Zach remembers like it was yesterday her climbing into the truck with Alan, wiping a couple of stray tears away and slamming the door. The engine is revved loudly and the truck roars out of sight down the highway and leaves the three of them huddled there; Shaun, sombre but supportive, Cody leaning against his side in the huge jumper, and Zach staring at the space left by his sister. There is silence for a full minute, as Zach realises the scale of what he has asked Shaun to take on, and what he is offering Cody.
It is Cody who breaks the silence, peeling away from Shaun and walking toward the door left ajar. He picks up the fire truck that Alan stepped on and got mad at, and stares at it for a while before taking it into the house. Zach feels as though he should go after him, but his body just stays where it is, transfixed by the familiar surroundings. After a moment Shaun raises his hand to stroke the back of Zach's head, and the reassurance is there suddenly, that Shaun is willing to do all this because of how he feels about Zach. He springs into action, desperate to stop the silence;
"Guess we'd better get stuff ready then, huh?" he says, and moves away reluctantly from Shaun's side. Shaun isn't stupid, he knows that he's feeling shitty, and wants him to know that he doesn't ever have to feel sad, lonely or lost again. So he shows him the only way he can think of just then; he grabs Zach's hand as he tries to walk away, and swings him round until he is facing him.
"Babe, we got all the time we need now, its just us and Cody, you got that?" and while Zach is still smiling that killer half-smile he does, Shaun leans in and brushes his lips against his, just a comforting, you'll-be-ok kiss. No lust, nothing dirty, just a reminder.
The box of Cody's stuff just hasn't been packed well, and Zach wonders again why he said he could pack his own clothes and toys. The toy snake is dangerously close to falling out completely, and the pyjamas are on top of the old bear that desperately needs a wash and repair. He tries to balance the box under one arm as he fumbles for the keys Shaun gave him before they left the house behind. He manages to get the right one, but as he attempts to put it in the lock he drops them, and with a loud curse bends down to pick them up, spilling the box in the process.
Inside Shaun hears the commotion coming from the other side of the door, and smiles to himself. He can just see Zach's face, tense and irritated as he beats himself up over being so stupid, and thinks he'd better go see if he needed help. When he opens the door Zach is bent down, picking up scattered toys, clothes and pictures. Shaun fights the urge to laugh as he leans down to give him a hand and Zach looks up at him, cheeks flushed, painfully aware of what Shaun must be thinking right now. When they have picked up all the toys, deposited them inside and Zach has turned to go and get the last of the stuff from the car, Shaun shuts the front door and leans him up against it, kissing around the side of his neck, and even from there he can feel the tension fading a little and the skin around his jaw that is pressed against his cheek pull up into a satisfied smile.
Everything unpacked and put away, Cody asleep on the sofa bed until they can get to the furniture store, they sit on the little balcony, overlooking the shore. It's still new to Zach; all the traffic that just never stops going, and the lights of the buildings below their feet and all about them. It's a little busier than he's used to, but as Shaun says, "At least it's alive." Zach has to agree with that one.
Later on that month, after all the phone calls and visits they've been making, they get a place for Cody at a kindergarten a few blocks away. Zach frets about it when they lie in bed.
"He'll be ok right?"
Shaun groans as they have the conversation for what seems like the hundredth time.
"Yeah babe, he'll be fine. What do you think's gonna happen?"
Zach doesn't have a reply for that really, he knows that if he says 'be mean to him,' that Shaun will sigh, pull him closer and give him a teasing pinch, accusing him of being a worrywart. So he shrugs a little and tries not to think about it too much, turning his attention to his lover and the special world they create when it's just them, alone at night.
Jeanne calls once a week, usually on a Sunday afternoon, because that's the time when Alan is watching a game with his buddies at some bar or other, and she's on her own. Cody tells her excitedly about his new school, his bedroom that has the pictures on the walls that Zach has painted for him, and how awesome Shaun is. When he passes the phone over to Zach once he has finished speaking to her, Zach detects a note of jealousy in her voice that Cody is happy without her, but as Shaun says, "Jeanne can't have it both ways. She made her choice." He's right of course, and they all know it's for the best. Sometimes Cody seems sad, or just a little quiet after she's rung, but as the weeks roll on he doesn't seem so worried. At school he tells people that his Mommy lives far away, but it's okay because he has Zach and Shaun, and Shaun rocks because he lets him eat whatever he wants when Zach works late on a Thursday. When his teacher tells Zach this, he makes a mental note to discuss this with Shaun when he gets home.
When they do discuss the issue one evening after watching TV, he hears Shaun sigh against his ear as he leans back, and tells him to stop being so overprotective of Cody,
"He's a kid Zach, he doesn't cause shit at home or school, and he's adjusting to this well, so I think we can perhaps just let him get what he wants a couple of times a week." Zach is tempted to say otherwise, but bites his tongue and accepts.
