The Boy I Knew

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Spending Time Together

Aiden got into a routine with Kellen. Every day that he practiced, Kellen ended up sitting in the bleachers behind him, a book or a worksheet in his hands. More than once, Aiden had gotten distracted by the boy’s gaze, but he actually found that having Kellen watching pushed him to do even better. He wanted to impress Kellen, because yes, he was sure that he had a crush on the brunette by this point.

Aiden’s eyes strayed more and more to Kellen in English class, thankful to Mrs. Andrews that she’d sat in the back and Kellen near the front. His ears always got red when Kellen turned around and smirked or rolled his eyes fondly. He gave Kellen smiles when they passed in the hallway or in lunch. It was impossible not to feel the way his heart sped up whenever the other boy was near.

That didn’t mean that Aiden knew what to do about it though. He didn’t even know if Kellen was gay or anything. So, for now, he was content to relish in these quiet moments after school where Kellen sat up in the bleachers while Aiden swung his bat and focused on his pitching. Sometimes Aiden caught him dozing in the sun when it was a particularly nice day. Every time, his heart beat a little bit faster at that cute look on Kellen’s face.

It was one of those days when Kellen was dozing that Aiden had been able to get all the way up the bleachers without the other boy noticing. He didn’t know how considering the hollow metal noises that his shoes made with every step, but Kellen kept breathing calmly, his chin in his palm and his eyes closed.

Aiden gave him a fond look. He didn’t want to wake Kellen, but being hunched over like that would hurt his back. Plus, he kind of wanted to see the look on Kellen’s face when he woke.

With a slight shake of his shoulder, Kellen jolted awake, groaning and rubbing his eyes. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I was watching.”

“Yeah, the inside of your eyelids,” Aiden joked. In a more concerned tone, he asked, “You okay? You’re not usually this tired.”

Kellen stretched, his arms up over his head. For a second, Aiden couldn’t tear his eyes away from the way the brunette’s shirt rode up. Kellen didn’t seem to noticed as he huffed and stretched his neck, yawning. He hesitated for another moment before he finally said, “I… I’ve been arguing with my mom lately. So, I try to leave to come here early to avoid arguments, but that means getting up earlier.” He yawned again, shaking his head like that would wake him up.

Aiden frowned. He’d never had an argument with his mom that was serious enough for him to sneak out of the house early. He didn’t know if it was his place to ask, but he felt like he and Kellen were maybe friends now. Aiden tried his luck. “What’s going on that’s so bad? If you don’t mind me asking,” he tacked on at the end.

Kellen gave him a long look, for once not with his characteristic smile, but his eyes weren’t unkind. It looked like he was deciding whether or not he should say something as he bit his lip nervously. Nervous was an odd emotion to see on Kellen.

The brunette swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing for a second. “My dad passed a while back. My mom remarried when I was like seven. And that’s cool. I mean, I’ve never really had much of a relationship with my stepdad, but he’s nice enough, and he loves my mom so that’s cool…”

Aiden had to put his hand on Kellen’s knee to get him to slow down. Kellen seemed to realize that he was rambling as he exhaled, deflating. He sent Aiden a grateful look and went on, “But anyway, they had kids almost right away. So, I’m sixteen, summer birthday and all, and one of my sisters is eight. The other is six. A-and I love them, but… I feel… like the extra sometimes? Like the leftover piece of my mom’s first marriage.”

He exhaled again, as if it took a lot of energy to speak. “I think my mom has started to think of me like that too. Lately, she’s been really… weird with me. Looking over my shoulder for everything, trying to force me to do anything and everything with my stepdad. Like she wants to force a relationship that isn’t there. And I… got pissed. Said some things. Now we’re kind of in a long-term screaming match.”

Aiden frowned to himself. He couldn’t imagine a situation like that with his own mother, but he could imagine how much it weighed on Kellen. He didn’t know what to say. How could you comfort someone who told them about their father’s death and that they felt left out in their own family? The only words that came to mind were, “I’ve never seen you mad before.”

That at least got Kellen to smile calmly. “I don’t get mad a lot. But my mom wouldn’t stop. I know it wasn’t right to say that she replaced my dad and stuff, but I couldn’t help it.” He sighed again, lowering his eyes.

At a loss of what to say, Aiden grabbed his hand, giving it a comforting squeeze. He was pretty sure guys didn’t do this if they were straight, but it was all he could think of. Kellen gave him a surprised look before his expression relaxed. He laced their fingers together, returning the squeeze and running his thumb along the back of Aiden’s hand.

Aiden felt his stomach churn nervously, maybe not in a bad way this time. He squeezed Kellen’s hand again to get his attention. “Is your family the reason why you always stay after school too?” he ventured.

