The Man I Love

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Caring About You

Aiden blinked blearily as he answered the door at whatever god forsaken early hour it was. He had actually already been awake, since Kellen was up to get ready for work, but there was a difference between lying awake in his bed and listening to Kellen hum in the shower and being dragged out of that nice warm bed to get the door.

When he saw it was Isaac, this time with Lyla, both offering him an apologetic look, he almost slammed the door in their faces.

“What,” he deadpanned, glad at least that he’d thought to slip on a pair of sweats.

“Did we wake you up?” Lyla asked with a cautious smile.

Aiden exhaled, letting his shoulders slump. “Kellen’s up anyway for work. Come on in.” He stepped aside, rubbing a hand over his face tiredly.

“Sorry we’re here so early, but we were kind of betting on you guys being up before we went in to work,” Isaac said with the same smile as his girlfriend, a hopeful glint in his eyes. He was smiling again, looking tired, but more like himself. “We just wanted to say thanks. We talked last night and everything’s okay.”

He gave a smile to Lyla, who held out a box. “And we brought breakfast,” she said with a wide smile.

Aiden huffed in amusement and took the box, blinking at the mini donuts. “Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve had these,” he mumbled.

“We all liked them when we were kids,” Isaac said with a shrug, reaching in to eat one when Aiden opened the box for one himself.

“But you guys are okay now?” Aiden asked curiously, waking up at least a little thanks to the sugar. “Mind if I ask what the big secret was?”

Lyla raised her eyebrows. “Kellen still didn’t tell you?”

“We went to bed after Isaac left,” Aiden said succinctly. He knew Kellen would have jumped at the opportunity to tease his brother, but he wasn’t awake enough to think of a clever innuendo.

Isaac still had this look on his face though like he knew exactly what Aiden meant when he said “went to bed.”

Lyla glossed right over it. “Looks like I can definitely trust Kellen with all my secrets,” she said to herself, sounding impressed. Turning back to Aiden, she went on, “A couple weeks ago, I thought I might be pregnant. I wasn’t,” she said quickly at Aiden’s raised eyebrows, “but you can guess why I freaked out. I probably should have told Isaac earlier though,” she finished under her breath.

“What’s done is done,” Isaac said casually. “We talked about it and we’re okay now. But, seriously Aiden, thanks for letting me hang out last night.”

“You’re my brother,” Aiden responded like it was obvious. To him, it was.

“Is Kellen around?’ Lyla asked curiously, looking around as if he was hiding.

Kellen chose that moment to run in, his hands working swiftly to button up his coat as he hefted his backpack up with him. “You’re lucky I have work, or you would have walked in on the end result of what you interrupted last night,” he said teasingly to Isaac without a moment of thought.

Aiden smirked, hiding it beneath his hand. It just didn’t feel right anymore without Kellen making his brothers flush in embarrassment.

Kellen had apparently gotten used to it too as he slipped on his shoes without missing a beat. “I overheard you guys. Glad to know you’re alright,” he said sincerely to Lyla, who gave him a grateful smile. “But I’ve got to run.” He leaned over to give Aiden a quick peck on the lips. “See you later, hun! Love you,” he called out, giving Isaac and Lyla a wave goodbye as he trotted out the door.

“Love you too!” Aiden called back. He saw Kellen start sprinting to his studio like he did every day—except on the days when the ice was really bad.

“We could have given him a ride,” Isaac mumbled, staring after Kellen.

“You know Kellen’s probably only comfortable with me driving,” Aiden responded. “Or Olivia or B, although they don’t drive much either. But you guys better get going or you’ll be late to work,” he added.

He yawned again when his brother and Lyla were out the door. It was suddenly quiet, without even the sound of Kellen’s humming.

A few weeks later, just a week or so before Thanksgiving, Aiden found himself sitting in the same silence. That wasn’t odd in and of itself; it was usually pretty quiet without Kellen there.

The weird part was that Kellen was there.

The man had slipped out of bed even slower than usual that morning, shuffling to the shower with his eyes barely opened. Aiden waited until the water was on, but Kellen remained silent. Even when Aiden stepped in the bathroom a minute later, Kellen only gave him a small smile as he shut the shower curtain, looking exhausted even though the day had barely started.

Aiden slipped in the shower with him. They’d had plenty of mornings messing around underneath the water, but that wasn’t why Aiden jumped in. He wanted to be close to Kellen on that day. He wanted to provide Kellen some comfort on a day the man would definitely need it.

So, Aiden grabbed the shampoo and started working through Kellen’s hair for him. He saw the way Kellen relaxed under his touch, leaning back against his chest with a contented sigh.

In some ways, doing something as domestic as caring for one another was just as intimate as having sex. It was about physical closeness, about Kellen trusting Aiden enough to close his eyes and let himself be cared for.

