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  1. Chapter 17

    Thank you, Parker! I'm glad you enjoyed the action scenes. That is not something I imagined I'd be very good at, but it's good to hear I did it well! It'd be nice to create more "action scenes" in future writing . Thank you for your comment!!
  2. Chapter 17

    That's right !!!!! And thank you for commenting on this chapter :).
  3. Chapter 17

    Thank you!! And I'm so glad you're noticing this shift in Jesse. He's fortunately changing things around and being the friend Stefan and Devan need him to be. Hopefully his drinking doesn't bite him in the back later. He has a bit of healing to do :/. I'm glad you enjoyed :D!
  4. Chapter 16

    Thank you! Dialogue can be really difficult to write, so I love to hear when I've done it well :). It's been great telling a story about three different characters battling against the odds and working together to get through their issues. Thanks so much for your comments !
  5. Chapter 16

    The next chapter may not have been what you were expecting, but I'm glad you enjoyed it !
  6. Chapter 16

    Thanks for following my story, Remijay !
  7. Chapter 16

    Haha, this chapter has much more jam-packed in there than most! It's good to know the events I've written have left an impression on you. I hope that's a good thing at least!
  8. Chapter 18

    From getting Jesse a place to live to supporting Stefan through his break-up, Devan was stretched thin. He needed some time away from James Street. This would lead him to make an unexpected call to his Aunt Gladys and Uncle Charles. When Aunt Gladys answered, she had been surprised to hear from him, having not spoken to Devan since his brother’s funeral. But, she took no time in saying, “I would love to have you over, dear.” So Devan took his car and he headed down south. Devan’s last visit to Aunt Gladys’ and Uncle Charles’ was long ago, back when he was a teenager. The two of them didn’t live very far from Aunt Katherine and Uncle George’s, just across a suspension bridge with the cerulean sea underneath. Little had changed in their part of town. Devan passed palm trees and beach homes, driving over sandy streets. Men and women in bathing suits walked along the sidewalks with surfboards, coolers, and the like. Devan hoped he could take Stefan and Jesse here one day. He approached a house made of wood, painted a light gray. He never imagined it’d be another decade before he’d ever come back here. Aunt Gladys and Uncle Charles were settled in on their beach porch, watching the ocean. They looked as if they spent their days there, just enjoying each other’s company. He took himself out the driver seat and walked along the front of the car. Aunt Gladys and Uncle Charles noticed it was Devan almost immediately. “You’re here,” Aunt Gladys called out to Devan. “Come on over, we’ve been waiting for you.” While Devan was gone, Jesse came over to Devan’s place to spend some time with Stefan. Jesse hoped analyzing Devan’s living space might give him some ideas on how to set up his own apartment. Stefan just needed the company. “You’d think he got a hidden book on feng shui,” Jesse commented. “I don’t know where Devan got the idea to put this table here or those chairs over there.” Stefan giggled. “I think he just placed everything where it would fit.” Jesse sucked his teeth. “You lying, Stefan. He didn’t get any tips from the greats like Kelly Wearstler or Phillippe Stark?” Stefan’s quizzical look told Jesse all he needed to know. He walked around some more, paying extra attention to the bookcase and pictures on the wall like he hadn’t seen them before. “And Devan likes to act like he doesn’t watch HGTV…” Jesse was slowly acclimating to his new living situation, having a job, and keeping up with the bills. Working forty hours a week is no easy task. Jesse hoped going out on the town after a long day might ease his stress, but he no longer enjoyed the perks of being a playboy and hitting the clubs every night. Without the money or the man, Jesse was just like everyone else and had to pay full price everywhere he went. “You know who had good taste?” Jesse asked as he headed to the kitchen. “When I first met Nikolai, I used to fawn over his sense of style. The way that he dressed in his tuxedos, silk robes, and suit shirts. The way he cut his hair, the way he smelled when he wore his cologne. Or nothing at all. Even the way he situated his living room, his bedroom, the bed...” Jesse let out a slow exhale. Stefan could hear in Jesse’s voice his yearning. “Stefan, the way that man made love to me was like nothing I’ve experienced before. Most boys in the club just want a quick fuck, but Nikolai worshipped every part of you, making love to you like he could do it forever. Uhh, look at me telling you all my business!” Jesse