Jum

[IN PROGRESS!!] Josh is an American teenager living in London after moving all over the States when he was younger, and determined to make it his home. Meet Michael, the British boy who will help him do so. (BL, some chapters feature explicit content.)

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29. Chapter 21 [2/2]

*


But Michael still wasn't acting like himself. Sure, he was a quiet person, but there was quiet and quiet. He was too silent, too still and too clingy when it was just the two of us.

The following Friday, we were in the lounge, sitting on the floor around the coffee table, doing homework, and I could tell that he was really distracted. If I could do various bits of homework faster than Mr Studious, something was clearly wrong. He kept sighing and rubbing his eyes, and in the end he went to the bathroom to wash his face. When he came out again, looking a little bit refreshed but not particularly happier, I made more tea to try to help.

"D'you want to stay over for dinner?" I asked tentatively when I walked back into the lounge and put his mug in front of him. "I'm sure Mom and Dad wouldn't mind. We could get takeaway or something."

"No, it's OK."

I pouted to myself even though I'd expected his answer, sat down again and went on with my homework. A couple of minutes later, I heard him let out the biggest sigh so far — and I have to admit it wasn't helping me stay focused on my work…

"You're really sure about dinner?" I asked again, glancing up. His eyes seemed locked on his mug, but he hadn't touched it yet. "I mean, at least this time I could warn Mom and Dad, even if it's just before they come home. Not like last time…" I smiled to myself, remembering the rather… surreal way, I guess, in which the three of them had met.

"Your parents are great."

OK, so we'd suddenly moved onto the parents subject. Good. I had to try to keep him going without making it too obvious. 

"Ha, don't be fooled!" I said lightheartedly. "Mom could have questioned you until you could no longer speak and Dad can be a pain in his own way. They were on their best behaviour that day."

There was an awkward, slightly too long pause, and then he suddenly stood up, walked to my side of the table, sat behind me and hugged me from behind, burying his face against my neck.

"Michael?"

"I'm tired," he said, his voice muffled against my clothes.

Of course he wasn't talking about the kind of tired that would be fixed by a nap, but I didn't know how to ask him to make it clearer. He obviously didn't want me to see his face so I didn't try to turn around and simply tilted my head a bit so it rested against his.

"I don't want to lie anymore," he said after another pause, tightening his grip on me. "I just wish I could… talk to my parents the way you talk to yours. To let them know who I really am. I want them to accept me…"

His uneven breathing and the way he was clinging to me made it impossible to stay still any longer. I pushed my papers aside and turned around, and he was only too willing to come into my arms. I held him like that until he'd calmed down again, running my fingers through his hair, unable to find the right words.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" I asked at length.

He chuckled. "If you could swap my parents—"

"Idiot, don't say that."

"I don't want to have to keep lying about a… a girlfriend in London just so they stop asking questions," he said, his voice full of bitterness. "I don't— I just don't know how I'll ever talk to them."

I was trying to find something to say, I swear I was, because he was talking of his own accord and it was good, but next thing I knew, his arms were around my neck, his lips were pressed against mine and his tongue was in my mouth. And I swear I could feel his frustration through the kiss — so insistent that it left me panting. He'd skilfully interrupted the discussion but it was still good. If I played it right, maybe he'd relax and talk some more. I leaned away from him a little, removing his arms from around my neck and intertwining our fingers.

"Look, you and I are going to grab our phones right now and tell our mothers that you're staying for dinner, all right? You can even spend the night here if you want; I know you don't like being on the train late."

"No, I don't want to be a bother. I'll go after we're done eating."

I smiled and moved closer again. "Does that mean you're staying?"

He blinked and then returned the smile, even if it seemed a bit forced. "I guess I am. If you're sure your parents—"

"Yes, I'm sure," I said after interrupting him with a kiss. "Right. You stay here and I go to my room, and afterwards we can decide what we want to eat for dinner. We could get sushi again, if you'd like," I said before planting another kiss on his lips and walking out of the lounge.

I dialled Mom's number as soon as I'd closed the door behind me and she answered almost right away.

"Hey Mom, are you and Dad coming home at the usual time tonight?"

"I think so, yes. Do you… need us to stay away for a bit?" she asked, and I could hear her smile in her voice.

"No, that's not what I meant! I— Can Michael stay for dinner?"

"Oh. Sure, yes, of course! Is everything all right?"

"Yeah. It's just… for once he's agreed to stay, so—"

"Then that's good. Do you want me to stop somewhere and buy food on the way back?"

