On the anniversary of Goose’s death I wasn’t as much of a mess as I thought I’d be. I cried a helluva lot of course, but I didn’t just hide in bed for the entire day like I had previously assumed. I did take the day off work and spent most of it with Eirene and Noah, actually, who came by knowing I needed company. I think Max was a bit jealous that he was around but he didn’t say anything.
The few months between Valentine’s Day and Goose’s death anniversary had been so slow, dragging on like some sort of twisted joke. Eirene turned three and Royce turned eighteen though he didn’t age up. He wouldn’t for a while because of what the werewolf magic did to the system or something like that. He scowled, unhappy to be stuck in the body of a teenager for a longer period of time. He knew he couldn’t do much about jobs or anything until after he looked properly older.
Goose’s birthday came and went and I had been a mess then. But today I actually wasn’t too horrible. After my time with Reeny and Noah we went to the graveyard. Noah waited in the car while Reeny and I went to Goose’s grave. She was super quiet as we walked, eyes huge. She had only been in the graveyard once since the funeral and that had been a while ago so I wasn’t sure if she remembered.
“Put the flowers there,” I said and she laid the flowers down carefully, patting them into an arrangement that made sense in her mind. I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from talking to Goose. I didn’t want to disturb my baby girl or confuse her. We only stayed there for about five minutes though. She soon grew bored and I took her back to the car. Noah was going to take her to the park for a bit while I had some alone time.
I told him I was doing better, that I could face the days so much better now, that I missed him and loved him and would always do so. As I rambled on the words became more and more difficult to get out. Not from emotion but because I had told him so much of this before. And if he could look down on me, like I knew he could, he’d already know it all.
“…yes you’re finally getting it right, Dog, you’re smarter than you look!”
“You have to be such an ass to me?”
“How am I being an ass?”
“You think I look stupid, that’s mean. You should apologize.”
“Uh–what? No. I don’t apologize.”
“I’m not mean…”
“Grrrrrr, you’re making me mad.”
“Good. Then apologize to me. You shouldn’t be so rude to people, you know.”
“You’re not people you’re a wolf–OW!! Don’t kick me! I didn’t mean it like that!”
“How did you mean it then?! Because you sounded like a complete twat!”
“Yes! It’s mean and rude. You and Mr. Danevbie keep telling me I’m not any different from how I was and–and that I’m still me. So I’m not just a ‘wolf’ I’m people too.”
“Sigh. I’m sorry I acted like you weren’t people cuz you are.”
“Ugh. I’m sorry I insulted the way you look.”
“Was that really so hard?”
Thunk, thump. I looked up from my desk as footsteps approached my room. I had been listening to Max and Royce arguing back and forth on and off for a good hour as Max had tried helping Royce with some math problems–as at the end of June he had decided he wanted to get his GED. This last argument seemed to have done it. Max came into my room looking utterly dejected.
I slowly got up as I tried to figure out the best way to say it. Blunt would be best. “You can be, yeah.” He began pouting. “But you apologized to him at least. That’s important to remember. If you accidentally hurt someone to apologize. And if you purposely hurt someone you’re a complete jerk and I’ll kick you out of my house.”
Max toed the ground, brow knitted in a serious look as he thought. “I’m sorry if I ever hurt you or anything, I never meant to.”
“I know. I can’t think of any time you really did except for–uh.”
“Except for what?
I shook my head not wanting to say it but he pressed me for an answer as I knew he would. “When you left, it hurt,” I muttered and saw the hope in his eyes. “Because you were my friend. And I missed you.” I did my best to put emphasis on ‘friend’ though it didn’t reduce the hope in his eyes. Shoot. I shouldn’t have said anything at all. “Max–“
“Of course I missed you,” I said hesitantly. “You’re my best friend in the universe.”
Finally some of the hope drained away. “Friend,” he repeated softly. “Yeah.”
“Max…” My stomach twisted at having to deal with this now. I’d rather not. I’d rather never. “You’re–you’re amazing. I don’t know what I ever would have done without you. Before and–and after Goose’s death. You helped me in a way nobody else could, you pulled me out and were there for me. I could never thank you enough. I care about you so much. I’d die to protect you.”
“I feel the same about you!” he whimpered. “I love you. I–I’m sorry for saying it like this, now, but I do and you know I do so I figured I might as well just say it and I can leave if you want me to leave but…”
“Damn it I don’t want you gone!” I did my best not to snap, to keep my tone neutral. “You’re my best friend. I have such a strong bond with you but not–not that kind of bond. I don’t… I don’t have romantic or… sexual feelings towards you…”
He looked like a whipped cat, quaking just slightly with his eyes big and and his brow drooped. “Mannn. I knew that’s how… well I figured that’s how you felt but it hurts hearing it.” he reached up, rubbing the back of his head. “Shouldn’t have brought this up so soon…”
“No, Max, it’s got nothing to do with Goose,” I said, forcing myself to continue to be calm. “I love you but I don’t love you.”
