Kade Jones’ life changed forever when his mom married Bruce because Bruce’s son Emerson became his best friend and confidante. Now the war in Iraq has changed everything. Emerson is returning home after a bomb shattered his kneecap and crushed his spirit.
Kade has always wanted to tell Emerson his true feelings but now, because of the tragedy, Kade fears Emerson has changed. Will he return Kade’s affection? Or will the wounded warrior reject him?
Note: This short story was originally published in the charity collection, Love Is Proud.
I’m not sure what my mom saw in Bruce. At six feet, he stood two or three inches taller than her. He had a constant five o’clock shadow. His blue eyes always seemed tired and weary: as if the world crushed his dreams and he had to work odd construction jobs. He snored at night, too and I was unfortunate to hear that, too after Bruce and my mom stopped acting like alley cats. I figured the beer belly he carried around his mid-line didn’t help reduce his snoring either.
Emerson, though, was something else.
My stepbrother stood six foot one, heavily muscled with his left arm decorated in a long dragon tattoo. He had been in track as a sophomore, wrestling as a freshman and by the time he graduated played varsity basketball for two years straight. He had blue eyes, too: but unlike Bruce’s soul-weary countenance, Emerson’s always burned fierce. When I met him for the first time, when I was fourteen, and he was sixteen, I knew I had never seen anyone more focused in life. And when I told Emerson I was gay at fifteen, shortly after my mom married his dad, his eyes told me that he didn’t care.
I should tell you by this point that Emerson is very good looking. Too good looking. But as good looking as he is, looks couldn’t pay for college. Bruce couldn’t send Emerson to college. Even though Emerson had good grades, money woes due to the economy in the home building business prevented Bruce from sending his only son to college.
Now, Emerson’s coming back from Iraq.
I wished I told Emerson how I felt about him before he left for Iraq. I tried to tell him though. In letters. Lots of letters. I’m sure Mom knew that I had a crush on Emerson though I’m not sure if she told Bruce.
Why didn’t I tell Emerson? I didn’t want to destroy our relationship. Emerson deserved better. I knew that. He deserved someone else, just not me. He probably still sees me as that pimply-faced teenager who bugged him, tried to borrow his clothes and wanted to hang out with him and his friends to the point of annoyance.
But I knew him more than anyone in this house. Bruce treated Emerson like a child; even after Emerson left for overseas. And Mom? She let Bruce raise Emerson while she “kept me in line,” as she said, over and over.
I knew I had it bad when I turned sixteen and all the guys I met I compared to Emerson. Of course, the guys in high school were douche bags. They all acted like they were studs and banging girls. One of Emerson’s senior friends, when I was a sophomore, kept pestering me behind Emerson’s back even though he bragged he was a ladies’ man. When Emerson found out, he put a stop to it.
That confused me.
Was Emerson trying to act like a protective stepbrother? Or was he jealous about something else?