Running Toward Love (Chapter 4)

Chapter 4

They slowed down when they turned a corner and entered a different part of the carnival. Charlie spoke up. “Hey, do you want to grab something to eat?”

“Yum junky carnival food sounds great!” Leo chuckled. “Let’s go find some deep-fried chicken and onion rings, and when we’re done with that, some fried dough for dessert!”

Charlie rolled his eyes at the choices but followed as Leo led the way to the food booths.

After they ate what passed for dinner, the two boys walked through the carnival midway finishing their fried dough. Leo glanced over at Charlie and smirked. He stepped directly in front of Charlie and looked up at the taller boy, then he reached up and pulled Charlie’s face down to his own. As Leo leaned in close, his tongue darted out, and he slowly licked just to the side of Charlie’s mouth on both sides, then pulled back.

“What was that for?” Charlie beamed, his eyes burning with desire.

“Powdered sugar. I love it. I didn’t want to see it go to waste.” Leo shrugged and grinned and started walking again. They were passing through the carnival games when Leo suddenly stopped.

“I want to try and win something. This looks like a fun game. You won the panda for me. Now I want to win something for you.” Leo was hugging his giant panda as he spoke.

“Awe. I’m glad you like your panda, but you don’t have to win me anything. It’s sweet of you to want to, though.” Charlie replied.

“I know I don’t have to. I want to. Now hold onto Charlie, Jr.” Leo handed the panda to Charlie. The game had six big metal milk jugs, and the object was to toss a baseball into one of the pitchers—two dollars for three baseballs. Leo won four times and traded up to the prize he wanted. Sixteen dollars later, he handed a giant stuffed dolphin to Charlie.

“A dolphin to welcome you to our little fishing town.” Leo leaned in and kissed Charlie.

“Should I name him Leo?” Charlie smirked. “Nah. I won’t copy you. Pebbles for Pebble Cove.”

“That’s perfect.”

Charlie pulled Leo close and kissed him before pulling back and looking down into his eyes. “There are too many people around right here. Let’s walk somewhere else.”

Leo’s eyes lit up, and a devilish grin spread across his face. “Absolutely brilliant plan. Let’s go!”

The two boys headed towards the carnival exit, but then Leo pointed in between the fence and the Ferris wheel. “Back there. Behind the Ferris wheel. No one will ever go back there.” He pulled Charlie along by their linked hands until they were just outside the reach of the carnival lights. Now in near darkness, Leo turned and faced Charlie. He placed one hand flat against the older boy’s chest and firmly yet gently pushed him up against the fence. Leo freed his other hand from Charlie’s grasp and slowly ran both hands up Charlie’s body until his hands were at the collar of Charlie’s light blue button-down shirt. Leo pulled on the collar, and Charlie was forced to bend down slightly. Leo leaned in, and the two met in an open-mouthed kiss. Charlie was older. Charlie was taller. However, Leo was in charge this night. Leo broke away from Charlie’s mouth and started licking and kissing Charlie’s jawline and then up to his ear. After nibbling on Charlie’s ear, Leo began to kiss his way down the older boy’s neck.

Leo let go of Charlie’s collar, and his hands found their way to the top button of his shirt. He unbuttoned the top button and kissed the newly exposed skin. His fingers shaking just a bit with nerves, he undid the next button and then the next. He kissed and licked his way down with each button he released. Lower and lower. He was about halfway down Charlie’s chest when he felt the other boy run his fingers through his hair and grip the top of his head.

“Yeah. Oh my God, Leo, that’s amazing.” Charlie said as he gently applied pressure, urging Leo even lower. Leo was on his knees in front of Charlie now. More buttons unbuttoned—more kissing and licking. Leo finally released the bottom button on the shirt and spread the shirt open. Leo’s tongue darted out and into Charlie’s innie belly button. Charlie moaned and gripped Leo’s head even tighter. Leo rubbed up and down the front of Charlie’s khaki board shorts, feeling just how into this Charlie really was. Charlie moaned even louder. “Leo. Oh, God, Leo. Wait. Stop.” Charlie grabbed Leo’s shirt and pulled him back to a standing position. Charlie’s eyes were glazed over with lust, and he was breathing heavily. He took a deep breath and began to speak before Leo could cause him to change his mind. “We have to stop. I want you so bad, but not here. Not now.”

“Why? Did I do something wrong?” Leo had a worried look in his eyes.

“No. Oh, God, no. Absolutely not. It’s just that I,” Charlie hesitated and blushed before speaking again. “I’ve never done anything like this before. Hell, the kiss on the Ferris Wheel was my first ever kiss.” He put his hand up to stop Leo from interrupting. “I know we’ve just met, but I do think I want more of my firsts to be with you. Not here, though. Not in a muddy field behind the carnival where anyone could,” As if on queue a loud noise interrupted them.

Crash! Bang! “Hey! You two! What are you doing over there?! You don’t belong back here! The carnival is closed!” A voice yelled.

Both boys nearly jumped out of their skins. Leo spun and looked towards the yelling and saw a carnival worker. The man was emptying trash into a bin and had seen the boys. Leo grabbed Charlie’s hand, and they ran off into the darkness. They ran through the exit and out onto the beach. They never even slowed down until they were near to the path leading to Leo’s house, where they finally stopped.

They were both beet red and sweating. Leo and Reese looked at each other and burst out laughing.

“Oh my God, Charlie, that was… I don’t even know. Exciting. Frightening. Embarrassing. But all in all, one of the best nights of my life.” Leo grabbed Charlie’s shirt, which was still hanging open, and pulled him close. He ran his hands up Charlie’s smooth, bare chest and wrapped his arms around his neck. Leo leaned in and gave Charlie another kiss. After a few minutes, Leo pulled back and leaned against the fence. “I wish I’d known that you hadn’t been kissed. I would have planned something more romantic.”

“God, Leo. On top of the Ferris Wheel with you. On a beautiful night like this. It was something I’ll never forget. And the rest. I’ll never forget that, either.” Charlie blushed a bright red.

Leo’s smile nearly split his face in two. “When you’re ready, we need to pick up where we left off. I’ll think up where we can go. Make some plans. How does that sound?”

“It sounds heavenly. I want to do that again, for sure. I’m sorry I got nervous, but we would have been interrupted anyway. We’ll talk about it. I don’t need candlelight and roses, just something better than a dirty, smelly field.”

“You deserve the best, especially for your first time. No more talking tonight, though. Unfortunately, it is very late, and I should have been home an hour ago. I have to go, but I fully expect to pick up this conversation again. I don’t have any plans after classes are out tomorrow, so I should be out here around three. What about you?”

“I have no idea what my mom has planned for us to do tomorrow. I’ll text you as soon as I know, and I’ll text you again when I’m here and waiting for you. We can definitely pick up this conversation again. I want to pick up where we left off. It was awesome. You are awesome.” He leaned down and kissed Leo. “Goodnight, Leo. See you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight, Charlie. I’ll look for your text tomorrow. See you then.” Leo turned, smiling a huge smile. He ran past the fence and continued toward home.

————————————————————————————————————

Leo was halfway between the edge of the beach and home when he heard a voice in the darkness. “So, we meet again. Is it destiny or just a small town?” Reese said.

Leo stopped and turned toward the voice. “Probably just a small town. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.” He said with a smirk.

“I think there were more kids in my last school than people in this town.” Reese laughed.

“Where are you from? We haven’t managed to get past directions and cafeteria advice in our conversations so far.” Leo chuckled.

“Just outside D.C. Mom got tired of the big city. She works in hotel management, so it was easy for her to stay working in the same company and transfer here. Half your town is hotels.”

“Yep. Our town triples in population in the summer. Stupid tourists. Well, most tourists.” Leo blushed.

Reese motioned toward the beach. “Were you out running again? Didn’t you get enough at school today?”

“No, I was on a date.” Leo grinned.

“With the guy from last night?”

“Yep. His name is Charlie. I actually just met him yesterday morning.”

“That’s awesome. Does he go to our school?”

“He… he’s from out of town. That’s why I corrected myself and said most tourists.”

“How long is he in town for?”

“Just a few days. I really shouldn’t expect much out of this, but I really like him. I don’t know what will happen. I’m going to take this one day at a time and hope for the best.”

“Good luck, Leo. You seem cool. I hope it works out for you. Anyway, it’s late. I was just out for a stroll. I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”

“This is my house right here.” Leo pointed at his house. “I should get inside, too.” See you tomorrow, Reese.” Both boys turned and went their separate ways.

————————————————————————————————————

Leo reached over and turned the loud, buzzing alarm off. He rarely needed it to wake him up, but he stayed out late last night and then couldn’t get right to sleep. Thoughts of the night before, again, brought a smile to his face. Leo pushed those thoughts away and got out of bed. Time to run. He peeked into Kam’s room and saw that the bed was empty. Good. He was already up. Leo changed into his running gear, put on his sneakers, and went downstairs to look for Kam.