"I thought maybe we could get takeaway. Chinese or Japanese, or something else."

"That sounds good. Choose whatever Michael will like best. Anything else?"

"No, that's all. Thanks, Mom."

"You're welcome. To be honest, I'm being a bit selfish here because I'm looking forward to seeing him again. Anyway, I've got to go now. See you later, sweetie!"

"See you. Bye."

When I stepped back into the corridor, I realised Michael's call hadn't been as quick as mine. I quietly padded to the door and listened to his quiet voice. It didn't sound like a conversation; more like he was leaving a message.

"… to let you and Dad know that I'm going out for dinner with… friends from my course. I know it's short notice, I'm sorry, but it wasn't planned at all and they kept insisting so I had to give in. I'll… I'll come home right after we're done and I have my key so don't worry about the front door. Bye."

He hadn't heard me so I wasn't meant to see the way he stared at the phone in his hand when he was done. Hurt and… angry, kind of. Definitely not the sort of look I wanted to see on his face.

But at least he was staying for dinner so I could cheer him up for a few more hours. Baby steps.

I backpedaled all the way to my door, opened and closed it again and purposefully made a bit more noise than necessary in the corridor.

"So?" I asked innocently.

"Mum couldn't answer her phone so I left a message. Much easier that way, in fact," he said with a small smile.

I briefly wondered if he'd called a number he knew no one would answer so he could leave that message and not deal directly with his mother, but I let it go. He was staying, and that was all I wanted to focus on.

"What did your mum say?" he asked in turn.

"Oh she said it was fine right away, and that we have to choose what we eat tonight. Anything you fancy in particular?"

"Anything is fine, I'm not—"

"Michael. Mom said to go for what you want."

The smile he gave me was one of the most honest I'd seen on his face for a few days. "I think I'd like Chinese food. It's been a while."

"Chinese it is, then," I said, returning his smile and planting a quick kiss on his lips.

We slowly got on with the end of the homework — at one point, he decided that lying down on the floor next to me with his head on my lap was the best place for him, which was extremely distracting — and before long, it was almost time for Mom to get home so we cleared up the lounge. I was washing up the various mugs we'd used when my slippery hands let go of the mug I was holding and I poured the end of the coffee I hadn't finished all over myself. With a low curse — because it was one of my favourite T-shirts — I ran to my room while Michael took over the end of the washing up.

I had just slipped out of the wet T-shirt and opened my cupboard to look for another one when I heard Mom come through the door. She didn't do it too quietly so I'm sure Michael must have heard her as well — and frozen, wondering how he could ninja out of the kitchen without her knowing. I could have rescued him, but something told me maybe I shouldn't. So I waited for a bit, looking through the many piles of clothes in my cupboard. Mom went past my door — she'd never come in without asking — stepped into hers long enough to take off her shoes and coat, and then made her way to the kitchen, like she always did. I picked a long-sleeved polo shirt, slipped it on and silently made my way into the corridor.

"Oh! Hello Michael," I heard her say when I opened my door. "I'm sorry I scared you. I had no idea you were in here. You're so quiet!"

I smiled to myself and padded a bit closer to the kitchen door. If I stayed far enough from it, neither of them would be able to see me. I had a feeling that a short conversation with Mom might be good for Michael, and I could always come in and interrupt them if I felt it wasn't going the right way.

"Hello, Mrs McCalman. Josh just… went to get changed," I heard him say as he put a mug down on the draining board.

"It's good to see you again," Mom said, opening the fridge. "How have you been?"

"F— Fine, thank you."

"Did you have a good Spring break?" she asked, and I cringed, but thankfully she went on: "Josh said you were working?"

"Yes, I… I worked in a coffee shop not too far from here. Josh and I often go there and I… got the know the owners a bit."

I was pleased to hear that he didn't sound too nervous. There were a few pauses here and there and I was sure his cheeks had turned a lovely shade of dark pink, but it sounded pretty good so far.

"Oh, that reminds me! It seems that I have to thank you."

"Th— Thank me?"

"Josh said his grades went up quite a bit with the last exams, and that it was thanks to you. So thank you."

"I can't take any credit for that. I didn't do any of his work; I just made sure he… spent a bit more time studying."

Mom got a glass out of one of the cupboard and poured herself something. "Ah but that's the hardest part with that blockhead," she said, putting whatever drink it was back in the fridge. "I know I'm his mother so it sounds like I'm biased, but that boy is very clever. If only…"

"He put more effort into it…?" Michael finished.

