He groaned when he heard the phone ringing, and blindly reached out his hand to answer it. He felt like he had just gotten to sleep, after tossing and turning all night. He wasn’t sure why he was so nervous, but he was. He was supposed to meet Julian’s little brother today…and to him that was a really big deal.
“Hello,” he said rubbing his eyes as he sat up in the bed.
“Oh no, I woke you up, I’m sorry.”
“Julian? No it’s okay. What’s wrong, you sound about as good as I feel.”
“Tired, yes,” Julian tried to laugh but it was stifled by a yawn. “Look I need a really big favor from you, and I’m really hoping that you can do this for me.”
“Sounds serious,” Colin frowned. “We are still on for today aren’t we?”
“That’s kinda the problem,” Julian sighed. “I’m stuck in Denver.”
“Plane delay,” Julian explained. “If I wasn’t supposed to be working I would just rent a car and drive until I made it home. But I can’t do that, and I don’t want to disappoint Aidan…or you for that matter.”
“You want me to take your brother to the water park?”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea Julian? I’m a stranger to him.”
“Oh, believe me he knows who you are. He’s looking forward to meeting you, Colin. And I just can’t let him down today. I want you to pick him up and take him to the park, so he can be there when it opens. And I will meet you guys there, hopefully by lunchtime if I can manage it”
“You talked to your little brother about me,” Colin asked, a smile creeping across his face at the thought.
“Yes and he’s very excited that you want to hang out with him.”
“Well, I don’t want to let the little guy down,” Colin conceded. “But I will have you know I was nervous enough to meet him…now I have to meet your parents too. This is getting serious, Luciano.”
There was a long moment of silence before Julian laughed and Colin’s smile grew even wider. “Are we giving each other pet names already, Payne? This is only the second date.”
“And I’m meeting your parents and your little brother today.” Colin pointed out.
“I’m glad your smiling, Julian. I wish I could see it.”
“I’ll smile as soon as I get to see you and the little guy this afternoon. Make sure he knows I love him okay? I talked to him last night and I know he misses me. And just in case I am not there; let him have corndogs for lunch. Those are his favorite; we usually end up getting stuffed on corndogs and coke.”
“Corndogs and coke…got it,” Colin said “I hope you make it home safely…wish me luck with your family.”
“You’ll be fine, Colin. I gotta go. Thank you so much.”
Julian was gone before Colin could say you’re welcome. He smiled at the phone and shook his head. His day had just gotten a little more interesting to say the least. He was happy though, that Julian seemed to trust him enough to let him pick up his little brother. It was also a big deal that he would be meeting Julian’s parents today. He hoped they liked him…he hoped they thought he was good enough for their son.
He spent the next few minutes trying to find just the right thing to wear. It had to be comfortable and not too classy since he was going to a water park. Yet at the same time he wanted to look nice to go pick up Julian‘s brother and besides that this was a date. He wanted to impress Julian.
He settled on a pair of denim khaki shorts and a white t-shirt, and added a light jacket just in case it got chilly during the day. He sent Julian a text message asking for his parents’ address and finished getting ready while waiting for a response. There was no message from Julian by the time he was ready to leave so he grabbed his phone and his keys and headed out the door.
He called James while he was in the car, not really caring if he was waking him up. This was an emergency.
“Hi James. Can you tell me where Julian’s parents live?”
“Colin? What? Julian's parents? Dude is something wrong with Julian?”
“No, nothing’s wrong. But he needs me to do him a favor. He just neglected to tell me where to go, and I forgot to ask. And by the time I did ask, he couldn’t answer me so I’m asking you.”
“Ok, let me get my heart rate back to normal, you just scared me to death. Julian's parents live in Luther's Corners do you know where that is?”
“I’m sorry James, I didn’t mean to scare you. Luther’s Corners? No I don’t think I’m familiar with that area. How far outside of Chicago is it?”
“Not too far. Julian didn't want to be too far from home because of his sibs and his grandmothers. He is very close to them. I'll send the directions to your cell, that way you will have them and don't have to try and write them down. So what is going on that you are headed to the Sinclair’s?”
“Well, Julian and I were going to take Aidan to the water park opening today. But Julian is stuck in Denver, and he doesn’t want to disappoint Aidan, so he asked me to pick him up. What are his parents like?”
“Hey that's wonderful that he wanted you to do that. Annie and Matthew are very nice. They are good people and I'm sure they are going to love you so don't be nervous.”
“I can’t help but be nervous,” Colin admitted. “Meeting the family is a really big deal, and I’m doing it without Julian which makes it scarier.”
