The Man I Love

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A Week Alone

Aiden had told Kellen to go. He’d said that there was no way Kellen couldn’t go see Olivia’s granddad with her—he was the man who had turned his life around after his accident.

Said man had told them that he was perfectly fine and that they didn’t need to go to see him for his birthday, but he was getting up there in years and Aiden knew that Kellen would never forgive himself if he didn’t spend some real time with the man.

It wasn’t like Kick Up Your Heels was short staffed either. Now that Nikki was twenty, she was working part-time there while she went to school. She was so good that she could fill in for B or Kellen at any time.

Zander was still working there too, but full-time now. He’d quit his job in finance and took on a few of Kellen’s classes while handling some of the social media Olivia excelled at. That freed up Olivia and Kellen to get the bills and business side done properly every week.

So, work was fine. The girls were almost all teenagers now, and old enough that Aiden had no problem taking care of them alone. He just needed to remember Skylar’s soccer practice, Violet’s trips to the library, and Thea’s dance classes.

Everyone was fine. Aiden knew that.

Yet Aiden wasn’t quite sure if he was fine. The first few days Kellen was gone, he couldn’t even place what was precisely wrong. Sure, it felt strange not to wake up with Kellen next to him, or to hear the man humming in the morning, or to drink coffee or tea with him before they both went to work, but Kellen would be back in a few days and Aiden was functioning like any normal person.

More or less.

He usually ended up making tea without thinking about it, blinking in confusion before he scolded himself for using up another tea bag. Violet took mercy on him, always taking the mug from him and enjoying the tea herself.

Aiden had a hard time falling asleep too. It was stupid, but he tossed and turned all night the first few nights, unable to find a position comfortable enough. He supposed that he’d grown a little dependent on Kellen being there.

He was fine though. He was going to work, shoveling the driveway, and driving the girls to school, but when he got home for the third night and they had dinner just the four of them, Aiden couldn’t stop the frown from gracing his face. He missed his husband, okay? Apparently, it was obvious.

“How was work today, dad?” Skylar asked before dinner on the fourth night, looking at him with a mischievous gleam in her eyes.

Aiden raised an eyebrow at her asking the question Kellen usually did. He smiled at her though. “Just fine. And how was school?”

“It was okay,” she responded. “I accidentally kicked a soccer ball into a guy’s face. But he was being mean to this girl with glasses, so I figure it balances out.”

“And this really was an accident?” Aiden questioned as he checked on the chicken he had going in the oven.

Skylar nodded seriously. “Promise. I only use my soccer powers for good, dad.”

He chuckled at her serious tone. “I’m sure you do. Can you get your sisters, Sky? Dinner’s just about done.”

“Okay, dad,” she said happily, trotting off.

Aiden didn’t miss the whispered conversation she was having with Violet and Thea when the three of them returned, but they went silent the second they noticed him paying attention. Thea stepped right up to him with his laptop in her hands. “Hey, dad, can we show you something?”

She didn’t wait for his response before she set the computer down in front of him and opened it. A second later, Skype was open and Olivia’s smiling face was on the screen. “Hey, Aiden,” Olivia said with a wave.

Aiden looked at her with amusement. “Olivia,” he greeted jovially, “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Your kids say that you’ve been off lately,” she said matter-of-factly.

Aiden spared the girls a glance, noticing how they were trying their hardest to appear like they weren’t listening. “Kellen’s been gone for like four days and he’s coming back tomorrow. I’m fine.”

“Aw, and here I thought you missed me,” Kellen’s said dramatically as he scooted into frame next to Olivia. “I’m wounded.” He held a hand to his chest, making Olivia laugh at his antics.

Aiden was smiling widely. “Kellen,” he breathed. They’d both been so busy that they’d only been able to talk over text; it felt good to hear Kellen’s voice again.

Kellen gave him a sympathetic smile. “Hey, honey. Sorry we haven’t been able to talk much.”

“Clearing out granddad’s storage and house takes a lot of time,” Olivia confirmed.

Aiden narrowed his eyebrows. “Uh… he’s not…?”

“Oh no, no,” Olivia confirmed. “He’s fine. But we offered to help him clean up and get rid of things while we’re here. He says he wants us to take anything we want with us.” She nudged Kellen. “You should take the suspenders and fedora. What do you think, Aiden? I say that he can pull it off.”

