Hi everyone. I know it's been a while since I've been here or said anything. I just felt I needed to go dark for a while. I've put a lot of thought into this superhero story I said I would work on. But the more I tried to work on it, the less I wanted to actually write it. So the superhero story is sitting on a bookshelf somewhere, waiting for the day it's potentially written.

This likely comes from me deciding what I want to write. Writing that superhero story made it feel like work rather than something I enjoy, and that's likely the reason I couldn't get into it. This new story 'Let Me Lead' is something I've thought about for a little while now. The first chapter is mostly to set who the main characters are and their interactions with one another.

From now on, I've decided to write what I want to write. Having someone else decide what I write makes me lose all passion for what it is I'm working on. So working on a story that I've decided to work on my own, the passion is there once again. Well, this is my first chapter in a while. so I hope you all enjoy. Thank you and take care.

R.A.


Chapter 1

Jesus, practice went on way too long today. It’s already dark out and I’m freaking starving. Throwing on my jacket, I rush out of the locker room and the school to find my car in the parking lot. I slip into the driver’s seat and ignite the engine. As I’m about to shift into drive, I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket.

Pulling it out, I find a text from Dad on the screen.

‘I expect a full report when you come home. I’m going to email Coach Baker and see if your stats match up.’

Jesus Christ, leave me the hell alone. Every freaking practice, he needs a report from me and how I’m improving. I’m doing fine, thank you very much. I don’t need you breathing down my neck with this bull. I toss my phone into the passenger’s seat and throw my car into drive before I peel out of the parking lot.

As I’m driving down the road, a few drops of rain begin to fall on my windshield. Oh I really hope this doesn’t… Yup, there’s the downpour. Okay, all I asked for was no rain. You couldn’t give me one thing, could you? Man, it’s really coming down now. At least there doesn’t seem to be anyone on the roads right now.

Throwing on my brights so I can see through the rain, I find that it’s hard to see in front of me. I slow down my car so I don’t potentially crash into something. Turning a bend, I find Jenny’s Diner on the side of the road. Yeah, I could use a bite to eat right now. Dad is just going to need to wait for his stupid report.

I pull off the road and quickly find a parking spot. Jumping out of the car, I run through the rain and step inside. The place is mostly empty, save for a few other diners. I shake myself off and take a seat at the counter as a waitress comes up to me. “Hey, Ash.”

Looking up, I see Katherine Grey, with her signature fiery red hair, standing behind the counter, holding a notepad in her hand. “Hey, Kat. I didn’t know you worked here.”

“I just started a few weeks ago. I wanted some more spending money before we graduate in May. Practice just end?”

“Yeah. Long freaking day too.”

“How about I get you a water then?”

“That’d be great.”

She goes off to get me that water while I look over the menu. A body takes a seat next to me and I find Kat placing the glass of water in front of me. “Any ideas on what you’ll get?”

“Just a chicken club, no tomato.”

“Fries with that?”

“Absolutely.”

She writes down my order and takes it to the kitchen before taking a seat next to me again. “Penny for your thoughts?”

“What makes you think I have something on my mind?”

“Well you’ve been bouncing your leg since you got in here, you keep glancing at your watch, and you’re fidgeting like a person who took a crap in their pants and is trying to hide it.”

Great. Not only am I obvious, it looks like I can’t control my bowels. “It’s probably a combination of practice and getting ready for college applications.”

“I’m in the same boat as you. Where are you looking?”

“Well, my dad wants me to apply to Duke.”

Kat lets out a whistle. “Aiming high.”

“It’s his alma mater, so I may have a better chance of getting in. There are a few other choices for me, but Duke is number one.”

Kat taps her finger on the counter, propping her head up on one hand. “But is that what you want to get in to? Or is it something you just want because your dad says so?”

My jaw clenches involuntarily at the notion. “Um…can you do me a favor and check on my food please? I’m pretty hungry…”

She makes an understanding face and goes back to the kitchen. I let out a breath I didn’t even know I was holding and take a long chug from my glass of water. Pulling my phone out, I find several texts from Dad on the screen.

‘Where are you?’

‘I know practice is over by now.’

‘Answer me, goddammit.’

Sighing to myself, I type out a reply.

‘At dinner. Be back later.’

