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What Was Our Love All About?

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It was a Sunday morning when a sudden jolt of pain ran across Grizz's arm. He tugged and pulled on his sleeves hoping it would go away; hoping that it would stop. But, he well knows that time is of the essence, and what's meant to be is meant to be. Eager to pull back the sleeve of his left arm and quite nervous too, Grizz examined the time glowing underneath his skin.

Two years, Five months, Twelve days, Six hours and twenty-one minutes.

That was the time that was given to him before he would meet his soulmate. Two years? That's not that long, he thought to himself. Usually, it's different for everyone. Some consider the countdown as a gift, a blessing, maybe even a fulfilling adventure to carry on. But for him, it was just another heavy burden.

“It's not so bad, right?” Grizz said aloud. "Actually, who am I kidding. This fucking sucks."

People whose countdown didn’t start yet could date anyone they please. But there was one problem to it; the uncertainty of who you’re going to end up with is a scary thought. Either your countdown would never begin when you’re already with the person you love or it would activate and more time would be added the longer that you are together. And for some people who think their partners right now would be there till the end, every day was just another day to pray that the countdown would stop.

And most of the time, it didn't.

"It's just not fair," he said, phoning Luke right after the incident. “I don’t like this.”

Luke, his best friend and former football team mate, had already found his soulmate. Her name is Helena, who was a very beautiful woman with dark hair, soft eyes, and a kind heart. They started dating in high school, but Luke and Helena’s countdown didn’t start till they were in junior high. Helena was supportive of Luke, and of everyone else, actually. Even Grizz, who had chosen to leave his life in West Ham. She was still good to Luke as he was to her.

Present day, Grizz was a fresh graduate from Stanford with a degree in Agriculture. It would be very appropriate to reason out to his best friend that everything was perfectly fine and that he actually didn’t care if he died an old hermit. He moved half-way across the country after all, to start a new life. Luke on the other hand, had married Helena right after college and cozied himself down in West Ham where he was the football coach and Helena was the head of the town’s support group. Apart from his family, Luke, Helena, and Allie (because he had told her the night that he left), were the only people who knew who he really was.

I kind of knew.” Allie had said to him that night. “I mean, the way you look at Sam. It shows. You love him, don’t you, Grizz? Why don’t you tell him?”

Right, Grizz rubbed his eyes. Sam. Sam Eliot. The boy who was kissed by the fire—with the tuft of red hair and freckles all over his pale face. The boy with the piercing blue eyes and a smile so captivating, Grizz couldn’t help but sigh. It’s been a while. It’s been four years since he’d last seen or had talked to Sam. Not after the incident.

Sam was the father to Becca’s child or at least, that’s what he said. Grizz had walked into the hospital’s emergency room an hour after Sam had left his house, only for him to see that Becca was beginning to go under labor with Sam by her side.

“You and Becca..you’re—“ Grizz could feel his eyes well up with tears and blood rushing to his face not knowing what to feel whether it was sadness, anger, or everything all at once. “The father?”

“Yes.” Sam looked at him and his eyes began to water.

“It was a surprise, really.” Becca said, holding the top of her belly. “We were thinking about baby names. What’s your real name, Grizz?”

“Gareth.” He responded, almost instantly. Cold and unnerving. Keep it together, he had told himself.

Gareth.” Becca repeated and looked at Sam. “That’s quite nice actually!”

“I—I’m really happy,” Grizz stammered. He felt as though his insides were being churned and his throat started to hurt. A tear fell on his cheek but Becca didn’t seem to notice. Sam looked at him with his sad, blue eyes and opened his mouth to say something but Grizz turned away.

“I’m happy for you two.”

 It really wasn’t fair, and for Grizz that was just another reason why he had to go away and leave West Ham. There was nothing for him there after all, and everyone seemed to be having their lives sorted out except him. He thought that, maybe if he ran away from all his problems like how he did in football, it’ll all go away. Maybe going to a town where no one knew who you were felt like breaking out of a cage. But on the day of his farewell party, he was so sure the he had seen Sam’s countdown light up. Even still, Grizz couldn’t handle it. It was too much pressure for him and with the guys on the football team, he had known at the back of his head that they wouldn’t like the thought of him liking other men.

When he had gotten to Stanford he had seen different men. He had kissed them, slept with them, and dated them for a while. But nothing seemed to come as close to the feeling he had with Sam all those years ago in high school. Sure, a lot of girls still fawned over him and he had experimented once more only to prove that he was, indeed, gay. He wondered where that boy with the blue eyes was now.

Sam Eliot. The first boy he kissed. The first boy he had slept with. The first person to actually break his heart.

"Grizz, you know it was bound to happen." Luke said on the other end of the line, seemingly bringing Grizz back to reality. "Remember what Helena told us? That it's—"

"Different for everyone, I know." Grizz ran his hands through his long brown hair, still in a daze. 

The creaking of the wooden floor echoed his room and it started to annoy him and add a little more worry and dread to what he was feeling so he decided to sit at the foot of his bed rather than to pace around.

"So, what are you planning to do?" Luke gave off a tone of worry which didn't help Grizz at all despite explaining to Luke that he didn't want any of this right now. All Grizz wanted was for Luke to change the subject and just ask how he was doing. Instead, he gave off that vibe as if what Grizz would do something that was out of anyone's reach.

Grizz always despised it when Luke did that; when anyone did that. It made him feel unsure of himself.

"I'm thinking of moving.."

"You're going to move houses again, Grizz? But, this is the second time you've moved in a year. Money doesn't grow on trees, y'know."

"No, Luke, I meant move. Like actually move out of California."

They both fell silent.

“Where will you go?”

“Back.” Grizz stood up and walked across his room towards his window. The sunlight illuminate his forearm where his countdown was. The time began to change. “I’m going back to West Ham.”

One month, seven days, 21 hours, and 15 minutes.

 

 

Chapter Text

It was a lot warmer in California than it had been in West Ham, Connecticut. Grizz had only come home to his parents during the holidays and when he did, he made sure no one except a few handful of people knew that he was home. After coming out in college, his mother and father had quite a hard time accepting it. But with the absence of their only child, they slowly and surely learned to accept him and love him for who he really was. But despite the growing support from his parents and with reassurance from a few of his friends, it had never crossed in Grizz’s mind to move back to the town that he had been longing to leave all those years ago. Mostly everyone he knew back in high school had moved out of the town and into busier cities—not that he was keeping tabs on them—Luke had told him a year ago, out of the blue, trying to convince Grizz to come spend a longer vacation back in their old, quiet town of West Ham.

Grizz refused, apologized, and said that he would only come back to West Ham when it was time. When he felt like it was right. And now that he had graduated with a decent degree in Agriculture, and his countdown starting to fluctuate as soon as he mentioned at the thought of moving back to West Ham, he felt as though that it was a sign to ‘come back home’.

Luke understood, as he always had, and every time he had tried to bring up anything about the Eliot’s (even about Campbell, who had finally gotten the help he needed and moved out to the countryside where it was a lot more quiet), Grizz had dismissed the topic right away and talked about something else. Even if Sam had crossed his mind often, he didn’t want to talk about it with Luke or with anyone for that matter. Luke would then intervene and would tell him that “The Eliot’s would just like to know how you are.”

Grizz.” He could hear Sam’s voice at the back of his head; the broken whispers of Sam uttering how happy he was that Grizz had felt the same—that they were what they needed at that very moment. “Grizz.

Was it all real, anyway? Grizz had asked himself. Were what they had and what they felt real?

Grizz looked around his empty house. He had nothing much other than a few furniture, books, and some potted plants and a garden that he was tending to. It took him only a week and a half to settle things out. He was a part-time teacher at a school nearby that was doing research on herbal plants and the benefits it could do for the common flu and a barista at a cafe. It earned him enough to get all that he needed—rent to pay the house, a decent second-hand car, food, and clothes on his back. He had bid farewell to the faculty and staff and quietly resigned from both jobs. He sold most of the other furniture, clothes, and items he no longer needed and donated the other half. He gave the fruits and vegetables that he was growing in his garden to a local soup kitchen and his gardening kits to the old lady who lived next door that had helped him tend to his then growing garden.

“Hey, buddy, we found this in the box you labeled to throw away.” The mover handed him a glass frame with a picture in it. “Thought you might’ve put it there by mistake.”

Grizz looked at it and sighed. It was a picture of the last field trip they had as a class in high school. He saw himself with his friends, he saw Cassandra, Gordie, and Allie, Will, Bean, Kelly and Harry, Helena, Campbell, Elle, Becca, and a load of other people he didn’t really talk to, and…Sam.

“Thanks.” Grizz said, wistfully. He had actually meant to throw it away but somehow, it had found its way back in his hands where he then eventually decided to keep it instead. He hadn’t even bothered to take a glimpse at his forearm where his countdown ticked away. It glowed a little underneath his jacket.

“Not to be a little nosy, bud,” The mover comes back inside to count the rest of the boxes Grizz had. “But you sold your car and donated practically everything you own. You’re young and you still have your whole life ahead of you. What gives?”

Grizz shrugged and showed him his countdown, lifting the sleeve up a little. The mover nodded at him and let out a sigh.

“I see.”

“Have you found..,your person yet?”

“I did.” The mover lifted a box, his name plate gleaming from the sunlight coming from the curtainless windows. “But he passed away a few years ago. Cancer. He had bright blue eyes, almost like the boy in the picture you wanted to throw away.”

Grizz read the mover’s name plate. His name was Dean. And he had no countdown on his forearm at all. “Sorry” was all that he could say, not knowing whether if he was sorry for triggering a bad memory or if it was because of his loss. Dean shook his head and assured him that it was no worry at all.

Still, Grizz couldn’t help but feel a little downhearted.

-

It was late in the afternoon when the movers had finished storing Grizz’s belongings into the truck. After the last box had been stored away, Grizz took one good look at the house he had stayed in for over a year. He let out a sigh of relief but with a nervous undertone beneath it all. The sky was turning into shades of purple and pink. He almost felt melancholic to leave. Wow, he thought. He was really doing this—he was really going back to West Ham and leaving California.

“Hey, kid.” Dean looked over at Grizz through the window. Grizz raised his eyebrows and cocked his direction towards where the truck was. “Sometimes the things you’re looking for have already been there. I think it’s a good idea you’re going back to where you came from. Maybe you’ll find yourself there too.”

“Thank you.” Grizz felt his heart tug, as if Dean knew exactly what it meant to be where he was right now. “Please take care of my stuff.” He added, to lighten the mood.

“That you can count on us. Take care of yourself too, kid.”

Grizz watched as the truck drove away until he couldn’t see it anymore. As it did, his cab pulled over to take him to the airport. He loaded his suitcase into the trunk and slid into the passenger seat of the car.

“Let’s go.” He said to the cab driver. He felt his forearm tickle but didn’t bother to check it knowing that it had been fluctuating again.

-

“Welcome home, jackass.” Luke hugged him tight and took Grizz’s suitcase from him. “Wait, did you grow a few inches taller or what?” He put his hand over Grizz’s head to compare Grizz’s height with his own.

Grizz hugged him back as they both shared a hearty laugh. He had also seen his best friend over the holidays but in secret and under his parents’ promise. Arriving in Connecticut felt almost like a dream; almost as if everything that had just happened and his decision was all going too fast. It made his heart beat fast that he had to put a hand over it to calm himself down. Get your shit together, Gareth he said to himself. Now that he was home, his visits would no longer be a secret. He would no longer be hiding who he was all those years ago. It kind of excited him and scared him at the same time.

“Thanks for doing this, man.” Grizz said. “My parents aren’t actually coming home for another day or two, so I guess I’ll have to stay with you guys for now.” He gave Helena a hug as they started walking towards their car. “If it’s alright,” Grizz added, a little tired from the flight.

“Of course,” Helena chimed. “And then Luke can show you around the new places in town tomorrow. See what’s going on and all that. Actually, nothing much has changed in four years so maybe you’ll run into some old familiar faces.” Grizz felt his heart skip a beat again. He punched his chest a little and faked a cough to hide the fact that he was nervous as hell.

Luke agreed as he loaded Grizz’s luggage into the back of their car. “Oh, right.” He grabbed something out of his pocket and handed it to Grizz. “Your parents left the house key with me. It’s the spare. Y’know, just in case you’d like some privacy.”

Grizz took the keys and thanked him as they got into the car. The flight exhausted him and he was hungry but being with Luke and Helena felt like a breath of fresh air. He knew quite a lot of people when he had gone to Stanford and often went to Palo Alto to hang out with his university friends. Even still, he hadn’t formed a bond as strong as he had compared to the friends he had made in high school.

His eyes shift between Helena and Luke’s forearm as they were driving back to West Ham. There was, indeed, no countdown at all and speaking of it, Grizz hadn’t checked his own for the entire duration of the flight up to this very point. He got a little jittery, which concerned Helena but he had excused it for being hungry.

“So, how long have you got?” Luke asked a little while later when it was dead silent between the three of them, never mind the music playing on the radio. It made Grizz jolt as if Luke had just asked when he was going to die. Fuck, Grizz thought. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Their eyes met through the mirror and Grizz was quick to avert his best friend’s gaze.

“I’d rather not look at it.” He answered, looking outside the window. The moon illuminated the road and its light shone through the rows of trees.

“Why not?”

“Because.”

“Because what?”

Because he’s exhausted and you need to get us home quick so he can eat.” Helena intervened, saving Grizz from having to come up with some dumb excuse rather than tell him that he had actually no fucking clue what he was going to do now because he had impulsively made this decision.

Luke scoffed and changed the topic. The rest of the drive back to West Ham was filled with Luke and Helena asking Grizz about his experiences in California. He nearly dozed off towards the end of the drive as they were closing in. It was summer but since West Ham was surrounded by dense forest, the air was cool. They passed by their old high school where Luke had then explained that their football team was slowly making its way out there to the big league. Helena pointed at the building next to it telling Grizz that it was their support group’s headquarters which had steadily helped the town’s community with struggles that they faced.

“The library’s better now too,” Helena added as Luke made the turn towards the street to their house. “A lot of people have donated since the president of the student council held this one event. It’s got better books; poetry, science, fiction, language. You should pay a visit soon.”

“And speaking of language,” Luke came to a stop. Their house was a posh two-story building that was sleek and modern in nature compared to the houses in West Ham. “You’d be surprised how many people know ASL now. It just used to be like, what? A couple of people? Now nearly one third of the school population knows how to converse with it.”

“That’s nice.” Grizz mused but he cursed himself for not getting into it deeper than he had wanted to before. He had noted to himself that he would pay a visit to West Ham High School and inquire about the classes. He felt his stomach growl in hunger. Grizz yawned, and opened the car door. “Who’s the teacher?” He took his jacket off and placed it over his shoulder.

Luke and Helena looked at each other, not making a single move. Grizz raised his eyebrows at them. Helena cleared her throat and nodded at Luke which made Grizz oddly suspicious.

“Um,” Luke started and scratched his head. “It’s, er—well, uh—“

“For fuck’s sake,” Helena laughed and rolled her eyes. “Grizz, it’s Sam. Sam Eliot is the ASL teacher in West Ham High School. He’s actually one of the head supervisors there and..” She droned on but Grizz’s soul completely flew out of his body and into outer space. He could feel his heart beat in his ears and his face turning red.