Aiden only needed a moment to imagine it. “Oh, yeah. You definitely could.”

Kellen shook his head fondly. “Beyond the storage, it’s been nice seeing granddad again. He’s still going strong. And are you doing okay, Aiden? The girls are alright?”

“We’re all good here, Kellen,” Aiden told him, beckoning the girls over to say hello.

“Papa!” Skylar said happily. “Auntie Olivia!”

Aiden stepped away to get the food out of the oven and onto the table, listening to Kellen talk with the girls, Olivia chiming in every now and again. He returned as the group of them laughed, Kellen loud as usual.

“Well, I’ll be home tomorrow, girls, so be good to your dad until then,” Kellen said in a fatherly voice. “Aiden, honey?”

Aiden took his place back in front of the computer, asking the kids to make sure they were ready to eat. “See you tomorrow?”

“See you then. Get some sleep, Aiden,” Kellen commanded softly. Aiden didn’t even need to say anything for Kellen to understand his recent insomnia.

“I will,” Aiden said, watching as Olivia and Kellen turned at the sound of someone else entering.

Kellen gave him an apologetic glance. “I have to go. Dinner with granddad.”

Aiden smiled at him sadly. “You enjoy. I love you, Kellen.”

“Love you too, Aiden.”

Aiden closed the laptop to look at the girls. “I’m assuming you three planned this?” He couldn’t keep the smile off his face.

Thea shrugged with a smile. “You miss papa, so we talked to Auntie Olivia. They’re calling Aunt B next, so it’s probably good that they signed off.”

Skylar nodded. “Papa will be back tomorrow, dad, so it’s okay.”

Aiden smiled at the gesture. “I know. I’m glad I have you girls with me.”

“Us too,” Violet said simply. “Um… this is edible, right?”

Aiden’s cooking hadn’t gotten any prettier over the years, but no one had gotten food poisoning just from appearance. “Completely edible,” Aiden reassured her, already looking forward to Kellen eating with them the next day.

Except Kellen didn’t get home the next day. He couldn’t with the snowstorm landing his plane and delaying him at the airport for twenty-four hours with Olivia. The only bright side of the whole episode were the dorky videos Kellen and Olivia sent Aiden of them messing around in the airport and dancing on the chairs at three in the morning.

Aiden smiled at the videos, showing them to the rest of his family when they got together for dinner that night.

“I hope you don’t mind us barging in,” Letta apologized in that quiet way of hers.

“Not at all,” Aiden reassured her. “The girls are happy to have pizza with you guys here. And I don’t have to cook, so it’s a win-win.” He covered his mouth as he yawned widely, probably for the tenth time that night.

Ian raised his eyebrows. “Are you sleeping at night?”

“I’m trying to,” Aiden said. He never understood Kellen’s love affair with sleep more than he did when he yawned again and rubbed his eyes.

Isaac shrugged. “And not succeeding, I guess. I mean there’s no other reason for you to be not sleeping without Kellen here.”

Lyla scoffed. “Honestly Isaac, if Kellen was here, he’d never let you live that comment down.”

Aiden was thinking the same thing, smiling along with Lyla even as Isaac made an affronted noise. “How do you know he’d get me this time?”

“Because he’d probably say something like… ‘You have no idea what we can do over the phone,’” Lyla said in a poor imitation of Kellen’s voice. She got his tone down surprisingly well though.

Isaac shook his head. “That would so not bother me. I’m immune by now,” he said far too proudly.

Aiden gave him a look that said that his brother was clearly in over his head. “You wouldn’t be saying that if you knew what we used to do over the phone when I was away.”

Isaac gave him a suspicious look. “Okay, stop, stop. I don’t want to know.”

At the very least, Aiden could always count on his brothers to cheer him up when he was feeling off. He didn’t even know why he was feeling so off though. He missed Kellen, of course, but it had been five days, not five months. Kellen used to do this for eight months at a time and even though he’d missed Aiden, he’d tried not to complain. He’d always told Aiden how proud he was with that beautiful smile.

Some of Aiden’s thoughts must have shown on his face as Ian nudged him on his way to the fridge. “So, what’s up with you? Are you seriously okay?”

Aiden huffed heavily, running his hands through his hair. “I’m being stupid.”

