The Boy I Knew

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My Decision

“Where are you going, sweetie?”

At the sound of his mother’s voice, Aiden stopped in his tracks on his way out the door. He probably could have snuck out the window, but since it was the middle of the day during the summer, he figured that it would be less suspicious to go out the door.

As Aiden turned around feeling distinctly like a deer caught in the headlights, he remembered how his mother always used to know what he and his brothers were doing when they were younger. She’d tell them to stop fighting or making faces without even being in the room. Even with his brothers out of the house, her skill apparently hadn’t faded.

“Just… out,” he said lamely. He didn’t even need to look up to see the “not buying it” look on his mom’s face. Aiden huffed. “I’m meeting up with a friend. Since I have baseball a lot still, I wanted to hang out with him today.”

Even during the summer, he was in training. They had finished their last games for school, and Aiden was beginning to look at colleges where he could get a sports scholarship. He couldn’t afford to let up. But that didn’t mean that he couldn’t go see his very amazing boyfriend for a date too.

Aiden had to resist the urge to smile like a sap when he thought about Kellen. In the three months that they’d been dating, they’d been spending whatever time they could together. Sometimes it was just doing homework quietly, watching a movie, or even messaging one another. Other times, Aiden had to work hard not to make any noise when Kellen straddled his lap to make out with him. Especially since making out usually involved clothes coming off.

No, they hadn’t gone all the way yet, not that Aiden hadn’t imagined it or that they hadn’t talked about it. Aiden was pretty sure his face had never been as red as when that conversation happened. Kellen rewarded him with kisses for getting through it though, so Aiden considered it a victory.

“Have I met this friend?”

Aiden had almost forgotten that he was talking with his mother. It was probably a good thing that she’d interrupted his thoughts there anyway. “No,” he said awkwardly, “Uh, but he’s on the dance team at school. Real nice guy. Sometimes he comes to my games.”

There wasn’t really anything else he could say about Kellen without it turning into: “Yeah, and we kind of talk a lot, he looks really great without a shirt on, and oh by the way, we’re dating.” Aiden was glad he’d managed to hold himself back.

His mother looked up at him with a curious expression. She’d been working at her desk on something for her interior designs. Aiden never knew all the details, but the final products always looked good to him. “Well, just be careful,” she said easily. “Let me know if you’re going to be out too late, alright? Oh, and dad will be back later after he’s done with his client.”

Aiden nodded in acknowledgement. The home improvement business didn’t stop even in the heat of summer. “I’ll let you know,” he said with barely contained excitement.

Before his mother could stop him, Aiden raced out the door. He trotted along until he reached the park he and Kellen usually met up at, wondering where Kellen was. Usually the other boy beat him there every time, but this time, Aiden didn’t see him.

He frowned, wondering if he’d somehow gotten the time wrong. Right when Aiden pulled out his phone to check, a hand grabbed his wrist lightly and he found himself with his back pressed against a tree. Aiden might have been frightened if any of that had been more forceful. As it was, he smirked. “Trying to scare me?”

Kellen stared back at him with a coy smile on his face. “What, I can’t try and surprise you?”

Aiden pulled Kellen close by his hips, pressing them together. Kellen leaned his weight atop Aiden, his gaze not straying. “You always surprise me,” Aiden said simply. He leaned forward to kiss Kellen gently on the lips, closing his eyes as he felt Kellen’s body relax beneath his fingertips. The kiss was sweet and slow, but that only seemed to add to the intensity.

Aiden smiled when they pulled back. “For the record, this is way better than when my brothers used to reach out and grab me.”

Kellen laughed aloud. “I’d hope so.” His fingers snaked up Aiden’s side, underneath his shirt for a moment before Kellen took a step back. “Sorry. I’m pretty sure it would be bad if I forgot we were in public here.”

Aiden understood. It was difficult to remember that he and Kellen weren’t alone. More than once they’d had to break apart suddenly when some kids started playing around in the park or when people walked too close.

Throughout the whole summer, that was their biggest problem. If they were outdoors, they didn’t want to be on top of one another. If they were in Aiden’s room, they had to be quiet since Aiden’s mom had ears like a hawk. It was nearly impossible to do anything at Kellen’s house either with his younger sisters there all the time.

