White River RainbyJTQuinton©
The house was quiet as John walked the halls for what he figured would be the last time. He checked all the windows and doors making sure the place was locked down tight. She might be dead now but his grandmother would still kill him if he let anything happen to the old place. She had grown up there and loved the place almost as much as she loved her family. As he reached the front door he felt a cold breeze float across the back of his neck. "I remember Gran. Don't leave the key under the mat if you are going to be gone more than a couple of days. Its in my pocket." He told the house as he locked the door and pulled it closed behind him. He looked around the neighborhood where she had lived. It may not have been one of the richest, but it was one of the oldest in the town of White River. John walked down the front path feeling like he had the world on his shoulders. He too had grown up in the house. His grandmother having taken him in when his parents were killed when he was just a small child. He had loved his grandmother with all his heart as he grew up, but he hated White River just as much. Now he was twenty-two and the only thing left to tie himself to the town was an old rundown house and a pile of memories. He turned back for one last look at the house. "I'm sorry Gran, but I can't stay. There was never much that made this town worth being in and now there is even less." He told the house. "I am not ready to face Rox with the truth so I am just locking the place up for now." He turned away from the house and back toward his car without paying much attention to anything.
"Hey John, I'm real sorry to hear about your grandmother." The man leaning against the front of his car said startling him out of his own thoughts.
"Rox, thanks. Its been a long couple of days." He stepped closer and leaned next to his childhood friend.
"Figured it had been." He decided not to say anything about what he had heard as he walked up. "You staying in town or heading straight back to New Orleans?"
John tipped his head back, "I'm not sure, but I know I couldn't stay here. I have a room out at the Rest-All for now." He sighed. He had been hoping that he could come close up the house and not see Rox, but he could hear God laughing at the very idea.
"I know you have the super important job down there. How long did they give you off to handle this?" Rox asked keeping his voice light. His best friend in all the world looked like he was holding on by a thread.
"The casino told me I could take as much time as I needed. I guess I could stay for a few days." He sighed, maybe it was time to tell the truth.
Rox stood up and faced him, "Maybe we could grab a bite and a beer? Its been a long time since you've been home." He prayed the longing couldn't be heard in his voice.
John felt his breath catch at the thought of spending time with Rox. There were a great many things he had been forced to come to terms with in New Orleans. Some of the he was glad for, his feelings for Rox he was still undecided about. "I might be able to handle that." He said honestly.
Rox's eyes lit up, "Great. Tonight, say six at the Spur?" He asked naming the little hole in the wall bar at the edge of town.
John felt himself smile for the first time since he got the call about his grandmother's passing. "Sounds good." He knew he needed the time out and about, but it was more than that. He stood up, "Six. I'll be there, but for now I have a few last minute things I have to do. I can't believe she's gone." He hung his head as he felt the tears start again.
Rox stood there for a minute unsure of what to do. Tears always brought him to his knees, but John's were worse. He reached out and put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I know, and I know there is nothing in this world I can say to make it better."
John wasn't sure what made him do it, but suddenly he stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Rox as the tears fell like water. "I miss her so much. How could I have not been here at the end? Why did she have to die alone?" He whispered into the soft cloth of Rox's shirt.
Rox wrapped his arms around his friend and held on as if he was never going to let go because it was what he knew John needed, but in honesty he didn't ever want to let go. They had never been the kind of friends to hug much, and the few random touches he had been allowed to pull off the last time he had seen John just weren't enough anymore. "Its ok J. I have you." He whispered running his hand up and down John's back as the sobs were torn from him. "I promise I won't let go as long as you need me." He meant the words with all his heart, but he doubted if John was even hearing them. He simply stood there at the edge of the street holding his best friend as he cried over the loss of a woman that meant the world to both of them.
Slowly John regained control of himself, and pulled away. "Sorry about that. I haven't broken down like that since I got the call."
"J its okay. I understand. I miss her too." Rox told him as his hands slipped away.
John sniffed away the last of the tears. "I don't break down like that. Hell I own and run a multi-million dollar, multi-national company. People like me don't break down and cry like a baby on the side of the street." He didn't think about what he was doing he just turned from the car and headed back toward the house. Rox followed him doing his best to hide a knowing smile. The old lady had always had a plan. He didn't really think death was going to stop her if she wanted someone done her way.
At the door John fumbled with his heys until Rox took them and unlocked the door. "Go sit. I know there is still coffee that can be made." He said giving John a push toward the livingroom and heading himself into the kitchen.
John moved like a zombie into the livingroom and dropped down onto the end of the couch. "Why didn't you tell me you were sick gran?" He asked the empty room.
A few moments later Rox came back in with two of his grandmother's heavy mugs full of coffee. "Drink, its loaded and it will help." He said handing one of the cups to John.
John took a sip, "Why are you being so nice to me? I ran out on everyone here and left all of you to deal with gran?" He asked the grief gripping his heart nearly cutting off his voice.