fanned himself. Stefan smiled faintly. “Nikolai cared about you a lot.” “He really did... You know, when he kicked me out, I thought I’d never speak to him again. I was thinking, how is this mofo bout to kick me out on the streets? It was like a betrayal. But I knew I had it coming. Nikolai never tried to hurt me. And to do what I did to him, I don’t know if he’ll ever forgive me.” Stefan frowned. Jesse slowed down his pace as he looked at the assortment of dishes Devan had. He closed the counter gently, his fingers gliding across the countertops. “I think it’s saying something that your remorseful about what you did. It means you have empathy. The worst thing you could’ve done is walk away and feel nothing.” Jesse stared at the countertops as Stefan spoke to him. “I don’t know if Nikolai will forgive you. I think that might be out of your control. But you can forgive yourself.” Jesse looked skeptical. “How do I forgive myself for cheating on Nikolai and being so damn fucked up to him?” “...By acknowledging what you’ve done and to stop telling yourself you're a bad person for it. You’ve made an awful mistake, but you aren’t a bad person, Jesse. Bad people don’t protect their friends from abusers.” Jesse couldn’t fathom it. Here he was having reached his lowest point: losing his longtime boyfriend, drinking fifths to drown away his sorrows, and living in a meager apartment with nothing but a bed and not even a hundred dollars to his name. He should be regretful for having done what he did, he thought. He was a monster. But Jesse neglected to see the ways his benevolence shined through. Didn’t it make a difference that he could stand face-to-face with Stefan, who is safe and sound thanks to Devan and his intervention? He felt good looking out for someone rather than always being looked out for. Jesse smiled. “Thank you for that, Stefan.” Uncle Charles cooked on the grill while Devan watched. The smell of cooked meats and charcoal smoke in the air brought Devan to the old days, days of Leroy and him making sand forts on the beach, jumping into the water, and getting hit by the waves. His father would be barbecuing with Uncle Charles cooking hot links and ribs. His mom would be inside preparing her famous potato salad, setting up the table just beyond the porch. And Aunt Gladys would be sitting by the ocean, keeping watch of her two nephews. Uncle Charles and Aunt Gladys’ home was their getaway from the concrete jungle that was their home. “I bet you ain’t have home cookin’ like this in some time,” said Uncle Charles as he flipped over a beef patty. “Yeah, you and Leroy used to always come over with those big ole grins asking if we was barbecuing. Your Aunt Gladys and I used to have a hard time saying no to you two.” “You still remember us coming around here?” Devan asked. “Course I do, boy. You were the only nephews who came around here. Your ole uncle’s family live too far from here.” “Why live so far from them? Did you wanna live near Aunt Gladys’ family?” Uncle Charles shrugged. “Well sorta. Your auntie wanted to see you two grow up to be young men. Now as for me, well, there’s a reason I don’t bring that crazy ass bunch over here-” Devan heard the screen door to Aunt Gladys and Uncle Charles home swing close. “Now, don’t be talking about your family like that,” scolded Aunt Gladys, bringing out dishes and plates for the three of them. “I’m just sayin’, I reckon wouldn’t have left for no navy if I didn’t have a reason to get away.” Devan laughed. Aunt Gladys shook her head. “Let me tell you something, nephew, there ain’t no shame in getting away. I knew that growin’ up in the countryside was not the life that I wanted, and my ma and pops did not like that. After years of trying to find a way to make a life for myself outside the fam, I took a gamble and joined the military. “I left right when I turned eighteen, knowing nothing about how to live outside my little farm town. Those were some hard times. Year later, I’d meet your Aunt Gladys at that coffee shop she used to work at, and the rest was history. All this to say you can’t choose your family, but you can choose who you wanna spend the rest of your life with.” Aunt Gladys swung by and kissed Uncle Charles on the cheek. Devan hadn’t thought in this perspective before. Having blood family was something he cared deeply for, even as a child. That’s why establishing a relationship with Jade was so essential to him. But when having an ideal relationship with blood family seems out of reach, what else was there? According to Uncle Charles, a family was something you could make for yourself. “The meat’s almost ready,” said Uncle Charles. “Want to grill any vegetables, Gladys?” “Oh yes,” she said, scurrying to the door, “I got some peppers and onions I want you to grill!” Uncle Charles laughed. “Your auntie