Tyler woke up in Luke's guest room next to Kenny and inwardly groaned. There was going to be some parental backlash when he got home. Deciding to deal with that later, he moved closer to Kenny, who was sleeping on his stomach and already had an arm around him.
For a few minutes, Tyler lounged on the bed and listened to Kenny's breathing. Asleep and with all of his muscles relaxed, he was the most attractive Tyler had ever seen him. His hair was a mess and he badly needed to shave, but the lack of effort was refreshing on a guy who usually looked like he stepped right out of a GQ magazine. He stirred, as if he were protesting Tyler's thought that he looked better without all the primping.
"Hey," Tyler whispered, "Kenny, wake up."
He grumbled and turned his head. Tyler sighed and began gently rubbing his back and shoulders. "C'mon, get up."
Kenny muttered something, but it was unintelligible.
"What was that?"
He cleared his throat. "I said, 'You're magic,' because you obviously just read my mind. I haven't seen my masseuse since I left Seattle."
"You have a regular masseuse?"
"Modeling isn't as easy as some people may think. I spend many hours at spas and salons. It's horrible," Kenny said, his voice light and joking.
Tyler smiled. "I can tell you haven't been. You're all tense."
Kenny turned back to face Tyler and grinned deviously. "You know what relieves tension?"
"No," Tyler replied sarcastically.
"Oh, come on. Lighten up," Kenny urged, "You know so many facts about kissing and heartbeats, I figured you'd have to know some about sex."
"Some say male bats have the highest rate of homosexuality," Tyler offered.
Kenny snorted. "I was hoping you knew something about humans."
"Calm yourself, tiger. We have stuff to do today."
"What kind of stuff?"
"Shopping stuff. You said something about a webcam?"
They opted to do the shopping online, and when they were done, Tyler felt a little bit better. However, he still had to go home at some point. Around nine, he borrowed Kenny's cell phone and called his dad.
"Hi, Tyler. Where were you last night?"
"I stayed over at Luke's. Sorry I forgot to call."
"Try to remember next time."
Tyler felt his jaw drop. Was his father being civil? Why?
"Listen, Tyler, Patty and I want you to have Kenny come with you to dinner tonight." Tyler would have sworn he could hear his father's teeth grinding.
Tyler felt his heart skip a beat. He stopped himself from asking why. "Uh...I think we can do that."
"All right. See you then."
Tyler handed Kenny his cell phone with a puzzled look on his face.
"What?" Kenny asked.
"My dad wants you to come to dinner tonight."
"Why?" Kenny demanded, immediately defensive.
"I don't know," Tyler admitted.
"And you want to go? It could get bad again."
"I think this is his way of taking a step forward."
"You don't know that, Honey."
"I don't really know anything, do I? We'll just have to go and see."
Six o'clock came more quickly than Tyler would have liked, and he practically drug Kenny to his house. Before opening the door Tyler reminded him, "You still have to be civil no matter what."
"If you say so," Kenny affirmed.
"Don't walk in all pissed off. This could be a good thing," Tyler pleaded; he was hoping for a miracle, he knew, but he couldn't help but hope.
Figuring that was the best he was going to get, Tyler took a deep breath and opened the door. Immediately he was washed over by the familiar sound of his brothers yelling and fighting. It was oddly comforting.
"Tyler?" Patty called, "Come in here and help with dinner!"
Tyler took a step forward but was unsure of whether she wanted Kenny to come in or not. As if he were psychic, Brax bounded down the stairs and called, "Hey, guys! Wanna play some video games?"
"I'm going to help Patty in the kitchen," Tyler said. Then to Kenny, "You go."
He nodded and followed Brax, who was happy to have someone to play with, Tyler was sure. Dell was at the local college, preparing for his final football season, and hadn't had much time to go 'noob hunting' with his brother on their online first person shooters.
Tyler walked into the kitchen like land mines were hidden under the tiles. Patty stood at the stove stirring something.
"Cut the vegetables," Patty ordered without greeting her stepson. He did. "Listen up. Your dad and I aren't happy about your...choices, but your mother has convinced him that he can't do anything about it. We still think the best thing for you is to move out but he's still a little upset about it and he'd like to pretend like nothing's wrong and have a nice family dinner."
"What are you trying to say?" Tyler deadpanned.
"I'm trying to ask you to go easy on your Dad. He loves you and he's trying but he's never going to approve of...this. You'll both have to find a happy medium."
"Then what is Kenny doing here? Why did he invite him?" Tyler demanded, cutting through the vegetables with a bit too much force.
"I told you...he's trying. He thinks that there's something that either he isn't seeing or you aren't and he's hoping to figure it out before you leave. He doesn't realize that you're different," Patty stopped stirring. "You have too much of your mother in you. Too much youth. She never grew out of it and neither will you. Your father is a grounded, sensible man and you're...fanciful."
Tyler put his knife down. "I don't have too much of my mother; he's had too much of you. You're a cancer."
He walked out of the room.
Dinner was delicious, but the air over the table was tense. Tyler's younger brothers tried to lighten it up, but failed with each attempt. The conversation was forced, and centered mostly around Dell and how his training was going.
When that subject was exhausted, Mr. James looked up from his plate for the first time that night and directly at Kenny. "So, Kenny, you just graduated, didn't you? What are you planning to do?"
Kenny smiled smoothly, and Tyler was impressed once again by his charm. He replied, "I think I'll continue to model for a while."