In sheer panic, he mistakenly looked at the countdown on his forearm which seemed to have been glowing even brighter than usual. Holy shit, Grizz said to himself, along with all the string of curses and swears he can muster in his vocabulary. Holy fucking shit.

17 hours, 46 minutes, 8 seconds.

Chapter Text

No matter how many times Grizz had tossed and turned in his bed at Luke and Helena’s guest room, he couldn’t fall asleep. He would wake up every hour or so and stare at plain nothingness, his mind going through millions of questions. He felt his heart thumping hard against his chest, and its beat growing steadily faster the more he thought about the possibility of who his soulmate could be.

Grizz stared at the ceiling. He figured it was probably 6 o’clock in the morning as the light outside from the window began to seep into the room. No, it couldn’t be, he thought. Sam couldn’t be his soulmate. His countdown had started years ago, or so Grizz had presumed, remembering that he had seen Sam’s forearm glow during his goodbye party. So, what? Grizz closed his eyes. Maybe Sam had already found his soulmate. The thought of it made his heart hurt, and even more so that Sam was in West Ham—he was just right around the corner and it was inevitable that they would bump into each other soon. What would he even say? What would he say to Sam when all those years ago, they hadn’t exactly ended in good terms.

“So, when were you going to tell me that you were having a baby?” Grizz had said, his eyes welling up with tears. He and Sam had gone up into his room amidst the party that was going on downstairs. No one seemed to notice as most of them were either drunk or were out on the lawn watching and debating on who between Clark and Jason could eat the most hot pockets in a minute.

“I knew I should’ve told you.” Sam stood at the doorway, his eyes piercing through Grizz’s own. Sam had wanted to talk to him before he left and Grizz had wanted to, too. So, they both agreed and made sure no one was watching when they had gone up to Grizz’s room. Grizz went into his room and sat at the foot of his bed, but Sam was reluctant to sit beside him.

“We were talking for hours,”

“I know,” Sam interrupted. “But finding you… I didn’t want to mess it up. I was so excited-“

“So excited that you forgot you were going to be a dad?” Grizz intervened, his mouth hot with words. He was angry, and rightfully so. Sam moved towards him. Grizz didn’t dare to move an inch, his eyes locked with Sam’s.

“Yes, I know it sounds crazy. Look, I was lonely. Becca’s my best friend and I used to sleep at her house. I don’t know!” Sam said aloud, his eyes full of tears. “It just happened. You’ve slept with girls! You should know what I’m talking about.”

Grizz finally shot up, his tears flowing down his face. “Yeah, but I’m not having a baby.”

“It wasn’t on purpose, okay? It just happened. Believe me, I didn’t want this to happen. I didn’t expect for us to be…like this. But I promised her too.” Sam said and signed, moving closer towards Grizz. “I’m making the best of what we have right now.”

“Does she know that that’s all that is? That you’re just ‘making the best’ of it as if it’s just a spur of the moment? Didn’t you think about anyone’s feelings at all?” Grizz towered over Sam, his hands balled into fists. Sam furrowed his eyebrows, trying to keep up with what Grizz was saying. “Because she seems to think that you guys are a happy couple or something while I’m standing here like some goddamn fool trying to put things together.”

Sam looked at him, confused. “Grizz, you’re talking too fast—“

“I’m talking too fast?” Grizz scoffed before Sam could say anything else. He honestly couldn’t care at that moment. His heart felt heavy and his eyes stung from the tears that had been shed. He felt like the world was coming down and crashing into him. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. Grizz ran his hands through his hair. “Okay, how about this? Does she know who you are?” He signed as he emphasized each word.

“Yes,” Sam said, nodding. They were now a few inches away from each other. “But I can’t leave her now. I promised.”

“Then what about us? What’s going to happen to us?” Grizz grabbed Sam’s shoulders. “How do you want to live, Sam?”

Grizz was finding it hard to keep himself together. Why now? Why was all of this happening now? He broke down and sobbed softly, his hands still on Sam. He couldn’t even look at Sam in the eyes anymore. Sam cupped Grizz’s face in his hands and kissed him. His lips felt warm against Grizz’s own, their cheeks flushed and wet with tears. Grizz didn’t want to pull away, even if his anger felt like hot fire dancing in his throat—he wanted to just be in Sam’s arms forever. This was what home felt like. Sam was home. But he too had made a promise to himself; that he would leave this shithole for a town and everyone here. Even more so now because he would not be able to stand seeing Sam and Becca together with their child. If Sam was going to keep his promise, then so was he. Hell, he thought. It was a selfish thing to think about, but if he could just have Sam for one night, let it be this one. Please, god, let it be this one.

“I’m sorry,” Sam said after they had pulled away from an embrace. His hands were still grasping the hem of Grizz’s shirt. “I’m sorry things got complicated and that I have strings attached. But I want you to know, Grizz, that what we had—“ Sam cupped Grizz’s face again and with one hand he wiped away the tears that were streaming down on Grizz’s face. “What we had was real. For me, at least.”

Don’t go, Grizz thought and had wanted to say it aloud but he didn’t have the heart to. Please, stay with me. His throat was burning and his head started to hurt. All he could do was look—look at Sam’s eyes that were so sad and so blue, Grizz couldn’t help but feel his heart start to break. Just fucking say it. He couldn’t believe that this just might be the last time he’d see Sam for maybe the rest of his life. Because once he was out of West Ham, he would never look back. Grizz would leave everything about him and his façade all in this posh little town. Tell him what you feel. He would cut ties with everyone except maybe two or three people. But that was it. And then the rest of whatever left he could remember about being here would be stored away in a box in an attic that he would eventually throw away. Moving to California would make him forget. Tell him you love him. It would make him forget how good it could have been if it was the end game for him and Sam, and how good it could have been if things were different—if he had just confessed to Sam earlier in their years of high school.

Sam handed him a worn out book. It was Walden by Henry David Thoreau, a book about self-reliance and spiritual discovery. Sam apologized and said that it was the only book he could find and said that it might come handy when Grizz would be in Stanford. A little reminder about the simple things in life, he added.

“I care about you. A lot. And I need you to be safe out there, okay?” Sam looked at him longingly, awaiting for his response.

Okay.” Was all that Grizz could muster up to say. He had a lot of things to tell Sam, but conceded in defeat, thinking that maybe things should be better left unsaid in order for broken things to mend itself. He didn’t want to lull Sam into more guilt than he was already in.

“I need you to come back. Come back when you find yourself. And when you do..” Sam signed ‘come back’ again. He lifted his arm and motioned it to his chest. At first glance, Grizz could see something glowing underneath Sam’s sleeve. “Come back to me.”

He and Sam’s eyes locked for a moment; a moment that felt like an entire eternity, before Sam had backed away towards the door. Grizz was quick to pull on Sam’s sleeve and took him in for another embrace.

“I don’t think you’ll ever see me again,” He whispered into Sam’s neck. Grizz realized that Sam couldn’t have heard that, and he left it that way. Life was just fucking unfair and that even if it was just for one night, he couldn’t even have Sam to himself without having to worry about what was to come. Sam looked behind him once more as if he was waiting for Grizz to repeat what he said. Grizz smiled at him sadly, not saying another word.

Goodbye, Grizz.” Sam signed goodbye but had said Grizz’s name. This fucking hurts, Grizz thought, his eyes welling up with tears again. Please, don’t go.

Sam had gone down the stairs. He went out the door, and then went on his way home leaving the party without saying goodbye to anyone else. Grizz hadn’t realized how painful it had felt to watch Sam walk away without ever turning behind him to see if he was looking. When Sam had left, Grizz went straight back into his room, and cried for a good hour or so. He had only gone back downstairs to the party that he almost forgot about when someone had knocked on his door.

“Hey, where’d you get the weed, man?” Some random guy had asked him after seeing Grizz’s bloodshot eyes, obviously already fucking high than he was supposed to.

I fucking hate this place, Grizz huffed, pulling the guy downstairs where he was supposed to be and totally ignoring the question he had asked.

The next few days was a blur for Grizz. And the night he had left, he had told Allie what he felt about Sam and who he really was. Allie was one of the only people he genuinely trusted and liked, and even considered her to be somewhat like his younger sister. She had wondered why he hadn’t told Sam yet, but he brushed it off and said that there was no point anyway since he was going to go away and start a new life somewhere else.

And now he was back. Back in West Ham, New fucking England with no direction or plan on what on earth he was going to do. Grizz sat up and collected himself from reminiscing that painful memory. He turned the bedside lamp on and picked up the book he was reading last night in hopes to lull him to sleep. It was the book Sam had given him that night during his goodbye party.

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” Grizz scanned the highlighted quote over and over again. Fuck it, he said aloud, jumping off of the bed. If the truth were to set him free, then he’ll have to find it himself. That’s why he’s here, to figure out what the fuck he was going to do with the time ticking on his arm.

He got up, took a bath, brushed his teeth, and got into his clothes. Grizz spent the entire night pondering about what he was going to do. He figured, maybe after spending the night at Luke and Helena’s he’d go back to his own house and tend to his own needs. Before coming home he’d already gone job hunting and with his luck, there was a job opening for a farm manager in West Ham. He wasn’t going to start ‘till 2 weeks from now anyway. He took his luggage with him and descended down the staircase where Helena greeted him.

“Morning, Grizz,” She beckoned him to the kitchen where a serving of bacon, eggs, and toast await him. “Leaving so soon already? I’ll go ahead and wake Luke up.”

“No, it’s alright. He’s probably exhausted from yesterday.” Grizz placed his luggage in the corner of the room and sat down. “I think I’ll go around town today after I unpack at home. You guys don’t have to worry. I mean, nothing much has changed anyway so I’m pretty sure I still know how to go around town without Luke being my chaperone.” Grizz thought he sounded quite rude so he added, “But that’s just how he’s always been. He’s just looking out for me, that’s all.” Helena smiled and nodded in agreement. She handed Grizz a cup of tea.

“Tell him we’ll see each other maybe around noon at the park and we’ll have lunch together. My treat.”

“Grizz,” She put her hand on top of his. “You know, if there’s anything you want to talk about, you can always talk to me. Luke can be kind of a dumbass and he tends to think out loud, but I promise he just wants the best for you that’s why we were really happy that you were coming back here because then we could see you more.”

Grizz felt his eyes tear up. He knew Helena was watching him so he tried to mask it off by sipping on his cup of tea. “Yeah, I don’t really know what I’m doing right now. Don’t you think it was kind of impulsive and stupid for me to just go back here after the things I’ve said about this place and how much I would never come back?”

Helena shook her head. “No, I think you came back here because you’ve found your purpose. Or, well, you’re still finding it. You came back here because of this,” She pressed Grizz’s forearm with her hand. “I know you’re scared, Grizz. I was too. And so was Luke. We got this when we were so young but it was kind of thrilling to know that Luke was going to be the person that I’ll be spending the rest of my life with. You’re scared because you’ve never had anyone patch up the hole that’s still there in your heart.”

Grizz looked at her, not hiding the tears that were about to fall from his eyes. Helena had her way of words but in a good way. After all, she was the head of the support group in their town. He hadn’t had this conversation with anyone else and not even his parents. He hadn’t fully explained to them that the reason why he was coming home was because he was scared of the inevitable things that were going to happen to him if he were to stay in California or that for the first time in a long time, he felt undeniably alone. The people there were fun and liked to live in the moment, but they were the type of people that you’d get fed up with easily. It was almost like the same routine kind of lifestyle he had felt when he was hiding who he was all those years ago.

“I know you don’t like to talk about it,” Helena patted his back. “But maybe you shouldn’t run away from the things that you’re scared of. You still love Sam. But you’re trying to push him away. There are some things that you still need to know, Grizz,” Helena stood up and gave him his plate and fork. “You’ll have the closure you’ve been longing for when you seek for the truth. And maybe then, your heart won’t hurt so much anymore. Believe in yourself. Now, eat. Your stomach has been growling since the moment you came down here.”

-

His room still looked the same as the day he had left it. It was a little dusty, but he figured that his mother had constantly cleaned his room in case that he would pay a surprise visit over the summer. Well, Grizz thought, he was here now, and will be occupying his room once more. He missed his parents already. Grizz set his luggage by his closet door and flopped on to the bed. He texted Luke that he had left and that he’d be around town all morning, just in case Helena would forget to tell him. Grizz hadn’t dared to look at his forearm but if he calculated the time just right, he would meet his ‘soulmate’ at around 5 or 6 in the afternoon. He gulped in nervousness, anxious at who it might be or the possibilities of it being someone he already knew. It was only 7 am but his eyelids started to feel heavy. Grizz decided that he’d doze off for maybe an hour or so and get going.

-

After half an hour of walking around, he finally made it to their old high school; memories of his time there flashed quickly in his head as he entered the vicinity. Grizz wondered how his friends were since he basically deleted most of his social media and in that way nobody could contact him besides the people who had his number (which he also had changed when he left). Luke said they were fine, and that the boys missed him a lot and would constantly ask what he’s up to and that Jason and Clark usually came around to visit during the end of summer. He kind of missed them, though. Grizz thought about telling them when they meet again soon. He thinks that it’s about time they should know and that he should also apologize to them for casting them out of his life so quickly after having spent many years together as a group of friends.

Grizz made his way to the faculty office. He felt his heart rising to his throat. What if Sam was there? He was a teacher here, after all. He knocked on the door and felt a sigh of relief when a woman’s voice invited him to come in.

“Good morning. How may I help you today?” She asked Grizz, her brown eyes peering over her cat-eye shaped glasses. Grizz looked at the name plate that was on her table. Mrs. Dorothy Wilson. She was not a common face that he had remembered and all the better, Grizz thought, since he could get away with asking questions easily. He entered the room and closed the door behind his back.

“Morning,” Grizz greeted, and took a deep breath. “I was..uh..I was wondering if you offered ASL classes,” he started, fidgeting with the zipper of his jacket. “For adults. I mean, I’d like to take ASL classes here since I just got back from, er, from California. I heard the education and faculty for it is really good here. Which is why I’d like to see S—I mean, learn. I’d like to learn ASL.” So fucking awkward, Grizz cursed at himself for being nervous.

“Oh, yes, we do actually offer classes for those who don’t go to school here,” Mrs. Wilson stood up and scanned around the faculty room where there were only 2 other teachers there. They didn’t seem like they were listening to the conversation that she and Grizz were having. “But you’d have to ask the head of the class, Mr. Eliot, himself. He’s deaf which is why it’s quite an advantage for him and the students as they can actually interact with someone who has the disability.”

“Where…is Mr. Eliot?” Grizz began to feel his face turn red.

“He’s not here today which is unusual. Nothing out of the contrary though since his good friend, Ms. Welb, is here over the summer.” Mrs. Wilson sat down and smiled at Grizz. “Would you like me to leave a message for you so that he could read it later? What’s your name, sir?”

“Wait,” Grizz paused, completely ignoring Mrs. Wilson’s question. “He’s not—he’s not married?”

