Author's Note: Oh, my God, has it been a long time since I've posted. The reasons pile up (school, band, etc…), but the biggest thing I had to overcome this chapter was not only a huge case of writer's block, but something weird: I think my expectations for my writing eclipsed my talent for a while there, and I had to work really hard to fix it. I believe that this chapter is a good chapter, looking back on it now, but at the beginning, I thought it was the biggest turd I'd ever put on my word processor. I hope that this was just a temporary slump. Someone told me recently that sometimes this slump occurs when you just suddenly get better at whatever you're doing, and all of your previous works seem sophomoric when you look back. Anyway, enough of my rambling! You want the story, that's why you clicked on the link! I am so sorry to be so late with this chapter, and I hope that maybe I can put out an EXTREMELY SHORT Valentine's ditty for you!
The greatest reviewers in the world, who reviewed the last chapter of this story, thank you: pplofthewrldeatcheese, Kohaku Cho, BrokenDreamz-EmptySoulz (noted and thanks for the opinion on the rating of the story! If you want to know what I'm doing with the ratings of the story, read the paragraph about it under "Old News" on my author's profile… p.s. HA HA that IS just like Eddie, isn't it? Silly boy), I'll Be Your Fairytale (she was), sarahnali (aww, thanks!), BloodyDestiny, Innocence of Temptation (me too!), ShadowKiteKitsune (aww thank you dear!! You're the best... p.s. you have turned into quite the romance-genre writer!), AppLEaves (hopefully you meant that in a good way… see author's profile for rating decisions under "Old News"), vimaro22 (thanks, I think?), diebyownhands (hmm, okay, you definitely have a point about that! Thanks for pointing that out… P.S. I think you will be happy with a scene in here! I'm not sure if I ever got around to reading one of your stories or not – I will definitely do that soon if I haven't), Yclectic (Oh. My. GOD. I love you), F.E.L.L.'S. A.N.G.E.L.S. (more "oomph" in my evil laughter? "BWAA HAAAAAA HAAAAAAAAAA!!oneone!!" how's that? I love you), TheCrazyOneInTheCorner (dorkdances with you), Aikida (don't worry dear, it was worth the wait, I love you!!), GreenEyes (it was definitely a hard chapter for me to write, and very different, so I see what you mean! Hopefully this chapter suits my style a little better), Lidyah (more to come especially for you!!), MidnightsScream (noted! Thanks for your opinion. It was kind of a gamble for me to put those things in, and it's nice to get feedback on it. Thanks), Phoenix-of the-Goldenrose (eeheehee), LightYourPath (I am a RENT fan, yes! Good catch, the title is from one of the songs), whoops-I-don't-exist (looking forward to it!!), Luciver (one of your questions answered in this chapter!!! The other is coming up soonish, when I get the chance to write it in! Thanks for the catches, if you see any more holes like that, let me know!), IllusionWolf (thank you!), Switch (That was a really constructive review, thank you and I am taking it into consideration!!), Number 1 In Heaven, another-happy-ending (lazy? Nah :-p), cupxofxfools (hee hee! Thanks), Kitsune Lover (thank you!!! Omg YAY), and A Tree (mm…heehee).
I also want to thank those people who have been reviewing Act III after it has been completed. I don't really have any place to thank you since everything's been written already, so I'll thank you here! I've had a lot of insightful reviews, and I have taken quite a bit of the constructive criticism to heart. In fact, two of the scenes in this story were written because two reviewers pointed out that they were sort of "missing" in Max and Eddie's life together. I just had another reviewer this morning point out another of these scenes, so look out for that coming up in the next chapter if you are that person!
Bottom line: Thank all of you so much for taking the time – and having the patience – to wait around for me to get up off of my writer's block and actually write something, for taking the time to read it, and for letting me know what you think. I write this story for you guys.
Chapter Four: A Glenhaven Christmas
Darkness closed in and lay like a warm, comfortably claustrophobic blanket over the two dark forms under the blue checkered quilt. One of the forms lay on his left side, dark hair tousled, blue eyes closed, breathing deeply. The other was awake and propped up on his elbow, looking down from behind dirty blonde locks into the sleeping boy's face. His large calloused hand descended and stroked down the straight bridge of the nose below him. There was a momentary catch in the dark-haired boy's breath before he relaxed again. Max smiled.