“Just the fact that Julian is sending you without him will say a lot to them. They never liked Marc because he tried so hard to cut Julian off from his family. You will be fine and Aidan is a character. He will have you wrapped around his little finger within minutes. He reminds me so much of Julian sometimes that it is scary. Julian adores Aidan and the feeling is mutual. Just be yourself and you will be just fine. Don't hesitate to call me back if you need to.”
“Well I have one more question,” Colin said as he pulled into a parking lot. “I wanted to take something to the house, you know like flowers or something for his mom and something for Aidan and his dad too but I don’t know what. Any ideas?”
“Flowers are always a good way to get on Annie's good side. As for Aidan, he's a typical little boy, planes, trains and automobiles are his life. Matthew, he's a little tougher and to be honest I wouldn't take something for him. Be prepared for the third degree, and just be honest about how you feel about Jules. They are just getting their happy Julian back, and I'm sure Matthew is going to want to make sure he sticks around for a while this time.”
Thanks James. I’ll keep that in mind, and I’ll let you know how it goes.” Colin hung up the phone and soon received a text from James with the directions. During his drive he received a text from Julian as well. He laughed when he saw a duplicate copy of what James had sent him, along with a thank you and a smile. He was still nervous, but talking to Julian’s best friend had put him a little at ease. This was just a big deal, Julian was putting a lot of faith in him and he didn’t want to let him down.
Thanks to the directions Colin found Julian’s family home fairly easy. He sat and looked at the huge house for a moment, and once again wondered if he was making the right choice here. According to James, Annie and Matthew, Julian’s parents, were very nice. He guessed he was about to find out. He took a deep breath and stepped out of his truck, with flowers and gift bag in hand. In no time he was at the door, waiting for someone to answer his knock.
The woman who answered the door had Julian’s eyes, he noticed that right away. She was about the same height as his own mother, with hair that seemed to be a mix of blond, red and brown. It reminded him of the setting sun and he wanted to remember it to describe it to Julian. She smiled warmly at him and gestured for him to enter.
“You must be Colin,” she said as he stepped into the house. “I’m Annie, Julian’s mother. He told me you would be coming by.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Colin said holding the flowers out to her. “These are for you
“Thank you, Colin. These are lovely. Julian wasn’t kidding when he said you were sweet.”
“”He said that?” Colin asked, not able to hide the smile that played on his lips. “Your son is too sweet himself.”
Annie smiled and nodded her agreement to that sentiment. “Matthew, Colin’s here,” she called as she went to put the flowers into water. Colin breathed a sigh of relief and took a seat on the couch. Annie was as nice as James had said. He was more concerned about meeting Matthew and Aidan. Those opinions were the ones that would hold the most weight…They were at the top of Julian’s important people list.
He stood when a tall man with sandy hair entered the room. Matthew Sinclair, Colin realized, was a very handsome man with blue eyes and a smile that could put anyone at ease. Colin just hoped that he could keep the man smiling.
“You must be Colin; I'm Julian's father, Matthew. Have a seat, and Aidan will be down shortly.” Colin reclaimed his seat, and Matthew sat in his recliner, leaning forward so he could look at Colin. “Jules has spoken very highly of you the last few times we’ve talked. I don't want this to come off as an inquisition here, but having been distanced from Jules during his previous relationship I would really like to know what your intentions are regarding my son.”
“It’s nice to meet you, sir. Julian speaks very highly of you as well. I have to be honest with you; I have real feelings for him. I don’t think I have ever felt this way about anyone in my life. I want to learn more about you, and make him happy in the interim. I have no intention of keeping him away from his family…I already know how important you guys are to him.”
“And you have no problem with Jules’ work and its sometimes unpredictable schedule?” Matthew inquired. “He loves his job, and I don't want him to feel like he has to make a choice between a relationship and work.”
“He shouldn’t have to,” Colin agreed easily. “I knew his job when I met him, and today is just an example of how unpredictable it can be. He has put a lot of trust in me today, sir, and I don’t want to let him down. I take his trust very seriously, and I want to be with him. If it means that sometimes I don’t see him for a few days then so be it…we can find ways to contact each other. In the last week alone I think I have maxed out my texting plan.”
“I like you, Colin,” Matthew smiled. “It’s really easy to see why Jules is so taken with you. My son is happier now than I have seen him in a long time, and I don't want that to change. I guess your biggest challenge is coming down the stairs. Aidan adores Jules, and the feeling is mutual so if you can make the little guy happy then I would say the worst is behind you.”
