Zachary had come into Adam’s life as something of an accident—and not the result-of-a-broken-condom-kind of accident, either.
Maybe it had been a little selfish, but when Drake had broken up with Adam after a three-year-long relationship, he had sought comfort in the fact that the only person who would love him to no end would be a child. The idea alone had received plenty of retaliation: “There’s no way you can do this on your own,” his mother had protested. The tabloids overflowed with the cumulating rumors (including one that claimed Adam was adopting twins from Africa, a la Madonna). Even Kris, whose own son was two months old at the time, advised him against it.
“You have no idea how hard it is,” he’s sighed over lunch one day. “And we have two sets of hands in our household.”
Despite the warnings, Adam had pushed ahead because, as Neil had put it, “that’s the kind of person you are. You go after what you want. And if this is what you want, then…well, it doesn’t matter what the fuck I say, does it?”
It hadn’t. The entire process had been relatively smooth, easier than Adam had imagined it would be: a twenty-year-old woman who had mistakenly gotten pregnant but aspired to go to law school chose him, out of thousands of files, for a closed adoption. And while gay marriage still wasn’t legal in the state of California, single-parent adoption was.
The day Zachary was born, it had rained so much that Adam almost didn’t get to the hospital on time. Suddenly anxious, he had called Kris, who accompanied him to the hospital even though there was flash flooding. “The things I do for you, Lambert,” Kris had joked, attempting to lighten the mood.
His parents couldn’t make it up from San Diego in time. Neil was still living in New York City. Kris had opted to stay in the waiting room, which Adam couldn’t exactly object to, and so he was left alone. He’d almost started having a full-blown panic attack: his skin became clammy, his heart accelerating to a speed at which he hadn’t thought was physically possible, his hands shaking uncontrollably. What have I gotten myself into?
And then Zachary was there, in the world, crying, screaming, ten fingers and ten toes and a beating heart. He was all Adam’s, too; only them, and suddenly Adam couldn’t think of anything else he wanted in the world.
In terms of names, he had done his research, knowing that despite his personal eccentricities, he didn’t want to fall into the category of “celebrities whose kids have weird names” (i.e. Apple or Blanket). When he had stumbled upon Zachary in a gargantuan baby names book his mother had given him, it had said that the meaning behind the name was The Lord remembers. He wasn’t a religious person, but he couldn’t find a meaning even half as appropriate as that one.
And then the offers began to trickle in, slow in the first few days, growing increasingly overwhelming in force and nature. US Weekly offered him three-quarters of a million dollars for a front-page headline and photoshoot; People magazine offered him $1.2 million for a six-page spread. They had wanted the specifics, most of which Adam couldn’t even answer: How was being a father going to change his life? Was he going to raise his son much in the same way his parents raised him? How was he going to do this by himself?
It would take Adam years to learn those answers, something he couldn’t put a price on. And while Zachary would sufficiently alter Adam’s life, it would take the lives of two other people to make Adam realize he was never in it alone.
“If you had to. If you had to. Which one would you have punched?”
Kris chews on the straw of his Coke until the plastic is pock-marked with the imprints of his teeth. “I haven’t seen them in, like, a year. And it’s been four years since Idol. Am I really supposed to answer this?”
Adam studies Kris’s expression for a moment, a slow smile stretching across his face. “Simon, right?”
Kris shakes his head. “Kara.”
Adam bursts into peals of laughter. “Damn, I didn’t think you’d actually answer!” Kris punches him in the arm.
The thing about being a parent is that, all of a sudden, your guard is constantly up. You’re in relentless focus and attention, because it can only take a matter of seconds for something to go wrong: for example, the way Caleb and Zach come flying around the corner, the shoelaces of Zach’s Converse come undone, and he face-plants onto the asphalt.
The other thing about being a parent, the magical superpower that seems to develop innately, is reaction time. Adam and Kris are there within seconds, even though above Zach’s cries Adam can tell the most they’ll need is a Band-Aid.
Adam lifts Zach’s small body into his own—they fit like puzzle pieces, a feeling he hadn’t realized existed before. “You okay, buddy?” He asks, walking over to the bench to observe the damage. Kris follows, Caleb’s hand gripping his own.
Adam rolls up the legs of Zach’s jeans to reveal skinned knees, ones that he guesses will scab over and heal in a week, at the most. But at the sight of blood, Zach’s cries accumulate into wails. By now, the paparazzi have taken notice, and from across the street Adam can hear the endless shutter snaps of their cameras.
“We should probably go,” Kris suggests. “If you want to, you can clean him up at my place and they can hang out in the kiddie pool.”
As much as Adam wants to—there was nothing he loved more than being with Kris, watching their kids play together—he forces himself to shake his head in response. “Nah, I think we’re just going to go home. It’s been a long day.”
Kris nods, but Adam can see the glint of doubt in his eyes. It hadn’t been a long day for either of them. But Adam lifts Zachary into his arms, who latches himself onto his neck, says goodbye, and leaves Kris and Caleb standing in the park by themselves.