“No! I mean not like that, I said!” I said, panicking at my stupidity. “I love you like a friend, a companion, a brother, a teacher.” Max just stared blankly at me. “You’re all that to me. But not… not… romantic… feelings. Or sexual feelings. I’ve never…”
“I don’t understand. You love me but you don’t love me? That makes no sense.”
I felt so stressed and wanted this conversation over and done with. I’d definitely be taking my frustration out on my training dummy with some hits and kicks. “I love you as a friend. I’d do anything for you, and I want you to be happy.”
“That’s part of love though and you said love… I don’t understand.”
I frowned deeply. “Max you can love someone in a non-romantic, non-sexual way. It’s… it’s… platonic!” I said as Lumie supplied me the word mentally. >Thanks.< “Platonic love.”
“Max. Love is not just a one type of thing, dude. There are different kinds of love.” He just looked at me as if I were spouting out an alien language. “You can love someone so much but not love-love them. I mean I guess it’s weird a guy saying it, but it’s true. Did you not ever think about–about that? Feelings aren’t… Feelings and attraction and love, they’re not a simple black and white thing.”
Now he looked thunderstruck. “I thought love was love,” he whispered more to himself. He swallowed then turned away from me. “What about caring for someone and–and thinking it’s… more?”
“That can happen, I imagine,” I said exceedingly casually. Did he…? Is that what this really was about? Could he possibly have gotten just… “Only you can say, really, and it’s not always something easy to sort out.”
He whirled around. “I don’t know how I feel now though!” he whined. “I don’t know! I’ve had strong feelings for you for so long and–and think you’re hot. But…”
He crouched down, poking steadily at the floor. “I dunno. When I think of us I’ve never… it’s never been very… s-sexual. Like. Or romantic. I dunno. I imagine us being together forever… but when we kissed… or rather I, uh, kissed you… it wasn’t… I thought maybe it was cause you didn’t kiss me back.”
“It wasn’t what you thought it’d be?” I asked eagerly. Max shook his head. “Max, do you–you said you were jealous and in pain that me and Goose were together. Did you…” I couldn’t figure out how to ask this. Another thought entered my head but it seemed like a bad idea. Well, I didn’t always make the best of decisions anyway. “C’mere.” I pulled Max to his feet and he stared quizzically at me. “Look. This doesn’t… this is just to–I’m not… look, do you want to try another… kiss?”
“No! No, you’re not ready–“
“I’m offering,” I said. “It might help you figure things out.”
“You… mean it?” he asked, mouth open a bit. I nodded. I didn’t completely one hundred percent mean it as I did feel a bit cheating but I felt okay enough about it. “What if it doesn’t help? Or what if it makes me realized I do love-love you?”
“We, uh, can figure things out from there.”
I cupped his face in my hands, feeling extremely weird about this. I thought briefly of the times I thought him attractive and even now I did a bit. He did have a nice body and face. Cautiously I leaned in and kissed someone else for the first time in over five years. Or however long it had been since we kissed the previous time. I pressed my lips firmly against his and put as much emotion as I could muster into the kiss. It felt…
So wrong. Like I was kissing Vilkas or something. I wanted to just pull away and wipe my lips off but I didn’t I just kept kissing him, hoping this made things better and not worse. It’d probably make things worse. It was probably a terrible, terrible decision.
Finally we parted. Max’s eyes focused on mine with complete confusion. My hands dropped and I stepped back, breathing heavily, frightened that he might just try to kiss me again. He lifted his own hand, touching his lips and looking even more confused. I remained silent, unwilling to be the first to speak.
He turned away from me again. “That meant nothing to you, did it, Zaidy-boy?”
“How did it make you feel? I’m not giving you my answer before you give me yours,” I said, not wanting to push him one way or the other.
“Wow that doesn’t shatter my ego into a million pieces.”
“Nooo!” He whirled back around. “The taste of fish on my lips is deeeeeeelish! But yours wasn’t. Your kiss just felt kinda… weird. Y’know?”
“Like a brother?” I asked.
Max breathed out a long, slow breath. “Yeah. I think. I’ve never had a brother to kiss though but yeah. I don’t think I’d like to kiss you again. I just don’t get it though. I–I’d die for you, buddy boy.”
“I’d die for you too,” I responded. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to get married and-or jump into bed. Friends. You can love a friend in a platonic way. You–“
“Zaidy-boy, I’m gonna go have a think.” He brushed his bangs from his eyes looking rather wounded. “I’ll see ya later.”
