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Twenty-two

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Zach is seven years old the first time he thinks he comprehends what love really is. His basketball rolls out into the street and Gabe yells to him that it's his fault since he was dribbling it when it got away. He runs after it, and all those rules about looking both ways before he crosses the street don't register at all.

He doesn't look right or left. He looks only at the orange ball rolling down the road.

The next thing he knows is a car hurtling toward him and the ball out of reach. Everything moves in slow motion. The ball moves centimeters at a time; the car increases toward him in increments. The car's horn honks and he knows that this is bad. Even his seven-year-old self knows that this is not gong to end well. He freezes, eyes closed tightly from panic, thinking that the car is going to hit him.

But then a pair of arms are coming across his chest and he's being lifted from the ground. He is hauled away from the street, back onto the sidewalk in front of his house. The arms release him and he turns around in time to find his mother crouched down and hugging him so tight that his ribs are starting to hurt.

“Mom,” he says into her shoulder as she clings to him.

She lifts from the embrace and her hands come up to frame his face and then she's looking at him with eyes full of unshed tears and he never, ever wants to see this look on her face again.

“Zach, you can't ever do that again,” she tells him. A single tear makes its way down her cheek and before he can reach up to wipe it away she's hugging him again.

She whispers into his ear that she can't lose him and he doesn't understand because he's not going anywhere. It takes him a long time to comprehend what those words mean. But when he does, he knows that what happened there, the look on her face and the way she hugged him so tightly, how she risked her life to save his, he knows that that is love.

 


 

Zach is eleven years old when Gabe has his first kiss.

He's on the playground at school and the kids are playing spin the bottle, their huddled mass of bodies cleverly blocking the view of the kiss from the teachers on duty.

Gabe is the first to go, and he's eager as ever, his smile widening with each rotation the bottle makes on the hot cement beneath them. It begins to slow and Zach knows that Gabe is holding his breath, hoping it will land on Becca – she's got the prettiest smile and softest hair and every boy in fifth grade has a crush on her.

The bottle slows to a final spin and gets precariously close to stopping and Becca is staring right at Gabe and he just knows it will be Becca.

But then it goes right past Becca and stops at the person next to her, Clara, the fat girl.

Gabe's smile dissipates. His hands are balled into fists at his sides and he clenches his eyes shut tight the entire five seconds, because that's the agreed upon amount of time that the kisses should last.

Zach tries not to be too smug when Becca spins the bottle and it lands on him. He's so terrified and she's looking right at him and he can see Gabe glaring out of the corner of his eye. He's standing stock still, too afraid to make the first move, so she inches closer. The slight breeze picks up her hair and he can smell her flowery shampoo. His hands have begun to sweat and he can't touch her for fear of leaving a trail of sweat on her face. He doesn't know whether to lean his head to the left or the right. Is it the boy or the girl who leans to the left? Dammit! Why hadn't he paid attention while the other people had their turns! He looks around to the other boys, silently pleading them to tell him how to place his head. His eyes dart back and forth from their angered faces – he is about to kiss the prettiest girl in school and they're not, he should've known they wouldn't help - suddenly she's inches away from him, the flowery smell of her hair all around him and she leans to the left and he to the right and then-

the bell rings.

The entire circle of people lets out one big groan, not because he didn't kiss her, but because recess is over.

On the walk home from school that day Gabe complains the entire time how his first kiss had to be with Clara, the fat girl. Zach tries to make it up to him by saying that he didn't even kiss Becca, he just almost kissed her, but the way Gabe's face contorts and the grit of his teeth as he says so! tells him that he should just let it drop.

 

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Zach doesn't have his first kiss until he's twenty-two.

Shaun looks at him, his hazel eyes ablaze with desire and want, and he knows if he had a mirror he'd see exactly the same thing in his own eyes. Shaun's hand is still resting against his chest and Zach is suddenly immobile; he can't move can't breathe can't comprehend what this means. All he can do is let Shaun lean over to him and press his lips against his, softly, so incredibly softly. As Shaun's tongue slides against his, Zach knows that this is his first kiss, the first time he's ever been kissed this way, with this much meaning and reverence, and he's never wanted someone so badly, so entirely.It's not like Zach's never had a handjob before. It's not as if this is his first orgasm.

But with Shaun's hand stroking him rhythmically and his face inches from his, watching his reaction, his intense gaze paired with his ministrations to Zach's cock, this is the first time he's ever felt this.

Shaun is looking at him and it's like he's seeing it all, not just his arousal, but every thought he's ever had, even the little things stored in away in the deep, dark recesses of his mind. He's transparent, see-through in a way he's never been before, not with anyone, even his mom, and it scares him. He is so scared, but he is putting his trust in Shaun.

