Boy Meets World
Summary: Jack and Eric are settled down and happy. What happens when an old friend comes back into their lives?
Rating: R for mature themes, watercolor sex and slashiness
Note: This is the last in a trilogy of stories based on "Hello. I'm Eric Matthews." By Tune Youg. The first story is titled "Bittersweet Chocolate" and the second is "Turkey Drop". To understand this story, you should read those first. Also, this story is heavy on the angst. If you like your stories light and fluffy, you're probably not going to like this.
Setting: AU, six years after "Turkey". Eric and Jack live in Breezewood, PA, about two hours to Philly (or somewhere around there.) Cory and Topanga are in New York, and Shawn and Angela live overseas. Also, I don't know how long it takes to get your Masters, or finish law school. Anyone who does, e-mail me and I'll make corrections, if need be.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. If they were, they'd be tired and I'd be happy.
Note: If you read this before, it's basically the same. I just restructured the story. But feel free to reread!
Prologue- Four years earlier
"I can't believe this is our last night in this apartment!" Jack Hunter looked around the place that he had spent his college years and part of graduate school in. At the moment, it was in shambles. Boxes were strewn everywhere. And the places that were box-free had people in them.
"We certainly had a lot of good times in this place," Jack's beau, Eric Matthews said.
"It's funny to think that after tomorrow, none of us will be in college anymore." Jack's brother, Shawn, was sitting in his usual spot on the couch, with his girlfriend, Angela, curled up next to him.
"Took us long enough, it seems," Eric's brother Cory added. His wife, Topanga, was also there, pleasantly buzzed because of the margaritas that Jack was mixing up.
"Remember when the girls wrestled us for the apartment?" Eric asked.
"Yeah. I still don't think that it was fair for them to have Mankind to help." Shawn looked perturbed, even though the event happened two years earlier.
"It's going to seem so odd, we not living close to each other anymore," Topanga said. "Wait. Did that make any sense?"
"Yes, dear," Cory said sympethically. "I don't know what I'll do in New York with both my best friend and my brother away."
"But on the bright side, Topanga's got a wonderful job opportunity with the law firm, what is the name again?"
"Smith, Wahlings, Rohe and Hamilton."
"And we'll come visit as much as possible, and we'll see each other on holidays." Jack pointed out.
"But Shawn, you'll be in London for two years!"
"I know! We can't wait." Shawn looked supremely happy. "When we visited two years ago, I fell in love with the whole country of England."
"And I'll get to spend time with my father. And I can finally meet Cynthia." Angela beamed. "I hope she's good for Dad. He deserves someone nice."
"And we're moving to Breezewood!" Eric did a little dance of celebration, something totally in character for him.
"Congrats again on that promotion," Shawn said. "It must rock to be a city-wide manager at 24."
"That it does, Shawn, that it does."
"And you found a good position for you too, Jack." Topanga said happily.
"Yeah. I always wanted to help people, and working with disadvantaged youth really does something good for you as well as them."
"All of us are finally adults! Can you believe it? Next, we'll have a passel of kids, discussing our stock portfolios and retirement plans." Eric wrinkled his nose.
"We have all of the time in the world for that," Jack said.
"True. We're just beginning."
Eric threw down his briefcase as he walked in the door. The apartment was quiet, so he was guessing that he was alone. He was surprised- his hours were usually longer than Jack's. Pulling off his suit jacket and tie, he walked through to the kitchen, looking for something to eat before he started on dinner.
As he pulled out some leftover chicken from last night, the phone rang. He started the microwave before answering it.
"Hi, it's me," Jack said. "I'm stuck in traffic. Don't worry about dinner, I already picked up something."
"Good deal. How far away are you?"
"At this point, about thirty minutes out. Look, I have something to talk to you about when I get home."
"Good or bad? And don't say the dreaded phrase."
"Depends on your perspective," they recited together. "Seriously, it's good news. Break out the good beer," Jack added teasingly.
"Okay, so, I'll see you in a half hour. Love you."
"Love you too. Bye."
After Jack hung up, Eric got his food out of the microwave and wandered back to the living room and sat on one of the couches. Unlike their first apartment, this one was roomy. Sunlight poured in through the sunroof. There were two massive bedrooms, one for Jack and Eric and the other a guest room. And the kitchen was an actual room.
As the key turned in the lock, Eric looked up with anticipation. Jack entered. He too was carrying a briefcase, but his attire was much more casual- he was wearing a pair of chinos and a polo shirt. Setting his briefcase next to Eric's, he put the bag he was also carrying into the kitchen and made his way over to his beau.
"How was your day?" Jack asked, sitting down next to Eric and taking his face in his hands for a brief kiss.
"Tiring, as usual. One of the managers at the Southside store has been stealing odd things, like demo staplers that are broken, stupid stuff like that. Turns out that he's just a klepto, and his other employees have covering for him because he's 'nice'," Eric said, complete with air-quotes. "Anyway, the guys upstairs are sending him to a treatment facility, but in the meantime I'll be at that store while still supervising the four other stores in town."
"Sounds tough. Why don't I give you a backrub while I tell you about my news."
"Sounds good to me." They went into the bedroom, which was decorated for both of their tastes. Everything was simple, but done in primary colors. The result was a room that was stately, but playful, like the two of them.
Eric took off his shirt and stretched out on the bed. Jack grabbed some massage oil and started warming it up in his hands. Straddling Eric, he began rubbing the oil on his back in little circles. Eric sighed and said, "I'm going to close my eyes, but I'm listening. And may I say that I'm enjoying this."
"I can tell," Jack said dryly as Eric began... purring for lack of a better word. "Anyway, I already told you that since I got my Masters in Child Psychology, the people at Hope School want me to head up a new department."
"Yes, I remember."
"I received another job offer today. A private office that deals with youth needs a permanent psychiatrist on staff, and the pay is really good. Also, I still would get to work with children, and if I took the job at Hope, I would be helping children but not be around them anymore."
"Go with what makes you happy, Jack. Oh, right there is good."
"I'm glad you're enjoying this. Anyway, I'll finally be bringing in some decent money, so that'll be good."
"You know that money is not really a concern," Eric began.
"Yes, I know that you can support both of us easily on your salary, but I don't want to feel like a kept man."
"Can I be one? Because I hear that the benefits are great."
"You nut." Jack got off of Eric and lay beside him. "Ready for dinner now?"
"Yeah, I'm hungry." As Jack moved to get off of the bed, Eric took his hand. "Hey! You didn't let me finish. I'm...hungry, Jack."
"Could you say that and sound any sleazier?"
"Sure." Eric dropped his voice an octave. "I'm... hungry, Jack."
Jack shivered as pure lust shot down his spine. "Food can wait."
Later, much later, Eric said, "Okay, now let's eat."
"Give me a minute! How can you switch modes so easily?"
"Comes from work. Go ahead, rest. I'll bring you something in here." Eric walked out of the bedroom, leaving Jack to hope that their neighbors in other buildings were not looking in their windows at the moment.
As he lay there, breathing slowly returning to normal, he smiled at the thought of being served dinner in bed.
Eric came back in shortly with a tray loaded up with food. He set it on the bed in climbed in. "My God, Eric, we couldn't eat this much food in weeks!"
"I'm hungry, what can I say?" They attacked the food with good appetite, and when they were finished, Jack threw on a pair of boxers and took the tray back into the kitchen. When he came back, Eric was watching something on television.
"Look at that!" On the screen, they were showing a documentary on animal young and what the adults did to protect them. At the moment, they were showing ducks that were learning to swim. After that segment went off, Eric turned the TV off and asked, "Are we in for the evening?"
"By the way you're dressed, I certainly hope so."
"I can put clothes on if you want to go somewhere."
"Why don't we just... stay in?"
"Now who's the one who sounds sleazy?"
"I learned from the master."
The sun rose early the next morning. Jack, who was curled around Eric, groaned as a sunbeam hit his eyes. He squinted and attempted to pull a pillow over his head. He was just settling back down to sleep when the alarm went off.
Eric sat up as if someone had shot him. Stumbling his way over to the alarm, he hit it on his way to the bathroom. Jack got up and went to the guest bathroom. This was their morning routine, and it rarely broke down.
