Chapter 11

Time slowed to a standstill, and I took in every detail around me. Sweat dripped from my face and soaked my shirt, and I could taste the saltiness against my lips, could feel the wetness of my shirt sticking to me. My chest heaved as my lungs desperately pulled oxygen into them, my calves and thighs burning from racing back and forth across the field.

This was an important game, which is why my mind was so hyper-focused. Two scouts from Atlanta United FC were here watching the game, and the rumor was that I was one of three players they were here to watch. Grayson and my parents were also at the game, and I swear I could hear their cheers above all the others in the crowd.

The green and white striped uniform had approached me from a blind spot faster than I had anticipated, but I thought I still had time to react. Twisting sideways, I maneuvered my half spin into a strong kick.

The field had been freshly manicured for the game, and the smell of grass and dirt filled my nostrils as it rose quickly toward me. Something was unbearably wrong, but I couldn't place it. The stands went eerily quiet. Why was the coach on the field?

And what was that screeching sound? Whenever I closed my eyes, it seemed to stop, but then I was jerked awake by…something. What was it?

How did my parents get on the field?

My body was lifted, and I realized that screech was coming from inside me. My throat ached from the screams, but I couldn't get it to stop. Were those EMTs?

Time caught up, and I remembered seeing the opposing player kicking out towards the ball. His face had twisted into shock at the last second when he registered my changed trajectory. If I hadn't moved at the last second, his foot would have connected with empty air. However, I had pivoted, intending to pass the ball, and his foot had connected with—

My knee. It was my knee, if the searing pain in that general area was any indication.

I needed to tell the EMTs that I was fine, that I needed to be on the field. The scouts were here. They had to see me play. How could I get recruited onto a professional team if I wasn't on the field? An injury at this point could put me out for the rest of the season.

And those scouts were here to see me.

Imagine, playing for Atlanta United FC right out of college.

It was every dream come true.

But how could I get on the team if I couldn't play?

Mom told me I had to be taken into surgery for my knee. She and the doctor patiently explained what had happened, but I blocked them out. All I heard was that I would be out for the remainder of the season. Recovery time would take a minimum of six months.

Not even out of college, and my soccer career was over.

I stayed at the hospital for several days. The doctors wrapped everything up in a hard cast to prevent further injury to the already torn ligaments.

Mom wanted me to stay at home for as long as I could obtain medical leave from the college, but I needed something to distract myself from my grief. Plus, trying to make up work from my classes would be more stressful than just going to class. And if I had to drop a class, it would delay my graduation.

Part of me wondered if I should do just that. Take a semester off, delay graduation, and play soccer next year.

No, that was a terrible plan. Delay the inevitable on the off chance a team would pick up a fifth year college student? Would the coaches even let me do that? Doubtful.

For now, I would have to work on resigning myself to the reality that this particular dream would never come true.

I cried a lot more than I cared to admit, especially once I was out of the hospital and back in my dorm room. Marcus had rented an apartment for his senior year, but I was still stuck in the dorms. Grayson had offered to pay for rent for an apartment, but I hastily declined. There was no way I would feel right accepting that kind of money from him, even if it meant we'd have a private space to ourselves when he visited me at Wake Forest.

My new roommate was a timid freshman who was absolutely out of his depth when I sporadically broke into wracking sobs, both from the pain in my knee and the sickening reality of having to readjust my entire outlook for the future. I tried to keep my cries as quiet as I could, or wait until he was out of the room, but sometimes it couldn't be helped.

I had purposely lined up my schedule to have an easy semester for soccer season, which was fortunate. My three Tuesday and Thursday classes were all in the same building, which meant I didn't have to lurch across campus on crutches.

During all this, Grayson was an absolute doll. He came to see me when he could and gave me space when I asked for it, which was more often than I'd like to admit. There was a lot of self pity going on.

A few days after the accident, he surprised me on campus, texting me saying he took a few hours off work and brought lunch. He helped me hobble to a shaded bench by my English class and unpacked Subway sandwiches.

Nothing I had ever eaten tasted as good as that turkey sandwich did.

That weekend, I was in an absolutely foul mood. I had failed a quiz in my Spanish class. Because of my medical absence, I had missed the memo that we were taking the quiz. When I tried to explain this to my professor, gesturing to the cast still on my leg, she ignored me, stating that if I was studying a little every night, it wouldn't be a problem.


The doctor also wanted to cut back on my pain medications. I told him that didn't make any sense if I was still in an incredible amount of pain, but he said that was just the drugs talking.


I knew what really had me upset, though. These things I could normally take in stride, but I was worked up because—

This would be the first time I had ever missed a soccer game. My parents had season tickets and asked if I wanted to sit in the stands with them. I vehemently refused, even going so far as to hang up on my mother. I didn't even call back to apologize.