Zach is huffing out breath after breath, moaning and writhing under Shaun's touch. Shaun is naked also, laying against him, next to him, their hips touching, one of Shaun's legs in between his own. Zach can feel Shaun's erection pressing into his outer thigh. He thinks he should do something about it; it's only fair. But the way Shaun is touching him and looking at him is making him immobile, all possibility of movement foregone for the warmth of Shaun's hand and the sweet, soft way he kisses him.

Soft and sweet are not words Zach uses. Ever. Especially not when referring to sex. But here, this, Shaun, whatever this is, it's soft and it's sweet. He's consumed by it, enveloped by the feeling of warmth that spreads through him when he looks at Shaun, when Shaun smiles, when Shaun laughs, when Shaun just is.

Zach comes, neck arched and eyes shut tight. He flops his head back on the pillow and opens his eyes to find Shaun looking at him, his hazel eyes clear and piercing, a look of total adoration and awe on his face. Shaun's hard cock is pressing insistently against Zach, but Shaun says nothing of it. Instead, he smiles a happy smile and brings his lips to Zach's. They kiss for a long time, prolonged kisses with Shaun's tongue sliding against his slowly, softly. Sweetly.

With Shaun, it feels like the first time. Sometimes he thinks it is.

 


 

Shaun is thirty-two, alone, and washed up when he finally goes back to Laguna. He stays in his parent's house to pass the time until he can leave his old apartment and forget about what's-his-name. He comes to Laguna simply for that, to write and to adjust to this new phase in his life. And maybe surf a little. The waves out in L.A. just aren't the same; the salt feels different on his skin out there, heavier, like it's weighing him down.

So, he plans to drink and write and surf.

He does not plan to fall in love. But he does, fiercely and completely.

He looks at Zach's soulful blue eyes and can see that he is so scared, scared out of his mind at the prospect of being this open with another person, and he falls in love.

Shaun is thirty-two when he falls in love with Zach. It's not as if it's the first time he's been in love. But this, Zach, Cody, the idea of having a life together that involves the three of them being a family, it fills him with a sense of warmth he hasn't known since he was young, since the first time he rode a wave.

With Zach, it feels like the first time. Sometimes he thinks it is.

 


 

They've all been living together in L.A. for three months, and Cody has adjusted surprisingly well, after that first month of nights spent crying into Zach's chest and asking about his mom. But they've gotten past that now and they're happy.

Zach is shading his drawing, rubbing his finger against the grain of the chalk, when he looks up from his place on the porch to see Cody run out into the road, chasing the ball he's been tossing around with Shaun. Zach's mind goes on alert and everything moves in slow motion as he yells Cody's name in attempt to get him to turn back around. Cody doesn't stop.

He reaches the ball and picks it up with a smile in Zach's direction at his accomplishment. At that point Zach has dropped his drawing and is running out to catch Cody because Cody clearly does not see the car that is hurtling toward him.

Zach doesn't think, doesn't register anything but Cody, Cody, Cody, as he watches Shaun run out in front of the car. Shaun picks Cody up and clutches him fiercely just as the car comes to a halt mere feet in front of them, brakes squealing.

Zach reaches them quicker than he thought possible, wrapping his arms around them both and holding on tightly. He never wants to let go.

But eventually the driver gets out of the car and apologizes profusely. It's not her fault. Zach knows it isn't. He pulls himself away from the embrace and gets himself together enough to tell her that he's just thankful she stopped in time.

The three of them move back to the yard as she drives away.

Zach watches as Shaun sets Cody down and looks right into his eyes, grabbing his chin as he tells him, “Cody, you can't do that. You-” his voice cracks painfully, but he keeps going. “You can't. Never.”

Cody begins to cry and it's all Zach can do to keep himself from crying, too. He's never been able to keep it together when he sees Cody crying.

“I'm sorry,” Cody says, big, fat tears flowing down his cheeks.

“We know you are, Cody,” Shaun says. “But you can't ever do that again.”

Zach has himself mostly under control as he tells Cody, “go inside and clean up for dinner.”

He walks solemnly back to the apartment. Zach looks right at Shaun and can feel the sting of tears start to prick his eyes again.

“Shaun...” Zach starts, but he doesn't even know what to say, cannot fathom any words that he thinks will express what he feels for Shaun in this moment.

Shaun comes forward and wraps his arms around Zach and Zach buries his face into Shaun's neck, breathing him in, letting himself be whisked away by the feel of Shaun's warm embrace and the smell of his skin.