Soon Christmas rolls around, and they get a call from Jeanne asking if she can come and see Cody. Zach doesn't know what to say; he can't refuse her because she's Cody's mom, but at the same time, he doesn't want her intruding on their carefully constructed little world. It's just one of those things. Of course he says yes, and Shaun dutifully says that if he's happy, that's fine. Cody is overjoyed at the thought of seeing Jeanne again, and spends all day at kindergarten making her a card with lots of glitter, and a cool picture of Santa on a motorbike. When Zach comes home the day before Christmas Eve he sees Cody's door shut tight and hears the raised voice of Shaun on the balcony. He walks through the sitting room to see what's going on, and overhears his conversation.
"Jesus Jeanne, did you have to wait till now to let him down? He's just a kid, and he loves you! Whatever shit you put him through, he'll always think of you as his perfect mommy, God knows why….Yeah?...well I'm the asshole that's helping to raise your kid while you shack up with some guy….don't start the tears crap Jeanne, I'm not freakin' buying it. Whatever. Enjoy your Christmas." With that he hangs up and braces his hands on the railing of the balcony, dropping his head down and sighing. Zach knows he should be mad that he spoke like that to her, but all he can think is how angry he is himself at Jeanne for dropping Cody just because Alan wants her around. He puts his hand on Shaun's hip and leans his forehead into his shoulder. They stand there for five minutes or so before Shaun takes him by the hand and they go and console Cody.
Christmas day comes around, and they try to have the best, most fun day they can so Cody forgets his mom isn't there. The adults drink champagne, a gift from Shaun's mom and….Larry, that made Shaun roll his eyes when he took it out of the bag.
"How great of them to send us a bottle of wine. Larry probably has twenty of these in the cellar. What a dick." Zach just kisses him and puts the wine in the fridge for later. They buy sparkling grape juice for Cody so he can have some in a grown up glass at lunch, which Zach prepares, smiling to the festive songs on the radio and listening to his guys playing with the new toys in the other room. Despite the fact that they both work stupidly busy schedules and talk about parent teacher meetings and groceries instead of having sex all the time, he has never been happier.
Later, after they gently put Cody to bed when he finally gets all the excitement out of his system, they lay there, looking at each other. They decided to wait till they were alone to do presents. Zach gives a painting of Shaun teaching Cody how to surf, kinda abstract but still noticeably them, and Shaun gives Zach a thin book with a plain cover, and when Zach looks inside he realises it's the story of two guys who met, bonded and fell in love over surfing. Shaun blushes, and murmurs an apology for it being too sappy. Zach shuts him up with a kiss, and soon the painting and the book are forgotten.
Jeanne finally makes it down to see Cody in late January, and takes him out for the day to the bowling alley and the beach. Shaun gives she and Zach some time to talk that evening as he puts Cody to bed. Jeanne says about how great everything is in Portland, and how she's sure Alan is going to marry her. Zach nods and says how great that is. He doesn't suggest she take Cody, and she never mentions it. When she leaves the next day Cody doesn't cry, like they thought he would, and Jeanne looks a little insulted by it as she gets on the bus. Zach returns to the apartment to find Shaun cleaning up.
"Just want the place to be ours again," he says, and Zach leaves him to it. Later, in their bedroom, Shaun is rough, leaving prints of his fingers and teeth all over Zach's torso. Afterwards he is so sorry, and feels so guilty that Zach has to hold him in his arms and swear it doesn't matter. Shaun says he didn't mean to take it out on him – Jeanne just makes him so goddamn angry.
At kindergarten someone calls Shaun and Zach fags, and Cody pushes them over. Shaun is apoplectic, wanting to take Cody out of that school and go down to see the principal, but Zach calms him down with words and soothing kisses. He tells Shaun that this kid has just picked up on careless language his parents have thrown around, and he doesn't really know what it means. Shaun averts his eyes and nods, but he is withdrawn for the rest of the evening.
On Valentines Day Cody makes them both a card; Shaun's has a surfboard on, and Zach's has what appears to be a paintbrush painted on the front. They all go out to eat pizza that night, and for the first time Zach holds Shaun's hand on top of the table, in public. Shaun just smiles and strokes his thumb over Zach's knuckles.
The week after, his publisher calls and says that they're holding a publicity event for the new book. Shaun asks Zach if he would like to come to the event as his date, and Zach promises he will think about it. Shaun is pretty sure he'll say no, and beams from ear to ear when he says that he will, as long as he doesn't have to wear a suit.
The event is everything Shaun hoped, and Zach feared it would be. There are writers and critics milling around, asking Shaun about the metaphors and grammatical devices in the story, and Zach has a smile frozen on his face as he tries to look like the intellectual, sophisticated boyfriend. When they get in the taxi later Shaun looks at him sympathetically.