Grayson offered to take me to a movie. I didn't want to go. I wanted to sit in my room and sulk. He showed up anyway, practically dragging me into the theater. He ate popcorn and held my hand while I held back angry, bitter tears.

The coaches and some of the players took me out to dinner that night, after the game. I didn't want to go, but I felt too guilty to stand up so many people. We got pizza, and I ordered a pitcher of beer, intending to drink the whole thing by myself, but I chickened out at the last minute, barely making it through one glass.

As the days continued to pass, heedless of my insistence that time instead reverse to before the accident so this never happened, I began to grow restless. Never one who was able to sit still for long periods of time, I found myself confined to my immediate area, unable to stand the crutches for long periods of time. Used to jogging at least 30 minutes a day, I began to feel sick, lazy, and even more irritable. I had a set of weights in my room, but it wasn't the same as a run. I told my doctor I was concerned about muscle atrophy, and he replied that it was inevitable.

They took me out of the hard cast fairly quickly and gave me a knee immobilizer. I had to use crutches for awhile longer, but eventually those were gone, too. The doctors told me I was healing faster than originally expected but not to push myself too hard or too fast.

When they removed the hard cast, I got to see the surgical scar running across my knee. I still didn't know the details of the extent of my injury, and I didn't care to. Knowing exactly how badly everything inside was ruptured and torn wouldn't put me back on the field.

"When you're ready to talk about everything, I'll be here waiting."

Grayson had said that while I was still in the hospital, and I didn't know what he meant. As my body continued to heal, I woke up one Saturday, about a month after the accident, suddenly feeling clear headed and more like myself. I called Grayson and asked if he'd drive me to his house. He seemed to hear there was a different note in my voice. When I met him in the parking lot, he embraced me and kissed my temple.

"Ready?" he asked, and there was depth to that question.


We rode in silence. When we arrived at his house, we arranged ourselves on the couch, me laying atop him, our arms and legs tangled together. I thought I would cry some more, but I didn't, like Grayson's arms wrapped around me were holding all my broken pieces together.

I would never play soccer again.

I couldn't bring myself to say the words aloud. It was still too painful. I thought back to when I was a young boy kicking a ball around the backyard with my dad. I thought about my first high school game, how we had lost, but how proud I was to have played in the game.

All that, gone.

Finally, I had gathered enough of myself together to speak to Grayson. "Soccer was my passion, and I don't know what else will fill that void. It's hard not knowing my future, and that terrifies me."

"No one ever knows what will happen," Grayson answered. "Bad things happen every day, things that veer you hard from the path you thought you were on. It's dark for awhile, but eventually you realize you've been walking on your new path all along."

I thought about how he had learned he wasn't Brayden's father and how utterly lost he must have felt. I remember him telling me that he hoped nothing that awful would ever happen to me. But no one can truly stop awful things from happening.

You just have to hope that the people around you will be there to help you pick up the pieces.

I sighed and let my head drop back against his chest, letting my back muscles unwind. I was sore not only from my injury but also from the tension I was keeping inside me. It felt nice to finally feel like I could start letting some of that go.

"Mom told me to have a back up plan in case soccer didn't pan out. Never once did I think I'd ever have to use my major."

Grayson rubbed gentle circles along my back, and I relaxed even further.

"Those scouts were there to see me. I felt…accomplished. Proud. I knew you and my parents were in the stands, and I thought, 'This is it. I'm doing it.' And now…" I let out a frustrated grunt. "I don't think it would be so bad except that my knee still hurts so fucking much. If it was all over in one fell swoop, instead of every step being a fucking reminder…"

Grayson's hand stilled. "Your knee still hurts? They don't have you on pain meds?"

I shrugged. "They do. It's just… I don't know. It's not as bad as when it first happened, but it's still…bad."

"I'm driving you to the hospital."

I protested, but Grayson scooped me up in his arms. Damn, I knew he was strong, but—damn.

He called my mom as he drove me, and I smiled at the knowledge that he had my parents' number in his phone. I don't know why that thought made me so happy; it just did.

Smiling, I recognized the roads we were on. "Remember the last time you drove me to this hospital?"

"When you broke your hand? How could I forget?"

Laughing, I said, "I was so mad at you."

He frowned. "What? What for? I don't remember that." He cracked a smile. "I do remember you saying, 'I have to throw up now,' then you leaned over and threw up."

"I was mad because you kept calling me 'kid.' I was grounded for having my secret boyfriend over while my parents were out of town, and I thought I was all grown up and hot shit. I think I was trying to show off in front of you, show you that I wasn't some innocent brat. But you never saw me how I saw myself. I was still just a kid to you."

"Oh." He was quiet for awhile, working something out in his head. "I don't know how to put this…" He trailed off, and I waited very patiently for him to continue. "There were times, when you were seventeen and eighteen, especially when we were working out, where I caught myself staring at you inappropriately, and I had to give myself firm reminders that you were a child. That's why I kept calling you 'kid.'"

