on your cheek that extends down to your jawline. Does it hurt?” Charlie reached up and touched Leo’s face. “Let me go get you an icepack for that.”

“I’m still thinking about you asking me to take my shirt off. I usually expect dinner and a movie first, but I can make an exception in this case.” Leo reached up and pressed Charlie’s hand more firmly into his face. He looked Charlie in the eyes. “The icepack can wait. This feels better.”

Charlie blushed under the intensity of Leo’s gaze. He felt his body reacting to Leo’s touch. Charlie smiled but pulled his hand from the younger boy’s grasp. He stammered out, “I need to check the rest of your injuries. Let’s get that shirt off.”

Leo gave a half-smile and sighed. “To be honest, I need you to help me with that. My ribs and side hurt, and I’m not sure how high I can raise my arms.”

Charlie sighed and thought Leo might be exaggerating his injury to get him to take the shirt off. Their eyes locked as he grabbed hold of the bottom of the t-shirt. Charlie’s fingertips slid up Leo’s sides and arms as he pulled the shirt up and over Leo’s head. Leo’s body quivered and broke out in goosebumps, and he let out an audible moan. Charlie set the shirt down on the couch and adjusted the growing bulge in his pants while Leo’s gaze was elsewhere. He let out a low whistle when he looked at Leo’s right side. “Leo, how bad does that hurt? It’s already turning purple, almost your whole right side, and onto your back.” Charlie gingerly touched the bruised areas. He put his hand flat against the side of Leo’s ribs. “Hey, take a couple of deep breaths for me, please.” Leo took two deep breaths, groaning slightly each time he inhaled. Leo opened his mouth to answer, but movement over Charlie’s right shoulder caught his attention.

From the doorway of the cottage, the boys heard someone loudly clearing their throat, and then a female voice said. “Charlie Davis! What is going on here?”

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