“I’m going to put an extra blanket in here just in case it gets cold at night,” Luke said as he stuffed the item into Landon’s already full baby bag. “There’s Tylenol in here in case he gets achy and extra diapers. I swear he has the smallest bladder ever known to man. He goes through so many in a day. Um, let’s see.”
Harold tried to hide his amusement as he watched his son fussing over what to pack. He knew Luke was nervous about letting Landon go; and like any good parent he just wanted to make sure nothing was left to chance.
“I think I know a thing or two about babies, Luke,” he said a twinkle in his clear blue eyes.
“Huh?” Luke looked up from the bag, holding the bottles in his hand, and he blushed. “Oh…I’m sorry, Dad; I just want to make sure you have everything.”
Harold pulled the bag towards him and peeked inside. “Yep, I think we have everything,” he said a moment later, turning to face his grandson who was wiggling in his bouncer. “Don’t you think so, Landon?” The baby laughed and clapped his hands in reply causing Luke to relax a little, a smile crossing his features as well. “Your daddy is just a little nervous,” he confided in the infant. “But he has nothing to worry about does he? You’re going to have a lot of fun with grandpa.”
Luke sighed and shook his head as his dad talked to the baby. It was time for the annual trip to Kentucky to scope out new horses and make trades if possible. Usually Luke made the trip with him, but this year Harold thought it would be a great bonding experience for him and his grandson. Luke wasn’t so much worried about Landon. He was a good baby and he loved his grandfather very much. This experience would be good for the both of them. Luke was more concerned with how he would react to not having his son around, not that he was about to admit that. Laurie was going to be out of town this weekend as well, on a camping trip with Robbie and their classmates. Graham was even out of the house, and it would be the first time he had the whole house to himself and he wasn’t sure what he was going to do.
Luke kissed Landon goodbye and hugged him tight, telling him to be a good boy for his grandfather, before relinquishing him to the older man’s care. Harold shouldered the baby bag and clapped his son on the shoulder. “Do something for yourself this weekend, Luke. Moments like these don’t happen often, especially not once they start walking and talking.”
Luke smiled at the advice and waved at his son as he moved further and further away from him. He closed the door once Harold’s truck was out of sight and leaned against it with his eyes closed. The house was so quiet, almost too quiet and he didn’t particularly like it. He pushed himself off the door and switched on the radio, finding comfort in the music as he started tidying up the living room.
By the evening he had cleaned the entire house from top to bottom, changed the sheets in every room and washed loads upon loads of laundry. He tried settling down to read a book, but he found the silence distracting. After reading over the same paragraph more times than he could count, he sighed and put the book down. He got up from the chair heading for the kitchen. It was time for him to find something else to do.
It was quiet when Graham entered the house at just after 9 pm. He frowned as he looked around the darkened room, usually by this time there was at least a TV blasting or a baby crying. The eerie quiet was unsettling. As he moved further inside he heard faint sounds coming from the kitchen. He was a little surprised to find Luke there humming to himself as he cooked.
“Luke?” he said his tone soft as not to startle the man too much.
“Oh, hey!” Luke said turning away from the stove momentarily. “How was your day?”
“Fine,” Graham replied as he continued to watch Luke. “What are you doing?”
“Making dinner,” Luke replied matter-of-factly.
“But it’s after 9 o’clock,” Graham stated the obvious.
“Have you eaten yet?” Luke asked over his shoulder.
“Then quit complaining and come take a seat,” Luke gestured at the table. “I don’t drink, but there is beer in the fridge if you want some.”
Graham decided that it was best not to question his young host at the moment. “Alright,” he said looking in the refrigerator for the beer. He found one, opened the bottle and took a swig before looking over Luke’s shoulder to see what he was making. “Is that Chicken Alfredo?”
“Yes, completely made from scratch. There’s garlic bread and salad too.” Even as he spoke he looked in the oven and pulled out a pan of fresh bread that smelled heavenly to Graham’s nose.
Graham set his beer down on the counter and washed his hands before proceeding to help Luke set up the table for dinner.
“Where is everyone?” Graham asked taking another sip of his beer before digging into the dinner Luke had set before him. “The house seems far too quiet, even for a Friday night.”