Mrs. Wilson raised an eyebrow at him in surprise. “No,” she responded, laughing a little. “No, I’m afraid not, sir. She’s just a good friend and an alumni from this school. Or so I assume. And I don’t think Mr. Eliot is interested at..well,” She paused, thinking that it would be wise not to continue her sentence. “You’ll be able to find him at the library if he’s not here, though. So you can ask him for yourself. He has red hair and blue eyes—“

“Yes, thank you, I know what he looks like,” Grizz said, jittery from all the new information. “Please don’t tell him I was here. We never had this conversation, ma’am.” He felt antsy and was ready to leave the room in a second.

Mrs. Wilson squinted at him, her smile curved into a smirk. “Alright then,” she said, her eyes glittering behind her glasses. “You were never here.”

Grizz never ran faster in his life. He practically sprinted out there and dashed to the library to see if Sam was there.

He was not.

Not yet,” the librarian had corrected him, saying that he was almost always there and was often in the literature aisle during his lunch break.

“Alright,” Grizz said, feeling like a fucking idiot for doing something so impulsive again. He hadn’t even rehearsed what he was going to tell Sam, and how embarrassing that even then he hadn’t learned how to converse with him in his own language.

Grizz cursed a little too loudly which caused a few people to look at him when he realized that there were no ASL books available in the library. The only available one was the same British Sign Language book he had borrowed the first time he wanted to talk to Sam language. Just his luck. He remembered that he looked like an idiot and even more so when Sam had told him that he spoke ASL and not BSL.

Feeling a little tired from running, Grizz made his way to the park where he and Luke were to meet for lunch. He was out of breath by the time he had found an unoccupied chair where he then plopped down to think about a lot of things. So, Sam wasn’t married yet, Grizz thought. But then again, he probably just wasn’t ready. Or maybe he was already engaged. No, he wouldn’t be, Grizz bit his lip. They were bound to bump into each other soon. After all, it wasn’t that big of a town anyway.

His phone buzzed inside the pocket of his jacket. A message from Luke.

Hey, I’ll be there soon.

Grizz responded with, “Okay. I’m at the park.” He hit send and no more than a few seconds later a little girl came running towards him, hiding behind his shoulder. He smiled at her as she tugged on his arm.

“Mister, don’t tell my mom I’m here,” she cooed, her blue eyes batting at him. “Shh.”

Grizz nodded and put a finger on his lips, reassuring her that her secret would be safe with him.

Eden!” A familiar voice rung in Grizz’s ear, he tried to look around but the little girl beside him was trying to hide under his jacket, giggling all the way. He laughed as she got on his back and played with his hair. Grizz always wanted a younger sibling, but he seemed like an older sibling to his rowdy friends which made up for it.

“Eden! What did I tell you about running away? And stranger danger! You—“

Grizz froze. Eden was humming, not listening to her mother.

“Becca?” Grizz said, after what seemed like forever. Suddenly his heart started to hurt again. No, he thought. He couldn’t intervene with Sam’s family. Besides, whatever Mrs. Wilson said could only be half-true anyway. If he wanted to really believe in it, he’d have to hear it from either Becca or Sam himself.

“Grizz! Oh my god, it’s you!” Becca hugged him and so did Eden. “Where have you been all these years? You just kind of fell off the grid and disappeared. I didn’t expect to see you here.” She then introduced her to her daughter, Eden, who was happily singing in between them.

“Right,” Grizz said in agreement, not meeting her gaze. “You’re not with Sam?” He meant two things by that. Becca was free to choose which she understood the most.

“No, we just parted ways. I think he said he was going to the library. Oh, he’d be so happy to see you, I’ll call him—“ Becca started, pulling out her phone.

No,” Grizz said aloud, his tone serious. Eden had stopped playing with his hair and had sat down beside her mother. “Please, don’t. He doesn’t know I’m here. Actually no one does besides Luke and Helena.” He furrowed his eyebrows. “I don’t want to get in the way of you two.” Grizz knew he sounded bitter, but Becca didn’t seem to mind. As a matter of fact, she looked at him quizzically and then realized what he had meant.

“There’s something you need to know, Grizz,” she said, looking at him. “It’s something you should have known from the very start.”

Grizz met her gaze. Becca looked at him with a sad smile on her face. Why was Luke taking so long? He just wanted to get out of here. Eden peered at him from Becca’s shoulders, her blue eyes like that of Sam’s.

“Becca, I was in love with Sam,” He said first, his lips quivering. “I mean, I think I still am, I don’t know.” Grizz continued. “I have this on my arm and for many pathetic reasons I’m back here in West Ham again. I thought I was doing the right thing by going to find myself but now I just feel more lost than ever. Maybe it’s the jet lag, I don’t know, but I really feel shit—I mean, crappy.” He smiled at Eden who was eagerly listening to their conversation. “So, please, go ahead. I actually have no idea what else anyone can say that’ll break my heart.”

“Sam isn’t Eden’s father. He was never her father.”

The wind blew between them as the row of trees rustled around. Grizz was dumbfounded and couldn’t string the right words to respond to Becca. All he could do was stare at her, a mix of happiness, sadness, and anger boiling in his head.

“What?”

“Sam couldn’t tell you that he wasn’t the father because he promised me that he’d stand by me as Eden’s dad just until she would grow up a little and we could get out of here,” Becca explained. “I’m sorry, Grizz. Sam didn’t tell me how he felt about you until you were miles away. I tried to reach out to you but—“she sighed and shrugged. “I couldn’t find you. I wanted to tell you myself because I made Sam promise. I felt so guilty because based on what Sam had said, you were good to him, as he was to you. I feel like because I made him do that, it’s what got you to get up and go.”

“No, it was my decision.” Grizz said, truthfully. “I really actually did want to leave this place but now I’m back so I guess, the joke’s on me now.”

“I tried to get your friends to give me your number, but they didn’t seem to have it either. I figured, maybe you just didn’t want to talk to anyone you knew back here anymore, so I let it be. Even though Sam says he’s okay, I think it’s only half true. But if I had known sooner, I would have told you the truth. And I feel really guilty about it. I’m sorry.” Becca’s eyes welled up with tears. She wiped it with the sleeve of her shirt. Grizz offered her his handkerchief but she shook her head. “I know you want to hear this from Sam himself,”

“I do.” Grizz swayed his feet a little, looking away.

“Could you forgive me, Grizz?” Becca put her hand on his shoulder.

“You just had to do what was best for you and for your baby.” Eden came up to Grizz and showed him the pins on her backpack. “Not so much of a baby any more, though.” He smiled and pointed at the one he liked the most—the bear.

Becca stood up and so did Grizz. They hugged each other along with Eden who wanted to be part of it too. Grizz felt the weight on his shoulder go away—the weight that had been constantly hurting him for years. Even with Becca’s confession, Grizz had still wanted to hear it from Sam himself. He could see Luke’s outline from afar and as he did so, he received a message from him.

Almost there.

“Eden and I are going to go back to New York soon,” Becca beamed as Eden opened her arms, wanting to get picked up. “The next time we’ll come back around, we’ll introduce you to someone. Sam doesn’t know yet, but he will, eventually.” As Becca picked Eden up, her sleeves rolled back, indicating that there was no countdown on her forearm. “You know, Grizz,” she said, rocking Eden in her arms. “During the night of your farewell party, Sam’s countdown started and lit up.”

Grizz could see Luke coming up now.

“It’s been fluctuating these past couple of days which really surprised him.”

Luke sees them now.

“Has yours been too?”

“Hey!” Luke chimed in before Grizz could say anything. “Becca, hi. Oh, and Eden’s here too. Did I miss anything?”

“Nothing much,” Grizz said, holding his forearm and trying not to look at it. How did she know? “We were just saying our goodbyes.”

“You make it sound like it’ll be the last time you see her,” Luke joked as he took Eden from Becca’s arms. Eden seemed to like him, Grizz observed. So, that meant that they were around each other quite often. “Eden? That’s Grizz. He looks scary but he’s actually nice, right?”

“Grizzy, Grizzy bear.” Eden sung and laughed.

Becca then explained to Grizz that most of the time during their stay here, Luke and Helena would babysit Eden as she and Sam caught up with their lives. One summer ago, she said, she had helped Sam in teaching ASL for those who had signed up for the class. As soon as Luke and Becca were done conversing while Grizz not saying much, they bid farewell and parted ways. He didn’t get to answer the question that Becca had asked that concerned him and his countdown. Luke nudged him and Grizz retracted from spacing out as they made their way to a local pub and diner that they used to frequent when they were in high school.

Grizz kind of felt cross when he realized that Luke had known for quite some time now that Sam wasn’t Eden’s father, not physically, at least. But it was kind of his own fault for telling Luke he didn’t want to hear anything about them. And to think of it, Luke was only just respecting Becca and Sam’s secret as their friend too. Grizz and Luke ordered food and while waiting Luke had a lot of things to say.

“You’ve grown quiet.” He pointed out. “Did something happen?”

“Yeah. Fuck,” Grizz sighed. “Becca just told me that Sam isn’t really Eden’s dad. Have you known?”

Luke shrugged sheepishly. “Well, yeah. She told us over the summer after high school a month or two after you left. I figured, Sam probably told her how he felt about you even though it was kinda fucking obvious that you two had something for each other. I didn’t tell you because, well,” He sighed. “Because you didn’t want to know. And I was just respecting both sides.”

“She also said something else,” Grizz ran his hand over his forearm. “She said that, that night during my party, Sam’s countdown lit up too. I saw it for myself but I didn’t really look into it as much because we were talking about something else. I didn’t even really believe that this shit could happen till everyone started having it back and forth.” The waitress arrived with their food and drinks. Luke and Grizz thanked her as she left. “But then, she said that Sam’s countdown was fluctuating recently. Like, the time was changing and had no permanent hour or days, or seconds. At least, that’s what I think she meant.”

Luke took a bite of his burger and pondered. “Has it been happening to you too?” He asked and beckoned Grizz to start eating.

“I haven’t checked.” Grizz took a sip from his glass. “But I don’t know how she knew. I haven’t even looked at it yet. I don’t really look at it as much as I’m supposed to.”

“We should look at it.”

“Wha—really? Now?”

“Yeah, just fucking look at it, man.”

With Luke gripping Grizz’s arm on the table with no escape, Grizz succumbs and folds back his jacket, exposing his arm. Luke is taken aback with what he sees and turns to look at Grizz whose eyes were wide with confusion.

“Woah.” They say in unison. Grizz’s countdown was changing—and by changing, it wasn’t stopping at a set time. The last time he had checked it yesterday it had said that in 17 hours he was going to meet the person destined to be his soulmate. Now it was, 4 hours, and then 8 hours, and then two days. Just like what Becca said about Sam’s countdown, his had no set date either. Luke’s grip weakened as Grizz sighed, loosening his sleeve.

“I don’t even know what this means,” Grizz admitted, stuffing his face with the burger he had ordered. “That’s why I don’t look at it. Because it just disheartens me. I don’t want to hope for anything and be let down by it.”

Luke remained quiet and helped himself to his food. They didn’t talk about it anymore for the entire time they were there. Luke was quick to lighten the mood when he gave a package to Grizz. It was wrapped in brown paper with a little note attached to it saying, ‘Welcome back to West Ham, with love from Helena,’ and a little scribble beside it saying ‘and Luke too.’ Luke sheepishly smiled and apologized for forcing Grizz to show him his countdown. Grizz brushed it off and thanked him for the gift. He opened it and was surprised to see a book on American Sign Language, the exact one that wasn’t available in their local library.

“You didn’t have to.” Grizz said, smiling.

“Oh, we had to. Just something you ought to read when you’re by yourself.” Luke checked his watch. “Maybe your soulmate’s near. That’s what happened with me and Helena towards the end of the countdown. I think it just does that because you’re both trying to avoid it.” Luke signaled for the waitress to come with their bill. Grizz stopped Luke and offered to pay. “Or each other,” Luke added.

Ha ha ha,” Grizz rolled his eyes and put the book in his bag.

They left the pub and made their way down to the woods where Grizz used to spend his time there reading books with Gordie and Bean when he wasn’t with the boys. Luke figured that he needed some time alone and that he was eager to get started on reading the book he and Helena gave him.

“There’s a lake down below, probably no more than 15 minutes away.” Luke told him. “It’s pretty nice, actually. People have set up some benches and tables and I don’t think a lot of people go down there because there’s really nothing much to do than just sit and watch the view.”

“That’s just what I need, anyway.” Grizz said.

They both parted ways with Luke telling him that if he needed anything, he was just a call away. Grizz thanked him and felt a little embarrassed that Luke was treating him more like a guest than his best friend, but he understood that Luke knew he just needed a little more time to adjust. Grizz made his tread down the trail into the woods, with the book in his hand given by his adoptive parents (as he’d like to joke), and followed the route that Luke had explained to him. 15 minutes my ass, Grizz complained, as it took him almost an hour to get to the lake. As he got there, he was taken aback by the serene view that the lake had to offer. He didn’t recall ever going here when he was younger; maybe he had when they had that hike and campfire before graduation, but it was never here at this lake. Grizz sat down at one of the wooden chairs accompanied by a small round table. He felt safe, a little nervous, but safe to say the least. He was used to having his own company after all.

He began to read the book and found it quite hard to execute the movements of his hands when constructing a sentence. Grizz knew he couldn’t possibly learn ASL overnight and without the help of an expert. So for the next hour or two, he kept reading and trying to do some of the basic ASL signs for beginners. He hadn’t realized that it was almost the late afternoon until the crickets had started to chirp. The sun was still out, so Grizz figured that he could stay a little longer since he knew the way back.

He balled his fist into what he learned was the letter ‘A’ and circled it around his chest, “Sorry,” he said aloud and signed. Grizz heard a crunch of leaves behind him but didn’t bother to check what it was since he was too engrossed with reading the book. He sighed and stood up to stretch and almost fell backwards when he saw a person standing a few feet away from him.

“Sorry.” The person signed back, laughing a little at Grizz’s facial expression.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, Grizz thought, his heart beating from both the surprise and the person that was standing before him. He could feel the blood rushing to his face as he struggled to say something. Say something, you dumbass.

For Grizz it was like time had stopped and that the whole universe had wanted them to be there and meet eye-to-eye; like all the things that didn’t make sense before had made sense now. All the things that had gone wrong, had gone amiss just for this moment to be right. Everything fell into place, like a puzzle piece finding the space where it truly belonged. He moved closer towards that person, his heart beating loudly in his chest. Could he hear it too? Grizz hoped not.

It was Sam, red-hair, blue eyes, and flushed cheeks who looked not a day older than he had been. Confident and ever-glowing. Beautiful as the day Grizz had left him.

 

Chapter Text

“Sorry I scared you,” Sam said and signed as he usually did, the memory of him casually doing so still etched and fresh in Grizz’s mind.

He tried to hide back a smile and bit the bottom of his lips instead, his cheeks flushing as he did so. Grizz had to momentarily hold himself back from throwing his body onto Sam and hugging the ever-living life out of him. Sam squinted his eyes to look at the book that Grizz was holding in his hand. He laughed, and it was the most nostalgic thing Grizz had ever heard and witnessed from the moment he had stepped foot back in this old town.

