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After the boys of summer have gone

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*

Late on that first afternoon, they head to the beach. Zach drives, his profile outlined by the light from over the ocean. Shaun watches his hands as they move on the wheel. Cody pretends to be asleep in his seat in the back. They let him pretend. Shaun figures there’s safety in that. No one’s ever left while Cody was sleeping.

Cody’s mom is on her way north to Portland. It’s just the three of them, now. Somehow it feels familiar already.

Even with Zach’s five-year-old nephew in the equation, this is pretty close to the things Shaun started to dream of over the past months. It’s easy for him to settle back into it. Zach, on the other hand, looks shaken. For a few miles around the coast he doesn’t say anything. His thumbs beat out a rhythm as he drives. Then unexpectedly he turns to Shaun. Their eyes meet across the car and Zach grins, beautifully crooked and amazed.

It’s low tide so the sand stretches a long way to the water. They have a Frisbee. They don't have their boards but they wade into the ocean until the waves tumble around their thighs. The water's warmer than it was the last time they were here. Cody spends the whole time within a few feet of Zach. Shaun doesn't go much farther afield. Someday, Shaun thinks while tossing a helplessly giggling Cody over his shoulder, they’ll look back at this as the beginning of something.

The sun’s dipping at the horizon. Zach lowers his voice and says, “I don't know what happens next.”

It’s not like Shaun has any answers. He might have nine years on the guy, but he’s been watching and he thinks maybe Zach has it more together than the lot of them. He shakes his head. “I don’t know either. How about next we all go to dinner at the Shack.”

Cody’s eyes light up but Zach shifts his weight and says, “Dude. That's not what I meant. You know Codes and I can't afford-” He glances at Cody’s eager upturned face. “Just this once,” he relents. Cody bounces around his feet.

“It’s been a huge day,” Shaun says. He’ll convince Zach to let him pay later.

*

Shaun’s been eating burgers and fries here since he was a teenager. He remembers Gabe and Zach tagging along - Gabe mouthy and annoying and Zach taut with pent up energy. Shaun’s struck by a weird kind of nostalgia, sitting in this same diner with Zach across the table. The energy’s still there, in Zach’s knee jogging against the table leg and in his flickering gaze. But now it hums under Shaun’s skin. Now he knows exactly how to put pause to all that motion.

They figure out a few things between bites of burger and Cody’s persistent recitation of sea turtle facts from some documentary he watched last night. Shaun will stay at his step-dad’s for a few more days. Then he’ll head up and move into the rental house in LA. Zach and Cody will get things together here and drive up in a couple of weeks, before school starts.

Cody’s head is drooping by the time he finishes his food. He rests it heavily on Zach’s shoulder.

“Big day,” says Zach. He takes a quick glance around the room then reaches out a hand to take Shaun’s on the table. Shaun’s surprised, Zach’s twitchy about public affection, but he curls his fingers around Zach’s and runs his thumb over the back of Zach’s hand. They hold still for a moment. Everything’s kind of enormous.

“Hey bud,” Zach says to Cody. He reaches to rub the kid’s hair. “Time to go home. Do you wanna stay at Poppy’s with me tonight?”

Cody blinks. He glances between the two of them, then shakes his head slowly. “Nah. I wanna stay at Shaun’s.”

“Yeah?” Zach looks back at Shaun. There’s a question in his eyes, as though Shaun hasn’t already agreed to do anything. Anything. “That okay?” Zach says.

“Of course,” says Shaun.

Zach smiles. “Kid isn’t stupid.”

*

Cody’s asleep by the time they get home. Zach carries him upstairs to bed. Shaun watches them go, Cody’s five year old body heavy with sleep. When Zach comes back into the kitchen he looks apologetic.

“He woke up just enough to refuse to sleep in Gabe’s room.”

“Yeah?” Shaun’s at the fridge. He holds up a beer and Zach lifts his head to nod.

“Thanks. He asked if I’d be sleeping in there with him. When I told him no, I’d be in Shaun’s room, he had kind of a meltdown.”

“So he’s in my bed,” says Shaun, opening, then handing over the bottle.