Kellen didn’t remove his hand, continuing that calming motion of his thumb. He chuckled this time. “It started out like that. Plus, I have dance practice, so I have to stay on a few days anyway. But mostly, I like watching you.”

He said it unabashedly, like it didn’t make Aiden’s ears go red and his stomach flip. Aiden decided that this time, he would be brave too. “For the record, I like it when you’re here. And… if you ever feel left out at home, you’re welcome to spend time with me.”

That was the first time he saw Kellen flush. The brunette’s eyes were wide as that red crept up his neck and eventually over the bridge of his nose. Kellen cleared his throat. He took a second to respond, but when he did, Aiden felt his heart warm. “T-thank you, Aiden. I, uh, home life has been lonely for me lately. But I really look forward to these afternoons when you’re here. Even if I still think you should take more breaks.”

Aiden pulled out his phone with his free hand, figuring that after what they’d already said, he was in the clear to ask: “Well maybe when I take a break for the day, we could… get a snack or do homework or something? If you want to put your number in my phone.”

“Smooth,” Kellen said with a bark of laughter. He released Aiden’s hand to grab his phone with both hands. The tension was effectively broken from the heavy conversation they’d been having as Kellen input his number quickly.

Aiden rolled his eyes when he saw some music notes next to his name. He retaliated with a baseball next to his in Kellen’s phone, pleased at the amusement dancing all over Kellen’s face when he took his phone back.

“You can also text me when you’re lonely too,” Aiden put in with a smile, softly, like saying it too loudly would put that sad expression back on Kellen’s face.

Kellen gave him a tender expression instead. “Same goes for you.”

Aiden knew that there was still a lot that was bothering Kellen. Hell, he still had so many things weighing on himself. But now they had a way to talk. He felt closer to Kellen now. He felt like maybe that crush that he had wasn’t as one-sided as he thought.


Aiden was so proud of Nikki. He was always proud of her, but seeing her dance up there with the rest of her group, and with a solo to boot, made him feel just as proud as if he was her dad. As it was, Ian and Letta were clapping and cheering even louder than most of the crowd, making fools of themselves for their daughter. It was cute. Nikki would probably hate it when she got old enough to be embarrassed by them.

He jumped when he heard someone whistle loudly nearby, turning towards the noise. Aiden blinked when he saw that it was B doing it, standing neat to Kellen and Olivia. The two of them were laughing and clapping loudly, cheering so B didn’t feel like she was all alone.

Kellen had a talent for making Aiden laugh. He shook his head fondly and caught Kellen’s eye. The other man was laughing heartily, even if he was too far away for Aiden to hear it. Considering the loud rap of Kellen’s usual laughter, that was a testament to the roar of the applause for the kids.

In the chaos of finding Nikki and getting back out to the parking lot, Aiden found himself walking next to Kellen. Well, he didn’t necessarily “find himself” there, so much as he tried to casually walk over and ended up getting swept up in the crowd.

Even when they weren’t talking, there was still a sense of familiarity between them, something born of knowing the other person so well and so intimately.

“I missed you, Aiden,” Kellen said when they got outside, the wind swirling around them.

Aiden looked to him in surprise. He hadn’t been expecting the sudden admission. “I missed you too,” he said honestly. “Actually, Olivia told me that you used to watch my games?”

“I still do,” Kellen said softly. It was almost hard to hear him under the wind. “I can’t say that I’m a baseball nut, but well, it’s you. Of course, I’ll watch.”

Aiden wondered if Kellen remembered that conversation they’d had when they were younger, when he used almost those exact same words. The memory made Aiden miss what they’d had even more.

“Don’t say you’re sorry,” Kellen said before he could get the words out. Aiden idly wondered if he’d learned how to read minds in the seven years that they were apart. Whether he could or not, he smiled at Aiden and went on, “Now, tell me all about your career. Come on, I want to know what you’ve been up to.”

They walked a few laps around the school. It was probably too cold to be doing something like this, but Aiden didn’t want his brothers around for this conversation, and as much as he loved Nikki, he didn’t want her running up to him in that moment.

He told Kellen everything: what college had been like, how he got into the minors, and how it felt to finally be in the majors. Kellen laughed at the funny college stories, some which featured a very hungover Aiden, and the one story when a bat slipped out of his hand and he broke someone’s car window. He’d had to work extra to pay for that.

Kellen’s laughter was loud as usual. He was laughing so hard that he had to lean over, a hand on his stomach. Aiden’s stomach did a flip as he started laughing too. He’d missed hearing that laughter, so loud and uninhibited, like Kellen didn’t care who might be listening.