Oh? Oh, that was delicious news.

I decided to tease him a little. "If you were calling me 'kid,' I should have been calling you 'daddy.' Would you like that, Daddy?"

His eyes narrowed, and he glared at me. "No, I would not like that. Please don't do that again."

"Whatever you say…Daddy."

"If I wasn't worried you'd torn something else in your knee, I would pull over right now and push you out of this car."

"So mean." I let out a fake sniffle.

My parents met us at the emergency room, and I felt like a child as the three of them talked about my knee in hushed tones over my head like I wasn't even there. I crossed my arms over my chest and pouted. Grayson ruffled my hair tenderly, and I hated to admit it, but it made me feel a little better.

Several hours, CT scans, and exams later, the doctor determined that a few bone fragments around my patella had not been removed properly during the initial surgery. My options were a second surgery or to bear with it and hope it healed properly on its own. Once more Grayson and my parents whispered about my knee over my head, discussing the options without including me in the conversation. I couldn't muster up enough energy to be angry at them. Both options sucked, and I didn't want to pick, wanting instead to crawl into Grayson's marshmallow bed and sleep until everything magically fixed itself.

"At least we're not looking at knee replacements," said the doctor unhelpfully. I blanched at his words and quickly put my head between my knees, worried I was about to pass out. "Also, the ACL reconstruction looked good on the CT scan, so right now, we're just looking at the patella."

I'm glad I had tuned out the original doctor; I wouldn't have been able to handle this horrible information. I was barely handling it now. It was amazing how one second of your life could have such a rippling impact.

"I don't want another surgery," I mumbled.

Mom looked at me hesitantly. "We really should weigh all of the pros and cons before you make a decision. If you don't go through with the surgery and your leg doesn't heal properly, you will have serious problems with your knee when you get older."

I traced the scar on my knee and frowned. "And I could have the second surgery, and my knee still might not heal correctly. And even if I get cut open a second time, what does it matter? I won't get drafted onto a soccer team, so what's the point?"

"If you don't get the surgery…" Grayson started slowly, glancing at my parents and making sure he wasn't overstepping his bounds. "If you don't get the surgery, there's a good chance your knee may never heal properly. If your knee doesn't heal, you won't be able to run anymore. No more jogging with me. No more mini-marathons. And there's nothing stopping you from joining a recreational soccer league."

I ground my teeth together and bit back the sharp words I wanted to spit at him. He was right, of course, but still the idea of surgery scared me. And, of course, I'd have to miss more school. It was a lot to process.

"Let's talk about it more at home," suggested Dad. To the doctor, he asked, "When does he have to decide?" I appreciated that Dad said, "When does he have to decide?" Before that moment, I was fairly certain my parents were going to make the decision for me and overrule whatever I chose.

"As soon as possible," the doctor answered. "If it makes a difference, it will be a very minor surgery. Just a small incision. We'll be in and out before you know it."

Grayson squeezed my shoulder reassuringly. Mom went to put her hand on my knee, then drew it back quickly, realizing her close mistake. Dad stood nervously, chewing his bottom lip.

"Fine," I sighed. "I'll do it."

"You really don't have you decide now," said Dad.

I shrugged. "It's fine. My knee hurts like a bitch. I don't think I can sit around and hope it heals correctly. I'm barely making it as it is."

Mom and Dad talked to the doctor and set up an appointment for Wednesday. I only had two classes, so I emailed my professors and asked if I could make up my work early. When everything was finished and signed and I was ready to be discharged, Grayson hovered hesitantly by my shoulder.

"What?" I demanded, a little sharper than I intended.

"Just checking in," he answered.

I sighed and ran my hand over my face. "My parents will want me at home, but I'm not done with you. Will you come over?"

"Of course."

I caught my parents' attention and said, "We're going to the grocery store and then heading over. I decided this morning that I'm done sulking. I mean, that was before—this." I gestured widely at the hospital. "But I'm still done. I want to do something, so I'm making dinner."

"Make some more of that tom yum soup," Dad requested. "That shit was delicious."

After finishing at the grocery store, Grayson and I drove to my parents' house. I realized with a start that he hadn't been over since we had first started dating. Though, to be fair, I was rarely at my parents' house either.

He settled in just as easily as he had last time. After the initial awkwardness, both my parents had accepted Grayson completely. Mom was warmly understanding of him from the start, and once Dad was assured that nothing sexual occurred between us while I was a minor, he didn't mind, either. They both really liked Grayson outside of our relationship, anyway, which made things transition a lot smoother.

While I began prepping ingredients, my parents and Grayson hovered in the kitchen, chatting. Dad made us old fashioneds, and I choked on mine. I greatly preferred beer or wine to hard liquor. Mom clearly wanted to talk more about the upcoming surgery, but Grayson and my dad steered her towards different topics of conversation, for which I was grateful.

