The Rest Of Forever

"Babe, come on!" Hayden called, pressing the trunk shut and once again checking his watch. "We need to get going!"

"I'm comin' I'm comin!" Isaac ran out the apartment door, slamming and locking it behind him. "It's not like we're catchin' a flight or nothing."

"I know, but it's a six hour drive and I want to get an early start."

"It's more like four hours," Isaac reminded him, taking the keys from his boyfriend.

"Yeah, with the way you drive." Hayden ducked his head in the back seat to fasten the remaining bags inside. "If you get another ticket, your license is gonna get taken."

"If I get two more tickets," Isaac corrected. "And you know you can't lecture me all bent over like that." Hayden smirked, wiggling his ass from side to side and emitting a playful groan from his boyfriend. "Careful, darlin' you'll get me all hot and bothered."

Hayden ducked out of the car, kissing Isaac's lips briefly, loving that he was only slightly taller than Hayden. Isaac leaned forward to deepen the kiss, but Hayden smacked his chest lightly. "We gotta hit the road, cowboy."

Hayden was surprised that his boyfriend was only ten over the speed limit for most of the journey. Not that he minded; he was way too wound up about seeing his brother and everyone again. He hadn't seen them since Christmas.

Isaac smiled at him around his black wraparound sunglasses. "Excited?" he asked playfully.

"How much you wanna bet Em went through another growth spurt?" Hayden asked. His eyes followed a billboard. "That kid just keeps growing!" He leaned back against his headrest and watched his boyfriend drive, occasionally tapping his fingers on the wheel in time with the music.

It had been nearly eight years since Hayden graduated high school, nearly eight years since he left home. Nearly eight years since losing Seth.

Seth Elsen was not a person on Hayden's mind much these days. In all honesty, he had gotten over his death years ago, after what felt like a lifetime of depression and hopelessness. He still wondered how he got through his first year of art school without a nervous breakdown.

Every day after arriving in LA felt like he was going through the motions of life, never experiencing it, wondering how long it would be before he could genuinely laugh and smile again, missing his brother and his friends and most of all, Seth. So he did what he'd always done in the face of tragedy; he threw himself into his school work and passed every single class with flying colors.

He'd had one serious boyfriend between Seth and Isaac, Reese Turner. It had been three years after Seth died, and had lasted for all of eight months when Reese went into the peace corps and moved to South America for seventeen months. Hayden had been heartbroken, but tried to remain understanding of Reese's choices. Other than him, he had kept to casually seeing other people, occasionally sleeping with some, but not getting into anything too deep.

He met Isaac two and a half years ago at his friend Cece's birthday. She introduced them and Hayden had been struck with his bright green eyes and freckled nose and dark blond hair. He was nothing short of beautiful. Isaac Lahman was one of the most wonderful human beings he'd met in a long while. He had this sunshine about him that managed to lift his mood even in the lowest of times.

Isaac had grown up in Dallas, but moved to California at age fifteen. He still had a slight accent, to Hayden's delight. It especially came out when he was really angry or really turned on. Hayden usually saw the latter. Isaac was never one to lose his temper; he was a kind spirit, a real humanitarian.

"What're you staring at?" Isaac asked with a laugh. The February sun reflected off the half-melted snow, illuminating his dark blond hair.

"Just the guy I'm in love with." Hayden loved how red he could turn Isaac with just a few words. "He's in that convertible over there with a golden retriever."

Isaac laughed, his freckled nose crinkling. "You are gonna pay for that one later, darlin'."

"Ooh, can't wait." Hayden settled into his seat and turned up the radio, greatly anticipating returning home.

Hayden was barely out of the car before the sound of the screen door banging heard, followed by a scream, followed by a little, dark haired figure tackling his leg.

"Uncle Hayden!" Emmett James screamed, wrapping his little body around Hayden's leg.

"Hey, Squirt!" Hayden scooped his young nephew up and hugged him tight, surprised that the boy really did seem to have gone through a growth spurt since Christmas.

"What'd you bring me?" the boy immediately demanded, looking eagerly over his shoulder into the car with his enormous blue eyes.

"Emmett!" Leo came jogging out of the house. "I told you to wait for your mother."

Hayden passed Emmett off to Isaac and embraced his brother. "Welcome home, kid," the older man said.

"What'd you bring me?" the little boy asked Isaac, who laughed and tickled him under his armpit.

"Guess you'll have to wait and see, buddy."

"C'mon inside," Leo said smilingly. "You gotta see how big Marie's getting!"