“Leo! I’m in here.” Kam yelled from the kitchen, in between gulps of orange juice. “You must have had fun last night. I’m never up before you.” Kam smirked at his brother.

“Not as much fun as I almost had.” Leo blushed. “I’ll tell you all about it on the run. Let’s get going. We’re already behind schedule.” Leo took a quick drink of orange juice and went out the door, quickly followed by his brother.

“I can’t wait to hear this story,” Kam said as the two boys crossed the street and jumped the fence onto the beach.

Leo looked out onto the beach, glanced in both directions, then looked back at Kam. Round trip to the carnival gate today. We’re running late.”

“Wow,” Kam said in mock astonishment. “Late sleeper and short run. What’s next? Skipping classes?” Kam laughed as they started their run.

Leo told his brother about the night before, leaving out only the most explicit parts. The brothers didn’t keep secrets from each other. They told each other all the secrets they’d never utter to another soul.

“Holy crap, Leo. I guess you did have a fun night! Behind the Ferris wheel? Really? You’re lucky they didn’t call the cops! Dad would have flipped out. His first kiss, though, that’s really special. Something he’ll always remember. Does he know that it wasn’t your first?” Kam laughed and clapped his brother on the shoulder. They had reached the carnival gate and now started on their return trip.

“I’m telling you out here, so there’s no chance of being overheard. I know how dad is. And yes, I’m almost certain he knows that it wasn’t my first, but we haven’t had that conversation yet. I’ll tell him my limited history when we discuss plans to continue what we started behind the carnival. I think I’m in love with him already, Kam. I think I fell for him the moment I saw him on the beach Sunday morning, after the fight with Matt.” Leo’s face was bright red, a combination of exertion and blushing.

“You’re an idiot, Leo, but I’m not surprised. You wouldn’t do what you said you did if you didn’t care about him. You’re not that kind of guy. Do you guys have plans for tonight?”

“He wasn’t sure what his mother had planned for them to do today, but yes, I do hope to see him tonight.” Leo jumped the fence and headed towards the house, looking back over his shoulder. “If you’re ready first, heat me up some oatmeal, please. We’re still a little behind schedule! We don’t want to miss the bus!”

————————————————————————————————————

Leo barely had time to get his Starbucks and still make it to the bus stop on time. He didn’t even stop in the cafeteria; he just ran straight to his first class, calculus. Leo saw Brandon on the other side of the room, but there were no empty seats nearby, and class was starting. He cursed his bad luck and opened his textbook.

After class, the two best friends met up in the hallway. “You have Bio next, right?” Leo asked.

“Yep. Aren’t you heading for Creative Writing?”

“Yes. Damn. Opposite directions. Make sure to get to the cafeteria on time today. I have a story to tell you!”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can. That sounds promising! Just what did you do last night?”

“I’ll tell you at lunch!” Leo said as he turned and went to class.

————————————————————————————————————

Leo walked into the cafeteria and glanced around. He saw Brandon at their usual table, but Max was waving at him from the other side of the room. He got Brandon’s attention motioned for him to walk to Max’s table. “What’s up, Max?” Leo said with a smile when he got to the table.

Brandon walked up just behind Leo and whispered in his friend’s ear. “Why are we over here? What about your story?”

Leo rolled his eyes at Brandon. “Later!”

Max smiled. “I hope that I’m not interrupting anything important. I just wanted to invite you… and your friend to sit with us.”

“It’s nothing that can’t wait. We’d love to sit with you guys.” Leo said. Brandon grudgingly agreed, and they both sat down.

“You know everyone, don’t you? Oh wait, Becca, isn’t there a new guy on your squad?” Max turned to Leo. “Becca is the head cheerleader.”

Becca looked around. “Yeah, he was sitting right there.” She pointed at the empty seat. “I’m not sure where he went. He just moved here from somewhere down south, I think.”

“He’s from Washington, D.C., actually. I met him. He seems nice.”

One of the other cheerleaders spoke up. “I’m not surprised you’ve already met Reese.” She huffed out a laugh. “Why are all the hottest boys in school gay?” She said to no one in particular.

Max laughed. “Hey! I’m almost offended by that comment!”

“Oh, shut up, Max. You know you I’d jump your bones if you weren’t dating my best friend.” The girl retorted.

“You’d jump anything on two legs, Julie. Just stay away from my man.” Becca snickered.

“You girls are rough,” Leo said. “But, no, it’s not like that. I’ve barely met Reese, and I’m seeing someone anyway.”

“Someone from school? Who is he? Spill the tea!” Julie squealed.

“He’s not from around here,” Leo said softly.

“He’s falling for a tourist,” Brandon said, rolling his eyes. The entire table of teens started talking all at once. Some advised against dating a tourist, and others urged him to ‘get a little’ and move on. Leo scanned the cafeteria for an escape. Maybe he’d spot Reese and go talk to him.

Then Leo spotted Jasper. He decided it was time for the talk that he had been avoiding. Leo walked over and sat across from Jasper. Matt was sitting at Jasper’s right. Leo folded his hands and looked right at Jasper, ignoring Matt completely. “Jasper, I know our break-up was messy, but the physical and verbal harassment from your boy,” he motioned towards Matt, “has to stop. What happened between us was just that, between us. Rein him in.”

Matt interjected. “Screw you, Kennedy! You have a problem with me, deal with me. Not Jasper.”

Jasper put a hand on Matt’s arm. “Chill, babe.” Then he spoke to Leo. “Looks to me like Matt’s the one with the worse bruises. Maybe I should be telling you to leave him alone.” Jasper stood up and leaned in towards Leo. “Get over yourself, Leo. You couldn’t keep me, and you won’t keep whoever that other guy is. Matt will do whatever he wants. I don’t care. All you were was a willing mouth to me.”

Leo stood up, angry. The chair tipped over behind him. He was about to start yelling at Jasper, but suddenly, the whole cafeteria started to spin, and everything started going dark. Leo felt himself getting dizzy and begin to fall, then he felt arms around him and a sweet soft voice in his ear telling him to sit. It didn’t matter what the voice said though, the whole room went dark, and Leo felt himself being guided to the floor.

Leo heard voices around him, but everything was dark, and the voices sounded far away. The first voice, the sweet voice of Reese, yelled, “Brandon! I need some help over here!”

Brandon: “I’m here, Reese. What happened to Leo?”

Reese: “I don’t know, but I plan to find out. Hold on to him, please.”

Brandon: “Reese, don’t do anything stupid.”

Reese: “What the hell did you do to him?”

Jasper: “I didn’t touch him. He passed out.”

Reese: “That better be the truth, or you’ll be on the floor next.”

Matt: “I don’t know who you think you are, but you better shut your mouth.”

Reese: “I think you two better get lost while you still can.”

Jasper: “I didn’t do anything to him. Honest. Matt, let’s go and leave them alone.”

Reese: “Brandon, I’m back. Help me get him in a chair.”

Leo felt two strong arms lift him from the ground and sit him in a chair. Two warm, soft, yet strong hands gripped his own. He felt knees against his knees and a forehead pressed against his. Reese’s soft, sweet voice started talking to him, soothing him.

“Leo, it’s ok now. They’re gone. You’re safe. I know we’ve just met, and we’re only just started getting to know each other, but I’ll make sure you’ll always be safe with me around. Come back to us, Leo. I don’t know what happened or what’s wrong, but I’m here, and you’re safe. I’ll stay right here as long as you need me.”

Leo heard Brandon say, “Reese? Should I call 911? He’s had these spells before. There’s more going on than you know.”

Reese responded, “His breathing is relaxed now. I think it was an anxiety attack. Give him just a few more minutes before you call anyone.”

“You got there pretty quick. I didn’t even have a chance to get out of my chair.”

“I happened to be looking their way and saw it happening.”

Leo blinked his eyes, and things were still dim but not black. The attack was passing. This boy’s voice really calmed his nerves. That southern accent just melted his heart. Leo blinked again and made out his face. “Reese? I was just looking for you. Now here you are. Your voice brought me back. Thank you.”

 “My pleasure. It was my turn to help you. You’ve helped me twice already. Maybe someday we’ll be able to just sit down and chat. You can fill me in on who those two jerks were, so I can make sure to stay far away from them.”

Leo sat back in his chair and then realized he was still holding Reese’s hands. He let go and blushed. “That is a brilliant idea. How about on the beach near where you saw me walking from last night? After school today, well after practice. Maybe at four o’clock?”

“It’s a date.” Reese blushed and corrected himself. “Well, not a date. You know what I mean. I’ll see you at four!” He turned and nearly ran out of the cafeteria.   

 Brandon smirked at his bestie. “I think you have two stories to tell me about last night. No wonder you were almost late this morning.”

“Do you need me to tell the coach that you’re not feeling well, Leo? I’m sure he’d let you out of practice.” Max said.

“I’m fine. I’m looking forward to practice. It was an anxiety attack. I’m ok.”

“I’ll be over there, finishing my lunch if you need anything,” Max said, looking at both Leo and Brandon.