Dinner was tom yum soup and goi cuon, a kind of Vietnamese spring roll. Mom made jasmine tea and steeped it with dried rose hips. Grayson rested his hand comfortably on my thigh while we ate. Bliss settled cloud-like around my shoulders.

After dinner, Mom pulled cannolis seemingly out of nowhere. If my leg were at full strength, I would have sprinted towards the tray, snatched it, and bolted to my old room to devour them by myself, like a deranged squirrel. I calculated it might be still possible, even with my disadvantage, but Dad could be pretty spry when cannolis were involved.

My parents retired to the living room to watch Wheel of Fortune while Grayson stayed at the kitchen table with me. Smiling, he pulled me into a side hug. "So, you're done sulking, huh?"

I nodded. "Yeah. I mean, I'm still horribly bitter about my soccer situation, but at least the college didn't take my scholarship away." I slumped into his lap, wrapping my arms around his neck, the kitchen chair creaking ominously beneath us. After a quick kiss to his cheek, I slid back into my own chair, worried his chair would break under our combined weight. That would be fucking embarrassing.

"Thanks so much for today. Staying at the hospital with me…driving me to the hospital in the first place. I don't think I can properly convey how appreciative I am."

A sloppy grin crossed his face. "I think I'm at the point where I'd do anything for you." cupping my chin in his hand, he leaned close for a slow kiss. "You mean the world to me. And I have to commend you on how well you're handling this. When I found out Monica was pregnant, I did not…handle that well. I engaged in a lot of self-destructive behaviors. I drank a lot, slept around, got involved in drugs… You're in a horrible situation, but you have this coveted ability to just kind of…snap out of it. I really admire you."

"I didn't know all that about you."

He paused, frowning. "There's a lot you don't know about me; there's a lot I keep hidden, a lot I don't want to relive. Sometimes I wonder if you'd be as infatuated as you are if you knew the whole story."

"I'd like to know the whole story."

"I really don't like to talk about my childhood. I like to think of my life in two pieces: before Brayden and after Brayden. Trust me, the life after Brayden is the part worth knowing." He shook his head and attempted a smile. "But we were talking about you. Before we headed to the hospital, you were talking about how you're not sure where to go next. You also mentioned having a backup plan. What's the backup plan?"

I took a moment to grab two beers from the fridge. Popping off the tops, I drank deeply from one and brought the other to Grayson. "Back up plan was originally sports management, but I think I might veer more toward the economics side of things. I just don't know how to get started in that career field."

"Do you have a professor you could intern under?"

"Probably not this late in the game." I scooted my chair away from the table and propped my leg up on my mom's vacant chair. "I have a lot of anxiety built up as it is. It's kind of like the end of a chapter in my life. And now—this is just one more thing added on."

"I know you probably don't want to hear this, but I changed my career three times before getting hired on in my current company. I almost didn't even go to college; I got a job as a car mechanic right out of high school. Then when Monica and I started talking about buying a house together, I went to get a degree in mechanical engineering. It took me six years before I was hired at a company in my desired field.

"Sometimes these kinds of things take time. And sometimes your life turns in a very unexpected direction. It would be nice to be sure of everything all the time, but that's not reality."

I chewed my bottom lip, thinking. Did I even want to pursue a career in sports? Soccer was all I knew, but I also loved the economics side of things. If sports economics didn't work out, I might be able to find something in a broader field. Mathematics or statistics, even.

"You're right. This will be a stressful time for your. That's the nature of the beast. Just try not to get overworked thinking about things that might not even happen. Take it one day at a time, and we'll cross the bridges as we get to them."

I took Grayson's advice to heart. Immediately I began hounding my professors for internship opportunities and career advice. My professor from my sports economics class that I struggled through ended up being the most helpful. He had been impressed with my work ethic and the quality of assignments I had turned in, which just goes to show you should always try your hardest even when you think no one is watching.

Anyway, Professor Monroe put me in contact with a manager at NBC Sports Group, and I landed a very short-term opportunity over Christmas break. Most of it was just getting facetime with anyone in the industry, which was easier than I had thought it would be. Unbeknownst to me, many an eye had been on me since my sophomore year. Strangers I had never met stopped me in the hall to give me their condolences about my leg, saying they had seen me play on ESPN and had been rooting for me. I found I didn't appreciate their pity and had to hide the bitterness threatening to creep onto my face.

But it got my foot in the door. I had a job offer before my time was up. Unfortunately, it was for an unpaid internship at NBC Sports Group in Connecticut. I couldn't imagine packing myself up and moving away from everything I knew just to run coffees for suits.

My leg gradually continued to heal as I spent my last semester at Wake Forest. Realizing this current chapter of my life was swiftly coming to an end left me more raw and emotional than anything had before. I found myself on the phone with my mother nearly every weekend, trying to piece together which direction my life might take. I had left only four classes for myself for the last semester, which left me with entirely too much time on my hands. Grayson, on the other hand, suddenly had an incredibly busy schedule with work. His boss's boss was retiring in June, which meant there were opportunities for promotions. His company also renewed talks of restructuring and a potential buyout or merge with a smaller company. He warned me that he could be forced to move but that we would discuss it further if it ever became a reality.