"Because somehow I missed the four pictures of her you sent me on the drive here," Hayden said. Leo ignored the dig and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, leading the two younger men inside.

"Leeds, look who's here!"

Hayden's sister-in-law, Leda, turned from the banner she was hanging on the wall, face turning to a wide smile. "Hayden!" She held her arms out for a hug. Hayden paused.

"You have a baby strapped to your chest, sweetie," Leo reminded her, taking his son and setting him on the ground.

Leda looked down. She carefully extracted her infant daughter and handed her to Leo, opening her arms for a hug, which Hayden accepted.

"How ya doin', Leeds?"

"I'm doing great." She pulled away and spun around. "I lost nine pounds this month." She looked over Hayden's shoulder, to where Isaac was hiding behind him, and smiled. "You just gonna stand there or are you gonna give me a hug?"

Hayden touched his boyfriend's arm and gave him a reassuring smile, remembering the intimidation the former cowboy felt around the ball buster that was his lawyer sister-in-law. She pulled him into a fierce hug and, being the demon that she tended to be, smacked him on the ass, making him jump.

"Yep, could still bounce a nickel off that thing," she said smilingly.

"Hayden..." Isaac said.

"Oh, there's my favorite little niece!" Hayden scooped the almost six month old baby out of Leo's arms. "How are you, Marie?"

The little baby squirmed in his arms, gurgling happily at the sight of him. Hayden kissed the top of her forehead, nuzzling his nose in the downy hair that was starting to turn reddish like her mother.

"Aww, she missed you," Leo said in his obnoxious baby voice. After Emmett was born, his older brother had spoken like that almost twenty-four-seven. Leda had to threaten to leave him to make him stop. And for a while he did... until Marie was born six months ago. Then it was all baby talk all the time. Hayden had asked Leo when Emmett was six weeks old how it felt to be a dad. Leo had just smiled and said he'd felt like a dad since Hayden was nine years old.

"You guys wanna drop your stuff off in Emmett's room?" Leda asked. Isaac looked at Hayden.

"Uh, we actually got a hotel room," Hayden said. "You guys have your hands full with Marie."

"What?" Leo asked, a bit disappointed. "C'mon bud, you always stay here."

"It's not like we're gonna miss the party, Leo," Hayden assured him, touching Isaac's back.

"But we really should check in soon," Isaac insisted, which Hayden took to mean that he needed to use the bathroom and relax. He didn't blame him, six hours behind the wheel would wear anyone out.

"You gonna be back for dinner later?" Leda asked, hands on her slim hips.

"Of course," Hayden said.

"Can I go with you, Uncle Hayden?" Emmett asked, hugging Hayden around the middle. Hayden ruffled his dark curls, so much like Leo's, and smiled down at him. Every time he left this kid in any way, it got harder and harder. Because God knew Emmett adored his uncle's visits.

"We'll be back real soon, Squirt," Hayden told the almost five year old. "And we'll have dinner and watch movies later."

"C'mon, Em, wanna help dad finish setting up for your party tomorrow?" Leo asked. Emmett pulled away from Hayden and darted past his dad into the kitchen. Leo smiled at his brother and mouthed "Later", which Hayden reciprocated.

"That shower is awesome!" Isaac said as he exited the bathroom in a cloud of steam.

"Feel better?" Hayden asked from his book. Isaac crossed to the suitcases and unzipped it.

"Woulda been better if you had joined me." Isaac pouted as he pulled the towel off his head and tossed it toward the hamper.

"I showered before we left, remember?"

"That never stopped you before, darlin'," Isaac shimmied into his boxers and jeans. Hayden stuck his tongue out and returned his gaze back to his book. Isaac sat beside him on the bed and kissed his cheek. "You happy to be back home?" he asked softly.

Hayden leaned his head against his. "As long as you're with me, I'm always home, cowboy."

"You're so cheesy." Isaac kissed his cheek again. "Save it for Valentine's day."

"So five more days?" Hayden scooted across the bed and Isaac hopped beside him, resting his chin on his shoulder.

"What're we reading?" Isaac asked.

"History of Latin American Folk Art."

"Oh. Fun." Isaac reached for the remote. "Mind if I watch TV?"

"Go ahead."

Hayden returned to reading as Isaac flipped through the movies, his bright green eyes lighting up. "Forrest Gump is on!" He settled back into the pillows. "Oh, don't laugh."

"Sorry, your obsession with Tom Hanks is amusing." Hayden remembered Isaac absolutely gushing about his love for the actor on their first date, having seen every single one of his movies, talking about how many awards Tom had, everything. It had gone on for almost ten minutes before he stopped with a blush and shyly apologized. Hayden was far too smitten already to even care. It had been too long since he'd felt such a way.

