The Man I Love

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I'll Be Right Here

“Do I have to?” Aiden whined, pouting. He knew he was being childish, but he couldn’t help it.

Kellen gave him sympathetic look. “Yes, you have to, hun. Your throat’s been hurting a lot.”

“Are we sure that’s not just from school? I work with kids, so maybe it just hurts because of all the germs.” Aiden knew his logic was thin, but he was grasping at straws here.

“Aiden, it’s perfectly safe.” Kellen said that, but Aiden could see that he was feeling nervous too. Since his accident, Kellen had never been a fan of surgeries or hospitals.

“I know,” Aiden mumbled, turning to Kellen when his husband parked the car. “I just don’t like the idea.”

Kellen reached forward to caress his jaw. “I’m scared too, Aiden. But I’m going to be right in the waiting room. And your brothers will be by too. You’ll just be out for a little while, they’ll check on you, and then we’ll head home and I’ll make you smoothies, or mashed potatoes, or soup, and the girls sit with you on the couch when they get home from Letta’s.”

Aiden nodded bravely. “You’re sure it’s okay that you’re missing work all day?”

Kellen gave him a cute smile. “Zander’s doing a class today. B will be looking in on him.”

“He decided to keep going part-time with you?” Aiden asked, searching for a distraction from the anxiety in his gut.

“Yeah. He’s still doing his other job in finance, and he’s thinking about what he wants to do, but he’s doing alright,” Kellen said softly.

After getting a degree in finance, the now twenty-four-year-old Zander was struggling with feeling unhappy actually working in his field. As he told Kellen, he just wanted to dance, but he didn’t want to disappoint his family and basically throw away the degree he’d struggled to get through.

So, Kellen had invited Zander over for dinner to help him think through his options. Whatever Zander chose, Kellen let him know that he’d have a full-time job at Kick Up Your Heels if he wanted one. Even if he didn’t, Kellen, Olivia, and B would always be there for him.

Aiden smiled at the memory of Kellen talking with the shy Zander. If anyone knew what is was like to face parental disappointment related to having or not having a degree, it was Kellen.

Kellen was also the only one who could make Aiden feel better when he was facing down a tonsillectomy.

“No changing the subject, Aiden,” Kellen commanded gently. He pulled Aiden close to kiss him on the temple. “You’re going to be fine. It’s just like getting wisdom teeth removed, except in the hospital and with less bleeding afterward.”

Aiden cracked a smile. “That’s such a bad comparison. When I had my wisdom teeth removed, my brothers videotaped me saying a bunch of nonsense.”

“And yet you still didn’t let it slip that you were gay back then,” Kellen mused with a smile.

“That was when I was twenty. If they give me pain meds now, I’ll probably just cling to you and serenade you in the car,” Aiden chuckled.

Kellen gave him a smile. “I’ll look forward to it. But you still have to get the surgery, honey. I’ll be right here waiting for you. You’ll wake up feeling much better.” He gave Aiden a lingering kiss, which unfortunately wasn’t enough to stop them from actually going in for the surgery.

Aiden still wasn’t sure how this happened. He’d gone in for a routine checkup and upon checking his throat, the doctor had told him that he would need to have his tonsils removed. It was summer at least, so he didn’t need to worry about missing school, and the girls were now thirteen, twelve, and ten, so they would be okay while Aiden recovered.

The idea of sitting on the couch just wasn’t TV for days on end wasn’t all too thrilling though. Maybe Aiden would feel differently when he was high on pain meds.

His stomach twisted as he waited to go in for surgery. Kellen held his hand the entire time, actually listening to everything the doctor was saying. Aiden was trying to listen, really, but he was having a hard time feeling so anxious.

“I’ll be right here,” Kellen reassured him again when it was time to separate. “Just relax, Aiden.” He gave Aiden a kiss that had fire in it, but toned it down a little. They were still in public.

“I love you, Kellen,” Aiden said. He knew he was taking this too seriously—it was just a tonsillectomy—but surgery just had a heavy connotation to it that freaked him out.