“So he’s in your bed,” echoes Zach. He takes a mouthful of beer and leans back against the bench, long limbed and gorgeous. “Not exactly my first choice. But it’s a lot of change for him, Shaun. A new place to wake up and a whole new life. He’ll be with us for a while. I want him to feel safe.”

Shaun won't deny he wanted Zach to himself in that wide expanse of sheets, but there are other things that are important. “So do I.” Shaun reaches out a hand. “Don’t worry about it.” He hasn’t really touched Zach, not the bone-deep way he wants to, for way too long. “Come here,” he says.

Zach goes easily, and Shaun draws him outside onto the deck. It's cooled down for the night. They share the same chair they first kissed on, Zach beside Shaun with his legs crossed, one knee pressing against Shaun’s thigh. Shaun reaches for Zach’s hand and entwines their fingers.

Zach takes a breath like he has something to say. He waits, exhales, leans in to kiss Shaun briefly instead.

“What is it?” Shaun prompts.

“Mmm?”

“Whatever you were going to say.” Shaun smirks a little as Zach lifts his head, surprised. “You’re not a complete mystery to me, Zach.”

Zach smiles and looks down at his lap adorably. He zips the zipper of his hoodie up and down, rubs a hand across his mouth. “I just- look, you’re taking on a lot here. Me. Cody. I don’t want you to be rushed into it. You know. You get to choose. Cody and I can move up and find a place near Cal Arts. We can do it differently.” He hesitates, meets Shaun’s gaze and repeats himself. “You get to choose.”

“I did choose,” says Shaun.

Maybe he could try and put into words how much his happiness is already caught up in Zach. How it’s heavy, yes, but it’s simple and hopeful too. How he's not frightened of it.

Before he can think it through, Zach shifts close, taking Shaun’s beer with one hand and placing it on the ground. He uses his body to topple Shaun’s against the chair. Zach’s eyes are quick and teasing but his hands are steady as they run up under Shaun’s shirt. The relief of having Zach close runs through him. It's not brand new anymore, but it’s Zach, and every touch feels revelatory. Anyway, Shaun hadn't been sure they'd ever touch again.

“Welcome back,” Shaun says against Zach’s lips.

It’s not the time to talk more.

**

Zach wakes to their room in their little LA house. This place is nothing like Shaun’s family home - the room is small and could use new paint. It’s more like what Zach’s used to. It’s well lit, though. Through the aluminum windows there’s a view of the scrubby LA hills, a street, some unremarkable buildings. Their bedsheets are white and Shaun is golden between them.

Zach studies Shaun in the angled light. He’s spent years looking at the ordinary in his world and uncovering something beautiful in it. The trouble is, Shaun’s never been ordinary to Zach. Not since he was thirteen and Shaun swept in with his rich kid confidence and big brother kindness. And already so beautifully put together.

His hair’s grown thick in the past month, his eyelashes rest on his cheeks, the line of his jaw is dark with stubble. Zach loves looking at him. Even soft with sleep, he looks grown up and intrinsically good.

When Shaun’s eyes open, he blinks unseeing for a moment. “Hey,” he says. Then, “What are you looking at?”

“You.”

Shaun raises his eyebrows. “Okay.” The corners of his mouth twitch with amusement.

“It’s not creepy. I’m trying- You know, I don't know how to draw you. I can’t find the hook, the imperfection. I’m looking for the flaws.” Shaun looks disconcerted. “Not in a bad way. The weird ears or crooked nose or jagged scar that makes the drawing come to life.”

“Same as it does for a story,” Shaun says, understanding. He looks up at the ceiling for a second. “I’m pretty sure you’re aware of my flaws,” he says.

“Show me?”

Shaun rolls to look at Zach again. “I don’t-” He hesitates uncomfortably, then he shakes his head. “I’m- I don’t need to tell you all the ugly parts,” Shaun says. “You’ll see them soon enough.”

Zach narrows his eyes. “Face it, you’re perfect,” he says, making it easy.

And maybe that is the imperfection, right there, wanting to be faultless even to Zach, hiding the ordinary and the ugly. Zach leans in to kiss him, reaches for Shaun’s cock where it presses between them. Shaun moves closer with a warm grunt of pleasure and his body melts into Zach’s. His breath is hot on Zach’s neck.