Leo stood but was still a little shaky on his feet. He sighed and looked at Brandon. Brandon kept a hand on Leo’s lower back for support without needing to be asked and walked him over to a table. Leo was still a little dizzy but managed to finish his lunch. As the two boys walked out of the cafeteria, Brandon said, “That was more than an anxiety attack, wasn’t it?”

“To be honest, Bran, I’m not sure. It could have been an anxiety attack. You know I’ve had them that bad before, but it also could have been more than that. I promise that I’ll keep you informed.”

“You better,” Brandon said as they walked down the hall to their next class.

————————————————————————————————————

Leo got through the rest of the school day without feeling any more dizziness, so he convinced himself that it was an anxiety attack. He pushed through the locker room doors, jogged across the street to the athletic field, and joined the rest of the team. It was the first day of practice. Both the varsity and junior varsity squads were there.

Kam walked over and joined his brother in their pre-run stretches and warmups. “I heard about lunch. You ok, bro?”

“I’m fine. I still have to finish my conversation with Jazz, but other than that, I’m fine.”

“What about the dizzy spell?”

“Anxiety. It’s been an exciting couple of days.” Leo shrugged.

Kam looked thoughtful. “I’ll buy that for now.” He smirked at his brother. “I also heard that the hot new kid was there.”

Leo rolled his eyes. “Give it a rest, Kameron. I’m going to see Charlie again tonight. But, hey, since when do you refer to guys as hot?”

Kam blushed and looked away. “I said that for your benefit, not mine.”

Leo was about to say something else, but the banter between the brothers was cut short. The two coaches arrived and split the boys into their respective varsity and junior varsity teams. The first cross-country practice had officially begun.

————————————————————————————————————

After practice was over, Leo hung back. Kam stopped to see what his brother was doing. “What’s up?” Kam asked.

“Go on ahead. I’ll be right behind you.”

Kam followed his brother’s gaze and smirked. “Ah! I understand now. You’re gonna check out the cheer practice. Didn’t you say that you were meeting Charlie tonight?” Kam snickered.

“Yes, I am. Reese watched our tryouts. I want to be just as supportive. Besides, we mentioned meeting up after school. I want to make sure we’re still on, so I know what time to tell Charlie that I’ll meet up with him.”

“Wow. All of a sudden, my big bro has a full social calendar. I’m impressed.”

“Shut up, Kam.” Leo grinned. “Go catch up to the team. I’ll see you at home.”

————————————————————————————————————

Leo waved to his brother and started walking across the field toward where the cheerleaders were practicing. He hadn’t gone far when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement from behind the bleachers. He turned, and there stood Jazz. Leo nervously looked all around. Jazz stepped closer and spoke. “Matt isn’t here if that’s who you’re looking for.”

“Matt is exactly who I was looking for. Your boyfriend is a bully with a mean streak, Jazz.”

“I’m sorry, Leo. I’m truly sorry. For everything.”

“Wait… what? You mean everything that Matt did, right?”

“No, Leo. You know what I mean. I’m sorry for everything. I screwed up bigtime. I hurt the person that I love the most in the whole world. When I saw you pass out today, it brought back so many memories and reminded me of all the promises I made. God, Leo, I realized that I still love you. Can you ever forgive me?”

Tears stung Leo’s eyes. He wasn’t sure if they were tears of sadness, hurt, or rage. He clenched his fists at his sides to restrain himself from striking out at Jasper. “No, Jazz. I do not forgive you. After all this time, after all you did, how can you even ask? I mean, hell, wasn’t cheating on me bad enough? But then you outed me to the whole school. That’s how my parents found out that I’m gay! From the school, not even from me! The entire last year of my life has been a living hell, and it is all because of you!”

“I… I’m so sorry, Leo. I lashed out. I didn’t want to take the blame. I…”

“Shut up, Jazz. I’m not done talking. You started this conversation. The creep you cheated on me with beat me up. Because you suddenly remember that we were madly in love and promised each other to always be there, you want forgiveness? You ripped my heart out, spit on it, and threw it in the trash. Now, you say that you still love me? Stay away from me, Jazz. Go back to Matt. I will never forgive you.”

Leo felt a presence behind him. He looked behind him and was greeted by the sparkling emerald eyes of Reese.

Jazz tried to keep talking. “Leo, come on, let me explain.”

Reese stepped in between the other two boys. “Dude, he asked you to go away.”

“Who even are you? This is between Leo and me.”

“This is the second time today that I’ve asked you to get away from him. He doesn’t want you here. Don’t make me ask you a third time.”


Running Toward Love (Chapter 3)

Chapter 3

Leo rolled over and turned off his alarm clock two minutes before the alarm would have buzzed, 5:03am. He was about to get up, but then he realized that he shouldn’t run this morning, just in case. Two dizzy spells yesterday were more than enough to convince him to take it easy for a couple of days. Leo slung his arm over his eyes and relaxed. No running meant he didn’t need to get up and into the shower for at least another half hour. He let his mind wander over the events of the previous day. A lot happened. His morning run ended with a dizzy spell, then the fight with Matt and Charlie rescuing him. Then, Charlie taking care of him at the lighthouse, the panic attack at the mall, and finally meeting up with Charlie again. He thought they were about to kiss, just for a moment, but then it didn’t happen. Maybe next time!

Today was the first day of senior year. He supposed that he should hunt down Jasper and talk with him about Matt once he was at school. Leo really didn’t want to talk with Jazz, but the harassment and fights had to stop. He also thought about the possibility of trying out for track and pushing Kameron into trying out, too. Most of all, Leo was just thinking about getting through the school day, getting back home, and hanging out with Charlie.

All of this replayed in Leo’s mind as he lay there in bed. He glanced at the clock again, 5:42. Time to get up and get ready for school, or as his best friend Brandon called it, prison.

——————————————————————–

Leo looked at the lock screen on his phone as he left Starbucks, 6:52. He still had plenty of time to catch the bus. He peered over at Kam. “You ready for your first day of high school, little bro?”

“Yeah. For sure. I mean, maybe a little nervous, but excited too. Are we still trying out for cross country or track or whatever?”

“Yeah. I think Brandon knows someone on the team. I’ll find out about tryouts and text you.”

The two brothers strolled up to the bus stop and joined the small group of kids from their neighborhood. Leo spotted the new boy he met last night and waved. He was about to go over and say hi, but the bus pulled up. Then, the boy was lost in the crowd of kids. Leo sat down on the bus next to his brother and looked around for the new boy, but he didn’t see him. Kam arched an eyebrow at his brother. “Who is he? Obviously not your tourist friend since he’s on the school bus.”

“No. Just a guy I met on the beach last night. He was lost and asking for directions. He lives on Spruce Street. I guess he just moved here.”

Kam smirked. “Maybe you should rethink your tourist crush. Why bother with someone who’s only gonna be here a few days when you got a new cutie to set your sights on.”

Leo sighed. “I know Charlie is only here for a few days, but I really like him, Kam. I don’t know anything about this other guy other than the fact that he just moved here. He’s probably straight. Who knows.”

“I just don’t want to see you get your heart broken again so soon after Jazz. Be careful, bro.”

“Totally. I will. We’re here. I’ll text you after I talk to Brandon. Have fun.”

————————————————————————

Leo spotted Brandon in the parking lot as soon as he got off the bus. He jogged over to catch up to his friend before he reached the building. “Hey, buddy, what’s up? Didn’t see much of ya this summer. How’re things with Brett?”

Brandon clapped Leo on the back. “Great, my friend, just great. Sucks he’s going to school so far away, but I’ll still see him on weekends. The perils of dating a college boy, I guess! Now we need to find you a boyfriend.” Brandon smirked.

Leo chuckled. “I’m kinda working on that myself.” He blushed and smiled.

“Really?” Brandon turned and looked at his friend. “Whoa! What the hell happened to you?” He said, seeing the bruises for the first time.

“Matt,” Leo said with a grimace. “I’ll tell you all about it in between classes. There’s a lot to the story. Good things and bad.”

“He needs a good ass whipping. Want me to sic Brett on him?” Brandon asked.

“No. Matt already got his ass whipped. That’s part of my story.” Leo grinned.

“You beat up Matt?” Brandon asked, surprised.

“No. Not me. My guardian angel did.” Leo grinned.

“Now, I’m interested! You better tell me the whole story! I want juicy details!” Brandon laughed. “See you at lunch.”

———————————————————-

Leo grabbed his lunch tray and piled some food on it. Lost in thought, he wandered up to pay for his food. He heard a familiar voice behind him say, “What’s safe to eat around here? Everything at my old school tasted like salted cardboard.”

Leo turned his head and saw the boy from last night. “Ah. We meet again. Reese? Right? They have pizza almost every day, and it’s edible. I’ve got the spaghetti today. I’m hoping it’s as good as it was last year. Overall the food isn’t great, but it’s ok.”

“Yeah, I’m Reese. Thanks for the directions last night and the culinary suggestions today. I promise that I won’t only talk to you when I’m in dire need of help.” Reese grinned.