The softly falling snow behind the curtains of the dark room was bathed in the orange glow given off by the streetlights of Minneapolis. Max reached out to separate the rough material of the curtains and looked out at the high triangular skyline of the downtown area. He felt that he could almost see the holiday decorations from here.
The holidays. A pensive frown cut a path in his forehead, and the curtains fell closed again as he returned his hand to Eddie's dark hair.
"Eddie," he whispered, and the soft statement was amplified in the small room. A sigh, and cobalt eyes cracked open.
Max never grew tired of that sleepy smile, nor did he think he would ever not be fond of the way Eddie always reached up for him when awoken. Eddie yawned widely and arched his back, stretching. His dark gaze sought the alarm clock on the window ledge. 3:41 a.m.
"Max, we are not having sex at four in the morning."
All pretense was dropped. Max made a grumpy noise and glared down imperiously at his boyfriend. "I do not always think about sex, you know."
Eddie lifted a fine dark eyebrow. "Your track record is against you, my friend."
Eddie freed his hand from the tangled sheets and raised it, ticking off his fingers as he spoke. "Last night, Monday night, Saturday night twice – "
"All right, all right, all right," Max grinned. "You have to admit, though, I was on fire Saturday night."
"Oh good God." Eddie implored the ceiling with his eyes, then grabbed all of the sheets away from Max and wrapped himself up in a window-facing cocoon. Max yelped and curled up, shivering. He tried to be tough for half a minute before giving up.
"This room is freezing! Let me in!"
"I'll get hypothermia!"
"Want to not-not have sex?"
Max pouted. Then: "It wasn't about sex. I wanted to ask you something."
Eddie was nearly asleep, cobalt eyes drooping as the waves of air from the heater blew over his face. "What."
Max worked his way back under the quilt and snuggled up to his boyfriend from behind. "Um, it's about Christmas break."
A short pause. "'K."
It came out in a rush. "Wanna-come-to-my-house-for-Christmas?"
Eddie understood him perfectly, and not at all. "Max, my mom needs me home for Christmas."
"I know, I meant – like, the day after maybe?"
Eddie screwed his eyes shut, impatient with the old argument. "Max –"
"Baby, come on." Max's voice had a petulant edge now, but the soccer player couldn't care, just as he couldn't care that he was beating the dead horse of disagreements. "Why are you so adverse to meeting my parents? I've met your mom before, haven't I?"
"Max, that was different."
"They're completely different situations!"
"Oh, come on, Max. My mom likes everyone, but your parents… What if they don't like me? What if they think I'm not good enough for you? They'll probably think that I'm some back-city scamp messing with their boy and–"
Max growled and sat back up, slightly hindered by the tight formation of the sheets. "My parents are good people! Don't insult them like that; you don't even know them!"
Eddie closed his eyes and didn't respond. The conversation was over. Max let out a heavy breath and fisted a hand in his tangled loose curls before slumping back against the dark blue pillow. Eddie's profile was tense. Max shut his eyes and prepared himself for a restless night.
That went well.
Relationships are one percent standing firm and ninety-nine percent compromise.
Eddie knew that better than anyone – after all, there were few couples in the world with such different components making up the whole. Max came from the upper crust of society, Eddie from the working lower-middle class. Max thrived on attention, Eddie preferred to watch from the sidelines. Max had loud and trendy taste in furniture and clothes whereas Eddie's aesthete was more… reserved. They disagreed on almost everything, and so everything came down to a compromise.
Eddie twisted the doorknob in his hands and opened the door slowly. Max was sprawled out on the floor, finance homework and miscellaneous papers carpeting his living space. There was no sign of Eric. Max looked up, hazel eyes welcoming and wary, apologetic. Eddie's insides twinged slightly. Max always thought that he was the one at fault; he never seemed to blame Eddie for their fights, no matter how much Eddie deserved it. The brunette closed the door behind him and leaned on the frame. His voice was quiet, resigned but resolved to do the right thing.
"So…I was thinking…"
Hope bloomed in the reclining boy's eyes.
"I was thinking, if you still wanted me to come see your parents… I will."
Max's smile bloomed, perfect white and tilting slightly, and his hazel eyes shone.
Eddie sighed. "Really."
"Yes!" Max sprung up from the ground and jumped into the air. He twirled in a strange circle before looking back at Eddie, brilliant smile listing charmingly to the right. "I have to call them and tell them you're coming!"