After they were showered and dressed, they sat down and ate a quick breakfast. Then they kissed and said their goodbyes. Jack headed for the highway to go to Hope School, while Eric took local streets to go to the store he would be located at for the next two weeks.
Another hectic day passed. Jack's students, the ones at his school, were shaken up because someone in the neighborhood where most of the kids lived had been brutally shot two nights ago. Students trooped in and out of his office all day, attempting to make sense of the tragedy. Meanwhile, Eric found out the reason why the klepto manager's employees liked him so much- he was very lenient with them. After cracking the whip all day, Eric was ready to go home and forget that this day had happened.
"Okay, I've decided. I'm going to take the private job," Jack said when Eric walked into the door. Then he saw the expression on Eric's face.
"It's nothing, it's nothing," Eric said, waving his hand in a 'shooing' motion. "Just a lot of unwanted stress."
"I know a great stress reliever," Jack said hopefully.
"Actually, can I take a rain check? I feel like I could use a nap."
Jack was really concerned at that point- Eric never turned down an opportunity to ravish or be ravished. "Um, sure. Do you want me to wake you for dinner?"
Eric was already getting out of his suit. "That would be great. Thanks for understanding."
He moved toward the bedroom like he was an old man.
Jack finished preparing dinner, a simple salad and sandwiches, and set the table before going into the bedroom to wake Eric up. He paused in the doorway, taking in the sight of Eric looking peaceful and young, even with the moustache that he wore nowadays. Instead of waking him, Jack ate alone and put the leftovers into the refrigerator. He was studying some paperwork when Eric finally came stumbling out of the bedroom.
"How long did I sleep?"
"Around 3 hours. I figured your body needed sleep more than food."
"Thanks again." He sat down at the opposite end of the kitchen table from Jack. "Paperwork again?"
"Yes. I'll be glad not to do this again in this volume."
"Tell me a little more about your new job."
"Basically, it's a charity for youth. Children and adolescents are referred to us because of problems at school, be it mental, physical, or even financial. It's a state subsidized program, but the bulk of our funding comes from private sources." Jack smiled and pushed back from the table.
"Sounds like you put a lot of research into this."
"Yeah, I guess. They want me to start a month from now."
"Will you be able to give your current job enough notice?"
"I actually told them today. Since they have to bring someone else in, they're giving me two weeks pay in lieu of notice."
"I'm off work starting Monday for a whole month." Jack got up and brought the plate to Eric.
"I'm jealous!" Eric sighed. "If I wasn't subbing for ol' Sticky Fingers, I would take off to spend time with you."
"Do you think you can take off in three weeks? We can visit your parents when Cory and Topanga do. We haven't seen them in a while."
"We see them more often than we see Shawn and Angela. When was the last time they were in the States, about a year ago?"
"Yeah. Who knew that they would decide to live in London permanently?"
"Search me. Have you talked to Shawn on the phone lately? He's even developing an English accent." Eric started eating the food in front of him. "Thanks, man," he said with his mouth full.
"No problem. Look, I'm going to go into the bedroom to finish this up so that you can eat in peace."
"No, stay. Unless I'm bothering you."
They stayed at the table in companionable silence while Jack finished his work and Eric ate. When they were both finished, they sat on the couch and watched a movie.
"You know, they're having a farewell party for me this weekend. Will you come?"
"Sure." They weren't really out in the sense of marching in parades, but it was known at their jobs.
"And afterwards we can go out, if you like. We haven't done that in a while."
"It doesn't matter to me. But it could help with some of this stress."
They snuggled deeper into the cushions. "We could go to a movie."
"Can we make out in the back rows?"
Jack laughed aloud. "So that we can get kicked out for indecent exposure?"
"Who said anything about exposing anything?"
"What'll we see?"
"Why don't we decide when we go? That's always fun."
"Good deal. So it's a date then?"
The rest of the week passed swiftly. Eric got the employees under control and Jack's students finally calmed down, although they were still understandably upset. Friday night, they went to the farewell party, which was held at one of the teacher's houses. There was a lot of consumption of alcohol, which Jack participated in and Eric didn't. There also was a lot of dancing, which again, Jack did and Eric didn't. Jack ended up leaving the party with Eric supporting him as he stumbled to the car.
"Sorry I ruined the party for you," Jack slurred, as he got into the car. Eric made sure Jack's seatbelt was fastened before he closed the door.
"You didn't ruin anything! I think you livened it up with the chicken dance." Eric looked over and frowned when he saw the expression on his face. "Are you about to be sick?"
Jack smiled. "I don't think so. Hey, let's go dancing now!"
"They are so not going to let you in, all liquored up and all."
"Then let's go home, so that you can take advantage of me."
"Didn't you want to go to the movies?"
"I'd rather get taken advantage of." Eric hid a smile. Alcohol had the side effect of making Jack... willing and ready.
"Okay then." The car slid through the streets. Eric turned on the radio and a song with a heavy bass beat came on. Jack sang along happily as they pulled up to their complex.
"Ready to get out of the car?"
"Yes, I'm ready," Jack sang out, as they made their way to the elevators. "We're gonna go all the way tonight, gonna go all the way, tonight tonight."
"Aren't you in a good mood?"
"Yeah," Jack replied. "Must be the company."
Eric smiled at that, as he opened the apartment door. "Well, I have to say that the company's very good from my view too."
Jack went over to the stereo and turned to the same station that was on in the car. "Dance with me?"
They danced through three songs until they couldn't wait any more and danced their way into the bedroom.
Jack woke up with a slight headache. He stretched, noting that he was sore in all of the right places. He smiled over at Eric, who was sitting up and eating some cereal.
"Feeling okay?" Eric asked. "I was going to cook, but I was thinking the smell..."
"I actually feel pretty decent considering how much of that punch I consumed."
"Good. You know, we need to do some shopping. Our groceries are running low."
"Okay, let me hit the shower, and maybe take some aspirin."
"Did you want to take a shower together? You know, to conserve energy."
Jack grinned and hit Eric with a pillow. "If we do that, we won't make it to the store."
"There's always tomorrow."
"I'm going now!" Jack ran into the bathroom. When he came out, Eric was waiting on the bed, fully dressed. Jack hurriedly put on a pair of jeans and a shirt and headed out the door behind Eric.
Shopping was fun, as usual. Jack and Eric grabbed two carts, tore the list in half, and raced though the store to be the first one done. Eric usually won because he would only go look for things he deemed 'necessary'. This time, he only beat Jack by about a minute because the line he got into to checkout was slow.
After the grocery shopping was done, they did laundry, which was the extent of their domestic endeavors. Once a week, they had someone come in to do the cleaning, which kept their apartment looking nice. "Okay, are we finished?" Eric asked, after they finished putting away the clothes.
"For now. I need to call my mom." Jack and his mom and stepdad were close, and he liked making sure that they were fine every chance he got.
While Jack was on the phone, Eric walked into the guest room, where the computer was. He logged onto the Internet and checked his e-mail. He had a message from his sister, Morgan. She was telling him about her experiences in her sophomore year at Pennbrooke. He also had messages from Cory, who sent love from him and Topanga, Shawn, who was looking forward to seeing him when he and Angela visited the States in three weeks, and his parents, who were going to be having everyone stay over. Eric thought about the first Thanksgiving that he and Jack had went to as a couple, and laughed at the memory.
"Are you in here?" Jack poked his head in. "Looking for porn again?"
"A man does something once, and can never live it down. No, I just checked my e-mail. Now Shawn and Angela are visiting at the same time that we are in Philly."
"Cool! I've been missing my little brother."
"It'll be a mini-reunion."
"Yeah. I'm glad you were able to take that week off."
"Me too. I'll be glad to take some time away from the world of office supplies." Eric stood up and headed out of the guest room. "If you want to use the computer, you can. I think I'll give my folks a call, too."
Jack checked his e-mail too. He also had messages from Cory and Topanga, and Angela and Shawn. After reading them, he turned off the computer and listened to Eric as he talked to his parents.
"No, I haven't talked to Cory this week. Yeah, sure, put him on. Hey, Josh! How've you been? School okay? All right, I'll see you when we visit. 'Bye." Eric took the phone from his ear and stared at it amusedly. "He hung up! He was supposed to give the phone to Dad."
"Are you going to call back?" Jack questioned.