“Better be quick,” Zach says and smiles, already sliding down Shaun’s body to take him in his mouth. Shaun’s hips buck up, his body silent and needy. Zach stops thinking about anything beyond salt and soft skin and making Shaun come.

“I love you,” Zach says later, against Shaun’s shoulder. He hasn’t said it before, but it’s not like he hasn’t known for ages.

Shaun stills. He draws back a fraction and swallows. His eyes crinkle at the edges. They're lit in warm gray.

“I love you too,” he says. “So much, sweetheart.”

The two of them stay there, face to face and holding one another while the day wakes up around them. Time stretches out, but it’s still too soon when there’s a thud from Cody’s room, then bare feet padding quickly across the floor. Their door swings open. Cody’s holding his wetsuit, which he drops at the foot of their bed.

“It’s the weekend!” Cody announces.

“That it is, Codes,” says Zach. He stretches but stays close to Shaun. Shaun smiles against his collarbone.

Cody climbs up and flings himself into the complete lack of space between them. “Can we go to the beach?” he asks.

*

Zuma isn’t the best surfing spot in LA. But it’s a long beach with lots of sandbar breaks so it’s never really crowded. Surfing LA breaks can feel like being in a shopping mall. Zach appreciates the space.

The light is pretty flat today. The sun’s brilliance is softened by the LA smog. But the water is mobile beneath it, shifting between muted blues and greenish grays.

These days when they surf they do it solo. It’s not like they can just leave Cody alone and he’s anxious when he’s left with others too much. For now, Shaun’s back near shore helping Cody catch grommet waves and presumably hearing everything Cody's learned about coral. Knowing facts about stuff is a kind of confidence.

If Zach looks around, he can see the two of them from where he sits out on the ocean. Zach never learned here but Shaun’s always been a good teacher.

The swell lifts and drops again under Zach’s board. He turns to watch for his next wave. There’s a tidy set moving in, the third wave sweeping up above the others. Zach paddles with the wave, thrusting himself onto its face. The water turns almost clear as the force of it catches him. His board leaps forward beneath his feet. Zach bends into it, turns to stay at the lip then drops down the face for a moment. He catches sight of Shaun and Cody at the water’s edge as he flies in.

He lets the wave take him most of the way to shore, paddles the rest of the way and stands, lifting his board under his arm to run across the shallows. Shaun’s watching him. Zach comes close to kiss him without a thought. Shaun tastes of the ocean.

“Your turn,” Zach says. “I’ll take over here.”

Shaun wraps an arm around Zach’s waist and pulls him closer. He kisses him again. “God, you’re beautiful,” he says as he has so many times.

“Eww!” says Cody helpfully.

Shaun laughs out loud as he runs out through the wash.

*

Cody’s school isn’t bad, but it’s not great. It’s average. Shaun ends up down there more than Zach does. He makes friends with some parents. They share babysitting now and then, letting Shaun and Zach head out for candlelit Mexican or meet up with Shaun’s friends. Sometimes Shaun meets up with them for coffee. Zach comes along one time. The women are nice enough, they adore Shaun, but mostly Zach’s there because he loves watching Shaun build things for Cody.

Zach gets breakfasts together and makes sure Cody has clean clothes, but Shaun fights for his success. He talks with teachers and staff and ensures Cody’s getting the best of everything in a way no one’s ever had the focus or time to do before. And maybe Zach’s family just never thought they deserved something better than average.

“Ana thinks Cody could benefit from finding something else he likes,” Shaun says one day. Ana Rodriguez is Cody’s teacher. “Maybe a sport. All he does is draw. It's not an easy way to make friends.”

Zach feels a spurt of defensiveness. “Cody’s fine, Shaun. We don’t need to push him into things.”

“I’m not talking about pushing.”

“He draws. He’s fine. That’s all I did at that age.”

“Cody’s not you.” Shaun looks at Zach for a long time. “And were you happy, babe? Before you found Gabe and Tori and surfing?”

“Happy enough,” says Zach. “I guess.” He didn’t have the option to be unhappy with it.

They take Cody to little league at Thousand Oaks. He spends the car ride telling them how many strikes you can get, the order of the bases, what the field positions are called. He’s proud of his too big uniform. He insists on wearing it to bed the first night and sleeps with a baseball clamped tight in his hand. Zach beckons Shaun to take a look and they grin at one another in the dark doorway.