Aiden found himself wondering how much a hotel room would be, just so that they could be alone without prying eyes for a while. Granted, he knew this was his fault. If he’d been able to come out, then he and Kellen could at the very least hold hands in public.

Kellen suddenly kissed the side of his mouth, pulling Aiden’s attention back to him. “Come on, don’t make that face. Whatever you’re thinking, I know you well enough to say that you’re probably overthinking it.”

“I was just, uh… I mean, I wish we could have a place to ourselves,” Aiden decided to say.

Kellen clearly knew what he didn’t say too as he put his hands on Aiden’s chest calmly. “If you were out and we were public, that wouldn’t change the fact that we both have families who are nosy and parents who would definitely have a ‘doors open’ rule or something.” Kellen leaned forward with a sultry look on his face, his hand climbing up Aiden’s neck. “So, I’d have to sneak into your room anyway. No feeling guilty, not for this.”

He kissed Aiden sweetly on the lips for only a second, chuckling at Aiden’s face. Kellen was killing him in the best way possible.

Aiden was glad at least that the feeling was mutual. When he surprised Kellen with a birthday cake that he’d made himself, which was surprisingly good despite the fact that it looked like a pile of cake and frosting on a plate with rainbow sprinkles on top, Kellen had practically pounced on him when they were done.

It was even more difficult when school started again in the fall. Aiden had a hard time focusing whenever he heard Kellen’s usual barking laugher, or when Kellen shot him one of those teasing smiles in the hallway.

No, it was impossible. He’d gotten used to being around Kellen in school and being unable to kiss him and run his hands over that smooth chest, but that was before the summer break. That was before they finally slept together when Aiden’s parents had taken a weekend trip.

Aiden was pretty sure that his ears and neck were red the entire time, and that the both of them barely had any idea of what they were doing, but it wasn’t as stressful as he thought it would be. Even when they were fumbling around like the inexperienced teenagers that they were, it was hard to feel scared when Kellen made sure that they went slow and that Aiden was comfortable every step of the way. They’d ended up laughing and joking together in between breathy moans and wandering hands. Aiden’s ears went red every time he remembered it.

But after an entire summer of staying out late at night with Kellen, sleeping in the same bed, and feeling those thin, beautiful hands on him, the problem was that Aiden couldn’t help but to want to grab Kellen right in the middle of class and make out with him in front of everyone.

Those were the moments when he was brave, when he thought that coming out might not be so bad. But Aiden wasn’t ready. He didn’t know when he would be ready, but he did know that he was serious about Kellen. He knew that he’d loved him for a while before he’d said those three words.

Maybe he knew when they slept together. Or maybe he knew on their first date. Aiden could have even loved Kellen when the other boy kissed him or handed him the bottle of soda to calm his stomach. Aiden really didn’t know when it happened; all he knew was that one night when they were watching a movie on his bed and Kellen had a laugh attack, which ended up with him snorting awkwardly as he tried to stop and stay quiet, all Aiden could think about was how much he loved him.

He wished he knew how to say it though. It had almost slipped out so many times that Aiden couldn’t count. He knew Kellen wouldn’t be mean about it, but Aiden was worried that saying it would change things. He wanted to stay with Kellen, his arms wrapped around the brunette as they slept side-by-side in Aiden’s bed.

At least three nights a week, Kellen slept over. Aiden usually fell asleep quickly when Kellen was with him, but that night, he ended up staring at Kellen in the dark for a little while, running his hands through that brown hair.

“I love you, Kellen,” he said quietly. It was only in the dark of night that Aiden felt brave enough to say those simple words.

He felt his heart jump into his throat when Kellen mumbled, “Love you too, Aiden. Now, go to sleep, honey, I’m tired.” He’d slurred the entire thing, but he clearly knew what he was saying when he leaned up to give Aiden a quick peck on the lips before he settled back down.

Aiden blinked in mild confusion, wondering if that really just happened.

“Sleep, Aiden,” Kellen commanded tiredly, pulling him close.