“So,” Sam started, moving closer to Grizz. God, Grizz thought. He’s more confident now than he had ever been. “Are you just going to stare at me all day or are you going to say something?” Sam raised his eyebrows, his blue eyes seemed to illuminate more than their surroundings. The sun was starting to set and the sky was beginning to turn a bright shade of orange. The lake looked beautiful, Grizz bit his lips to prevent himself from saying anything stupid. But Sam was ethereal.

“I—yes, I mean, no—“Grizz fumbled and cursed himself for being so awkward, yet again. Sam was looking at him intently. “What I meant to say was…” he closed the gap between him and Sam, putting out his hand for the other boy to shake. “Hi. Hello. It’s Grizz. From high school.”

Of course he knew that, dumbass, Grizz wanted to facepalm the fuck out of his face but it was too late because his hand was holding a book and the other one was already set out stiffly in front of Sam to shake.

Sam snorted and smacked his hand away. “What are you doing? Are you some sort of formal business man now or something? I know you, Gareth Visser.”

Holy shit he just said my full name. Grizz’s notion of what ‘closing the gap’ was, was far less than what Sam’s idea of it came to be. He pulled Grizz’s arm and went in for a full embrace; an embrace that had gone far too long without any consolation which felt almost too picturesque in Grizz’s mind. He had never thought this day would come to be and how quick his entire being accepted Sam’s warm embrace. There were some things that they needed to talk about—some things that have still yet to be answered, but Grizz concluded that those matters had to be dealt with later. Sam smelled like cinnamon and vanilla; he had always smelled quite soft but this was a new and seemingly unfamiliar scent to Grizz. It was Sam still, but he was more mature now. He had a sense of sophistication that he carried around when he had confronted Grizz and all the while still remaining quirky and cheeky as he had been before. And so he allowed himself to melt—to sink into Sam’s arms like he had always longed for the day he had left. Sorry, Grizz wanted to say. Sorry it took me so long.

“I’m home.” was what he chose to say instead.

“You came back,” Sam nuzzled his face into Grizz’s neck, his grip on Grizz’s back tightened. “You said you never would.” Grizz felt a little light-headed from all the things happening all at once and at the sole fact that Sam had sort of thrown himself onto Grizz and not the other way around.

“I had to keep a promise, didn’t I?” Grizz said, relaxed. Sam understood what he meant. Reminiscing during older times, it was he who had always been bold and certain with the things to say. Maybe a little too confident when it came to the things he had liked. But that presumptuous ego would never be a match when it came to Sam. It would almost always be obliterated when he would talk to him. Grizz wanted to punch himself in the stomach when he had gone up to Sam during prom and signed the only word that he knew back then—bullshit—and was more than relieved when Sam laughed at him and asked “What is?”. That was the very day he had confirmed that, yep, he was so into Sam and it was affirmed because he’s pretty sure that his heart skipped a questionable amount of beats and that he would pass out if anything else happened other than that conversation and, yep, he was most definitely into guys.

After their long embrace, Grizz with companionship of Sam, made their tread back to town with small jokes in between and the awkwardness between them both and the four years they’ve spent apart slowly deflating. Sam had told Grizz that the lake was one of his favorite go-to places when he wanted to clear his head after work or when he was just going through some shitty things. And what more than to see the one thing that he had so desperately wanted to clear his mind off of—Grizz standing right by the lake with a book in his hand, he joked. Grizz blushed, and handed the book he was holding to Sam who had wanted to see it from the moment they had met at the lake.

“Cool,” Sam said, turning the pages. “It’s a good copy to learn. We use these in my class, actually. Didn’t find any in the library?”

“No,” Grizz responded, peering over the page Sam was currently at. It was a page that Grizz had bookmarked in the earlier hours of how to greet other people. They had just gotten out of the entrance to the woods and paused for a quick breath. “Didn’t find you, either.”

“Found you, I guess.”

The sky had now turned into hues of orange and pink which persuaded Grizz to bring out his disposable camera. He had told Sam that he had started taking pictures when he was in Stanford and getting them developed was something he had always looked forward to because they had a unique and vintage edge to it and that he kept photo albums of the pictures that he took. He had noted to show Sam the photos he took over the years, and maybe even the photo that had ultimately sealed his decision to come back to West Ham.

“Artsy,” Sam said and signed, a wide grin on his face. Grizz shrugged and smiled as he took pictures of the sky and of the woods that they had gone from, the lamp-lit streets, and even an old mailbox. But what was worth of the entire film in his camera was standing right in front of him. He took a snapshot of Sam looking at the sky, the silhouette of his profile complimenting the sunset. Sam didn’t seem to notice and beckoned Grizz to keep up. Grizz told himself that he’d keep that picture of Sam in his wallet.

It was a silent walk, with their hands merely inches away from each other. Grizz couldn’t help but look over every once in a while to see if Sam was looking too. He felt like he was in high school again; pining over a long-time crush with retrospect that he would probably die if this solitary moment would go on any longer or if he and Sam’s hands touched. He reminded himself that he couldn’t move too fast, as he and Sam were just starting to mend their broken past. Still, the feeling of walking with Sam without ever really saying anything and just admiring the beauty of the summer wave made Grizz feel hopeful. The fourth time he had looked, Sam caught his eye which made him jolt and with some dumb excuse, mumbled on how he just wanted to ask Sam something but forgot what it was. Out of panic, he tied his hair up to a knot. Sam was still looking at him though, and it made Grizz’s ears turn red. He had hoped that Sam wouldn’t notice as he blasted himself for tying it up in the first place. Things like these were bound to happen, Grizz confided himself. He then realized that Sam was just trying to figure out what he wanted to say.

“I was going to ask you something but I forgot,” Grizz repeated, scratching his ears to cover up his clear and blatant lie. A half-truth, more like, as he had been rehearsing this in his head the half an hour it took them to get out of the woods. It was easier now since Sam knew most of the shortcuts and saved Grizz the headache that was caused by treading into the ’15-minute’ walk Luke had promised.

“What’s up?” Sam signed, and Grizz lit up once more as he had understood that almost quite immediately. He realized that Sam had took notice in the bookmark he specifically laid out for that type of greeting. It made his heart skip a beat or two.

“I was wondering,” Grizz started, and signed with whatever “basic” knowledge he had of ASL. “If you wanted to have dinner with me—so you can teach me ASL better, I mean that’s why I have this book anyway…to talk to you.” Grizz’s ears were probably as fiery as the sunset. Sam had noticed them and pointed it out. Fuck it, Grizz concluded. Might as well.  “And if you wanted to stay over so we could..um..talk.”

“Talk about what?” Sam raised his eyebrows with a coy smile bouncing off of his face.

“Like, you know, catch up on things.” Grizz untied the knot of his hair. They were closing in on the curb that would turn to the street which his house was in. “About the stuff we’ve missed out on so long.” The sunset had simmered down. The crickets began to chirp their song as the summer wind rustled the trees and bushes that surrounded the houses with white-picket fences. “About something Becca had told me.”

Sam stopped in his tracks which made Grizz stop in unison too. He fell silent and could hear the thumping of his heartbeat in his ears. It was a controversial thing to say at such a short notice, and he wondered if that would drive Sam away. He hoped not. Sam turned to look at him, his blue eyes illuminated by the lamp posts that were now glistening with tears. When words fail, the eyes sure do speak, Grizz thought to himself.

“I should have told you,” Sam’s jaw clenched as he spoke. “All these years, I thought that I was one of the sole reasons why you left in such a hurry. I’m not really Eden’s father. I was just her stand-in dad because I didn’t want Becca to be alone. She was scared and she had no one else to turn to. Maybe if I had told you sooner…” He started a slow pace with Grizz following and looking at him with intent. “Maybe you would have stayed. Or at least visited. Maybe you would’ve sent letters or texted or called, I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

“You were just being a good friend.” Grizz comforted him, and it was truthful. With Becca’s confession he had understood quite clearly the place that Sam had been in. He had been given difficult choices on the spot and ultimately he chose what was best for his best friend. Even though it was primarily a secret, they would have told him sooner if he hadn’t pushed them away. “And I did visit. During the holidays. But in secret,” Grizz added.

“In secret? Why?” Sam asked him, his nose turning red.

Grizz shrugged and sighed. “I guess I was just too embarrassed to say anything to you guys. I mean I did kind of go off the grid and basically just disappeared. Deleted everyone’s numbers, changed my own, never used social media, it was kind of peaceful. I thought none of those things would’ve mattered, you know? I thought people would just forget about me. It was easy to forget about everyone else when you’re pretending to be someone you’re not.” Grizz looked at him. You made it hard for me to forget about you though. “Luke, Helena, and Allie were the only people who knew I come back here every now and then. But I don’t stay for too long. I know it kind of upsets my parents but it was my own choice.”

“What do you mean?”

“I was too caught up with the thought of having to run into you.” Grizz looked ahead of him. He could see his house from afar, a little more and they would be there. Sam still hadn’t agreed to dinner but because they were too caught up in the moment, that response would be held up till later. “I mean, what would I say, you know? We didn’t end in good terms. Hell, I was selfish. I didn’t even know you were trying to reach out to me. Becca said so. But, really, I was just too scared to face you. Well, you’ve seen what had happened earlier. I thought you’d hate me.”

“I’m sorry, Grizz. I really should have told you that night.” Sam said, his voice barely audible from the loud crickets that chirped around them. “I could never hate you.” Grizz looked at Sam for a moment and contemplated. Was this right? He pondered. Was it right to do the next move? Fuck it, I’ll do it. Grizz’s new and reformed idea of closing the gap between him and Sam was this: taking Sam’s hand and entwining it with his own. Sam’s hands were definitively smaller than his, and the gaps between their fingers surely fit one another’s. Yeah, this was high school pining at its finest and Grizz was kind of a sucker for that. He looked to the other boy to see if he would say anything. Sam’s eyes widened and his shoulders stiffened out of surprise but had then relaxed in agreement with Grizz’s action. His cheeks were as red as his hair. Gap closed, apology accepted.

They finally arrived at the driveway of the Visser’s home, a two-story house with a big garden at the back. The driveway was empty, Grizz explained, as his parents were not going to be home from their weekend getaway till tomorrow evening. Sam’s hand were still completely locked into Grizz’s own. He gave it a small squeeze.

“So,” Grizz turned to look at him. “Dinner?”

Sam agreed.

For the next hour or two as the sun had fully set, the night was young and the summer breeze filled the air of the home with anticipation and admiration from both Grizz and Sam who were bustling around the kitchen and at the same time filling in on what they had missed out on each other’s lives for the past few years. Grizz had told Sam over the peeling of potatoes that he had finished his degree in Agriculture and that he was going to start his job as a farming manager in a few weeks, that he had made friends in Stanford but not really, and that he had two jobs as a barista and as a research teacher. Sam told him that he had gone to a local community college in New England and that he didn’t want to stray too far from his parents, that Campbell had gotten the help he needed (and Grizz knew this because of Luke), and that he was actually quite well off as a teacher in their high school and earned extra money as a tutor for ASL. Sam also admittedly told Grizz he didn’t know how to cook. Grizz took this as an opportunity to repay Sam for accepting him in his ASL class.

“Careful,” Grizz said as he stood behind Sam and held both of his hands. “Your hands are delicate.” He moved them slowly and with caution as Sam cut the carrots into small circles. Sam glanced at him, his face merely inches away from Grizz’s own. He looked at Grizz for approval.

Holy fuck. Why did that look so hot?

“Focus,” he told Sam but that being said, was actually directed at himself. Grizz felt his cheeks flare red. Get yourself together, dumbass, he noted in his head. He wanted so badly to kiss Sam right then and there but that would have to wait till later. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe after dinner. Maybe in a bit.

After Sam had finished cutting up the rest, Grizz assembled and put the roast beef in the oven. He set the timer to an hour and a half, and ‘till then he and Sam had the rest of the night to talk. When the roast had finally cooked, Sam sat opposite of Grizz on the table he had set for the two of them. It was delicious and one of the best dishes Grizz had made with the help of Sam. Throughout his stay in Stanford, Grizz had to level up his skill in cooking and with his degree in agriculture, he did know quite a lot of information on what goes with each other to make just the perfect combination. All the while, Sam had plopped the book next to them, and in between their silences, he would teach Grizz a few phrases or so. Grizz was quite slow and abundantly apologized whenever he’d get some words wrong but Sam was patient enough to keep repeating it and didn’t feel tired of teaching Grizz. After all, he said, he had dealt with a lot of people over the years as a teacher, and Grizz was just a ‘walk in the park’. Grizz felt a little embarrassed, but Sam nudged him a little, rolling his eyes and scrunching his nose.

“It’s a joke,” Sam said and signed, his hair disheveled and his eyes looking sleepily at Grizz. “This is really good and I want more but I feel like my stomach’s going to burst open.” He sighed and pouted his lip.

“Make room for dessert,” Grizz mumbled under his breath as he took another bite of the roast. If there was anything that Grizz and Luke had in similarity as brothers in bond was that, though rational most of the time, thinking out loud was one of their most obvious and if not, their most inconvenient trait in instances when things should be better left unsaid. It reminded Grizz of the first time he and Sam kissed, back when he too had asked Sam to teach him ASL. He was thinking of asking Sam to teach him how to sign ‘kiss me’ but unbeknownst to him, he had already said it with eyes filled with tears in fear of Sam rejecting him. He was not rejected.

“What was that?” Sam asked. “Didn’t quite catch what you just said.”

“Nothing,” Grizz said with a smirk. Sam squinted at him and pursed his lips a little and then continued on with their lesson.

When dinner was finished and bellies were full, Sam helped Grizz wrap the left over roast in foil and put it in the fridge. He had also offered to help Grizz with the dishes but Grizz refused and insisted that Sam was a guest in his home and therefore, should absolutely not wash the dishes when he had already helped with dinner. Sam reluctantly agreed as he leaned against the countertop, his sleeves folded and his arms crossed on his chest, observing Grizz who was starting to wash the dishes. Grizz could see him in his peripheral vision which made him quite flustered as he felt Sam’s eyes following him.

“Are you seeing someone?” Sam asked, almost nonchalantly.

Grizz choked in surprise and repressed his cough. He had thought earlier that he couldn’t say or do much as he had wanted to impress Sam by not making moves too fast. He was wrong about that for sure. Sam didn’t care about breaking the wall between it. Taken aback by what he had said he turned to Sam so Sam could see what he was saying and played it cool as his throat burned from holding back the cough. “No,” Grizz shook his head. “Are you?”

“No.” Sam said. Grizz could see it in his face that he was satisfied with his answer. “You know,” Sam continued. “That I like you a lot, right?”

Grizz bit his lips and nodded and shook his head at Sam’s reply, his heart beating a little faster at the new information that he had just learned. Sam wasn’t seeing anyone, Grizz shifted back to the remaining dishes that were still left in the sink. Grizz wasn’t seeing anyone either. This is alright, he thought, nervous at the next string of questions that Sam might ask in which he had no formulation of replies to. Now, Sam had just admittedly told him that he liked him still—present tense. Grizz felt like his heart was about to jump out of his throat if he said anything with more than two syllables.