He wasn’t the only one either. Kellen was putting on a brave face, but Aiden could see his husband tapping his foot nervously. Kellen gave him a smile though. “I love you too, Aiden. Now, go on.”

With one more kiss on the cheek, Aiden was off. The sterile rooms and hospital gown didn’t make his nervous stomach feel any better, but soon enough, he was breathing in the anesthesia and falling into that weird knocked-out state where it felt like no time had passed at all between when he was asleep and when he woke again.

Aiden woke feeling slightly groggy, but other than that, he only felt the ache in his throat that told him that the surgery had definitely happened.

The moment he blinked open his eyes, there was Kellen at his bedside, holding his hand soothingly. It took Aiden a moment, but he realized that his two brothers were on the opposite side. Instinctively, he tried to say something to let them know that he was awake, but his throat felt so dry that it could have been on fire.

Aiden made to sit up instead, prompting Kellen to snap back to attention. “Aiden,” Kellen said with obvious joy. “Oh, no, you should stay lying down.”

He tried to say that he was fine, but his voice wasn’t cooperating. Kellen figured it out in a second. “The doctor said you can do cool liquids. Hold still, I’ll get you a cup.”

It was strangely quiet while he poured Aiden a glass of iced water in a plastic cup. Aiden gave his brothers a curious look, expecting them to make some comment about how long he was out for, or tease him a little for one thing or another. But they only looked at him with small smiles, neither of them breaking the silence.

“Don’t mind your brothers,” Kellen said softly, returning with a little cup. “Here, Aiden.”

Aiden sighed with relief as soon as he took a drink. The cool water running down his throat was almost as comforting as the feeling of Kellen’s hand in his again. “Glad you’re here, Kellen,” he said with a scratchy voice.

“I said I would be,” Kellen said with a half-smile. “Do you want a kiss for your bravery?” Aiden might have thought that Kellen was joking if he didn’t know his husband so well by now.

He nodded, smiling when Kellen leaned over him carefully to kiss his lips, then his cheek, jaw, temple, forehead, nose, and back down to his lips. Aiden pulled him closer, pleased with the kisses, but finding it odd that his brothers still hadn’t said a word. Normally if Kellen kissed him playfully like that, he definitely would have heard a teasing comment by now.

Kellen finally leaned back to sit on the side of the hospital bed, smoothing Aiden’s hair back. “What’s wrong with you guys?” Aiden asked.

“Nothing,” they both said at the same time, in a way that was eerily reminiscent of what the girls would do when they were trying not to appear suspicious.

Aiden looked to Kellen, silently asking him for an explanation. Kellen sighed, his shoulder slumping. “Okay, honey—”

“Don’t tell him,” Isaac hissed emphatically.

“He’s my husband, Isaac,” Kellen said matter-of-factly. “I’m telling him.”

Ian cleared his throat. “Maybe we could wait until he’s more awake?”

“I’m awake enough now,” Aiden interrupted, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. If he felt groggy before, he felt perfectly awake now at the thought of his brothers and husband keeping something from him. “What’s going on?”

Kellen sat up to put another pillow behind his back, propping him up more comfortably, but frowning all the while. “After your surgery, they were having trouble getting you to wake,” Kellen admitted quietly. He sat back down stiffly, not meeting Aiden’s eyes as he frowned to himself in distress. “It was only for like a minute, but I… freaked out a little bit. I know you’re okay now,” Kellen was quick to reassure him, “and the doctors gave you a bill of clean health, but…”

He didn’t finish his sentence. He didn’t need to. Aiden could already surmise what had happened, and as much as it scared him to think about the fact that he didn’t wake up right away, he could only imagine what had flashed through Kellen’s mind in that minute.

Aiden reached forward to take his husband’s hand. “I’m not going anywhere, Kellen.”

Kellen have him a sad smile. “I know, Aiden. But you’re my whole world. You and the girls. It… I can’t explain how relieved I feel to be talking to you right now.”