At the first practice they both sit on the aluminum bleachers to watch Cody’s tiny self learn how to stand to bat, where to position a glove for a low ball.

“I’ll never understand Jeanne,” says Shaun, unexpectedly. He rarely mentions Jeanne outside of helping arrange the regular Skype calls she has with Cody.

Zach’s unsettled. “What?”

“You know. Leaving Cody like that. He’s a little kid. I wouldn't-”

Zach interrupts. “Yeah, okay dude,” he says. He looks back at the field and at Cody, who’s struggling to get his glove on. Zach’s pretty certain he doesn’t want to have this conversation. He’s never needed to know how Shaun sees Zach’s family.

“Not that I mind. You know I love having him.” Shaun’s trying to be reassuring. “But mothers don’t just walk out on their kids.”

Zach takes a breath. “Yeah, look um. I don’t think you’re in a place to comment.”

Shaun looks across quickly. His voice is measured. “I think I’m in a very good position to comment, Zach. I’m bringing up her son.”

Zach presses his lips together. They’re at a little league practice. It’s not like he can walk out or raise his voice. “Okay,” he says. “And that’s very generous of you. Thank you. But it doesn’t give you the right to comment on my sister.”

Shaun frowns and doesn’t say anything. The silence bristles between them.

“Fuck it, Zach. I wasn’t asking for thanks,” Shaun mutters.

“And we weren’t asking for your fucking understanding.”

They watch as a throng of five- and six-year-olds line up to practice catching with a glove on, with varying success. On the third try Cody catches one and looks up at them, beaming. He knows they'll be watching. Shaun gives Cody a thumbs up. Zach looks between them and can’t help but soften.

He turns his body so his knee almost touches Shaun’s. “It’s different for you. You’ve always had options. You want to write a novel, you write it. You need a break from LA, oh look, there’s a huge house at the beach just for you. I know you don’t take Larry’s money, but you’ve always had a future because of it.”

Shaun’s eyes flicker hotly to Zach, but he’s quiet.

Zach thinks about Jeanne’s pink push up bras, her drinking and late nights and her never-ending fights with their mom. He says, “Jeannie got none of that. She never had a way out. She's never had control of stuff the way you had. It’s not as if she doesn’t love Cody.”

Shaun’s still silent. After a long moment his shoulders drop. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Cody waves at them from second base.

“I mean. Look, it’s not as though you’re wrong,” says Zach after a while. “Alan’s an asshole. They’ve all been assholes.” He shrugs. “There’s no way any of those guys are worth missing out on this.” He glances at Shaun. It’s weird. He’s trusted Shaun with so much of himself. But still, there are times when it’s hard to say one tiny thing. “Cody’s just a kid. He deserves better than that from Jeanne.”

The practice is winding up. Shaun stands. “He has better from Jeanne,” he says gently. He reaches out a hand to Zach and pulls him up, holding Zach’s hand for longer than he needs. “He has you.”

**

Shaun drops his backpack by the front door. Zach’s standing by the living room window. “Bye, sis,” he says into his phone as Shaun walks into the room. “Love you.”

He slides the phone back into the pocket of his jeans.

“Jeanne and Alan broke up,” he says. He walks away from Shaun to the corner where he's set up a wide table in the light. The window’s open. He's working on some new materials - acrylic paints that wouldn’t work outdoors. “Good day at the library?” he asks. He doesn't sit.

“Yeah, I got some words down at least. Not sure how good any of them are.” Shaun can’t quite tell what Zach is thinking. “Is Jeanne okay?” he asks carefully.

Zach looks back and scrunches up his face. “Basically.”

“And how are you feeling about it?”

“About the break-up?” Zach asks. “I’m feeling happy. The guy was a fucking dick to Cody. I can’t believe she kept him for a year. More.” He leans against the table. “Wish it didn’t have to hurt Jeannie, though.”

“Yeah,” says Shaun. “That sucks.” He closes the space between them and wraps his arms around Zach from behind. Zach's back is warm and muscled.

Zach turns to him. “She wants us to drive up to Portland with Cody in the summer,” he says, his forehead against Shaun’s t-shirt. He leans back to look into Shaun’s face. “What do you think?”

