Running Toward Love (Chapter 6)

Chapter 6

Leo walked into the cafeteria and looked around. He saw that Reese wasn’t at the table where the track team and cheerleaders usually sat. Leo breathed a sigh of relief and turned to go, heading in the opposite direction. Maybe he could find a quiet table to eat quickly and escape unseen. He knew he had to have a conversation with Reese, but he wasn’t ready.

Leo hadn’t taken two steps before hearing Reese’s voice behind him. “Did I do something wrong, Leo?”

Leo spun around. “What?! No! Of course not. Why would you think that?”

“You’ve been avoiding me all day. First on the bus,” Reese shrugged. “I thought you might have been busy, but then there were a few more times in the hallway that I waved to you, and you nearly ran the other way.” Reese looked sad.

Leo sighed. “You did nothing wrong, Reese. Come with me, and I’ll explain.” Leo led Reese out of the cafeteria and into an empty classroom. “Sit. Please.”

Reese looked worried, but he sat. “Are you sure there’s nothing wrong?”

Leo huffed out a nervous laugh. “I never said that nothing was wrong. I said you didn’t do anything wrong. Me? I’m a hot mess right now.”

“I know we’re still getting to know each other, but you can tell me anything, Leo. What’s wrong?”

“I hope you still feel that way after hearing what I have to tell you.”

Reese arched an eyebrow. “I guess I won’t know until I hear it.”

“I had sex with Charlie last night. Well, oral sex, but, yes, I had sex with him.”

Reese looked down and blushed. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because when I woke up this morning, I didn’t wake up thinking about him. I woke up thinking about you. I’m not sure what’s happening between us, but I hope I didn’t screw it up. I don’t even know if you’re interested in me like that. Maybe I’m telling you all this, and you don’t even care.” Leo huffed out a laugh.

Reese’s eyes were wide, and his mouth was hanging open. “Wow. I’m in shock right now.” Reese ran both his hands through his hair and took a deep breath. “I’ve been crushing on you hard ever since the first night I met you on the beach.” Leo started to say something, but Reese put a finger up. “Please let me get this all out.” Leo nodded, and Reese continued. “When you told me that you were dating a tourist, I assumed, which is never a good idea, that you were a typical player who was only looking for short-term satisfaction. I asked around about you at school, and what I heard didn’t mesh with you being a player, so I was a little confused. I still hadn’t decided if I should pursue my crush, and then you passed out in the cafeteria. The more I learned about your history with that Jasper dude, the more I believed you were a good and kind person, not a player.” Reese grinned. “And the story of how you met Charlie, I can see why you fell for him. It must have been like a scene out of a movie.” Then Reese’s expression grew serious again. “If Matt ever tries anything like that again, I’ll pummel him worse than Charlie did.”

“Can I talk now?” Leo grinned.

Reese shrugged. “I guess.” Then he smirked.

“You’re right. I did fall for Charlie that day on the beach. I had been lonely and depressed for so long, and then he saved me. It didn’t hurt that he’s so cute. My head told me I was stupid, but I followed my heart and pursued things with him. Then you showed up. I immediately felt drawn to you. Even if Charlie wasn’t a tourist, I’d still choose you, Reese. The way you were able to calm my anxiety attack, the way you stood up for me to Jazz, the connection I felt on the beach yesterday, your beautiful brown eyes, all of it. If I haven’t screwed it up and made you hate me, I’d like to ask you out on a date.”

A million thoughts and feelings were buzzing through Reese. He tried to calm his mind and heart to clearly express himself to the boy he was falling madly in love with. “I felt the connection on the beach yesterday, too. I trusted you completely, or I would never have gone into the water with you. When Charlie showed up, I didn’t want you to go. I should have tried to stop you, but I didn’t. I should have told you that I wanted you to be going on a date with me, but I didn’t. Whatever happened last night, we weren’t together. You were on a date with a gorgeous guy. Whatever happened, happened.” Reese stood and pulled Leo to his feet. Reese took both of Leo’s hands in his own and stared deep into his eyes. “But,” Reese raised his eyebrows and smirked. “Now that you’ve asked me out, you’ll get a completely different reaction from me if anything else happens.”