“That’s quite alright. You can talk to me anytime. Do you want to sit with my friend and me? He’s waiting for me over there.” Leo pointed to where Brandon was sitting.

“I would, but there’s this girl that I’m supposed to be meeting up with.”

“A girl? I suppose that is more important. Have fun.”

“No… uh… not like that.” Reese blushed. “I need to find out the details for cheer tryouts. I was on the cheer squad at my last school, and it was fun. I wanted to try and do that here too.”

“A cheerleader. I would have guessed you for a lacrosse star.”

“I tried that, but I like cheerleading better. I also play baseball in the spring.”

Leo heard Brandon calling his name. “Sounds fun. I gotta go before my friend starts chewing on the table.” Leo laughed. “The cheerleaders usually sit over there.” He pointed across the cafeteria. “See you later, Reese.”

Reese smiled and headed in the direction that Leo had pointed, and Leo walked over and sat by Brandon.

“It’s about time you got here! That’s the last time I wait for you for food.” Brandon reached over and took one of the trays from Leo. “Now spill the tea. Who was that hottie you were talking to, and was he the guardian angel you hinted at this morning?”

“ He is Reese. I met him last night on the beach. He’s not my angel. He’s just a new boy. Sounds like he’s trying out for the cheer squad. My angel’s name is Charlie, and he and his mom rented the cabin by the old lighthouse while they are exploring our glorious little town. That’s why he happened to be on the beach yesterday.”

“Wait? Exploring? Please tell me that you didn’t fall for a tourist, Leo!”

“Yes, he is a tourist, but you didn’t see him. You didn’t talk to him. Bran, I haven’t even thought about anyone else since the whole thing with Jazz. I planned to just get through this year and maybe start over in college, but when I looked up into Charlie’s brown eyes, I fell.”

Brandon rolled his eyes. “Maybe he’s hot. Maybe he’s fun. But how long is he staying, Leo? You’re just going to get hurt again.”

“He’s staying until the end of the week, I think. Who knows what can happen between now and then. Maybe he’ll stay longer. Maybe we can do a long-distance thing. I felt a strong connection, Bran. I know he did, too.”

“We’re not done with this discussion. Spill the rest of the story. The fight with Matt and this angel saving you.” Brandon said, eating his lunch and waiting for his best friend’s story.

In between bites of his lunch, Leo relayed to his friend all the previous day’s events. The run with his brother, the argument and fight with Matt, and finally, the rescue by Charlie. He even confided in him about the second dizzy spell at the mall. He finished up by telling him about the second meeting with Charlie and the near-kiss.

“Wow. That was quite a day. I don’t think that much happened to me all summer! First off, how are you feeling today? Any dizziness or headaches. That sounds serious, bro. You gotta tell Kam or me every time it happens, even if you don’t want to tell your mom yet, tell us.” He reached over, putting a hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“Ok. Ok. I promised Kam already. I promise to tell you, too. And I will tell my mom if it keeps happening. I’m not an idiot.” Leo rolled his eyes at Brandon.

Brandon smirked. “Now on to the good stuff. When are you going to see your hot little tourist again?”

“Today after school. He wasn’t sure what his mom had planned. I figure if he’s not busy, I’ll meet up with him and give him the grand tour. Maybe show him the Village and get some junk food for dinner.” Leo laughed. “Mystic Village fried dough should win him over.”

Brandon rolled his eyes. “With all the running you’ve been doing, I don’t know why you continue to put that crap in your body.”

Leo laughed. “It’s the best! It is my biggest weakness, diet-wise. I’ll just run an extra mile tomorrow. That reminds me. Aren’t you friends with Max? From the track team? Kam wants to try out, and I was thinking of joining him.”

Brandon looked at his phone. “We have to get to class. I’ll talk to Max and find out about tryouts, then I’ll text you the details. If I don’t see you later, have fun and wish Kam good luck for me!”

The two boys put away their lunch trays and headed towards their next class.

——————————————————————————-

The first day of senior year finally behind him, Leo walked towards the gym to meet up with his brother and look for Max. According to the multiple texts from Brandon, cross country tryouts were today. Now Leo was glad he skipped the morning run. Brandon said that Max would meet Leo and Kam at the track. Leo got to the gym and found Kam waiting for him. The two boys headed toward the track to look for Max. Leo spotted Max waving to him from the infield of the track. It looked like Max and a bunch of other boys were doing some pre-run stretching. Leo and Kam walked over and joined them.

“Hey, Leo! I was surprised when Bran told me that you were interested in running this year. Aren’t you a senior? And is this your brother?”

“Yeah, I’m a senior. I just started running this past summer, mostly as a way of burning off anger issues.” Leo chuckled. “This is my brother Kameron. He’s a freshman, and he’s the one who suggested trying out for the team. I’m kinda along as support.”

Max stuck his hand out to both brothers. “Nice to meet both of you.” He glanced at Leo. “Running is an excellent choice for a mood enhancer, and it looks to me like you have the body of a runner already.” Max grinned. “Brandon mentioned track. You guys know that we’re trying out for Cross Country today, right? Indoor Track will start in November and Outdoor Track in late March.”

“Yep. We’ll try our hand at Cross Country first. I think I’ll prefer the long-distance stuff better anyway. Little bro is the one who is looking forward to the shorter, faster events in track.”

“Ah-ha! So, Kameron is our speed demon, then?”

“Yep!” Kam laughed. “I outrun Leo all the time short distances. I’ll need to build up my endurance to run the longer races. I’ve only just started putting any effort into running.” As Kam was speaking, other boys started showing up at the track. Some were stretching, others jogging around the track to warm up before the tryouts began. Leo, Kam, and Max started running a warm-up lap. By the time they completed one lap, the coach had arrived, and everyone gathered around to listen to him speak.

Coach Stevens spoke loudly and paced back and forth in front of the boys. He was a middle-aged man but tall and incredibly fit. The coach could easily pass for forty instead of his fifty-two years. He spoke of past championships and future goals. He welcomed back current runners and thanks to new boys for showing up at tryouts. After his speech, Coach separated the boys into two groups. One group ran laps around the track, and the other group ran around a small modified cross country track. After each group finished, they swapped until both groups had run on both tracks.

Everything went well for Kam all through the tryout, except for one thing. Kam decided to run a little too fast on the cross country track, which was a failure. An epic failure, to be honest. The kind of fail that could have gone viral if only it had been caught on camera. Kam turned a corner and failed to see a giant mud puddle. By the time he finished sliding through the mud on his belly, he was covered head to toe. Kam glanced over to the bleachers and saw that Tommy had arrived and was laughing hysterically.  He also saw the new boy. The guy that Leo said he met last night. The boy was sitting near the top of the bleachers, by himself, watching the tryouts.

After the tryouts, the coach pulled Kam aside and told him that he would be on the JV team. He patted Kam on the back and said to him that he expected him to do well if he trained hard and showed the speed that he showed today. He also encouraged Kam to try out for the indoor track season in November.

Kam ran over to the bleachers to fill Leo and Tommy in on what the coach said, then they all walked back over to Max. Max made team captain, as expected. Kam made JV, and Leo made varsity.  Max’s girlfriend joined the four boys as they left the track field. As they walked across the field, Leo turned back and saw Reese still sitting in the bleachers. He raised a hand and waved. Reese smiled and waved back, then Leo turned and continued walking off the field.

“Becca, you remember Leo, right? This is his brother, Kameron, and,” Max trailed off, looking at Tommy.

Kam spoke up. “This is my bestie, Tommy. Nice to meet you, Becca.”

Becca walked with Leo as they headed for the school parking lot. “Leo, are you still going out with Jasper Anderson?”

“No. We broke up last year.”

“You’re better off without him, in my opinion. He’s a jerk and a stoner. You’re the one that dumped him, I hope.”

 “Yes. He was the biggest mistake of my life, and I’ve moved on from all that.”

Becca looked Leo up and down. “You’re hot. I know three or four boys and half a dozen girls who would fight to go out with you. Forget that asshole. Anyway, do you guys want to go with Max and me? We’re going to go to get ice cream to celebrate.”

Kam answered for all three. “Definitely!”

They got to the ice cream shop, and all got their cones. Leo and Max shared stories about Brandon and wondered how all three of them had never hung out together. Leo noticed that Kam and Tommy were off in a corner booth, whispering. He thought it was a little strange but put it out of his head. Leo himself was distracted thinking about meeting up with Charlie later.

Becca noticed Leo keep looking at his phone.

“Hot date later, Leo?” Becca smirked.

“Um, no. Well, sort of.” Leo blushed.

Kam yelled over. “Don’t let him fool ya. It’s a date. Loverboy can’t stop gushing about the guy.” 

“Shut up, Kam.” Leo rolled his eyes at his brother. 

Becca leaned towards Leo. “Tell me more. Is he cute?”

Leo sighed. “He’s not just cute. He’s totally dreamy. I met him out on the beach yesterday. I told him I’d text him after the cross-country tryout.” Leo said, while looking at his phone again.