“Daddy? Why did those people take pictures of us?”
Zach is asking the question, but his eyes are fixated on the television screen, watching Spongebob reruns intently. His dark brown hair has grown long, falling in thick locks over his sky-blue eyes, brushing the edge of his cheekbone. He has basketball shorts on now, knees decorated with more than enough Spiderman band-aids, and he’s sucking on a popsicle that Adam allowed him to indulge in.
Adam runs a hand over Zach’s hair, which he is convinced is softer than anything you could make out of silk or sable. “Because,” he sighs, “we’re so good-looking that everyone wants a picture of us.”
Zach doesn’t laugh, but cocks his head up at his father, curiosity piqued. “I don’t like that,” he says after a moment, before turning back to the television. “You should tell them to stop.”
The bluntness of his words makes Adam smile. He reaches over, pulling his son into his lap, stroking his hair and watching as Spongebob hugged Patrick on the screen. There were moments where it physically hurt him that, no matter how hard he could try, his son’s memories would still be peppered with paparazzi and tabloids and red carpet events.
“I’ll ask them next time,” Adam says softly, but by then Zachary has already drifted off to sleep.
Katy didn’t come home that night.
Kris was being technical, though. She came home the next morning, at around two, stumbling through the door in a mess of giggles and tipsiness.
“Hey babe,” she whispers, locking her arms around Kris’s neck, leaning into kiss his mouth and getting his chin instead.
“You’re drunk,” he mutters, a statement. She smells like she’s taken the entire club home with her.
“Girls just wanna have fun…” Katy laughs in a sing-song voice, nearly falling onto the couch. “God, you’re so hot.”
Kris ignores her, lifting her small body into his arms and carrying her upstairs, trying to muffle her inebriated slurs to keep her from waking Caleb. By the time they reach the bedroom, she’s already half-asleep. Kris sets her down gently on the bed, taking off her heels but leaving her cocktail dress on.
It was his own fault, admittedly. Maybe if he hadn’t pushed so hard for them to sell their place in Arkansas and permanently move to Hollywood, Katy wouldn’t have metamorphasized from a quiet, quirky Southern girl to a transparent, party-going Hills mom.
Kris was being dramatic, too, because it wasn’t like she was a completely different person. But the Katy he’d known from his childhood had never touched alcohol unless it was the occasional glass of red wine with dinner, would never go to parties with more than ten or twenty close friends, would never even dream of leaving her four-year-old son at home while bar-hopping well into the night.
Kris slips out of the bedroom, shutting the door behind him and starting to make his way down the hall. Now that he’s up, he won’t be able to fall back asleep for some time, but as he nears the stairs he’s stopped by Caleb’s quiet voice.
He’s standing at the threshold of his bedroom, tugging at the sleeves of his blue-and-green dinosaur-print pajamas. His gray-blue eyes are wide, illuminated by the silhouette of moonlight shining through the bay windows.
Kris sighs, lifting Caleb into his arms, walking back into his bedroom. After they had found out it would be a boy, when Katy was pregnant, Kris had surprised her by hiring an artist to paint a mural of clouds and crystal-blue sky on the ceiling, redesigning what had previously been an empty guest bedroom.
“Did you have a bad dream?” Kris asks, setting Caleb down on his bed and sitting at the edge of it. More recently, Caleb had been having issues with night terrors—not your run-of-the-mill there are monsters under my bed! kind of fears, but vivid nightmares from which he sometimes woke up screaming. Kris had wanted to take him to a psychologist, but Katy had waved the thought away. “It’s just a phase. He’ll get over it,” she said bluntly.
But, much to Kris’s surprise, Caleb shakes his head, pulling the blankets up to his chin. “I heard Mommy,” he says softly. “Is she sick?”
Kris feels his stomach twist into knots. He reaches out, touching Caleb’s hair, which had been dark when he was born but was starting to become lighter, more blonde like Katy’s. “She’ll be okay,” Kris murmurs, something he knows he can’t promise. “She’s just really tired. And you have to be good tomorrow for her, okay?” Kris doesn’t know how to explain the concept of a hangover to a four-year-old, so he leaves it at that.
Caleb seems to be thinking about this for a moment, but he finally murmurs an “okay” in response. Kris tucks the sheets tightly around Caleb’s body, kissing his forehead.
“Get some sleep, okay, buddy? You’ve got school tomorrow morning.”
“Can I play with Zach after?” Caleb asks, his eyelids growing heavy. Even though Zach was almost a year younger than Caleb, they were both in the same kindergarten class, joined at the hip.
“We’ll see,” Kris says. Caleb starts to protest, but gives in to the temptation of sleep. ’We’ll see’ isn’t a promise, Caleb had protested once.
Kris had learned early on that he would never make a promise to his son that he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep.
Beginning when the boys were about two, Adam and Kris had developed something of an unspoken tradition of taking them to the Christmas tree lighting in downtown L.A., a few weeks before Christmas.