"Exactly! But he can't be bothered to make an effort and get top grades if he can get decent ones without doing much. It still drives me crazy."

"And that's extremely frustrating for the rest of us, who sometimes have to work hard to achieve barely decent grades…"

"The worst time was for his A-levels. I could have strangled him! He could have had straight As, I know he could have! Well he did get an A+ in French," she added right away, "but I really would have strangled him if he hadn't."

They both chuckled and that sounded like the perfect queue so again I took a few soft steps back and made sure to be extra noisy when I got up to the door.

"What's that you're saying about strangling me?" I asked with a smile.

"There you are! I was beginning to think you didn't want to see me tonight," Mom said, walking up to me and giving me a look that suggested she might have known I'd been hiding all along. Then she grabbed my face and planted a kiss on my cheek. "Hello, sweetie."

"Mom," I complained, "I saw you this morning!"

"I know, but who could resist kissing that lovely face, huh?" she asked, squishing my face and planting another kiss on my cheek.

Michael said nothing, but the look he gave me seemed to say that he agreed with her.

"So," she said when she finally released me and reached for a magazine on the kitchen top, "what are we having tonight? Did you guys decide on something?"

"Chinese," I replied.

"If that's all right with everyone," Michael added.

I looked at him and snapped a slightly sharp: "Yes," just as Mom said the same, and Michael laughed.

I frowned. "What?"

"Nothing. The two of you gave me the same look at the exact same time, that's all."

"Clearly my baby," Mom said before managing to land another kiss on my face and walking out of the kitchen. A quick shadow passed over Michael's face and my heart tightened, but it was gone before I could really do anything about it.

Once Dad got home, we gave him enough time to change and unwind a bit and then we called the Chinese place we liked best after everybody had agreed on what we were ordering. It wasn't too far from the Great Portland Street station so Michael and I walked there once about fifteen minutes had gone by. We didn't have to wait long and I had a special thermal-type bag so it wouldn't get cold — not that it ever did, seeing how tightly they always packed the food in those small containers. Mom had laid the table by the time we got back, so we put everything in the middle, with plenty of spoons for serving.

"Michael," she asked as we all sat down and got ready to tuck in, "is there anything you like in particular or are you OK with sharing everything?"

"Everything but the crispy duck with pancakes over there," I added right away. "Dad's very protective of it. You might get hurt."

Mom and Michael chuckled and Dad didn't bother with a reply but did smirk at me as he reached for his crispy duck.

"I'm… happy trying a bit of everything," Michael finally said.

Mom smiled and opened her arms in a grand gesture. "Then tuck in, everyone!"

I don't know about everyone else, but I had a great dinner. Having Michael there felt… natural. He fitted just fine with us and my heart tightened a few times as I watched him talk with Mom, thinking that he probably felt more at ease with us than with his own parents. I didn't like the fact that I still knew so little about him and his family. I guess I was just lucky to have such welcoming parents — even Dad; I guess he was welcoming in his own way.

No matter how much I wanted it to, the meal unfortunately couldn't last forever, and Michael started gathering his stuff once we'd finished and cleared up.

"You could stay the night, you know," Mom said without me even prompting her.

"Thank you, but… my parents will be waiting for me so I really should get back."

"I'll walk you to Baker Street," I said.

"Oh no, you don't need to—"

"Shhh. It's easier for you from there and it won't take me long to walk back. Come on, let me," I said, putting my shoes on as he turned to Mom again.

"Thank you very much for dinner. Thank you for letting me try your crispy duck, Mr McCalman," he called out a bit louder to Dad who was in the lounge, watching TV.

"No problem! Have a safe trip home."

I blinked a couple of times and smiled at Mom, who did the same.

"Thank you, sir!"

Mom went as far as giving Michael a quick hug. "Let Josh know when you're home, will you? And you can come here whenever you want to. You're always welcome."

Michael thanked her again and gosh, I think I could have hugged her until I'd crushed her ribcage.

About fifteen minutes later, we arrived at Baker Street and saw right away that he'd only have to wait for a few minutes. So he turned to me and grabbed one of my hands.

"I had a lovely evening. No," he added with a frown, "not lovely… Comfortable. Yes, I think that describes it best. I didn't really expect to, and I really enjoyed it."

"Well, you heard Mom; you're always welcome. And Dad let you have some of his sacred dish; I think that says it all," I added with a chuckle.

He gave my hand a squeeze, stepping closer. "Thank you. For being there. For being you."