As he spoke, Colin could hear feet running down the steps, and he heard Annie’s voice telling the young man to stop running. Aidan slowed down but still tumbled forward stopping only when he reached his dad and Colin.
“Aidan, this is Julian's friend, Colin. He's going to take you to the water park until your brother can get home.”
“Hi,” Aidan said shyly. Colin had to smile. The little guy already reminded him of Julian. This was definitely going to be fun.
“Hey there,” He said holding out the gift bag he had brought. “I have it on good authority that you like trucks.”
“For me?” he asked, looking to his dad for permission to take the bag.
“Go ahead son,” Matthew nodded. Aidan took the gift and looked inside.
“Oh cool, it’s a monster truck! Thanks Colin, I love these.”
“I figured you might,” Colin grinned. “I also have it on good authority that you like comic books.”
“Yeah, Julian get’s me the new editions when they come out on Wednesdays. I really like Spiderman and X-men. Julian promised we could go see the new X-men movie when it comes out later this summer. It’s coming out around my birthday.”
“Wow that sounds really awesome,” Colin laughed. “Do you think your brother would mind if I joined you guys?”
“I can ask him,” Aidan said smiling real big. “You actually want to?”
“I want to spend as much time with you and your brother as I possibly can. Would that be okay?”
Colin could tell the young guy was in awe at that statement. It made him even more determined to make sure he had fun, and that he knew that he was important too.
“Are you ready to go have some fun, Buddy?” Matthew asked rustling Aidan’s hair.
“Okay go put your truck away, and then you and Colin can get going. And no running,” He said as his son charged for the stairs. Colin chuckled as Aidan slowed and walked up the steps. Matthew turned back to his son’s friend and smiled warmly. “Julian was like this when he was younger too. So full of energy, and very active. I want you guys to have fun today, is there anything I can do to help out with that?”
“I should be asking you that, sir,” Colin said shaking his head. “I will take good care of Aidan. Julian said he loves corndogs, so that is what we will have for lunch. And it will be my treat. Is Aidan allergic to anything or are there any ailments I need to know about? Julian didn’t have time to tell me.”
“He’s as healthy as a horse,” Matthew said proudly. “And I’m impressed that you asked.”
Colin smiled. “I want to stay on top of things. Don’t want to put Aidan in any unforeseen danger.”
“Okay, Colin, I’m ready,” Aidan said bounding down the stairs.
“You behave for Colin, okay buddy?”
“Yes dad, I’ll be okay.”
“Take care of him, Colin.”
“Don’t worry; Aidan is in good hands, sir.”
“I was talking about my other son,” Matthew chuckled. “You guys have fun.”
Aidan was bouncing off the walls as they headed to the water park. Colin felt like he knew the name of every single ride at the park, thanks to his little charge. He didn’t mind the chatter though. In fact he found it very comforting to have someone in the car with him who was so animated. He felt like this is what it would have been like to have a little brother.
“Do you think Julian will be able to make it?” Aidan asked as Colin purchased their tickets.
“He’s going to try his best,” Colin replied. “Hopefully the plane won’t be delayed any longer. In fact for all we know he could be in the air now. He was looking forward to hanging out with you today.”
“Yeah, he sounded excited last night,” Aidan admitted. “I really want to see him. I miss him a lot.”
“You haven’t gotten to see him lately huh?” Colin asked as they headed towards the first ride.
“Aidan frowned and peeked up at Colin under the bill of his hat. “He had to cancel a lot of times because of work. Sometimes I don’t think that was the reason though.”
“What do you mean?”
“Aidan shrugged. “Well like today. He wanted you to take me today, so that I wouldn’t miss the grand opening. He didn’t do that with Marc.”
“What about with James?”
“Yeah, I got to hang out with James a lot, but sometimes he works hard too. And Julian’s other boyfriend didn’t let him hang out with me as much as he wanted to.”
“Ah I see, well you know what? Don’t worry about Marc. He’s not a part of your brother’s life anymore. And if he can help it, I am sure your brother will be spending a lot more time with you.”
“And you too?” Aidan asked.
“Would you like that?”
“I think I like you, Colin.”
“Same here,” Colin said placing a hand on Aidan’s shoulder. “Now come on let’s ride some rides. I’ll race you to the first one.” The words were barely out of his mouth before Aidan bolted off and Colin shook his head and followed behind him. This was going to be fun.