The soccer player hauled himself through the doorframe and flew out into the hallway. Eddie pictured the fuses in Max's head blowing, laughed to himself, and started to sit. Before he could manage it, he was pressed up against the wall, Max's warm lips on his, a flash of tongue; and then the soccer star was gone again. Eddie shook his head at the retreating form and sat down on Max's green-patterned quilt. Max's tenor voice echoed throughout the flat in the next room, rising in an excited crescendo and fading again when, doubtless, the person on the other line told him to calm down. Eddie's eyes drifted to Max's cluttered desk and habitually he reached out to separate the pens from the papers, the trash from the final drafts, the photos –
Eddie sat back on the bed with the photograph in his hand; the clenched feeling in his stomach returned in full force, and Max's voice dimmed in the background. The photographed Max beamed up at him from his position between two adults. The woman had a perfectly pearl-pink smile, teeth as white as her son's; and the blonde hair up in an elegant knot toward the top of her head somehow signified a dignified reign over all she surveyed. The man was tall and darker; nearly black hair perfectly gelled; Monopoly-man-moustache violating his upper lip. The house behind them was nothing short of something that, in Eddie's narrow world view, was something that should duly be housing that new star from Top Gun. A black BMW glinted behind them in the brilliant afternoon sun. The three flawless faces looked up at Eddie in evaluation. Dully he looked down and realized that he had smudged the photograph with his thumbprint.
Arms encircled his waist and brought him back to reality. Eddie took in a deep breath and felt Max's chin digging into his shoulder.
"He's shaved the moustache since then. Mom made him."
Eddie smiled weakly. "Good."
Max's long lashes brushed against his cheek. "Eddie."
Eddie wiped at the thumbprint mark with the material from the bottom of his shirt, heaving a mental sigh.
Reluctantly, Eddie turned toward him, eyes full of doubt. Max reached up and caressed the other boy's cheekbone with his long, calloused thumb. Eddie's neck fit perfectly into his cupped hand, and he smiled.
"They're going to love you."
Eddie smiled back, hesitantly, and hoped that Max was right.
The silver Mercedes settled in the bus lane with careless abandon, and its driver waved enthusiastically in the gathering darkness. Max knew that he looked like a fool, but he couldn't help it; it had been four long days without Eddie. He leaned over the armrests and popped the door open.
Eddie collapsed into the leather passenger seat, eyes twinkling. "Hey – mmph!"
Max let his eyes fall closed and raised his hands to caress the other boy's neck, tongue sliding past the smooth lips and past the smallish teeth. Eddie's reply was broken by the horn of the 6C city bus shattering the freezing evening air.
Max pulled back reluctantly and shifted the silver car back into drive. The disgruntled bus driver faded into the rearview mirror, and the soccer star relaxed back into the seat, right hand finding Eddie's left instinctively, thumb sliding over the soft skin. He caught Eddie's soft smile out of the corner of his eye and returned it. Eddie let his head roll back and to the side and fell asleep.
The houses were getting much, much bigger, and Eddie couldn't feel much smaller. He scrunched down in the leather seat and chewed his thumbnail nervously as Max broke the law and the sound barrier through the suburbs. High fences rose and fell alongside the highway: Black metal, silver chrome, sturdy brick, carefully embossed; all protecting houses, and what houses they protected. Flitting between the gates, looming over carefully manicured lawns twice the size of the band practice field, in some places even peeking over the top of the treeline. Eddie sighed and cast a careful glance at the Mercedes' other occupant.
Max was having a completely different reaction to the scenery, which couldn't have surprised Eddie less. Eddie was certain that his boyfriend could not look more like the archetype of a young, carefree heir; slouched easily in the leather seat of the silver car, one hand resting on the stick shift, the other's fingers entwined in the branches of the steering wheel, stylishly unstyled curls blowing in the wind. Relaxed, poised. Eddie made a grumpy noise and looked down, still worrying his thumbnail.
"What'd you say?"
Eddie snorted internally. Young, rich, and the hearing of a bat… great. Outwardly: "Nothing. You're hearing things again."
Max's lips dipped into a frown. "Again? My hearing's been going down the drain ever since… around the time I met you, I guess. Huh." The soccer star shrugged and seemed to devote no more energy to the cause of his apparent handicap.
Eddie giggled to himself and looked back out the window, just in time to catch sight of a sign flashing past. Curling, pine-green script, tan background: Glenhaven.
"'Glenhaven'? What kind of name is that?"
Max smiled, hazel eyes gently mocking. "Well, I don't know who named it 'that', but I just call it 'home'."