“Same,” he mustered up to say, his heartbeat pounding against his ears. Grizz cleared his throat. “I..feel the same about you. I like you, too.” It was moving quite faster than he had anticipated but nevertheless, Sam always matched Grizz’s decisions even when Grizz felt like Sam would back away. He didn’t, and he was here, just a few feet away from him waiting for the dishes to be cleaned so they could have a proper decision face to face. After the last utensil was washed, Grizz took a breather and exhaled through his mouth. He whistled out of nervousness as he felt Sam walk towards him.

“What made you come back?” He asked, leaning next to Grizz and placing his hand next to his.

“What made me come back?” Grizz turned to look at Sam, and wiped his hands on his apron, their faces a few inches away from each other. “Well it’s because of thi—“ He paused and had a top-notch epiphany. Sam looked at him quizzically. Grizz eyes widened as he put a hand over his face.

Right. Right. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Holy fuck. The countdown. Jesus. Holy shit.

“Fuck,” he said aloud. Sam still looked at him but now with concern instead of confusion. Grizz shifted his eyes towards Sam’s arm and jumped, covering his eyes in defense. “Don’t show me!”

“Don’t show you what?” Sam asked, totally oblivious. “You still haven’t answered my question.” Sam took Grizz’s hand and arm away from his face but Grizz resisted and buried his face in his hands again, moving away from the sink and nearly falling over the step. “Grizz, you’re acting really weird. Did you know that? You’re going to break something.”

“Don’t look at my arm!”

“I seriously have no idea what is going on.”

“The countdown.”

“The countdown? What about it? And can you just look at me? I can’t see what you’re saying. Look, I have my arms behind my back.” While still looking at Grizz, Sam rolled down his sleeves and put his arms behind him. He called for Grizz who was standing in the corner looking like an awkward lamp with his hands over his face. Grizz hesitantly took his hands away and walked back towards Sam who looked like he was going to laugh. He raised his eyebrows at Grizz for an answer. They both laughed at what had just happened. After calming down, Grizz gave Sam the answer to his question.

“I came back because of the countdown.” Grizz said, untying his apron. “I came back because when it started, I feel like coming back here would be the right choice. Somehow I was just drawn to it. I know I left because I wanted to get away and that coming back here without even thinking twice was an impulsive thing to do. I didn’t even think this could happen to me. I didn’t believe it would.”

“You don’t believe in soulmates?” Sam grinned at him. “You, out of all people? Poetic Grizz that owned a book club with Gordie? Romantic Grizz that made all the girls swoon? Artsy Grizz that liked to watch musicals and theater plays and take pictures of the sky and all things he found beautiful?”

“No, I didn’t. Well,” Grizz paused and smiled a little. “I liked the idea but I never believed in it. Not until…this I guess. Luke and Helena had it too but everyone knew they’d always end up together anyway. But then again, a lot of people who had this didn’t work things out with their apparent ‘soulmate’.

“You talk about the countdown like you fear it,” Sam said and signed along. Grizz understood the sign ‘fear’ when Sam had did so.

“I do,” Grizz said, truthfully. “I mean what if it just doesn’t work out? What if you don’t really know someone like you’re supposed to? You spend all these years with them but it’s like you don’t even really know who they truly are. Whatever, I think I sound stupid.”

“We grow every day.” Sam put his hands to his side. “We change every day. If we stick to the idea of who a person is and not allowing them to grow into something better, then there would be no progress.”

Grizz sighed and leaned against the countertop. Sam stood next to him and did the same.

“You just have to find someone you want to grow with.” Sam looked at Grizz for the longest time. Their eyes met and as it did so, Grizz relaxed a little and gave Sam a small smile.

“You talk about me being poetic but you never said you were,” he had told Sam who was still paying close attention to what he was saying. Sam chuckled and shrugged, playfully nudging Grizz’s shoulder with his own.

After another small banter of poetry, Grizz beckoned Sam to go upstairs and into his room so he could show the pictures that he had took during his stay in Stanford. Sam looked around and sat at the foot of the bed, his eyes gazing around the room he had been in several times all those years ago. Grizz took out the albums that were still in his luggage and placed them next to Sam who looked excited to see them.

“It’s kind of weird being in here again, isn’t it?” Grizz said, opening the album. He could feel Sam’s eyes looking at him. His heart began to race again.

“Yeah,” Sam agreed. “Lots of memories. I think I kissed you right here during thanksgiving.” He and Grizz looked at each other and laughed. Sam really was more confident and the new aura and energy radiated and bounced off of him like a beam. Grizz began to show Sam the pictures he took, some of the sunsets and the sunrise, the plants he took care of and the friends he made that he had left behind. Sam joked and asked Grizz where the picture of him with the feathered boa was and if he was allowed to see it now as some sort of apologetic gift and that he should really start unpacking soon.

“Actually, I think I do.” Grizz looked around the room and lo and behold, the picture that Sam had asked for was there. He gave it to Sam who was more than amused and red as a tomato, making fun of Grizz and pointing out that he actually looked good with it.

“Cute,” Sam signed, his eyes creasing as he smiled. Grizz sat and watched Sam in admiration while he was looking at that embarrassing picture of him that he wouldn’t want anyone else to see. Them coming up there wasn’t just for the sole reason of Grizz showing off the product of his disposable films, he actually wanted to let Sam see the photograph that he meant to throw away but had later found its way back into his hands sealing the fate that he would really have to come back to West Ham and face Sam even between the lines.

“I have something else to show you.” Grizz stood up and took the picture frame that was at the topmost part of his shelf. He sat next to Sam and together they looked at the picture with nostalgic memories from their past. “I meant to get rid of this when I was packing. But the mover found it and gave it back to me. He said a few things that made me realize that West Ham was where I’m meant to be. It was inevitable that eventually I’d come back. I was running away from everyone. From myself and from you. It wasn’t fair.”

Sam pointed at Grizz and his friends. “They must miss you,” he said.

“Maybe you’re right then,” Grizz continued. “Maybe we don’t know someone as well as we think we do but there’s that feeling of excitement that awaits you for the future. Sam,” Grizz put his hand on top of Sam’s. “I don’t want to look at my countdown. I know it’s crazy because you have your own countdown too. We don’t know who our person is. It could be anyone. But let me be selfish again for this night only. I want to make it up to you because I didn’t get to before. Let me have this night with you and no one else. Please, stay.”

“We don’t have to look at it,” Sam said as he cupped Grizz’s face. Grizz leaned into Sam’s hands that felt warm against his cheeks, their eyes never leaving each other’s gaze. “We don’t have to look at it, ever.”

Grizz always liked how Sam was so easy to be with; he was just consistent with his ideas and oftentimes they had the same stance when it came to voicing the topic of concern. He was nice, maybe even more so. Sam was full of surprises and Grizz knew that now—to be with someone meant that you have to grow together and expect the unexpected. So when Sam had leaned into him, his hands still cupping his face, Grizz was stunned. Sam’s lips felt warm against his, his eyelashes ever so lightly brushing against Grizz’s cheeks. It was a comforting feeling, and both boys felt that now. The air of dread and nervousness slowly ebbed away and was replaced with a sense of relief that both feelings were mutual and that there was nothing to be scared about. No more hiding what they had repressed inside. The sense of longing for Sam had been sustained, and Grizz knew that Sam felt the same way about him too.

There was still history in their kiss, and Grizz still knew how to work his way around Sam so their noses wouldn’t bump into one another or so that his hair wouldn’t get in the way. Grizz placed his hand at the back of Sam’s head and neck for support as their soft kiss deepened. He had missed every single aspect of this, and nothing could compare to what he and Sam had—no person could come close to filling his heart, not like how Sam does. This moment was how he had wanted everything to be; to be able to talk to Sam again and for his feelings to be reciprocated.

Sam ran his hand through Grizz’s hair as the other snaked its way down to Grizz’s torso. In agreement, Grizz added intensity to their kiss by running his tongue across Sam’s lower lips. He could feel the other boy smile which made his heart catapult right out of his chest and a feeling of an electric shock run all over his body. Sam was fumbling with the buttons of his shirt but Grizz made sure to take it off of him as quickly as possible so that he wouldn’t have a hard time doing so.

Shit,” Grizz whispered under his breath, glancing at Sam who was now shirtless and whose bare skin was illuminated by the moonlight that seeped through his room. Beautiful. Sam prodded at his chest, indicating that he wanted Grizz to take his clothes off too. Easy. The warmth of the other boy against his chest made his heart race faster. He was already hard as fuck to begin with and with Sam’s hand’s slithering its way down to his shaft, Grizz could feel the pit of his abdomen boil and he felt like he was about to explode any moment at Sam’s touch. Sam pushed Grizz onto the bed and straddled him, his blue eyes fixed on Grizz’s expression and his hand clasped lightly around his throat. Sam was different now, but he was actively different—no longer shy and submissive, Grizz liked the control and dominance that Sam was asserting on him which turned him on even more.

“Sam, please,” he moaned, his hands holding Sam’s hips. “Can’t take it anymore,” Sam looked at him with captivating eyes, giving Grizz a small peck on the lips before he started grinding against him. Grizz let out a whimper as Sam quickened his movement. He tightened his grip around Grizz’s neck and slid his free hand into his pants. Grizz let out a sound of pleasure and couldn’t care less that he wasn’t in full control as he had anticipated earlier. He doesn’t recall ever telling Sam how he liked being dominated over but he figured that for Sam, he was an open book that was almost too easy to read. Grizz kept his eyes on Sam, a little starstruck but nevertheless amused and pleasured at Sam’s new way of fulfilling his needs. Grizz cupped Sam’s face with one of his hands and Sam smirked back at him, kissing his palm.

“Alright?” Sam whispered, getting off of Grizz and sitting next to him, his hands still stroking Grizz’s shaft.

Grizz nodded, his eyes shut and his chest heaving fast. Do whatever you want. He arched his back so that Sam could pull his pants and boxers down. Grizz was solid and Sam was wasting no time. He wet the tip lightly with his tongue and slowly stroked Grizz’s shaft as he made his way down lubricating it well. Grizz twitched a little, and suppressed the strong urge to release. He was really close, but he loved seeing Sam do whatever he wanted to him. He loved watching Sam and his red hair illuminated by the moonlight. He looked so beautiful. Sam bobbed his head slowly, his cheeks flushed and his lips plump and pink circling around Grizz’s member.

“Holy fuck,” Grizz moaned, running his hands through Sam’s hair. Sam quickened his stroke on Grizz’s cock and simultaneously moved both his hand and his mouth and tongue, all while his other hand gripped Grizz’s thigh. Grizz could no longer suppress himself, and the feeling of hitting the peak of pleasure almost came without warning.

“Sam, Sam, Sam,” was all the Grizz could say before he released and came all over Sam’s face and chest. He panted heavily and let himself relax into the pillow underneath his head, closing his eyes and taking in the moment of what had just happened. He sat up and handed Sam his shirt that was lying on the floor for him to clean up his face and chest. Grizz told Sam that he could borrow one of his own clothes for the meantime and that he could use the washing machine tomorrow. Sam looked at him after he wiped up with a sense of demeanor. Ah. Grizz nodded his head for Sam to crawl up next to him. Sam was done taking control and dominating over Grizz, so now it was his turn to do what he had wanted.

With shy hands and a heart that had just calmed down, Grizz held Sam’s face and kissed him, all the while that his other hand slid down onto Sam’s boxers. Come to think of it, he didn’t want to assert his dominance over Sam but rather he had just wanted to suffice himself with the notion that this really was happening and that all of this might just work. Grizz stroked Sam’s cock that was hard against his boxers; the thin layer of cloth that was in between Grizz’s touch but enough for Sam to feel his grip. Grizz ran a finger over the head and teased Sam, watching his eyes shut and his mouth agape slightly in approval of his actions. He was wet, but not entirely so. Grizz reached out for the lube he kept in his beside drawer which he had placed inside the night before. If it was some other night, Grizz would have thought to use his handcuffs but he had yet to remember where he had placed it. Fuck, it’s probably still in one of the boxes that’s on its way here, he thought. When Sam opened his eyes to look at Grizz, Grizz had asked permission to take Sam’s boxers off by tugging the band by his hips. Sam gave his approval by kissing Grizz on the lips and then on the neck.

Grizz placed a good amount of lube in his palm and started stroking Sam’s cock. He felt it twitch and pulsate in his hand and with Sam’s breathing steadily increasing by the minute, Grizz knew it wouldn’t be too long till Sam would reach his climax too. He enjoyed every moment of it—he enjoyed how Sam was helpless in his grasp and how he mouthed his name while his head tilted back in pleasure. This was worth the wait, Grizz had thought, as he steadily increased the speed of his stroke.

“Grizz,” Sam said, his whispers drowned with Grizz’s kiss. His blue eyes were completely dilated, and his cheeks were more flushed now than ever. Sam’s lips were pink, and a little swollen from the bite and nips that had happened in between their kisses. Grizz was at a fast pace now and he could feel Sam’s need to cum. He nipped on Sam’s neck, leaving a mark before going at his maximum speed and intensity to deliver what Sam had wanted. When his back arched, and his toes curled, Grizz knew he had given it. Sam came and exploded all over Grizz’s hand and his belly, his moan a soft whimper in Grizz’s ears. Grizz felt his heartbeat heighten at the sight of Sam quivering in his clasp. He cleaned Sam with the same shirt that he had used previously before and then himself, and threw it across the room on the chair beside his desk. Sam lay beside him, his cheeks as red as his hair and his eyes fluttering open to meet Grizz’s own.

 “Love you,” he mouthed, and Grizz almost had to ask again in fear that he was seeing things. Sam seemed to notice Grizz’s surprised look and laughed, his fingers trailing across Grizz’s arm. “Love you,” he repeated, this time saying it aloud.

Grizz looked at Sam with a stupid grin on his face. He didn’t want to smile so much as he knew he looked like an idiot but it couldn’t be helped.

“I love you,” Grizz signed and said, something he had remembered seeing while skimming the book Luke had given him. Sam giggled, his eyes disappearing as he scrunched his nose. Grizz nuzzled into Sam’s neck and wrapped his arm across him. The warmth that they had both exchanged felt safe and secure. They had always been each other’s firsts; first real relationship, first kiss, first time, but nothing would compare it to the first real ‘I love you’ they had both shared together. Grizz hoped that for the many more days and months and years to come, that Sam would still be by his side and that they would be spending many more ‘firsts’ together. After talking for half an hour or so, Sam had told Grizz that he wanted to take a shower and without saying another word, Grizz stood up and took towels from his cabinet and beckoned Sam to come on in and join him.