He left me alone in my room, a bit confused as well. Could he really have just had strong feelings for me as a friend? But not love? I didn’t doubt that you could love someone platonically because I did ‘love’ Max I just didn’t love him. I thought of the kiss he gave me before he left, the anguish in his face, the agony in his voice. >Lumes, could someone really be so confused about love that they think they love someone that strongly when they don’t? Or would it be love regardless?<
>Watcher, Zaid, I dunno,< she replied quietly. >I always thought Max loved you-loved you but if he never realized you could have very strong feelings and care for someone and not be in love with them. These sort of–uh–attachments aren’t really dealt with. They’re trivialized with cutesy terms like ‘bestie’ and ‘BFF’, and those are given to people who you might not have an extreme attachment to. I dunno, Zaid. I can’t really help you with this… sorry…<
We replaced the barriers and I paced around, chewing my nails. It didn’t make a ton of sense to me that Max felt so much pain over something that he misunderstood but–but maybe it wasn’t so farfetched. If Max didn’t love-love me that would be so incredibly good. We could go back to being friends and close and happy without worrying about that–that gulf between us. I hated living without Max, I did not want to lose him. Not ever.
Max barely showed his face over the next few days. Royce seemed a bit concerned and asked me about it and I merely shrugged, not giving any real comment about the private problems. I had no idea if Royce knew Max’s feelings (or… assumed feelings?) but it wasn’t my place. So I merely told Royce that Max had some stuff he needed to work through. Royce crinkled his forehead and nodded.
I had to admit, sometimes it felt odd to be living with him though he didn’t cause any sort of difficulties. He rarely got angry and took it in his head to be the one to take care of the yard though there wasn’t much yard to mow. He planted a small garden too–a vegetable garden–so after those came in we had fresh vegetables. He and Reeny became good friends and she adored him. I often found them playing together, he even joined her in playing dolls if she asked him.
He showed interest in continuing learning sim fu and told me he had dropped it because his parents had gotten tired of paying for them, so I taught him at the house. At first he’d watch me quietly as I practiced on the dummy or breaking boards until I noticed him and told him to just join me. He paid close attention, eagerly learning quickly. I bought him a belt when he advanced enough for one and he got so excited he wore the belt for an entire week even with normal clothing.
Sometimes we chatted a lot and he told me more about his life up until he showed up at my doorstep. His parents yelling at him, never being ‘good enough’. If he got anything besides top grades his father would tell him to do better. He never cleaned well enough, if he tried to stand up for himself he’d get grounded for ‘talking back’. “It sucked but like, there were good times too,” he said one day with a long sigh. “I thought that they loved me even with all the crap. I never imagined… I guess it shouldn’t surprise me too much. ‘Sides, if they knew other things about me they might’ve kicked me out.”
I suspected what the other thing was but said nothing and didn’t ask. If he wanted to say it he would say it and in the mean time it wasn’t my business.
In September Max finally stopped mooching about. It had taken him two months to think about things. A lot longer than I ever expected him to. After the first two weeks he started acting normalish around Royce and Reeny but around me he got all weird. I’d find him looking at me like a deer in headlights or occasionally he’d come over to me, open his mouth like he wanted to say something, then walked off. I didn’t like it but I didn’t pressure or push him. I remained as patient as I could.
When he approached me in early September I figured he’d just walk off again but instead he grabbed my wrist and hauled me into the bedroom. Reeny tried to follow us but Max asked her politely to go find Royce. She pouted at us both and stomped off. Max shut the door and looked at me with an anxious look. I folded my arms, waiting. He sighed and said, “I thought about it. My feelings for you, Zaidy-boy.”
“Yeah? Come to any, uh, any decisions?”
“I love you.” My heart sank as I tried to keep my face impassive. “But…” Wait, what? “I don’t know if I’m in love with you.” He began pacing around, rubbing the back of his neck as he talked. “I used to be in love. I mean, I’ve been in love before. A couple times. Long ago. And it’s been so long I guess I forgot some things and–well, after that kiss I really started thinking ’bout those differences, you know? These–feelings–I got for you they’re everything I associate with love. I guess romantic love. I closed myself off to love a long, long time ago, buddy boy. So when this strong thing of caring and friendship and need to spend time with hit me I got so confused and mistook it for… more than it was.”
“If you’re talking strictly romance then I don’t think I love you.” We stared at one another for what felt like forever. He didn’t look happy but he didn’t look sad either. “I thought I did. I thought I desired you as–as a mate.” My eyebrows twitched at those words but I remained silent. Then his hands went to my cheeks and he kissed me again. A quicker, rather dispassionate kiss especially compared to our first one. Then he pulled back, making the weirdest of faces. “Nada, zip, nothing,” He let go of my face and brushed his bangs back. “I’m so stupid.”
