Major (capital “M”) angst and have tissues at the ready for this story.
Kane won. Just barely. He managed to steal the very last pancake and stuff it into his mouth. Ian didn’t mind, partially because it felt good to laugh at his subsequent stomach ache.
And partially because he wasn’t sure he could drive the Jeep just yet.
They’d dressed in jeans and t-shirts and headed out shortly thereafter. As they approached the Jeep, Ian paused a couple of feet from it. There, on the side was a tiny hole. He took the last couple of steps and stared at it.
It was barely a blip, almost unnoticeable and wouldn’t have been if Ian didn’t know to look. There was a patch a little farther away, repaired and painted over. And then a third on the door itself also patched and painted over. Ian had spent so much time looking at the Jeep over the last year, that he’d learned just about every scrape and dent.
If he stepped back and looked at it objectively, you couldn’t tell. But he could. He knew exactly where to look. And he swallowed hard at the reminder of what they were.
He took another few seconds, breathing hard, fighting the inevitable tears. He was not going to let them out. He’d spent too much time on all of this, as it was. So much time already hiding from life. The pain was part of that, he knew that.
He just couldn’t let it rule him. He’d let the numbness do that, let it take over. And he’d hurt the living people in his life because of it.
Ian closed the distance and stopped at the side of the jeep. He still avoided looking at the patches and the hole and he considered the cost of a paint job. But he wouldn’t do it anyway, even if he had the money. It felt a little too much like a betrayal of Hayden to do that. Patching the holes and painting over them was one thing. But repainting the whole thing just felt like it was going too far.
Kane unlocked the door for him and he yanked on the handle with more force than he’d meant to. He made himself calm down a bit and glanced at Kane apologetically. Kane gave him a bolstering smile and a nod, then went around to the driver’s side.
“We’ll need to get a copy of the key made,” Ian said while Kane got settled.
“We don’t have to do that.” Kane shook his head as he started the car.
Ian shook his head as well. “No, we should have more than one, anyway. But then we don’t have to worry about who’s got the keys or whatever.”
“Okay.” Kane shrugged. “So… what do you want to do?”
“Let’s go get Kenji. Maybe just drive for a while or something,” Ian suggested and Kane nodded, then shifted the car into first gear and pulled out of the spot.
It took Kane a few tries to get the hang of stick shift again, but then he was zipping through gears like a pro. “This is fun to drive,” Kane said, grinning as he took a corner a little too fast. Ian hung onto the roll bar and actually chuckled.
“Yeah. Hay—” He paused and swallowed, then forced his lips to work. “Hayden let me drive it. In fact, he tried to get me to drive more than I did, but…” Ian shook his head at himself. “But I liked being over here. I liked holding his hand instead of having to pay attention to driving.”
Kane grinned. “I know. Never would let go of him.” He snorted. “Especially when we were all together.”
Ian blushed, but chuckled. “Yeah.” He stopped then and swallowed again. “Yeah,” he said again, looking through the windshield. He wasn’t seeing the streets or the lights or the houses, though. He was seeing Hayden in the driver’s seat with that annoyed crease on his brow when he kept having let go so he could shift gears. “He used to talk about getting a different car – an automatic. So—so—” He stopped and concentrated on breathing again.
Kane snorted. “Saps. Both of ya.”
Ian nodded, grateful for Kane not calling him on the struggle. “Yup, no apologies for it, either.” He did his best to sound normal as he stared sightlessly out the window, lost in the memories. This was going to be harder than he thought. He focused once more on the simple acts of inhaling and exhaling.
Thankfully, before too long, they pulled up at Kenji’s and Kane cut the engine. “I’ll stay here,” Ian said, glancing over and Kane nodded.
“Okay. We don’t… we don’t hold hands and stuff, Ian, so you don’t have to worry about that.”
Ian nodded, but frowned. “You don’t have to not do stuff because of me. I’ve already caused plenty of problems. I’m not g—.”
Kane held up a hand. “Don’t. Just… we already talked about this. Stop. We don’t hold hands and stuff because we’re not boyfriends, okay?”
“Okay,” Ian replied, looking back out through the windshield.
“We’ll be right back,” Kane said, opening the door, but hesitated before he stepped out. “You okay?”