Rox sat down next to him and closed his eyes for just a moment before answering. "Your gran knew you couldn't stay, we all did. That's why she made us all sware we wouldn't call you until it was over. She didn't want to tie you here." He took a drink of his own coffe reminding himself that while John was here now he wouldn't be staying long. He couldn't aford to get any more attached than he already was.
John looked his friend in the eyes. "Are you saying that she knew she was dying?" He asked sitting the mug on the table.
Rox glanced up at the picture he had painted his first year in art school of himself, John, and gran. "Yes, but she also knew that you would have come back to take care of her. She didn't want that. She wanted you to be happy, and she knew you were happy in New Orleans."
John followed his gaze to the painting. "I remember when you gave her that. She was so proud of you. She named that picture did you know that?"
"No, I didn't. What did she name it?"
John felt the laugh building inside his chest, "Secrets in plain sight." He let the laugh out, "never did know what she meant by it."
Rox felt his breath catch. He had a feeling he knew. The old woman was the only one in town that knew he had been in love with John since before he knew what love was. "Well I like the name." He forced himself to smile and shook his head at the memory of the smile the old woman would get every time she gave him an update on John.
John leaned back against the couch, "you don't have to stay Rox, but I guess I should just kind of sit here and think for a bit."
Rox turned toward him, "I can stay, I didn't have anything planned for today. It looks like you could use a friend." He reached out and took ahold of John's hand. He would be there for the man no matter what.
John looked down at where his hand sat in Rox's and refused to think about how good it felt. "Thanks. I didn't think it would hurt this much." He rambled.
"No one did love, but looking back she was right. You would have been much more hurt if you had seen her in the last few of her life. She was a strong woman and wanted you to remember her that way." Rox told him wishing he was as strong as Miss Kelly had been. She told him many times over the last few months that he needed to tell John the truth about his feelings, but now that the chance was here he had no clue how to do it. "John did you ever know your grandmother to lead someone down a path that wasn't right for them?" He asked for both their benefits.
"No, she knew better than most people what they should or shouldn't do." He looked at Rox, "why do you ask.
"She was always trying to push me in one direction." He wasn't sure how to get himself to say more. He couldn't bring himself to look away from the painting. If you knew what you were looking at it was right there for the world to see. He could see the love he had painted in the picture and the small details that matched on the two men in the painting.
John was just sitting there staring at their linked hands for the longest time without saying anything. Suddenly he began to smile, "You will never have true happiness young man until you stand for the truth you hide in your heart." He whispered remembering something his grandmother had told him many times.
Rox's eyes flashed to John's face, "What did you just say?" He asked trying to stay calm.
John glanced up from their hands with fresh tears in his eyes. "Something gran used to say a lot before I headed off to prove myself. She thought I should be honest with myself if I wanted to find true happiness."
Rox smiled, "did you?"
"Did I what?"
"Be honest with yourself and find true happiness." Rox asked feeling his friend's grip tighten on his fingers.
"Not fast enough to please her. I left here, I made a lot of money and became one of the most powerful men in the south, but as far as being honest with myself went. No." He let go of Rox's hand and stood up. "I was too scared of what people would think of me to be honest even with myself, but she knew my secret. Called me on it the last time I came home to visit." He paced the room suddenly wanting to rage at the unfairness of her dying.
Rox felt helpless to do anything to ease the pain he could see. So he asked the first thing that came to find. "John, what are you scared of people finding out? Is it that you come from a little back water place like White River?"
John laughed, "I have never worried about this crazy little town. It was my best friend in all the world that I was worried about. I thought if I came clean you would hate me and I would loose the one friendship in this world that mattered." He started to explain as he stood in front of the window looking out.
Rox spun around to look him in the eyes once more. "There is nothing you could say or do that would truly hurt our friendship. You are my best friend in all the world."
John laughed to himself as he leaned forward and put his head against the window. "I have kept a secret for almost 15 years now. One that gran thought I should tell. I think she might have been right." He didn't lift his head from the window and could feel Rox move to stand behind him.
Rox put his hand on John's back to try and comfort, "what is it that is tearing you up so bad? I hate to see you hurting like this."
John sighed, the simple comforting touch of Rox's hand on his back was his undoing. "I'm gay." He whispered softly.
Rox tipped his head back and laughed, "you have been worried that being gay would hurt our friendship." He tried to get control over himself.
John spun around, "yeah, I've seen how you look at Mike. I never wanted you to look at me that way." Hard as he tried he couldn't keep the tears from his voice.
Rox grinned, "you don't want me to look at you the way I look at Mike. J, I look at him like he's nuts not because he is gay, but because he is a flaming goof. He wants the world to know he's gay for shock value not because its just who he is. So unless you plan on becoming like him you really don't have anything to worry about."
John felt his shoulders relax. "You don't hate me?"
Rox looked him directly in the eyes and could see the fear raging there, for a moment he heard gran's voice whisper through his head, 'Rox there is something you know in your heart, you have to tell him someday. He has the right to know.' She had told him that every time he asked about John. "John come sit with me, we really need to talk." He reached out his hand to him.
John let him lead him to the couch and sat down on the edge of it. "Rox." He started.