"And if we hit something right now –"
" – Kind of likely, the way you're driving!"
" – You're going to die."
Eddie slouched further and stuck out his tongue. Max laughed and wiggled his eyebrows. "Don't tempt me at seventy miles an hour."
Eddie smirked. "Don't tempt you, huh? Okay, wise guy, let's see how many days you can go without me 'tempting' you."
Max squawked and the car weaved dangerously. "What?!"
Eddie shook his head back and forth slowly and seriously. "That's right, wise-guy. I've been meaning to discuss that with you. I've decided we can't have sex while I'm here. What if your parents hear us?"
Max mouthed wordlessly. Eddie smirked internally and locked his gaze onto the dashboard in order to keep his composure. "No, no, no nookie for you!"
Max's forehead creased, and he threw a sideways glance at his partner, who was chewing the inside of his lip furiously.
The soccer star whimpered. Eddie tasted blood.
The house was not a house. It was a manor, a mansion, a castle, a palace, but not a house. A house was what he had at home, two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a 'living space'; a one-car garage, painted a hideous shade of yellow and thrown into the city between two other peeling houses, five feet of yard space in front and fifteen behind. A house was normal. Eddie was comfortable with a house.
This was not a house.
The Mercedes' wheels grumbled against the brick drive, which cut a beeline through a wintery dark forest and pastures' worth of snow-covered yard and finally up to a brick cul-de-sac… and the house. The manor. The palace. Whatever it was, it was easily twenty times the size of his home, and it looked like it was going to eat him.
Eddie had plenty of time to evaluate the Max Manor as his boyfriend maneuvered his shining vehicle through the roundabout in front of the entranceway, then onto a small driveway that hugged the side of the mansion on its way to the driveway.
…The five-car driveway with three expensive coupes parked in a carefree manner around its perimeter. Eddie thought about pinching himself, then decided against it. The engine's purr subsided, and Max stretched, palms flat against the ceiling, irresistible grin tugging back the corners of his mouth.
"Home, sweet home!"
Eddie sighed and opened his door, swinging his denim-clad legs over the bucket seat and onto the brick drive. The winter sun was warm on his face, though the cold north wind assaulted his old black jacket. He stood for a moment, looking out through the arched gate of the drive onto the grounds, back arched in a stretch. Max heaved two suitcases out of the voluminous trunk and looked up through his curls at his boyfriend.
"Ready to run the gauntlet?"
Eddie turned his head and blinked at him. "What?"
The corners of Max's mouth twitched, but he did a remarkable job of keeping the smile he was hiding from view. "Ready to meet Mr. and Mrs. De Vil? To walk unaided through the fiery inferno? To – hey, where are you going? I'm not finished!"
Eddie stalked away, leaving Max to carry the suitcases. Max laughed and jogged to catch up, puffing in exertion as he fell into step with his spurned partner. He giggled at Eddie's stony expression.
"I'm just kidding, baby."
The oak door yielded to Max's key, and he pushed it open enthusiastically.
"Mom! Dad! We're home!"
Eddie covered his ears. The echo was horrific, and his first glimpse of the entrance hall told him why. It was two stories tall, a many-armed chandelier gracing the pinnacle, light from a large window illuminating the fixture. Three strategically-placed white pillars separated the hall from an entertaining room filled with white overstuffed chairs endorsed with gold throw pillows. The coffee table was an expensive dark oak material; a white glass swan inlaid on the glass top. More rooms arched off of the entranceway, and far above him a white balcony looked down on the front door, promising more rooms on the second and third stories. Eddie bit down on his lip and stared. Max turned to him.
Before Eddie could respond – thankfully, since he didn't know what words he would use to describe the eighth Wonder of the world – a smooth, deep voice interrupted.
"I know you're home, Max. I saw you driving the Mercedes like a fool through the driveway."
Max looked over Eddie's shoulder, expression ashamed, and Eddie turned in the direction of the new voice.
Mr. Kennedy looked different than in the photograph on his son's desk. His moustache was indeed gone – a good thing, since it had been disguising his strong jaw and regal nose. His dark hair was swept back and oiled just as Eddie expected it to be. His white dress shirt and black slacks were perfectly creased. His dark eyes crinkled slightly as Eddie looked at him, and he broke the small silence tactfully.
"You must be the young man we've heard so much about."
He came forward and held out his hand, and Eddie shook it, trying – and failing miserably – to project some kind of confidence into his movements. Mr. Kennedy stepped back with a polite "Excuse me," and turned toward the grand spiraling staircase on the other side of a white pillar.
