John is incredibly thankful for his life and the things that he's been given in it. He's strong, healthy, and, if the stares he gets as he walks through campus are any indication, he's handsome as well.
He has a truly wonderful internship this summer, studying scientifically relevant processes, and though they don't require him to stare at the stars, he appreciates every moment. He's surrounded by his family, who love one another so perfectly that they can be together like this, in close quarters, for an entire summer without hating one another.
If only they weren't gathered together for these reasons, under these circumstances. If only Grandfather wasn't dying.
Ever since they were kids, and Mother and Father started letting them wander the island alone, John's noticed that Vicky has spent any and all of her free time down at Grandfather's Cove, sitting on the big rock by the shore. He used to tell himself she was tanning, but Vicky's never been that vain. John just never wanted to admit, to himself or anyone else, that he didn't understand Vicky. At least, he didn't understand her as well as he felt he was supposed to. Her poetic sensibilities and spiritual communing always boggled him, even with his own philosophical thinking.
Give him a telescope and a map of the heavens and John was set. Vicky's soul was too bright, too lofty and definitely too old for him to even begin to understand. Ironic considering the ancient stars, physics equations, and dead men's theories that he spent all of his time calculating and studying.
But, when he found himself suffering through a full blown existential crisis, John decided to take a page out of her book. Some meditation might do him some good. Grandfather once told John that Vicky's rock was special to her, holding some kind of power that centered her. John just needed to find a place of his own like Vicky's rock. It was a long-shot and slightly more fantastical a notion than John would usually entertain, but he was at his wit's end, willing to try just about anything.
The sun hadn't risen yet and the sand on the water's edge was cold as crushed ice after the dark night, even in June, as John made his way across the marine biology station along the dunes. When he reached a spot that felt familiar, he sat himself down, leaning against the mound of sand, covered in sparse patches of tall grass. He sat and closed his eyes, sighing loudly.
Before long he was praying:
I think I can count on one hand the number of times I've called for You, God. At least, I can count on one hand the number of times I've pleaded with You. Please, help and bless my family, Lord. Grandfather especially. I don't want to lose him. I've had him for so little time... I should be spending more time at home, but I can't do it like Vicky does. I can't handle the burden of watching him slip away. I'm terrified. I haven't been this terrified since I was about Robbie's age.
Grandfather would tell me death claims us all when it's our time and there's nothing we can do but go meet Your grace, but I still wish he could stay. I'm selfish. He's my grandfather.
If nothing else, I don't understand why You're abusing him so badly before taking him. And my family. Mother's holding on for us, but barely. Why should she suffer? Why should little Robbie be forced to watch this, to grow old before his time? And Suze, baby sister, hasn't even entered high school and she's already learning the art of avoidance. I can't be a good example.
Even Adam's been more available than I have been... Adam.
John cut off his silent monologue and opened his eyes to the lightening sky. Adam was the reason he was in this mess.
Actually, that wasn't fair to Adam. Adam certainly wasn't the reason Grandfather was dying. Adam wasn't even really the reason John was panicking now. Adam hadn't done anything but act like a good friend. In fact, Adam was one of the best friends John had ever had. Adam couldn't help it if Vicky had feelings for him, and possibly vice versa, no more than John could help the fact that his own heart seemed to pick up speed whenever Adam looked his way.
He squeezed his eyes shut tightly.
But it can be helped! God, help me! Make it stop! If anything, I should feel this way about Dr. Zand- she's smart and beautiful. If I have to feel this way about anyone, it should be her. Not him. Never a him. Especially not when that him is Adam.
John could feel his pulse rushing, his heart pounding in his chest. Panic. Just panic, he told himself, as he fought to ignore the way his pulse surged every time he thought Adam's name.
"It's just adrenaline," he whispered aloud, eyes still shut.
John mentally begged his heart rate to slow down in time with the lazy sound of the waves softly lapping at the shore. He breathed in deep, salty breaths, shivering in the cool pre-dawn.
