To Be Loved
Aiden let out a breath as he took his stance and readied himself. The familiar weight of the aluminum bat gave him some comfort as he swung a few times to practice and stepped up to the plate. The crowd was quiet. He could hear the whistling of the wind through his helmet. The pitcher of the other team was staring him down. He threw the ball.
It was satisfying to feel the weight of the ball when it hit the bat, and to listen to the metal ting as it connected. Aiden swung all the way through, dropping the bat in a rush and running to first base. He got to second, sliding in before their outfielder could get him out.
Aiden smiled when he heard the cheering in the stands. It always gave him a little boost when they played at home, but there was another reason why he felt extra hyped that day.
His eyes strayed to the spot in the stands where he knew Kellen was sitting. Kellen met his eyes for a moment, smiling before Aiden turned back to focus on the game. Aiden wanted to show off a little bit. Sure, Kellen watched him practice almost every day, and had been for a while, but he’d never watched Aiden in a game. And now he was up there, reading and doing work when the others were batting, but always putting his work down whenever Aiden stepped up to the plate.
It was thrilling to know that his boyfriend’s eyes were on him.
Aiden had to refocus before he flushed at the thought. He’d been daydreaming a lot before he and Kellen got together, but three weeks in and he felt like he could no longer function without meeting Kellen before school and after practice to talk and make out in the park.
It was silly, Aiden knew that, but he couldn’t help it. Kellen lit a fire in him that hadn’t been there before. It made him want to do more than just kiss Kellen in the woods, no matter how romantic that was when the sun started to set.
The sky was the same mix of oranges and reds now as Aiden heard the next clink of the bat and started running. He barely got to third, smearing dirt all over the front of his uniform. When he made it home on the next run, the crowd cheered, and Aiden was reminded of the fact that it wasn’t only Kellen who was here to see him.
His parents were there too, sitting together and cheering like usual. They always came to his home games. Aiden’s brothers used to, but since they were at college, they weren’t able to return home only for this. For once, Aiden was a little grateful. It felt strange to have his parents sitting there, cheering, in the same place as his boyfriend. The boyfriend that they didn’t know about. Since they still had no idea that Aiden was gay.
That was why Kellen gave him a proud smile when they won the game, but made himself scarce quickly. Aiden yearned to pull him close and kiss him all throughout the cheers from his teammates, the excited chatter of his parents, and the ride home. He groaned in frustration as he laid on his bed that night, staring up the ceiling with his phone in his hand.
Kellen had been texting him for a while now, but he’d gone silent about twenty minutes ago. Aiden figured he was feeling a little needy or lonely or something as he tried to will Kellen to message him back. Needless to say, it didn’t work.
Or maybe it did. Right when Aiden got up to grab his computer, his phone vibrated. Kellen had some pretty excellent timing, although his message didn’t make too much sense: Hey, would you mind leaning out of your window for a second? And don’t fall out. I’m serious.
Aiden frowned, confused. Still, he did as Kellen asked and opened his window, leaning out slightly. It was a nice night, he mused to himself, feeling the breeze on his face. The stars were bright in the sky, twinkling idly next to each other. He stepped back inside, leaving the window open, and messaged back, What, are you watching me with binoculars or something? But I did it.
He’d sent the message and a few minutes later, Aiden heard a thump from behind him. His eyes widened when he turned to see Kellen leaning in through his windowsill, a wide smile on his face. “I didn’t have binoculars,” he said sheepishly in his defense as he hoisted himself up over the windowsill and stepped into Aiden’s room.
Aiden wasn’t entirely sure that he hadn’t fallen asleep as he smiled and pulled Kellen close to kiss him passionately. Kellen chuckled into his lips and returned the kiss just as eagerly, wrapping his arms around Aiden’s neck and pressing their bodies together in all the right places.
“You’re here,” Aiden said happily when they pulled apart to catch their breaths.
Kellen laughed to himself, obviously working hard to keep his laughter to a minimum before he got too loud. “I wanted to congratulate you on your win. Although, to be fair, I would have been here consoling you for your loss if it went the other way.”
“So, either way, I win,” Aiden chirped. He kissed up Kellen’s neck, right at his pulse point. As it turned out, Kellen was sensitive in that spot. He always made the best expressions as he turned red every time.
Kellen breathed out with a barely contained whine. “Your parents are here?”
Aiden pulled back with an apologetic look. “Yeah. Sorry about that.”
Kellen took a second to catch his breath before he smiled and scooted out of Aiden’s hold to sit on his bed, taking off his shoes and setting them to the side. “I don’t know, I’m kind of liking this bed. Perfect place to celebrate.”