“I know.” Luke laughed as he ate a piece of bread. He was feeling a little better now that Graham was there. It was nice having company. “Laurie is with Robbie and their classmates. They went to Raven Lake for their senior trip. Landon, on the other hand, is in Kentucky with his grandfather.”
“So you’ve been here by yourself all day?” Graham asked as the pieces started coming together.
“MMmhmm. I was starting to go a little stir crazy in here,” Luke admitted as he focused on his dinner.
“Just out of curiosity, what did you do today?” Graham asked twirling noodles around his fork before taking a bite.
“You aren’t mocking me are you?” Luke asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Not at all,” Graham replied with a straight face. “I’m genuinely curious about your activities, Luke.”
Luke looked at him skeptically before deciding that he was indeed sincere. “Well I did the laundry,” he explained taking a bite of his garlic bread. “And I got the cereal stain out of your shirt…sorry about that.”
“No need to apologize for a baby’s messes. It’s to be expected when dealing with infants. Thank you though for taking care of that.”
“I changed the bed sheets too, and tidied up a bit in here,” Luke said continuing to list all he had done during the day. ”Dad picked Landon up at ten…and after I finished with all the chores I tried reading but I kept rereading the same paragraph over and over…so I came in here to cook.”
Graham found it quite remarkable that throughout that entire list the only thing Luke had managed to do for himself was to read a book. It was no wonder he was antsy. “This cannot be the first time you’ve had the whole house to yourself.”
“Well…actually,” Luke started as he ate more pasta, “I’ve been home alone before…but it wasn’t an often enough occurrence for me to really enjoy it. I’m so used to having people around…even if it’s just a baby who sleeps most of the time. I mean I guess that’s the product of coming from a big family…but the house is never empty. So now…today, this was the first time I ever let Landon go off without me and it’s driving me insane.”
“Mmmhmm, I see,” Graham replied thoughtfully. “Well you better get used to that. I mean, you’ve got the next eighteen years with him and then he’ll be leaving you alone all the time. You know, friends, sports, and girls.”
“Well, I’m sure I’ll be ready to let him go by then.”
“I hope so.”
“Do you think I’m overreacting?” Luke asked cautiously.
“No. I think there’s a reason why you don’t like being alone. And I want to know what it is.”
Luke bit his lip and focused once more on his dinner. He really didn’t want to talk about this right now…if he ever talked about it at all. “Do you want to go for a walk?” he asked glancing up again into intense blue eyes. “I know it’s late, but I just want to get out of here for a minute.”
“Sure,” Graham replied accepting Luke’s need to change the subject. He wouldn’t press, but he was certain that there was a story behind Luke’s antsy behavior and it concerned him. They cleaned up the kitchen before grabbing their jackets and heading out into the cool spring night. They didn’t talk much, instead allowing a comfortable silence to fall between them. Graham took a moment to observe his young companion as they walked. He took note of the little things that may seem normal to those who knew Luke well. Luke never strayed too far away from him; and on the rare occurrence when they were mere feet apart Luke stopped and waited for Graham to catch up. Luke was timid, almost jumpy around the sounds that one living in the country truly should be used to. His behavior only fueled Graham’s concern that something was definitely off.
“Thank you for walking with me,” Luke said once they were back inside. He had his hands in his pockets as he looked at Graham shyly.
“You don’t have to thank me for that, Luke. I was glad to do it. Anytime you need someone to walk with, you can count on me for that.”
Okay,” Luke said allowing a smile to cross his lips. “Well…good night, Graham.”
“Good night, Luke.”
Luke sighed as he tried for the umpteenth time to fall asleep. He was physically exhausted, his activities of the day made his body yearn for rest, but he could not shut off his brain. It was the first time in almost five years that he had been in a bed alone, and he thought he would handle it better, but he was wrong. After another forty-five minutes of tossing and turning he realized this just wasn’t going to work. Feeling a little disappointed in himself he climbed out of bed, quietly walking down the hall past Laurie’s room with one destination in mind. Graham was his only hope.