Ian and Isaac shared a look. Letta stared both of them down, daring one of them to say it. Isaac with his endless fearlessness was the one who broke the silence. “Yeah, well, we know that you’re stupid, but is there something bugging you?”

Letta rolled her eyes, smacking his shoulder.

Lyla shrugged at Isaac’s affronted look. “Sorry, Isaac. I’d jump in to help you, but I’m not going against Letta.”

Letta nodded with a “that’s how it should be” look on her face. “Aiden, what’s wrong?” she asked in a much more understanding voice. “You miss Kellen, don’t you?” She rubbed up and down his arm in a sisterly gesture.

“It’s stupid, right?” Aiden asked, wincing.

“Why would that be stupid?” Letta asked gently.

It felt silly to say it out loud, but Aiden took a deep breath and said, “It’s only been five days. Kellen used to do this for months when I was away. How the hell did he do it? I mean, shouldn’t I be able to handle being alone for a week?”

Ian hummed in understanding. “Aiden, you don’t know how hard of a time Kellen actually had every time you went away. Usually, we didn’t see him for a few weeks after you went back because he was working so much without sleeping.”

“He told me that,” Aiden said with a confused frown.

Letta patted his hand. “But Aiden, Kellen had just as hard of a time as you. He used to pine for you pretty terribly. I used to bring Nikki over just to cheer him up.”

“Yeah, he wouldn’t even tease me like usual. All the jokes and innuendos would go right over his head,” Isaac said with his arms crossed. “It was super weird.”

“And he got Isaac back like ten times worse when he adjusted to you being away again,” Lyla said with a shrug.

Isaac groaned, covering his face with his hands. “I’ll never forget that one time. Those images are burned into my freaking brain and it’s been like ten years.”

Aiden smiled despite himself. It had been a long time since he’d thought about it, but he knew both he and Kellen had a rough time of it when he used to go back to baseball. This was no different. This was only a few days.

But this was different. “I was always the one who went away. And Kellen felt like this every time,” Aiden mumbled.

If Kellen had felt like this when Aiden had to go back every season, he had no idea how the man had done it for so long. It was a completely different feeling to stay in their apartment alone with just work during the days and insomnia at night than to be the one flying out for work.

“Oh, Aiden,” Letta said understandingly, rubbing his back. “You know that Kellen always understood.”

Lyla grabbed his hand. “And he’s on his way back. Or well, I guess he will be if he ever actually leaves the airport.”

Ian patted his shoulder, leaning on the counter next to him. “Aiden, it’s okay to miss Kellen. I missed Letta when she went away to see her brother that week after his surgery. Isaac missed Lyla when he had to go on that work trip while she was pregnant with Riley. And Kellen missed you too every time you had to go for baseball. But he’ll be back tomorrow, and I’m sure he’s looking forward to being back here with you and the kids just as much as you want him back.”

“He definitely is looking forward to being back just as much,” Isaac affirmed with a fond roll of his eyes.

Aiden smiled at his family’s efforts to cheer him up. He wasn’t any closer to understanding how Kellen lasted eight months out of the year like this, but he did know that when Kellen did get home, he’d show his husband just how much he appreciated him. And how much he appreciated all that Kellen had sacrificed for him for those years that Aiden fulfilled his dream.

Standing up straight, Aiden exhaled. “As long as his flight actually leaves tomorrow. I think he’s going stir crazy not sleeping for the past day.”

“He hasn’t slept?” Isaac asked with a raise of his eyebrows. “Kellen? The man who loves sleep just behind you and the kids?”

“Him and Olivia have been sleeping in shifts, in between dancing with random strangers in the airport and Kellen flipping over railings and apologizing to police officers for being too loud,” Aiden said with a chuckle.

Lyla shook her head in amusement. “I can’t believe he’s in his thirties now and you both still have so much energy.”

“Ten bucks that he falls asleep in the car when Aiden drives him home tomorrow,” Isaac said to her.

“You’re on,” she said with a smile, shaking his hand.

Aiden rolled his eyes at them, but he did feel better. It helped that the girls sat with him to watch a movie that night to distract him. With them in the living room with him, he was at least able to nod off for a while, and was so tired that he slept for a couple hours that night before work.

At that point, he was running on adrenaline, driving to the airport with a smile on his face to see his husband. And to pick up Olivia with B.