"Nah. It's funny to think of Dad yelling into a dead phone. He'll call back as soon as he realizes what happened."
Sure enough, the phone rang. Eric picked it back up and said, "Hey, Dad. Of course I know it's you; we have caller ID."
While Eric talked, Jack started on dinner, a frozen casserole with another one of his salads. While the food heated, he sat back on a couch, thumbing through a magazine. After Eric got off the phone, he came over and joined him.
"Hey, wanna see the movie tonight?" Eric playfully snatched the magazine out of Jack's hands. Jack made a half-hearted attempt to retrieve it, but gave up quickly.
"Sure. Are we going to the multiplex downtown, or the old theatre?"
"Don't they only show one movie at a time at the old theatre? And I think that we already saw that movie."
"Okay. I kinda want to see that new movie with Jet Li."
"Is that the one where he has to fight?"
"That describes all of his movies, Eric."
"Well, I'm ready. We can see that if you want."
They headed out the door, only to stop when Jack remembered that the casserole was still baking in the oven. Seeing that it was done, Jack shut the oven off. "We can eat when we come back. That is, if you don't spoil your appetite."
Jack swatted him as they walked to the car. "Don't make me pull over, Mister."
"Will you spank me if I misbehave?"
"I'll spank you if you're good."
Eric clapped his hands and jumped up and down in the seat. When they got to the multiplex, they found that the movie wasn't playing for another half hour. They peeked in the arcade. "They have Dance Dance Revolution. We have got to try that." Eric looked excitedly at the game.
"Isn't that the one where you have to dance in time with the person on the screen?"
"Hence the name. C'mon, it'll be fun."
They stepped on the platform. Eric did more clowning than dancing, but Jack caught on to the steps quickly and actually looked good doing so. When he finally gave up his spot so that they could watch the movie, there was a smattering of applause and some admiring looks.
"Pretty fly for a white guy," Eric whispered to Jack.
"And I also have good taste in men."
As they brought refreshments and went into the auditorium, which was still empty, Eric ran to some seats in the back.
"Why did you get seats so far back, and in the corner, no less?" Jack wondered aloud. Then he caught a glimpse of Eric's wickedly grinning face. "Oh. So you do want to get arrested."
"Look on the bright side. We'll be each others' wife."
More people started walking in as the previews started rolling. Once the movie started, the theatre was only half full, but Eric and Jack were still by themselves in the back. They mostly paid attention to the screen, but as usual, they picked a commonly used word (this one was 'no'), and every time they heard it on screen, they kissed. By the time the movie was over, their lips were red and swollen.
"I am so going to need ice when we get home," Jack groaned, as he felt a tender spot on his neck. "What possessed you to give me a hickey?"
"You gave me one too," Eric protested.
"That's because turnabout is fair play."
"Well, when we get home, I'll kiss it and make it better."
The next two weeks passed swiftly. After Eric got the employees straightened out at the store, things ran much more efficiently. Jack made sure all of his affairs were in order before he started the new job. Just the same, both of them were more than ready to take a vacation. They would be driving to Philadelphia when Eric got off work on Friday.
"Are you all packed? If you are, I'll run you to work, throw the suitcases in the car, and we can hit the road as soon as you get off." Jack wrote something down on one of the lists he was making.
"Jack! What's with all of the planning? We're just going for a week, not moving. I already threw some things in the suitcase."
"Which would be..."
"Some shirts and my rubber duckie," Eric admitted. "Okay, maybe I could use a little planning. But don't stress, alright? See, I'm putting things in the suitcase now." He threw in another shirt and kissed Jack. "Don't be mad."
"I'm not mad. Just, I was thinking about last year's Fourth of July. You didn't pack anything except some lube."
"Lube is important; clothes are not."
"True, but I don't think your mom thought so." Jack smiled and said, "Look, I'll pack for you. You just leave everything to me."
Eric walked away with his head down, but he was wearing a smile of victory. He hated packing, and getting Jack to do it was one of the perks of the relationship. He thought of something and turned back around. "Could you not pack my journal? I want to take it to work."
"Okay. Anything else?"
"Nah. Thanks again, man."
The next morning, Jack dropped him off at work with his briefcase. "I stuck your journal in there and a note. Don't read it in front of anyone. See you later."
Eric, not known for his obedience, immediately opened the letter, only to find that it was a list of new things that Jack wanted them to try. When Eric read number 12, which involved a blindfold and a feather, the thought drove him crazy to the point that he was severely tempted to call Jack and try it in full view of the entire store. By the time Jack came to pick him up, Eric was a twitching ball of energy.
"You read the list, didn't you?" Jack tried to look serious but had to bite the insides of his cheeks to keep a grin from appearing.
"When can we try number 15?" Eric demanded impatiently.
"Let me get my date book out."
"I'm just messing with you. Are we definitely staying with your parents, or are we getting a hotel room?"
"I have the weird feeling that all of us are going to be in that little house, sneaking around."
"It can't be as bad as it was the first year."
"With Josh old enough to remember what he sees, it could be worse."
"True." Jack hit the highway. He popped in a tape. "I wanna do it 'till the sun comes up, yeah yeah. I wanna do it 'till I can't get enough."
"You and your oldies fixation! Just once I would like to listen to something released after 1990."
"Hey, this is a classic! Anyway, I just wondered something. Maybe Shawn and Angela are coming back for a reason." Jack said thoughtfully. "Could they finally be getting married?"
"Possibly. I wonder what the holdup is."
"Fear of commitment on both of their parts?"
"They've been together off and on since high school and together full-time for seven years. If that's not commitment, I don't know what is."
"I'm sure we can ask them when we see them."
The time passed swiftly, and before long, they were standing outside of the Matthews' house. It looked exactly the same as Eric remembered. He noticed that four cars were in the driveway, so they were the last to arrive.
"Know what? I'm actually stoked about seeing everyone." Eric smiled at the thought.
"Then ring the doorbell!" Eric did, and he heard footsteps before his younger brother, Josh, answered the bell.
"Eric!" he yelled loud enough to wake the dead. Eric scooped him up and took a good look at him. Josh was blond, but had curly hair like Cory's, and blue eyed. He was a little small for his age, but a bundle of energy nonetheless.
"Hey! Where's everyone else?"
"In the basement. Hi, Jack."
"Hi, Josh." As they walked through the house, Jack said to Eric, "I didn't know your parents had finished the basement."
"Dad was determined to before we all came." They walked down the stairs. Sitting on a long sectional were Mr and Mrs Matthews, Mr Feeny, who had finally retired after Morgan's freshman year in college, Cory, Topanga, Shawn, Angela, and Morgan, who had taken a week off from school. When they saw Eric and Jack, everyone stood up and exchanged hugs and greetings.
Jack took a step back and just studied everyone. While Mr Feeny and Mr and Mrs Matthews hadn't changed, just about everyone else had. Cory, Shawn and Eric all had facial hair now. Topanga had cut her hair shorter and now it rested right above her shoulders in a kind of bell-shape. Angela also was wearing a different hair style. But the person who had made the most changes was Morgan. She had shot up a foot during high school, and she had more piercings than her parents probably liked, but she was still the same inside- sharp and sarcastic, but very caring.
"Hey man," Shawn greeted his brother. Jack hugged him hard.
"Hey! How've you been?"
"Fine, fine. Staying out of trouble. Angela and I moved to a new flat." Eric was right- Shawn had picked up a slight English accent, along with some of the slang.
"Still happy at your job?"
"Yes. Who knew that I had so much passion for the world of banking?" Shawn, to the surprise of everyone, had majored in investment banking in college and now worked for an old established firm in London.
"Is it weird thinking in pounds and pence instead of dollars and cents?" Cory asked, who had come over to join them.
"It's almost thinking in another language. Sometimes I catch myself thinking, I just said, I'm taking the lift to my flat! And I'm floored that I know what that means."
"What does it mean?" Cory asked curiously.
"Taking the elevator to my apartment." Shawn grinned. "So, Jack, I see that you're baby-faced as ever."
"Believe me, not everyone looks good with a beard. But that goatee' is still working for you."
"Eh," Shawn made a noncommittal sound. "I'm thinking about going for a soul patch. I just have to convince Angela that I won't look like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo."
"And Cory- it's working for you, too."
"Thanks. It helps at the office."