"Modeling? You're a model? For what?" Patty demanded, her voice unbelieving and accusatory.
Kenny laughed. "Whatever my agent can get me. Mostly advertisment stuff, but I did a book cover in the fall."
"What book?" Fenton, ever the nerd, asked. His question went unanswered.
"Whatever your agent can get you? Even crude work? There's a lot of that sort of modeling on the internet," Patty persisted.
Kenny frowned. "I've only just turned eighteen; that would be illegal. Besides, Steffany and I have an understanding; I don't want to do that sort of thing. She never even brings it to my attention. If she did, I'm sure my parents would make me fire her."
"Your parents are involved in your career then?" Mr. James cut back in.
"My parents and I are very close. They're involved in nearly every part of my life. My agent is actually the same agent my mother had when she was younger."
Tyler's anger at Patty's rudeness was threatening to boil over, but he still couldn't help but admire Kenny's fluent interview skills.
"So they're aware of your...lifestyle choices?" Mr. James continued, his rock-solid demeanor cracking just a bit.
Everyone at the table sat up a bit straighter.
Kenny's jaw tightened almost imperceptibly. "Of course. Actually, they're planning on flying here before I leave to meet Tyler. Oh, and visit with Luke, of course."
Tyler looked over at Kenny. "Why didn't you tell me that?" he asked under his breath.
"It was supposed to be a surprise, but you know how good I am at keeping secrets."
Tyler stopped himself from rolling his eyes. What a lame-ass excuse.
"How do your parents know Luke?" Patty interjected. "I assume you mean Tyler's friend Luke."
"Yes, the very same. Luke has been my best friend for years Before he moved here, he lived in Seattle and we went to school together. My parents think of him as a second son."
"And Luke is like you?" Mr. James asked.
Again, Kenny's jaw tensed, but his smile never faltered. "Well, he asserts that cheeseburgers are mankind's greatest accomplishment and I'm a vegetarian. But he's gay too, if that's what you meant."
Tyler's heart skipped a beat and he silently hoped that the conversation would go no further.
"And is he seeing someone?" Patty asked, her voice higher than usual. She was expecting a bloodbath.
"Um...yes," Kenny turned to look at Tyler, who had no advice to offer. "He's been seeing Christopher Matthews for about half a year now."
"Christopher Matthews?" Mr. James asked in shock.
"Yes, Dad," Tyler said, beginning to feel the same indignation Kenny was.
"He was your best friend for years..."
"Still is..." Tyler muttered.
"I'd have never guessed..."
"That's the thing that gets people, I suppose," Kenny mused, "Gay people look and act like normal people."
Tyler kicked him under the table. He'd promised civility.
"Maybe you're right," Mr. James said blandly.
Everyone talked about Dell and football for the rest of the dinner.
After spending half an hour steaming on the back patio, Tyler joined Brax and Kenny in the den. They were in the middle of a match and were screaming into microphones at players miles away.
"Bitch! That's a bitch move!" Brax exclaimed.
"Where the hell is everyone getting the grenades?" Kenny demanded, "I'm the only one who doesn't have any grenades!"
Tyler watched them with a look of amusement on his face. It was great to see Brax having fun and better to see Kenny unwinding. Both of them needed a bit more playtime. When the clock ran out, they both threw their hands in the air and high-fived.
Kenny noticed Tyler in his peripherals and smiled at him, not his model smile that he'd been feeding to the James' all night but a real, happy one. "Did you see that?"
"It was fucking awesome!" Brax asserted.
"Yeah, it was," Kenny agreed.
"What time are you planning on leaving?" Tyler changed the subject and took a seat between his boyfriend and his brother.
"It's nine-thirty," Tyler informed him with a grin.
"I dunno then. What time did I tell Luke I'd be back?"
"How should I know?"
"You're supposed to keep track of stuff like that."
"I'm not your assistant."
"Then what the hell am I paying you for?"
Brax chuckled a little uncomfortably. "Maybe you could just crash here tonight."
Kenny frowned. "I don't think your parents will go for that."
"I think it's a good idea," Tyler said, "You sleep in my bed and I'll sleep in yours. Dad won't be able to say anything. You just have fun with my brother. That is, if you're okay with it, Brax."
"Sounds good to me, dude. We can't stop this beasting session now!"
After clearing their plans with his dad, Tyler was ready to go to Luke's and sleep. He was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to curl up in Kenny's bed. Before he could get out the door, though, Jeremiah intercepted him.
"What is it, buddy?"
"Mom says you're moving...is it true?"
Tyler's heart sank. "Y-yeah. I'm going to go live with my mom."
"Because...because she's my mom. I never get to see her," Tyler lied.
"It's because of Kenny isn't it? Because Mom and Dad don't like him."
Tyler sighed, "Yes, Jerry, that's why."
"Well, I like him. Just so you know."
"T-that's great," Tyler forced a smile, even though his heart hurt so badly in that moment, "I like him too."
"You're lucky to have two moms," Jeremiah said with a thoughtful frown, "If Mom and Dad ever get too mad at me, can I come stay with you?"
"They shouldn't get mad at you if you just behave," Tyler assured him.
"You've always been the best and they've always been mad at you the most."
Tyler's jaw dropped. He'd never realized how perceptive his littlest brother really was. He was too young to know all about how Tyler was born out of wedlock, but he picked up on how his parents ostracized him.
"If they ever get too mad at me, I'll need a place to go. Promise I can count on you."
"P-promise," Tyler said, though his mouth was drying up. And he meant it.