“No!” Kellen said suddenly in between chuckles. “No, no, you’re not allowed to laugh,” he said, having trouble getting the words out. “If you laugh, you’ll make me laugh more and we’re not doing that again!”

Aiden had to work to calm himself down. “Well then, tell me something boring,” Aiden taunted, trying in vain to keep the smile off his face. He didn’t feel the cold on his face anymore despite knowing that his nose was red from the wind.

Kellen adjusted his black earmuffs. He breathed out, trying to catch his breath and fogging up the air in front of him. “Something boring? Hmm, well my whole life is kind of average.”

Aiden scoffed and rolled his eyes at the man’s usual sarcastic tone. “Is not. Out with it: how’d you end up as the owner of Kick Up Your Heels?”

Kellen had been able to follow pieces of his life over the years, and at least saw how he was doing baseball-wise, but Aiden had never been able to know more about Kellen than what he saw when he got drunk and allowed himself to look at the other man’s social media. He never did it when he was sober; it would have only made it harder for Kellen to stay out of his dreams.

Now he felt like he was finally filling in the missing pieces that he’d been wondering about ever since he ran into Kellen again. Kellen went to school for a few years before deciding it wasn’t for him. He’d dropped out, moved to the city, and devoted himself to working at an old music studio that had been run by Olivia’s grandfather. When the man had retired, he passed the place along to Kellen, who’d hired Olivia to run the computers and social media. B joined a little bit later when Kellen and B could afford to hire someone else.

As of now, they were a small operation, but surviving just fine. Kellen said he even got a day off here and there to see his younger sisters and parents every now and again. Most days, he was working.

“See, I told you: boring,” Kellen said surely as they padded through the snow. They were coming up to the front entrance again where some parents and kids were milling about, although most people were still inside enjoying the snacks and bake sale. Kellen opened his mouth to say something else, but stopped himself suddenly when someone’s laughter rang out across the parking lot. He looked oddly unsure for a second before his expression settled into a calm smile.

“Definitely not,” Aiden reassured him. “Now I know you even better. It’s… nice.” And that was lame, Aiden’s mind unhelpfully supplied.

Kellen turned to look at him again, completely ignoring the people across the way now. “It is nice,” he said seriously. “To know someone so well, I mean. To be comfortable like this around someone, around you. I missed this.”

“So did I,” Aiden mirrored. He saw Kellen rub his hands together for the fifth time in a few minutes. “You’re cold,” he accused. He could see that Kellen’s hands were red.

Kellen gave him a toothy smile without trying to deny it. “I remembered the earmuffs and the scarf, not to mention the boots and thermal, and I even remembered the gloves. But ah, B’s hands were cold and she didn’t want to say anything. So, I gave my gloves to her.”

While Aiden was the type who wouldn’t notice his own pain, Kellen was the type who would ignore his own pain for the sake of someone else. It was both endearing and concerning. Aiden huffed out a breath, preparing to take off his own gloves to give to Kellen.

Kellen’s cold hands on his arm stopped him. “Nope. You need your hands. As long as I have my toes, I’ll be okay.” The joke didn’t land well as Kellen breathed out onto his hands again in an effort to warm them up.

“Well then, we should go inside,” Aiden said, unable to keep the sadness from his voice.

Kellen breathed out into his hands again. “Do you still have my number?”

Aiden blinked. He cleared his throat in embarrassment. “Would it be weird if I said yes?”

Kellen pulled out his phone with a shiver, having trouble clicking the buttons with his frozen hands. He didn’t say anything, but held out his phone contact list. Now with updated formats for the lettering and emojis was Aiden’s name, just like it had been in high school.

Aiden couldn’t describe how weirdly happy that made him to have another piece of evidence that Kellen didn’t forget about him. He pulled out his own phone, pulling off his glove to get to the contact list where Kellen’s name, music notes and all, still sat.

Kellen smiled happily. “Then you’re always welcome to talk to me. I know we… broke up, but you still…” For once, he didn’t seem to be able to finish his sentence, wincing at his wording.

“I’ll always answer you too. Unless my phone gets cracked by a baseball again,” Aiden said sincerely, trying to lighten up the atmosphere. He started walking again, trying to get Kellen back into the warm school before his fingers froze up.

“Did that actually happen?” Kellen asked with interest.

Sadly, it did. Aiden was still embarrassed by that one, but hearing Kellen’s laughter made it worth it. He didn’t miss the way Kellen breathed out in relief when they were back in the warmth either.

Olivia and B were the ones who found them first. “Kellen!” Olivia said happily, cookies in her hands. “Okay, I’ve got us covered.”