But on their second date, Isaac had insisted they watch Saving Private Ryan, a movie, among many, that Hayden had been avoiding. He made it about ten minutes in before the panic attack hit him and Isaac stopped the movie. He'd smoothed it over by saying graphic stuff like that freaked him out, not ready to tell the sexy cowboy the real reason.

They had been together exactly fourteen months before Hayden told him about Seth. The look on Isaac's face, and the tears in his eyes were something Hayden knew he'd never forget. It was the first time Hayden had spoken of Seth's death with anyone besides his brother or Mira and Cameron. Isaac had held him and whispered his love in Hayden's ear.

Hayden's eyes landed on his boyfriend and smiled as he mouthed the lines of the movie. He closed the book and rested his head against Isaac's, playing with the hand Isaac splayed on his chest.

Dinner that night was wonderful. Leda had cooked nothing short of a feast of delicious gourmet food. Next to being an amazing lawyer, Leda was also quite a chef. For what felt like the millionth time, Hayden was so grateful she and Leo had found one another.

Hayden spent the whole dinner watching Isaac interact with his little family, recounting all the time he spent with Isaac's enormous family of both mother and father and four brothers and two sisters and countless cousins and nieces and nephews. Everything just felt so much lighter when he was home, when he was around his family, even when he was around Isaac's family. Even around Leda's side of the family.

After dinner, Hayden sat on the floor and played games with Emmett while Isaac read a baby book to Marie. Leo and Leda cuddled on the couch and watched TV. Hayden had taken several photos of his boyfriend holding his niece, Emmett playing with his toys, Leo and Leda stealing kisses, Marie giggling every now and then.

"Uncle Hayden." Emmett passed Hayden a red remote control car. "Did you get me a blue one for my birthday?"

"You'll have to wait until tomorrow, squirt." Hayden tickled his ribcage. "You excited to be five?" Emmett nodded, his dark curls flopping around his head. He needed a haircut, he looked so much like Leo that it was almost scary at times. Hayden kissed the top of his head, making Emmett squirm away, rubbing his head. Hayden laughed, this kid might outgrow the typical phase of 'cooties' one day, but today was not that day.

"So do you two think you'll have anymore kids?" Isaac asked, bouncing Marie on his knee.

"Sure," Leda said. "If Leo carries them."

"Would if I could, baby." Leo puckered his lips and Leda rolled her eyes and kissed him. Isaac smiled over at Hayden.

"Babies are just the best," he said, waving Marie's arms.

"She smells really bad a lot, though," Emmett said, wrinkling his nose.

"Emmett," Leda chided.

"She does!" Hayden laughed and scruffed the kid's hair. And soon everyone was laughing.

"She gets cuter everytime!" Isaac said, laying out on their hotel bed.

"She really does. And Emmett is just so smart." Hayden sat on the bed beside him. "Can't believe he's already five."

Isaac scooted behind him and kissed his arm. "I know you miss them."

Hayden sighed. "It's just hard to not see them all the time." He wrapped his arm around Isaac and nuzzled his hair.

"You know," Isaac said. "We could always move here." Hayden turned his head. "I'm serious."

"No, you're not." Hayden laughed. "You have an animal clinic to run, remember?"

"They have animal clinics here."

"And I have art shows to curate in LA."

"They have art shows here."

"Isaac," Hayden said, kissing his temple. "You really are too good to be true, sometimes."

"Does that mean you'll think about it?"

"It does."

"C'mooooooon," Isaac whined. "Cowboy needs his cuddles!"

"It won't take that long, I'll be back soon." Hayden zipped his jacket and tugged his beanie on his head.

"But you'll be cold." Isaac pouted and laid back on the pillows.

Hayden sat on the bed and touched his boyfriend's bare chest. "I'll give you lots of cuddles later, cowboy, I promise."

Isaac pout softened and he placed his hand on top of Hayden's. "Be careful, okay, darlin'?"

"I will." They shared a brief kiss, but it was enough to nearly make Hayden rethink this. But he stood and left the hotel room, taking the elevator down to his car, and left for his drive.

The high school was first, as usual. Hayden drove past it, watching the large

"Brennan High School. Home Of The Bulldogs" sign pass in his headlights. Hayden could see the gym, and stared at it only a moment before driving off to his next destination.