Aiden made a motion, asking Kellen to move closer again. Kellen obliged, kissing him tenderly. Aiden could feel everything in that kiss: the worry, relief, happiness, and love. Kellen broke them apart to give Aiden a tight hug, wrapping his arms around him lovingly.

Aiden felt safe in those arms. He pouted when Kellen let go, bringing a smile to his husband’s face. “I’m going to find the doctor and let him know that you’re up. You should only need to be here for a few more hours before I can take you home.” Kellen squeezed his hand and got up. “Get your brothers to act more normal again, would you?”

“Will do,” Aiden said affirmatively, watching Kellen leave the room. That left him with his brothers in silence. “I’m fine, you know,” he said into the empty air.

Ian huffed, exhaling like he was trying to rid his shoulders or a great weight. “We know. It’s just… we all kind of panicked, Aiden. Kellen was over there talking to the nurse one second and then he was yelling for us the next.” He rubbed his hands over his face. As calm as Ian was, as he always was, he looked like he’d aged five years in the past few hours.

“What exactly happened?” Aiden asked curiously.

Isaac groaned, crossing his arms. “Kellen yelled for us in case we knew anything medical about you that he missed. As if he’d miss anything,” Isaac said, rolling his eyes. His leg was bouncing and he was obviously agitated. “But yeah, the doctor came out a minute later and said you were fine. And then we sat down and…” Isaac sat up, clearly having a hard time with this. “And Kellen just fucking sobbed, Aiden. I’ve never seen him look like that and I never want to see him look like that again.”

Aiden might have thought his brother was angry at him if he didn’t know that anger was Isaac’s go-to when he was worried. Isaac ran a hand through his hair. “You know that he doesn’t make any noise when he cries?”

“I know that,” Aiden responded softly. He also knew that even though Kellen didn’t make any noise, the sound of him crying was hard to get out of his head. He assumed that was what was bothering Isaac so much.

Ian gave Isaac a sympathetic look. “What Isaac’s trying to say, Aiden, is that Kellen’s like our brother now too. And it was hard to see him like that.” He gave Aiden a tired smile. “We were so worried about you at the same time too. You’re our little brother.”

“Just that look on his face,” Isaac was still going on about, “Do you know how much he loves you, Aiden? It was like his whole world was shattering for that minute.” He moved around in agitation again, clearly having trouble sitting still.

Aiden found it difficult to swallow, but not because his throat was sore. “I know,” he said quietly. “I’m damn lucky to have a man like him. But Isaac, he’s alright. Or he will be. Trust me when I say that I know Kellen pretty well.”

He knew that Kellen wasn’t nearly as fine as he was trying to seem. He knew that Kellen would likely be a little clingy these next few days. He knew that Kellen loved him just as much as he loved the brunette, and that if their situations had been reversed, Aiden would have broken down himself. He couldn’t even imagine a minute where he thought he would have to say goodbye to the man he loved. He didn’t want to.

Isaac huffed, trying to be the tough guy. “I wasn’t worried. I’m not worried now either.”

Ian rolled his eyes. “Yeah, sure. How believable,” he said sarcastically.

“Shut up, Ian! What the hell do you know?” Isaac growled in embarrassment.

“I know that you used to cry when you watched movies with mom,” Ian said in annoyance.

“We were supposed to die with that information,” Isaac hissed out.

Aiden shook his head at his stupid brothers. “I hope you know that I already told Kellen pretty much all the stuff we’re supposed to die with.”

“Traitor,” Isaac said to him, a grudging expression on his face.

“Aw, look at you fighting like brothers again,” Kellen said as he stepped back into the room, looking more relaxed when he saw them acting like usual. “The doctor will be here in a second. Are you guys okay?”

Aiden might have told Kellen all the things he and his brothers were supposed to die with, but he was sure Kellen already knew how much both Isaac and Ian actually cared about him. So, he only said, “We’re okay. Sit with me, Kellen?”