Becca stood up. “Well, let’s get you home then. Come on, Max, let’s go.” Becca led the way out of the shop, and they all followed. Max dropped Leo, Kam, and Tommy off and continued towards his own home.

Leo was out of the car and sprinting towards the house almost before the car even stopped. He took the stairs two at a time, rushed into his room, and quickly picked out a change of clothes. He darted out of his room and into the bathroom. Leo jumped into the shower before Kam was even in the house. After the quickest shower of his life, Leo got dressed and texted Charlie to find out where he was. Leo started blow-drying his hair, and did his best to make his hair as presentable as possible in as short a time as possible, then ran out of the house. Glancing down to check for a reply from Charlie. He ran towards the fence but then thought better of it. His body was still too sore for jumping. He turned and went around the fence and onto the beach.

He looked up and down the beach and then spotted Charlie down at the water’s edge. Leo walked up and stood next to the other boy, not saying anything for a minute or two. Then Leo looked over at him. “Sorry I took so long. A guy from the team took my brother and me out for ice cream to celebrate. We both made the team. I made varsity, and Kam made JV.”

Charlie turned towards Leo and reached out and grabbed both his hands. “That’s awesome! I’m so happy for you both!” He leaned in and hugged Leo.

Leo hugged him back before saying, “Thanks, Charlie. I’m happy that Kam and I are doing something together. I think running will be perfect for both of us.” Leo put his hand against Charlie’s face. “You’re so gorgeous, Charlie.” He smiled shyly.

Leo begrudgingly pulled his hand away from Charlie. “We better stop now, or I may decide to try for more,”

Charlie smiled. “You can try, but I’m not sure how far I’d let you get.” He winked.

Leo cleared his throat. “Anyway, what did you do today? I wouldn’t want to suggest doing the same things you already did.” Leo asked.

“We went out on a boat from the aquarium down the street and went on a whale watch. That took up a few hours. It was pretty out on the water, and we did see a few whales. Then mom went shopping, and I walked around town for a while and then came down here.” Charlie took out his phone and showed it to Leo. “Here are the pics of the whales.”

“Let’s walk this way.” Leo held out one hand until Charlie took it. Then he started walking up the beach, away from the direction of the lighthouse. “There’s a small carnival up here. It’s only here in the summer. This is the last week that it will be here until next May. There’s a Ferris wheel, a few other rides, carnival games, and junk food! You want to go? Have you eaten yet?”

“That sounds fun! No, I haven’t had dinner, and carnival food sounds perfect! Let’s go.” Charlie squeezed Leo’s hand even tighter, looked over at him, and smiled a huge smile as they walked up the beach towards the carnival.

By the time they had been at the carnival twenty minutes, Leo was clutching a giant stuffed panda bear that was almost as big as he was.

“I can never win at these carnival games. Thanks for winning this for me, Charlie. I love him. I’m going to name him Charlie. Charlie the Panda.” Leo laughed, leaned over, and kissed Charlie on the cheek. “Let’s go ride the Ferris wheel before it gets too dark, so I can show you my town from up high.”

The Ferris wheel line was short, and the boys were in a seat in just a few minutes. They waited as the worker made sure they were buckled in, and then he locked the safety bar in place. The ride began to slowly turn, stopping and starting at first while other passengers got on or off. When the Ferris wheel neared the top, Leo pointed out some of his favorite spots in town.

“One of the things I love the most is that we’re at the ocean, but just a couple miles away, we can swim and fish in the river.” He pointed off to their left. “Just past where the coastline bends in is the little spot where the town gets its name, Pebble Cove. Named that way because the beach there has more pebbles than sand. The cove is pretty, the water is great, but the beach itself is terrible.” Each time the Ferris wheel went up, Leo pointed out something different to Charlie. He showed him the Seaport Village, where they had the old tall wooden ships on display. He showed him the shops that were set up to resemble a colonial village, and he showed him many other sights.

Charlie grabbed Leo’s hand. “You really love your town, don’t you?’

Leo turned his head to face Charlie. “I do. I mean, I get annoyed by the crowds in tourist season. Most tourists are jerks who don’t care about anything but themselves. They leave trash everywhere. They drink. They fight. I hate that part. But the actual town I do love.”

“So, you hate tourists, huh?”  Charlie huffed out a laugh.

Leo blushed. “Cute tourists with hot Australian accents are the exception to my rule.” Leo turned in the seat so that he was facing Charlie, and he leaned in. Charlie was so nervous that he was nearly shaking, but he went for it. Eighteen years was long enough to wait for his first kiss. He wasn’t about to wait one minute longer. Charlie grabbed the front of Leo’s shirt with both hands and pulled him close. Their lips met, tentatively at first. Charlie’s lips parted, and Leo’s tongue darted inside. Leo leaned back against the side of the Ferris wheel car, pulling Charlie down on top of him. The seat strap dug into Charlie’s chest, so he ducked under it, freeing himself. Leo ran his hands up and down Charlie’s broad, muscular back. Charlie had one hand braced against the seat to stop himself from falling, and his other hand on the back of Leo’s neck, pulling him even closer as the kiss deepened.

Clang! A loud metal bang rang in both boys’ ears, and they looked up, eyes wide. The ride had stopped. Their car was at the bottom, the metal bar swung open. The carnival worker was looking at them with a look that was half scowl and half smirk.

“Get off my Ferris wheel, you two! Take that somewhere else.” He waved off in a direction away from the ride. “And you,” he pointed at Charlie. “If I ever see you on my ride again without the safety strap in place, I’ll kick you off permanent!”

Charlie mumbled. “Yes, sir. Of course, sir.” Then he grabbed Leo’s hand, and the two boys ran off as fast as they could away from the Ferris wheel and the line of people that had been standing there and watching the entire thing.

Running Toward Love (Chapter 2)

Chapter 2

Charlie’s hand pulled away from Leo as fast as if his skin was on fire. He spun around and said, “Mom! You’re back! This is Leo. Another boy beat him up down on the beach. I brought him here to see if we could help him. You weren’t here, so I was doing the best I could to help on my own.” Charlie was talking so fast it was almost as if he didn’t want to give his mother a chance to respond.

“He’ll be lucky if you didn’t do more harm than good.” Mrs. Davis shook her head. “Move aside, boy. Let me look.” She sat on the ottoman and began examining Leo’s injuries. She looked back at her son. “Well, don’t just stand there. Go get me two ice packs and my nursing bag.”

Mrs. Davis looked intently at Leo. “Leo, is it?”

“Yes, ma’am. Sorry for the intrusion. If you hand me my shirt, I can leave if you’d like. I am feeling better already. I don’t need the hospital. I’m sure of it and don’t bother calling my parents. They’re not home anyway.” Leo blushed and looked down under the intense gaze of the older woman.

“Nonsense. And my name is Helen, not ma’am. But I would like you to tell me why you do not want proper medical attention. And why you don’t want me to call your parents. Are you in trouble, son?” Helen stared at Leo with a look of concern.

“I told you. My parents are at work. And I don’t need a doctor. I’m ok.” Leo said.

Helen waved her hand at Leo. “I know when a teenage boy is lying to me. I have two of my own, and countless others have come through my emergency rooms. If you don’t want to tell me, just say so. Don’t lie to me.” Helen said, glaring up at Leo.

Leo was about to tell Mrs. Davis about the fight when Charlie came rushing back into the room. He stepped in between Leo and his mother and handed the nursing bag to his mom and set the two ice packs on the couch next to Leo. With his mom’s attention distracted, looking for her supplies, Charlie caught Leo’s eye. With a pleading look, almost on the verge of tears, he mouthed the words, “Please don’t tell her that you’re gay!”

Leo grimaced but nodded. Charlie sighed with relief. Mrs. Davis looked up from the nursing bag. “So, Leo, did you want to tell me what happened?”

“Yeah, um well, it was just a guy from school. We’ve been in fights before, and my dad would be mad if I got in another fight. Please don’t tell him.” Leo did his best to look as sad and pathetic as possible, so Reese’s mother would take pity on him. It worked.

“Ok. I won’t call your parents, but your dad is right. You shouldn’t be getting into fights.” While they were talking, Mrs. Davis wrapped Leo’s ankle in an ace bandage, applied the cream to his ribs and back, and had Leo hold an icepack over his eye. “How are you going to explain your injuries to your parents without telling them you were in a fight?” asked Mrs. Davis.

“I’ll come up with something before I get home. Thank you for not telling my parents, Mrs. Davis.” Leo reached over and grabbed his t-shirt from the couch.

“Here, you can keep this tube of ointment. It will help with the bruising on your ribs and back. You can put some on your face if that turns black and blue as well.” She handed Leo a tube of ointment, a couple of pills, and a glass of water. “Some Tylenol for the pain. Do you have some at home?”

“I’m sure we do. Thanks again. For everything.” Leo slipped his shirt back over his head, wincing with pain. He gritted his teeth and stood up. Seemingly out of nowhere, Charlie appeared by his side. Leo felt Charlie’s hand on the small of his back, supporting him as he attempted to put weight on his sprained ankle.