“You’re not stupid you were just confused,” I said, moving a bit away from him, feeling so relieved this was over. “It’s easy to be confused–“
“People fall in love with their friends all the time. Sometimes they are in love but sometimes it’s just seeing more than what’s really there and wanting more than what’s there. They convince themselves, live by these feelings, and one can only hope it’s realized before damage is done.” I whirled around, eyes very big at those words. “Has too much damage been done?”
“Where did you get all that?!” I demanded.
“Royce. Has too much damage been done?”
“You’re still my best friend, Max–you talked to Royce about this?”
Max tilted his head. “Should I not have? Oops. Too late now. You’re still my Zaidy-boy?”
“Y-yeah.” I tried not to blush, thinking of Royce knowing everything that happened between me and Max. “I just want things to be how they were before.”
He tackled me, hugging tightly, squeezing the breath out of me. “Good! I want that too. I’ve missed you. Can you miss someone you’re around all the time? I guess so cause I have. Let’s go get some food, all this blah-blah-blah touchy-feely stuff has made me hungry!”
I chuckled as he pulled me to the kitchen, feeling as though a great weight had been lifted.
Lumie and Adan were married in early October. My sister looked stunning as she walked down on the aisle on the arm of our dad, who to most probably looked stony but those who knew him could tell that he was struggling to keep calm. At the end of the aisle he gave her to Adan then sat down with Pa who was already crying and just got noisier as the ceremony went on. I sat between Saya and Vilkas with Reeny on my lap. She had been one of the flower kids/ring bearers along with Vilkas’s two kids. My head was full of emotions both mine and Lumie’s since neither of us could really keep our barriers under control.
They slid rings on one another’s fingers, promising to love one another for all eternity, and then kissed for the first time as Mr. and Mrs. Navalles. Lumie pumped one fist into the air as they did and a ripple of laughter spread through the hall.
At the reception I was the fourth to dance with Lumie, behind Adan, Dad, and Pa. I swung her around, grinning from ear-to-ear. “Congrats, sis. Mrs. Sis.”
She giggled. “Can you believe it? I’m married. I’m actually married.”
“I’m really happy for you,” I said and she tilted her head, vaguely surprised I hadn’t made a joke. >No jokes, I really am truly happy for you. You look and feel happier than you had before you and Adan became an official couple and that makes me happy.<
“You’ll be a great mother…” I knew her thoughts and added mentally, >You always were a good mother. You knew you wouldn’t be able to give your baby the best she deserved, and you gave her to those who could. That’s not a bad mother.<
She tugged me against her, burying her face in my shoulder. “Love you, baby brother.”
I held onto her tightly, bending my head to kiss the top of her head. “Love you too, sis.”
With Lumie in Mexico and far from our psychic reaches, I began to wonder about things. About myself mostly. And… something I didn’t like thinking about. Namely… loneliness. I felt lonely. Emotionally and physically. I missed having the constant comfort of a lover to talk to, to cuddle, and for more. I missed that. It had been sixteen months since I lost Goose. I knew loads of widows and widowers who began dating a lot sooner than that after losing their loved ones, and others who waited longer, and some who never did again. I had thought a year ago I’d be one of the never-did-agains. But now…
I lay in bed, staring at the dark ceiling. I wanted desperately to press against someone, to whisper in their ear, to have them kiss me with all their heart. Would I be able to give someone all of my heart?
I got out of bed and began looking up online different sites for widowers and dating again.
My first date with someone went spectacularly bad. I went out with a guy, a handsome businessman in his thirties who told me about losing his lover the previous year. He told me how he understood the difficulty of being in the dating pool again. He told me that nothing could replace a lost lover. Then in the car he jammed his hand down the front of my pants and tried to stick his tongue in my ear. When his hand first made contact I told him through gritted teeth to let go and when he tried to climb on top of me I opened the door and threw him out, unfortunately going with him as he still had a hold of my personal bits. I grabbed his wrist and told him calmly that I had a black belt in sim fu and wouldn’t hesitate to snap his wrist and more. He let go and I walked home, fuming mad, embarrassed, pissed off, shaky, and sick. I threw up the moment I got home and cried in the bathtub for an hour, hating myself for trying to date again.
Two weeks later I tried again, this time with a woman. She was just a year older than me and spent the entire date talking about her cat. When she asked if I had a cat I mumbled something incoherent. Then she talked more about cats, about how she wanted four of them, how she wished she could talk to them. I tried not to snicker. Despite her obsession with cats I didn’t mind her too much and hey, it meant she’d like Max. That is until she revealed she had a disdain for supernaturals and that she wished the P.A.S. would do their job. Hell no.
My third attempt–also with a woman–turned out to be another disaster right from the get go when ten minutes after we met up for drinks she revealed she would never want to have kids. She didn’t even like kids. I told her on my profile online I said I had a kid and she looked at me blankly.