I shut my phone off and shove it right back into my pocket. A plate of hot food is set in front of me as soon as I put my phone away. “Dig in,” Kat says, taking her seat again. Relieved, I scarf down every bit of food, not even tasting much of it as I shove it all away. “Jesus, where do boys put it all? I can’t eat an ice cream cone without feeling like I’ve got a bowling ball in my stomach.”

“It goes right to our heads,” I say. “Why do you think we’re all stupid?”

Kat giggles and smacks my arm. My food is gone in record time and Kat takes my food back to the kitchen before coming right back. “Here’s your check,” she says, setting it down in front of me.

Glancing at it, I see a phone number scrawled at the bottom. “Give me a call sometime,” she says. “As a friend. Not for a date. I’m not interested in that. But I do think getting to know you better would be awesome.”

I pull out a twenty and set it down before pulling out my phone and typing the number into my contacts. “Thanks. I will. And keep the change.”

She smiles and takes the money as I get up and leave. Kat and I have never really talked too much in school, despite us being classmates since we were in elementary school. All I really know about her is that she plays field hockey and is on the debate team. She’s pretty cute, but she’s not my type. She seems like she’d be a great friend though.

As I’m about to step outside, Kat calls out to me. “Be careful driving out there! There’s a flash flood warning and the rain is only going to get worse!”

Nodding in thanks, I pull my hoodie over my head and make a break for my car. I pretty much throw myself into the driver’s seat just so I can get out of the rain. If my underwear wasn’t soaked before, it is now. I pull out of the parking lot and start for home. Jesus, it really is getting worse out here.

I slow my car down so I don’t potentially hit something. Thankfully there’s no one else out here besides me. Rounding a bend, I can faintly see the outline of Washington Bridge. Thank God I’m not far from home. Slowing myself even further, I start my cross over the bridge.

Taking a quick glance over, I see the river underneath has become a relentless stream of water. Focusing back on the road, something on the edge of the bridge catches my eye. A blur maybe, but it really grabs my attention. Looking in my side mirror, I see the blur again. But the more I focus on it, the more it comes into view.

It’s a person. Just…standing there, looking over the edge of the bridge. But a second later, I see the figure walking toward the railing and beginning to hoist itself onto the edge. Holy shit! I slam on the brake and throw my car into park before jumping out and running toward the figure.

They stand on the railing, unmoving as they look down. C’mon! Don’t fucking jump! Pumping my legs as fast as I can, I sprint toward the body as it begins to lean forward. Throwing my hand out, I grab the back of their sweatshirt and pull them back, both of us falling to the pavement in a heap.

The rain continues to fall as I stare up at the black sky. Jesus Christ, did I actually save this person’s life? Before I can move, the body scrambles to get back up and get toward the edge again. Not this time. I grab them and wrestle them back to the ground. “What the fuck are you doing?!”

“Just let me jump!” says a male voice.

“Like hell I’m doing that!”

Despite him being smaller than me, the guy has some serious strength hidden underneath those clothes. An elbow drives itself into my ribcage, knocking the wind out of me. But I refuse to let go of the guy, even as he swings at me. If I let this guy go for even a second, he’s gone.

Digging deep, I gather as much strength as I can to force him down to the pavement. Straddling on top of him, I press his shoulders into the ground, holding him in place. “Stop fucking fighting!”

As I hold him down, I feel his body shaking ever so slightly. “Please…just let me go…” he says, his voice barely above a whisper.

He reaches up and presses his hands against his obscured face, silently crying. Jesus, what in the world happened to this guy to make him want to throw himself over a bridge? “I’m not going to let you go until you promise me you won’t try to jump,” I say, trying to calm him.

“Why do you even care? You don’t fucking know me…”

“I know that I’m not going to let you try to kill yourself, even if you are a stranger.” A single drop of red falls and lands right onto my hand. Reaching up, I wipe my face, only for a long streak of blood to come back. “Fucking hell…”

The guy’s hand moves away from him face and he looks at me. In the next moment, he forces himself up. But just as I think he’s going to try and jump again, he simply stares at me. “You’re bleeding…”

“Yeah, it’s nothing serious. Just a bloody nose.”

“Did I…did I do that?”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if you did. But seriously, it’s no big deal. Everyone gets a bloody nose every once in a while.” The kid lowers his head and stares silently at the ground. “Hey, really. It’s no big deal.”