always forgets to cut up her vegetables.” His gray eyes looked at Devan, who watched him tend to their meal. “Yes neph, I wouldn’t change my life for nothing.” Aunt Gladys returned with sliced onions and peppers for Uncle Charles. The sun began to color the scenery in a magnificent orange. The ocean surface looked as if it was on fire. “What Uncle Charles did was very risky,” said Aunt Gladys. “Being out on your own as a young adult without family support was no easy thing back then. You needed a lot of people around you. Your Uncle Charles was lucky... as were you, nephew.” Uncle Charles became slower and more deliberate in his cooking, trying to listen in on the conversation. He appeared tense. “I...never thought I’d see you at Leroy’s funeral. I never thought I’d be going to my own nephew’s funeral at that... To see you was a blessing. I can’t tell you how proud I am of you.” Aunt Gladys smiled genuinely. “Should all be done anytime now,” Uncle Charles said. “Devan, help Aunt Gladys get the rest of the stuff out.” “Jesse,” Stefan said, trying to talk to through his laughter. “This is the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Don’t we have anything else to watch?” “Oh boo!” Jesse said with a pout. “You’re no fun.” Jesse flipped through the channels enjoying his limited access to cable while Devan is away. The two enjoyed a pizza and settled down on the living room floor. “Ok, what about this: Teen vampire joins new school to-” “Sounds like Twilight. Can we watch a comedy?” “Ugh, you’re so picky! You choose then!” Stefan laughed as Jesse passed over the remote. He looked outside and noticed it was getting dark. Devan hadn’t returned and Stefan didn’t recall him even mentioning when he would return. He became worrisome, sleeping alone was not something he felt comfortable doing for some time, as embarrassed as he was to admit it. “Jesse,” Stefan said, “you mind staying here tonight? Or until Devan gets back?” “Well, of course, hun. I’m not about to leave you here alone!” Stefan smiled. He turned back to the TV to look at the movie selections, but his mind was elsewhere. He spent a great deal of time thinking about his face-off with Chris and it’s aftermath. So much had happened in that short moment, he replayed in his mind how his ex threatened to physically attack him, and how his friends would bear witness to this. “I have to ask,” Stefan said, still looking at the TV. “Did you know why I asked you not to call the police yesterday?” Jesse nodded. “I know we gays, especially black gay men, don’t usually mess with the police if we don’t have to. And I can understand that. But something told me you didn't stop me cuz you were afraid of them.” “...You’re right, I didn’t stop you because I was afraid of the police.” “Then what were you afraid of?” Stefan shook his head. He hated to admit this, but realized that Jesse was the last person he should have hesitance admitting anything to. “I was afraid of them doing something to Chris.” “That makes sense. You didn’t want anything happening to him.” Stefan bit his lower lip. “I also didn’t because of what Chris said. What if you did call the police? ‘I’d like to report an assault between domestic partners. Both males.’ If you made that call, there’s no telling what could’ve happened. What if the other tenants found out? Or it ended up on the local news? It wasn’t just to protect Chris, though I know better than to put his safety over mine… It was about people knowing about us.” Jesse’s brows furrowed. “Stefan, why are you still caught up in trying to be on the down-low?” “Because it’s dangerous out there! You know it’s true. Being something other than straight means having a whole slew of other issues. You could lose your job. Your family. Your home. Keeping Chris and I’s relationship under wraps is hard enough. To be ‘out’ would feel like I have a target on my back. I can’t live that way… and Chris knows I couldn’t either.” “What do you mean?” Stefan looked hard at Jesse. “He told me to come back to him, or he’ll tell my job and my family that I’m gay.” Jesse’s mouth was wide. “Chris is blackmailing you?! Ugh, this fool has gone too far...” “I didn’t think it’d come to this. Chris is possessive, but he should know this is hitting below the belt. He could ruin my life!” “What are you going to do?” Stefan shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t really have many choices.” Jesse looked solemnly at Stefan, then started staring off. “You are right about something, Being ‘out’ isn’t always the safest option for us. Anything can happen, that’s the risk. But being ‘out’ doesn’t have to be a death sentence, not here. James Street ain’t perfect, but compared to where you came from, there ain’t much to worry about. “What Chris is doing is foul, forcing you out the closet like this. But, if worse comes to