Aiden decided that even if he was dreaming, then he could just say those words tomorrow. He was happy to say that when he woke up to see Kellen still there with him, that he hadn’t dreamed that. His ears still went red when Kellen said “I love you” in the light of day. Kellen had to hold back his laughter as he slipped out the window with a wide smile on his face.

^^^

Aiden had been at Kick Up Your Heels for around half an hour. Not that he minded. He was glad to be there anyway, although he hadn’t been expecting Olivia and Kellen to recruit him to help them take down Christmas decorations during a special class B was doing in between the holidays.

“You guys do know that it was just Christmas the other day, right?” Aiden asked as he stood on a ladder to reach the red and green decorations around the window. “You could leave these up at least until after New Year’s.”

Kellen stood below him, holding the ladder steady. “We could, but we did that last year.”

“They ended up staying on the windows until like March, and by then it gets awkward,” Olivia said with a flippant wave of her hand. “Then it looks like we’re a bunch of lazy weirdos.”

“No, it was worse because we added hearts and shamrocks without taking anything down,” Kellen added. “We’re staying on top of it this year,” he said with a victorious chuckle. He and Olivia, who was peeling off a Happy Holidays sign from the window, high-fived.

Aiden smiled at their antics. He’d grown used to being around these three. They were full of so much life, but he was pretty sure that Olivia and B knew that they weren’t the main reasons he walked Nikki to her dance classes so consistently.

Aiden knew he was probably being a little obvious. Then again, he’d never been great at hiding how much he liked Kellen. After they’d first said they loved one another, Aiden had found it impossible to focus. His mom had asked him tons of times why he was so happy, but he avoided the question.

He doubted that he’d gotten any better at hiding the fact that he was mooning over Kellen now either. That’s why he figured that Kellen was just being nice about Aiden’s feelings, purposely not mentioning anything to avoid any awkward questions. It made his stomach twist uncomfortably, and it was not a great time for his stomach to be hurting when he was ten feet off the floor on a metal ladder.

It felt like his skin was on fire when Kellen put his hand on the small of Aiden’s back to keep him steady when he climbed down. Aiden had been having some very creative dreams lately of where else those hands could be, so he was almost glad that the touch was so fleeting.

“Okay, here are all of your assorted holiday decorations,” Aiden said, placing them in Kellen’s hands with a flourish. “Destroying the Christmas spirit so soon,” he admonished jokingly.

Kellen laughed loudly before he reigned himself in, clearly remembering that B was holding class. “Couldn’t have done it without you,” he said in between chuckles. He made to adjust the string of lights in his hands, saying, “Thanks for the help, honey.”

Aiden’s eyes widened at the familiar pet name. Kellen clearly only realized what he’d said the second after he said it. He stiffened. Olivia had stopped moving by the window, her mouth open slightly.

The room stopped for a moment. Aiden’s heart beat quickly in his chest. Kellen had called him “hun” when he’d been having one of his migraines, but Aiden chalked that up to the pain and exhaustion. This was different. Kellen was fully awake and aware of what he was saying. More or less apparently.

“Kellen,” he started, not even sure of what he was going to say.

“N-no, it’s okay!” Kellen said quickly, laughing uncomfortably. It was rare to see him looking so awkward in his own skin. It made Aiden’s heart drop. “I, it slipped out. It’s nothing, really. I know we’re not together anymore. And I mean, nothing’s really changed between us. I know that, uh—”

He was stopped by Olivia purposely putting a hand over his mouth. Kellen’s shoulders slumped and a defeated look crossed his face.

“Go put that stuff away, Kellen,” Olivia commended gently.

Kellen’s eyes cut to hers, purposely avoiding Aiden’s. Kellen winced and turned away as he left the room with the pile of stuff they’d been taking down.

Aiden still stood there in shock, staring after him. It made his heart clench to see Kellen feel so guilty about a slip of the tongue, about a pet name they’d used with one another all the time when they were together. Aiden frowned; they’d talked about being broken up before, about being friends now, but somehow, they’d never discussed how much they were both hurt by what happened. They’d tried to smooth over everything and go back to how things were before they started dating.