He reaches up under his hood and wipes his hair out of his eyes. “C’mon, get up. We’re getting soaked just sitting here.”

“We’ll get soaked standing up too.”

“Yeah, but at least standing up my underwear has less of a chance of getting wet.” I get to my feet and pull him up with me. “We can stay dry by sitting in my car.” His body bristles the very moment I finish my statement. “Relax. I’m not going to do anything. I just don’t want to catch pneumonia.”

I turn and head for my car, hearing the kid’s footsteps behind me. We both climb in, thankful that we aren’t getting pelted by rain anymore. “Better?” I ask.

“Yeah…”

He reaches up and pulls his hood off his head. A mass of dark hair falls out, obscuring his face. “I’m Ash by the way,” I say.

“Declan.”

“Family name?”

“Yeah, after my great-grandpa. It’s a weird name, I know…”

“I think it’s cool. Unique, you know?”

A shadow of a smile tugs at the corner of his mouth before quickly disappearing. Throwing on my seatbelt, I shift my car into drive. “W-What are you doing?” Declan stammers.

“Taking you to a diner close by. You probably need something to eat and a chance to get out of the rain a bit more.”

“I’m really okay…”

I take my eyes off the road for a second and glance over at him. “You’re okay? You just tried to jump off of a bridge into a raging river. Does that sound like you’re okay?”

He slowly slides down in the seat, knowing I’m right. Spinning around, I turn back in the direction of the diner. The car ride is silent, save for the sound of rain. We pull up to the diner, finding even less people here than before. “My treat,” I say. “So order whatever you like.”

Jumping out of the car, I make a break for the safety in the diner. As I get through the front door, I look back to find Declan simply walking through the rain. “No rush,” I joke as he steps in beside me.

“I’m already soaked to my underwear,” he says. “Plus it’s just rain. It never killed anybody on its own.”

Gazing around the diner, I see only one other patron still here, and he’s quietly sipping coffee in the corner. “Be there in a sec!” Kat’s voice calls from the kitchen. The door to the kitchen opens and Kat steps out, wiping her hands on a rag. “Welcome to…”

She stops as soon as she looks at me and Declan. “Ash, what the hell happened?”

“It’s a long story. But can we just have two menus and something warm to drink?”

“We just put on a fresh pot. I’ll get two cups and you can sit at the counter.”

She goes back to the kitchen and I lead Declan to the counter. I strip off my sweatshirt and lay it across my stool. “Like I said, anything you want is on me.”

He nods and picks up his menu. Kat comes back from the kitchen with two cups of coffee in her hands. “Would you care to explain why it is you’re soaking wet and with an equally wet guy not even thirty minutes after you left?”

I glance over at Declan, whose face is buried in the menu. It looks like he’s trying to avoid all eye contact possible. “It’s a touchy discussion. I won’t say anything if Declan here doesn’t want me to.”

“I tried to jump off the Washington Bridge into the river,” Declan quietly says. “Ash saved me…”

The air is silent for a few moments before Kat pushes herself away from the counter and looks into the kitchen. “Daddy!”

There’s a crash from the kitchen and the door opens a moment later. A large, burly man with a neat beard, wearing an apron looks at Kat. “Jesus Christ, baby girl. Don’t scare me like that. I thought you cut your hand or something.”

“Do we still have those thick blankets?”

“In the break room. What’s going on?”

Kat steps around her father and disappears into the kitchen. She comes back a moment later with her arms full of blankets. “Here,” she says, handing a blanket to Declan. “Use this to dry off and keep warm.”

Declan quietly takes the blanket and warps it around himself. “Thank you…”

I take a blanket too and give my hair a quick rub before throwing it over my shoulders. “Katherine,” Mr. Grey says. “I’d like an explanation.”

“They’re friends, Daddy. “They got wet from the rain and needed to get dry and warm up.”

“That’s only partially true, sir,” Declan says, putting down his menu. “I tried to…kill myself by throwing myself into the Washington River. Ash here saved me by keeping me from jumping and he brought me here for some food…”

Mr. Grey looks to be at a loss for words for a moment. But he quickly composes himself. “Anything you want on the menu is completely free,” he says. “My clam chowder is to die for and it’ll warm you up quick.”

“We’ll take two cups,” I say.