After everyone caught up on each other, they sat down to dinner. Topanga announced that she had passed the bar, which everyone cheered. They discussed having a lawyer in the family. "This means I'll get free legal advice, right?" Eric joked.
"Only if it pertains to your stores. Remember, I'm going into Corporate Law." Topanga sat back and looked supremely happy.
"I thought you were going into Environmental Law," Angela wondered.
"I was, but besides the pay suc.. I mean, not being good, I found I can do more for the environment by fighting to make companies more ecologically aware. Angela, how's the design business?"
"It's hel..hectic. Everyone wants pret-a-porte was soon as they see it on the runways, plus we have problems with models, et cetera, et cetera. But I love it."
After dinner, everyone sat around the table and reminisced. Morgan regaled them with tales of her roommate, whom she hated, and Josh told them stories about his school, which was the same elementary that his brothers and sister had attended. Finally everyone got tired, and as they stood up to go to a hotel, Mrs Matthews said, "Actually, this year, we have enough room for everyone! Cory and Topanga can have the guest room, as usual, Angela can stay with Morgan, and Eric, Jack, and Shawn can stay in the basement. It'll be just like old times!"
While they retrieved their bags from the car, Eric groaned, "Just like old times. Hey, if we can convince Morgan to sleep with Josh..."
"Then Shawn will be upstairs..."
"And we'll have the basement to ourselves."
When they went back inside the house and they deposited the bags downstairs, Cory came into the basement. "Once again, I declare, you are SOL!"
Josh, who had followed Cory, asked, "What's SOL?"
"Sore losers!" Jack replied quickly.
"Why did you say that, Cory?" Josh turned wide innocent eyes to his big brother.
"Because we were going to have a pillow fight, but your dad said no," Shawn said. He was sitting on the couch and laughing.
"Do you want me to ask?" Josh wondered.
"No!" the four men shouted. Then Eric added in a softer voice, "We'll have one tomorrow. Don't forget, okay?"
"I won't," Josh promised, as he went back up the stairs.
As soon as he was gone, Cory turned to Shawn. "A pillow fight? Were we going to paint each other's nails, too?"
"Do you want me to call him back so that you can explain what SOL really means?" Shawn looked coolly at Cory. "You better hope he doesn't use that phrase somewhere where your parents will hear."
Morgan came down the steps. "What are you arguing about? I can hear you through the floorboards!"
"Cory taught Josh the phrase SOL," Jack replied.
She burst into laughter. "Cory, you are so busted. I accidentally swore around him, and that was all he said for months after."
"Anyway, I have a proposal for you," Eric said, holding up his hand. "Morgan, do you think you could sleep with Josh? Or in the den?"
"There's a reason Mom put you guys the way she did. It's the 'no nookie unless you're married under my roof' rule."
"We know that, but we don't want to do anything bad. We just want privacy. And how do you know about the rule?" Eric asked curiously.
"I brought Tim home for spring break. He had to sleep with Josh. Not that I was expecting the guest room for us, but sheesh, I am twenty."
All of the men clapped their hands over their ears. "Morgan, we respect the fact that you're an adult, but please don't tell us any details like that ever again." Cory moaned with the thought.
Topanga and Angela came down next. "Honey, are you all right?" Topanga said, putting her arm around Cory.
"I'm fine, just Morgan's squicking me out."
"Okay." Topanga sighed, and then said patiently, "Well, come to bed."
He followed her up the stairs obediently, sticking out his tongue at everyone.
"Real maturity," Angela commented. "Shawn, I'm turning in, too. I think I'm still trying to get back on US time. Good night." She kissed him and went upstairs too.
"My work down here is done. Good night, all." Morgan padded back upstairs.
The men pulled out the sofa bed. "This time, you and I are sharing the bed, Jack," Eric announced. "Shawn gets the privilege of sleeping on the couch."
"Fine. Just don't do anything! My eyes can't take it."
"We promise," Jack and Eric chorused together.
Shawn cut out the light and stretched out on the couch. "Good night, Jack, Eric."
"Good night, Shawn."
The week passed too quickly. The biggest surprise came when they all went out to dinner and Shawn proposed to Angela. When she accepted, everyone yelled "Finally!" which startled the other diners. They quickly made plans to marry in the States in six months.
On the way back home, Jack asked Eric, "Have you ever thought about, you know, marriage?"
"You mean in the traditional sense or us getting married?"
"Both, I guess."
"When I was a lot younger, I always had a vague sense that I would get married, settle down, have kids. But as I got older, it was like, I was picturing someone else's life. Not mine."
"I assumed that I would get married, too."
"Did you want to marry me?"
"You asking?" Jack grinned as he turned toward Eric.
"Eyes on the road, buster," Eric said, smirking. "We're overdue for the 'future' talk. Why don't we think on it and then go out on Friday night and talk about everything. And no lists," he added, seeing the 'I'm planning' look on Jack's face. "I'm sure we'll know what to say."
The next day dawned sunny and surprisingly warm, for October. Jack drove to his new office with trepidation. He hoped everything would go smoothly, but he mentally steeled himself for the worst.
When he got in the door, a small woman greeted him. "Dr Hunter? I'm your secretary, Evie."
"Hello, Evie. Call me Jack."
"Well, Jack, let me show you to your office." The building was decorated in kid-friendly colors. Eric would like the color scheme, Jack thought, and smiled. His office was on the third floor. It was spacious and sunny, and most of all, non-threatening.
"When you get settled in, I'll take you to meet the other members of the staff, and the director."
"I already met the director, Ms Thigpen?"
"Oh, she stepped down two weeks ago. I don't know why you weren't informed. We have a new director. She's young, but she cares about children." Evie's heels clattered down the hall as she introduced Jack to everyone. Then she stopped at a door at the end of the corridor. "Here's the director's office. When you're finished with her, I'll be waiting to show you the rest of the building."
Jack knocked softly on the door, noting the absence of a nameplate. A voice inside answered, "Come in."
He stepped inside and was immediately shocked. Rachel McGuire was standing in front of him. Rachel had been the first real love of his life. They had dated though college and had parted on sort of bad terms, but he still felt affection for her. Unnerved, he gripped the back on one of the chairs.
"Jack! When they said that we had a Jack Hunter on staff, I never dreamed that it would be you. Take a seat. How've you been?"
Jack sat down with relief. His legs were feeling like jelly. "I'm fine. How are you?"
"I'm great! You know, I wasn't going to take this job. But my Aunt Grace, she's the former director, said I would love it. It's helping children! But enough about me. When did you decide to go into psychology as a field?"
"It was something I had kicked around for a while, but once I started working at a school for emotionally disturbed children, I knew that I really had a passion for it."
"Well, how's everyone doing? I hear from Topanga and Angela every now and again, but it's hard to keep in touch nowadays. When did you move to Breezewood?" Left unspoken was the question, are you and Eric still together? Jack decided to make her wait a while for the answer.
"Everyone's fine. Cory and Topanga are still in New York and Shawn and Angela are finally tying the knot. I moved here four years ago."
Rachel couldn't resist and finally asked, "So, do you and Eric still keep in touch?"
"I should hope so. It's been almost seven years now."
"Oh," she said softly. She came around the desk. Jack stood up and they shook hands. Then Rachel said, "What the heck," and enveloped him in a big hug. "I really am glad to see you. No hard feelings, okay?"
"All right," Jack agreed, relieved. He didn't want to work in a place filled with tension because of something that had happened almost seven years ago.
"Okay. Now let's go over your first cases. Here are their files," Rachel said, handing him two large file folders. "These children are siblings, and we're trying to place them together in a permanent home. They'll be coming to see you, together and separately, twice a week to help them adjust and to help them get over their fears of being in another neglectful home. At the end of a week, we have a meeting where we go over each child's case and determine the best course of action for them. See you later, Jack."
Jack walked back to his office, a little dazed, but oddly happy. After his and Rachel's breakup, they hadn't spoken or written for years. And he didn't like to think of anyone out there disliking him if he could help it.
Jack walked in the door, tired but happy. He had seen a lot of cases today, but knowing that he was doing good made it worthwhile. He could hear Eric, singing along with a song on the radio happily as he fixed dinner. He sat his suitcase down and walked into the kitchen silently, watching for a while as Eric boogied with a wooden spoon in his hand. When Eric noticed Jack, instead of becoming self-conscious or embarrassed, he danced over to Jack and began singing to him. Throwing himself totally into what he was doing was one of the reasons Jack loved Eric.