He stood there for a moment debating on whether he should step inside. He opened the door just enough to glance at Graham sleeping soundly on his side. Before he could change his mind he slipped into the room and made his way over to the bed. As if he was invisible he sat down softly, gently bringing his legs up on to the mattress. He glanced over making sure Graham was still asleep before lying down, releasing the breath he was holding as he rested head onto the pillow. Breathing another sigh of relief he made himself comfortable and closed his eyes, sleep finding him rather quickly after that.
“Good morning,” Luke greeted when Graham walked into the kitchen. “I fixed your coffee, and breakfast is almost ready.”
“You’re rather chipper this morning,” Graham remarked even as he wiped the sleep out of his eyes. He graciously accepted the cup of coffee Luke offered and glorified in the wonderful scent of caffeine. “What are we having for breakfast?”
“Omelets,” Luke replied even as he folded the egg over the filling. “Western Omelets are my specialty.”
“Are those the ones with all the meat?” Graham asked nursing his coffee mug.
“Great, you can sign me up for two of those please.”
“Okay.” Luke laughed as he finished up what he was doing.
“So how’s our project coming along?” Graham asked leaning against the counter.
“I figured that we could finish up with that today, and then I can edit it and send it off to the publisher. Would you like to read it first?”
“If you wouldn’t mind. I’m sure it’s excellent.”
“You’ll probably hate it.” Luke sighed. “Can you grab two plates for me, please?”
“Sure.” Graham placed his cup down and moved to the cupboard to retrieve the dishes. “How come you’ve never tried to publish anything before?” he asked placing the plates on the counter.
“I don’t know.” Luke shrugged his shoulders as he served up the omelets. “Most of the stuff I wrote wasn’t really suitable I guess. I mean I wrote a screenplay over the summer after high school. It was a project for my internship. And After that I mostly wrote presentations and things for Nick. And scripts for his movies.”
“Did they do well?” Graham asked showing genuine interest. Luke took the plates and set them on the table, gesturing for Graham to come take a seat.
“The scripts were a moderate success,” he admitted as he cut up his omelet. “One of them was nominated for an OSCAR.”
“That’s a huge honor,” Graham remarked.
“I guess so.” Luke shrugged again. “I was excited for Nick. Movies were always his dream and I’m glad that he wanted me to be a part of it.”
“But it’s not necessarily your passion…is that right?”
Luke looked up meeting Graham’s gaze head on. He had never truly thought about that question before. For the longest time everything had been about Nick. Whatever Nick wanted, and whatever Nick needed Luke was always there to make sure he had it or had a way to make it happen. For him that was how it was supposed to be; love was unconditional and he had no regrets.
“I suppose not,” he replied his tone thoughtful as he glanced back down at his food. They ate in comfortable silence for a few minutes, with Luke glancing up at Graham every so often as if the answers to the questions were somehow etched into Graham’s forehead.
Graham was focusing on omelet number two when he realized that he was being watched. “What?” He asked glancing up to meet Luke’s gaze head on.
“Nothing,” Luke said shaking his head and focusing once more on his breakfast.
“Luke…if you have a question you can ask it. I’m here if you need to talk.”
“Well, I was just thinking about what you said before…about my passions. I never thought about it before, but I think you’re right. For the longest time my life has been about Nick. He was my center…he was my everything, and now that he’s gone…I guess I don’t really know what to do.”
”I think you do know, Luke, but you’re not sure how to do it. And those are two very different things. You need to realize that before you can make any moves though.”
“How do I do that?”
“How do I move on when that’s all I’ve known?”
“It’s not an easy task,” Graham cautioned. “It’s not something that will happen overnight. It’s a behavior, a habit and it’s something that will require effort on your part. We are who we are, you know? We don’t develop habits overnight. And you learning to put you first is just something you will have to learn.”
“I don’t think I know how,” Luke admitted.
“And that’s okay; you’re not expected to know everything today. I have every confidence that you will learn how to do this over time.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because now it’s a necessity,” Graham replied softly. “I mean, sure you’re going to always be a part of everyone’s lives, and you’ll help them when you can. But essentially the only person who should need you, depend on you regularly is your son. As a parent you should worry about him twenty-four /seven but everyone else is old enough to fend for themselves.”
“But I love my friends.”
