Chapter Twenty Eight

Once the ruckus was dying down, the miscellany of party-goers dispersed, I set out to talk to Tobias' parents; or at least one of them. Ben could be seen scurrying around, cleaning up. I wondered why they didn't think Tobias was at all responsible, letting him sit and watch TV still.

I found Tobias' father in the kitchen, making himself some kind of sandwich. He was kind of red in the face, his skin flushed across the wide pores. He had the same colour of hair as the two boys, a dark brown, which was cut very short and interspersed with grey. His belly was enormous, seeming to protrude like a stubborn growth from his body.

He turned to me gruffly, accusation in his eyes. He must be thinking I was one of those kids. "Excuse me sir," I said, putting my hand out. He took it, with an annoyed look. "I'm Paul, I was Tobias' boyfriend very recently."

"Okay?" he said, urging me to get on with it.

"Well, I came by the other day to talk to Tobias, and he was in a bit of a situation. Umm. Basically - I'm saying I'm worried about your son's mental wellbeing." I looked at him with my brows drawn.

He scoffed, and turned back to finish making the sandwich. "You don't need to worry about Tobias. Everything's just fine. Now could you kindly return to your home?"

"Uh," I said – this shouldn't really have been a surprise, after Ben, but it was still hard to hear. "Sure," I said.

I went immediately back into the living room.

"Tobias," I said, crouching down so I was on kind of an even basis with him. He barely took notice of me, so I reached out and shook his knee. "Tobias, I've gotta go. I have to go home. But there are some things I need to get from your room…"

He stared at me uncomprehending. So I jumped up and grabbed him by the arm and pulled him up. "Hey," he protested, yanking his arm back. But I started to run towards his room, pulling him behind me. After I let go, he still followed, thank goodness.

The groceries were under his desk, but that wasn't really why I was there. I pulled them out anyways, hearing Tobias walk in the bedroom door.

"So, I have to go…" I said.

"You mentioned that already."

"Yeah, well it's true. I just hope you're going to be okay."

"Don't worry, I'm fine. You can go." Tobias sighed after that.

"Well your parents don't really understand what's going on with you, and your brother neither."

"And you think you do?" he demanded. "You think you understand all about me?"

"No! Not at all. But I can see what's in front of my face, which they apparently can't." It came out in a rush. I started to breathe a little heavily. Our eyes were matched, his blazing. It was kind of nice to just see them not zoned out.

"Why are you even doing all of this? I don't understand." He seemed to shrink as he spoke. I stood still for a second.

"I don't know, Tobias." Long pause. "I didn't like it so much, you not being around."

"So you move into my house?"

"Tobias, you can't tell me you're okay, because I know like nobody's business that you're not. I've stayed to make sure you're okay. I don't want you hurting yourself, or someone else."

After that it was silent.

"Tobias… what can I say? I'd feel like shit to find out something bad had happened to you. You're someone… I dunno… precious, I guess. I don't want anything bad to stop you from living your life."

He stared out the window behind me. "It kind of sounds like you're trying to get back together with me."

"Oh! Or, well. I wasn't thinking of that. No, I don't think that would be a good idea. Probably."

"You don't sound very sure."

"When it comes to you, I'm not sure of very much," I said, grinning. I paused to think, glancing out the window that he seemed to find so fascinating.

"Listen, instead of sitting around here talking about ourselves, why don't we go outside? We've been sitting around this house for, like, two days. You've been sitting longer, I bet. It's gorgeous outside, and hot, and sunny. Why don't we go down to the Quay?"

He kept staring out the window. "It is nice out…" he begrudged.

"We could get some coooooooool drinks, lie in the sunlight, anything."

"Fine. Just let me change into some fresh clothes."

"Alright!" I said. I hopped up. "I'll just wait on the front step. I don't think your dad wants me to hang out in the living room anymore."

"Okay," he said, closing the door behind me.

"And don't keep me waiting long!" I shouted through the door.

"I'll do whatever I want!" was his muffled reply.

I couldn't help grinning silly as I walked out of the house. That was just what I wanted, Tobias. That was just right.

Over the enormous chestnut tree in the neighbour's yard, full and round and the deepest green, six white seagulls were circling, shrieking at the wind. They wheeled to their heart's content against the hazy summer blue of the enormous sky.

A/N: The end! Wow. Wowowow. I'm very happy with this story. Very much. Well, happy to have completed it, anyhow. Talk about an accomplishment!

Anyhow, I hope you all have enjoyed it, and enjoyed this last chapter. I hope it satisfied you, not leaving too many loose ends. I know there are several things that you don't find out about, but I don't think they are entirely necessary to know. Or they can wait for the sequel, "Tobias and Paul in Space." (There is no sequel, that was a joke.)

I've started another story that will be up soon. I think it will be a kind of longish one-shot. Can't be sure yet though. And I will be editing and rewriting "Tenderhearted", specifically the first fourteen chapters, because they are much different in quality and qualities from the last fourteen. I'll post a chapter at the end to tell you that the edits are finished, with a little bit of bonus material.

Anyone who'd like to help me with the edits, please leave a review or PM me. I would appreciate the help – the eye of someone else to give me some objectivity, and constructive criticism around the structure and prose style. If that sounds intimidating, don't worry, it intimidates me too.

Okay, so as a last thing I've come up with some questions for you to answer, if you like, about Tenderhearted.

What do you think is the significance of the title, Tenderhearted?

Who do you identify more with, Paul or Tobias? Or someone else?

Which character acts the most responsibly? The least?