After the song went off, Eric stopped and asked, "How was your day?"
"Good, really good. You'll never guess who's the new director of the centre is."
"I thought that the director was an older woman."
"She was. But she stepped down two weeks ago. Do you want to guess, or should I tell you?"
"Go ahead and tell me. My mind's on the food, right now." Eric peeked at something in a pot and stirred it.
"Rachel is the new director."
Eric dropped his spoon on the stove. "You mean our Rachel?"
"Yes. Apparently her aunt was the former director, and she recommended Rachel for the job."
"Well, that's great! How is she?" Another thing that Jack loved was that Eric wasn't a person for (outward) jealousy or grudgery.
"She's fine, I guess. We really didn't get a chance to talk much."
"Maybe we should have her over for dinner."
"Why don't we do it after this week is out? I don't want the office to think that I'm trying to suck up to the new boss so soon. I can use my unfair advantage later." Jack's eyes sparkled as he walked over and tried to peek in one of the pans. Eric swatted his hand.
"No peeking! It's a surprise, and besides, it'll be done in about 20 minutes. "
"Okay. I'll get out of my suit, then." Jack went into the bedroom and changed into some jeans and a soft polo shirt. He came back out; expecting to set the table for dinner, but Eric had already done that. He sat on the couch, waiting for Eric to call him. After a while, he stretched out on the couch, still waiting. He awoke to find Eric standing over him.
"How long was I out?" Jack groaned, standing up and yawning.
"Almost long enough for the food to get cold. C'mon."
They sat down to a meal of spaghetti with meat sauce, which tasted just like the kind Jack's mother made. When he complimented Eric on that, Eric blushed and said that he had called Jack's mom for the recipe, to make a special dinner for him. That was another reason that Jack loved Eric- his ability to surprise him, even now.
"I love you," Jack said aloud suddenly.
Eric looked over at him curiously. "I know."
Jack answered his unspoken question. "I just wanted you to hear it."
"Well, yay me!" Eric smiled and returned to his food.
"Actually, I had a question for you, about getting married. Do we want to go to Vermont? Because that might be a problem for everyone to go."
"This is true. But I'm sure that we'll talk it over with everyone, see how they feel. Listen, don't make any plans for Friday night- we have reservations for the Melting Pot."
"The fondue restaurant?"
"Yeah. I know that I'm always talking about going there, so..."
"Hey, that's cool. What time is the reservation for?"
"Okay. I'm not sure, but I think Friday's a short day for us." Jack made a mental note to check at work tomorrow.
After dinner, they stretched out on the bed and watched TV for a while. "I think this is what I like the best, just being close." Eric sighed, contented. "Let's never leave the house again."
"You know you would get bored if you didn't have your job. You thrive on being a good manager." Jack turned around to face Eric. "Or is there something you'd rather be doing?"
"I'm happy. But sometimes I think, here I am a college graduate, a glorified salesperson. Anyone could do what I do. But to help children on a daily basis- that takes skill."
"Like supervising five stores with fifty employees each isn't a skill. Look, you have a talent for management. Don't negate that. Besides, you're my supervisor." He gave Eric a sweet kiss, tinged with passion. "Um, wanna try that again?" Eric said, his eyes sliding closed.
"I thought I got it right the first time, judging from your reaction," Jack replied. Just the same, he kissed Eric again, this time feeling the slow heat build. By the time the kiss ended, Jack had forgotten that there was even a conversation. "Are you done watching TV?" he asked Eric.
"The TV's on?"
The next day, Tuesday, Jack came into the office, expecting everything to go as smoothly as it had yesterday. He had three appointments- a girl with post- traumatic stress disorder, the siblings that he had seen yesterday, and a new client that he was doing a new consultation on. He stopped at Evie's desk to pick up his messages, and after he got into his office, Rachel stuck her head in the door.
"Do you have a moment? There are some notes that we need to go over about the new case you're seeing today."
"All right. You can have my chair, if you like. I need to get some more normal size chairs in here."
"That's okay, I'll sit on the couch." She actually swung her legs over and laid down. "I need one of these in my office. I had a question for you. I received a letter from Angela last night."
"Wait. How did she know where you live?" Jack asked curiously.
"We keep in touch, like I told you yesterday! Weren't you paying attention?" Rachel reached over and playfully hit Jack's knee.
Something occurred to Jack, but the thought slipped his mind. He decided to think about it later. Just the same, his brow creased as he tried to retrieve his thought.
"Why so serious? Anyway, Angela told me about her and Shawn's upcoming marriage. She said that they wanted to get married in the States but they were going back to England right after."
"Yeah. Shawn says that March is a busy time for his firm."
"So," Rachel said and abruptly stood up. "Here's the file for your new case. Talk to you later."
As she walked out, Jack thought to himself, that caused more questions than it answered.
One extremely busy day later, Jack found himself puzzling over some government papers when Rachel came in.
"I just wanted to tell you I'm leaving for the day."
Huh? Oh, okay." Jack glanced at his watch and saw to his amazement that was almost 7pm. "Man! I should be getting home too. It's my night for dinner." He stood up and started putting his papers into his briefcase. He noticed a small, folded up piece of paper tucked into one of the pockets. Intrigued, he unfolded it in front of Rachel's curious face.
The note was simple. In honor of your new career, this coupon entitles you to one free back rub. I love you!
He smiled, thinking of redeeming his coupon.
"What are you smiling about? You look like the cat swallowed the canary."
He hastily wiped the smile off of his face, thinking that his thoughts were not exactly on the professional. He was also glad that his briefcase was where it was.
"Um, nothing. You know, I think I might stay and finish up these papers."
"Okay. Just don't work too hard."
"I never do," Jack joked, inwardly hoping that Rachel would leave so that he could... calm down.
She finally walked to the door. "Jack?" she said, stopping in the doorway.
He looked up from the desk. "Yes."
"I really am glad that you're here." With that, she was gone.
Jack sat back in his seat. "Huh."
When he arrived home, around 8, Eric was waiting patiently on the couch. Jack's heart twisted when he saw the bored and hungry expression on Eric's face.
"I'm really sorry. I thought that this job would lead to less paperwork, but I had a ton to do." And a boss who won't let me get my work done, he added mentally, but something stopped him from saying that aloud. "I brought quesadillas," he added hopefully. "And cinnamon crisps."
"It's okay, man," Eric said, standing up and giving Jack a kiss. "I know the first few weeks on the job are hard."
"Well, tell me about your day."
"Same old. I was called to a under producing store to see what was up. No big." Eric didn't seem to want to talk about it and Jack was too tired to drag it out of him. He went into the kitchen and started putting the food onto plates. Loading everything onto a tray, he carried the food into the bedroom. "Eric, I'm in here," he called, as he set the tray on the bed.
"I figured that you could use some serving. Go ahead, get relaxed and start eating. I'm going to get out of this suit." Jack proceeded to do just that, feeling Eric's gaze on his back. After putting his clothes away, he climbed onto the bed, careful not to disturb the tray. After eating one of the quesadillas, he lay back, exhausted from the day. Then he remembered something and sat back up.
"I did get your note, Eric," he said, smiling wickedly. "I almost got in trouble because of it."
"Did you want to redeem it now?"
"No. I want to try number 13."
Eric ran into the living room and got the note out of his briefcase. Scanning quickly until he got to number 13, he whooped and ran back in the bedroom. Jack grinned at him.
"What did I do to deserve you?" Eric said softly.
Jack looked at him fondly. "You were you."
On Wednesday, Jack's routine settled down somewhat. His appointments were on time, the paperwork was easier, and although Rachel was still coming in and out of his office, he was getting work done. Rachel usually sat on his couch and reminisced about old times, or talked about Shawn and Angela's upcoming wedding. Something about that still bothered him, but he couldn't put a finger on it. She also started touching him casually, like punching him or touching him to get her point across. He wasn't really bothered with that, but he did worry about being unprofessional.
He went home and beat Eric for the first time this week. Taking advantage of that fact, he got changed and started on dinner. By the time Eric came in, dinner was almost done.