Ten minutes later, he was driving past Mira's house. There were no cars in her driveway, her parents having parked in the garage, and the house was dark. Hayden heard from Mira every now and then, but she was on tour in Japan right now, so he didn't expect to hear from her anytime soon. He let the years worth of memories in that house wash over him before leaving.

Cameron's house was next. He and Dylan tied the knot last year, after nearly nine years together. Mira had slapped a fifty in Hayden's palm as soon as the final "I Do" had been spoken. Hayden wasn't super surprised that the two of them made it to the aisle. It was a wonderful love story of high school sweethearts. And Hayden would have been lying if he said that the whole thing didn't upset him just a bit, even with Isaac sitting beside him at the wedding. But now they were married in Chicago, living their wonderful, successful lives.

Being around Dylan and Cameron and Mira brought back so many memories, and it had taken Hayden almost a year after Seth died to see them again.

Hayden had spent years skipping his next destination on his "drives"; Seth's house. It still looked the same, big, expensive, well kept lawn, clean, just like in the days when Hayden would sneak around to the backyard. This was as far as Hayden had gone since the day they cleaned out Seth's little guest house. Word around town was the guest house had been torn down after Seth's mother had been found dead on its floor.

Hayden remembered getting that call from his brother, telling him that Carolyn Ramsey had overdosed in her son's former home on the second anniversary of his death. Hayden supposed the grief had gotten to her, leading her to take the same path as her son. He'd been sad, because she had a young daughter from her second husband, making that two children she'd created that had to live without a mother.

His final stop had once been his first stop; the cemetery. That stop, Hayden had taken in strides. At first, he used to sit at Seth's grave with Cujo, lay a flower down, and stay and talk for hours to the large piece of marble, telling his former lover of his life and everything going on in it. Then after a while, the visits became half an hour, then ten minutes. And when Cujo died of old age five years ago, Hayden had the animal cremated and his ashes were spread over Seth's grave before the wind took them away. Hayden remembered Seth's adoration for the dog, and hoped that somewhere out there, they were together again.

It was after Cujo's death that the visits became much more brief. And as more time went on, Hayden stopped bringing a flower, then he stopped talking to the headstone, then he didn't even get out of the car in the parking lot. And now he just drove by and tried to remember which one of the endless rows of white marble could be his. And Hayden wondered how much longer it would be before he would be driving past the cemetery, and not even glance over or realize he passed it.

The roads were deserted, so Hayden just parked in the middle of the street and looked out the passenger window.

He sat there longer than usual, letting his thoughts wander. It had been a while since he's spent so much time near the graveyard. But with everything that was going on, he just wanted a place to think.

Headlights shone in her rearview mirror, so Hayden took the car out of park and drove back to the hotel.

It was after midnight that Hayden got home, officially February tenth, officially Emmett's birthday. Isaac was sleeping the way he always did, sprawled across the middle of the bed like a starfish and snoring softly. Hayden closed the door with a small click and unzipped his jacket, tossing that and his beanie on the chair beside the muted TV showing some old western. Hayden flipped it off and took his suitcase in the bathroom where he could change without disturbing Isaac. He emerged minutes later, changed and with freshly brushed teeth, setting his suitcase on the floor.

Hayden paused before getting into bed to smile down at his southern lover, brushing his fingertips along his cheek. Isaac mumbled in his sleep, smacking his lips. Hayden chuckled and pulled his hand back. He crouched in front of his suitcase and opened the front zipper, pulling out his bag of colored pencils. It was the only place he knew Isaac would never look.

He shook the little velvet box out and opened it slowly, staring at the two simple silver rings inside, gleaming in the moonlight from the partially open curtains. He traced his finger over the bands, smiling as Isaac again spoke in his sleep, sounding extra southern in his dreamland.

"Four more days," Hayden whispered, closing the box again and stashing it back in the pencil case.

He crawled into bed beside Isaac, lifting the covers and draping an arm over Isaac's middle. Isaac snuggled up to him, groaning sleepily, as the assumed their usual sleeping position. Hayden rested his face into his neck, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes.

It had taken Hayden what felt like many lifetimes to reach this point, struggling through the death of his parents and the death of his boyfriend, he never saw himself getting to the point where he could say with absolute certainty that he was in love and happy. That even when life felt like it was collapsing in on him because he missed Seth so much, he could still get up and move on. Life goes on. And no matter what, life would go on forever.

And he knew who he wanted to spend the rest of his forever with.

And that's all folks! I would like to thank everyone who read Unexpected and reviewed and supported me through it. I am immensely proud of these stories, and I hope you have all enjoyed reading them!

Read and Review!