Aiden had known that he hurt Kellen by what he did. He’d apologized to Kellen before and the other man said that he was forgiven. But they never really had the heart to heart that maybe they both needed. They never talked about how to be friends now, or how to deal with the history they had together. Or how to love one another again, whether platonically or romantically, if that was what they both wanted. It was gnawing at the both of them more than Aiden thought.

Olivia shifted from beside him, the streaks in her hair back to her favorite light blue. Aiden had a fleeting thought of what kind of hair dye she used as she frowned with this sad look on her face. She started speaking without looking at him.

“Aiden, Kellen actually told us about who you are years ago,” Olivia said softly. “You’ve… come up in conversation before.” She didn’t elaborate on how or what they’d talked about, but what she didn’t say rang loud in Aiden’s ears.

Olivia shifted to face him directly. She was looking up at him with serious eyes so unlike her usual cheerful gaze. “When you came in that day, I recognized you right away. We all already knew that Nikki was your niece, so I wasn’t exactly surprised to see you eventually walk in here, but…” She sighed and shook her head. Aiden felt his stomach twist when she was silent for a few moments. The heat had come on again when Olivia looked up at him and pleaded, “Please, don’t hurt him again, Aiden.”

She touched his arm softly as if to provide him with some comfort. “Hold on a minute, Aiden.” Without saying anything else, Olivia walked off after Kellen.

Aiden shifted uncomfortably, both from the atmosphere and from the unfortunate noise of distress coming from his stomach. He ignored it, unable to move. His feet were rooted to the spot. He couldn’t get that distressed look on Kellen’s face out of his mind as guilt clawed its way up Aiden’s stomach for putting that look there. He couldn’t get his mind off of what Kellen had said, one question in particular bouncing around in his skull.

Aiden didn’t know what transpired between Olivia and Kellen, but a minute later, Kellen returned from the back room without her. He still looked embarrassed even as he put on a brave smile. “I’m sorry about that, Aiden,” he apologized calmly, much more put together than he’d been only a few minutes ago. “I overreacted. I hope I didn’t make things weird between us.”

“No, not at all,” Aiden said seriously. He thought about telling Kellen how he felt. Telling him that he didn’t mind the pet name. Really, he wouldn’t mind it if Kellen jumped into his arms right then. But Aiden knew that Kellen wasn’t in a great place to hear all that now. If Aiden said something, it was possible Kellen would think that he was lying to make him feel better.

When Aiden told Kellen that he loved him just as or more fiercely than he’d loved him in high school, Aiden didn’t want the other man to be feeling ashamed and embarrassed when he did it. If… if he told Kellen, he reminded himself.

Aiden cleared his throat. “You know, I actually called you ‘baby’ when I came over to your place that day,” he said with a small smile. “I think it’s a reflex sometimes.”

That got Kellen to smile and tilt his head. “Really? I don’t remember that. Then again, my migraines are usually a blur. I had one over the holidays. All I know is that my sisters sat with me making fun of a Christmas movie through texts.” His smile was fond. The set of his shoulders had relaxed.

Aiden liked seeing Kellen like this. “Do you remember when I came over at all?” he said with a chuckle.

Kellen hummed. “More or less. I don’t know, I remember feeling better that you were there though. It’s ah, it’s nice to know that someone out there cares about me like that.” He flushed a little, shuffling his feet.

He’d opened his mouth to say something else when Aiden placed a hand on his own stomach, unable to withstand the nervous pain any longer. While it was calming to speak with Kellen like they usually did, he still hadn’t managed to calm down.

Kellen didn’t look angry at him. He never did when it came to his stomach pains. Instead, Kellen gave him a fond look. “You poor anxious man. Here, follow me.”

Aiden didn’t question it as Kellen led him to the back office while Olivia took her place back at the front desk. The office was the one place in Kick Up Your Heels that Aiden hadn’t been before. It was a normal office: wooden flooring with a rug stretching along it, a large desk, and a few miscellaneous chairs. Financial documents were laid around, a few filing cabinets were left halfway open, and there was a coffee machine in the back.