"Hey, you," Eric said, as he crossed over and kissed his beau. "What time did you get home?"
"Around 5pm. How was your day?"
"Nothing special. How was yours?"
"Same old. Ready for dinner?"
They sat at the table, eating silently. Jack thought that Eric was looking a little ragged around the edges. "You been sleeping okay?" he asked wonderingly.
"I guess," Eric said distractedly. "Um, I'm finished. I'll think I'll turn in."
"It's only 8pm! Are you sure you're sleeping okay?"
"Just feeling a little tired." He stood up and stretched. "Good night."
As Eric ambled into the bedroom, Jack stared at him, wondering if he should follow. Deciding against it, he pulled out his briefcase and started on some paperwork for the next day. By the time he finished, it was after midnight. Eric was long since asleep and for once, curled up on his side of the bed. Jack sighed as he lay down next to him. It was a long time before he fell asleep.
Thursday started the same as Wednesday. Seeing children and going to staff meetings took up most of Jack's day. He actually didn't have any additional work after 3pm, so he prepared to leave. He had grabbed his briefcase and was about to leave when Evie stopped him.
"Ms. McGuire wanted to see you before you left for the day, Dr Hunter."
"Jack," he corrected automatically. He headed down to Rachel's office with long strides and knocked on the door.
"Come in," she said. As he did so, he noticed that the once-spartan room was now decorated with pictures, posters, and candles.
"Do you like it? I wanted to make the space my own. Have a seat."
Jack did so, hoping that she would be brief.
"As you know, tomorrow is our weekly staff meeting. I know that we have some brief ones today, but this is the whole office. Bring your notes for your cases."
Jack nodded, inwardly wondering why Rachel felt the need to repeat information that he already knew.
"Oh, and don't bring a lunch, that's provided."
"All right," Jack agreed, hoping that she was finished.
Unfortunately, she wasn't. "Do you remember the first day we met?" she asked softly.
Jack's face involuntarily curled into a smile as he remembered how attracted he was to her. "Yeah, I remember."
"I wanted to make sure. See you tomorrow, Jack."
"See you tomorrow, Rachel." As he walked to his car, he thought about something else. Even though Rachel was trying to bring back the old times, she never talked about Eric if she could help it. And there were the three of them before he and Rachel was a couple. Then again, she did talk about things that the three of them had done together, so that train of thought left him nowhere. As he started his car, he resolved to talk to Eric and see what he thought.
He stopped at the store to pick up some ingredients for dinner, when he thought about something and called Eric on his cell phone.
"Hello, Matthews speaking."
"Hey Eric, this is Jack."
"Hi! Off work already?"
"Yeah. Want something special for dinner?"
"Not really. Can I tell you what I want for dessert?"
"Let me guess. Number 8?"
Eric laughed, a deep chuckle that made Jack shiver in the middle of the grocery store. "I was thinking number 11."
"Sounds good. See you at the house."
Jack wandered through the store, his mind not on shopping and definitely not on talking to Eric about Rachel.
Friday was a busy day around the office. Before the staff meeting, people were running around, doing things that should have been done on Monday. The actual meeting went well; people in different departments presented their findings for each case. After the meeting, Jack was ready to leave when he was summoned to Rachel's office. He checked his watch. If he hurried, he would have enough time to get home and change before meeting Eric at the restaurant.
"Come in," Rachel's voice came floating through the door.
He stepped in, noting that Rachel was sitting in the client chairs instead of behind her desk. "Have a seat." She patted the chair next to her.
He sat down awkwardly, mentally begging her to be brief.
"So, how did you like your first week here?" Rachel turned to face him, and to his surprise, he felt uncomfortable.
"I enjoyed it very much. Knowing that you make a direct difference in a child's life- it's good."
"Why don't we go out and celebrate? A few of us go out on Fridays and we have a few drinks at this bar."
"I would, but I actually have reservations at a restaurant."
"Oh. Which one?"
"The Melting Pot."
"Is that the fondue place?"
Yes. Have you been there?"
"I went there with some friends some months ago. I like the whole feel of the place. Great date destination."
Something about that triggered something, too, but Jack still wasn't thinking. "Did you do the whole dessert thing, too?"
"Of course! We even followed the old fondue rule."
"If your food falls off your fork into the pot before you eat it, you have to kiss the members of your party."
"I've honestly never heard of that."
"My parents used to throw fondue parties, and my sister and I used to watch what they did. It's an old tradition, from what my parents tell me. So, have you ever eaten fondue?"
"It's been years, but yes."
"I used to make it. Oh, there is something I wanted to ask you. It's kinda personal, though."
Every instinct in his body was telling him to get up and walk out, but instead he sighed and said, "Fire away."
"Are you still mad at me? I mean, for that one summer. I really thought that I needed a break from you, but it was me who... well, I kinda sprung that on you." Her eyes dropped and she actually looked ashamed.
"No! I'm not mad. It's in the past." He reached out and patted her shoulder. She looked back up at him, hopefully.
"Well, I have to run. I'll see you on Monday." Jack stood up and reached for his briefcase.
Rachel stood up too. "Thank you for being understanding." She smiled regretfully. "I should have never let you go."
He knew what was about to happen. Every inch of his bones told him to leave, but he found himself turning wordlessly to her, waiting. She didn't disappoint him. Their kiss was filled with feeling, from both the past and present, and Jack could feel himself responding. His arms went around her waist, and she put her hands on his face. She's so different from Eric, he thought. Eric.
He pushed her away. The expression on her face changed from contentment, to surprise, to anger. "What are you doing?"
"I'm leaving! Look, that never should have happened."
"Are you denying that you enjoyed it?" she challenged, taking a step toward him.
"No! I mean, yes! I'm leaving now." Without waiting for a response, he grabbed his briefcase and ran out to his car. Sitting in the driver's seat, he looked in the rearview mirror. His pupils were large and staring. His cheeks were red, and some of Rachel's lipstick was on his lips. Fumbling for some tissue, he wiped it off the best he could.
"There is no way I can go to the restaurant looking like this," he muttered. Starting the car, he drove to the apartment, feeling worse and worse the whole way. By the time he got there, he was dangerously close to tears. He made it in the door before the first tear left his eyes. He was mildly surprised at himself; the last time he had cried had been when his father died. Knuckling away the tears, he stumbled to the shower and made the water scalding hot before he got in. Once he was in the water, he turned his face toward the spray. That way, he wouldn't know if the water running down his face was from the shower or his tears.
Eric drove like a madman to the restaurant. A crisis at the store had held him up until he was going to miss the reservation if he waited one minute longer. He was hoping that Jack would already be there, but he didn't see his car. Figuring that he was also running late, Eric parked and claimed his reservation.
"Matthews, party of two." he said smoothly, grinning inside at the thought of appearing suave.
"Right this way, sir," the hostess said, seating him in a cozy corner that was dimly lit.
"Could you direct the other member of my party here when he arrives?"
"I sure can. Enjoy your meal."
The waiter came by. "May I get you something to start off with? A drink?"
"I'll just have some water, thanks." As the waiter walked away, Eric looked at his watch. It was already 7:30pm. Pulling out his cell phone, he glanced around to make sure there were no people he would disturb by using it. He dialed Jack's office, with no answer, and then tried their home and Jack's cell. No one answered. "He's got to be on his way here, then," Eric reasoned softly.
Jack heard what he thought was the ringing of a phone, but he couldn't be sure. He stepped out of the shower and toweled off. He put on a pair of chinos and a shirt and grabbed his wallet and keys, forgetting his cell phone was in his suit jacket pocket. He walked out the door, determined to tell Eric everything, even if he would lose him.
Eric felt like he was sloshing from all of the water he had drunk. He glanced at his watch again. It was now 8pm, and Eric was feeling the first irritation with Jack he had in a while. His stomach was rumbling, and he didn't want to order without Jack. "He gets ten more minutes. Then I'm leaving."
Jack sped through the streets with a vengeance. He knew that he was seriously late, but he was beyond caring about that. "Please don't be mad, please don't be mad," he chanted like a mantra.
At 8:10, Eric looked at his watch for the final time, and summoned the waiter. "Check, please."
At 8:20pm, Jack pulled up to the restaurant. He scanned for Eric's car, and when he didn't see it, a sinking feeling built in the pit of his stomach. He parked anyway, and he went inside, hoping desperately that he had just overlooked the car.