Shaun’s certain Jeanne doesn’t want Shaun to drive up to Portland. But she probably didn’t say that. He’s also certain she’s not about to drive down to see Cody.

“It’d be good for Cody to spend some time with her,” he says. He thinks for a moment about road-tripping up the coast with Zach beside him and Cody and this week’s neverending stream of shark facts in back. There’s some gorgeous places to stop. “We could definitely do that.” Zach moves his arms up to hold him tightly.

In bed, Zach’s fierce and lovely. Generous. Afterward they lie in the dark. Zach says, “What will we do if she wants to keep Cody?”

Shaun stays perfectly still. “In Portland?”

“Yeah.”

After a while Shaun says, “We could kidnap him.”

Zach exhales shakily beside him.

“I’m joking,” Shaun says quickly. He can’t see Zach’s face, and this is the one topic where he needs to be careful. “We’d just… it’d be okay. He’s her son.”

There’s a long pause. Then Zach says, “Yeah he is. And we’re his family. You ready to live life on the run?”

**

It’s the second day of Summer vacation. Long before dawn, Shaun lifts Cody out of bed.

“Why are you- what’s?” Cody mutters vaguely, frowning as though Shaun’s being intentionally stupid. Then he wraps all his limbs around Shaun like a heavy koala, all this solid life in one small body, and goes back to sleep. Shaun carries him out to the car. Zach dumps their bags in the trunk.

For the first few hours of the drive North, Cody stays asleep in the back, his head flopped to one side and his breath coming in little airy snores. Zach and Shaun order coffee at the McDonald’s drive through, then travel mostly in companionable silence. Shaun runs a hand over Zach’s thigh, blinks his gritty eyes and tries to stay awake. The highway is pretty ugly but Zach’s beautiful as always and the sky lightens overhead.

Shaun enjoys watching Zach drive. He’s confident in motion. His hands are certain. It’s the same ease he has with a board or a brush, the same ease he has with Shaun’s body, and has always had even in those first days of eager exploration.

Cody wakes just after seven, grumbling about food and are they there yet and did they bring the right toothbrush. They stop at the next rest stop to eat the peanut butter sandwiches and peaches Zach packed for breakfast. The day’s getting warm already.

For a while they play, “I’m thinking of an animal”, then “I spy” and a game Cody makes up called “first one to see a car with a surfboard on top.” Zach wins. They turn on the playlist Shaun and Cody made together and listen to Cody’s favorites, which for now are mostly kind of awful club music or rock songs he heard on a shark video, interleaved with Shaun’s and Zach’s indie rock stuff. Sometimes they sing along though Cody’s five and he’s the only one who can hold a tune. Shaun takes over driving. When Cody gets whiny again they all eat handfuls of Skittles.

They stop seven hours north of LA and spend the rest of the day hiking in the lower Sierra Nevadas.

“Why are the trees so ginormous?” Cody asks. It’s about his seventeenth question.

“I don’t know, Codes,” says Zach. “I guess they’re pretty old.”

“But Poppy’s not ginormous,” says Cody, with all the good sense of a kid who’s at school now and feels it's his responsibility to know more things than anyone else.

They’re going to overnight in a roadside motel. Cody spends dinner drawing giant trees and resisting eating green beans despite Shaun looking up reasons to eat your greens. After a day hiking some pretty steep terrain in the heat, the kid’s pretty much asleep on his feet when they get to their room. Zach tucks him in with careful hands. Their heads come together, one dark, one light, as Zach kisses Cody’s sleepy face. Shaun looks and loves them both.

At the back, their room looks out to the Sierra Nevadas on the horizon. Shaun and Zach sit on the narrow balcony as the day finally cools.

“Jeanne’s job’s working out for her?” Shaun asks. Jeanne’s finally found a job doing admin and reception for a local plumber.

Zach nods. “Yeah, she says she likes it.”

The night’s pretty clear here. Shaun watches the stars as they rise. “Venus,” he says, pointing just above the black mountains.

“Cool.” For a while Zach looks up at the sky with him. Then he stands, reaching out for Shaun. “We’ve got another early morning,” he says. “Coming in?”