Sam was amazed at how big Grizz’s bathroom was. Grizz had one all to himself and had like two or three more bathrooms within the house for other people to use. Adamantly, Grizz never admitted that his parents were quite well off. He had never showed off his wealth or any of his inheritances for that matter and preferred to remain lowkey. Sam had been in Grizz’s room a few times before all those years ago but he had never really paid attention to it, let alone the bathroom that had always been here. Grizz turned the knob on of the shower and tested it whether to see if it was still too cold or if it was too hot for Sam. Sam felt the water cascade into his palms and said that it was at the right temperature. Grizz hung his towel at the rack and stepped into the shower, wetting his hair. Sam blushed and followed Grizz’s act before stepping inside as well. Grizz poured shampoo on his head and then onto Sam’s and massaged it gently to create suds. Sam stepped closer and did the same to Grizz, on his tiptoes as Grizz towered over him. Sam pointed out that Grizz had gotten taller and then joked that he had stunted in growth as compared to him. After a few jokes and kisses and light caresses, both boys were clean, fragrant, and ready to go to bed.

Grizz gave Sam an old shirt he had from the football team (he and his friends made it specifically for their group—it was Clarke’s idea) and a new pair of boxers that he had bought and stored in his luggage. Sam looked at himself in the mirror wearing Grizz’s clothes, laughing and signing saying that he looked quite tiny in them. Grizz felt the blood in his cheeks rush as he dried his hair and put on a shirt and boxers as well. I could get used to this, Grizz thought as Sam crawled into bed first, his blue eyes looking sleepily at him. He didn’t leave Sam waiting, so he had slithered in the bed as well. They were facing each other, curled up with hands clasped into one another. Sam had wondered and asked what time it was, and Grizz shrugged and said that he would rather not know because he liked losing track of time especially when it came to being with him. Sam smiled, remembering the time that he had once asked Grizz that too back when they were gardening at the back of his house.

“Do you have all that you need?” Sam asked, almost drifting off to sleep.

Grizz caressed Sam’s face with his hand, tracing his jaw and then his lips. Some of the books will be on its way and a garden would be growing soon in his yard again, he thought. Sam was next to him, all his, and maybe not just for tonight as he had asked; he would be here for a very long time.

“I do.” Grizz whispered, giving Sam a peck on the lips.

And with that they fell asleep, in each other’s arms with no other words spoken.

-

The next morning Grizz turned to his side barely awake, he glanced at Sam who was snoring lightly beside him. He smiled and sighed, thanking the heavens that yesterday wasn’t a dream. He stretched and out of habit, he turned his bedside lamp on and reached for the book that Sam had given him which was still on the table just the way he had left it.

He read a few pages before stretching again and absent-mindedly looking at his arm.

“Holy—“ Grizz said aloud, covering his mouth immediately in case he would wake Sam up. Sam didn’t budge and Grizz felt a small sense of relief. He also felt queasy and light-headed. He cursed himself for even waking up to do some light reading. Oh, god, he thought. What would he even tell Sam? They promised to never look at it and by some stupid mistake, he had accidentally looked at it. He didn’t mean to, it was just out of impulse.

Grizz looked around and realized that Sam’s arms were sprawled next to him. He averted his eyes from looking and threw a blanket over it. Grizz felt a sudden surge of emotions, on his arm specifically, and grasped it to stop it from shaking. He stood up and turned to look at Sam who had shifted a little in his sleep. He was a few moments away from screaming out of nervousness but that had to wait. Grizz closed his eyes and tried to keep calm. Keep it together, you dumbass.

Okay, fuck, Grizz said to himself, his breath shaky. He exhaled slowly through his nose and opened his eyes to look at his arm.

“Fucking…fuck,” he said, his voice shaking.

The countdown was gone. No illuminating numbers. No years, months, days, hours, minutes, or seconds.

Just a blank arm and nothing else.

Chapter Text

Sam fluttered his eyes open only to find an empty space beside him—no Grizz, but the scent of him still lingered on the sheets and on the pillows. Sam took the pillow that was on Grizz’s side of the bed, hugged it and inhaled softly. Mint & Citrus. That’s how he’d always smell like; like Irish Spring (the soap) and then like honey and lemon. He continued to embrace the pillow for a moment and then lay flat on his back, looking at the ceiling and the small dust particles dancing around his field of vision as the sunlight brightened the room. Sam figured it had already been past 8 or so but he had all the time in the world since there was no work today and the office paperwork wasn’t all that bad since it was the summer. He glanced at the clock on the bedside table. 8:17 a.m. The book he had given to Grizz a few years ago—Walden—was there and he had been reading it before he had gotten up to make breakfast. Sam assumed that Grizz was doing so as he could smell bacon and pancakes through the air that had gone through the door that was left slightly ajar. He took the book and saw a little indention that Grizz had marked, probably what he was reading before he took off.

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” 

Sam smiled as he read the phrase and felt his heart tug a little when he had flipped the next pages or so where Grizz had a few lines highlighted and little notes that he had scrawled beside them. Grizz was really the type of person to pay attention and that’s what Sam liked about him the most. All of this had convinced him that he was dreaming or that he was in some weird simulation (he shook his head and rolled his eyes—he reminded himself that he had just been binging Black Mirror too much) because all of this was just too good to be true. Sam put the book down and plopped back into bed. He sighed and closed his eyes, hating that he just really had to overthink even the smallest bit of details in every situation that he’s ever been in. So, Grizz had miraculously come back to West Ham by some strong intuition that his countdown was what pushed him and that he was so determined to know what it meant and who it was linked to.

But then in such a short notice, their paths decide to cross again and it was almost too quick that Sam had to pull an act when he saw Grizz reading a book by the lake he had always gone to hide at. What would he say to Grizz when he had left that night of the party with no other words than ‘goodbye?’ Sam had actually stood there that day for a solid minute or two which felt like eternity because he felt all the air from his lungs and blood decided to leave his body. He had moved a little closer and tried not to make any noise which was a disadvantage for him because he couldn’t hear it, obviously. He saw Grizz sign ‘sorry’. Sorry for what?

So when Grizz took notice at his embarrassing attempt to hide in the bushes, Sam had gone full on 360 and went on ahead to face Grizz even though his heart was about to come out of his mouth. Grizz nearly bolted when he saw Sam or maybe he was going to hurl the book he was holding at him, that would’ve been great too—getting catapulted in the face with a book that was at least 5 pounds heavy by someone who could possibly be the love of your life would be awesome, he thought. When they hugged, Sam knew what that ‘sorry’ meant—sorry for not coming home sooner.

Remembering his failed attempt at hiding now made his cheeks flush hot red and he had resorted into covering his face with the pillow that he was hugging earlier. It was only yesterday that that happened, but his overconfidence got him to where he was today. He wasn’t usually like that but with Grizz, it wasn’t hard to be who he wanted to be. Becca says that he has an ‘attitude’ and loves to sass things out a bit, but Sam only does that with people he’s most comfortable being with and there wasn’t much to count. And it was like that with Grizz. It had always been and admittedly, Sam thought, he thinks that he may have gained a little self-esteem from being the head teacher for ASL. Grizz just felt natural to be with. It was as if he never left at all and this was something they had always done. Being with him was easy and comforting. It made him feel safe.

Sam removed the pillow from his face and exhaled sharply through his nose. Right, the countdown. He motioned to look at his arm but smacked his face in retaliation instead, remembering that he and Grizz had made a pact that they wouldn’t look at it no matter what happened. Sam promised to himself that he would be true to his words and in his actions because he didn’t want Grizz to ever walk out on his life again, so yeah, maybe looking at it wasn’t the best idea. But they needed to look at it someday, as hiding things wasn’t what Sam liked. Sam sat up and jumped out of bed, tidying it up before looking around for the clothes they had stripped off from earlier that night. It wasn’t there anymore so he figured that Grizz had taken it downstairs in their laundry room to get it cleaned. Sam blushed at the realization. He went into the bathroom and brushed his teeth with the toothbrush that Grizz had given him last night and washed his face with water. Sam still felt quite sleepy but he felt his stomach growl too. His cheeks were still pink and he waited for a while for it to simmer down but it had not. Defeated, he signed to himself in the mirror.

“You can do it,” Sam finger-gunned at his reflection, laughed at how odd he looked, and made his way downstairs and into the kitchen. There he saw Grizz, with his ‘Kiss the Chef’ apron and his hair tied up into a knot to stop it from falling to frame his eyes and face, singing a song that Sam could only muster the words to the lyrics of Linger by the Cranberries as he arranged the table.

Grizz had the table set up with a stack of pancakes and bacon and eggs on the side. Grizz noticed him standing at the doorway, his small smile turning into a large and cheeky grin. Sam walked over to him and signed ‘Good morning’ to which Grizz had replied in sign, his shoulders perking up as he did, ‘Let’s eat’ and after he did so, he gave Sam a small peck on the lips and neck. Grizz showed him that he was studying ASL while he was asleep and had picked on a few greetings and phrases to say to him. Grizz joked that he felt like his arms and hands were about to fall off from cooking, signing, and from the exhaustion that was caused last night. He winked. Sam had to bite his lips from grinning so hard, a bad habit that he usually does as a reflex but it usually does him no good since it was obvious that he was hiding back a smile. Grizz looked at him with sleepy hazel eyes and poked his cheek where a deep dimple was and beckoned him to eat. They started eating and Sam felt his stomach do a little dance from the good food that Grizz had made for them both. He complimented Grizz to which Grizz responded by saying that he had been up early to cook because he wanted to impress Sam.

“As if you haven’t done that already,” Sam told him. Grizz placed a lock of his hair that had fallen of the knot to the back of his ear. Cute, Sam thought as he ate his second serving of pancakes.

“Hey, if it’s alright with you then we could do the laundry that I mentioned last night?” Grizz asked him, his fork playfully tapping his lips. Sam nodded and pointed out that Grizz was now wearing a sweatshirt instead of the shirt he was wearing last night. Grizz’s eyes widened as he nodded almost too enthusiastically. Sam looked at him funny.

“It was cold,” Grizz answered and avoided Sam’s eye contact while eating the bacon that was on his fork. Not really, Sam thought. It was quite hot, actually, and the air was humid. Grizz was sweating a little but Sam figured that maybe he was just sleep-deprived and was still adjusting to the conditions around his environment or that Grizz was still having trouble with jet lag so he didn’t look at it deeper. Over the next hour or so, Sam began to quiz Grizz on the words he had taught him last night and was more than impressed when Grizz almost got everything right. He had trouble differentiating ‘work’ and ‘making out’. Sam felt his cheeks blush when Grizz asked how it was different.

“Obviously work is just synonymous for doing something like a job. Making out is, well,” Sam paused and thought of the continuation for his next sentence. “It’s doing a more intimate job, I suppose. But two people making out seems like a lot of work, isn’t it?” Grizz laughed at him, his ears turning pink. Sam rolled his eyes at him when he realized that Grizz was fooling around.

“Yeah, but with you it’s a whole lot of fun.”

They had finished washing the dishes and were now sitting in the living room next to each other with Sam giving tips on how to sign properly.

“You just have to let it flow naturally,” Sam said while moving his fingers to sign. Grizz watched intently. “And you have to relax your shoulders when you’re signing. You look like a turtle,” He laughed and put a hand on Grizz’s shoulders which immediately relaxed as soon as he did so. “You’ll get the hang of it. Just watch my arms, hands, and fingers.”

Grizz looked the other way as Sam had said so. At first he was confused but then he realized, ah, right, the countdown. Sam didn’t like one bit of it. He wanted things to be easy and comfortable with Grizz and because of the promise they had made, there was still a barrier between them. He cupped Grizz’s face to look back at him but his expression looked nervous and worried, like he was going to say something or that he wanted to but something was holding him back. Grizz held Sam’s hands as his hands were still on his face and sighed.

“Something wrong?” Sam looked at him, tilting his head a little and raising an eyebrow.

“No.” Grizz shook his head, smiling softly. Sam wasn’t convinced. “Just tired. Wanna start the laundry?” Sam nodded his head reluctantly. Grizz stood up and turned, his back facing Sam’s. Before he could get any further away, Sam took his hand to which Grizz looked at him with the same expression he had before. Sam looked at him for a long time in hopes that he’d realize that Sam knew something was up and that he wasn’t going to get away with it this time.

“There’s something that’s holding you back,” Sam said, sternly. “You don’t have to hide anything from me. You know that.” Grizz nodded and pulled Sam towards him for an embrace. He apologized to Sam and said that he would tell him in the laundry room where he could properly explain what had happened. Sam agreed.

As they loaded the last few items of clothing into the wash, Grizz looked at Sam who was already looking at him. Sam tugged on his sleeve and pulled him closer towards him. They had been quiet most of the time, and Sam was not having any of it. He looked at Grizz with raised eyebrows and a concerned expression on his face.

“Sam,” Grizz started, his hair now untied and messy. “There’s something you should know.” Sam nodded at him to continue. “Earlier this morning while I was doing some light reading, I kind of..er..I may have accidentally looked at my arm. I didn’t mean to! It was really just a habit and well..” Grizz paused and cleared his throat. “It’s gone.”

“What?” Sam asked aloud, his heart racing inside his chest. He and Becca had talked about this before when her countdown had stopped too when she had met a guy in New York, Jacob, who was her coworker in the job that she was in. Becca’s countdown never haywired or spun into a downward spiral with different numbers and such. Her countdown had been on time and it had stopped when she had introduced Eden to Jacob. When she looked at his arm for the countdown, it was also gone. And now, Grizz’s countdown had stopped too. Grizz explained to him that when he woke up, it was just gone and it wasn’t there anymore and that he didn’t know when it had exactly stopped but he was sure that it had been there before they had met at the lake. He couldn’t tug back his shirt too far so Grizz resorted into taking it off, exposing his skin and his bare chest. Sam blushed and bit his lips in defense.

“I don’t want to keep things from you anymore. No more hiding,” Grizz said, looking at Sam, his hazel eyes dilated and his cheeks flushed from his actions. “We have to look at it together.” Sam had his hands behind his back and nodded in agreement with what Grizz had said. There was a moment of silence except for the low hum of the washing machine across them. They looked at each other. “On three. One, two, three—“

Sam put his forearm in front of him and Grizz did the same.

Grizz had no countdown but Sam still had his with five seconds left. They look at it in amazement with a tinge of nervousness until the countdown had reached zero and then faded into Sam’s skin with no trace left. The countdown had appeared in his hand the day of Grizz’s farewell party after their graduation and back then, people were having it left and right that it was almost impossible to know who you were going to end up with. Sam had so badly wanted it to be Grizz. But because of many different circumstances and a circle of misunderstandings, he figured that he should just leave Grizz to his decisions and then maybe his countdown would just disappear because he wanted nothing to do with it now that being with Grizz felt like a far-fetched dream or that it would just reset if that was even possible. But it had not.

The day Grizz had left, the time on his arm started to stretch out but with realization that Grizz had gone back to West Ham every now and then explained why the time had changed so often. He always wondered when it would stop and now that it had, Sam’s heart felt like it was going to come out of his mouth. Grizz looked at him with his forearm still outstretched and his bare chest softly rising and falling. They locked eyes and all of a sudden, Sam felt a surge of emotion running through his body like a lightning bolt. Their surroundings looked more vivid and colors seemed to be more saturated. Grizz put his hand on top of Sam’s own, his cheeks flushing pink with a smile that no longer looked shy but had looked like coming home.