"Um, Matthews, party of two?"
The hostess frowned. "I'm sorry, but that party has already left."
He turned around and walked out, feeling close to tears again. He sat in his car and took a couple of deep breaths, then started the engine. He reached automatically for his cell phone, and then he remembered that he had left it in his suit.
"Well, this night couldn't suck any harder," he said aloud, as he pulled back onto the street.
Eric got home, having stopped for some fast food. His anger at Jack had turned to concern, because it was out of character for Jack to just blow something off like that. He sat his food on the kitchen counter and then walked through the apartment. He noticed Jack's suit on the floor of the bathroom, and when he bent over to pick it up, his cell phone fell out.
"Man, he must have been in a hurry," he murmured, as the put the clothes away. As he walked into the bedroom, he noticed the message light blinking on the phone. He dialed the answering service and checked them. The first ones were from him, reminding Jack about tonight. The third was a strange voice, weeping softly. Then he recognized the voice- Rachel. He focused on what she was saying.
"I'm really really sorry. I... didn't mean for that to happen. But we really need to talk about it. Please call me."
As the message clicked off, Eric dropped the phone. Suddenly, he was blind and all he could hear was the roar in his head. He staggered through the apartment and picked up his keys. Changing his mind, he went back and grabbed his journal and headed out of the door.
Jack finally made it back to the apartment. He had pulled over three times, twice to wipe tears out of his eyes and the third time to lose the lunch he had eaten earlier. As he walked in, calling for Eric, he was struck by the silence. He walked to the kitchen, noting the bag of food on the counter. "If he was here..."
He went into the bedroom and saw that the phone was off the hook. He hung it up, checking to see what the last call was to. The last person to call was Rachel. Feeling sicker than he already was, he dialed the answering service with shaking fingers. When he heard the messages from Eric, he was struck anew with what he had done, not to himself, but to Eric. When the message from Rachel played, he stiffened. His stomach roiled, and he made it to the bathroom just in time.
He stood over the toilet for a long time, heaving until there was nothing left. He rinsed his face and mouth and walked out of the bathroom and went over to the bed and sat down heavily. It was obvious that Eric had heard the message and jumped to a (right) conclusion. The problem was, he needed to talk to Eric, and soon, but he had not a clue of where Eric was. He tried Eric's cell, but it was turned off. Jack decided to wait at the apartment for Eric to come back.
At the moment, Eric sat at a bluff outside of Breezewood. He had discovered this place a while ago, and went there when he wanted to be left alone. He was going through his journal, remembering different things. In the front was a letter he had written after the first time he had seen Jack and Rachel kiss. He had thought it the only way to ever let himself know how he felt about Jack. When Jack had given him his journal, Eric put the letter in the front, vowing never to let anyone know how he felt.
He skipped ahead a few pages, to the time where Jack and Eric had admitted how they felt to each other. Today is the best day of my life, he wrote. Jack and I aren't together *yet*, but at least I know I'm not alone anymore.
A page later, he read about their first kiss. It was kinda weird, like the first time I frenched a girl. It was clumsy and we kinda grinned at each other afterward. "Do you want to try that again?" he asked. Like I'd say no! This time, it was perfect, better than I dreamed.
He had also written about their first lovemaking time. When I told him he would be my first, he looked kinda nonplussed. "I kinda figured that," he said. When I told him my first time ever, he blinked and said, "Wow," like I had given him something special. Afterwards, we looked at each other. "It will get better, right?" I asked. "Yeah, it will."
He laughed at that. It had gotten better. He skipped some more, remembering when they had first told each other that they were in love, when they had moved to Breezewood, then ahead to the end of the book, noticing that he was almost out of pages. He didn't want the end of the book to catalogue his and Jack's breakup. He stood up and got in his car, resolved.
Jack was lying on the couch, unwilling to sit up. The phone had rang, and he was hoping that none of them was Eric. When he heard the key turn in the lock, he tried to swing around and sit up quickly, but the result made his head spin. He vaguely remembered that he hadn't eaten since around 2pm, and he had gotten sick in the meantime.
Eric stood over him, and Jack tried to look at him, but his head spun again. "Hi," he said weakly.
"What's wrong?" Eric helped him to sit up.
"I had forgotten that I hadn't eaten. But never mind that. I need to tell you everything."
"Let's get some food in you first. I brought in some takeout." The kindness Eric was showing was almost too much for Jack, and he could feel the tears rising again.
"Hey, it can't be that bad," Eric said, bringing in the food. His voice was light, but forced.
"Well, I'll tell you what happened today and let you judge. Rachel and I kissed. I'm not even going to lie and say she kissed me; we kissed each other."
Eric sighed and looked down. "Do you want to be with her now?"
"What? No! I liked the kiss, I'll admit that I enjoyed it, but I think it was more of a trying-to-bring-back-the-past kiss than a let's-run-away-and-get-married kiss. But now I have some serious thinking to do, because I realized something. For years, I've been avoiding labels to describe our relationship. Before you and I can move forward, and that includes marriage, I need to find out what I am."
"I'm not following you," Eric said slowly.
"Okay. Quick, describe who you are."
"Um, I'm Eric Matthews. Son of Alan and Amy, brother to Cory, Morgan and Josh, beau of Jack, manager, and all around good guy."
"If someone asked you if you were gay, what would you say?"
"Yes? Would you need to qualify that in any way?"
"No, because I realized something a long time ago. I never felt like I was doing something right when I dated a woman. But I feel right with you."
"Eric, the thing is, if someone asked me right this minute if I was gay, I don't know what I would say to them. And therein lies the problem."
"Well, what do you want to do about it?"
"I need to get to the point that I can say exactly what I am."
"So you need some time to think," Eric said flatly.
"Not about everything. I know one thing for certain- I love you. I'm in love with you. But I'm not being fair to you if I say that here and can't say it everywhere."
"I ... didn't realize you felt like that," Eric murmured. He bit his lip. "It's been a long night. I'm going to bed." He turned and went into their bedroom, then came back out, carrying his journal and a pair of pajamas.
"Where are you going?" Jack asked.
Eric turned to face him. Jack had seen Eric's face a lot of different ways, but he had never seen him so... defeated. "I'll be in the guest room. Good night, Jack." And he walked calmly into the guest room and gently shut the door.
Jack stared at the closed door for a long time. He and Eric hadn't slept apart in over two years.
"No, this day couldn't suck any harder," he said aloud.
The next day, the two spent most of the day avoiding each other. Jack did the shopping while Eric did the laundry. Whenever their paths crossed, Jack was still saddened by look of defeat in Eric's eyes. Eric was surprised by the amount of self-loathing in Jack's. After they got home from their self appointed tasks, Eric went into the guest room to check his e-mail while Jack was on the phone with his mother. They silently switched, and then spent the evening in separate rooms.
On Sunday, everything went the same. Eric spent a lot of time in the guest room, writing in his journal. I'm afraid of losing him, first and foremost. How badly would it hurt to hear him say, 'Sorry, Eric, but I'm straight. Better luck next time'? I wasn't completely honest with him. I told him I would say that I was gay, but I really don't look at anyone else. At all. Instead of being heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, I would say that I'm Jacksexual. He's spoiled me for the whole human race.
Meanwhile, Jack was starting to put some clues together. If Rachel kept in touch with Topanga and Rachel, then she would have to know that he and Eric were still together, that they had moved to Breezewood, and about the new position he had taken. That put all the things she had done in a different light. On Monday, he and she were going to have a talk.
Monday morning, Jack left the apartment early. He was determined to call Rachel out on some of the inconsistencies that he had noticed. When he got to the office, the only people there were a placement specialist and Rachel. When he spotted her, he said, "Rachel, can we talk? In my office?"
She smiled. "Sure."
He closed the door and made sure that no one was in the hallway before he sat down behind his desk. Rachel, as usual, was stretched out on his couch.
"I need to talk to you about what happened on Friday."
"Okay." Her eyes remained closed. "I'm listening."
"That was a mistake. I never intended it to happen."
She sat up. As he stared at her unreadable eyes, she said, "But it did happen. What do you want to do next?"
"Nothing! I mean, you're my friend now. I'm with Eric."