“And your friends love you too, but somewhere along the line you have to start loving yourself. It’s not a bad thing to put yourself first sometimes, Luke. In fact it’s a fairly healthy process and I can just about guarantee that your friends won’t begrudge you that.”
“For listening mostly. I usually talk to James about things, and he’s still my go to person for a lot of things…”
“But he’s also one of those people who rely on you just enough that you feel like you need to be strong,” Graham guessed, his expression thoughtful as he finished off his second omelet.
“Yeah…something like that. Do you mind if we change the subject now?”
“Not at all.” Graham drained his coffee mug and stood to get another cup for himself and for Luke. “Let’s talk about when you’re going to publish your first novel.” He replied as he set the cups back on the table. Luke just smiled, and started tracing the rim of his cup as he spoke, stopping only when Graham had a question about something he had said previously. Gradually the conversation progressed to the project they were working on finishing, and Luke got up the courage to share his work with Graham.
To say that Graham was impressed would have been an understatement. Luke was sure his cheeks were as red as beets from all the kind words the older man was lavishing on the manuscript. He wasn’t used to such accolades, especially not from people who hadn’t known him his whole life.
He was having such a good time with Graham that he barely noticed when darkness fell upon them again. Graham’s stomach growled in protest while they were in the middle of a chess game and Luke laughed as he looked at his watch.
“Oh my god, it’s after 7…how did we manage to do that?”
“Time flies when the company is superb,” Graham said with a smirk.
“Well just let me know what you want for dinner, I don’t mind cooking.”
“You cooked last night,” Graham said pointedly. “And you fixed omelets this morning. Give yourself a break.”
“But I don’t mind.”
“I know you don’t. But I’m sure you can use a break. We can have leftovers tonight, or just get Chinese take-out, it’s Saturday, you deserve a day off.”
“Make it Mexican and you have a deal.” Luke smiled and grabbed his phone off the table.
“Sounds like a plan to me.” Graham nodded as he focused on the chess board in front of him. He prided himself in being an excellent chess player, but Luke was proving to be a worthy opponent.
“Whose turn is it?” Luke asked setting his phone back on the table.
“Yours,” Graham said even as he moved his piece across the board. Luke examined the board for a moment before moving his pawn. He looked up and smiled at the look on Graham’s face.
“I’ll take that to mean you’re impressed?” He laughed happily.
“Where’d you learn how to play?” Graham asked with much admiration in his voice.
“My dad taught me.” Luke shrugged shyly. “It was one of his ways to keep me preoccupied when things were stressful in the family.”
“Did that happen a lot?”
“Yeah.” Luke nodded sadly. “More often than I would have liked. Dad tried to shield me from it, but no one seems to realize that kids pick up on more than you want them to.”
“That’s a very wise statement,” Graham commented as he made his move on the chess board. He kept his fingers on the piece for a moment as he looked up at Luke. “If more parents thought like you, I think the world would be a better place.”
“That’s nice of you to say,” Luke smiled. “What about you? Where did you learn to play chess?”
“Harvard square,” Graham replied his expression reflective as he let go of the chess piece. “Eden used to take me around there after school and I’d play with these 70 year-old Ukrainian guys. They taught me the game and I got to be really good at it.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“It was,” Graham admitted. “But as I got older I became more interested in science and I started focusing on that. I think Eden may have been my biggest encouragement on that front, and Matthew as well when she started dating him. I think my parents wanted me to be the next Bobby Fisher or something.”
“I’m sure they were proud of you though.”
“I like to think so.” Graham smiled sadly. “They died while I was in medical school.”
Luke nodded sadly, not really sure what to say to that. He had known when he went searching for Laurie’s uncle that he was the only living relative Laurie had. Laurie’s father, Matthew, had been an only child orphaned at the age of sixteen. He had considered the Larsons his family, and that became a permanent thing when he married Eden who had been his high school sweetheart.
“Are you close with your parents, Luke?”
Graham’s voice caught him off guard and he looked up realizing he must have zoned out for a moment. “What?” he said trying to make sure he hadn’t missed anything else during the conversation.
“Your parents. Are you close to them?”
“Do you want to complicated story or the simple one?”
“It depends on what the definition of a parent is.” Luke sighed. “I’m very close to my dad, Harold.”
”That’s who took Landon this weekend right?”
