Sam knew what he’d heard was truthful, he’d seen it himself, but he had to ask again anyway, “You’re kidding, right?”
“No, totally serious,” said Lucca, turning his head to shoot Sam a quick glance. He was driving, which was probably a good thing otherwise Sam would be harassing him with more than questions. “Why would I lie about that? It’s embarrassing.”
Sam was dumbfounded. He desperately wanted to hug Lucca; he’d never received such a high compliment on his music before.
‘What’s the proper reaction for this?I probably shouldn’t be happy, but…’
He definitely was. While he hadn’t intended to make Lucca cry, being able to evoke such strong emotions with his music was a gratifying feeling. Especially since the song he’d played was written for the person in question.
Originally, he hadn’t intended to play that song for anyone, never mind Lucca. It was odd, though. When Sam stepped up on stage he just got the feeling that he should play it, then he saw Lucca alone in the back and everything spilled out of him- at that point it wasn’t even a conscious choice.
“I don’t think it’s so embarrassing.” Dropping his hand, he met Lucca’s, which was resting between them on the console. He gently traced his fingers over the back of Lucca’s palm. “I’m kind of honored, honestly.”
The look he got for that was disbelieving at best. “Whatever.”
God, he liked this guy. Sam knew he had it bad because even Lucca’s dismissals were charming. ‘How does he manage that?’ Sam wondered, not that the answer was so important. They were on their way to sushi, and Sam found himself content to just sit there, knowing he had at least two more hours with the guy.
Sam watched quietly as Lucca drove, trying to take him in properly. He was so different than anyone he’d ever met; Sam swore he was more attracted to the guy every time they were together. Was that possible? Intrigued, he kept up his examination until Lucca started to turn red.
“Stop looking at me!” Lucca complained causing Sam to laugh. “It’s not funny, I’m trying to drive and not kill us here and you’re so—“
“Distracting?” He cut in, smirking.
“Well, yeah.” Sam might’ve been offended but Lucca was smiling, making him confident that he didn’t mind the distraction as much as he put on.
“Sorry, wouldn’t want to cause an accident with my penetrating gaze,” he teased earning a look.
A couple minutes later once the car was parked Lucca got his real retribution. While Sam unbuckled his seatbelt he leaned in for a kiss. It was hot and deep and over way too fast. Sam was left stupidly surprised. The gesture was clearly meant to be playful, though, because Lucca laughed before hopping out of the car.
“Come on,” he called walking toward the restaurant alone.
The shock Sam felt took a minute to shake off. ‘Lucca kissed me.’ It might not have been a big deal with most people, but this was an uncommon act. For the first time it wasn’t him making the first move.
Most of the drive there had been full of praise from Lucca on how good the food would be; Sam thought he was exaggerating until he ate the first bite out of his dragon roll. It really was amazing.
“Me and Addie found this place on one of her planned adventure nights. Kind of out of the way… but I think it’s worth it.” He shrugged, smiling as he took a bite of his own.
Sam eagerly nodded his agreement until another question occurred to him. “Adventure nights?”
“Yeah, every so often we go out somewhere new but Addie always makes it into a whole night. We dress up and stuff, it’s fun.”
“Sounds like it,” Sam agreed. “So where have you gone?”
“Lots of places.” Lucca sighed, seemingly to collect his thoughts. “Last time we went for Colombian food, and the time before that I think we went to an exhibit at a museum and then for ice cream.”
The way the evening was going they were able to easily volley questions back and forth. First there was some discussion about music, then college. Sam was ready to let the conversation continue on that road until he remembered a question he’d been carrying around about Lucca. Of course he was curious about everything considering the fair-headed boy, but there was an outstanding mystery he’d wondered about since the weekend they volunteered together.
“So, Lucca, I think there’s something you’re not telling me here,” Sam joked.
The table got noticeably quiet.