“You ok to walk?” Charlie asked him.

“Yeah, I’m feeling a bit better. I’ll have a bit of a limp for a few days, but I’m ok. Thanks for everything. I need to head for home now.” Leo starting walking towards the door.

Charlie followed Leo then he turned back towards his mother. “Mum, is it ok if I walk Leo back to his house. Just to make sure that he can walk and that that boy doesn’t come after him again?” Charlie looked uncertainly at his mum.

Helen thought for a moment and then said, “Yes. Walk him home, but then come right back. If that boy is a problem again, call the police this time no matter what Leo wants. Understand?”

“Yes, mum. Got it. Thanks!” Charlie ran out the door to meet back up with Leo.

The two boys started back down towards the beach. When they were away from the cabin, Charlie looked over at Leo. “Hey, Leo. I’m sorry I had you lie to my mum. She’s old school about the whole gay thing, and I didn’t want there to be a problem, at least until she finished helping you. I hope you’re not mad at me for asking you to lie.”

Leo leaned against Charlie’s shoulder for support as they walked. “No. I’m not mad at all. I understand. Most of the time, I wish I hadn’t told my dad about me either. My life would be a lot easier if he didn’t know. Overall, I’m glad I told him. It’s easier not having to lie even though I have to deal with a lot of shit sometimes. I understand, Charlie. I’m not even mad a little.”  Leo looked over at Charlie and smiled. Charlie smiled back, and the two boys continued walking down the beach towards Leo’s house.

Charlie wasn’t sure how much further they were going to have to walk when Leo motioned for him to turn towards the right. They walked past a couple of picnic tables and across a grassy area to a fence at the edge of the beach. “This is it. I live right over there.” Leo pointed at a house across the street. “Will I ever see you again?” Leo asked, looking directly into Charlie’s eyes.

“I sure hope so. We’ve rented that cabin until the end of the week. What are you doing tomorrow?” Charlie replied with a grin. “I’d love to hang out sometime when I’m not saving you from a maniac.”

“School starts tomorrow. I could meet up with you after if you want.”

“What year of school are you in?”

“I start my senior year of high school tomorrow. You said that you just graduated, right?”

“Yep! I’m so glad that I’m able to finally focus on what I want to do rather than what the school wants me to do! I would have guessed you for a college boy, too. You look about the same age as me. I’ll be nineteen next month.”

“I’ll be eighteen in two weeks, so not that far behind you. Anyway, I need to get home before my brother sends out a search party. Should I look for you after school tomorrow?”

“I’m not sure what my mom has planned. Give me your number, and I’ll text you when I know our plans,” Charlie said.

Leo took Charlie’s phone and put in his contact information. When he handed it back, he leaned in and gave a very surprised Charlie a quick kiss on the cheek. Leo grinned at a speechless Charlie, then turned and jumped the fence and walked home without looking back.

The kiss shocked Charlie. Leo kissed him! It was just a kiss on the cheek, but still, it meant that he probably liked him! Leo flirted the whole time, but the kiss was still a surprise. Charlie’s grin nearly split his face in two as he turned and retraced his steps back to the cabin by the lighthouse.

———————————————————————————-

Leo made his way across the street and into his house, where he found his brother Kam sitting at the kitchen table, staring at the door. As soon as Leo was in the house, Kam was on his feet, asking his brother question after question. “What took you so long? Are you alright? Hey, what happened to your face?”

“Kam! Stop with the questions, let’s go to my room, and we can talk there.” Leo said as he led his brother up the stairs and into his bedroom. Leo sat at his desk and motioned for Kam to sit on the bed. “I’ll tell you everything that happened, but you have to promise not to tell anyone, Kam. Not anyone! Understand?”

“Yeah. Of course. Like always. We always keep each other’s secrets and watch each other’s backs. We’re brothers.” Kam held his fist out to his brother. Leo complied, and they bumped fists and grinned silly grins.

“Ok. Well, here it goes.” Leo proceeded to tell Kam about everything that happened from the time they split up until Leo was back in the house. Kam listened without once interrupting. When Leo finished, Kam gave out a low whistle.

“Wow, bro. You had a busy morning after I left.”    Kam said.

“Yeah, I know, right! Scary. Awful. Amazing. Confusing. I don’t know what to feel right now!” Leo ran his fingers through his hair and slumped back into his chair.

Kam scowled, then looked at his brother. “First, we have to worry about dad and what he’s going to say about your bruises. If you tell him that it was about Jasper, he’ll flip out.”

“Hmm. Hey! I’ll tell him I went for a swim after our run and a surfboard clipped me. I’d rather he thought that I was an idiot and wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings than deal with him going off about Jazz again.”

“That might work for dad, but Jasper and Matt will have to be dealt with eventually. Now, what about this boy, Charlie? Do you think you’ll see him again? Should you even bother? You said he’s a tourist just here until the end of the week.” Kam stared intently at his brother, waiting for answers.

“He’s super-hot! That hair and those eyes. Mm-hm. I sure hope I see him again. I gave him my number and asked him to text me tomorrow when he knows what his plans are. Yes, I know he’s a tourist, but he makes me smile. I haven’t smiled because of a boy in a long time, Kam.” Leo said with a grin. “Plus, there’s just something about him. I can’t even explain it. The connection was immediate and strong. Maybe it was him saving me from Matt, but I looked up into those dark brown eyes, and my heart skipped a beat. In that one moment, I felt more for him than I ever felt in eight months with Jazz. So, yes. Yes, I plan to see him again. I hope he feels the same way! Who knows what can happen in a week? Maybe he’ll stay!” Leo spun the chair around and was leaning against the back of the chair, looking at his brother.

“You just met him, and he’s a tourist. Enjoy the week, but be careful. I’ll reheat breakfast. Mom, dad, and Allison all went to the mall for last-minute school shopping. Mom said she’d take you and me later today.” Kam disappeared down the hall, and Leo gathered some clean clothes and headed towards the bathroom to shower.

After Leo’s shower, he took a good long look at himself in the mirror. The bruises looked terrible, but he could move without too much pain. Nothing felt broken, Mrs. Davis was probably right about that. He had Charlie to thank. Matt probably would have done even more damage if Charlie hadn’t been there to stop him. Leo quickly shook thoughts of Charlie out of his head before he became distracted, and his food got cold a second time. He finished in the bathroom and went downstairs to join his brother for breakfast.

—————————————————————

After breakfast, the two boys went into the living room and played some Xbox. After killing each other a couple dozen times in Call of Duty, they turned the game off. Leo started channel surfing, and Kam took out his phone and started texting. Soon, their family returned home from the mall, and Leo and Kam left with their mom. Once at the mall, their mom gave Kam explicit instructions on what she expected him to buy but just handed Leo some money. They each went their separate ways to find what they needed.

Leo nearly finished his shopping, thoughts of the upcoming school year clouding his mind. Thoughts of dealing with Jasper, thoughts of Charlie, all these thoughts ran through his head. His vision started spinning, and he felt himself begin to sweat. He leaned heavily onto the checkout counter.

“Sir? Are you ok? Sir?” The cashier spoke to Leo and grabbed his arm as she saw him start to lean forward. To Leo, the entire store began to spin and go dark. He lost his grip on the counter and fell to the floor. He felt hands grab him, but the voices around him sounded far away, and everything was dark.

Leo felt something cold and damp against his forehead, and he faintly heard someone saying his name and talking to him. He opened his eyes, and things weren’t so dark, and the spinning had slowed down. He closed his eyes again, leaned back against the counter, and listened to the voice that was talking to him. The voice sounded familiar. Leo opened his eyes again. The spinning stopped. He blinked. The first things he saw were the EMT uniform and the stretcher. Leo groaned. He did not want to end up at the hospital. Leo wasn’t ready to tell his mom that the dizzy spells were back. He looked up, and when he saw the face of the EMT, he smiled. It was Kyle, the same EMT who had saved his life six years ago.

“Hey, Kyle. Fancy meeting you here. I sure hope you’re not planning on putting me on that thing.” Leo pointed at the stretcher.

“Hi, Leo. It has been a long time. Which is good, considering my line of work.” Kyle reached over and removed the cold rag from Leo’s forehead. “How are you feeling? What happened?”

“Kyle, can we move over to the bench out of the store?” Leo started to push himself up off the floor.

Kyle helped Leo to his feet and held onto his arm as they paid for Leo’s purchases and then walked out to the bench and sat down. “So, what happened, Leo? The cashier told me that it looked like you got dizzy and passed out.”

Leo looked down, then looked back at Kyle. “I think it was just a bad anxiety attack. There’s been a lot on my mind lately. But I’ll be candid with you, Kyle. I’ve had a few dizzy spells and headaches. At least a couple a week. I’m a little worried.”