"How much did you hate it?"
Zach tries to protest feebly, but Shaun rolls his eyes and sighs dramatically,
"Tell me. Was it awful?"
"Yeah. I'm sorry, I tried, but I just felt kinda…stupid."
Shaun looks at him in confusion. He doesn't understand how Zach can think so little of his own brain and talents. He tells him that half those people don't understand the book, and the other half think its trash reading. Zach feels a little better after that.
In April Cody comes down with a bad case of Chicken Pox, and Zach goes out of his mind with worry, trying to balance his first year final project, working at the café and looking after him. Shaun steps in and firmly tells him that he's going to be just fine, and he's got a bit of time off since the book has been published. Zach argues a little that Cody isn't Shaun's responsibility, but Shaun tells him categorically to shut up, and he and Zach share Cody. The debate stops almost before it begins, and Zach gives a little.
He comes home after working late on a Thursday to find Cody asleep in a clean pair of pyjamas, and Shaun asleep on the beanbag by the side of the bed, the soothing lotion he put on Cody's back still underneath his nails. He gently wakes him up and leads him to the shower, and then to bed, where Shaun mumbles to himself as he falls back to sleep.
After Cody gets better Shaun comes down with Shingles, and this drives Zach even more insane.
"Didn't you have chicken pox as a kid?" he asks frantically, as Shaun lies shivering in bed, his face blotchy and swollen from the infection. Shaun coughs a little in response and says that he doesn't remember. Zach calls the Doctor when Shaun's fever rises, and he tells him to take him down to the Emergency Room, so Cody is bundled sleepily into the back of the van and Zach helps Shaun into the passenger seat and does up his belt. At the hospital they decide to take him in for observation until they can get the fever broken. Zach sits in the seat beside the bed with Cody asleep on his lap and stays awake all night, occasionally brushing his hands over Shaun's burning forehead.
Once the worst has passed Shaun is allowed home, and Zach takes a couple of days off until he thinks he can be left on his own. Cody's friend Bobby's mom volunteers to take him for a couple of nights until things blow over, and Zach is so grateful he feels like he could cry. In the morning he gets out the antibiotics and pours a glass of orange juice for Shaun so he can boost his immune system, and sits in the front room painting in fits and starts, creating jagged, frantic pieces of work that pour from him in bursts.
When Shaun has recovered enough, Zach tells him that he needs a break from working. They argue for a while as Shaun tells him he hasn't been overdoing things, and if anyone needs the break its Zach. It goes on until they compromise and agree that they both need a break, so Shaun swallows his pride and asks his mom as nicely as he can if they could borrow their cabin in the mountains for a few days.
The cabin is nice, made of wood and smelling like bonfires. Cody runs around, touching all the cool stuff and begging for them to take him down to the lake he can see from his window. Shaun grins at Zach and goes to the bedroom to change, winking at him over his shoulder as he goes.
Later on, with Cody fast asleep in front of the fire, cheeks rosy from good healthy air, they sit out on the porch with a bottle of red wine. Zach looks sideways at Shaun and his heart hurts when he thinks about how much he owes him. Shaun doesn't even have too look at him to know he is thinking too much; he just tells him casually to stop over-analysing, and lays his hand on Zach's knee. The sex later is pretty much the best ever, and Zach can't stop smiling as he pulls Shaun's arms around him as they fall off to sleep.
One Tuesday in August Zach stands in front of his canvas and frowns; only two weeks until the new school year begins and he's hardly done any art work at all. Most days he balanced looking after Cody when Shaun couldn't do it with working extra holiday cover shifts at the café. His evenings seemed to consist of coming back smelling of food and coffee, showering quickly, making sure Cody had brushed his teeth, and falling in a tired heap on the bed.
On this particular day though, he managed to get his shift swapped, and Shaun has taken Cody to the beach for some guy time. Zach stands, arms crossed and a frown on his face as he wills inspiration to come. His tutor at Cal Arts always says that if you think too hard about what you want to create you block yourself, so thinking about something unrelated to painting will help. Zach tries to clear his mind, but the more he thinks about not thinking, the more the idea that he really ought to have done something by now keeps springing up. He moves the spray can around in his fingers then sets it down next to the paintbrushes and rags he has littered the coffee table with. Sighing, Zach walks to the kitchen to get a soda and leans against the counter as he drinks it. As the bubbles fizz up the back of his nose and he half snorts-half coughs, he thinks about how Shaun laughs whenever that happens, and tells him that he shouldn't drink it so fast. That first night, when things really changed, he had almost snorted his beer out of his nose when they were laughing about Gabe and his stupid pranks. Shaun had laughed even harder when he had put his hand to his nose just in case, and that had set them both off again. Zach let his mind wander back to then; it seemed like a lifetime ago, and yet only a few weeks since Jeanne had left, and Shaun had taken them in.