“So, is that a yes then? Do you wanna go out with me?”

“Yes, but don’t you already have a date tonight?” Reese arched an eyebrow.

Leo sighed. “Yeah, and I need to talk to him and explain everything. I don’t want to leave him hanging. I want to be as honest with him as I was with you.”

“I understand. Keep your date with Charlie tonight but tell him everything and no funny business!” Reese grinned.

“Yessir! What about our afterschool swimming lesson? Are we still on for that?”

“Absolutely. I need to tell you the rest of my conditions for your date tonight and the conditions for dating me.” Reese smirked.

“I’m sure I’ll agree to everything you say,” Leo said as he leaned toward Reese to kiss him.

Reese covered Leo’s mouth with his hand. “No way. Not until you’ve broken up with Charlie.” Leo tried to speak, but Reese still had his hand pressed up against Leo’s mouth. Reese grinned and removed his hand. The boys heard the school bell ring signaling the end of lunch.

Leo sighed. “I’ll break up with him tonight, and we can go on a date tomorrow. Maybe then you’ll kiss me.”

“Maybe. We’ll see. It’ll have to be a proper date, though.” Reese winked. “Right now, we have to get to class. I’ll see you on the beach after school.” The two boys bumped fists, walked out into the hallway, and went to their next class.

————————————————————————————————————

Leo fist-bumped Reese as he walked toward the back of the school bus, then leaned down and put his lips right next to the other boy’s ear. “I’ll see you in about twenty minutes. Be ready to get wet.” Reese blushed as he watched Leo stroll down the aisle to sit next to Brandon.

Brandon smirked. “You look happier than you were this morning. Did you get laid during lunch?”

Leo rolled his eyes. “You’re such a pig.”

“It’s a legitimate question!” Bran laughed. “Well, what happened? I saw the two of you sneak off, and you were gone the whole lunch period.”

Kameron sat down in the seat in front of Brandon and Leo. “So? Did you talk to him then? Tell us!”

“If you two will shut up, maybe I can tell you!”

“Ok! Ok!” Brandon and Kam said in unison.

“We had the talk that I told you both that we needed to have.” Leo shrugged. “Reese was ok with what happened. He said he expected it, but Reese also said that he has a crush on me and regretted not trying to stop me from going on a date with Charlie.”

“I knew it! That’s awesome!” Kam said.

So, what happens now? Are you dating Reese?” Bran asked.

“Let me finish,” Leo said. “Anyway, Reese and I agreed that I need to keep my date with Charlie tonight, but only talk to him and tell him that I want to be with Reese. Reese told me that, though what I did last night was fine with him, I can forget about dating him if I do anything with Charlie tonight.”

“That’s fair. I agree one hundred percent.” Brandon said.

“Is Reese your boyfriend now?” Kam asked.

Leo sighed. “Not officially. After I break it off with Charlie, we will revisit that conversation, but I am meeting Reese on the beach for his swimming lesson.”

“So, two dates, two nights in a row. What a player.” Kam smirked.

“I’m not even that bad.” Bran chimed in.

“You both know better than that!” Leo blushed.

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Come on, bro. This is our stop.” Kam said, and the two brothers got off the bus. Leo hurried into the house to get ready for the swimming lesson and pack a change of clothes in his backpack for his date with Charlie.

————————————————————————————————————

Leo jumped the fence, his bare feet landing softly in the sand on the other side. He scanned the beach and spotted Reese sitting in the same spot he was yesterday. Reese wore only a pair of navy-blue swimming trunks. His pale skin glistened with sweat in the afternoon heat. Leo could tell that Reese was nervous because he was sitting with his knees pulled up against his chest. Leo walked over and sat next to him. “You look ready to go in the water, but you don’t exactly look like you’re excited to get out there.”

Reese nodded his head but wrapped his arms tighter around his knees. “I’m not excited, but I wanna do this. I have to do this. With you, I know I can do it.” He looked at Leo and smiled.

“Then let’s get started.” Leo got up. He stood right in front of Reese, and he slowly pulled his t-shirt up and over his head before tossing it onto the sand. Leo smirked, extended his hands to Reese, and pulled the other boy to his feet.

Reese blushed and arched an eyebrow at Leo. “You did that on purpose.”