"Do you honestly think we're friends, Jack?" Rachel said bitterly. "When I left that summer, went back home, did you once call to see if I was okay? When I graduated from grad school, did I receive a phone call? Did you even try to keep in touch?" As Jack opened his mouth to speak, Rachel held up her hand. "I'm not finished! All I wanted you to do was acknowledge my presence! You know, when I saw you in the airport, I wondered if any of you ever thought of me. You seemed to be this cozy unit. And when you and Eric started going out, that closed ranks on me even more!"
"But we were all friends," Jack said, bewildered.
"But can't you see, Jack? I don't want to be your friend! I wanted you to talk about me in casual conversation as much as you do Eric. Whenever you think of him, I can tell, because there's this softness in your eyes. And I wanted it to be for me," she finished in a whisper.
He sat back in his chair. He gave a passing thought to wonder if it could take the abuse. "I didn't know, until Friday. I thought you just wanted to talk about old times."
"Or create new ones. You were the one who got away, Jack. If I had said, 'We'll be together long distance' instead of 'I need a break', who knows how things could have ended up?"
"We still could be sitting here, hashing this out," Jack pointed out. "Anyway, I have something to ask you. You knew Eric and I had moved to Breezewood, didn't you?"
"Yes. Angela and Topanga keep me updated on you two. And before you ask, yes, I knew that it was you who was going to take the resident psychiatrist position. But I didn't pressure my aunt to hire you or anything. I figured that you would get the position with or without my help."
Jack relaxed. He had been worrying about that. "Well, do you think we'll be able to work together after this?"
"I'd rather be your friend than nothing at all, so I don't think it'll be a problem. And maybe I'll actually let you get some work done."
They chuckled uncomfortably. Jack knew that they still had some tension between them, but it would pass. Suddenly his whole day was looking brighter.
When he came home to an empty apartment, Jack knew exactly what to say to Eric. He waited on the couch expectantly.
Eric came in an hour later. His face was ashen, and Jack was concerned that he would pass out in front of him.
"Come and sit down. I'll bring you some water." He fetched a glass and brought it to Eric. Eric sipped it as if he had never tasted water before. "What happened?"
"One of my stores is closing," Eric said dully. "I had to announce it today that fifty people are out of a job."
Suddenly Jack understood what exactly had been bothering Eric the last week. "And you knew last week?"
"Yes. My God, Jack, the look on those people's faces! Some of them had been with the company longer than I've been alive. And all they're getting is two weeks notice and a month's salary."
"I am so sorry," Jack said and meant it. With all of the problems he had been having, he didn't even realize that Eric had been holding something like that to himself. And I added to that, he said mentally. Eric had even bent over backwards to make sure that adjusting to this job was smooth.
"Eric, if you want, we can have that talk now."
"About who I am. Remember how when we first started going out, how Rachel made me see how I felt about you?"
"How could I forget?"
"This time, she made me realize how I feel about the person I am. I'm Jack Hunter or Newman, depending on who you ask. Son of Chet and Maureen, stepson of Barry, brother of Shawn, and beau of Eric. Am I gay or bisexual? I don't care what you call me, just as long as I can be with you." He looked up into Eric's eyes, which were warm and... forgiving.
"Keep talking like that to me, I might do things." Eric was smiling, and relaxed.
"So, talk to me about what's happening at work."
"It's that same store I subbed at. It was under producing, and with the problems the manager was having, it was decided that the store could close."
"And you didn't tell me any of this. I am really sorry."
"That's okay, you can do things to get back into my good graces."
"Would they be things off of the list?"
"That might work."
Later, Jack got out of bed. He smiled, looking at Eric, who immediately started feeling around for him. He tiptoed into the living room, jotting some things down on a piece of paper. He was about to turn off the light and go back to bed when Eric came out of the bedroom.
"I missed you," Eric said, walking over to him and kissing him.
"I... couldn't sleep," Jack lied.
"Oh. Well, I'll use an ancient recipe for sleep." Eric walked into the kitchen and Jack followed him, curious.
Eric pulled out a saucepan and poured some milk into it and began to heat it. "Now here comes the secret part. Go in the bedroom, and I will bring it to you."
Jack did as he was told, laughing at the thought of a secret concoction that made you sleep.
Eric came in with a steaming mug. "It's hot. Sip slowly."
Jack did, noting the different flavors. "This is good."
"It's peppermint milk. Mom used to make it for us when we couldn't sleep."
"This is really good!" The milk not only tasted of peppermint- Jack could taste almonds, vanilla and cinnamon.
"I do have a talent," Eric said modestly.
"Don't sell yourself short," Jack said, suddenly serious. "You have a lot of talent. Don't ever be ashamed of that."
"Okay," Eric said, equally serious.
"Now, enough talk!" Jack noticed that not only did he feel relaxed, he felt... energetic. "I'm... hungry."
Eric, always a fast learner, said, "Number one?"
Tuesday at work was better. Other than monopolizing Jack's time, Rachel only came to his office once, to tell him about a meeting change. With that problem resolved, Jack threw himself into his work and was finished by four. Instead of heading home, he made a couple of stops first. When he pulled in front of his apartment, Eric's car was already there.
He ran lightly into the apartment. Eric was waiting for him on the couch. "I have something to tell you!" they blurted out together. Then they laughed, and said still in unison, "You go first."
"Hell, let's flip for it," Jack said. "Tails."
Tails was it, so Jack grinned and said, "Here goes. This is for you." He handed Eric an envelope. When Eric went to open it, Jack said, "Not yet!" He took a deep breath, and then kneeled down in front of Eric. He pulled out a small box out of his pocket. "In the envelope are two plane tickets to Vermont. Eric, you are the only one for me. Will you marry me?"
For the longest time, there was silence. Jack was beginning to wonder if he had made the biggest mistake when Eric silently pulled out an identical envelope and box. Their eyes met, and they fell on the floor, shaking with laughter.
When they were finally able to speak, they slipped the rings on each other's fingers. They had both selected a white gold band. "Great minds," Eric said, shaking his head in disbelief.
"Most definitely. Well, we have two extra plane tickets. Who would we like to see us get married the most?"
"That's a tough decision."
Epilogue- Six months later
Everyone was dancing. For some reason, the band had gone from "All My Life" to the "Electric Slide". All of Angela's side of the family was doing it, while Shawn's side was watching, trying to pick up the steps. Jack was right in there with them, dipping and turning at the appropriate moments.
"Man! How does he do that?" Morgan asked Eric.
"If I knew, I would do it. Why don't you get out there and try?"
"I will. Care to join me?"
Eric shook his head and watched Jack. His movements were smooth, and he had a good sense of rhythm.
"Mind if I sit down?" Topanga, barefooted, but still in her maid-of-honor gown, dropped into a seat. She rubbed her swelling belly.
"Baby kicking?" Eric asked, still keeping an eye on Jack.
"Very much so. Did you ever think that it would turn out like this? When you wrote the letter?"
"Not in a million years," Eric answered honestly.
"I'm glad for you." Topanga smiled, and then winced as the baby fired another shot. "I'm going to find Cory," she said as the band kicked into a slow song. "Go dance with your husband."
Eric and Jack met on the floor and started dancing. "I'm glad we had Cory and Topanga at our wedding. It seemed fitting, having the person who helped bring us together there." Jack nestled his head on Eric's shoulder.
"Yeah. I just wish everyone could have been there." Eric looked down at his husband.
"Know what? I think we made out just fine."
"And we'll continue to."
They continued dancing far into the night.
(It's finally finished! Here come my notes! First of all, I want to thank Tune Youg for writing a short story that spoke to my heart, and made me think about Eric in a whole new light. Also, the show itself, because if I didn't like the characters so much, this would not exist. And many props to the people at the TWoP forums for making me realize that I am a 'normal' writer. The songs for this one are far and few between, but if you can name them, you can be in an upcoming story. Song inspiration for the story, Chicago's "You're the Inspiration." If you liked this story, or the others in the trilogy, please drop me a line. Or tell me what I did wrong. It's the only way I'll learn. :) Also, if you have any suggestions for a new story, let me know- I get inspired by the weirdest things. Sorry for the length of the story and these end notes- I get carried away! And if I didn't mention you at the top, sorry, I love you too! Bye!)