Aiden couldn’t help his low moan when Kellen kissed him deeply and pulled him so that they were lying down, Aiden on top. He had to be aware of where he was putting his weight, not wanting to fall straight on Kellen, but Kellen clearly didn’t mind. He only wrapped his hands around Aiden’s neck, running his hands through his black hair and over his spine. It was impossible not to shudder with those long fingers dancing along his back.
“You know,” Kellen said as he caught his breath a few minutes, or maybe twenty minutes, later, “I did actually bring something for you. Besides myself, of course,” he finished with a sexy smirk.
He patted Aiden on the shoulder to get him to sit up. A second later, Kellen was opening his forgotten backpack to reveal a box of cookies. “Specially made at Walmart,” he joked, putting a hand over his mouth to stop himself from laughing too loudly at his own bad joke.
Aiden had to hold himself back from laughing too at how much of a dork his boyfriend was, instead biting into one of the chocolate chip cookies. “You’re going to spoil me,” he mumbled with a smile.
“Good,” Kellen said simply. “You deserve it.”
Aiden looked at him in surprise. He couldn’t explain the feeling in his chest in that moment, the feeling of being cared for. Kellen didn’t even think he’d said anything special as he took another bite of his cookie and smiled up at Aiden with a vague look of concern at his sudden silence.
Aiden waited for Kellen to swallow before he leaned forward to kiss him. Kellen squeaked in surprise, but he didn’t push Aiden away. He relaxed into it, putting his hand on Aiden’s face and running the other over Aiden’s chest.
It was a heady feeling to be with Kellen. Aiden leaned back to give them both a minute to catch their breath. He watched Kellen’s Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed. “And what did I do to deserve that?” he asked in a low voice that made Aiden’s toes curl.
“Nothing. It’s just for being you,” Aiden said quietly.
Kellen ended up on top of him that time, surprising Aiden as he ran his hands through Aiden’s hair again. Aiden moaned for only a second before Kellen covered his mouth with his own, cutting off the noise.
“We have to be quiet, remember?” Kellen said with a sly smirk.
Aiden had no idea how Kellen expected him to be quiet, but he smiled in response. He would gladly accept that challenge.
Aiden breathed out. He could see his breath form in front of him. He shivered in his scarf when the wind hit the back of his neck. It was cold that evening, but then again, it was cold every evening. At least it wasn’t snowing, and there wasn’t any ice on the sidewalks as he walked up to the community theater where Kellen, B, and Olivia were hosting the performance by their students.
He felt like he was surrounded by a sea of sound as tons of people walked up with him to get their seats. Aiden wasn’t all that surprised. Kellen and B were excellent at what they did, and with Olivia’s social media skills, it made sense that they would attract a large crowd. Plus, all the kids had parents and family that were here for the holidays.
Aiden smiled at the people chattering amongst one another. All these people were here to see what Kellen had accomplished and how well he and B had taught their students. Pride flooded through him, sending a shock of warmth from his nose to his toes as he stepped inside to look for everyone. That might have been the heating in the building, but oh well.
“Aiden!” His mother shot out of the crowd like a bullet, having no trouble navigating amongst the masses of people. Aiden stifled a chuckle at the image of his father trying to keep up with her. Some things never changed.
The blonde woman raced forward to wrap Aiden in a tight hug. He laughed aloud at her enthusiasm. “You saw me like two weeks ago, mom,” he chuckled, but returned the hug nonetheless.
His mother laughed wholeheartedly, happily, like there was sunshine underneath her skin. “I can’t be excited to see my son? I’m nothing compared to your father every time he sees Nikki.”
“I’m not that bad,” Aiden’s dad said as he caught up to them.
Aiden and his mom shared a look. He was definitely that bad. He was the doting grandpa, which entertained the rest of them to no end.
Aiden’s mom shook her head. “Well, if you say so,” she said in a way that made it clear that she was completely unconvinced. “But, how are you doing, sweetie?” she addressed to Aiden.
“I’m okay, mom,” he said with a smile.
“It’s really only been a few weeks, Tessa,” Aiden’s dad put in.
His mother huffed. “You too? All you boys, I swear. If I had a daughter, this would be a completely different conversation,” she joked, an old joke in their household.
Aiden heard his dad say something, but he didn’t really pay attention to the words as he caught a flash of Olivia walking by in a Christmas dress with cats on it in Santa hats. She was honestly hard to miss in that dress, but with the now-red highlights in her hair and the light up Christmas light necklace, he would have had to been blind not to see her.