worse, Devan and I have been ‘out’ in this city for a long time, and though it seems scary, we survive it every day. If there’s a place you can be where you don’t have to worry about being ‘out,’ it’s here!” Stefan looked pensive. He understood what Jesse was saying, but the risk seemed too great. It wasn’t right that he had to make this decision at all. Stefan had to find a way to get out of Chris’ grasp for good. While Uncle Charles went off to bed, Devan and his auntie settled in on the porch chairs. The sun was setting, and a purple and pink glow could be seen in the sky, the clouds, and the ocean. The waves grew stronger, pounding against the fine sand. Aunt Gladys turned on the porch light. “I’m really glad you all came this way,” she said. “You enjoy watching Uncle Charles throw down on the grill like he used to?” Devan laughed. “Yeah. It reminded me when I was a kid. You both still come out here to grill once in a while?” “Mmm, not as much as we used to. See, Charles and I gotta look out for our health. We’re not young like we used to be. I try to suggest having a salad or some fruits once in awhile, but your Uncle Charles is a stubborn man. Ooh boy…” Devan laughed again. This was all so familiar: Uncle Charles and Aunt Gladys on their porch chairs, while Leroy and Devan would sit next to their feet on the floor or the porches ledge, listening to them talk and fight with one another till sundown. They were pleasant memories, but just that, memories. Devan was now in his mid-20s, and he had to wonder, why all the lost time? “I think we stopped showing up around the time I reached sixteen if you remember.” “...I do. This home hasn’t been quite the same without the whole family here. Your mom, dad, Leroy, and you.” “Why did we stop coming?” Aunt Gladys glanced at Devan. “...I did love my sister, your mom. And I certainly loved my brother in law too. But I didn’t like who they were. You can be raised by the church and still have very different views. Sometimes that effects the expectations you have for the people around you.” Aunt Gladys continued, “Your Uncle Charles and I thought much different and did things based on what we believed. We hoped you’d have a cousin to look after as you grew older.” “Really?” “Mmhmm. That was our dream. Move to this beautiful home, have a child, be close to the family. But, we weren’t married, and the family was furious, especially your mother. Unfortunately, that dream would never come to fruition… I lost my child. ” Devan froze. The feeling in his fingers went numb. She continued, “I could never forgive her or the family. It had been years since I seen any of them… until your parents’ funeral. Being wrapped up in my anger, I hadn’t realized my sister had committed another unspeakable act in the name of the Lord just two years after I lost my child. She abandoned you.” Devan looked hard at Aunt Gladys. Finally, he could understand why she of all people wasn’t there for him when his parents kicked him out. Aunt Gladys and Uncle Charles loved him, they would never turn their back on him. He found it in himself to forgive them. “Do you know,” he asked, “why my mom and dad kicked me out of the house?” Aunt Gladys grew tight in the face. “I didn’t.... They talked as if you grew wings and flew out on your own one day. Just like Charles. But, family likes to talk, and I’d hear through the grapevine that my young nephew was…” “Gay.” Aunt Gladys folded her finger and sucked in her lips. The wind picked up, the wind chimes near the door colliding. “Now, you know how we were raised, Devan. We all have our interpretations of what the bible says. And in this family, being homosex - gay - is not okay to be.” Devan looked to the floor. He was well aware of the feeling of a once solid, supportive family, ripping the rug from underneath him because of who he chose to love. Aunt Gladys sighed. “I apologize for not being here for you all these years. Please understand who you are in no way changes the fact that you are still my nephew. I believe that the Lord is love. Don’t matter if you never go to church, live with someone before you’re married...or you’re gay. The Lord only cares that you gotta good heart. You looking out for you niece Jade like this, I can tell you have a truly beautiful heart, Devan dear. Something tells me all you do will come back to you ten-fold. If you need me to have a little talk with Miss Kathy to make sure you see that child, I’m always a call away.” Aunt Gladys put her hand on Devan’s, a warm smile appeared on her lips. Devan’s tenseness had melted, having Aunt Gladys on his corner. His auntie’s love shattered his preconceived notion that his entire blood family wanted nothing to do with him. He had her, he had Uncle Charles, and he had Jade. This was his family, and nothing could take that away.
  9. Cider Press