“Oh, awesome,” Kellen said, splitting the cookies with her with a smile. He’d taken a bite and covered his mouth when he asked Aiden, “Want one?”

Aiden looked at him fondly. “After you split them so evenly? I think I’d feel bad if I took one of yours.”

Kellen rolled his eyes, sharing anyway. Aiden tried not to think about those times when they used to eat the snacks Aiden kept in his room after they made out or had sex. That was the last time they’d shared food like this. But it wasn’t only about the physical closeness they’d had. It was about the unspoken intimacy that still rested between them as if no time had passed at all.

B came up holding a tray of holiday cupcakes. “We’re fucking golden now,” she said with a victorious smile. “Now I only have to pass these off as mine and we’re good.”

“Your mom still bugging you about being a bad cook?” Olivia asked, shoving another cookie in her mouth.

B rolled her eyes, whether at her mother or at Olivia, Aiden didn’t know. “I’m a literal ballerina and it’s the fact that I’m a girl and can’t cook that gets her.” She made a noise in the back of her throat. “It’s because my stupid sisters can cook and don’t have tattoos. Go figure.”

“And probably because you quit being a ballerina and then almost burned her kitchen down,” Kellen commented unhelpfully, biting into another cookie. “That’s like all her stereotypical girl dreams for you down the tubes.”

Olivia nodded. “Oh, wouldn’t it have been great if you did hip-hop instead of Kellen? I bet your mom would blow a fuse.” She said it too casually, making her and Kellen break out in laughter.

Aiden was struck by Olivia’s and Kellen’s easy friendship with each other, and with B too. The three of them were close in the same way Aiden was with some of his teammates, which made him feel somewhat like an intruder in their close circle. There was no way he could feel left out with these three though. Olivia’s cheerful personality, Kellen’s joking attitude, and B’s quiet warmth just drew him in.

B adjusted the cupcakes in her hands. “Now I just have to put these on a nice cheesy holiday plate and hand them off to my mother. Hey, Olivia.” She didn’t give the command, but Olivia still held out a cookie for her. Kellen did the same with Aiden without being asked.

“Hey, Aiden, did you bake any of these?” Olivia asked with a smile. Her blue highlighted black hair was down in a low clip that night instead of in her usual ponytail.

Aiden figured she asked since every cake, cookie, pie, and other desert there that night was made by a parent, family member, or other associate of the school. He gave them a dramatic sigh. “I could have made the best desert ever, but anything I make isn’t sellable.”

Kellen snorted, having to cover his mouth since he was still eating. Both girls raised their eyebrows, making Aiden explain, “I can cook, but it comes out ugly. Cakes broken into pieces, funky-looking chicken that’s still cooked and delicious, but weird, and sometimes green eggs that, yes, are still safe to eat.”

“They were grey that time,” Kellen commented in between laughs.

“You still ate it,” Aiden responded with a smile. “What did you say? ‘I’ll eat it and just see what happens’?”

“Sounds like him,” B said dryly. Olivia only gave Kellen a long look, something more serious. They did that thing where they had a silent conversation, which ended with Kellen looking down and away as if he was ashamed or embarrassed.

Olivia looked to Aiden and gave him a smile, but the suddenly serious air hadn’t disappeared. “I need to talk to Kellen actually. Will you be okay getting home, Aiden?”

“I’ll be fine. Is everything okay?” he asked, trying to catch Kellen’s eyes.

Kellen said, “Just fine!” at the same time that Olivia put her hands up and said, “Just something for work!” B shook her head, heaving out a long-suffering sigh.

Kellen huffed in response, his shoulders slumping. “Yeah, that wasn’t weird,” he mumbled. “Sorry, Aiden, but it’s really nothing. You know where to find me though.” He shook his phone, a reminder that he could text.

Aiden wasn’t sure what was going on, but when Olivia and B started making their way out, Kellen stuck around for a moment. “Enjoy yourself with your niece tonight, Aiden. And tell her I’m super proud too.” He lingered, like that wasn’t all he wanted to say. Finally, Kellen took a breath. “It was nice talking tonight.” His smile was warm and soft.

Aiden returned the smile, hoping the sincerity came across. “It was. Go catch up with them before Olivia comes back for you.” Aiden felt like he was always watching Kellen go, but at least this time, his heart didn’t feel so heavy when he saw the taller man slip through the crowd effortlessly.

In the next moment, he was jumped on by his niece, also holding cookies, and the rest of his siblings. He dodged the questions on where he’d been effortlessly.

Aiden was feeling a little selfish. He wanted to keep the night between him and Kellen to himself.

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