"What's just adrenaline?"
John almost jumped out of his skin, eyes flying open wide, at the question. Adam reached out, tripping in the soft sand, to reassure and steady John, making John panic even more.
"Adam!" John yelped, trying desperately to force himself to slip back into the practiced calm he usually adopted around Adam.
"I didn't mean to scare you," Adam explained, squeezing John's closest shoulder. "I wasn't expecting to find you out here."
"I wasn't expecting you either," John replied.
"I figured," Adam chuckled, shoving his hands into the pockets of his shorts.
John continued to take deep, steadying breaths as he watched Adam shift his weight from foot to foot, shivering.
"Aren't you cold?" He finally asked Adam, looking for anything to say to break the silence.
"A little," Adam replied before looking out at the faint beginnings of the sunrise. Silence descended over them once again while they both watched the horizon slowly light up over the ocean water.
"What are you doing here so early?" Adam finally asked.
John shrugged in the twilight. He doubted Adam even noticed the movement.
"I couldn't sleep either," Adam told John before plopping down in the sand beside him. "I can't stop thinking about all this death. It seems to follow me."
John stared at Adam before replying.
"It doesn't follow you, Adam."
"It certainly feels like it does."
Adam pulled his knees up to his chest and rested his chin atop them. He looked sideways to lock eyes with John.
"Grandfather would say that death is just the next journey following life," John offered quietly.
Adam smiled an almost sad, lopsided grin. "Your grandfather's a very smart man."
The silence took over and Adam turned his gaze toward the horizon once again. John continued to watch Adam, throat constricting at thoughts of Grandfather, heart wildly beating while studying Adam.
"You have the aura of a man harboring a gigantic secret, John," Adam spoke, continuing to stare forward.
John blinked slowly.
John swallowed the lump growing within his throat.
"Have you ever had a secret so big that you knew it didn't deserve to remain a secret-- something important to you that you needed to share?"
John's heart sped up impossibly fast as he watched Adam narrow his eyes and knit his brow.
"Absolutely," Adam finally answered, turning his head to face John.
John felt his chest tighten, suddenly overwhelmed by the image of being cornered and wild-eyed, he was sure his expression mirrored his mental one when he breathed out softly, "How did you share it?"
Adam's stare was calculating, like John was Basil or one of Jeb's dolphin call tapes in need of careful consideration and study. It was like Adam was formulating a hypothesis about John's dilemma.
"You find someone you trust, who cares about you, and you tell them, because they'll keep you and your secrets safe," Adam finally responded.
"What if you're terrified they'll hate you?"
Adam's response was adamant, "They won't."
John didn't feel so convinced and, after a moment, Adam began to speak again.
"I've already told you this story, mostly. As you know, last summer I was completely made a fool by a woman at the station where I was working. I fell for her and she played me. Someone died because of it. Because of me. I cared about her... but what I never told you, or anyone else, was that I cared about him too, and he died trying to save me because I wouldn't open my eyes and make the right decision. I picked her over him and he's gone now."
John gasped and Adam continued.
"Before that incident, I never discriminated who I loved. Not based on gender anyway..."
John willed himself to breathe.
"Does your family know?" He finally asked.
Adam shook his head slightly.
"I've never kept it hidden-- not really anyway-- but I've never come out and said it to them," Adam replied.
"I'm gay," John blurted. He shivered after the words were released and tried to convince himself it was the cold dawn making him shake.
"I've never said that out loud before," John continued in a rush of air, voice uneven. "In fact, I've been ignoring the possibility and lying to myself about it for a long time. So I've never even really believed it until now."
The corners of Adam's mouth twitched upward.
"Somehow I suspect I wasn't the person you wanted to really admit that too," Adam half-teased.
"John, if I've learned nothing else from your family, and your Grandfather in particular, I have certainly learned that the Austins accept you not only despite flaws and differences, but because of them," Adam paused, reaching out a hand to squeeze John's shoulder. Adam visibly swallowed before continuing, "Tell him while you still can."