Leo pretended to be shocked. “Whatever do you mean?”

Reese huffed out a laugh. “The way you pulled your shirt off like a stripper. You have the body for it. You’d make a lot of money.” Reese winked.

Leo grinned. “Flattery will get you everywhere. Now let’s get you wet.”

“In the ocean, or….” Reese waggled his eyebrows.

“Wow. Now you are making me blush. Let’s start with the ocean and see where that leads us.” Leo led Reese down to the water’s edge and stopped. “Are you ready?”

Reese took a deep breath and stepped into the water. He kept a tight grip on Leo’s hand, allowing himself to be led deeper and deeper into the ocean. Reese stopped when the water was chest high. “I think this is far enough for today, Leo. It’s… it’s further than yesterday.”

Leo smiled. “You’re doing awesome. Do you wanna try floating?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think I can.”

“I’ll be right here. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“Ok. What do I do?”

“Let go of my hand so that I can get behind you. Then lean back. As soon as you feel my arms supporting your back, lift your legs straight out.”

Reese did what Leo was telling him. “I don’t think it’s working. You’re holding me up, but I don’t think I’m floating.”

Leo leaned down with his lips nearly touching Reese’s ear. “Close your eyes and relax. Listen to my voice and let your mind drift. Imagine yourself weightless and floating in space naked.” Leo lowered his arms, and Reese continued floating on top of the water. “You’re doing it, babe. You’re floating through space. Too bad you’re not naked.”

Reese’s eyes popped open. “I’m really doing it?!” He lifted his head, and he lost his concentration. Reese’s body started to sink, and he began to flail his arms and legs.

Leo reached out and wrapped his arms around Reese. “Hey. Hey. We’re still right where we were. Push your feet down and stand up. It’s ok. I got you. I’m right here.”

Reese stood up, but he leaned heavily against Leo. “Can we go back now?”

“Sure. You did great, Reese. You floated.”

“I did, didn’t I?” Reese grinned. “Maybe I’ll do even better tomorrow.”

“Of course, you will. You got this.” Leo led Reese back onto the beach and to where he left his backpack. “It’s nearly time for Charlie to be meeting me here. I need to run to the changing room, dry off, and get dressed. I guess I’ll see you at the bus stop in the morning?”

Reese sighed. “I hate that I’m standing here letting you get ready to go out with another guy, but I know you have to.” Reese’s eyes narrowed. “Make sure you do everything just like we talked about, Leo. I trust you. Don’t screw it up.”

“I won’t screw it up. I’ll tell Charlie everything. I’ll end it with him tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Leo put his hand out to fist bump, but Reese pulled him in for a hug. Reese put his lips right next to Leo’s ear. “Behave yourself tonight.” Then he turned and ran off into the parking lot. Leo rolled his eyes and walked toward the beach changing room.

————————————————————————————————————

When Leo returned to the beach, he saw Charlie waiting for him. Charlie stood near the water’s edge, staring out over the ocean. Leo walked up next to him and bumped Charlie’s shoulder with his own. “Hey, cutie, you come here often?”

Charlie smiled, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes. “I got here early, but I saw you were busy, so I stayed back and waited.”

“Charlie, I…”

“Before you say anything else, there’s something I need to tell you.”

“Ok. Go ahead. I’m listening.”

“My dad called my mum. I hoped we’d stay longer, but we’re flying home tomorrow morning.” Charlie turned so he was staring straight into Leo’s eyes. “My biggest wish is that you don’t regret what happened with us no matter what happens between you and Reese. Last night was the best night of my life. I hope you don’t remember it as a mistake. You’ll always be special to me, Leo.” Charlie had tears forming at the corners of his eyes.

Leo reached out and took both of Charlie’s hands. “Maybe it might seem like it to some people since I’m dating a tourist,” Leo blushed and smirked. “But I don’t do things like last night on a whim. Last night was awesome, and I will never forget you, Charlie. I honestly don’t know what’s happening between Reese and me, but whatever it is, It’s only possible because of you.”

“What do you mean?” Charlie looked confused.