“The doctor will be here in just a second, honey,” Kellen said to him, but he still sat next to Aiden on the bed anyway.

Looking more closely now, Aiden could see that Kellen appeared exhausted. His eyes were still slightly red from crying and he looked like he could fall asleep if he stayed sitting for long enough. Aiden reached up to trace one of his red-rimmed eyes. “Are you okay?” he asked.

Kellen gave him an understanding look. “I’m alright,” he said softly. He picked up Aiden’s hand and rested it on his lap. “You don’t need to worry about me, Aiden.”

“I always worry,” Aiden said to him.

Kellen answered him with a kiss on the side of his mouth. “I’ll be okay,” he amended. “You’re here and you’re okay.”

Aiden had the urge to kiss him solidly on the lips, but that was when the doctor came in to help get them discharged, give them any instructions and prescriptions they needed, and scoot them out. Ian and Isaac hovered the whole time, only continuing their conversation when Kellen was talking with the doctor on their way out the door.

“You sure that you don’t want us to drive?” Ian asked, his eyes shooting to Kellen before shooting back. “Or we can keep the girls for the night.”

“Kellen would never drive if he didn’t feel able to, and the girls really wanted to spend some time watching movies later,” Aiden said, feeling better now that he was in his usual clothing. Something about having the breeze hit his butt was disconcerting when there were other people besides Kellen in the room.

“You sure?” Isaac tacked on.

Aiden turned to look at the two of them. “Completely sure. We’re just watching movies.” He made sure he met both of their eyes when he said, “Guys, seriously, stop worrying.”

“It’s hard, Aiden,” Isaac pouted. “You know that mom and dad would never stop worrying if we told them.”

“Give me at least until my throat isn’t so sore before anyone tells them,” Aiden deadpanned. He’d tell his parents, but when he could actually reassure them that he was fine and not sound like his voice went through the garbage disposal.

Ian clapped him on the back. “We won’t tell them. But I expect a message tonight. Just… to know you’re good.”

It was heartening to know how much his brothers loved him. Aiden smiled. “Yeah, if I don’t, Kellen will.”

“Of course, I will,” Kellen said as he stepped back with some papers. “What am I doing?” He looked back and forth between them.

“You’d do whatever he asked without knowing what he wanted?” Isaac questioned suspiciously.

Kellen gave him a curious look. “Yes? What are we talking about here? Like sex things or cleaning the house kind of things?”

Isaac pouted with a deadpan expression, the same expression he always gave Kellen when the man was teasing him on purpose.

Kellen held his hands up in surrender. “For the record, I’m already planning on the cleaning the house stuff. Sorry, hun, but the sex stuff has to wait until you’re more recovered,” he said to Aiden.

“With these pain meds, I’ll be too out of it anyway,” Aiden said with a shrug.

Isaac shook his head, mumbling something about why in the world was he even worried about them anyway, and they just lived to try and get a reaction out of him. Ian laughed beneath his hand, trying not to show his smile.

Aiden had no problem smiling though, giving each of his brothers a hug before he and Kellen went home. Ian dropped off the girls later, right on time for a movie night.

“Did everything go okay?” Violet asked worriedly almost as soon as she stepped in the door.

“It was fine, Vi,” Kellen said to her from their place on the couch.

Thea gave Kellen a suspicious look, clearly not buying it. If Aiden didn’t know any better, he would say that she noticed Kellen’s red eyes. But at thirteen now, Thea was smart, and chose not to worry her sisters by asking about it in front of them. She only said, “Dad and papa are here now, so let’s watch a movie, papa can fall asleep, and we can all relax.”

Kellen chuckled to himself. “Look how well the kids know me, hun,” he said to Aiden, kissing his cheek and straightening out. “Alright, I’ll make you something easy to eat. You girls have something picked out to watch?”

“I picked it out,” Skylar said proudly as Kellen fled to the kitchen. “Finally,” she emphasized, glaring at Thea.