    You have a way with words. I was caught off guard with how pleasing this would be to the senses . Thank you for sharing!
  10. Isolation

    I feel this one very deeply. Thank you for sharing, jp.
  11. daniel

    A tragic and disturbing loss. This is a meaningful and personable tribute to Daniel. RIP.
  12. Babe and I!

    How cute :)!
  13. Occam's Razor and Doppler Effect

    Creative and structured beautifully! I like the mix of science, love, and romance :).
  14. Chapter 17

    The air was cool. Tranquil. The sky was at its clearest with the sun bearing down with great intensity. Stefan welcomed the coolness and sun that refused to be hidden behind clouds. It gave him some courage to proceed with his plan: he wanted to see Chris, one-on-one. Stefan worried for his friend’s safety. He believed bringing Devan and Jesse along would agitate Chris. But Stefan pondered if he was trying to prove a point: He didn’t want to appear cowardly. He’s lived with this man for some time, the risk couldn’t be as great as he imagined. Wasn’t running away spineless enough? He wanted to show Chris that he didn’t get to control him any longer. He wanted to demonstrate that he was brave. If he could show Jesse and Devan that he was able to take care of this on his own, maybe they wouldn’t see him as this helpless victim. He parked his car at the entrance of his old building. He stayed inside, trying not to psyche himself into leaving. He felt his mouth water and his throat tighten. What was he so worried about, he thought. He tried to overcome the signals within him that told him that he was rightfully fearful. Once he was as composed as he could get, he took himself out the car and headed into the apartment. Stefan reached the hallway of his floor and stood at the front of his apartment. He could hear the TV playing loudly as usual. Chris was there. Stefan tried swallowing, then almost gagged. As he was about to unlock the door, he got a call. It was from Jesse. He thought to inform Jesse what was going on but hit ignore instead. He didn’t want to tell Jesse about what was happening just yet. He used his own keys, entered them in the keyhole, and unlocked the door. Devan sped over to Jesse’s. He couldn’t calm his beating heart. The thought of Stefan being in danger made the hair on the back of his neck stand. He gripped the steering wheel tightly, almost getting himself into a few accidents as he rode through the streets. He arrived at Jesse’s ten minutes later. As Devan was approaching he saw Jesse, sunglasses, and hood on, sitting on the curb. Devan stopped along the street’s shoulder as Jesse opened the passenger door. “Boy, you must’ve zipped through half the town,” Jesse commented as he put on his seatbelt. “Let’s go.” Devan hit the gas and they were on their way. While driving, Devan noticed an odor coming off Jesse that made his nose wrinkle. Devan said, “Jes, you smell like the floor of a bar. Did you go out last night?” Jesse sucked in his teeth. “You know I ain’t got the money to be going to the club… I just bought a bottle to drink at home.” “No one who's had ‘a little drink’ smells like that. Jesus, you shouldn’t drink like that so much. You could be doing some serious damage to your body-” Jesse felt his head pound. The drums in his brain intensified the more Devan spoke. His hand grabbed at his head. “Devan,” he interrupted him, “can we focus on Stefan right now?” Devan relented and put his mind back on the road. Jesse massaged his temples. “Sorry, I’m just - Why would Stefan just leave without telling me? I’m freaking out, man. Anything could happen to him.” Jesse noticed Devan passing quickly through stop signs, swerving. His breathing was heavy and his eyes were wide with excitement. “I know, I understand why you’re worried. This definitely isn’t like him. But, I need you to try and settle yourself down. You’re driving real crazy right now.” Devan looked at Jesse as though he didn’t understand a word he said. “Jesse, he’s going over to that fucker’s house right now! How do you expect me to drive?!” “We don’t know if he’s going there! And if you keep driving like this, you’re going to get us both killed!” Devan gritted his teeth. “He could