Colin couldn’t remember ever feeling like he had just been in a downpour, but he wouldn’t trade the few hours he spent with Aidan for anything…well except for a few hours with Julian. They rode the log ride three times, each time Aidan deciding he wanted to sit behind Colin. Colin hadn’t been sure that was a good idea, and he insisted that Aidan hold on tight, and he asked the person behind them to keep both eyes open just in case. Aidan was having so much fun, Colin didn’t have the heart to tell him no.
They rode the water slide next and then went for a canoe ride just to dry off a bit in the sun. They were just finishing their river tour when Colin received a text message from Julian. The plane had landed at Midway airport and he would be there as soon as traffic allowed. Colin decided it was time for lunch and he looked down at his young charge and wrapped his arm around him.
“What do you say we get some Corndogs?”
“Can we get some for Julian too, so he can eat when he gets here?”
“Sure I think we can do that,” Colin said smiling. It was obvious just how much Aidan adored Julian, and he knew how Julian felt about his brother. He actually couldn’t wait to see Julian interact with the little guy.
They sat in the sun, with corndogs and cokes, and a funnel cake for afterwards. Julian wasn’t kidding when he said Aidan loved those things; Colin counted, he ate four all on his own. He monitored him closely as they sat together eating. He didn’t want Aidan to get sick from eating so many of the greasy treats. Colin insisted that they sit still for a bit and he bought a deck of cards from the gift shop to keep Aidan preoccupied. Julian was on his way, and Colin couldn’t wait to see him. He cautioned he was just as excited about that prospect as Aidan.
They were sitting at the picnic table when he found them, and for a moment he just stood back and watched. Colin was explaining something to Aidan who was listening intently, and nodding emphatically. His little brother looked so happy to be sitting there, and Colin seemed animated too. He was glad to see that Aidan had taken well to Colin, which was very important to him. Aidan wasn’t an easy guy to please, and in fact there weren’t many guys who passed his little brother’s test. Of course there hadn’t really been a lot of guys…just Marc for the most part, and Julian didn’t want to think about him.
“Julian!” Aidan exclaimed, his face aglow as he got up from the table and ran for his brother. Julian held open his arms and immediately accepted the little guy into an embrace. Colin smiled as he watched the brothers reunite. “You made it,” Aidan was saying as Julian pulled away to look at him.
“And you’re all wet,” Julian laughed. Are you having fun?”
“Yeah, I’m having a good time. Colin’s been keeping me company. I asked him not to tell you that I lost my hat on the ride, but I decided it was best just to tell you that the hat fell off during the fourth time on the log ploom.”
“You rode the log ploom four times?” Julian asked with a twinkle in his eyes. “And don’t worry about the hat, we can get you another…just don’t lose it okay?”
“Okay,” Aidan said before dashing off with the money Julian handed him. Colin watched him run off towards the water games and smiled with a shake of his head. He saw Julian sit down beside him, and turned to focus his attention on the man who was quickly taking control of his heart.
“Hi.” Julian’s smile was as bright as the sun that was beating down on him, and Colin could see the tiredness in those brown eyes. It was admirable that he wanted to make sure his brother had a good day, but when it was over Colin was going to insist that he get some rest.
“Hey yourself. How was the flight?”
“Do you know how exhausting it is to be cheerful when you feel like crawling into bed?”
“No,” Colin chuckled. “But I know you loved every minute of it, just as much as you love your brother, and that’s why you’re here.”
“I’m here to see you too,” Julian admitted. “Are you having a good time with my brother?”
“Yes as a matter of fact,” Colin said pulling the corndogs he had wrapped up over to Julian. “And we saved you a corndog and a coke too, though I am sure the coke is watered down by now.”
“Thanks,” Julian said gratefully as he unwrapped the corndog and took a bite. Colin stood and went to get him a fresh coke. The line was longer then he expected it to be, and by the time he returned Julian was resting his head on the table with his eyes closed. Colin smiled softly and looked over to make sure that Aidan was still in plain sight. He sat down beside Julian and placed a hand on his back, rubbing it soothingly. Julian opened his eyes, a tired smile forming across his lips. “I guess I’m more tired than I thought.”
“Do you want to go home? Aidan’s had a full day and I still don’t know how those four corndogs are treating him,” Colin said worried.
“Four,” Julian chuckled. “He conned you into four huh?”
“Is that what he usually gets?” Colin asked wrinkling his nose.
“No…I usually get him two, and then on our way home I might squeeze in another. But never four. But don’t feel bad, Jimmy made that same mistake once, and he definitely should know better.”
Colin smiled. “Well at least I’m in good company. Are you sure you’re okay.”
“Yeah,” Julian said sitting up and taking a sip of the coke Colin had brought him. “If I get some caffeine in me I should be fine.”