Thea rolled her eyes. “It’s not my fault that you always pick boring movies, Sky. Violet barely watches movies and she still picked better than you.”

Violet nodded far too sagely for a twelve-year-old. “I research,” she said surely. “So everyone will like it.”

Skylar crossed her arms, pouting. Aiden smoothed his hand over her head. “I think if one of you kids ever finds a movie that keeps your papa awake, then we’ll know who picks the best ones.”

“A challenge,” Violet murmured with amusement. She sat down next to Aiden and he wrapped an arm around her. She had been so nervous about the surgery too, to the extent that she researched it herself, got nervous about the possible side effects, and bothered Letta about it for a while until her aunt managed to reassure her.

“Dad, your voice is so messed up,” Skylar said, changing the subject.

“It’ll only be like that for about two weeks maximum,” Violet said smartly. “It’s just because his throat is healing.”

Skylar didn’t look convinced. “But what if it never sounds the same?”

“It’ll be fine, Sky,” Thea said from her place near the DVD player as she tried to figure out the buttons. “Worst case, us and papa will love him even if he sounds like he’d been a lifelong smoker forever.”

Skylar made a noise of distress, so Aiden squeezed her tightly. He genuinely hoped his voice did recover pretty quickly though. Kellen chose that moment to reappear, hugging Skylar from behind. “Your dad will be fine. He just needs to rest, recover, and drink this smoothie I made him.”

Aiden smiled and accepted the drink, watching Kellen take a seat on the armchair since Violet and Skylar were already next to Aiden. Thea joined her papa with the DVD remote, turning on the movie and getting up to turn off the lights before they got started.

The movie was a little more cliché that Aiden would have liked, but it could have been worse. He smiled at a few parts himself, enjoying the smoothie Kellen made him. The man really knew his way around a blender. The man also was completely incapable of staying awake during a movie. As much as he tried to stay awake, he was out like a light in about half an hour.

Aiden gave him a sympathetic look. The way Kellen was leaning, he knew his husband’s neck would have a crick in it.

It was when Skylar was asleep and leaning on Aiden and Violet set her book down to use the bathroom, since she said she really wanted to know what happened, that the conversation from before picked up.

Ignoring the movie, Thea said quietly, “Dad?”

He turned to her, feeling tired himself. Still, he gave her his full attention, prompting her to go on, “What happened at the hospital?”

Aiden didn’t insult her intelligence by denying that something happened. “We didn’t want to worry you, Thea,” he prefaced it with, “but the doctors just had a little trouble waking me up from the anesthesia. I’m fine now and nothing’s going to happen,” he reassured her firmly.

Thea frowned. “Are you sure? And papa knows? He was crying.”

“He knows, and I’m sure,” Aiden said. “Your papa just loves me very much, just like how I love him and we love you guys. He was worried.” His eyes cut to Kellen, who was breathing softly on the armchair next to Thea.

Thea nodded, getting up gently so as not to wake Kellen and sitting next to Aiden. “I’m glad you’re okay, dad. We’re glad.”

“I know, kiddo,” Aiden said, kissing her on the head.

“You’re just always so strong. I mean you get sick sometimes, but you’re… my dad. I don’t like thinking of you not being okay,” Thea admitted, frowning up at him.

Aiden hugged her to his chest, being careful not to jostle Skylar. “It’s okay to be weak sometimes too, Thea. You’ve seen me cry at some of these movies.” Thea chuckled lowly, prompting Aiden to go on, “I’m alright, especially since you kids and papa will be with me the entire time while I get better. So, there’s no need to worry.”

Their conversation dropped off when Violet reentered, taking Thea’s vacated seat next to Kellen. The movie kept playing. Sooner rather than later, Aiden found himself falling asleep, his eyes drooping heavily. Between the surgery and the conversation in the hospital after, he was exhausted.

He let his eyes close, settling into the couch with his daughters next to him and Kellen nearby. Aiden would be right there when they woke up. He wasn’t going anywhere.

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