“Olivia usually ends up in here half the time,” Kellen commented as he gestured for Aiden to sit in one of the chairs across from the desk. “She has a degree in finance, so she and I work on the bills. B handles all the cleaning if you’ve ever wondered.”

Kellen stepped around the desk and to the coffee pot, which Aiden only just noticed was set on top of a mini fridge. “With how much time we spend here, Olivia bought one of these to keep her and B going. There’s actually a microwave hidden underneath some papers for those late nights we spend on bills.” Aiden looked around curiously, spotting it hiding behind the coffee maker.

Kellen leaned down to pull something from the fridge, stepping around the desk to hand it to Aiden. It was a bottle of soda. “B likes these for when she wants something sweet. I’ll have to restock before she notices.” Kellen chuckled, coming to sit in the chair next to Aiden’s.

Aiden took the soda almost reverently, feeling just as touched as he did when Kellen did the same thing before they’d started dating. He took a sip as he got his thoughts together. As much as Aiden didn’t want to ruin the calm atmosphere that had descended upon them, he had to ask.

“Kellen… before you said that nothing had changed between us. What did you mean?” he asked quietly, worried that he would upset Kellen again.

But Kellen only sighed as if he had been expecting that question. “You caught onto that, huh?” he mumbled to himself. Louder, he said, “I guess I meant… that well, that being together now wouldn’t work any more than it did in high school.” He leaned back in his chair, frowning.

Aiden shifted forward when Kellen paused, silently prompting him to continue. Kellen looked at him when he did. “We both achieved our dreams. I’m a dancer, and you’re a baseball player. But… let’s face it, Aiden, if we couldn’t be public in front of a high school, we’d never make it through social media and television.” He winced, his voice small and sad. “But I…” Kellen stopped himself from talking, apparently unsure of what to say.

Suddenly it made sense to Aiden. Kellen was trying to be nice about it, but he was right: if Aiden couldn’t come out to his family when they were in high school, how would he be able to come out to the world now? His life was public. It wasn’t like he could hide a boyfriend, and at this point in his life, Aiden didn’t want to. If he was going to be in a relationship, he wanted to love his partner with everything he had, not hide him like he was ashamed.

Aiden didn’t know if he was doing the right thing, but he reached forward to grab Kellen’s hand tentatively. “I’m so sorry, Kellen. For making you feel bad like this.” Kellen opened his mouth to respond, but Aiden went on over him, “But you’re right,” he admitted. “I’ve never been brave enough to come out.” Guilt hit him like a ton of bricks.

“Aiden, that’s okay,” Kellen said softly, squeezing his hand. “You had to choose between doing what you loved and me. I said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m glad you chose to do what you loved. I never would have wanted you to resent me for not achieving everything I’ve always known you were capable of.”

Aiden swallowed heavily, a lump in his throat. “How are you not mad at me?” he mused to himself.

“Because life is hard and decisions are harder. There’s no telling what would have happened either way,” Kellen said wisely. “That was all seven years ago, anyway. I can’t be mad for that long, Aiden. I’m happy that you’re happy.”

But Aiden wasn’t happy. Well, no, he was. He loved what he did and he loved his family and he loved how much he had achieved, but he had always felt that something was missing. He had felt alone and lonely for a long time. Aiden was happy, and while he thought he was greedy to want even more out of his life, he couldn’t help it. Kellen was everything he’d been wanting for a long time now, and everything that he’d given up. He didn’t regret choosing his career, but he knew that by not choosing Kellen, he had missed out on a lot.

By not coming out years ago, he had missed out on a lot. If he was going to tell Kellen how he felt again and show Kellen how serious he was about these feelings, then Aiden needed to finally be brave. Even if he never told Kellen and kept his feelings to himself, Aiden knew that it was time.

It was time to stop hiding, to be proud of himself. He could figure out what to do about his feelings for Kellen from there, but this decision was all his own. Aiden knew that. He also knew that life would change after this, whether his family life or his public life. He couldn’t expect Kellen to want to be a part of that, but he wanted to be brave for his own sake too.

By the time he said goodbye to Kellen that day, Nikki with him, Aiden had made his choice: he was going to come out to his family. If the world found out about it, then so be it.

Kellen was more important.

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