“And a chicken friend steak if it isn’t too much trouble…” Declan says, looking down at the counter.

Mr. Grey walks over, picks up his hand, and gives Declan’s shoulder a hard pat. “Anything you need from us, we’ll offer it.”

He heads back to the kitchen while Kat walks around the counter and takes a seat next to Declan. “Daddy will get those out in no time. He’s fast when he wants to be.”

Declan nods his thanks, but keeps his eyes on the counter. “So…I need to ask,” I say. “You don’t need to answer if you don’t want to. But what drove you to want to throw yourself into a torrential river.”

His hands tighten into fists for a moment and I can feel pain radiating from his shoulders. “I don’t know…” he barely whispers.

“Well, there has to have been a reason to have made you want to do it.”

Silence fills the restaurant for a few moments. “I was scared,” he quietly says.

“Scared of what?” Kat asks.

“My family…”

The sound of a pin dropping would sound like an explosion at this moment. “Your family?” Kat asks.

Declan nods. “I’m gay,” he says. “I wanted to tell them tonight. But I overheard two of my brothers talking to each other, making fun of fags and shit like that. I immediately thought that if my brothers felt that way, then the rest of my family would too.”

He takes his hand and brushes his eyes. “I’m sure there must be a reason they were talking like that,” I try to reason.

“They seemed pretty into it. Laughing their asses off, say fag over and over again. Before I knew it, I was at the Washington Bridge. I walked out to the edge of the bridge and looked over. The water…it seemed like the right thing to do. So I climbed onto the edge and was about to jump.

“But as I was leaning forward to fall, I felt so much regret with what I was about to do. How would my family react to hearing I was dead? Would they be glad that they don’t have me as a burden anymore? Happy that the family fag was gone? Sad that they just lost their brother and son?

“I immediately wanted to stop as soon as I was starting to jump. But I felt something on the back of my sweatshirt pull me back and I fell onto solid ground. I got scared thinking it was one of my family members, so I tried to fight, to run away and finish what I set out to do. But when I saw it was Ash, I just…broke down.”

“And gave me a hell of a bloody nose to go along with it.”

The corner of his mouth lifts upwards. “So what about now?” Kat questions.

“What do you mean?” Declan asks.

“Are you immediately going to try and jump again? Because if you do, I’ll call an ambulance and have them take you to the hospital to get some help.”

Declan is quiet again for a moment. “I don’t think so,” he says. “What happened was a moment of stupidity and thoughtlessness. I can’t even think about trying something like that again.”

Kat and I both nod thankfully. The door to the kitchen opens and Mr. Grey comes out with a try of food and sets it on the counter. “Two cups of chowder and a chicken friend steak with all the fixings.”

God, the chowder smells amazing. Picking up my spoon, I immediately dig in to the food. “I also brought a dry sweatshirt and some sweatpants from the donation box,” he continues. “Figured you’d like something dry while you eat.” He glances at me and gives an apologetic smile. “Sorry, son. Nothing in the box would fit you.”

“No worries. I don’t mind too much. Thank you though.”

Declan takes the clothes. “The bathroom is around the corner if you want to use it.”

“I’ll just change here if that’s okay. I have other clothes underneath what I have on.”

Reaching for the hem of his sweatshirt, he lifts it off and over his head and stepping out of his soaked sweats. Immediately, I feel my mouth drop. A loose tank top and a pair of tight leggings are all he has on underneath (and underwear, I hope). And I see bulging muscle over every inch of his frame.

The leggings hug his thighs and calves like a second skin, showing off every inch of his sculpted legs. The tank top shows a tight and lean frame with nicely shaped arms and a very defined collarbone. But his face is what gets me the most. Having been hidden by his sweatshirt most of the time, I couldn’t get a good look at him. But now I have.

Bunches of straight dark hair fall from his head and high cheekbones and a couple days of stubble accent his face. Bright green eyes are the cherries on top. Declan takes his towel and runs it though his hair before finding all three of us staring. “I’m a dancer,” he says. “I didn’t have time to change after practice so I’ve had this stuff on for a while.”

He throws on the sweats and takes his seat again. “Damn,” Kat says. “Are there any straight single dancers you know?”

Mr. Grey smacks his daughter’s upper arm. “You are going to stay single for the rest of you life if I have any say in it.” Kat rolls her eyes while Declan eats his food. “Is it good, son?”