"Clarissa? Max is home!"
"I'm coming, I'm coming."
A harassed-looking blonde woman appeared at the top of the stair. She smiled down at them and stepped elegantly down the staircase, and Eddie couldn't help but feel slightly eased. Max's parents didn't seem too bad so far. Clarissa Kennedy was slightly taller than he was, slightly shorter than Max, and her hazel eyes exactly matched Max's, as did the shade of her elegantly knotted dark blonde hair. Her blazer and black pants were both perfectly tailored, and Eddie felt woefully underdressed beside these stylish people. Had Max not been wearing jeans, he would have felt completely out of place. Clarissa shook his hand and seemed to be about to speak when a sudden crash echoed overhead. Her hazel eyes rolled upward.
"Excuse me, dears!" And she was gone, racing back up the stairs, heels clacking against the marble. Mr. Kennedy smiled apologetically. "New maid. She's…uh…learning the ropes."
Max laughed easily and Eddie cracked a small smile. Mr. Kennedy picked up a suitcase and gestured for Max to grab the other.
"Eddie, please make yourself at home for a second; we'll take care of the bags and be right back."
Eddie nodded and stepped back as the two passed him and followed Clarissa up the spiraling staircase. He was by himself again. He looked around.
Max staggered up the staircase behind his father, who as usual seemed not even to break a sweat. The long hallway was familiar, the lush paintings that lined the dark paneled wood welcoming him home. Doors fell back behind them, some rooms hidden by dark oak doors, some open to reveal tastefully decorated living spaces. They passed his mother looking exasperated and helping the new maid clean up the remainder of a vase, and continued to a circular landing.
The bar room was directly ahead of him; three bedrooms framed the rest of the walls of the tiny marble-floored space. His father continued down the hall with Max's bag as his son pushed open the door of one of the bedrooms. Small by the standards of the rest of the house, but unquestionably the coziest space in the entire manor, the maroon-themed space was warm. He'd chosen it for his boyfriend, and couldn't help but feel absurdly pleased with himself as he dropped Eddie's suitcase on the maroon-threaded quilt. His father met him outside the room, and they turned back toward the staircase together. Alan broke the silence, speaking over his shoulder to his son in the warm darkness of the narrow hall.
"I like him."
Max's eyes lit up. "You do?"
Alan smiled. "Of course. He's exactly like you said he was."
The staircase appeared before them, and Alan watched as his son bounded down to the main floor where his small, dark boyfriend was still staring at the décor. Eddie was just as Max had said in his phone calls home over the past year: Sharp insecurities contrasting with undeniable sweetness. He was obviously ill at ease in this magnificent house, and Alan felt a twinge of sympathy. Obviously not from our side of the tracks. He gazed down at the two for a moment as Max wrapped his arms around the smaller boy, then put his hand on the banister and stepped down to the entryway. Max saw him and swung around to face him, looping his arms around Eddie's stomach and planting his face in the dark brown hair. Alan couldn't help but smile. Max had changed so much in the past year.
"Well, Max, your mother is going to be busy for a while, it seems, and dinner for now is doubtful, so let's all go sit somewhere and talk, hm?"
"Okay, sure. Living room!" His son steered Eddie from behind as they passed the small entertaining rooms on the right side of the hall, past the spiraling staircase and through a small, vaguely triangular marble hall to the open living room. Max leapt at the ivory-colored free-form couch that sprawled beneath the two story window, and Eddie sat gingerly beside him, looking afraid of breaking or marking something. Alan didn't blame him; sometimes he felt the same way. He settled himself in an overstuffed chair and sighed.
"So, Eddie, tell me about yourself."
The brunette shifted on the cushion and brushed an imaginary piece of lint away from his sleeve. "Ah, well… there's not that much to tell…"
Max broke in. "Bullsh – oof!" Alan smirked and awarded Eddie a point for spunk as Max rubbed his ribs gingerly. Eddie retracted his elbow and looked back at Alan, unwilling to expose his character without a prompt.
Alan understood. "Okay, let's start with this: What are you majoring in?"
"Oh, um, theater."
"Performance, technical, or writing for?"
"Performance… mostly emphasizing musicals."
"Ah, so you must be a singer, then." Alan knew all of this from Max's phone calls, of course, but it seemed to be breaking the ice. Eddie's strangely dark eyes were slightly more emphatic. The boy flushed and ran his fingers over Max's hand absently.