hurt him.” “I’m aware of that-” “Then how do you not feel scared as shit right now? I swear man if he even touches Stefan...I’ll kill him, Jesse.” Jesse furrowed his brows as he looked at Devan. He stopped focusing on the pain his head. “Don’t be talking like that, Devan. You don’t mean that. Stefan wouldn’t want you to rot in prison no matter what Chris did. I don’t how else to get through to you. Unless he puts hands on Stefan, you cannot beat his ass.” Devan couldn’t understand Jesse’s logic. How could Jesse not be as eager as him to get his hands on Chris? To make him pay for what he’s done to their friend? His lips trembled. “What if I convinced him to stay with that creep? Fuck, he thought staying with Chris was okay because of me! I should’ve never told him about Leroy and me.” Jesse nodded. “Please don’t blame yourself for any of this. What could’ve given you the idea that this boy would stay with his abusive boyfriend because of anything you said? Stefan has been with Chris, on and off, for ten years. There’s nothing you could’ve said that would’ve changed that. None of this is your fault.” Devan shook his head. He steadily reduced his speed, attempting to drive reasonably quickly, though he felt the situation called for more urgency. “I don’t want anything to happen to him, Jesse. I don’t know what I’d do if he got hurt…” Stefan had his back to the door as he watched Chris lift himself from the couch. The apartment was filthier than it ever was without Stefan around to pick up after him. The floor was littered and had already collected a few stains. The top of the living room table was covered with mail and used cups. Pots and pans that had yet to be cleaned sat on the stovetop as if waiting for someone to come clean it up. “You came,” Chris said with a grin on his face. Stefan stood still. As Chris walked toward him, Stefan could sense the sweat forming on his face and arms. He started breathing in short breaths. Chris opened his arms and pulled Stefan into him for a hug. “I missed you.” Stefan trembled, keeping his hands to his sides. Chris appeared to have noticed his hesitance but paid it no mind. He continued, “I’d knew you’d come back, babe. You were making me a little crazy over here. But now that you’ve come home, we gotta make sure you don’t leave again.” Stefan studied Chris as he walked around the apartment. Stefan began to move away from the front door, not trying to appear guarded. Chris looked idly at the squalid state of the home Stefan and him had shared, and Stefan couldn’t help but wonder if Chris did expect him to return, as if nothing happened, cleaning Chris’ mess as he usually did. His blatant arrogance was infuriating. Stefan stopped at the couch. He vowed, at that very moment, that he’d never let Chris touch, or order him around, again. “Chris,” Stefan said, “I’m not staying.” Chris frowned. Stefan thought he might act out, but instead, Chris let out a forced laugh. Stefan didn’t understand. “What you mean?” “I meant what I told you when I left you that voice message. I can’t stay with you.” Chris let out another laugh, much softer this time around, as he shook his head. Stefan could feel his skin crawl. “Who you tryin’ to kid? We’ve been together since high school, Stefan. What, you forget? I know we all do some shit out of anger or spite. But I’ve forgiven you, babe! You don’t gotta be playing hard to get.” Stefan was offended that Chris would even think he was asking for forgiveness. He toyed with him so casually. He felt the knuckles on his hands tense. “Let’s just put this shit behind us and-” “No. I’m telling you that I don’t want to be with you.” Chris’s grin left him. He had a grimaced look on his face, an expression Stefan had hardly ever seen Chris make. He was unsure how to react to it. He stood firm and said, “I came back to grab the rest of my things. You’re welcome to help if you want. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter. But, I’m leaving you.” Chris glared at Stefan with furrowed brows, his tongue poking into his cheek. He started pacing. Stefan knew his fuse would set off. “Naw you-you can’t do that, Stefan. You don’t get to up and leave like this.” Chris' voice was low as he spoke, not even looking at him. “You thought you could come in here and tell me you’re gonna leave me? You think this is a game?” “I’m not playing any games with you. You can’t make me stay with you-” Chris eyes flew open as he screamed, “The hell I can’t!” Stefan shook. Chris seemed to notice that he’d been too loud as well. Chris walked towards Stefan, pointing his finger at him. “You belong to me. I told you that you were my first, and you’d be my last. I meant that, and I ain’t letting you go.” Stefan grew increasingly worried for his safety. This man had violated his bodily autonomy before. He could very well do it again. His phone rang. The two of them froze. Stefan reached for his phone in a hurried pace, and before he knew it, Chris was charging at him. He backed into the wall, checked the caller ID, and pulled the phone to his ear. “JESSE-” “Stefan? Stefan? Is that you?” Jesse’s panicked voice talked into the phone. Devan thought he would pass out from the anxiety. The two sweated bullets on their car ride to Stefan and Chris’ place, their fear for their friend’s safety overwhelming them greatly. Devan said, “Wh-wh-what was that? Was that him?!” Jesse’s mouth was agape. “I-I don’t know. But it sounded like him...” He found it hard to speak. Devan looked at Jesse, hoping he’d find some comfort in his demeanor. Hadn’t Jesse been in this scenario before to help a friend? But Devan saw Jesse was just as afraid as he was as he stared out the window. “We’re getting there, Jesse. We’re getting there...” Devan had reached the front of Stefan’s apartment. Cars were blocking any close parking spots he could find. That’s when Devan noticed that one of them had been Stefan’s. He got as close as he could to the building’s entrance. “Jesse, run up to Stefan’s apartment. I’m gonna try to find parking. Go, quick!” Jesse nodded and ran out. “Call me if anything goes wrong, okay?!” And Devan drove off. Stefan stared at his phone in Chris’ hands. His shoes were stuck to the floor like glue. “That was a close one” he said. “You think I’m gonna hurt you? Are you afraid of me?” Stefan wouldn’t dare answer either question. It disturbed him that Chris would even ask them. “I’m not gonna hurt you, Stefan. I love you. I’m just trying to do what I can to make you stay.” “Chris,” Stefan spoke up, hearing his voice fluctuate, “give me back my phone-” “Let’s make a deal.” Chris tossed Stefan’s phone in the air like he was playing with a ball. “If you stay, this could all be over. You bring back your stuff, we can go back to the way things were. I’ll even act like none of this happened.” That wasn’t an option for Stefan. He couldn’t let Chris force him back here like he was some correctional officer putting him back in his cage. “If you leave though,” he continued. “I’ll tell everyone what you are.” Stefan’s face twisted. Was he being serious? When it dawned on him what Chris was planning, Stefan thought he’d throw up. “I’ll call up your job. I’ll tell your cousins. Everybody in this fucking town and back home will know you're a faggot.” Stefan’s mouth fell. “You-you wouldn’t-” “Tell me I wouldn’t. I got your phone. Shouldn’t be too hard.” Stefan became lightheaded. He never thought Chris would go this far. Stefan was trapped. This man would use any means to dominate him. “Why are you doing this?” “I said you were mine, Stefan. You try to go, you’ll regret it.” Chris’ gall, the threats, Stefan was beside himself. He couldn’t let Chris get away with this. He lunged for his phone, but Chris pulled it away. Stefan then grappled with Chris, pulling at his arms and sleeves. Chris jerked back, having never seen Stefan react physically towards him. He shoved Stefan onto the wooden floor. Stefan’s shoulder and hips were smarting from the impact. He heard his phone hit the ground as well. He turned to it, grabbed for it, and was about to try and call Jesse again. He stopped midway when Chris stood over him. His fist was raised above Stefan’s head. He said, “Don’t make me hurt you, Stefan. Drop the phone.” Stefan’s arms were raised in a defensive pose. Chris bore down on him with the same eyes he had when he pinned him to their bed. He knew Chris would hit him. And just as