She somehow noticed him too as she changed her path to walk over. “Hey, so remember to stick around after to see Kellen and B dance. It’s going to be great!” Olivia chirped excitedly, finally noticing Aiden’s parents. “Olivia,” she introduced, “I work with Nikki’s dance teachers. Well, one’s my boss, but we’re best friends, and oh, I should get back to them—bye!” She made to rush off, but before she could get far, Aiden grabbed her elbow.
Olivia blinked and stopped, tilting her head questioningly. Aiden tugged her to the side gently, feeling bad for interrupting her, but he had to ask. “Kellen’s really okay to dance and all this, right?”
He knew Kellen was doing better. He’d seen it with his own eyes when they got breakfast together, and the two of them had been texting since Wednesday. It had been days since then. Aiden knew that. But…
Olivia seemed to understand. “He’s fine, Aiden,” she said gently. “I know it seems a little weird, but he recovers fast from the migraines. If he wasn’t able to do it, you saw him: he wouldn’t be able to physically be here.” She patted his hand to reassure him. “B and I always have his back. It’s nice to see that you have his back too.” Olivia didn’t give him any time to say anything else as she squeezed his hand and rushed off through the crowd again, saying hi to like ten people at once as she kept moving to the doors where everyone was entering the theater.
Aiden felt relief when he walked back to his parents. Kellen had reassured him over and over again with his playful exasperation clear even in his messages, but Aiden still worried. He couldn’t get his mind off of how close he had come to losing Kellen years ago without telling the other man how much he cared for him. Without admitting to him that—
Aiden’s thoughts were interrupted by his very confused father, who blinked and said, “Is she… normally like that?”
“No,” Aiden mused, moving his thoughts from Kellen to Olivia. It was a lot harder than it should be, but it wasn’t hard to keep the fond smile on his face. “But she’s the one that sets up everything, so she’s probably running on coffee and pure energy.” He could see why Olivia and Kellen were friends. They were the perfect pair for B too, bringing her out of her shell. Aiden felt a spark of gratefulness for the two girls. He was glad that Kellen had met them.
“She seems to like you, anyway,” his father said, a curious smile on his face. Aiden knew what that meant; it was like this whenever there was a girl his age around.
That conversation went nowhere as his mother interrupted purposely. “Let’s see all her hard work then.” His mother said it happily, smiling as she clapped her hands together and led Aiden and his dad inside. But Aiden frowned curiously. His mother never let his dad continue the conversation when he tried to get Aiden to talk about girls. It had been like that since high school, but Aiden wasn’t sure if anyone had noticed besides himself.
He wanted to ask her about it, to figure out if she never continued the conversation because she didn’t want to pressure him, she had no faith in him, or maybe, just maybe, she knew that he wouldn’t have had anything to say because he had no interest in girls. Aiden swallowed heavily at the thought, unsure if his mother already having a clue about his sexuality was a good thing or a bad thing.
He decided not to think about it for now. Now was for Nikki and his family. Now was for watching all that Kellen had accomplished and being proud of what he’d done in the years they were apart. Aiden hoped the sense of pride yet sadness didn’t show in his expression as he said hello to his brothers and their partners. There was excitement running through all of them as they took their seats. Aiden sat up straighter when Kellen and B took the stage.
His first thought was that, yes, Kellen really was okay. He had the color back in his skin and clearly looked much more well-rested. That relief was quickly replaced with amusement when he saw what the both of them were wearing.
Kellen and B must have taken their outfit cues from Olivia. Kellen was in an amazingly tight pair of green pants with Christmas lights as a belt. His black shirt had a picture of a reindeer in space. B wore what could only be described as an elf outfit, complete with a light up Christmas hat and green cape. She looked pretty badass with her tattoos standing out proudly on her pale skin.
“Hello, everyone,” Kellen greeted into the microphone Olivia threw out at him. “Nice to see such a good turnout. I’m Kellen Konrad, the hip-hop and classical teacher at Kick Up Your Heels.” He held the microphone for B. “I’m B Battle. Yes, that’s my name,” she said with a playful glare. “I do ballet.”
“And we’re going to be showing you what your kids have been up to with our show for the night. We’ll have a special surprise afterward too, so stick around outside, alright?” Kellen chimed in. “But everyone’s been working really hard, so give your kiddos a big around of applause!”
He and B walked off the stage to the claps from the audience. Aiden was smiling, both at the outfits and in anticipation. Truth be told, he was a little nervous. He knew that Aiden and B taught kids of all ages, as long as they were old enough to dance, but he didn’t know how good any of those kids were. He wanted this to go well for Kellen and B, and Olivia too.