“It’s delicious, sir.”

“Name’s Robert. Take your time eating. No one’s going to take it away from you.”

Mr. Grey heads back to the kitchen while I finish the last bits of my soup and take a couple sips of my coffee. “He’s cool,” I say.

“A pain when he wants to be,” Kat says. “But a giant teddy bear the rest of the time.”

Declan stays silent as he crams as much food into his system as possible. “Hungry?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he says between bites. “My dad sometimes struggles to have food on the table. But we make do with what we have.”

Geez. I exchange a glance with Kat before going back to my coffee. Declan finishes his food and Kat grabs it. “I’m going to clean this up. You just relax.”

She goes to the kitchen with the dirty dishes while I sit with Declan. “I’m going to give you a ride home,” I say.

“You’ve already done a lot for me. I can’t have you do that.”

“It’s nothing, really. I want to make sure you get home okay. Plus it’s still pouring and you just got those clothes.”

Declan nods a bit in thanks and drinks his coffee. The kitchen door opens again and Kay and Mr. Grey come out holding a lot of take out boxes and a few plastic bags. “Here you go,” Mr. Grey says. “Enough food to feed a family of six for a week.”

They set the food on the counter as Declan stares at the boxes, wide-eyed with his mouth hanging open. “Sir, I can’t…”

“I insist,” Mr. Grey says. “We were about to toss that food anyway. Knowing it’s going to feed a family on some hard times will help me sleep tonight.”

“But I…”

“Would you rather I take the food back and toss it in the dumpster out back?” Declan stares at the boxes again before shaking his head. “Then this food is headed home with you.”

“How did you manage to cook this much food so quickly?” I ask.

“I multitask well. It’s also diner food. It’s supposed to not take very long to make. The food is mostly sandwiches, fries, and some other stuff, but it should last a while as long as your siblings and parents don’t scarf it all.”

“T-Thank you. I appreciate this more than you know…”

We all get the boxes into the plastic bags. Reaching into my wallet, I pull out two twenties. “I said the food was all free,” Mr. Grey says.

“I know. But I can’t leave a place that’s given such hospitality without giving something in return. I insist.”

Mr. Grey grins and laughs a hearty laugh before smacking my shoulder. “I like you, son. A good head on your shoulders.”

Kat takes the money and puts it in her pocket. Declan and I grab the bags and his wet clothes. “Thank you again,” Declan says. “I swear I’ll pay you back for…”

“Don’t worry about it,” Mr. Grey says. “We like paying it forward.”

Declan nods his head in thanks and he and I head for the door. We make a break for the car and jump in with the food. “Where do you live?” I ask, putting on my seatbelt.

“Um…Rockburg…”

My hand freezes halfway to the ignition. “You mean the…um…”

“The crappy side of the district? Yeah, that’s it.”

Nodding, I turn the car on and pull out of the lot, heading for Rockburg. Through the pouring rain, the landscape slowly shifts from trees and neatly cut lawns, to gravel and cement. Rockburg is known for being an industrial township, mostly for blue-collar workers. But it’s also known for being a real shithole (I mean that in the nicest way possible).

Most of the houses here look like they’re on the verge of collapse, railroad tracks dissect the cracked and pothole-filled streets, and the smell of the processing plants is thick in the air. “Just take a right up here,” Declan tells me.

Turning down the street in question, I find a residential street filled with houses in states of decay. “I know it isn’t anything special,” he says. “But it’s home.”

“I don’t mean anything bad. It’s just…a bit of a culture shock, you know?”

He nods a bit. “The third house on the right is mine.”

Slowing my car to a stop, I pull up I front of a single story house that’s in slightly better shape than the rest of the houses on the street. But the paint on the outside seems to be starting to chip, shingles on the roof are coming off, and the gutter is rusty and beat to crap. But there’s a bit of hominess to it.

Putting the car in park, we sit in silence for a moment. “Um…” I lamely say.

“Thank you,” he says. “For helping me tonight. I really appreciate it. Hell I’d probably be dead if it weren’t for you.”

“You’re welcome. I’m just glad I was there to help.”

Back to silence. “I should um…head inside. Don’t want to food to go to waste.”