Lucca had been in a bubbly mood all night, but by the time he’d finished the sentence Lucca’s demeanor had completely changed. He looked like he was going to be sick to his stomach; the intense reaction had Sam reevaluating his words—and pretty soon he felt the same way.
Was Lucca hiding something?
“I meant, you never really explained why you started volunteering,” Sam clarified.
“Oh,” Lucca responded, nodding. Somehow his face had gone from sick to resigned, and maybe…depressed? Sam tried to figure out where to place the emotion. “It’s a long story,” he finally sighed.
Sam never said anything, imploring him to continue with his eyes.
“At the time I guess the reason was simple enough,” Lucca said, sounding tired. “I was depressed, I guess you could say. My dad sort of… told me I had to. It was either that or something more serious, y’know?”
Sam didn’t know, not that it mattered. The question was rhetorical and after it the story continued to pour our pretty quickly. The problems started when Lucca was fourteen; his mom had gone in for a normal check up and complained of some mild headaches. Her doctor ran some tests then all the sudden the headaches were brain cancer. After a round of chemo and radiation things got better for a while, then worse again. Much worse.
Sam felt like a heartless jerk for making Lucca even tell the story; he was on the verge of asking him to stop when he noticed it was too late, Lucca had already gone all mechanical as if he’d already had to go through the telling of this part dozens of times before.
“I only started volunteering when things got really bad. I stopped talking to everyone, I wasn’t going to school for a while,” Lucca’s voice was raw. “My dad got worried…”
The distance that was created between friends and family was probably the biggest surprise for Sam. Judging from meeting his father and Addie it seemed like they were all still pretty close. He couldn’t imagine a time where that wasn’t true.
Addie’s past warning seemed to finally make sense. She had sort of confused him at the time, but Lucca was a little wary— of people, of exposing his feelings— Sam realized suddenly. He’d obviously been through much more than he deserved. Sam could understand why Addie was so protective of him; despite everything Lucca really had maintained a level of innocence that was deeply precious.
More than ever before, Sam was aware of the delicate balance that seemed to have fallen into his lap.
“So… what’s your favorite scrabble word?”
“What?” Lucca shook off the pained expression he’d been wearing, cracking a small smile.
“You heard me.”
“Yeah, but…” He faltered, his confusion slowly shifting to a grin. “Never mind. I guess it’s probably adz.”
“That is so not a real word,” Sam said under his breath, just loud enough for Lucca to hear. Lucca let out a loud bark of laughter causing Sam to give an easy smile in return; his plan had worked.
“Adz is a carpenters tool.” Lucca shrugged when Sam sent him a disbelieving look.
It was a huge relief that the mood was so easily changeable. Sam never wanted to see that lifeless expression again. After that he made a concentrated effort to keep the conversation topics light, which seemed to make Lucca happy. It wasn’t until the end of the night that Sam had that confirmed. Leaving the car to find his own he was suddenly called back.
“Sam?” Lucca got out of the idling car and closed the distance between them with a few steps.
“Thanks for not pushing.”
It took a second, but he knew exactly what that meant. Understanding could be easy when there were stories he too was reluctant to tell. Sam wasn’t exactly looking forward to explaining the relationship he had with his parents, or his dating history. Either of those topics were sure to make for awkward conversation.
7 o’clock the next morning the shrill cry of his phone woke him up. Sam stayed in bed debating over what to do just long enough causing the ringing to click over to voicemail. Already too late for the phone, he tried to fall back to sleep.
He was acutely familiar with one spot on the ceiling half-an-hour later.
‘Shit.’ It was supposed to be his day off. ‘The world just doesn’t want me to sleep in, I guess,’ Sam thought before finally shoving back the covers. Sure, he had plans for the day; he’d just planned them… later.
Whoever called was not his favorite person right now.
‘Oh well.’ Sam started the coffee, stretching. Unfortunately, now he’d actually have to get around to listening to his messages. Avoiding the one his mom left was easy enough, but now they were starting to pile up. Coffee wouldn’t hurt the situation, though. Sam stared down the angry red blinking from the answering machine until his first cup was finished, giving him the strength to finally hit play.