He wasn’t disappointed. Aiden watched with rapt attention as the hip-hop and ballet classes mixed together with one another, doing numbers simultaneously on the stage and in separate groups. It was impressive even when the steps were more basic to accommodate for a wide range of skill levels. Nikki stole the show with a small solo that she had with a few other kids in the hip-hop class, bouncing around with her infinite amounts of energy, and a few older couples did short dances together that could only be described as sweet and skillful.
Aiden smiled through the whole thing, but when Kellen and B wrapped up the show without having danced themselves, he looked up at them in confusion. He didn’t want to say he was pouting when the lights went up, but he totally was. He had been itching to see Kellen dance again. There was something about the way the man moved that was irresistible.
“Mom! Dad!” Nikki yelped when she ran down from the stage to greet them ten minutes later.
Ian and Letta greeted Nikki with showers of congratulations, with the rest of the family not far behind. It was honestly funny to see Ian acting like such a dorky dad with her. The sight made Aiden feel old, remembering when Ian used to gripe and moan at their mom for showing up to any school-related events. Lucky for Ian, and for their dad, Nikki wasn’t at that age yet. She accepted the roses her grandpa got her with a huge smile. Even after all that dancing, she looked just as happy and full of energy, bouncing around on the tips of her toes.
“Come on, we have to go outside!” she urged, pulling her parents by their hands while trying to balance those flowers.
“What’s outside, baby?” Letta asked through her laughter.
“Mr. K and B and Olivia got a bunch of people to come down! They’re serving cookies and hot chocolate!” Nikki practically dragged them out there to get her hands on some cookies shaped like Christmas trees.
Aiden was once again impressed. There were different businesses set up at small booths giving out sweets and hot chocolate, along with fliers and business cards. Someone set out a few more lights to add to the atmosphere. Kids and their parents were talking happily while drinking a hot beverage, some parents tipping the vendors on their way past.
“This is impressive,” Lyla said idly from next to him.
Letta nodded and shook her head in amazement. “Must have taken a lot to get this set up in just an hour. Not to mention convincing all these people to come down.”
“And that’s why we have to get cookies, Mom!” Nikki insisted, jumping in place as she pled with her mother.
“And what do we say to get cookies?” Ian prompted his daughter.
“Please?” Nikki pouted. It was amusing to see the relieved look on the girl’s face when her parents finally gave her the go ahead.
Aiden chuckled. This must have been the surprise that Olivia had in mind when she told him to stick around. It wasn’t Kellen dancing, but it still brought the Christmas spirit alive. Honestly, it felt like he was in a cheesy movie.
Then he saw a man and a woman standing in the clearing in between the crowd, both in thermals to keep warm. Aiden wouldn’t have noticed them at all if it wasn’t for the rest of their clothing. The guy had on baggy red pants and some suspenders over a white thermal top. It looked like he was wearing a red overcoat that he kept unbuttoned. The woman’s outfit was almost the same, but the coat was fitted to her frame and she had a skirt and thermals instead of pants. Both wore Santa hats and dark masks that shielded the top halves of their faces from view.
Aiden watched as they stood facing one another, their hands clasped together as they started out in a slow dance. At first, no one seemed to notice them there. They danced calmly, smiles on their faces as the guy nodded at the girl and she said something back.
Then the music picked up, and Aiden knew exactly what Kellen had been planning. It took him only about a second to realize that those two were Kellen and B, dancing in front of an entire crowd for the hell of it to a rock version of some old Christmas song.
A circle formed around them as Kellen grabbed B by her hand and spun her around with ease, literally lifting her off the ground, before pulling her back and moving into a quick step sequence together. Aiden watched every movement with wonder. If he doubted that the man in front of him was Kellen before, he had no doubts when he saw the way he laughed as he moved, the music thrumming through his body like blood.
Kellen and B both did a ballet twirl on their toes before stomping down into a sharp step. Aiden was pretty sure more than a few people’s jaws dropped when Kellen jumped forward and did a handstand over the metal railing nearby, twisting his body effectively even with the overcoat. B followed him with a flip of her own, both landing with a flourish. Kellen grabbed B’s hands and they moved into a swing dance, twisting with ease around all different types of poses.
Aiden watched every move with rapt attention, laughing when the two of them grabbed a couple of willing participants from the crowd to sway with before clapping and letting them return. In the next moment, B met his eyes and zeroed in on him. It wasn’t like he was standing all that far from the front, but Aiden was still surprised at her eagle eyes.