“Yeah, okay.” As he starts to reach for the door handle, I stop him. “Um…would you want to…exchange phone numbers or something?”

A sad smile appears on his face. “I wish I could. I don’t own a cell phone. Hell, only my dad owns one, and it’s a piece of shit.” I nod in understanding, a bit let down. “But I’d still like to have your number.”

I perk back up and grab a pen from my armrest. “Give me your hand.” I scrawl my phone number across the back of his hand. “If you need someone to talk to, just call me. Okay?”

“Okay.” He reaches for the bags of food and pulls them to the front. “Well, hopefully I’ll see you around.”

“Definitely. Later, Declan.”

“Bye, Ash.”

Throwing open the door, the makes a break for the front door of the house. He pauses as he reaches it, turning back to me and waving a bit before stepping inside. Falling back in my seat, I rethink what’s happened the last couple hours. Laughing to myself, I put the car in drive and make my way for home.

The landscape changes back from the industrial to the trees and cut grass. It isn’t long before I pull up to the front of my house, a three-story behemoth of stone, wood, and glass. I pull into the garage and shut off my car before grabbing my bags and walking inside.

Silence greets me as I walk through the house. Thank God. At least that means I won’t have to deal with- “Where the hell have you been?”

Fuck. Turning around, I find my father sitting in the living room in his favorite chair, watching me with a hawk’s eye. “I was with some friends,” I say. “They wanted to hang out for a bit and I said yes.”

He rises from his chair and walks over to me. “And you didn’t get any of my messages or calls?”

Reaching into my pocket, I find seven unanswered texts and three missed calls. “Sorry,” I say. “I didn’t notice.”

“Sorry doesn’t cut it. You’re supposed to be home by 9:00 every weeknight. And it’s almost midnight now.”

“I lost track of time. It’s no big deal. Plus I don’t even have practice tomorrow.”

“And speaking of practice, I got the report from your coach earlier. Seven missed throws, five sacks, and an interception. Does that sound like a future Heisman Trophy winner to you?”

“Dad, come on. I was having an off-“

He smacks his hand on the kitchen counter, silencing me a second. “I’m extremely disappointed,” he growls out. “I expect better from you with football and you know it. Do you know how much money I’ve spent on specialists to train you to be the best?”

“A lot…” I quietly say.

“A hell of a lot! Do you want to throw away all that hard work just so you can go and play with your friends? And what about Duke? Do you think they’re going to accept you just because you’re a legacy? No! They’re going to accept you because you’re supposed to be the best damn football player there is!”

I lower my gaze to the floor, unable to look up at him. “Give me your phone.”

Reaching into my pocket, I give him my phone without question. He puts the phone in his own pocket. “You’re not going to get this back until I think you deserve it. I’m also going to add an extra hour of practice to your Saturdays.”

“But I already practice nine hours!”

“Then you’re going to practice ten! I will not have my only child be rejected from my school because he isn’t good enough! And if you live under my roof, I’m going to make you be good enough! Understand?”

Biting my tongue, my hands clench into fists and I look back at the floor. “Yes sir…”

I turn and walk away from him without another word. Heading upstairs, I lock myself in my bedroom and fall onto my bed. This may be my house, but it in no way feels like a home in the slightest.

----------------

I put the last of the take out boxes in the fridge and manage to shut it. Jesus, I never expected Robert to give me that much food. Taking a seat at the kitchen table, I rest my head on it as I go over what’s happened the last few hours. I…I almost killed myself. Just because I was too scared to come out to my family because of the way Emmett and Brock were talking.

Standing back up, I toss the plastic bags in the trash and begin to make my way for my bedroom. But as I walk out of the kitchen, my toe rams itself into the leg of the kitchen table. A yelp of pain escapes me as I hop around on one foot, trying to relieve some of the pain.

I take a seat back in the chair and take a look at my toe. Red and probably going to have a small bruise on it later, but no worse for ware. I slowly flex my toes and stand back up again. “ARGHHHH!!”

The sudden scream causes me to scream bloody murder as I drop to the floor in shock. With my heart racing, I look up and find Dad standing at the entrance of the kitchen, a baseball bat held above his head. “Don’t fucking scare me like that, Dad!”

“Jesus Christ, Dec! I thought you were a burglar or something!” Slowly standing back up, I return to my seat in the hopes that my heart will stop racing. “Didn’t mean to scare you like that.”