They let the heavy door shut quietly. They don’t close the black-out curtains; they’ll be up before dawn to drive on anyway. Cody’s splayed out in the bed farthest from the door. He’s pushed his pillow onto the floor and he’s turned sideways but he’s sleeping the sleep of a kid with little to worry about.

They strip to their boxers in the silver light that’s coming from the parking lot. Zach runs his eyes over Shaun’s body like he’s cataloging all of its parts. His gaze turns heated, almost black. He takes Shaun’s shoulders and maneuvers him silently to the bed.

“Shh,” Zach breathes as he pushes Shaun into the bed and pulls the covers over them both. “Shhhh.”

*

They meet up with Jeanne at her apartment. As Zach comes up the stairs she’s standing in the doorway.

She smiles uncertainly at Cody. It stings in Zach's chest. “Hey, kiddo.”

“Hi Mommy,” Cody says, as though he’s seen her often in the past eleven months. Zach gives him a tiny push forward but Cody doesn’t need it He bounds up the last two stairs to hug Jeanne about her thighs. She hugs back and bends her body over him.

Watching, Zach squeezes Shaun's hand tightly and doesn't let go.

“You are so big!” Jeanne says into Cody's shiny hair and it sounds like amazement but also a little like resentment. She looks at Zach and Shaun over Cody’s head. There are tears in her eyes. When Shaun glances at Zach the tears are reflected there.

“Hey, Jeannie,” Zach says.

“Come here,” she says and opens her arms to hug Zach too. Cody's happily sandwiched in between them.

Jeanne’s cooked Italian food - pasta and garlic bread. She pours red wine for Zach and Shaun and juice for Cody. Cody kicks his feet against the sofa and stays quiet. He’s not usually allowed juice this late in the day. They sit around her living room with their plates on their laps.

“Do you like it?” Jeanne asks Cody.

Cody nods with his mouth full.

Cody tells Jeanne about his school and teacher and his best friends Gabrielle and Anton, about baseball and drawing and how good he’s getting at surfing.

“I’m so proud of you,” Jeanne says.

Zach’s in the kitchen getting seconds when she says, “Hey, kid, there’s someone I’d like you to meet tomorrow night. Okay?”

“A man?” asks Cody.

“Yeah,” she says. “A nice man.”

As Zach steps out of the kitchen, Cody glances at Shaun quickly. “Do I have to?” he asks. It’s close to a whine which isn’t going to help things.

Jeanne puts her plate on the coffee table, the pasta half eaten. She sits back in her armchair and answers, “No. But you’re my family, Cody. I think he’d like to meet you.”

“We can do that,” says Shaun. “Can’t we, Codes?”

Cody looks between him and Jeanne then nods. “Yeah. Okay, Mom.”

Jeanne stands up and takes her plate toward the kitchen as Zach walks back in.

“Okay kiddo, bedtime in five,” says Zach. “I need you to brush your teeth and find your PJs”. Jeanne stops moving for a moment. Zach says, quickly, “You wanna read to him, Sis?”

“Sure. Sounds good.” Her voice is overly bright.

Cody says, “But, Shaun does the voices.” Zach has never found him more frustrating.

“Your mommy’s reading,” Zach says firmly. “You’re sleeping in with her tonight too. We’ll wash up.” He nods Shaun into the kitchen before Cody can make more of a fuss.

It's a small apartment, so they don't talk much as they stand over the sink full of dishes. Shaun's shoulder bumps against Zach's. Zach leans into him and lets his body slump slightly.

“You're doing great, babe,” Shaun says, low, and bends his head to brush his lips against Zach’s hair. Zach's skin hums. He turns and kisses Shaun. He can't forget to be grateful and amazed for this.

He starts the water running and hands Shaun a towel.

They’re used to doing dishes side by side. They usually talk while they do but there's nothing uncomfortable in the silence.

“He wants you to tuck him in,” Jeanne says to Zach from the living room doorway. Zach nods. He shakes off his soapy hands.

*

Once he’s gone, Jeanne pours herself a glass of red, brings the bottle over and leans against the door frame. Shaun picks up his own glass and takes the bottle from her to fill it.

She eyes him directly. “You’re good for Zach, Shaun.”

“Thank you,” Shaun says.