She came up with a freer smile than usual, grabbing his hands to pull him into the clearing. Aiden felt a spike of nervousness at the thought of dancing in front of all these people, but he trusted B. She knew what she was doing, in more ways than one.
Instead of showing him a quick step like she’d done with the others, B let go, leaving Kellen to take her place. She instead ran into the crowd to grab a woman, who was laughing the whole time.
Aiden looked into Kellen’s eyes, still visible from behind his black mask. Those brown eyes were wide and bright, reflecting the shine of the lights scattered around. Kellen was smiling widely as he grabbed onto Aiden’s hands, swaying them back and forth with a loud bark of his laughter that could probably be heard over the music.
Any embarrassment Aiden felt was gone when Kellen led him around easily. It was always like this: Kellen made everything easy. He made it hard to worry about things. They could have been dancing alone, just the two of them.
Aiden twirled Kellen and dipped him, earning himself some cheerful claps and laughs as Kellen straightened and pulled back. He laughed in time with the others, letting Aiden return back to the crowd. He couldn’t take his eyes off Kellen as he and B resumed their dance.
His heart was beating quickly, not from the dance, but from being close to Kellen like that. To have Kellen holding him gently as they swayed like they were the only two people in the world. Aiden put a hand to his chest, almost in disbelief.
He was overcome by a powerful sense of longing: he wanted to be in Kellen’s arms again. He wanted to sit on the couch doing nothing with him, or give him a kiss hello in the morning. He wanted to take care of Kellen when he needed it. Maybe it was selfish to want so much, to want what he had given up, but Aiden couldn’t stop the way his heart clenched.
He watched Kellen twirl B and do a jig with her before she jumped to him and he lifted her effortlessly. Aiden’s eyes kept catching onto the details: how the wind ruffled Kellen’s clothing, how strong he was despite his thin frame, how his smile seemed to light up brighter the longer he moved.
Kellen and B both jumped towards the audience to grab just one person this time: Olivia. Aiden only recognized her by the red streaks in her hair, since she’d done a clothing change too. Now in a black elf costume with a long black cape, she did some basic dance steps with her friends for a few minutes before the music cut and they each struck a pose.
The applause was deafening. Aiden joined in with a breathless smile, watching as B and Kellen tried to catch their breaths. The three of them took a moment to bow before Kellen and B grabbed Olivia’s hands and the three of them cut through the crowd effortlessly. They ran so quickly that Aiden only caught a glimpse of Olivia’s cape before the three of them were around the corner.
The crowd was laughing and talking together, the mood even lighter from the performance. Aiden stood staring at the place where Kellen and the girls had run off to, a fond smile on his face as the crowd began to break up to grab more refreshments.
Aiden was only shaken out of his revere when Isaac put his arm around his shoulders. “Wow, I’m surprised you didn’t drop the guy when you dipped him.”
His ears went red. Honestly, Aiden had forgotten that his brothers and parents had been watching. At least it was cold enough that no one should notice his sudden flush. “I’m pretty coordinated,” was all he said with a roll of his eyes. He shoved his brother off.
“You looked really happy up there,” his mother commented from next to him, low enough that no one else heard her.
Aiden looked down to her. He couldn’t figure out the tone in her voice, but he thought it sounded something like understanding or sympathy.
She didn’t pressure him to say anything, but instead handed him a steaming cup of hot chocolate and a cookie with a sweet smile. Aiden returned it, hoping his own uncertainty didn’t show.
He was uncertain about his family somehow knowing his sexuality, but if there was one thing he no longer doubted, it was his own feelings. His mom was right when she said he was really happy dancing with Kellen. He was really happy whenever he was around Kellen. It didn’t matter how much time had passed; his feelings hadn’t gone anywhere.
Aiden still loved Kellen. Even after all these years, after breaking up with him and becoming a professional baseball player, Aiden still loved the man he’d fallen for when they were both young high school kids.
Maybe it was too fast. Aiden had only met Kellen again a few weeks ago. They’d only hung out a few times one-on-one, with one of those times when Kellen was curled up in pain from a migraine.
But Aiden knew himself well enough. He knew that no matter how hard he’d tried to forget Kellen and let the other man move on without him, he still wanted everything that they’d had before and more.
It was a sobering realization as Aiden stood outside amidst the crowd. The wind knocked into him, ruffling his black hair. He put his hand on his chest again. Aiden swallowed, the hot chocolate feeling dry in his mouth as he took a sip.
He loved Kellen, but he had no idea if Kellen would even consider taking him back after what he’d done. The worst part was that even if Kellen did love him back, Aiden didn’t know if he deserved it.