“Sam? This is your mother…” As if he didn’t know the sound of her voice by now, Sam rolled his eyes. “I’ve heard from your that you found a job. How is that? I saw some photos on the news the other day of the weather there. Is it really so cold? It looks like there’s snow on the ground…”
His mother never came out and said she missed him, nothing like that. However, there wasn’t a real discernable purpose for the call. She asked a bunch of vague questions that seemed to indicate a desire to talk, but she never requested a call back, either. Maybe Addie had been right.
He was so shocked by the possibility that nearly choked on his coffee and wound up having to listen to the next message twice. It was a call from Mr. Ramone from last night saying someone had requested his contact information for guitar lessons. Sam thought he couldn’t have been any happier with the way the night had gone until he heard that.
The last message clicked on and Sam forced himself to pay attention. “Hi, this is Lucca’s brother, Rob… “ The call was an invitation to a surprise birthday party in two weeks. Sam made a mental note to take the day off of work. He’d also have to call Rob back because he’d mentioned something about Sam helping plan the big day.
Well, that was nice. Easy acceptance into Lucca’s life felt unreal. Of course he’d received a set of warnings from Addie and Lucca’s dad, but that was to be expected. From their point of view he was an older, unknown kid from out of town. He’d never had to consider what it might be like to introduce anyone to his parents before, but it was silly thought. They would never be so welcoming towards a boyfriend.
Though, the fact that his mother called did mean something… Sam just wasn’t sure what.
Getting his hopes up was not what he wanted regarding his parents. The last time that happened he wound up moving out of the house. They’d been cordial enough, but he knew they had never accepted him being gay. Not really. Wasn’t that fact just thrown in his face when his parents said they’d ‘deal’ with it? ‘What does that even mean? Deal with it, my ass. Ignore is more like it.’
A month of complete avoidance regarding any of his career and lifestyle choices ended with his decision that he’d be better off moving out. After he announced the idea his father simply said, “What should I pack you to eat on the trip?”
Sam was still floored by the memory. He hadn’t expected it, but he had hoped one of his parents might ask him to stay. …And now his mom was calling to talk about the weather? He couldn’t even begin putting the puzzle together on that one.
With his palm, Sam smoothed out the worry trying to take over his features. This—his family issues—were not going to keep from his plans today. For once he’d been graced with a full day off, and on a Sunday, no less.
The second he’d heard his schedule for the week Sam knew he’d be looking for Lucca today. Okay, lookingfor might not be the right sentiment; Sam had a pretty good idea of where he could find him.
Where else would he be on a Sunday afternoon besides Grace Memorial? Sam thought it over as he ate breakfast and packed a surprise lunch for later. The first time he was there it was of interest simply because Lucca was involved. Now, knowing the why behind the involvement he felt a little more strongly about the place.
Maybe it was silly, but he really felt grateful. What if Lucca hadn’t found that sanctuary after his mom died? His heart almost stopped just thinking about it. It wasn’t a hard leap to make, really. Sam could sense an underlying sadness in Lucca even now; sometimes he was too quiet, smiled too little. ‘Yeah,’ he decided, ‘I’m definitely thankful that place exists.’
Reminding himself of this, he made an extra attempt to be kind to the nurses and other staff while seeking out Lucca.
“Hi Betty,” He called warmly as he was nearing the nurses station, “Is Lucca here?”
“When is he ever not here?” She replied with a laugh before her look turned thoughtful. “Except next weekend, that is.”
“What’s next weekend?”
“Oh, you know, family matters.” Betty gestured vaguely looking so concerned that Sam couldn’t bring himself to ask any more.