“Thanks for the ride, Aiden,” B said idly as their waited before security. “Maybe we should get a car…”

“You’ve survived this long without one,” Aiden mused. “Kellen still walks to work too. He only takes the car when he has to drive the girls.”

B hummed. “Airports and travel are always annoying though. So, I appreciate this.”

He nodded to her. “No need for thanks. What, was I going to pick up Kellen and not grab Olivia?” Aiden chuckled, shifting in anticipation.

B looked at him in quiet amusement. “I miss Olivia too. It’s weird working without both of them there.” She tilted her head. “I think Zander and Nikki might get together at some point though.”

Aiden looked at her in surprise. “Really?” He thought about it for a moment. Nikki, his excitable, cheerful niece, with Zander, a shy yet sweet and funny man. They had a five-year age difference, but thinking about it, he could see them together. “That would make sense actually.”

“They’ve been spending more time together doing classes with Kellen and Olivia out for this week,” B commented.

“He’d be way better than that guy she dated with the attitude,” Aiden chuckled. He’d never gotten why she’d liked the guy who had this way about him where he could insult and compliment a person at the same time. Her first boyfriend had been sweet at least.

“I heard a lot from Kellen about that douche,” B said, smiling now. She straightened out, looking down the corridor as people started to file out.

Aiden looked too, but he couldn’t see either Olivia nor Kellen coming. He frowned when the crowd started to thin out, turning when someone tapped him on the shoulder. “Kellen!” he exclaimed, blinking in surprise and wrapping his arms around his husband tightly.

It felt natural to have Kellen’s arms around him, the man’s nose in his neck as he held on tightly. Aiden exhaled at the feeling of security that accompanied the man’s embrace, the tension bleeding from his body.

“I didn’t see you come up,” Aiden murmured into his neck.

“You don’t know how much work it was to surprise you,” Kellen laughed, pulling back to give Aiden a short kiss.

Aiden wished they could spend more time kissing, but they were standing in the middle of the airport. Plus, he could see the heavy dark bags underneath Kellen’s eyes. “Why did you do that?” Aiden laughed.

“Sorry, that was me,” Olivia said, jumping down off B. Aiden had a feeling that Olivia appreciated B’s ability to do lifts when she caught a running Olivia like it was nothing. “I figured it would be more fun this way.”

B rolled her eyes, a good-natured smile on her face. “Let’s go get your bags. You guys look dead on your feet.”

Aiden agreed, noticing how Kellen was dragging his feet and yawning every few minutes. “Sorry,” Kellen apologized after another yawn. “I finally fell asleep on the plane and then it was time to go.” He stretched his neck, pointing out his suitcase at baggage claim. Aiden grabbed the little thing without being asked.

“I’ll drop off B and Olivia and then we can sleep,” Aiden said comfortingly.

Kellen gave him a little smile. “You look like you haven’t slept in days either. Oh, honey,” he said sweetly, patting Aiden’s chest. He interrupted himself with another yawn, his eyes watering.

Aiden still thought it was cute when Kellen yawned like a cat, but he was looking forward to sleeping too. As soon as they had Olivia’s tiny suitcase, they were off. It didn’t take long to drop off B and Olivia at their apartment before they were heading to their own home.

“Girls okay at home?” Kellen asked, rubbing his eyes.

“Thea’s fourteen, so she’s okay babysitting. Here’s to hoping nothing’s on fire,” Aiden joked.

Kellen waved away his worries. “They’re all capable. It’s been weird not having them around.” He shifted in the passenger seat, like he couldn’t get comfortable.

“You alright?” Aiden asked, looking over before he returned his gaze to the road.

“My back and shoulders are just a little sore from sleeping on airport furniture,” Kellen said with a wince. “Olivia and I tried our best to set ourselves up, but there’s only so much you can do. We did have a very spirited game of tag with some other people stranded overnight though.”

Aiden scoffed, laughing to himself. “Did you win?”

Kellen chuckled. “I was winning for a while, but I let one of the kids catch me. Building confidence. Plus, I was freaking tired and wanted to stop running.”

“Knowing you, you were flipping over partitions like they were nothing,” Aiden said to him.

“Aw, you do know me well,” Kellen said warmly, breaking off with another yawn.