I didn't sleep well those last few months of my senior year. My knee continued to plague me daily. Grayson was convinced the doctors at the first hospital had screwed it up and insisted on bringing me to the hospital closer to my parents' house. My physical therapy was not going well, and the idea of losing mobility in my leg was enough to plague my dreams with restless fears and anxieties manifested as nightmares. For the first time in my life, I had night terrors and frequently sat straight up in bed, screaming. My poor roommate requested a new dorm room on three separate occasions but was denied due to space. I begged my doctors for a prescription sleeping pill, but they didn't want me taking anything stronger than over-the-counter drugs without me seeing a psychiatrist.

My dad ended up being the one to help me with the night terrors. With his new promotion, he was able to work from home on certain days. He adjusted his schedule so he worked longer hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays and took a longer lunch break on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. During his lunch breaks, he drove out to campus to visit with me. Mostly we walked around campus, steadily building muscle back into my leg. Having gone several months without my regular exercise routine, I was surprised at how exhausted I was after our walks together. The extra exertions were enough to help me sleep more peacefully on those evenings.

And then, faster than I could have ever anticipated, I was dressed in my cap and gown and walking on stage to accept my diploma—a Bachelor's degree in economics with a minor in statistics. Grayson and my parents sat in the audience watching me walk, and that feeling of pride was more powerful than anything I had ever felt at my soccer games.

As I crossed the stage, still limping but freshly out of my knee brace, I felt something pull within me. Know that scene in The Lion King where Simba walks across that magic log and changes from a kid to an adult in the span of five seconds? Walking across that stage helped me understand that scene on a different level. This was it. I could almost feel the words "end of volume one" written across my pages and a new book opening before me.

Bachelor's degree freshly in hand, I began applying for any and every available job within a 40 mile radius. I officially moved out of the dorms and was faced with the realization that I had no money for rent nor did I have a car of my own that I could take to work. And having spent my college years playing soccer and therefore not having time for a job, I found my resume uncomfortably blank.

About a week after moving out of the dorms, I had no bites for any of my applications. A pit of frigid anxiety settled in my stomach, and I was seized by the irrational fear that I would never get a job, that I'd be forced to live with my parents forever. Grayson outright asked why I didn't just move in with him until I found a job, but I held back. I didn't feel right living with him when I was unable to provide for myself financially. Even though we had been dating for a year and a half, I still felt uncomfortable when he bought me things.

Out of the blue, nearly two weeks after graduation, Professor Monroe emailed me with an incredible job opportunity. There was a paid internship opportunity available for a sports economist that would work closely with D.C. United as well as other soccer teams along the east coast. Unfortunately, I would have to move to Washington, D.C.

I applied just for shits and giggles and received a call back within an hour.

They wanted me. Badly.


That night, Grayson called and said he needed to talk. I grumbled, "Yes, we do." He came to pick me up, and the ride to his house was driven in uncomfortable silence. I was so preoccupied with my own news that I barely had time to panic about what kind of "talk" he needed to have with me. Regret pulled at me. The company said I needed to respond to the offer as soon as possible, and stupid me being the idiot that I am said yes. Without talking to Grayson.


Technically, I could call back and say sorry, I'd have to pass on their offer, but after two weeks of no responses to any of my applications, this seemed like a dream come true. And it was. I'd still be able to work in the professional sports game, even with my busted up knee. The physical therapist did not seem optimistic that I'd be back to my previous exercise routines any time soon and told me not to hold my breath of playing soccer at the level I was at for at least another year.

Combining economics and the sports industry was everything I could wish for in my current condition, and it would put my foot in the door for any future opportunities.

But moving to Washington, D.C…

I had fought harder for Grayson than anything else in my life. To lose him to a career opportunity was just unthinkable.

Except that I had already accepted the job.


I let Grayson order us take-out, which I rarely did, preferring to cook for the both of us. Cooking had become more than a once-in-a-while thing and was a way for me to relax. Sharing a meal together became a sort of ritual that we engaged in, and I looked forward to those moments we spent together.

The pizza arrived faster than either of us expected, though once the box was opened, we found that neither of us were hungry. My brain had still barely registered that he was the one who had invited me over "to talk" and not the other way around. What news could be worse than enduring a long distance relationship? Or would the distance be what drove us apart, breaking us up?

I pushed the half-eaten slice away from me and struggled to let my eyes meet Grayson's face. Lines that hadn't been there last summer were tugging his mouth into a frown. He looked absolutely miserable.

"I got a promotion," he told me.

That was great news! Wasn't it? Then why did he look like he was delivering funeral rites?