Rox reached up with his free hand and placed his fingertips over John's lips to stop the flow of words. "No, this time you are going to sit and listen. This time there will be no drinks to cloud either of our minds and the air will be cleared before you get off this couch."
John tilted his head but didn't try to say anything.
"I'm going to move my fingers and I want you to answer a question honestly. We can start from there." He dropped his fingers and watched John's eyes go wide. "J, do you remember the night your grandmother threw us the graduation party here?"
"Yes, I also remember drinking way too much that night. I had the strangest dreams. And I woke up in the attic." Even now his memories of that night were at best fuzzy and conflicting.
"Can't agree with you more about the drinking too much, and the attic you say. Do you remember how you ended up there?"
John thought for a few moments, "my memories of that night are all out of order and confused. I remember dancing with Jenna and kissing I remember a lot of kissing. I never knew she would be that good or want me that much." John rambled.
Rox turned away for a moment, "oh. I see. You know maybe this isn't the right time to tell you any of this." It had hurt more than he expected to hear John confess to kissing a woman that he had done nothing more than dance with. He started to stand up and walk away.
Suddenly John was the one reaching out and grabbing for Rox's arm. "Wait. Why do I suddenly think that for ten years I have pieced that night together incorrecty."
Rox stopped but he didn't turn around, "do you remember anything else about that night J?" He asked setting himself for another blast of pain.
"Um that night not really, but I can tell you that I remember something clearly from the next morning."
Taking a deep breath, "what do you remember J?" He still didn't turn but he felt John's hand release his arm and heard the couch creak as he stood up.
John moved to stand directly behind his friend as the fragments of memories he had been running from for years began to resettle in his mind and make a very interesting and unflattering picture of a night that could have saved so much time and pain. "You, or at least your scent. The pillow I woke up curled around in the attic smelled like you. I didn't want to get up but gran was having a fit about the state of the downstairs and I could hear that you were taking the flack for all of it."
"Do you remember going up to the attic?" Rox asked still not turning around.
John leaned forward so his head was closer to Rox's and his mouth was right by his ear. "No, but I have a feeling if I did this," he lowered his head slightly and brushed his lips over the top of Rox's shoulder. "It might seem more than a little familiar, and I was right." He stepped back a single step putting his hands on his friend's shoulders and forcing him to turn around. "It was you. Not Jenna that I spent the night kissing wasn't it? It was you I wanted so bad that night that I got drunk just so I would have the courage to try."
Rox let out the breath he didn't know he had been holding. "J...." He didn't know what to say or how to say it.
John reached up and touched the side of Rox's face, "you wanted me that night. Why didn't you do more than just kiss me?"
Rox lowered his eyes. "You were drunk. I couldn't resist the chance to taste your lips. I had wanted you for so long, but I also couldn't take it further with you too drunk to remember. Then I got up from that pallet bed we made in the attic when your gran started yelling hoping that when you came down you would talk to me. Once you came down though you seemed to act like the night had meant nothing and in all honesty it hurt. It wasn't until a few days later when you started talking about how fun it had been dancing with Jenna that I realized you didn't even remember laying there most of the night kissing me."
John didn't know what to say so he began to look around the room. His eyes touched on the painting, "Holy, Secrets in Plain Sight. Gran knew." He looked back at Rox. "She knew we spent the night together in the attic didn't she?" He asked.
Rox smiled, this was going better than he thought it looked like gran had been right afterall. "She knew more than that J. She knew that I had been in love with you since I was fourteen. She knew that everything I did was to try and impress you. Hell I went to art school because you said I had talent. All I ever wanted to do was make you proud enough of me to notice me."
John dropped to his knees in defeat, "I noticed you. God I've loved you just as long. All I could think was you must hate me for kissing on Jenna." He dropped his head into his hands.
Rox knelt down beside the man he had loved for so long, "J. Please." He tugged John's hands away from his face. "I never hated you. Not for one single moment. All I wanted was to be with you, but I couldn't push you."
John looked at him and instantly decided that while Rox didn't want to push him, someone had to push. He reached up and took Rox's shoulders in his hands once again. This time pulling him closer and pressing his lips to the softness he remembered. "I love you." He whispered against Rox's lips as he lifted his head what could have been hours later. They were both on the floor now wrapped around each other.
"I love you J." Rox replied. "Now what are you going to do about it?" He asked leaning up on one elbow to he was looking down at John's handsome face.
John felt himself smile and felt the last ten years of stress simply fade away to nothing. "Take you with me to New Orleans until I can get things settled with the sale of the company. Then move back here and make a life for us right here in the house that gran left us."
It was Rox's turn to be shocked, "that gran left us?" He asked.
John tugged him back down into his arms, "yeah that's why I was just closing the place up. She left it to both of us. See she was stuburn to the end."
Rox curled against his best friend knowing that soon they would be much more. "I love the brain on that woman. She was smarter than both of us put together. Are you sure you want to sell your company and move back to this two-bit town?"
John kissed him lightly on the lips. "If I get to spend the rest of my life with you, then yes."
"Wow." Was all Rox could think to say.