In the few minutes of comfortable silence that sat between them, Aiden could see that Kellen was having trouble staying awake. Aiden expected him to fall asleep, but after another few minutes, Kellen asked, “Aiden?”

“Yeah, baby?”

Kellen paused uncharacteristically, so Aiden checked to be sure he really was awake. He saw Kellen with a contemplative look on his face. Finally, he asked, “Aiden, are we old?”

Aiden raised an eyebrow at the sudden question. “I wouldn’t say so. Do you think we are?”

Kellen hummed. “I don’t think so. But I don’t know, when I used to visit you or you used to come back after the season, we’d basically jump each other’s bones the second we got home. Is it bad that all I want to do is sleep with you next to me right now?”

Aiden understood why Kellen asked, but that didn’t change his answer. “That’s not a bad thing, Kellen. Intimacy changes as a relationship progresses. Just because we’re too tired to do anything tonight doesn’t mean we won’t be intimate with each other. Sleeping or showering together with you feels just as intimate as having sex. Even when you hand me coffee in the morning, that feels intimate to me.”

Aiden smiled to himself, his heart feeling big in his chest. “We don’t have to have sex for us to experience how much we love each other. That being said, I can guarantee that I’ll never get bored of sex with you.”

He gave Kellen a glance, a wry smile on his face. Kellen was looking at him with a warm look on his face. “You’ve gotten so wise,” Kellen said playfully, smiling fondly. “I love you so much, Aiden.” He chuckled to himself, his face red. “I love that you kept your promise too.”

“My promise?” Aiden asked in confusion, pulling into the driveway.

“On our wedding night, you said that you’d always find a way to spoil me,” Kellen said softly. “We’ve got three kids, we’re tired half the time, there’s so much we have to do, and yet you make me feel like we’re sixteen again whenever you brush your hand against my back or kiss me on the cheek before we leave in the morning.”

Kellen reached forward to place his hand on Aiden’s chest, rubbing his thumb idly over his pecks. “And then you go and say something like that to make all my worries disappear.”

“You’ve been doing that for me for years,” Aiden said quietly. “You still do that for me. Even if we are getting old, the way you make me feel will never change.”

Kellen answered him with a kiss. It was slow and sweet rather than hurried and rushed, but it was no less loving. Aiden hummed at the feeling of Kellen’s lips on his, just as soft as they had been when they were kids.

But now, as adults, as parents and husbands, there was so much more history between them. Even if they didn’t rip each other’s clothing off at every chance they got, anyone could have sex. Not everyone had the chance to grow old with the person they were meant to be with, or to spend every day with one kiss in the morning and another one to say goodnight.

Aiden felt dazed when Kellen separated them slowly, rubbing his thumb over Aiden’s lips. “In the morning, let’s set aside some time for us. Slow and lazy, just like this.”

“I’ll look forward to it. Maybe I can give you a little massage for your back too,” Aiden said with a smile.

Kellen hummed happily. “But for now, let’s say goodnight to the girls and get some sleep. You look like you haven’t slept in days, Aiden.”

Aiden gave him a wry smile. “I can’t sleep in that bed without you. You’ve ruined me, Kellen,” he joked. “Do you know that I felt so lonely without you that I actually told my brothers? Even the girls noticed.”

Kellen laughed, softly this time. “Olivia set herself up in the same room as me to help me sleep. What can I say? I’ve grown used to someone breathing next to me.” He gave Aiden one more kiss before getting out of the car, smiling when Aiden took his bag for him.

“Ever the gentleman,” Kellen said with a sly smile, heading over to get the door.

The girls were thrilled to have him back. They were excited to tell him everything in the days he’d been gone, but Kellen was only able to sit through a frozen dinner with them before Aiden was sure he’d fall asleep where he sat.

Kellen collapsed into bed, making Aiden chuckle. “Hips up; I’ve got your pants,” Aiden said, patting his hip.

Kellen did as Aiden asked, barely managing to keep his eyes open until Aiden undressed and joined him under the covers. Aiden wrapped his arms around Kellen, pulling the man to his chest and breathing him in. Kellen hummed sleepily in his throat, probably about two seconds away from falling asleep.

“I love you, Kellen,” Aiden murmured.

Kellen was already asleep though, his breaths hitting Aiden’s throat with every exhale. Aiden smiled fondly, falling asleep soundly for the first time in a week.

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