“Do you want me to take you to the hospital right now, Leo? With your history, it’s better to be safe than sorry. It might just be anxiety, but it might be something more.” As he talked, Kyle took Leo’s blood pressure and pulse readings. “All your vitals look good, but I am more than happy to load you into the ambulance and take you to the hospital. Is your mom here in the mall?”

“Yeah. Mom and Kam are both here. I appreciate you looking after me again, Kyle, but I don’t want to go to the hospital. If the dizzy spells continue, I promise to tell mom. I promise. I really do think it’s just the anxiety.” Leo told Kyle all that had been going on in his life. The breakup with Jasper, the fight with Matt, meeting Charlie, worries about school, everything.

“Wow. That is a lot. It could be the anxiety, but I’ll hold you to that promise about telling your mom if you get dizzy again. You know better than anyone how important this is. You can’t mess around when it comes to brain injuries. Don’t make me sic Doc Danny on you! Anyway, if you’re sure you don’t want to go to the hospital, I have to get going.” Kyle stood up and rested a hand on Leo’s shoulder. “You sure you’re ok, Leo?”

“Yeah. I’m good now, Kyle. Thanks a lot. I’m glad it was you that came for me again. Spilling my guts and telling you all that stuff probably helped more than anything else. I’m feeling much better.” Leo stood and gathered up his shopping bags as Kyle said one last goodbye, tossed his medical bag onto the stretcher, and left.

Leo glanced at his watch. “Damn!” He hurried off toward the mall food court, already fifteen minutes past the time his mom had said for him to be there.

—————————————————————————

After they got home from the mall, the boys put their things away and then went out to the backyard to help their dad set-up for the barbecue. “What happened to you?” Leo’s dad asked him.

“I was swimming this morning after my run. I guess I drifted out too far without realizing it, and the next thing I knew, a surfboard crashed right into me. It hit my face and my ribs. I’m pretty sore, but I’m ok, dad.” Leo said, hoping his father would believe the story.

“Hmph! Be more careful out there. You could have hurt yourself worse, or hurt the surfer. Pay attention to your surroundings, Leo. Now get the food from your mother. Kam, help your brother and bring the plates out, too.” Their father said.

When the boys came back out with all the food and other supplies for the barbecue, their sister, Allison, came out with them. The boys set the stuff on the picnic table, and Alli began setting it up.

“Nice shiner, big brother,” Allison said.

“Thanks,” Leo said, shaking his head, and repeated to her the same thing that he just told his father.

Alli smirked and whispered, “Matt?”

Leo sighed and shook his head, then motioned for his sister to walk with him. Once they turned the corner of the house, he said, “Come on, Alli, you know dad would freak out. Don’t get me in trouble. Please.”

“Of course not. You should talk to Jazz, though. As much of a dick as he turned out to be, I don’t think he’d want to see you get hurt.” Allison said.

“I know. I’m sure I’ll see Jazz at school. I’ll say something to him. Maybe he’ll keep Matt away from me. I hate asking him for a favor, but maybe it’s the only way.” Leo said. “Anyway, let’s get back before dad gets mad.”

—————————————————————————-

After dinner, Leo told his mom that he was going to go for a walk on the beach. As he was about to leave the house, Kam caught up to him. “Hey, Leo, want me to come with?”

“Nah, bro. I’m just going to take a walk and chill out for a bit. I’m not going too far.” Leo blushed and smiled. “Maybe just as far as the lighthouse.”

“Ah-ha! Ok, bro. Have fun! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” Kam laughed.

“Well, that leaves my options wide open!” Leo clapped his brother on the shoulder and turned and left the house. He jogged across the street and leaped over the fence onto the beach like he’d down a million times before, this time though he winced in pain when he landed. Mentally cursing himself for his stupidity, he turned and started walking up the beach towards the lighthouse, hoping to see Charlie.

About halfway to the lighthouse, Leo saw a lone figure standing at the edge of the water, throwing rocks into the sea. He looked close to make sure it wasn’t Matt, but it wasn’t. It was Charlie. Leo walked up behind the other boy. Leo saw a look of intense concentration on Charlie’s face, apparently lost in his thoughts and not paying attention to his surroundings. Leo leaned in close. “Hey, gorgeous. You come here often.”

Charlie jumped and spun around. “Leo! You scared the crap out of me!” Charlie clutched at his heart, took a deep breath, and then laughed. “I didn’t think I would see you again until tomorrow. How did I get so lucky?”

Leo shrugged and smiled. “I guess I wanted to see you again tonight. I can’t stay long, though. It’s already late and tomorrow is the first day of school. Walk with me back towards my house?”

“I’m glad you came. I wanted to see you again, too. Yeah, let’s walk.” Charlie held out his hand towards Leo. Leo took Charlie’s hand, and the two walked back towards Leo’s house, hand in hand.

About halfway there they heard someone yell from off to their right. “Hey! Hey, guys! Wait a minute!”

Leo cringed and nearly hid behind Charlie before he realized that the voice did not belong to Matt. He turned and saw a boy about his own age running from the beach parking lot toward where he and Charlie stood.

The boy ran up and stopped right in front of Leo. “Thanks for waiting. I… I’m kinda lost.” The boy huffed out a laugh. “We just moved here a couple days ago, and I was out walking around the neighborhood and now I don’t know where my street is. Can you guys send me in the right direction for Spruce Street?” The boy ran a hand through his short, sandy brown hair. He looked at Leo, but then he blushed and looked down, unable to maintain eye contact.

Leo smiled and blushed a little. This guy was cute as hell, but Leo was standing here holding hands with Charlie. Nearly seven months of being single and then me meets two cuties on the same day. What’re the odds?! Leo cleared his throat. “Uh, go back through that parking lot that you were just in then take a left. Take your first right and then a left. Spruce will be the second left. It’s actually only one street away from where I live. Welcome to the neighborhood! My name is Leo.”

“Thanks, Leo. I’m Reese. Maybe I’ll see you at school. Have a good night!” And with that, Reese turned and ran back toward the parking lot, disappearing into the growing darkness.

Leo and Charlie walked in silence for a while, each casting quick glances at the other before Charlie finally cleared his throat, breaking the silence. “So, are you excited for senior year? Have you decided on a college yet?”

“Yes, for the first question, and no for the second one. I’m still not sure what I want to do with my life. Probably business management, but my dad is trying to push me into something science related. Everything in my life is just so confusing right now. That’s why I’ve started running every morning with my brother. It’s really the only time that I can focus and think things through. I’m even considering trying out for cross country or track. Kam is, too. He’s going to be a freshman this year, so this is the perfect time for him to get involved. They might not want a senior who has never really run before.” Leo shrugged.

“That would be so cool if you both make the team! I’m sure you can do it. Is that what you were doing on the beach this morning? Training?”

“Yeah. We were running on the beach, but I stopped to rest, and Kam went on ahead. That’s why I was alone when Matt found me.”

“That dude was a jerk. I’m glad I showed up when I did.”

Before they knew it, they were at the fence across from Leo’s house. The sun was just setting, and it was dusk but not dark.

“I guess this is my stop.” Leo looked up into Charlie’s dark eyes; Charlie was a good three inches taller. “I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess. I’ll text you when I get home, and you can tell me what your plans are.”

“That sounds great. I’ll make sure that I have some free time to meet up.” Charlie leaned in, very close to Leo.

Leo leaned back and felt his back press firmly against the fence. Charlie was so close that Leo could feel his body heat. “O-ok. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Charlie leaned in even closer. He thought about kissing Leo, then chickened out at the last minute. Charlie wasn’t sure how far either of them wanted this to go, knowing that he was leaving in just a few days.

Leo sighed, still looking up at Charlie. “I have to go.” He leaned in and gave the other boy a quick hug. “Good night! See you tomorrow!” This time Leo went around the fence instead of jumping over it and headed back home as Charlie turned and started walking back towards the lighthouse, smiling like an idiot.

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?”

Running Toward Love (Prequel)

Prequel – 4 Steps to Freedom

Leo Kennedy hated family picnics, and the annual Memorial Day picnic at his grandparent’s house was always the worst, in his opinion. At least this year the weather was beautiful, eighty-four degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Last year it rained, and everyone was jammed together inside the house. He scanned the crowd of relatives, looking for his brother Kameron, but he didn’t see him anywhere.

Leo grabbed a bottle of water out of the cooler and jumped over the porch railing, heading for the edge of the yard. If he couldn’t find Kam, he just wanted to be left alone. He was about to sit down when he noticed someone else sitting by themselves just staring off into the distance. Leo thought for a moment then picked up his chair and strolled over to where the man was seated. He set his lawn chair down next to the older man and sat down. “Hey, Uncle Kai, nice day, isn’t it?”

Kai took off his sunglasses and made a show of looking all around and behind his nephew. “You look like my nephew Leo, but he usually has two shadows close at his heels. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him by himself before.”

Leo snorted with laughter. “Jazz had to go to his own family picnic, and I’m not sure where Kam disappeared to. I’m by myself, sometimes.”

“Jasper is a very close friend, isn’t he?” Kai asked with a raised eyebrow.