"What's the catch?" I prompted.

He cradled his face in his hands, unable to look at me. "In order for me to accept the promotion, I'll need to move." He visibly struggled to lift his head and look me in the eye. "Even if I don't take the promotion, my whole department is being relocated. Either I move, or I look for a new job."

My stomach sank through the floor. Good thing I was seated because I felt like I was about to collapse. What did this mean? He had been with his company for almost ten years. There was no way he wasn't going to accept this promotion. If I moved and he moved…how far apart would that put us?

"What does the promotion entail?" I asked miserably. A huge knot formed in my throat, and I took a long drink of water. The knot remained, and I tried not to choke.

"It comes with a raise—almost ten thousand a year—as well as a company car. I'll be in charge of a whole division of people, but I still get to work with my hands." He sounded just as brokenhearted as I felt when he added, "It's everything I've dreamed about, career-wise."

"And where is it?" I grieved. "How far away will this take you?"

"Washington, D.C."

Maybe there is a god. If so, what had I done to have one look so favorably upon me?

I fell to the floor, sobs wracking my body. My knee banged painfully against the linoleum, but I didn't care. Through my tears, my words came rushing out, in no particular order, and I sounded like a babbling wreck. Grayson dropped beside me and put his arms around me. I pounced on him, pressing soggy, snotty kisses to his face.

Grayson put his hands firmly on my shoulders and held me at arm's-length, unsure what to do with me. "I already checked, and it's a little less than five hours from Greensboro to Washington, D.C. I know that's far, but I'll have more vacation time and I can—Alex, please stop crying so we can discuss this!"

But I couldn't stop. I struggled against his grip until I could kiss him once more, my words still tumbling out. Taking a concerted effort to catch my breath, I cupped his face in my hands and pressed my forehead to his. "Grayson, I'm so sorry—I accepted a job without consulting you." I hiccuped, hard, and my forehead bounced against his. "It's with—I'll be working with D.C. United. Grayson—we can—you don't have to leave me—"

I was pushed back against the floor, Grayson kissing me as my words registered. His tongue pushed its way into my mouth, and his hand curled tightly in mine. "Tell me I'm not dreaming," he gasped. "Tell me I've been agonizing all day over nothing."

Grinning, I moved too fast trying to kiss him, and my chin hit his mouth. Ignoring the sharp sting, kiss attempt number two met its mark, my lips working fervently against his. My fingers clutched at his shirt like they were worried he would disappear forever. His fingers tangled in my hair, and his mouth worked hungrily against mine.

"I love you," he rasped, and my heart pounded rapidly in my chest. He pulled back suddenly, planting both his hands on either side of my head, arms outstretched as he hovered over me. His dark hair hung around his face, and his eyes buzzed with excitement. "Alex. We'll move to D.C. together. I want you to live with me. Will you move in with me?"

I nodded, unable to speak. All those months of worrying about—everything. My leg, my soccer career, graduating… If I ended up with nothing other than Grayson, I'd have made it out on top.

His lips sucked harshly at my neck, and a rush of air flooded from me in a throaty groan. My hands dipped to the waistband of his jeans, eager to feel the naked flesh there, knowing he wasn't wearing underwear. Fingers fumbling on the button and zipper, I tugged eagerly at the denim fabric, pushing so I could get my hands around—

Grayson moaned deeply against my throat, and I shivered with delight. One hand gripped his shaft while the other reached further to cup his balls. He rocked his hips forward, thrusting into my hand, his lips still working their way across my throat. His leg was bent against the floor, supporting his weight on his knee, and I pressed myself against it, grinding my dick against his leg.

With frenzied speed, Grayson quickly divested me of my clothes. His clothing followed in a similar rush, before his head was tucked between my legs, his warm breath tickling the inside of my thigh. From that position, I propped one leg against his shoulder while my other leg shifted to the side, spreading me open and putting my all on display.

A warm, wet muscle lapped between my cheeks, and I huffed, clenching with surprise, then willing myself to relax with a groan. His tongue drew slow, lazy circles around me. The position I was in didn't allow for me to thrust against him like I desperately wanted to. He pushed gently on the back of my thigh, spreading me further, before dipping his tongue inside me. After getting me thoroughly wet, a finger replaced his tongue, and his mouth found my balls, his tongue gliding across the skin.

After his initial rush, Grayson was now going frustratingly slow. His one finger was gingerly working in and out, barely going past the second knuckle. His lips continued applying wet pressure against my scrotum. Neither sensation was enough to do more than keep me hard, and I let out a frustrated groan.

His mouth was back at my hole, and he blew a slow stream of air against me. "What is it?" he asked teasingly. "Tell me what you want."

I looked down, and when I caught his eyes, my body warmed intently. His tongue was thrusting in and out of me as he kept my gaze, blue orbs swirling intensely like a gathering thunderstorm. My dick twitched, precum leaking from the tip simply at the sight before me.