"Sort of?!" Max's indignant cry surprised Alan and caused Eddie's blush to deepen. "Dude, don't listen to him. He's fantastic!"
Alan lifted an eyebrow, amused. "Okay, 'dude'."
Max ignored him stolidly. "You have to come hear him sometime; he's been the lead in three huge plays already. They were all great!"
This Alan hadn't known. "I don't seem to recall you ever being interested in the theater, Max." Then, to Eddie: "You must be as he says. What are you planning to do once you graduate?"
Eddie sighed. "Well, my advisor just warned me that the economy's starting to get really tough, especially for people who major in artsy stuff, so I'm actually double majoring in journalism. I think that's what I'll end up doing once I get out of school while I wait for something to open up."
Alan nodded. "Very mature. Good planning. You know, journalism can take you anywhere in the world if you want it to."
Eddie laughed. "My advisor says it can also turn you into a brochure writer."
The trip was going perfectly. Max cut a piece off of his chicken breast and looked out from behind his curls at the other occupants of the dinner table. His father sat at the head, quiet command of the conversation relieving all of the potential stress of the situation. His mother had added a strand of pearls to her ensemble and sat across from his father, interjecting easily. Eddie, Max thought, was doing better than he had been when they'd first arrived; he was at least eating, if not with as much enthusiasm as Max himself. The chandelier overhead cast soft red-gold light down on the table, and Max smiled into his hand.
The wooden chair groaned as he stood; he put his large hands on Eddie's narrow waist as the warmth of the dining room evaporated behind them. The marble hall was less inviting; moonlight drifting through the large bay windows. He inhaled Eddie's scent; sandalwood and holiday ham balls and the faint musty smell that always followed him off the stage. The combination made him heady for a moment; the darkness of the hall, and the silence.
Reluctantly, he opened his eyes.
The moonlight gleamed off of the banister of the spiraling marble staircase, and Max smiled. "Want the grand tour?"
Eddie really didn't want any sort of tour, but he allowed Max to take his hand and lead him through the grand, arching, magnified estate. Truth be told, he wasn't actually feeling any better than when he'd arrived. Max's parents were wonderful people – it seemed that his boyfriend had been correct in predicting their reaction to him.
Now he was worried about something else; a deep, lurking, suspicious thought that he refused to consider too intimately. He knew that if he invited it in, it wrap its tentacles around his heart and cause unwarranted problems. He pushed the strange new misgiving back with determination, not even daring to name it, and paused in the middle of the long wood-inlaid hall on the second floor. Max doubled back and came to his side. Eddie tilted his head at the picture in the heavy gold frame. Max smiled.
"Nice, isn't it."
Eddie made a soft sound of agreement.
"Uncle Zee painted it before he died."
"Zee?" An eyebrow raised with incredulity.
The soccer player's embracing laughter soothed him. "He told us to call him that. I always thought it was short for 'Zimmerman'. He was kind of an odd bat. You're tired, aren't you."
The sudden statement startled Eddie out of his trance; his eyes had been following the river in the oil painting to the horizon. He knew he couldn't hide it anymore.
"Sorry sweetheart, I don't know why I'm so out of it all the sudden…"
Max understood what Eddie wasn't saying. His calloused fingers startled the nerves in Eddie's wrist.
"Hey, no problem. Time enough for whatever tomorrow, eh? Come on, your bedroom is actually right at the end of this hallway."
The room was bathed in dark maroon; undersized and warmed by a softly rotating space heater. Eddie felt the knot between his shoulders loosen slightly. The urge to sleep intensified a thousand fold as he looked at the brick-colored comforter, and Max smiled.
"Go to sleep babe, I'll see you in the morning."
Max caught the side of Eddie's mouth in a soft kiss and smiled. "G'night."
"Night." - Don't leave me! -
The door closed behind the blond head and Eddie shuddered at the mental outburst. Where did that come from?
Unfortunately, he knew exactly what it meant – he'd felt it a hundred times before, and it was always the same.
The dark blue pajama pants were soft against his skin; the comforter equally so. His breathing came slightly shallower and he screwed his blue eyes shut, willing the familiar feeling to go away. This is not the time for this. Come on, Eddie, you took your medicine – all three doses today. Remember the steps – one hand on your stomach, the other on your chest. Breathe through your nose, with your diaphragm. Stay calm.