“I’ve been in a dark place since the breakup with Jazz. The beating I took from Matt very well could have sent me into an even darker spiral, but then there you were. My guardian angel. That’s what I called you. You saved me from Matt, but you also saved me from myself. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be in a place to accept love from anyone, not from you, not from Reese, not even from myself.”

Charlie pulled Leo in for a hug. “That makes me happier than you can ever know. I’m glad I was there on the beach that day.” Charlie released the hug. “I won’t try to kiss you. I don’t want to mess up whatever you got going on with Reese. He adores you, Leo. I won’t ask if you two have talked about that, but I saw it in his eyes yesterday.”

Leo blushed. “Yep. There will be no kissing tonight. As I said, I don’t know what Reese and I have, but he wouldn’t even let me ask him out until I talked to you. I do like him, and I know he likes me. I’m just gonna take it one day at a time.”

Charlie grinned. “I like that he’s making you wait. It proves that he likes you and wants to do things right. I’m happy for you, Leo.”

“Thanks, Charlie. I’m glad you’re being so cool about this.” Leo shrugged. “Are you ready to head to the aquarium now?”

Charlie arched an eyebrow. “Are we still going on our date?”

Leo pulled two tickets out of his pocket and grinned. “I have two tickets to the aquarium, and I also have dinner reservations at the Pebble Cove Steak Loft. It’s not a date anymore, but I’d like to take my friend from Australia out to have a good time on his last night in the USA.”

Charlie smiled. “That sounds fun. Let’s go.”

————————————————————————————————————

Leo and Charlie walked out of the aquarium, both boys laughing. “That was fun,” Charlie said. “I’m happy we went even though it wasn’t a date.”

Leo winked. “Friends can hang out, too.”

“You know it’s not as simple as that.”

Leo blushed. “I know. I wanted you to have a fun last day of your vacation. You deserve it. You’re a great guy, Charlie.”

“You are, too. Now, who’s ready for steak?” Charlie said, licking his lips.

“I’m always ready for steak and fries.” Leo laughed as they walked across the street toward the restaurant. “What was your favorite part of the aquarium?”

“The penguins. Definitely the penguins. I loved that we were there at feeding time. It was so cool! What about you? What’s your favorite part of the aquarium?”

“The penguins are cute, and the manta ray is super cool, but I love the two-story tropical fish tank in the main room. I could stare at that for hours. I go there a lot. It’s like my Zen spot. I look at all the brightly colored fish and zone out. I have a fish tank in my bedroom. It’s so relaxing.”

“One of my uncles took me scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef. You would love that! Someday you can be a tourist in my town. You can even bring Reese if you want.” Charlie grinned.

“Australia is bucket list material for sure.” Leo looked around. “Here comes the waiter with our food. Perfect timing!”

————————————————————————————————————

After they finished eating, Leo started scanning the dessert menu. “Are you up for dessert? I might just get a fudge brownie.”

“I couldn’t eat another bite, but I will get two slices of the double chocolate mousse cake to-go. It’ll be a nice treat for my mom and me after we’ve finished packing tonight.”

“Aw, that’s so sweet of you! So, let’s grab these desserts to-go and then get out of here.”

“Yeah, and I should head home. I do have to pack.” Charlie shrugged.

“Ok. My turn to walk you home then.” Leo said as they walked out the door and headed toward the lighthouse.

They got to the driveway leading to the lighthouse cabin, and Charlie stopped and turned toward Leo. “This is far enough. Thank you, Leo. Thank you for an unforgettable three and a half days. I’ll never forget you.”

Leo pulled Charlie into a hug. “I’ll never forget you either. Remember that you promised to be my tour guide when I visit Australia.”

Charlie grinned. “I can’t wait! Take care of yourself, Leo, and take care of that boy of yours. Make sure he learns to swim before you two visit the land down under. We have lots of impressive beaches!”

“I will do that. Have a safe flight.” With one last hug, a bump of their fists, and tears in their eyes, the boys said their final goodbyes. Leo headed back onto the beach, and Charlie went into the lighthouse cabin to pack for his flight home.

————————————————————————————————————

Leo walked along the beach, heading home. He was happy with the way things went with Charlie. Leo wouldn’t change one minute of his time with the Aussie. He knew that Charlie wasn’t staying long, but it was fun while it lasted. The relationship helped Leo on the road to getting past Jazz. He was finally happy again. 