"I want all of you," I growled.

He smiled and placed a gentle kiss atop my hole. "All of me, huh?" His finger went back to lazily working in and out of me. "What does that entail?"

"It entails more than one finger," I spat impatiently.

"Does it now?" he crooned. The finger reached deeper and crooked. White stars flashed before my eyes, and I jerked my hips against the digit. "You don't think I can make you cum with just one finger?"

Panting, I threw my head back against the linoleum. He was right. He could absolutely make me cum just on one finger, and I was beginning to wonder if he could make me cum just by looking at me like that.

A second finger joined the first, both nudging against my prostate, his mouth back on my balls.

I couldn't bring myself to look back down at him, worried I'd completely lose myself in him. Eyes closed, I threaded my fingers through his hair, my hips squirming eagerly with every stimulation.

"I love you," he said again, and my breath caught in my throat. "My passionate, devoted, beautiful Alex." His lips wrapped around my cock, and it took everything I had not to orgasm then and there. He smirked around me, recognizing how close I was, and pulled me even further into his mouth.

"Not fair," I gasped. "I said I wanted all of you."

He pulled off me with a pop and a deep chuckle. Mischievously, he said, "And I asked what that entailed."

I propped up on my elbows and glared at him. "Obviously that means I want you to fuck me." He licked up my shaft, and I groaned, "You're such a fucking tease."

"You love it."

He had me there.

A far off look came to his features, and he smiled at me. "Remember the night we got together? And we sucked each other off right here?"

"How could I forget?"

His eyes narrowed, and he said pointedly, "You promised not to let me fall asleep on the floor ever again. Remember that."

I laughed. "I remember that, too."

"I don't have any lube."

"I'm too far gone to care."

A third finger inserted into me, and I breathed deeply through it. His fingers gently worked at me, willing me to open up enough that I could take him inside me. He sucked at my inner thigh, something I knew drove him absolutely mad with lust when done to him but had little to no effect on me.

Next thing I knew, he was lining himself up with my entrance. It was uncomfortable without lube, but he talked me through it, lips whispering nonstop next to my ear.

"That's it, just relax. God, you're so fucking tight, so fucking perfect. Let me know if it's too much. That's it, just breathe. I wish you could see your face right now. I'll have to fuck you in front of a mirror, so you can see how beautiful you are." He bottomed out, and I emitted sound halfway between a hiss and a moan. "That's right. Let me know when I can start moving."

It's ironic that he's normally so quiet, but when he's fucking me, the words pour right out of him. And I'm the opposite; normally I can't stop talking until I've got his cock in me.

I bucked my hips against him, and he started up at a medium pace. As often as we'd fucked, I still couldn't believe how massive he was. I still couldn't fit the whole thing in my mouth—and maybe I would never be able to—but at least he fit in my ass.

I wrapped my legs around his waist, bringing him deeper inside me. I sucked harshly at his collar bone, and he thrust more fervently into me. He angled his head so I'd have better access to his neck, so I obliged, alternating between lapping wetly and nipping gently.

"I can't get enough of you," I huffed.

He wrapped his arms around me, laying on my chest, his mouth against my neck. Deep waves of heat flushed through me as I listened to him try to catch his breath against my ear. He reached between us and stroked me. Between his hand, the heat and friction of his cock, and the pressure on my prostate, it wasn't long before I spilled between us.

Eyes blown, the color of the midnight sky, he pulled out gently. Stroking himself, he leaned down and licked my stomach and cock clean. Leaning forward again, he hovered over me, supporting himself on one arm, his muscles tensed and bunched.

"Tell me you're moving with me."

I couldn't stop the grin from stretching widely across my face. "I'm moving with you."

Every few strokes, I could feel his cock tap against my stomach. He bent down to kiss me, and I savored the taste of me on his tongue. "Say it again. We're going to buy a house together. You're going to live with me, and I get to have you whenever I want. Tell me I'm not dreaming."

I wrapped my arms around his neck and drew him back to me, kissing him languidly. "I can't tell you how many times I've daydreamed about this very moment—about being with you. Never in a million years did I think I'd ever get lucky enough for you to love me back. But here I am, with you, freshly fucked by you"—he snorted at that and nibbled at my earlobe—"listening to you voice everything I'm thinking about you. I thought my world ended when my knee busted, but you were right. I was already on the path that brought me to you. You're all I need."

He came with a short gasp, the hot seed hitting my chest. Grayson collapsed beside me, chest heaving, wrapping me up in his arms. "Stay with me here. Please. I've missed you. I know you'll want to spend time with your parents before moving, but…this is my selfish request."

My face twisted, and I bit my lip. "I don't feel comfortable…not being able to pay my way financially. Even after we move, I'll only be paid minimum wage, and it's only part-time. It will be just enough to cover my half of the rent, but not much else. I don't—want to rely on you like that. Financially. It's awkward."