He kissed me, slow and tender, letting his free hand come up to my face and stroke my cheek. I didn't want the kiss to end, I wanted to keep him where he felt comfortable forever, but I knew I had to let him go.

"Do you want to meet up this weekend? We could—"

"No, it's OK," he said with a small smile. "You said you wanted to go swimming again and the weekend is the only time you can do it now. Besides, you still have homework—"

"I can do it all!"

"Even so, don't worry. Maybe I'll see if Claire is free again."

"And you have homework too."

"That too. I'd better go. See you on Monday morning," he said before kissing me again."

"See you."

I waited until he'd gone through the gates and made my way home, trying to ignore the fact that I couldn't help worrying as soon as he wasn't with me.

 

*


Just like he'd suggested, I went swimming the following morning. After talking about it to Mom and Dad over a light breakfast, I decided to go 'late' so we could have a brunch-type thing once I got back. I was surprised that Dad wasn't popping into the office or having lunch with a client or colleague or whatever, but I said nothing. I don't know what was happening lately but he seemed more… present, more involved. And hell, I wasn't going to complain.

So I went back to the gym I used to go to before Michael had become my main priority — which I absolutely didn't mind — and swam until my body simply refused to do another length. Exhausted but very happy, I slowly made my way back home and then helped Mom cook brunch. I was so hungry at that point that she had to stop me from just grabbing anything I could get my hands on and shoving it into my mouth. No need to say that the food on my plate, once it was served, didn't stay on it long enough for it to get cold.

I was nearly done with it — only one bacon rasher, some scrambled eggs and beans left — when my phone rang. It was Michael. I winced, but Mom said it was OK to answer so I stood up and walked to the sofa.

"Hey, gorgeous!"

"Hey…"

Just like last time, I could tell immediately from his tone that something was up. "What's wrong? What's that noise?"

"I'm not at home. I err… I talked to my parents during lunch and—"

"Hang on a minute," I said before I excused myself, walked out of the lounge and towards my room. "Where are you?"

"I'm on the train," he said, before letting out a loud sigh. "I couldn't take it anymore, so I just told them. It… it didn't go down too well so I left the house to clear my head, but I didn't want to be where they might come and get me so before I knew it I'd walked to the station and jumped on the train. I'm sorry; I just wanted to hear your voice."

Oh shit, not again. No, no, no, I wasn't going to let it happen again.

"Come over," I said — and it wasn't a question.

"No, I can't. I already stayed for dinner yester—"

"Come over for a few hours. Are you coming towards London?"

"Yes."

"So stay on the train and come over."

"I— Are you sure your parents won't mind too much?"

It hadn't taken much to convince him, but I wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or not.

"Michael, I can guarantee that Mom at least wouldn't want you upset and on your own any more than I do. Come over."

"OK… I'm almost at Wembley so I'll call you back when I'm nearly there. In about… twenty minutes or so, I think? I'll get off at Baker Street and walk the rest of the way."

"Do you want me to come and meet you there?"

"No, thank you. I'll be fine. I just— I'll call you, OK?"

"OK."

"Bye."

I guess I must have looked more preoccupied than I meant to when I went back to the lounge because — just like last time — Mom immediately asked me what was wrong. When I told them what Michael had told me, she immediately said she'd hoped I'd asked him to come over, and Dad made no objection whatsoever. Then Mom added that, despite everything, she'd been able to tell the previous day that Michael was nervous, but she hadn't pressed the question because it wasn't her place to do so. But if he came here and wanted to talk, she'd be more than happy to listen.

Once again, I realised how truly blessed I'd been with my parents, no matter what I might say at times. They'd always been understanding and supportive — yes, even Dad — so unsupportive parents was really something I had trouble making sense of.

We finished eating and I helped Mom clear everything up, trying to act casually even though I was really dying for my phone to ring again. Once that was done, I went to my room and turned the computer on so I wouldn't pace. Half an hour had gone by since his call and there was no sign of him, but I kept waiting. Probably some trouble on the train; after all, it was the weekend so there had to be some sort of problem. Another half hour later, I tried ringing but I went straight to answer phone. I was beginning to worry, but at the same time I knew there wasn't much I could do. Not that it made it any better.

Finally, some time later, my phone rang, but it wasn't his number and it wasn't a number I knew. I answered anyway.

"Is this Josh McCalman?" a female voice asked.

"Yes."

"My name is Susan and I work at UCH, University College Hospital. I'm calling you on behalf of Michael Darlington."

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