Out of the corner of his eye, Leo became aware of movement. He couldn’t see far in the growing darkness, but Leo realized he was in the exact area of the beach where Matt ambushed him a few days ago. Leo quickened his pace, but he heard a familiar voice call out. “Leo! Wait up!” It was Reese. Leo grinned from ear to ear and turned to wait for Reese to catch up.

“It looked like you sped up. I hope I didn’t scare you yelling like that out of the dark.” Reese said once he caught up to Leo.

Leo shrugged. “Maybe just a little. This spot is where I had the encounter with Matt.”

“Oh, Leo, I’m sorry. I… I should have waited until tomorrow morning to talk to you anyway.” Reese said with downcast eyes.

“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. What were you doing out here so late anyway? Stalking me?” Leo smirked.

“No! Well, mostly no,” Reese said sheepishly. “Me and my little brother were out walking our dogs, and I saw you and Charlie heading toward the lighthouse. After Ryan and the dogs went home, I decided to wait for you to come back.” He shrugged. “I was curious how things went when you talked to him.”

Leo’s eyes knitted together in concentration. “I didn’t know you had a brother or had dogs. We’re just at the beginning of the ‘getting to know you’ stage, aren’t we?”

Reese nodded. “For sure. I have met your brother, and I know he runs cross country with you, but you’re right. We have a lot to learn about each other. I’m looking forward to it.” Reese smiled shyly.

“I am, too. To answer your earlier question, my date went as well as expected. As it turns out, Charlie is flying back to Australia tomorrow morning. If I hadn’t broken up with him, he was leaving anyway.”

“Did you tell him about us?”

“Yes. Charlie understood. He said that he thought something was between us when he saw the looks we were giving each other on the beach yesterday. I’m not sure what he meant by that.” Leo blushed.

Reese rolled his eyes. “I’m not sure about you, but I know I was giving you some looks.” Reese grinned. “I wanted to ask you out yesterday, but then he was there, and you were gone before I could get the courage. You’re all mine now, though.” Reese winked.

Leo cocked his head to the side. “I like the sound of that.” He smirked.

“You better.” Reese’s grin broadened. “I have to say that I trust that you’d never cheat on me or anyone, but I’m not disappointed that he will be ten thousand miles away after tomorrow.”

“After what happened with Jazz, I wouldn’t cheat ever. You wouldn’t have to worry even if he lived next door.”

“I believe you. I’m sorry I even said that.”

“It’s ok. I understand. I would feel the same way if I were in your place.”

Reese glanced at his phone. “It’s getting late. I should get back home. I’ll see you at the bus stop in the morning. Goodnight, Leo.” The boys bumped fists and went their separate ways.

————————————————————————————————————

Leo slumped onto the couch next to his sister. “What’re you watching, Alli?”

“Nancy Drew. It’s rather weird, but I like it. You would, too.”

Leo shrugged. “I’ll check it out. You know my tv tastes. I’m sure I’ll like it.”

Dad interrupted. “You’ve been going out right after school every night this week. Have you been keeping up with your homework? You need to keep your grades up if you’re playing school sports.”

“Yes, dad, I’m keeping up with my homework, and we haven’t had any tests or quizzes yet. We’ve only been back three days.”

His father arched an eyebrow. “I’m just checking, Leo. That’s my job. I’m proud of you for getting your brother involved.”

“Cross country and track was Kam’s idea. I got him into running, but he wanted to join the team. I will always support my brother.” He smiled over at Allison. “And my sister, too.”

Alli giggled. “You better.”

Leo’s dad heaved a heavy sigh. “You remind me a lot of my brother.”

“You don’t mention Uncle kai very often. I’m proud to be like him.”

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes with both of you. I was bitter with kai for leaving me in that house alone with your grandmother. Eventually, her way of thinking became mine without him as a buffer. That’s no excuse for how I’ve treated you the last few months, though, son. I can only say that I will try to do better. You know I love you, right?”

Leo had tears in his eyes. “Yeah, dad, I know. I love you, too.” He got up from the couch. “I need a snack. Alli, do you need anything?”

Allison got up as well. “I’ll help you pick something out.”

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