The suspicious thought from before lurked at the edge of his mind, taunting him, searching for an opening. Sweat beaded between Eddie's sharp shoulder blades and on his temples; his hearing increased tenfold, heart palpitations like timpanis in his veins. His eyes opened but the vision was distorted; the dark room was bending away from him like a vision reflected in a convex mirror; the comforter was miles long and tapered into a point toward the foot of the bed. The closet doors yawned as if to swallow him.
Max couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. He swung free of the green quilt on his bed and padded down the hallway. The leaps his stomach was making increased sharply as he came within earshot of the oak door. A whimper crawled through the crack of the door, and Max slammed into the handle.
Eddie twisted on the bed, up and towards the wall, teeth bared and eyes screwed shut. His nostrils flared and a tenor heegh-uhh exploded from his throat with every outgoing breath, like air being forced through a leaking bellows.
Max was no longer shocked by these symptoms. The first time it had happened, he'd simply clung to the doorway and stared. Now, months of experience moved him faster than years of soccer practice ever had. He climbed onto the bed and straddled his boyfriend's hips, bracing himself with his arms on the twisted pillow. A wince of pain crumpled his forehead as a particularly violent movement drove Eddie's knee into the soft part of Max's lower back. Max sighed sadly, and his calloused hands drifted down and rested on Eddie's abdomen, where the soaked tee shirt had ridden up in the course of its owner's panic.
Okay, Max, remember the steps - relax yourself first. Get his attention. Say his name. Remind him who you are. Walk him through the steps.
He bent forward and rested the bridge of his nose against the sharp arch of one almond-shaped eye, exhaling softly and relaxing his muscles one by one. The psychologist had informed him that the best way to calm Eddie was to calm himself first, mentally and physically. His breathing slowed, and he let his air stream ghost softly over the thin, trailing outline of his lover's nose. His back muscles loosened abruptly; the spaces between them closed, and he opened his eyes.
"Eddie…" He kept his voice soft and sing-song. Eddie's hands spasmed and clenched, knuckles turning white, and his eyes opened with a terrible suddenness. Their feverish gaze locked onto Max's calm stare, and the soccer star checked 'eye contact' off of his mental list. The skin of the panicked boy's jaw was soft and stretched under Max's fingers.
"Hey, baby. It's Max."
A sudden spark of recognition, and Max's right hand was ensnared between Eddie's spiderlike fingers. The brunette's grip seemed heartbreakingly fragile and terrifyingly strong all at once, and Max's soft smile was pained for a moment before relaxing again. He gave up his other hand and Eddie's breathing slowed marginally. Max pressed his lips to the coral curve of Eddie's ear and murmured softly; calmly.
"Baby, you're having another panic attack. You can stop it, remember? Talk to me, honey."
Eddie's throat contracted and a soft, extended whimper extracted itself. Max smiled.
"Okay, remember what your doctor told you?" He moved the spiderlike hands as he spoke. "One hand on your stomach, one hand on your chest. Breathe through your nose. Breathe through your nose."
Eddie sighed and the cobalt eyes drooped. His small nostrils flared and contracted.
"Make your right hand rise higher than your left."
Max felt his body rising as Eddie's abdomen expanded and felt relief. They were over the hump. Eddie's breathing evened slowly, diaphragm working deep within his body. His head rolled to the side loosely, and Max's hands were abruptly loosed from the vice-like grasp. The twitching ceased; suddenly, the room was completely silent. Max knew better than to believe that it was over.
The shudders came on with as much strength as they'd ever had, and Max held tightly, knowing that he would just have to wait it out. The large hand of the clock above the bed ticked forward twice, and Eddie gasped suddenly, like a diver coming up for air. His dark eyes opened again, blinking against sweat, lucid again. His voice was so quiet that Max had to listen hard to hear it, though he was less than a half-foot away from the other boy's mouth.
"…'m sorry, babe…"
Max believed that he could actually feel his heartstrings twinge at times like these. "Don't be. God. Don't be." He trailed butterfly kisses over Eddie's high cheekbones and up his jaw. "Don't be sorry. I'm the one who should be sorry."
Eddie's voice was stronger, though a tremor broke the word in two. "…Wh- why?"
Max rolled off of him and lay on his left side, arms circling Eddie's shoulders, drawing the darker boy to him. He looked up at the ceiling, moonlight tracing intricate patterns on the white medium. It was one of the things he missed while at school: The moonlight. In Minneapolis, the only lights that ever passed through his curtains were the ever-present orange glow of streetlights, and the jarring, multi-hued police lights. Home was moonlight and real meals for him, but he'd obviously misjudged the effect it would have on his companion. He sighed.