“It’s fine…”

Looking over at him, I find he’s wearing his white undershirt and a pair of sweats. Despite him being in his late 40s, Dad’s managed to keep himself in great shape over the years. I guess working with your hands constantly will do that. “Where the hell have you been?” he asks. “It’s after midnight.”

“Um…I-I was out…”

“You weren’t doing drugs, were you?”

“God no.”

“Good. Your mom would kill me from beyond the grave if one of you kids was doing that shit. So what were you doing then?”

I suddenly find my hands a lot more exciting that looking up at my dad. “N-Nothing…”

“Don’t ‘nothing’ me, kiddo. You come home after midnight on a school night and you think telling me ‘nothing’ is going to cut it?”

Tell him. Fucking tell him. He deserves to know. “I uh…”

“What the hell is going on?”

Looking up, I find my three brothers, Brock, Colby, and Emmett, standing in the living room, all in various states of dress and being awake. “I-It’s nothing,” I try to say.

“Your brother just got in from doing God knows what,” Dad tells him.

“Hehe, busted,” Brock says.

“I wasn’t doing anything bad,” I try to reason.

“Then why is it so hard for you to tell me where you were?” Dad asks.

“Because I can’t, alright!”

My brothers walk into the kitchen and stand near Dad. “Where did you get those clothes?” Brock asks.

“Um…”

“Yeah, I’ve never seen you wear that stuff before,” Emmett follows up. “You holding out on us, little bro?”

“S-Someone gave them to me…”

“Who?” Dad demands.

“The owner of a diner in Pleasant Hill.”

My family members look at one another. “The rich area?” Brock asks. “What the hell were you doing over there?”

“I was taking a walk…”

“Pleasant Hill is miles from here,” Dad says. “And it’s pouring out! What if you got hurt?”

I look at my hands again and flashes of me standing at the bridge flash through my head at a rapid speed. How I was so willing to throw myself into the river just because I was so afraid of what would happen to me if I told my family. A drop of water falls onto my hand and I look up, thinking the roof is leaking again.

But the ceiling is completely dry. I immediately know it came from me. “Declan?” Dad quietly says, taking a seat next to me.

“I-I’m gay…and I…I tried to kill myself tonight…” The kitchen is completely silent. “I tried to throw myself into the Washington River. B-But someone stopped me before I…”

Dad shoves his chair back and grabs my air. Just when I expect the worst, I feel his arms circle me and press me into his shoulder. The feeling of warmth of his breath on my neck and the pressure of his fingers digging into my back calms me almost immediately. I hug him back, allowing myself a few moments of weakness as I cry.

He hugs me tighter as I feel his fingers trembling on my back. “Don’t…don’t you ever, EVER, try something like that again, Dec.”

I nod into his shoulder. Lifting my head, I look into his eyes, finding the bases brimming. “I don’t care that you’re gay, kiddo. You’re my son and nothing will ever change that. I’ve already lost your mother. If I lost any of you, I don’t think I’d be able to handle it…”

Jesus. I didn’t even think about how Dad would handle the loss of someone else he cared about. A small pit opens up in my stomach, filling me with guilt. Dad takes his hand and rests it on the top of my head. “Did you think about jumping just because you were afraid of what would happen if you came out to us?”

I slowly nod my head and Dad sighs to himself. “Then I’ve failed as a parent…”

“No, Dad…”

“No, Dec. A parent should prove to their kids that they would love them unconditionally. If you thought for even a moment that I would stop loving you just because of something that you are, then I haven’t proved to you that I would always love you.”

I cast my gaze down to my feet. “I just…I hear you guys saying fag and gay shit all the time. A-And I just got…scared, afraid of what would happen if I ever told you guys…”

Dad takes his hand and places it on my shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “And all of that is going to stop right now. If I hear any of my kids saying something derogatory, I will put the fear of God in them, God being me.”

Dad glances over his shoulder and gestures for my brothers to come into the kitchen, who all shuffle awkwardly to me. “Squirt,” Emmett says, kneeling down next to Dad. “I want you to know right now that all that shit I’ve said in the past was never meant to hurt you.”

“I know.”

“If any of us even for a moment knew that we were hurting you, we would have stopped saying fag and queer as insults a long time ago. But you’re our brother. If we learned that you killed yourself because of the stuff we said, none of us would be able to live it down.”