Stefan had sent out a phone call and Chris was pulling back his fist, someone yelled, “Get the fuck away from Stefan.” Chris froze. Stefan looked over towards the door. Chris said to the person, “What the hell are you doing here-” “Did you hear me? I said get the fuck away from Stefan, or I will call the police.” Jesse stood by the doorway, his phone in his hand. Chris looked menacingly at Jesse like he could strike him, making quick glances at Jesse’s hand. Stefan struggled to speak. “J-Jesse. Don’t call the police.” Chris interrupted, “You ain’t calling no police. Whaddya going to say? Two faggots fighting in an apartment room? The police ain’t gonna give a shit-” “Don’t try me, Chris,” Jesse said. “Now, I need you to get away from Stefan or my ass is dialing 911.” “Jesse,” Stefan said. “Please, please don’t call them.” Jesse ignored Stefan. “I’m waiting, Chris.” Chris watched Jesse some more. He put down his fist. He backed away slowly towards the bedroom, glaring down at Stefan as he did so. He started smoothing out the wrinkles Stefan made when he pulled at his arm as if he were wiping dirt off his sleeves. Jesse never took his eyes off Chris. Devan came right after, standing behind Jesse. He saw Stefan on the floor, then looked at Chris. He charged forward, but an arm stopped him. “It’s okay,” Jesse said, speaking softly so Chris wouldn't hear him. “Be cool.” Jesse walked more into the apartment, Devan following close behind. Stefan’s legs and arms shook as he tried lifting himself from the ground. He swayed as he got up and Jesse steadied him. Devan’s thoughts of harming Chris returned again. When it seemed to become overbearing, he looked at Stefan. Stefan was shaken up but didn’t look injured. He was grateful he was okay. That was all that mattered. He put his thoughts of revenge behind him. Stefan's voice was low but determined. “I just have a box of my personal files, my clothes, and my computer that I need to grab. He can keep everything else…” Jesse asked. “Okay. Are you sure?” Stefan nodded. “I don’t need anything else.” Jesse understood. “Devan and I can grab whatever you need.” He looked at Chris as he said, “Will that be an issue?” Chris glanced down at the floor, then made a shrug. “Do what you need to do.” And Chris made sure to have Stefan’s full attention when he said, “He’ll be back.” Devan took Jesse back home and Stefan and he rode back to his place. Stefan barely spoke. Devan wanted to ask what Stefan was thinking going to Chris’ without informing anyone. Did he understand the danger he was putting himself in? Did he realize what Jesse and he went through, fearing for Stefan’s wellbeing? But Stefan wasn’t going to avoid admitting any of his mistakes. He was his own worst critic, and anything Devan said to reinforce his negative self-talk would only make him feel worse. “You really scared us, Stefan,” Devan said. “We thought we’d be too late. Chris looked like he-” Devan stopped in mid-sentence, seeing Stefan appear still in shock. He continued, “I’m glad you’re okay. I love you, and the last thing I want is for you to be hurt.” Stefan looked at Devan. He heard that word “love” used by someone who couldn’t have meant it, not after all that he put him through. What the hell was it anyway? Stefan couldn’t imagine what it did to his mind to hear “I love you” from a man that would threaten to physically hurt him. Or leave him at a gas station with nothing but the clothes on his back. Or attempt to rape him. Love should mean nothing to him. And just when he thought he’d lost faith in the word itself, he heard it from someone who never hurt him, who would even go as far as to risk himself just to protect him. Chandra was right, what Chris and he had was not the kind of love he deserved. The bond he had with Chandra, Devan, and Jesse, that was sacred. Though the saga wasn’t over, Stefan was thankful. He didn’t have to do this alone.
  15. Chapter 15

    Stefan's free! The moment we've been waiting for. And fortunately, he has Devan to stay with :). Mmhmm, Jesse lost someone pretty good. Though you've already read the chapter, Jesse starts to realize just how much he's given up.

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