They stood quietly for a beat until Betty realized he was still waiting to know where Lucca was. She directed him to the room he remembered playing board games in during the last visit. Sam thanked her and began walking down the corridor. Still a couple rooms away, he could hear the teasing going on beyond the door. “You better thank your lucky stars, another game like that won’t come by again anytime soon,” he heard Mr. Evans saying. Sam smiled; Lucca must have won.
Before he could make it to the room, though, Jeremy popped out of a door in front of him. It probably shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to seem him there, but somehow it was. Sam hadn’t seen him at all lately, at least not since… He honestly couldn’t even remember. When was the last time he talked to his cousin?
The last time they’d talked Jeremy had been in super-germ mode, acting like a complete ass. Still, Sam felt bad that he hadn’t tried to talk with him since. His cousin was obviously dealing with something and it was up to him to squeeze it out of him, whether he wanted to talk or not.
One more second of longing then he turned his full attention on Jeremy. “How’s it going, cuz?”
“Oh, you know…” Jeremy glared trying to casually sidestep past.
“Actually,” said Sam, mimicking his movements, “I don’t. Maybe because we never seem to run into each other anymore.”
Sam could already feel waves of annoyance radiating off his cousin, but he had promised himself that he’d get to the bottom of it. So he stood his ground, quite literally, by blocking Jeremy’s escape route.
“Nah, I’m good here.”
“Move.” Jeremy’s glare intensified.
“I think we need to talk.”
“Do you?” Jeremy snapped, all patience for the conversation gone. “You came all the way here to talk to me? Yeah, right, because you’ve made such an effort all week.”
Sam felt like he’d been slapped. He knew that he had been negligent where his cousin’s feelings were concerned; especially since he knew something serious must be going on. “Jer—“
“Save it. I’m not some stupid kid. You’re here to see Lucca right? He’s in there,” Jeremy spit out. He jerked his hand towards the doorway where Lucca was now standing, ashen.
Sam offered Lucca a weak smile as Jeremy pushed past him, knocking him out of the way with his shoulder. “Jer, wait—“
“It’s fine,” he said in a voice that indicated anything but. “You love him, right?” He sent Sam another glare before stalking off.
Sam could have sworn he heard a muttered, “just like everyone else.” He wanted to follow after his cousin and sort this out, but Jeremy was already halfway down the hall, and it would be foolish to make more of a scene than they already had. He’d have to catch up to him later… at home.
There was another thing holding him in place, too. Without even looking Sam felt the weight of Lucca’s questioning gaze.
‘God, I should have known this day was gonna be a headache.’
Sam finally turned a look back on Lucca, feeling the burden of having no answers to ease the pain he saw filtered through the jade eyes.
Lucca walked over to him and gently grabbed the same arm that was now smarting. He led him down a few halls where they stopped at the deserted lounge, where he released his arm and deflated into a couch. “I’m so sorry.”
“Huh?” Lucca was sorry? Sam shook his head. “Why?”
“Well…” He sighed. “Last week I thought I might’ve done something to upset Jeremy… and now, I mean, I think he’s against us dating or something.”
‘Hmm…’ The possibility hadn’t really occurred to Sam. It didn’t seem likely, though. If anything, Jeremy would be annoyed at Sam for not mentioning they were dating. It would be kind of contradictory on Jeremy’s part to be angry over Sam seeing a guy.
“I think it’s something else.” Sam said, taking a place next to Lucca on the couch. All he wanted was to sit here forever, absorbing the presence of this boy. He wouldn’t be able to think properly, though, until the matter with his cousin was settled.
Reluctantly, he pulled himself away and handed Lucca the lunch he’d made for the both of them. “I came to bring you this.”
Lucca smiled as he looked through the contents of the bag. “Thanks.”
“I was planning to stay longer, but I think I need to go find my cousin.” Even though he knew it was the right thing to do, he was still hesitant to leave. Whatever conversation was waiting for him was certain to be less pleasant than Lucca’s company. Half of him hoped that Lucca would selfishly ask him to stay, but that plan was ruined when the boy nodded thoughtfully before kissing him goodbye.