“Yeah, Dec,” Brock says, stepping up next to me and wrapping an arm around me. “We may give each other shit every once in a while, but you’re our brother and that will never change. You like dick. Big deal. I love country music and you all hate it. Doesn’t mean you hate me though.”

“Well…” Emmett says.

Brock jumps from me and puts my brother into a tight headlock, running his knuckles over his scalp. Colby walks in front of me and takes his fist and lightly taps my chest. Colby has never been much of a talker. But I can feel the sentiment and love behind the gesture.

Dad grabs me again and pulls me into another hug, a softer one this time. “We love you, Declan, no matter who you are or what you like. Never forget that, okay?”

Holding my father tightly, I nod, eternally thankful I have such a wonderful family. A sudden rumble from Dad’s stomach grabs my attention and I pull away. “Sorry,” he says, pressing a hand to his stomach. “We only had a small dinner tonight.”

“I’m freaking starving,” Emmett says. “Do we have any stuff for sandwiches in the fridge?”

“Actually, there’s some awesome stuff in there that’s even better,” I tell them.

Emmett steps over to the fridge and looks inside. “Holy shit!” He grabs the first box he sees and flips it open. “A fucking burger and fries!”

Colby and Brock rush over to the fridge as well and grab their own boxes. “Dec,” Dad says. “Where did you…?”

“The owner of the diner made it for me, said it was on the house and that I should take it home to my family. So I did. And now we have food for the next week.”

“Screw sleep!” Brock says. “I’m eating this Rueben right now!”

“Dibs on the microwave!” Emmett calls.

My brothers all scramble for the microwave. Walking over to the fridge myself, I pull out a box that holds a couple slices of apple pie. “Pie?” I ask Dad.

“Now you know I can never turn does a dessert.” I grab us two forks and sit down at the table with him. “Cold apple pie?”

I glance over at the microwave, where my brothers are all still trying to cram their own food in. “You want to try getting past them?”

“I’d rather not take my chances.”

We both dig in, sitting in comfortable silence (well, pushing away the three stooges in the background). “So who was this person you mentioned stopping you from jumping?” he asks, shoving a forkful of pie into his mouth.

I stare down at my pie, remembering the bridge. I remember feeling so cold, yet so numb to everything around me. The water underneath looked…almost like a blanket to me at the time. A blanket I wanted to jump into and bury myself in and never come out. But when I felt that hand on the back of my shirt, everything changed in an instant.

I had stared up at my bloodied guardian angel, soaking wet in the pouring rain. And yet I had never seen someone more beautiful than in that very moment. The angelic face, the dark blonde hair, the deep blue eyes, I can’t get Ash’s face out of my head. And I don’t want to.

Glancing up at Dad, I feel my lip curl up in a smile. “His name is Ash. And I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank him enough for saving me.”

Dad smiles himself and gives me a pat on the shoulder. “Just promise me one thing, Dec. If there’s ever a problem, come and talk to me. You boys are the only ones I have left. If something was hurting any of you and I wasn’t there to help you, I don’t think I’d ever forgive myself.”

“I promise.”

Satisfied, Dad goes back to his pie. Emmett, Brock, and Colby sit down at the table with us, their food with them, and dig in. My family may not be well off. We may not have everything we need. There are times we struggle and times we want to give up. But coming home to these four every day? It makes it all worthwhile.

----------------

Looking down at my hand, I quickly dial the number before I have a chance to try and change my mind. I hold the phone up to my ear and listen as the dial tone rings. Please pick up. Please pick up. Please pick up… There’s a click on the other end of the line and my heart skips a beat. “Hello?” I quietly say.

“Who is this?”

That voice isn’t Ash’s. “Um…is Ash there? I’d like to speak with him about-“

“Ash is practicing at the moment. He doesn’t have time to speak to anyone.”

“Oh. Uh, can you let him know I called? I just want to…”

“Like I said. Ash is busy and doesn’t have time to speak with anyone. Don’t waste your time. He has more important things to worry about.”

The call ends without another word. I stare down at the phone, wondering what the hell that was. Needless to say, every call I make after that isn’t even answered. The night Ash saved me was the last time I ever saw or heard from him again.

 

RichardAdams

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