They’re silent. Jeanne takes a mouthful of wine. “He called Zach daddy. When he asked to be tucked in. He called him Daddy Zach.”

Shaun winces. “Sometime he does that. It’s just Cody working shit out.”

“I know what it is,” Jeanne says. She softens her voice. “I’m not an idiot, Shaun.”

Shaun nods. “Zach always corrects him.”

She shrugs. “Maybe he shouldn't have to.” She wipes her hands on her jeans. “I love my kid, Shaun.”

“No one’s questioning that,” says Shaun, holding her gaze. Her eyes are brown, not the shifting sunlit green he’s used to waking up with.

Jeanne blinks at tears. She presses her lips together. “Good.”

Zach comes up behind her. “What's good?” He sees her tears and his voice softens. “Jeannie.”

She takes a shaky breath. Instead of answering she hugs him briefly. “I’m going to bed. With my kid.” She flicks her head toward Shaun. “Your boyfriend can fill you in.”

**

They stay for a week. Zach shifts on his feet and feels awkward as he says, “I figure we owe it to Jeannie.”

Shaun’s mouth drops open a little. “We owe it to Jeannie,” he says.

Zach holds up his hands. He’s pushing it. The apartment is cramped and hot. The two of them have to sleep in Jeanne’s living room. They’re too heavy to share the blow up mattress so they’re taking turns on the couch. Zach misses the distraction of Shaun’s skin against his. He misses Shaun’s body, the ease and escape of it.

“Okay, okay. We’ll do it for Cody though.”

When Jeanne’s busy they take Cody hiking or drive to the coast. They walk around a couple of art galleries, Zach and Cody both carrying sketch books.

“You should move down,” says Zach to Jeanne one night. The two of them are standing out on the balcony walkway with beers, trying to catch a breeze while Shaun reads to Cody.

“To LA?” says Jeanne. She looks out across the street toward Portland. “Why don’t you move up here.”

Zach huffs out a breath through his nose. “Jeanne.”

“What?” she says. “It can’t be all about you and your fancy art institute thing.”

He keeps his tone even. “Fuck you, Jeannie. Cody’s started school there, he has friends and a baseball team. Dad’s there.” He glances back at the open door. “Shaun’s family too. They want to spend time with Cody. And we’ve got Gabe and Tori. It’s not just about my school. But that’s important too. It’s a big deal for me.”

“Sorry,” she says. She doesn’t look at him. “I’ll think about it.”

On the last night, they leave Cody with Jeanne and stay at a motel. It’s just an ordinary place in the suburbs. Zach doesn’t even notice the room. It’s hard to notice anything when Shaun’s so close.

They pick up Cody the next morning.

“Bye, Mommy.”

Jeanne wraps her arm tightly about Cody’s small solid body. “See you, kiddo.”

**

They take their time getting home, taking the 101 along the coast. There’s no rush, really. Shaun’s writing. Zach finds himself studying the ocean. It’s nothing like the LA coast. The water shifts between bright and grey. There’s fog most mornings. Some places the cliffs sweep straight from the sea, others have forests or long empty beaches to explore.

They’re driving through a forest - the sunlight patchy through tall dark trees. Shaun’s at the wheel.

“I think we should have a baby,” says Cody from the back.

“What?” says Zach, turning to look at the kid.

“Not a noisy one,” says Cody. “Not a stinky one either. One that looks cute when he’s asleep. We could look after it together. We wouldn’t need anyone else.”

Zach looks across at Shaun. He can imagine Shaun with a baby, though maybe they should start with a dog. “A baby’s not that easy to come by, buddy.”

Shaun meets Zach’s eyes, then turns back to the road. When he speaks, he sounds serious. “You know we’re already a family, Codes. Zach and you and me. We’re it, okay. We’re done. You already have both of us forever.”

For a moment Zach can’t think. He places his hand over Shaun’s on the gear stick. His heart thuds slowly in his chest.

“Okay,” says Cody.

He’s asleep an hour later.

“So. Forever,” says Zach.

Shaun glances at him and sort of shrugs like it’s not anything huge. “If you want it.”

They drive around a bend and the ocean and the sky open up before them.

“Yeah,” says Zach. “Yeah.”

**