"What am I, then, if not someone you can rely on?"

"I didn't mean it like that. My parents always provided everything I needed, and that really makes me stop and think about money. I don't want to be a mooch."

"Then let's just say I'm paying you for sex, but instead of writing you a check, that money just goes directly to rent." He laughed at the murderous glare I sent his way and easily caught my wrists as I swatted at him. "Just kidding! But, in all seriousness, Alex, you just graduated college. No one expects you to have your shit fully together. It's not like you'll be a minimum wage, part-time employee for the rest of your life. What were you going to do if you moved out there on your own? Live under a bridge? Please, just live with me. I'm the one being selfish here. I think about you every minute we're not together. I don't want to spend any more time apart than is necessary. Please."

"I'll think about it," I relented. "Now, let's get up before you fall asleep on the floor again."

We helped each other up, and I started putting my clothes back on. Grayson pulled on his jeans but nothing else. "Do you want something besides pizza?" he asked, opening the refrigerator door.

I peered over his shoulder, surprised at the amount of groceries in there. I remembered the first time I peeped inside his fridge and how barren it was. "What's the occasion?" I teased. I pulled out a green, leafy vegetable. "Holy shit, is this endive? You bought endive?"

He pulled me close to his chest so suddenly that I struggled to regain my balance. My ear pressed to his chest, his deep baritone rumbled deep within me. "I stocked my fridge because I thought you'd be living here after you graduated."

Ouch. I felt a pang of guilt tug at my heartstrings. "You did that? For me?"

"For us. I love when we get to have meals together."

I wrestled free from his grasp and started pulling ingredients from the fridge. Bok choy, ginger, carrot, broccoli, chicken… "Put the leftover pizza in the fridge. And start a pot of rice, please."

"You got it."

We fell into companionable silence as I prepped the veggies and chopped the chicken. Grayson pulled down the wok from the top shelf and put it on the stove to start pre-heating. It was then that I noticed he had bought a rice cooker.

I don't know why, but when I saw that rice cooker, my heart caught in my throat. My eye started to catch other little changes around the kitchen. In addition to the new rice cooker and wok and the fridge full of fresh produce, he had hand towels, a bottle of moisturizing hand soap, a new plush rug by the sink and a second under my feet where I was currently chopping veggies… In anticipation of me moving in, he had placed all these little conveniences around the kitchen in response to offhand comments I had made. His house had always been so spartan, barely having the necessities, and now he had a fucking paper towel holder because he had seen me struggle with the loose roll.

I threw my arms around him, pressing him up against the counter, kissing him deeply. If I hadn't literally just cum, I would have made him fuck me all over again.

"You are so unbelievably thoughtful."

"If I knew bok choy would get me kissed like that, I would have braved the weird greens section of the grocery store a lot sooner."

I smiled and kissed him again. My lips slowed; my tongue rubbed against his. I felt my body heat up, my dick desperately trying to rise to the occasion. "I'll live with you," I murmured in his ear. "Drive me back to my parents' after dinner, and I'll pack my bags."

He held me at arm's length and looked me squarely in the eye. "This is about more than bok choy. What changed your mind so suddenly?"

I gestured widely at the kitchen. "You did all this for me, didn't you?" I grinned broadly. "I remember the first time I met you, and we ate hot dogs off paper plates. Now, look at this. I know you didn't have this wooden cutting board last time I was here. It's just so fucking thoughtful."

He kissed me tenderly on the forehead. "I told you, I really thought you were going to move in sooner. I wanted this place to feel like home."

"Anywhere would feel like home, so long as you're there."

After dinner, we washed the dishes and headed to my parents' house. It was both cathartic and a little heartbreaking to be packing up my things, but ever since my parents had converted my old bedroom into a guest bedroom, it never really felt like mine anymore, anyway. Most of my things were still in my bags from having moved out of my college dorm, so it took an underwhelmingly short time before I had everything loaded into Grayson's truck.

It was then that I realized I hadn't told my parents about the job offer and how I had already accepted it. Mom cried when she realized I was moving, and Dad pulled me into a deep hug. "You're going to do great," Dad whispered in my ear, "because my son is a great person."

And then we were driving back and unpacking my things. It felt silly hanging my clothes in the closet when we'd be moving out soon enough, so I only unpacked about half my belongings. As I took stock of what I had already moved in to Grayson's house, it hit me that I had slowly been moving in for the past year and a half. In addition to standard toiletries, I also had several full sets of clothes, exercise gear, and my dad's old tablet stored in Grayson's bedroom—our bedroom.

I had to sit down on the bed, my head spinning woozily. It was a lot to process all at once. Grayson watched me, waiting patiently, a smile on his face. Leaning against the wall, he just looked so fucking smug, like he knew all along what I hadn't been able to comprehend.

I looked at my knee, then I looked back up at him.

"Let's go for a run."