Leo blushed. “We’ve been best friends since the first day of kindergarten and sophomore year is over in two weeks! So, yeah, we’re pretty close.”

“Leo, I want you to know that you can come to me any time and ask me anything. Even things that your parents may not be willing to understand.”

“I know, Uncle Kai. Thank you.” Leo squirmed in his seat and then looked back at his uncle. “Uncle Kai, how come grandma won’t even mention your friend’s name. The one that died in the war. Today is Memorial Day, a day to remember people like that. The family knew him. Shouldn’t we celebrate him most of all?”

Tears stung Kai’s eyes. “I celebrate him every single day, Leo.”

“He was your best friend, wasn’t he?”

The beginnings of a smile formed on Kai’s face. “Yes, Leo, he was my best friend.”

“Was he,” Leo hesitated, “was he more than your best friend?”

“He was much more than my best friend. He was the love of my life. He was my hero long before he was a hero to the country. He won me my own freedom, then all too soon he went off to Kuwait and Iraq to win others their freedom.”

“What do you mean he won you your freedom? Freedom from what?”

“Freedom from your grandmother. I’m sure you can see how she is. You are a brilliant boy for sixteen, Leo. After your father moved out, your grandmother monopolized all my time. She wanted me with her always. Anytime that anyone got close, she tried to push them away. Doug was the only one who stuck by me, and it was only because of him that I managed to get out from under her thumb. That’s why she still hates him to this day, even though he’s been dead for twenty-eight years.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean about grandma. I love her, but she is a bit overbearing. How did he help you, though? Why does she hate him so much?”

“You say she’s overbearing? That doesn’t even begin to describe how she was when I was your age. She had me scared of everything. Fear was my constant companion, especially fear of change. Any sort of change sent me into extreme anxiety attacks. Doug was the only one who could pull me out of it. By the time that I was eighteen, I knew that the only way for me to have a normal life was to get out of this house. She tried to make me stay, but thoughts of Doug pushed me forward through my fear. Let me tell you a story, Leo. The story of the day that I finally moved out of this very house. The day that Doug won his first battle and gained me my freedom.

The door was open, but fear held Kai in place.  He needed to go through the door.  Four steps, only four steps. He just needed the courage to make his feet take those last four steps.

Fear gnawed away at Kai Kennedy’s very soul, infecting almost everything in his life.  Now, finally, on the verge of freedom, he was even scared of not being scared anymore.  He was used to the fear.  Change is what had him scared now.  Change of any kind was a frightening prospect for Kai. 

Kai’s life had been almost entirely without change for nearly all his eighteen years.  Kai lived with his mother.  He knew his mother loved him, but it was an over-bearing, jealous love.  Kai’s mother craved attention.  She needed all of Kai’s attention.  All of Kai’s love.  If he gave love or attention to anyone or anything else, it sent his mother into a rage.  So, Kai gave his mother the care she needed.  He didn’t go out with friends, he didn’t date, he didn’t do much of anything except spend time with his mother. 

Kai’s thoughts returned to his present situation.  The doorway.  He still wasn’t any closer to it than he had been ten minutes ago.  He knew a different life waited for him outside that door.  He wanted that life, but he was scared to leave this one.  It’s not that he liked the life he was living; it’s just that he was used to it.  It was comfortable.  Kai smiled for a minute.  The reasons he thought of as positive were precisely the reasons that Doug told him he needed to change it.  It was Doug that made Kai smile now.  It was Doug that gave Kai the strength to consider this change.  Thoughts of Doug made Kai smile again, and he took a step towards the door.

Three more steps now and he’d be free, just three more steps.

 Kai couldn’t see through the doorway for some reason.  It was just darkness where the doorway should have been even though the door was open, and it was the middle of the afternoon.  Kai was beginning to feel light headed and dizzy from all the emotions raging through his heart and mind.  His thoughts drifted back to his mother.

There had been plenty of good times between Kai and his mother.  They had a lot of fun together over the years.  He laughed when he remembered some of the family gatherings.  He loved his family, especially his mom.  He just wished she would let him love other people as well.  When Kai would get close to someone, his mother would grow angry and try to destroy the relationship.  She would try to fill Kai’s mind with any fault she could find with the other person.  If that didn’t work, she would just use up so much of Kai’s time doing things for her that the other person would grow tired of it and go away on their own.  The exception to this was Doug.  Doug had stayed by Kai’s side through thick and thin.  Doug wouldn’t allow Kai’s mother to drive him away.  Kai’s mother hated Doug because of that, but Kai wouldn’t listen to her about him.  The thought of his mother’s hatred of the one thing he loved angered Kai, and he took another step forward.

Two more steps now, just two more steps.   

Kai loved his mother… and hated her at the same time if that was possible.  He loved her for all the good things she had brought into his life.  She had brought him up well and taught him a lot, but she had also sheltered him from the rest of the world.  Kai didn’t believe that she did it on purpose. She craved the attention and felt she deserved it.  She told him she had given up a lot for him, and she expected him to do the same for her.  Kai had done just that.  He had been made fun of all through school because he was so different from everybody else.  He was always off by himself and didn’t get involved in any activities with anyone else.  That was until Doug came into his life.  Doug talked Kai into doing things.  Not terrible things, just things that a kid like Kai should have been doing all along.  Things like going to Prom.  That’s when Kai’s mother’s dislike of Doug became pure hatred.  She could sense that Kai was drifting away from her.  She started trying to drive a wedge between Kai and Doug, but by now it was already too late.  Her meddling in their relationship just drove Kai closer to Doug instead of the other way around.  Now, two months later, a moving van stood packed in the driveway, packed with all of Kai’s things.  Kai was moving out of his mother’s house and into his own apartment.  An apartment he would share with Doug.  Kai’s mother told him that if he did that that she would never want to see him again.  She thought that he would change his mind. He didn’t.  He cried at the things his mother said to him and about him, but he felt she would reconsider after she calmed down.  Her threats only made him surer of his decision.  He cleared his head and came back to the present again.  He took another step towards the doorway.

One more step now, only one more step.

Kai’s mother was screeching in the background. “Kai, you will be sorry if you go with him!  Don’t leave me!  He won’t be there for you like I always am, Kai! You’re making a mistake! Don’t go to him!”

Just as Kai thought he couldn’t take that last step, a hand reached through the doorway.  Kai smiled.  He would recognize that hand anywhere.  Kai could have grasped that hand and let himself be pulled through the door, but Kai knew for his own peace of mind that he needed to take the last step by himself.  Knowing who was on the other side, waiting for him to step through was all the help he needed.  Kai took a deep breath, looked back one last time, and then stepped through the doorway.

As soon as he was on the other side of the door, Kai felt a huge weight lift from his shoulders.  The stress of the moment overcame him, and Kai felt himself grow weak, the world around him started to go dim.  Kai started to fall, but he never hit the ground.  He felt himself being carried down the steps and away from the house.  Kai looked up and saw the face of his best friend, his boyfriend, Doug.  Kai knew he was safe.  His last thought before he allowed himself to drift off was that his life would never be the same.  Kai wasn’t scared anymore.  Kai Kennedy was finally free.

Leo had tears streaming down his face. “Uncle Kai, that was a beautiful story, and Doug should be celebrated just for that even if he hadn’t ever gone to war.”

Kai patted his nephew’s hand. “Thank you for saying that, Leo, but I think you know that most in this family would not agree.”

Leo blushed. “I know. It really sucks. You don’t think my dad would accept a relationship like that, do you?”

Kai struggled to find the right words. “The look in his eyes, even today, when I mention Doug tells me that he probably wouldn’t. Times are a lot different now than they were in 1986 when I was your age. Even if you don’t feel that you can tell your dad yet, there must be people you can talk to.”

Leo’s eyes grew wide. “Me? What makes you think that I’m asking these questions because of me?”

Kai rolled his eyes. “I’m old, but I’m not dead. Even before we started talking today, I suspected. I see the way you and Jasper look at each other. It reminds me so much of Doug and me. Are you two, uh, are you two a couple?”

Now Leo was really blushing. “No! Nothing like that!” He shrugged. “Not yet, anyway. We have talked about it. A lot. And Uncle Kai, you’re not old!”

Kai chuckled. “At sixteen, I definitely considered forty-eight old but thank you for saying that.”

“You’re the coolest adult I know, Uncle Kai. You’re not gonna tell anyone about me, are you?”

“Of course not. No one should ever be outed against their will by someone else. I do suggest you find someone that you trust to tell. Maybe your brother or your sister?”

“Definitely not Allison. Maybe Kam. I can trust him.”

“Speak of the devil. There he is now.”

Kam waved from the other side of the yard. Leo grinned. “I should go check on him before he gets himself into trouble. Thanks for the talk, Uncle Kai. I’m glad you know. Your friend Doug was a true hero. Happy Memorial Day!”

Kai Kennedy wiped the tears from his eyes as he watched Leo race across the yard. Tears of sadness at the memory of his lost love, but also tears of joy at the bright future he sensed for his young nephew.