The whole thing was so utterly normal and domestic, and yet Aiden’s heart felt too big in his chest when Kellen turned around to rub soap over his chest and arms. Those beautiful fingers caressed his muscles like he was something precious, moving slowly and efficiently at the same time. Kellen was so focused on his task that he probably didn’t even notice the little smile gracing his face.

Kellen gave Aiden a quick kiss when they were done, trotting off to get dressed with only a towel around his waist, water dripping down his muscles and through his hair. Aiden watched with a fond smile, grabbing a towel and stepping into the bedroom after him to see the man sitting at the end of their bed.

Aiden wrapped the towel around Kellen’s shoulders, chuckling under his breath at the man’s owlish blink. “You forgot to dry yourself off,” he said softly, rubbing him dry.

Kellen smiled back tiredly, but sincerely. “Guess I’m a little out of it today.” He didn’t protest as Aiden continued to dry him off, leaning back against him. The wet pricks of his hair were ticklish. “Are you sure you want to come with me?” Kellen mumbled. His eyes were bright as he looked up to meet Aiden’s gaze.

He sounded subdued. It was rare to hear Kellen sound like that, but Aiden already knew why. Even if Kellen hadn’t said something earlier in the week, Aiden still would have known. Every year, he remembered it without thinking about it. He had remembered it even when he and Kellen had been broken up.

Aiden gently ran his hand through Kellen’s wet hair, taking a seat next to him. “Of course, I’m sure. I’d really like to meet your dad again,” he said softly.

It was the anniversary of the day Kellen’s dad had died. The man had been hit by a car, hung on for a few days, and finally passed away. Kellen had only been five when it happened, but the years hadn’t dulled how much he missed his dad.

If anything, the time had only made Kellen miss the man more when he realized how much his dad would be absent for.

Aiden had held onto his boyfriend tightly when he’d admitted that back in high school in a choked voice. Admittedly, Aiden had felt his breath hitch too.

He could only imagine what it would feel like to lose his dad. To grow up without the man. To graduate school without him, or marry or have kids without him.

Now, eight years later, Aiden was getting the chance to greet Kellen’s dad for the second time. Back in high school, he’d been awkward. He hadn’t known what to do besides hold Kellen’s hand.

Aiden doubted he would know what to do now either, but he did know that Kellen needed him and he would be there.

Kellen gave him a small smile. “Thanks, hun. I’m sorry I’m so… not myself today.”

“You never need to apologize for that, Kellen,” Aiden said surely.

“I accepted my dad’s death a long time ago,” Kellen rambled on, “and I’ve had closure by now, but I don’t know why I always get like this today.” He frowned like he couldn’t quite come up with the right explanation.

There was really no need to explain though. Aiden kissed him softly on the cheek. “It’s okay, baby. I’ll have to be the cheerful one today then.”

That got Kellen to laugh a little. “It’s a challenge, you know. Being as excitable as me takes a lot of work,” he said sarcastically.

“If I can get you to smile, then it’s all worth it,” Aiden responded, punctuating his words with a quick kiss on the lips before he rose to grab some clothing for the both of them.

It didn’t take long to dress and get out the door. There was a chill in the air as the two of them walked along the sidewalks to Aiden’s car. Kellen linked their arms together habitually, walking casually with his hands still in his pockets.

Kellen had never been shy about these simple displays of affection, but they never failed to make Aiden melt. He was lucky to have this man beside him, even on the difficult days.

Kellen’s knee started bouncing as soon as they got in the car. It bounced the entire time they drove, his fingers tapping away on Aiden’s thigh. Aiden wished he could provide some comfort, but he knew Kellen would never relax if he took his hands off the wheel.

“Hey, Kellen, did I ever tell you about the time Ian and Isaac convinced me I was adopted?” Aiden asked with a small smile.

Kellen raised his eyebrows. “You fell for it? Please tell me you weren’t above twelve,” he said with a little laugh.

“Okay, I was eight,” Aiden started. Long story short: he ended up crying to his mom and begging her not to leave him. Needless to say, his mom had some choice words for her older sons. “You can’t tell me you never tried to convince Maia and Rory that they were adopted,” Aiden finished with, feeling elated at the brighter look on Kellen’s face.

“No, I didn’t,” Kellen said with a low laugh, “They were heartbroken when they figured out that we were only half-siblings. I can still remember the looks on their faces when mom finally explained to them that their dad wasn’t my dad.”

“I’m imagining something similar to the shock on my brothers’ faces when you sat on my lap and just stared at them in silence,” Aiden chuckled. It wasn’t funny because Kellen sat in his lap. It was funny because Kellen had purposely made a show of it and then almost fell off laughing.