“Yes…they went to Kentucky. He’s my dad in every way that counts but we share no blood.”
“Okay. Hold that thought,” Graham said jumping up to go answer the door. Luke watched as Graham took their food from the delivery man and handed him cash telling him to keep the change.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Luke said when Graham settled beside him on the floor and started going through the bag.
“Do what?” Graham asked as he handed Luke his Burritos.
“I would have taken care of the tab.”
“My treat.” Graham smiled and proceeded to put guacamole on his burrito before taking a bite. “The least I can do is treat you to dinner every now and again. I mean you’re practically letting me stay here rent free.”
“That’s because you’re Laurie’s family,” Luke pointed out. “If you insist on being helpful though, you can stock up the fridge next month. Especially since you use so much deli meat on those sandwiches you concoct.”
“I’m going to get you to eat one of those one day,” Graham said his mouth full of refried beans and rice.” He took a minute to swallow, taking a napkin to wipe at his mouth before speaking again. “And I swear you will like it. It’s a masterpiece.”
“Whatever.” Luke laughed, a sparkle in his eyes that hadn’t been there in a while. He turned his attention back to his food. They ate in comfortable silence, with Luke looking up every now and again to watch Graham unnoticed. Sometimes Graham’s eyes would meet his and they’d share a smile before Luke focused on his food again. It was nice, Luke felt like he had found a new friend.
“So you’re adopted?” Graham asked bringing them back to the conversation they were having.
“Harold adopted me, yes. My parents on the other hand…I just don’t get along with them very well.”
“Okay I think you lost me.” Graham smiled as he continued to eat the rest of his dinner.
“My mom, Lillian, was married to my father, Damian, when I was born. However the only dad I truly know, the one who raised me is Harold. He adopted me officially when I was nine.”
“You want the whole story?” Luke asked raising an eyebrow. “My past is pretty crazy.”
“I wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t curious.”
“Okay,” Luke said sighing reluctantly. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Graham realized fairly quickly that James hadn’t been kidding when he said the family history was twisted. He deemed that the right word for it. The story Luke was telling would require a map for lesser mortals. At the moment, though, Graham was thanking the higher ups for his photographic memory. He was certain he’d be alright when it came time for dinner with this lot.
“Okay let me see if I can understand what you’re telling me here. The Sawyers, your adoptive family, are also your in-laws as it turns out?”
“Yes,” Luke laughed at the incredulous look on Graham’s face. “My Uncle Seth is Landon’s great grandfather, as well as his great uncle obviously.”
“And then,” Graham continued placing the empty food container to the side
“Nick only learned of his connection a few years ago?”
“Yeah,” Luke smiled sadly. “He totally freaked out when he found out his grandfather’s name.”
“Didn’t he know you were adopted?”
“Well yes, and no.” He frowned. “I mean I told him, but he either forgot or wasn’t paying attention I guess.”
“Did that happened a lot.”
“I wouldn’t say that exactly,” Luke reasoned, “Nick could be very attentive at times, but more often than not he only heard what he wanted to hear.” The smile that crossed Luke’s face at that moment told Graham all he needed to know about Luke’s feelings for his late husband. He had loved him a great deal.
“In any case.” Luke sighed wistfully, bringing the conversation back to the posed question, “He didn’t remember me explaining my family tree to him, so he was freaked when he realized my Uncle Seth was his Grandfather.”
“You’re right this is complicated.”
“I could stop.” Luke frowned and tilted his head to the side. “I don’t want to bore you with all of this. Galena is famous for couples who come together, break up, switch partners, cheat and then come together to start the cycle all over again.”
“Is that why you live outside the city?”
“I was born out here.” Luke smiled. “Mom says that dad…Harold that is, delivered me right on the kitchen floor of Grandma Edna’s house. Anyway, six years ago a lot of stuff was going on, Grandmother Lucille was sick, I was sick, Nick got into a car accident…it was crazy. And on top of that I found out my parents were divorcing because Mom was unfaithful.”
“That’s not why you’re upset with her though is it?” Graham asked raising an eyebrow in Luke’s direction.
“Oh no.” Luke shook his head, laughing bitterly. “That’s the least of my concerns about her. Our relationship…it’s complicated, even more so than the family tree.”