“So, it’s always been you, I suppose.” Grizz said, his eyes bright and gleaming with love. Sam was determined to keep that memory of Grizz etched in his mind for as long as he lives. He gave Grizz’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “My soulmate, huh?”

“I’ve pretty much known that it would be you,” Sam replied with a smile. “It will always, always be you.”

With their faces inches away from each other, Sam closed in the space between them both by standing on his toes to kiss Grizz who was already leaning into him. They had shared kisses the night before but nothing could compare to what the kiss felt like now. No, it was nothing like the kisses Sam had shared with boys he tried to get with and all of which were filled with anxiety and dread, no, it was surely nothing compared to how kissing Grizz felt like—like he no longer had to be going through things alone anymore. Sam almost forgot what sharing a mutual love felt like especially with someone he felt something so strong for and even still he can’t believe that everything had fallen into place at such a quick notice. Not that he was complaining but he sort of wished he had time to prepare for Grizz’s return and for this very moment. Sam has known for a long time now that Grizz would be his endgame even though he constantly denied it after he had left. Maybe not knowing when things would happen was what it was all about—to live without limits and without boundaries knowing that tomorrow could hold anything. That’s how it became so easy for him to compose himself. Well, maybe this was the right moment after all, he said to himself. Yesterday felt like another day thinking about what he would do with a countdown that didn’t even have permanent numbers. Right now, he had Grizz in his arms, bare and warm to touch, his eyes flicking open to meet his own. And to quote Walden, the only quote Sam knew because he had highlighted it before he had given it to him—“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads”, and with Grizz, it felt exactly like that.

Like home and a sanctuary all at once.

-

6 months later.

The night his parents had come back after their summer vacation, Grizz had introduced them formally to Sam—they’ve met quite a lot before as Grizz’s ‘close friend’ but certainly not as his soulmate. To say the least, his mother was more than thrilled to have her son finally back home and with a purpose fulfilled. Grizz’s father on the other hand looked amused and patted his back while uttering the words of “Let him stay over for dinner.” That was more than enough, Grizz thought. And soon after Grizz had started his job as a farm manager, he was able to save enough money to rent a small cozy loft outside of town where eventually Sam had moved in with him. Grizz was earning a little over than what Sam was and he was getting there. It was no competition after all. The Eliot’s were ecstatic when Sam had decided to introduce Grizz to them next a few days later when they had brought Campbell home for a visit. Grizz had winced when he saw Campbell and remembered the times that he had seen him push Sam out of the way in school and called him so many derogatory names but Grizz had considered to give him a chance and was surprised when Campbell, out of all people, had hugged him when Grizz said his greetings.

“So, you and Sammy, huh?” Campbell had said, his tone of voice was positive and he had a real, genuine smile. It made Grizz happy knowing and seeing for himself that Campbell was getting the help and support that he needed. “That’s good. I know you’ll be good to each other. As you’ve always been.”

The Visser’s home was buzzing with life and laughter as it had continued to do so on the day that Grizz and Sam found out that against the odds, they were soulmates. Sam had gotten Grizz to go back on social media and admittedly it took Grizz awhile to get used to all the new user interfaces that he had missed out on when he had decided to go on a retreat to avoid his past life. As soon as he had figured it out, he had contacted all the friends that he had lost touch with and to his surprise, they had been patiently waiting for his call too (but Luke had given them a heads up anyway, so Grizz didn’t have to explain any further) and looking around his kitchen, his old friends and Helena laughing about some dumb joke Clark was saying with Jason not picking anything up, with Gordie, Cassandra, Bean, and Gwen arguing over the cliffhanger of the book that they were reading, and with Allie and her company fawning over Becca’s baby, Eden, trying to convince her that they were witches and wizards, Grizz’s heart felt full. And finally his heart had grown back the love that it once had for the ‘shittiest town on Earth’ which was a lot less shitty on Christmas Eve.

His parents were setting up a banquet at the dining hall with Sam while he was in the kitchen with his friends waiting on roast that was cooking in the oven—Grizz’s specialty, and Sam had insisted everyone should try it—that’s when Clark who was a little shit-faced from the eggnog he had spiked with rum, clinked his glass to grab everyone’s attention. Sam had gone in the kitchen in time for Grizz to beckon him by his side.

“Attention, everyone,” Clark said, his voice a little slurred. Cassandra face-palmed at his direction when the eggnog in his hand spilled on his ugly Christmas sweater, that he too had ‘personally knitted’ for the consolation of his old football buddies. Allie thought it was amusing and had told Grizz earlier that she felt a little jealous that Clark loved them so much he decided to knit an ugly sweater for them. Hell, Grizz didn’t even know Clark was capable of knitting till he had said he made it with his own bare hands. Clark was bad at lying so he knew he was telling the truth. Bean told Clark that their sweaters were the prettiest ugly Christmas sweaters she had seen so far. She was not prepared for his bear hug.

“What’s going on?” Sam signed to Grizz.

“I have no idea,” Grizz signed back, holding back a laugh. He had attained a good amount of fluency in ASL from Sam’s personal tutoring and by attending his classes when he was off from work. By then, he and Sam were signing to each other almost all the time although Grizz liked to play around when he wanted to hear Sam speak. Grizz considered it as one of the best accomplishments of his life; to be able to understand and speak Sam’s language and to be a part of his universe without any bounds. Although he still had a lot to learn, he was ever so thankful for Sam for being so patient with him.

“I’d just like to say, thank you to God for being a homie and for giving Grizz an extra push to come back here to West Ham,” Clark started, putting an arm around Grizz. Sam was sandwiched between them. Help, he signed to Becca who took a picture of them three. “Because if not, well, I guess we wouldn’t be here. And also, thanks for making him absolutely fucking gay. Cheers!”

The kitchen erupted with laughter and clinks of glass and Sam getting squished by the overwhelming hugs for him and Grizz from the boys and everyone else. The rest of the night was a good slow burn, with Grizz’s parents showing everyone his baby pictures during dessert and the infamous feathered boa image of Grizz that he so badly wanted to throw away or burn with a flamethrower. While everyone was roasting the shit out of him as he slunk in his seat, Sam squeezed his arm, laughing and giving him reassurance that he should enjoy the moment as it was because it wouldn’t be all the time that the gang was back together since everyone had their own separate lives.

“So embarrassing,” Grizz said through gritted teeth and his hand shielding his eyes away from it all.

“Oh, loosen up, Grizzy. It’s not like all the time we get to see this,” Luke told him with a devious smile on his face. “You should be thankful. It gives us all these new opportunities to get to know you better. Right, guys?” Everyone chimed in response.

“Fuck you,” Grizz mouthed at him and rolling his eyes in the process.

“Hey,” Sam looked at him sternly, his hand gripping Grizz’s thigh. “Language.” Grizz thought for a second if he should say all the cuss words that he could probably muster if that meant Sam tightened his grip. Oh well, he thought. Maybe later.

Grizz sighed in defeat as his parents passed around the albums and pictures for them to see. Becca and Kelly were most definitely taking pictures of Grizz’s embarrassing years before he had bulked up for football and the boys were already snickering in their seats. Sam looked bemused even though he had seen most of the pictures already (it was sort of a tradition for the Visser’s to embarrass the shit out of their son by showing anyone who stepped into their household pictures of Grizz’s slightly unfortunate childhood) and Grizz was just waiting for everything to die down. He took a peak at the living room window and was glad to see that it had started snowing even though plowing it the next morning would be such a buzzkill since it was Christmas. Till then, he thought, the slow burn of the night warmed his heart. This was the place to be. This was home.

-

When Grizz’s parents had retired to their slumber and when Becca and Sam had safely gotten back from dropping of Eden at Sam’s house under the care of his parents before the snow had gotten a lot thicker, the boys, specifically Clark and Jason, had a lot to question. Grizz’s house was quite big and could house everyone who had been invited. The girls had two rooms to share, and all of the men would be sleeping at the living room near the fireplace with the flat screen TV just like they had always done back in the day despite the fact that they were enormous in size and far outweighed Will and Gordie.

“We’ll manage,” Gordie had said to Grizz, plopping down on the small space between the table and the couch. He was practicing and squirming his way on the carpeted floor to ensure his safety during the night. And by safety, it would be to make sure he wouldn’t get squished if either Clark or Jason plummeted on him in the middle of the night if they were to take the couch.

“Yeah, I’m sure we’ll fit,” Will looked around and sat opposite of Gordie. Gordie frowned when he realized that Will had a better and slightly bigger choice of place on the floor. “Don’t know about these fellas, though.”

“We can spoon each other,” Clark suggested, full on shit-faced, his nose competing with the Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer socks hanged on the fireside. The eggnog spiked shots had gotten to him. “To save space and to stay warm.” Gordie and Will looked at each other and suppressed their laughter.

“No, thank you.” They said in unison which made Clark pout in disappointment.

When rooms were settled and things sorted out (“No, Clark, we are not going to spoon.” Luke had told Clark who was clinging onto his shoulder like a baby chimp to its mother.) a circle was formed with Grizz and Sam as the pivot of the conversation. It was an hour till midnight—an hour till Christmas, and till then, the few golden minutes would be spent heftily and grandly by Grizz’s best friends. The girls were pretty much in on it too, so it was a unanimous decision for all to ask away. Sam seemed excited about it too and Becca was there to help transcribe what they were saying. Fuck it, Grizz said to himself. This was his biggest consolation for his friends yet.

“I’ll go first,” Jason said, his voice a little slurred. His hair was in a fluff and his eyes were starting to droop. He looked like he was about to go to sleep at any moment. “Out of all the boys in high school besides Sam, who did you think was the hottest in West Ham High School and would legitimately bang ten out of ten?” Becca went straight off and signed to Sam who was already stifling a laugh.

Grizz scrunched his face in disgust. “No one.” Jason booed at him, “Dude, for real, most of the guys in high school were either dumb as fuck, dicks, or didn’t care for personal hygiene. The other 1% were in a relationship or weren’t gay at all. Hard pass.” Grizz admittedly embraced the fact that he was the smartest one in their group with Luke as a close second (although at times, Luke had a knack of spacing out) and to be quite fair, Clark and Jason shared one brain cell and together they, at times, formed a powerhouse of stupidity. Though as a team, they were quite unstoppable.

“Agreed,” Cassandra said aloud and pretended to gag. Gordie raised an eyebrow at her in which she returned with a wink. She and Gordie were a couple that no one had seen coming too and they were still going strong, as much as Luke and Helena were, as they eventually figured out during their college years that they were each other’s soulmates.

“Okay, fine, let’s narrow it down.” Jason scratched his head. “Who’s the hottest out of all of guys here in the room? Like if Sam didn’t even exist at all, who would you choose? Look, Grizz, go easy, I know it’s me but let’s give a chance to—“

“Easy,” Grizz interjected with a smile on his face. “Gordie.” The girls cheered while Gordie covered his face. Grizz looked at Sam who was red from laughter, his eyes welling up with tears. He signed Kiss you later, and assured Sam that he was just answering for fun and in all seriousness, to keep stalling Jason and/or Clark until one of them passes out so they could draw on one of their faces. Sam signed, you can do it now, if you’d like.

Becca rolled her eyes. “Must you do that in front of me?” she joked and signed ‘Loser’ to the both of them.

“Hey, not fair! What did you guys just talk about?” Jason intervened as he took a chug of the drink in his hand. Grizz, Sam, and Becca said that it was a secret. “Let’s narrow it down again. In our group, between us three—like, me, Clark, and Luke. Who would you totally wife up? Or husband, I don’t judge.”

“Knock it off, Jason,” Clark said, sternly but still in a daze. He gave a side-eye to Grizz who found the entire situation to be funny. “It’s obviously me.”

Luke face-palmed at them both. “Oh my god,” he sighed through his hands.

“Do I really have to answer this?” Grizz asked. “You guys aren’t even my type.”

“Oof, that’s a hard one to take,” Allie laughed at Clark’s offended expression.

“But if you could choose one obviously, and I know it’s me, then just fucking pick one of us, man.” Clark chucked a marshmallow at Grizz.

“You do realize how desperate you sound like right now?” Gwen told him. She and Clark had been separated since mid-year of 12th Grade but had remained civil and were steering more on towards being friends who shared playful banters from time to time. Though Allie had told Grizz that Clark was still pretty much in love with her and that Gwen, secretly, felt the same. She was just very stoic about it.

“Fine,” Grizz said, folding his arms. “If I had to choose between you jackasses, it would be Luke. And not to be biased or anything, and even though he’s bad with directions, at least he doesn’t try hard like you guys to amuse me. He could get it any day. No homo, bro.” He joked and gave a thumbs up towards Luke who had shot up from his seat.

“Fuck yeah, dude. Full fuckin’ homo. Suck it, Clark.” Luke said as he flipped of Clark who looked defeated. “1 for me and none for you desperate housewives.”

“Sam? Give us your answer. Me or Clark?” Jason looked at him with plea. Sam and Grizz gave each other a look before Sam had replied that he wouldn’t date any of them and if he were dying and that the only way to save his life was to date either Clark or Jason, then he would rather die.

“Man, you guys are fucking losers.” Luke said with his chin held high.

-

A few more conversations and questions in and Clark and Jason had passed out within minutes apart of each other with only a quarter left till midnight. The sharpies were out and within minutes the two looked like star-crossed lovers who had gone to a shady tattoo parlor that had gone wrong. With Luke drifting in and out of sleep on the couch next to Gordie who was already lying down, the girls wanted their fair share of questions and advice from Grizz the poet himself. Sam was sleepy but Becca wanted to hear his opinion too so she made sure that he wasn’t going to sleep just yet.

“How did you know it was going to be Sam?” Kelly asked Grizz, her blue eyes sparkling and reflecting from the fireplace. Kelly was still the same as she had been before—loving, wide-eyed and a dreamer. Grizz had wondered why she wasn’t part of their book club and he had wished that she was sooner since she and Gordie had developed a good bond over scholarly books. She was soon to be a nurse, and despite her hectic schedule, she managed to squeeze in some time for them—her friends—and then she would be off again in a few days to study and get back to her busy life.

“I didn’t,” Grizz said, truthfully. “But I guess, I kind of knew we were going to cross paths somehow. I mean, Luke tried to play it cool as if he was oblivious to it all but he was the most obvious, actually,” He looked at Luke who had begun to snore on the couch. Helena snorted at him and laughed. “Things just fell into place. There were just too many coincidences. I still kept pushing it away. But Helena was the real deal for support.” Grizz looked at Sam. “We met at the lake one late afternoon. It wasn’t even a day since I got back. Sam was just standing there looking like a deer in the headlights. But I think I looked more surprised than he was.”

“I thought he was going to throw a book at me,” Sam said and signed, leaning onto Grizz’s shoulder.

Kelly laughed, her smile was contagious. Will looked at her and then looked away. Grizz noticed it immediately. Allie was looking at him before he could make a guess.

“How does it feel?” Allie asked, leaning towards Grizz to look at his arm. “To have it? Does it feel like a watch or a bomb?” Allie and Will had tried to hit it off before; and despite her having a big crush on him, her countdown had never started. Will’s had and so did Kelly’s, but Grizz wasn’t sure if the three were connected. There was always a bizzare love triangle between the three of them and he didn’t want to address it at such a great night. He wouldn’t want to ruin his first Christmas back in West Ham by saying something that would offend all three of them.