As always, Zach can't help but smile when that thought crosses his mind. He wishes he could say properly what he wants to, but it's Shaun that's best with words, and who was always the first to suggest a resolution to an argument, or to say that he only got mad because he cared so much. Zach realises that he never says the word, but Shaun says it, even if it is mostly whispered into his ear during sex. The point is that he always lets Zach knows he loves him and Cody, and their muddled up life together, and Zach can't help but think that perhaps he should be the one to say what this means to him.
When Shaun gets back that evening, with a still damp Cody attached to his hand, the first thing he does is stop in the door to the front room to see how Zach's getting on. He is about to say something but realises that he is still painting furiously, his back to the door, pretty oblivious to what's going on, so he backs out of the room quietly and goes to make sure Cody gets in the shower to rinse all the salt water out of his hair.
While Cody gets ready for bed Shaun makes his way into the kitchen to make a little dinner; nothing special, just chicken, potatoes and vegetables. He sits Cody down at the counter to eat his and carries a plate into Zach.
"Hey, you gonna stop working for five minutes and eat something?" he calls softly from the doorway, and Zach starts, turning round and rubbing his hand over his eyes.
"Yeah, sorry, just got caught up I guess. Cody alright?"
"Of course, he's just eating his dinner now. All ready for bed and everything."
Zach smiles and reaches for a sheet to cover the picture carefully before going to the doorway and taking the plate from Shaun. They sit down on the couch and Shaun talks about his day, while Zach just sits, watching him, a half smile pulling at his mouth. After a while Shaun realises he is the only one saying anything and takes a moment to properly look at Zach,
"What're you thinking about? You look pretty happy."
"Nothin', just glad to be eating; I didn't have anything for lunch, so I'm pretty hungry."
Shaun just raises an eyebrow and turns on the television, and they watch the glowing screen in comfortable silence.
The day after, with Cody at the park with a friend, Shaun is at his desk in the bedroom, thumping away in irritation at the chapter that just will not come together, when his cellphone buzzes. He checks it, relieved at the distraction from work. An SMS from Zach;
'Hey, hope ur workin hard 2day, what u doin for lunch? '
Shaun grins and writes back; 'Probably sitting here and banging the stupid computer on the floor. Coming home for something to eat? X'
He sits and stares at the message, deleting and retyping the 'x' several times. He groans as he wonders why he's worrying about something so small after all this time? So he leaves the kiss and puts the phone down, sneaking glances at the screen every now and then, waiting for a response. After ten minutes it is with a small tinge of disappointment that he thinks Zach must be back at work, and he carries on resentfully thumping the keyboard every now and then.
At one o'clock Shaun saves the few paragraphs he's managed and shuts the laptop. He stands up, stretching tight muscles, and rolls his neck from side to side to ease the cricks out. The sun is shining outside, and a breeze floats in, bringing the smell of the sea to the apartment. Taking a deep breath, he closes his eyes and tries to take his mind off the task in hand, but they pop open again when he hears the front door shut. Zach walks into the front room with a grocery bag and a smile, leaning in to give Shaun a kiss. Seeing the look of surprise on his face, Zach shrugs and turns to take the bag into the kitchen, calling out over his shoulder,
"What, I just came to bring you some lunch!"
His voice trails away as he walks into the kitchen, and Shaun grins to himself as he follows.
After they eat the sandwiches Zach makes, Shaun pulls him onto the sofa and slips his arms around him, leaning his forehead against Zach's temple.
"So really, what was the occasion?"
"Bringing me lunch, it doesn't exactly happen everyday does it?"
Zach tries to look offended, but shrugs a little instead, blushing slightly. Shaun turns his face to look into his eyes, and frowns when he can't read the expression.
"Is everything okay? You're not going to tell me something awful are you?"
"No, everything's fine. It's just…"
Shaun rolls his eyes at Zach's inability to say what he actually feels. So many times it has been Shaun who has had to finish what he thinks Zach's trying to say, and even if he does get it right, it's still frustrating.
"Please, just say it, you're making me nervous!" and he feels even more worried when he sees Zach rolling his lips inward as if trying to think of how to phrase it.
"You know, it's been like…a year since we first…y'know…"
Shaun is completely confused for a few seconds, and then it dawns on him, and he almost laughs at Zach's awkwardness.
"Are you saying that this was for an anniversary?"
Zach forces himself to meet his eyes, and nods ever so slightly, feeling stupid, expecting Shaun to laugh at him for being so stupid.
The kiss Shaun gives him shows that he thinks the gesture was anything but.