“Yes, unfortunately.” Luke smiled sheepishly. “But I don’t want to bore you with the gritty details. The short version is that my mom indeed ended up remarrying my biological father, and I haven’t spoken to either of them in almost five years and don’t really want to. I mean even with Nick gone, and knowing that Laurie would give anything to have just one more day with his mom, I just can’t. My mom, she just hurt me too much.”
“You don’t need to explain your reasons to me, Luke. I understand why your answer is so complicated though. You aren’t close to your biological parents, but you are close to your dad who raised you, and you trust him with your life.”
“I do.” Luke nodded.
“Have you forgiven her, Luke? For whatever she did, have you forgiven her?”
Luke nodded, biting his lower lip as he focused on Graham. “I forgave her a long time ago…I’ll just never forget. And I’m sorry for taking you all around the world when I could have easily just said yes and no and left it at that.”
“You’re a good storyteller,” Graham praised grabbing his drink off the table. “I wasn’t bored at all. But I do think it’s time to head to bed.”
“Okay,” Luke smiled and lifted himself off the floor. “Thank you. For spending the evening with me.”
Good night, Luke.” Graham smiled softly before heading into the kitchen to discard their trash. He returned moments later and turned out the light before heading to his room.
He waited an hour before stealing away to Graham’s room. He opened the door slowly and slipped inside, tiptoeing over to the bed where Graham was fast asleep. Once again he settled onto the bed as quietly as he could, holding his breath until he was resting his head on the pillow. He shifted slightly making himself comfortable before promptly falling asleep.
Graham shifted in his sleep, pressing up against the warm wall in an attempt to get comfortable. A slight frown crossed his lips as he pressed harder against the seemingly flat surface and felt cloth there. He opened his eyes in confusion and jumped back when he realized that what he was laying against wasn’t a wall at all.
What he had been leaning against was a body clad in cotton pajama bottoms and a white t-shirt. He was only partially surprised to find Luke in his bed. He would have bet anything that he had felt someone beside him the night before, but there was no one there when he woke up so he chalked it up to his imagination and didn’t mention it. Now that Luke was there again, sleeping soundly, he wanted to know what was going on.
He wasn’t prepared for the startled yelp he heard when his hand touched Luke’s shoulder. The young man sat up straight in the bed, his eyes wide as he looked around trying to get his bearings. Graham was patient as he watched the emotions filtering through the almond gaze. Fear, confusion, recognition and embarrassment.
“Oh,” The blond said ducking his head to avoid Graham’s gaze. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Graham replied keeping his voice gentle. He was torn between taking the man into his arms, and demanding sternly what he thought he was doing in his bed. He had a feeling that the latter would not be the best idea. “Luke.” He tried placing a hand on Luke’s still shaking frame. “What are you doing in here?”
“I thought I could do it,” Luke blurted out, his hands clutching Graham’s blanket as if his life depended on it. “I thought I would be okay sleeping by myself, but I can’t. Landon’s not here, and the bed, it’s so empty and I can’t do it. I’ll leave if you want me to,” He added when Graham remained silent.
Graham pressed his lips together to prevent himself from asking all the questions he wanted to ask at the moment. It was obvious that Luke was upset, and he remembered Laurie mentioning Luke’s inability to sleep alone before. “Come here,” he said even as he pulled Luke into his arms. “Don’t worry about it tonight, okay?” He pressed a kiss to Luke’s forehead trying to soothe him just a bit. “Just go back to sleep, it’s alright. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry,” Luke’s voice was muffled in the folds of Graham’s shirt.
“Don’t be sorry, just go to sleep,” Graham soothed. Luke was sleep again almost instantly, but it took Graham another hour before he dozed off. He kept his eyes open to keep an eye on Luke, only daring to rest when he knew the other man was okay. He didn’t understand it, but he felt protective of Luke, and he felt an overwhelming urge to keep him safe.
i'd like to thank everyone who has been reading and reviewing. I appreciate the comments and feedback. Thanks Kim for Betaing and editing as always. If you have something you'd like to say or wish to discuss anything you can do it here
Next up, Luke and Graham continue their conversation...Luke has some explaining to do