III

"And that was the last time you saw him?"

"Yep."

Daniel stood in front of his boyfriend in the kitchen. Bear had a letter in his hand, but he hadn't opened it. It was from Dustin, and it was the reason Bear had just recounted their history to Dan.

"Did he try to get in touch with you?"

Bear nodded.

"He called a few times. I wanted to answer, but I never did. I didn't know what I would have said to him."

Dan let out a breath of air, running a hand through his hair. It caused the green spikes that rested above the more natural black strands to blend together for a moment. He pulled the corner of his bottom lip into his mouth, using his tongue to play with one of the silver hoops that decorated either side. He did that when he was nervous.

Dan pulled out a chair and took a seat next to Bear at the kitchen table. It was dark outside, almost midnight, so the only light came from the lamp affixed to the ceiling, above the table. There were more light fixtures, of course, so he could have made it brighter if he wanted, but he was too focused on Bear to think about it.

"You don't have to read the letter, you know." His voice was quiet, though his lisp was prominent. It made Bear smile, if only a little. "Just because he wrote you, that doesn't mean you have to read what he said. Not if you don't want to. It's your choice."

Bear thought about it. Dan was right - it was his choice. Dustin had nothing to do with it. Once he wrote the letter and sent it out, what happened next was out of his hands.

Dan changed the subject.

"How long did it take you to graduate?"

"Not long, actually," Bear responded. He was a little surprised they had never talked about this before now. It made him realize just how big of an influence Dustin was in his life - Bear didn't like to talk about him with Dan, for fear of causing the man to feel insecure. "I didn't want to think about what happened, so I guess I kind of threw myself into my work. And honestly, it's always been a little easier for me to deal with the dyslexia when I'm not in a public setting, so doing my schooling from home was something of a blessing in disguise."

"Do you know anything about what Dustin's been doing?"

"Yeah, some. He graduated, he became a pastor, and he has a wife and a son."

"He's a pastor?" Dan was surprised at this piece of information.

"It's really not much of a shock," said Bear. "Not if you knew the guy, anyway. He's a youth pastor, so he interacts mostly with kids and teens. He works for the church that our school was involved with. I imagine, once he's old enough, he'll send his son to our school, too, along with any other children he might have."

"So you're really going to read the letter?" asked Dan.

"I think I have to. . ."

Dan made a "go ahead" motion, remaining seated beside his boyfriend. He may not be able to change his past, but he could be here for him in the present.

Bear tore the corner of the envelope, putting his index finger into the tear and pulling it along, to open it the rest of the way. The letter he took out was several pages long, both the front and back of the papers filled with black ink, hastily scrawled. Dan wondered to himself if Dustin's penmanship wasn't very good, or if he had just been writing quickly.

Bear began reading, his lips moving as he did. It was utterly silent in the kitchen for over a half an hour, and Dan watched Bear's face closely, trying to guess from his expressions what Dustin could have possibly written.

After what felt like eons, Bear finally put the letter down on the table and looked at Dan. He still couldn't read his expression.

Dan had dozens of questions - what did the letter say? Was he going to do anything about it? Did Dustin want to start talking to him again? But he didn't want to overwhelm the man, so he started with something less selfish.

"Is there anything I can do?"

"Yes," Bear said with a sigh, dragging the word out, as if it had several more syllables than it actually did.

"Name it."

Bear groaned, but he was smiling as he pushed the letter, with its multiple pages, across the table, to Dan.

"Read this damn thing to me."