“Okay, but when we drop Aidan off you are going to take a nap.”
“Will you stay with me?”
Colin leaned his forehead against Julian’s and smiled. “Yes Julian, I will.”
“Hey guys, I won a prize,” Aidan called out as he ran towards them. Julian and Colin pulled apart just in time to see him waving a small dolphin in the air.
“That’s great, buddy,” Julian said grinning as he gave his brother a hug. Colin rustled Aidan’s hair and gave him a high five.
“What do you say we go play some more games then we’ll take a few more rides before heading home?” Colin suggested.
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Julian agreed. He sipped on his coke and excused himself to get another one. While he was gone Colin focused on Aidan seriously.
“You’re brother is tired, Aidan, but I know he wants to make this day fun for you. So you want to help me win him a big prize to thank him for a good day?”
“I bet he’d like one of those big stuffed whales to add to his collection,” Aidan said excitedly.
“He has a collection of whales?” Colin asked amused.
“Julian loves fish of any kind,” Aidan explained. “Dolphins and Whales especially. He even likes sharks and he has a collection of stuffed ones in his room. Right along with his collection of airplanes and his comics are in there too.”
“Thanks for the info, buddy,” Colin chuckled as Julian made his way back towards them. “I like your idea; we’ll try to win him a new stuffed whale.” Aidan grinned and Julian came to wrap his arm around Colin.
“What are you two talking about?” he asked as he sipped on his coke.
“Just whales,” Colin said meeting Julian’s gaze head on. “Aidan and I decided we’re going to play some more games. Are you in?”
Julian looked at his brother’s smiling face and then looked back at Colin, who was smiling as well. “Okay,” he said holding up his coke, “let’s go play some games.”
By the end of the day Julian was feeling a lot better. He was laughing and having fun at the park, and he was very happy and excited when Colin won him a stuffed whale. Colin could see the tiredness in Julian’s eyes despite his happiness, and finally suggested it was time to head home. Julian slipped into Colin’s truck, with his little brother in the middle, and Colin began the drive back to Luther’s Corners. Aidan was talking animatedly with his brother, and to his credit, Julian held his own, managing to sound upbeat and chipper. It warmed Colin’s heart that Julian cared so much that he didn’t want Aidan to have a bad moment.
Julian visited with his parents for a few minutes, and declined an invitation to stay for dinner. Colin didn’t blame him; he could tell that Julian was about ready to fall asleep on his feet. Colin said good bye to the family, and promised Aidan that he would be seeing him again soon. Julian made the same promise and hugged his parents and Aidan before taking Colin’s hand. Colin smiled and they left the house together, ready finally to head back to the condo.
When they reached Julian’s home Colin sat in the driveway for a few minutes just watching his friend sleep. Julian looked so peaceful with his blond head leaning against the window, his lips slightly parted and his arms crossed against his chest. Colin reached over and brushed strands of hair out of Julian’s face and gently shook him awake. “Julian, we’re here.”
Those brown eyes fluttered open and Colin was greeted with a tired smile. He got out the car and came around to the other side to help Julian, who seemed to wake up once the cooler air hit him. They went inside and Colin asked Julian if he wanted anything to eat before settling in for the night.
“No,” Julian shook his head. “Thank you for taking care of me, Colin. I think I’m just going to crash.”
“Well I did say you needed a nap,” Colin reminded gently. He guided Julian to his bedroom and watched his friend strip down to just his t-shirt and boxers. He couldn’t help but notice how beautifully lean Julian’s body was, and it was a testament to how tired his friend was that he even got to watch him strip.
“Are you going to stay,” Julian asked as Colin tucked him into bed.
“For a little while,” Colin said sitting beside him.
“Lay down with me, Colin. I want to talk to you.”
Colin smiled and did as he was told. He faced Julian and propped his head up on the pillow. Julian’s eyes were already half closed. He knew he wouldn’t’ be talking long.
“I had a good time today,” Julian said smiling. “Sorry I’m so exhausted, but I hate plane delays. They always throw me off my schedule.”
“It’s okay, Julian. I’m just glad you got to see Aidan today, and I loved seeing you too.
“Do you want to do it again?”
“Is that your way of asking me out?”
“Mmmhmmmm.” Julian’s eyes closed and Colin waited a split second before he heard the even breathing that signified that he was sleeping.
Colin laid down and made himself comfortable, allowing one arm to cover Julian protectively. “I don’t know if you can hear me, but I wanted you to know that I’ll never say no to you, unless I think you’re wrong. You’re one of a kind, Luciano and I’m glad I met you.”