"For bringing you here, I shouldn't have – I shouldn't have."
Eddie was quiet for a moment. Then: "Ye-yes, you sh-should have, and I-I-I'm glad you did."
Max raised his head, and his eyebrows. "Really?"
The silence stretched for a long moment. Max wondered, and spoke. "What happened, then?"
Eddie's dark brow crinkled again, and he sighed, passing a hand over his face. "It's nothing – just a… a thought. It-It-It's stupid –"
"I'm telling you, it's just another one of m-my stupid –"
The fine lips pursed in defeat. "Fine. It's just – all right, it's just that… I never r-r-really knew what you had, you know. I mean, I knew that you came from a nice family and that your parents had some kind of business and were really good at what they did. You told me that. I just never realized that it was so – much."
Max tried to follow the scattered logic. "So, it's just that the house is so freakishly big and stuff? That's not stupid, people have that reaction all the time. Eddie…"
"No, Max, that's not the problem. I was used to the house halfway through dinner. It's – oh God, is this stupid – it's just that I don't know if you understand that, I don't know, if we ever – you know, get 'hitched' if it's ever possible, that you'd be with a boy who has… nothing. I can't ever hope to give you anything that you don't already have; I can't offer you… anything, and I'm afraid that once you see that…"
Max's eyebrows knitted together.
"… you won't want to be with me anymore."
Silence slung its arm over the small bed. Max felt Eddie's eyes peering at him. He snorted. "Jesus Christ."
The cobalt eyes were like lanterns in the darkness, always round lately. Max growled and flipped over in one powerful motion, pinning his partner beneath him. Eddie squeaked, and his hands gripped Max's flexed biceps in surprise.
"Eddie, you listen to me, and you listen good."
Eddie shook suddenly, and Max checked himself slightly. He bent his head forward, trying to force his thoughts into a coherent sentence. His hazel eyes were soft when he looked up again.
"Eddie, I love you."
The boy blinked. "I know, Max, but –"
"I love you. Do you know how many times I've loved someone in my life?"
Max leaned down, and touched his forehead to Eddie's. "Once. Just once, only once. Only one person, only you. It will only ever be you. Do you think that I will ever be so soft, so base as to choose a house, some clothes, some things… over you?"
Eddie's eyes flickered between his, then dropped.
"Eddie, I love you. I'll never go anywhere without you, I'll never choose anything over you, and I'll say it until you believe me. I love you. I love you. I – hey! Look at me."
Eddie rested his head on Max's arm and looked up at the soccer player, eyes soft. The corners of Max's mouth tilted slightly, warming his intense features.
"I love you."
Eddie's voice was tiny and ragged, and months of pent-up emotion mixed with a sob of relief.
"Oh, God, Max – I love you, too."
December the 29th dawned bright and cold; the temperature plummeted into the negative teens. Max's breath fogged thickly in the air as he heaved the two suitcases into the trunk of the Mercedes. The trunk lid slammed shut, and Max rubbed his hands together furiously as he ran for the house. The entry hall was bright and warm, and he smiled at its occupants.
"Well, it looks like we're all set."
Clarissa held out her arms. "Good. Now give your Mommy a hug."
Max laughed and went to her, and Alan held out his hand to Eddie.
"Eddie, it was a great pleasure to meet you, and though I say that often to many people who don't deserve it, rest assured that I hope you don't realize what a dunderhead my son is anytime soon."
Eddie's ringing laugh echoed off of the white pillars, and Max pretended to be offended. Clarissa hugged Eddie tightly and smiled into his black jacket.
"I hope you visit us again. You're a good boy."
"I will. I promise." To his surprise, Eddie found that he meant it.
It was strange how things worked, Eddie thought as he watched the manor grow smaller and smaller in the passenger-side mirror. In one night, the house that had symbolized all of his new fears had become… well, a house.
The silver car's heater hummed, and he fell into a trance, watching the snow-coated pine trees flash past his window. A tan-colored sign with green trailing writing flashed past, and Eddie began to doze off.
"I love you."
Max looked at him, hazel eyes full of hope and, Eddie swore, a promise. He smiled, gently, and took Max's large hand in his.
"I love you, too."
Author's Note: Praise the Lord, it's completed. Please leave me a review?