John fought back the burning prick of tears.
"I couldn't even accept it until today... how... My family's so traditional--"
"Excuse me," Adam interrupted. "Your family is anything but traditional. It's highly unconventional, in fact. You're the most traditional of the whole lot. Your Grandfather's a religious man, yes, but he's not a hypocrite like most of the other religious men I've known. He preaches love and forgiveness. You are his blood, his heart. He adores you."
John turned, shielding his face from Adam's view as tears spilled, unstoppably. He reached across his chest to take Adam's hand in his own, clutching it against his shoulder. He wiped at his face with his free hand.
Adam stood up off the dune, pulling John to his feet as well, before embracing him in a tight hug. John allowed himself to rest his forehead against the juncture of Adam's neck and shoulder. Adam squeezed John close.
"I was terrified of your sister," Adam confided, his hold of John unrelenting, "Because she reminds me of Kali... at least, the feelings she stirs in me remind me... I didn't want to let myself hope you might be the bigger threat to my heart out of the two of you..."
John tensed against Adam's collar when Adam's warm, chapped lips pressed against John's jaw.
Both John and Adam stepped back from one another, arms awkwardly at their sides, and stared.
John cleared his throat softly.
"I need to go home and talk to Grandfather."
Adam blinked, diverting his gaze to their feet, before replying, "Of course."
Without allowing himself time to second guess, John stepped forward and, wrapping his arms awkwardly around Adam's shoulders, he pressed his forehead to Adam's temple and nuzzled his nose against Adam's cheek.
"You're my best friend," John whispered.
Then, John closed his eyes and cautiously pressed his lips to the corner of Adam's mouth. Adam leaned forward, pressing John's lips more directly and firmly with his own.
John stepped out of Adam's embrace once again, but the two remained touching.
"I need to go see Grandfather," John sighed. "Can you let Dr. Zand know I'll be a little late this morning?"
Adam nodded, one hand still resting on John's hip. Adam's thumb rubbed lazy circles across John's side through the fabric of John's shirt.
"Will you come to dinner tonight?" John asked.
"If you want me," Adam told him.
John smiled softly. "Yes."
Adam smiled in return and it took all of John's self control to turn around and jog back across the beach to his bike, leaving Adam in his wake.
When John reached the stable, his heart was pounding much too hard even for someone who had biked at top speed across a hilly island. Mother was sitting on the screened-in porch drinking a cup of coffee.
"John!" she exclaimed as he entered the porch, "Is everything okay?"
"Everything is fine," he assured her. "I just really needed to talk to Grandfather."
She watched him skeptically, not very reassured. "All right..."
"Don't worry, Mother," he tried once again, "It's nothing bad."
She seemed assuaged.
"Grandfather's in bed this morning," Mother informed him. "He should be awake, but if he nods off, leave him to sleep."
John nodded and turned toward Grandfather's library room before turning to his mother abruptly once again.
"Adam's going to be joining us for dinner again tonight, if that's all right with you?"
Mother smiled, "Of course."
John smiled in return. He turned and made his way to his Grandfather.
He'd said, It's nothing bad.
John turned the phrase over in his head as he walked through the house.
Did he really mean it? He wondered. Just hours before he felt like the world was about to end. John was a man of science and faith, belief systems that were often at odds with one another. Of course, John had never in the past felt both halves of himself so tormentingly deadlocked. Now, he was strangely shocked to discover that, within a matter of an hour or two, Adam had magically resolved his internal dispute..
I'm gay. I was born of the blood of my mother and father, the blood of my dying Grandfather. A blessed creation of scientific miracle, made in God's image. I am gay and I choose, with the free will You have granted me, to believe that You would love me as I am.
When Grandfather welcomed John into the bedroom more animated and lucid than John had seen him in days, John was surprised to find that his own smile came easy as it mirrored his Grandfather's.