“Yeah, sort of. But it gets annoying really quick when you have it and when you don’t know who it is.” Grizz ruffled the top of her hair. “Don’t rush, Aeschylus.” Allie wacked his arm away playfully.

“When did you lose it?” Bean chimed in. Sam and Grizz looked at each other. “Wait, sorry,” Bean cleared her throat, trying to swallow a laugh. “When did you realize it was gone?”

“Actually we weren’t supposed to look at it,” Sam said out loud, looking at Grizz who looked away bashfully. “But the next morning, Grizz looked at it. ‘Accidentally’,” Grizz pinched Sam’s cheeks.

“Hey,” He said, squishing it a little. “It was after dinner over the course of some…talking—“ Becca gave him a look and put her index finger through her other hand that was forming the shape of a hole. Sam threw a pillow at her. “But I didn’t see it ‘till the morning. Sam’s was when we were doing the laundry. Right?”

Sam nodded. “Man, I thought it’d be more romantic.” Bean sighed in disappointment. “Totally not like how you’d expect it.”

“We found out when Cassandra puked all over me that one time after a house party we went to when she forgot to take her medication for an entire day,” Gordie said with his eyes closed, not fully asleep yet but he had been listening intently to the conversation. Grizz signed for Sam who had wanted to know what he had said. “It was awesome.”

“I think she did that on purpose,” Allie joked and in return she got a jab from her sister.

They all fell silent and listened to the crackling of the fireplace and the low snores that were emitting from Jason and Clark, the sharpie-faced duo. Luke was snoring too and both Will and Gordie were lying on the floor and slowly drifting off to sleep. The snow outside was getting heavier and the clock was ticking fast towards midnight with only 5 minutes left. Grizz felt a little cold but almost immediately Sam read his mind by snuggling in closer to him for warmth. Looking back, Grizz thought, the six months that he had spent in West Ham felt more eventful than the four years he spent away and in isolation from everyone that he thought he wouldn’t ever see again. What a mistake that was, he said to himself. That the people he had pushed away along with the life he had here before was what he truly needed. Grizz loved them, that’s for sure. It only took a few lessons in life to lead him back to the one place he hated the most and had now formed a new found love for. It was a slow but steady pace but Grizz loved every moment of it. He had his friends back, he was close to his family again, and most importantly he had Sam in his life. The absence of love starved Grizz from physical affection but that’s just what he had thought, anyway. Love had always been there and it had always waited for him to return. He was contented now.

Grizz looked at Sam whose eyes were closed too. He gave him a small squeeze which made his eyes flutter open, the blue like ocean eyes gazing lovingly at him. He didn’t need any presents for Christmas. He had all that he needed right there.

“So, when are you going to get married?” Gwen asked, breaking the silence.

“They were having a moment.” Becca said, a little annoyed.

“I didn’t get to ask,” Gwen chuckled. It was a joke and Grizz understood. Gwen was just like that; she liked to demand for things when she needed them. She had a knack for curiosity which led her to do morbid and questionable things. Becca had told Sam and Grizz before in high school that if she’d get the chance to, she’d kick her in the throat. Grizz snickered at the memory which looked like it was going to happen any time soon by the look of Becca’s face.

“I haven’t even proposed yet,” Grizz replied and realized that he probably gave out too much as it gave Sam the idea that he was going to do it. Sam looked at him sleepily with a playful smile on his face.

“Not if I beat you to it,” He said, his cheeks pink.

“If so,” Helena stretched and yawned. “Let me officiate you boys. It’ll be one of the best things in my life—to wed a couple that I’ve sort of brought together.” Other than running a support group, Helena was in law school and it was a clear shot that she would pass the bar exam soon earning her the title of an attorney. She had told Grizz before that she had always wanted to be a judge.

“Me too,” Luke piped up before drifting back to sleep.

The clock had strike twelve and the small chirp of the cuckoo echoed the room as the pendulum swayed back and forth in unison with its call. Christmas had come. The girls were huddled up together on the floor, their eyes gazed at the snow outside the living room window which had formed a blanket around the patio of the house. They were all much older, yes, but Grizz felt like he was back in high school again with all the good things come into place. Helena sat beside Luke who was snoring, Gordie and Will were knocked out at the same spectrum of Clark and Jason (who still had no idea of their sharpied face), and Sam was in between Becca and Grizz who was admiring the entire scene. They had exchanged their Christmas greetings in lieu of hugs since most of the boys were asleep.

“Merry Christmas, losers.” Becca said and signed as she stood up and crouched down to give both of them a hug before joining the other girls who were up to make hot chocolate and eat the cookies that was left over from dessert.

Helena followed her to the kitchen and Grizz was left with Sam who was two blinks away from falling asleep and with the accompaniment of Jason, Clark, and Luke’s helicopter snores and Will and Gordie’s to follow. Sam lay on Grizz’s lap, his eyes closed with a small smile on his face. He opened them to look at Grizz who was already looking at him. Sam reached out to brush Grizz’s hair away from his face and Grizz held Sam’s hands in response to his affection.

“Merry Christmas,” Sam whispered affectionately, tapping on Grizz’s face with his fingers. “Can I get my kiss now?”

Grizz didn’t wait any further.

-

Spring.

“I remember when we walked in here a few years ago looking for a ring to give Helena,” Luke said, looking around the jewelry store. Grizz was jittery and felt anxious about the entire process thinking that Sam might have seen through his obvious and transparent lie telling him that he was accompanying Luke to buy some things from the local hardware store. They were, in fact, in the same jewelry store that they had gone to years before when Luke was in the same position as Grizz. He had thought about it for a long time and in addition to Sam already being his confirmed soulmate, Grizz figured that it was time that he had to place the call. The jewelry store looked and felt bigger than it had been before but maybe it was probably because he hadn’t stepped foot in here for a long time.

“I don’t want it to be grand and fancy,” Grizz told Luke as they passed by a few expensive diamond rings. Luke looked at the prices and choked as he saw them. Grizz laughed at his shocked look. “Sam wouldn’t want that. He’d rather like things from the heart.”

“Then you should’ve made your own ring then.” Luke joked. “What about this one?”

They looked at a few silver rings that had intricate engravings on them and small gems in between. It wasn’t all too pricey and Grizz didn’t mind it since he had worked double shifts and had gone overtime on some days to be able to save up for this very moment. He had wanted the ring to be special after all. Sam had no clue about them going here but prior to that Grizz had been dropping hints about his proposal. Grizz and Luke studied the rings where eventually Grizz found a silver ring with that had gaps that were engraved superficially and a small gem encrusted in the middle. Grizz asked for the price and for the availability of the size and was thoroughly impressed (and relaxed) that it was at a good price and that they had Sam’s size.

As soon as Grizz had gotten a better look at it, he proceeded with the processes of getting the ring. While they were waiting, Grizz was looking through the glass window, his heart contented and his thoughts elsewhere. He was looking at an old man walk his little Chihuahua across the street.  Luke looked at Grizz and beamed like a proud father looking after his son.

“So, when are you going to do it?” Luke sat beside him. He pointed at the Chihuaha and told Grizz that he planned to adopt a few rescue dogs that he and Helena had been seeing for a while now.

Grizz shrugged and tucked a stray lock of hair behind his ears. “I have no idea yet. Maybe some time in the middle of spring.”

“You should do it at the lake,” Luke suggested, grinning. “I mean, it’s where you met up again, right?”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Grizz nodded and laughed, his heart beating faster at the thought of how he’s going to propose. He was thankful that he had Luke with him to ground him down and ask him questions that he needed to answer rather than keep it to himself. He hadn’t told his parents of the proposal yet and for the reasons that his mother would accidentally slip out the secret. Grizz had dropped hints to his father who had understood immediately. “Yeah, I’ll definitely do it there.”

If you’re happy,’ his father had said. ‘Then so am I.

“You’ll do awesome, man.” Luke said as he patted Grizz’s back. “Sam is head over heels for you. You’re a little above that because you’re whipped as fuck. But you already know that, of course.” Grizz rolled his eyes and smacked Luke’s hand away in the same joking matter. Come to think of it, he thought, if it really wasn’t for Luke’s over eagerness, he probably wouldn’t have had that damn countdown activate and he wouldn’t have busted his ass all the way back in West Ham.

“Hey,” Grizz turned to look at his best friend. And now he was the one beaming at him. “Thanks for everything, Luke.”

Luke looked at him with raised eyebrows. “What’s up, Mr. Softie?”

Grizz shook his head and scoffed. “Just..” He patted Luke’s back, mirroring his comforting actions before. “Thank you. Because if it wasn’t for you being nosy as hell or for being such a helicopter dad, I wouldn’t be here today. Really. You’ve always been there for me, man. Thanks for not giving up on me. You’re my brother.”

Luke smiled at him and before any more words can be exchanged, the lady who had processed Grizz’s ring had called for them as it was now ready to be given to Grizz himself—with the box and all.

“Man, you’re going to make me cry.” Luke said truthfully as he trailed behind Grizz.

Grizz peered behind him and threw a handkerchief at Luke as a joke to which Luke may or may not have dabbed his eyes with the said handkerchief.

-

The clouds were turning into hues of purple and pink with a tang of orange, almost reminiscent to the time they had crossed paths with each other nearly a year ago. It was another late afternoon of spring in West Ham, and by then the lake was no longer frozen and the forest around them was teeming with life. The cicadas and the crickets had started to chirp loudly which echoed the surrounding forest and terrain while the birds soon followed with their song. Sam and Grizz had been sitting on their spot by the lake, talking for hours, with Sam still tutoring Grizz on ASL. Grizz no longer had just one book but he had several more now that were proficient in helping him to talk not only with Sam but with the students that he teaches and other deaf individuals that he comes across when tending the farm that he works at. Grizz found himself conversing with Sam in just pure ASL with an occasional mouthing of words that he had still found difficult to sign but with Sam’s expression—his eyes twinkling and his grin wide, Grizz knew that he was doing well.

Although they outside of town, they still managed to come back in West Ham to go back to this very lake and of course, to see some of their friends who had requested for their attendance and presence at all times in consolation for Grizz’s absence of four years. Grizz had taught Sam how to garden and if he was getting better at ASL then Sam was no different with gardening. He had now a vegetable garden at the back of his house for his mother to utilize when she needs anything extra for her cooking. Grizz even let Sam plant and marcot some of the fruit trees in his farm which excited Sam a lot even though he was embarrassingly bad at it first.

The lake mirrored the sky and the ambiance was all too peaceful. After Sam had finished teaching Grizz deeper words in ASL, they stood up to stand closer to the lake to get a better view.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Sam said and signed, his gaze focused on the large lake in front of them.

Grizz looked at him. Sam had glowed differently when they had first met but even more so now that they were together. The lake was beautiful, but so was Sam who always had an eternal ever glow to him. It still made Grizz’s heart race.

“Yeah,” Grizz thought, still looking at him. Sam looked at Grizz, his eyes twinkling as he smiled. “It is.”

Sam took a pebble from the ground and threw it across the lake. It skipped two or three times before it eventually sunk into the deep water. He did it several times and sighed out of frustration that he couldn’t get it to skip four times. Grizz took a pebble and did the same. His pebble had skipped four times on his first try which made Sam scrunch his nose in annoyance.

“How did you do that?” Sam asked, a little amused.

“I just threw it,” Grizz replied, shrugging in nonchalance. “Hey, you know what’s weird? We just might be the last person on earth to touch this rock until the end of time.”

Sam rolled his eyes and laughed. “Mr. Visser, you and your words.”

“No, really,” Grizz said moving towards him. “I mean we’re throwing this pretty far out and it’s at least like 5 to 10 meters deep right? Think about it.” Grizz scanned the ground and took a sharper rock next to Sam’s feet. He started carving something on to the rock that he was holding in his hands.

“What are you doing?” Sam asked and signed along the way as he leaned towards Grizz.

Grizz showed him that he was carving their initials, ‘G.V. & S.E.’, onto the rock. Sam asked him what he was going to do with it. Grizz told him that he’ll have to watch and see. After doing so, they met each other’s eyes.

“If I’m going to be the last person to ever have this rock in my touch;” Grizz started, stepping back to throw it. “When the world is nothing but ashes and fire and by then when we are all gone…” Grizz threw the rock with all the force that he could, thanking the heavens for his skills in football that helped him in doing so. They watched the rock hit the water as it eventually sunk down into the water, never to be seen again. “And when all things will merge into one, just as it had been before, that rock will still be there—the world will be new but our words will be timeless. And when that time comes, I’ll still love you. I’ll always, always love you.”

Sam couldn’t say anything. His eyes welled up with tears and his heart swelled with love when he realized that Grizz had said most of those things accompanied with ASL. Grizz turned to him, his eyes filled with tears, too. He thought that his heart was about to jump out of his mouth and skip into the lake as he got down on one knee and pulled out a box from his pocket.

“Sam, can you teach me one more thing, in ASL?” Grizz asked, his tears overflowing. “How do you say ‘marry me’?” Sam laughed, covering his mouth with his hand in surprise. Grizz did too, his feeling of nervousness slowly ebbing away. “Will you marry me, Sam Eliot?”

Yes,” Sam said nodding, unable to control the tears that were streaming down his face. “Yes, Grizz, I’ll marry you.”

Grizz slipped the engagement ring into Sam’s delicate, soft hands. It was the perfect fit. Grizz sighed and smiled at Sam after regaining his composure. Sam stretched out his hand to look at it better as Grizz stood up, his worries all left behind.

“Grizz, it’s beautiful.” Sam signed to him, his cheeks and nose red from crying. Even still, Grizz thought he looked beautiful.

“I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” Grizz pulled him into an embrace, their eyes gazing lovingly at each other. “Let me take care of you for as long as I can, my soulmate.”

“If it’s you I’ll be coming home to,” Sam said, inching his face closer to Grizz’s own. “Then I’m yours forever.”

Grizz sealed the inches that were in between them with his lips on Sam’s own and their cheeks hot and flushed with happy and overjoyed tears. The sky was a deep purple and was reminiscent to the time they had trekked out of the forest, their love slowly blooming like a flower in the springtime. Grizz was so, so happy and had not once regretted coming back to West Ham after reuniting with Sam. Everything had fallen into place even if it hadn’t started out so well but it wasn’t a lone job—his friends were there too. His family had never stopped supporting him for all the things that he had done. And he was thankful for each and every one of them who made him realize what love truly meant. Sam knew, too, that with patience and understanding, the rightful time would finally come for him and Grizz to reunite once more. He had once asked the love that he and Grizz had shared before; what was their love about? He had an answer to that now. Their love was about being kind, about starting over again with best regards to the past, and above all—to understand each other without doing no harm. To learn and move on to a better tomorrow. That was what their love was; to come home no matter where you are in the world—to come home no matter how long you were away because you don’t leave home. You never really leave home. You always, always come back to it.

Time could pass and separate them someday, the words they kept and had said will wash away as time had done to everything, but at this moment, Grizz had Sam and Sam had Grizz.

And that was all that mattered.