Kellen smiled into his hand. “That was fun.” He paused, turning his gaze to Aiden fully. “I love you Aiden,” Kellen said seriously after another moment.

“I love you too, Kellen,” Aiden responded easily, just as he pulled into the parking lot across from the cemetery.

The brunette simply smiled, pecking him on the cheek before hopping out of the car. Aiden followed after, shivering as a breeze went by.

The slamming of the car door sounded strangely loud with the quiet cemetery next to them. The sun wasn’t quite shining that day as Aiden stepped over next to Kellen, following his boyfriend through the familiar winding pathways.

Aiden remembered coming to this cemetery years ago. It had only been once, but he recalled the few large trees off to the side leaning over the graves like it was protecting them. He remembered the iron gates they walked past and the neat rows of tombstones. Leaves blew through the clearing, dancing amidst the graves in shades of red, yellow, and orange.

Despite the quiet solemnness that surrounded the cemetery, it wasn’t ominous or frightening. It might have even been cheerful if the sun was shining—if a cemetery could ever truly be cheerful.

Aiden walked in silence next to Kellen, who was grasping his hand gently. When Aiden ran his thumb over Kellen’s knuckles, the other man smiled lightly at him, leading him confidently to a single tombstone amidst the many others.

Kyle Konrad.

Aiden blinked at the name as Kellen stood there quietly, standing still as the wind shuffled through his hair. Finally, Kellen went to sit cross-legged, staring as his mind strayed to whatever memories were flitting through it. Aiden was about to leave him alone, unsure if the man wanted a moment with his dad, but Kellen looked up at him. “You can sit if you’d like.”

Aiden obeyed without question. Sitting on the grass like this almost reminded him of when he was a kid and his gym class would sit out on the soccer field. The grass cracked beneath him as he shifted and looked to the stone in front of him.

Kellen’s father had only been 33 when he passed. Aiden felt an uncomfortable shift in his gut. He and Kellen were both 25. They weren’t that far off from 33.

The man had been young when he died, a thought that hit Aiden like a truck. Kellen had even started looking a little like his dad had in the old pictures Aiden had seen. They shared the same smile and thin frame, and as he got older, Aiden had no doubt that Kellen would have the same laugh lines around his eyes.

Aiden was overcome by a strong urge to hug his boyfriend close as if to confirm that he was really still there. A sense of sadness settled in his chest as he looked at the grave.

Kellen had sat up now, and was gently brushing the leaves away to clear it. He wiped off the dirt and dust with his hands, not paying any attention to the brown smudges coloring his pale skin. With a graceful flick of his wrist, Kellen had removed a bag of tiny paper cranes from his pockets.

Aiden’s eyes widened. “That’s what you’ve been doing all week,” he finally realized. His ears went red in embarrassment; he hadn’t meant to break the peaceful silence that settled over them.

Kellen gave him a playful smile though. “You remember how I used to get down about my dad. Well, my sisters were always so worried about me, so the first time I came home from college to see my dad, they came with me. Turns out that the two of them found an origami website and had been making tons of these for weeks to cheer me up.”

He was smiling fondly as he sprinkled tiny paper cranes on the ground in front of the tombstone. “They said the goal was a thousand, since you’re supposed to get a wish when you have a thousand, but they’d only gotten a hundred.” Kellen finished dumping the rest of the cranes gently. “So, I told them that I’d make 50 new ones every year until I had a thousand.”

“Then you’ve done like… 400 by now?” Aiden asked.

Kellen nodded. “Almost halfway there. But… I like making these cranes every year. Maia and Rory always send me 25 and I do the other 25.” Kellen settled back down next to him. “Those two never met my dad, of course, but… they keep making the cranes because they want my dad to know how much they care about me.” He swallowed, his voice sounding tight. “I have some great sisters, huh?”

His voice cracked. Aiden squeezed his hand. “You could have told me that’s what these were for,” he said softly.

“You still made 12 without me even telling you why,” Kellen chuckled. “Which you didn’t have to do by the way.”

“Actually,” Aiden thought aloud, “I was thinking I could do 12 every year. So, your dad knows how much I care about you too.”

Kellen was silent for a moment. Then his face broke out into a warm smile. “I’d like that.” He sat in silence for another minute, just staring at the way the cranes flickered in the wind. A flew blew away, but Kellen didn’t seem to mind.

Aiden listened when Kellen started talking quietly to his dad, just telling him about the past year. He felt like he was intruding on something personal, but Kellen didn’t seem bothered in the slightest, even when he talked about meeting Aiden again.

It had been a little less than a year since they’d gotten back together. Listening to Kellen talk to his dad had made Aiden realize how much had happened in that time, how much had changed.

He hoped Kellen’s dad would be happy that he was back in Kellen’s life as he looked down at his son.

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