It was December tenth, exactly a week before Zach’s fifth birthday. Adam had called Kris that afternoon, the way he always did. “You up for the lighting tonight?” He’d asked, cradling the phone between his ear and shoulder while tying the laces of Zach’s sneakers.
Kris’s voice had sounded strained, unfamiliar. “Could you…could you do me a favor and take Caleb tonight?” He’d cleared his throat. “I, um. I need to take care of something.”
It was clear Adam wasn’t meant to prod for details at the moment. “Sure,” he had replied. “I’ll pick him up at six.”
Now, Adam and Zachary stand at the front door of Kris and Katy’s house, ringing the doorbell for the third time. “Where’s Caleb, Daddy?” Zach wants to know, tugging at the sleeve of Adam’s leather jacket.
Kris finally opens the door, some minutes later, and Adam feels his muscles contract. His eyes are bloodshot, weary, dark gray circles underneath from lack of sleep. He looks thinner, somehow, even though Adam had seen him barely a week before.
“Hey,” he says, forcing a quaking smile and stepping back. “Come on in. Zach, Caleb’s upstairs, if you want to run and get him.”
Zach’s halfway up the stairs before Adam can yell at him not to run in the house, and then it occurs to Adam that he and Kris are alone in the living room.
Adam glances around. “Where’s Katy?” He asks, knowing it wasn’t typical of her to be out this early in the evening on a weeknight.
Kris swallows, pushing his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans. “She…” he hesitates, lost for words. “I asked her for a divorce.”
They say that twins can physically feel one another’s pain; Adam wonders if this theory carried over onto best friends who knew each other better than brothers, because he feels the impact of Kris’s words slam into him like a brick wall.
“God, Kris,” Adam whispers, reaching out to hug him. He swears he can feel Kris’s body tremble underneath his arms. “I’m so, so sorry. How are you doing?”
Kris half-shrugs, wiping at his eyes with the sleeve of his T-shirt. “I’m just worried about Caleb, you know?”
“I think,” Adam says quietly, “that right now, he just needs you to be his dad.”
Above them, there are feet pounding down the stairs, and Caleb and Zachary round the corner fast, bright-eyed and fearless. “Dad, can we go?” Caleb asks eagerly.
For a brief moment, it looks as though Adam is going to have to physically hold Kris up for fear of him simply collapsing. But he plasters on a wide, toothy smile, dimples carving into the hollows of his cheeks. “Yeah, let me just finish talking to Uncle Adam, okay?”
The second the boys leave the room, Kris’s smile falters and dissipates. He closes his eyes, weary, and rubs his temples with the tips of his fingers.
After the moment has passed, he exhales and opens his shining eyes. “Okay, let’s go,” he says bluntly, starting for the door.
Adam is two steps behind him. “Kris…are you going to be okay?”
It’s a stupid question, they both know—it was like asking Kris if he was hungry during a famine. But Kris pauses, his hand resting on the silver cusp of the doorknob, and he hangs his head in a way that makes Adam’s heart physically constrict.
“I have to be,” he murmurs, before opening the door.
The rest of the night is something of a blur; both Adam and Kris try their best to paint a façade of happiness for their kids. Adam buys Caleb and Zach cotton candy, and he and Kris watch as they play in a display of faux snow.
By the time it grows dark, a crowd has gathered around the square in downtown Hollywood, a mass of people and photographers and celebrities. Zach tugs at Adam’s leg, and Adam lifts him onto his hip so that he can see above the sea of heads.
Out of the pitch blackness comes light: the thousands upon thousands of miniscule Christmas lights that grace the sixty-foot-tall tree shimmer in bright contrast against the night sky, flooding the crowd in a halo of white lights. Caleb and Zach laugh and clap with the rest of the throng of people, and Adam can’t help but feel jealous of how carefree they are.
Adam glances over, his breath catching in his throat at Kris’s silhouetted profile, outlined by the pallid lights cascading down on them. He closes his eyes, a soft, bittersweet smile on his lips, as a glistening teardrop trickles from his lashes.
Without speaking, Caleb reaches up from Kris’s arms and wipes the tear away from Kris’s cheek with the ball of his thumb. Kris kisses Caleb’s nose, and Caleb buries his face in his father’s collarbone.
After a moment, Kris’s voice, rough around the edges, cuts through the noise of the people around them: “Let’s go home,” he murmurs, to no one in particular. But even after he says this, the four of them remain rooted to the spot, until almost every person in the square has left, until both Caleb and Zach drift off into unconsciousness in their father’s arms.
“Truth or dare?”
Caleb is smiling wildly, his light eyes darkening. “You have to do whatever I say. Those are the rules, okay?”
Zach nods, suddenly terrified. It’s nearing midnight, and he and Caleb are hidden with flashlights under a makeshift blanket-fortress. It was the first night of summer, having just finished the first grade, and Caleb had invited Zach to sleep over.
“I dare you to draw all over my dad’s face with a marker. A permanent marker.”
Zach instinctively sucks in his breath through his teeth. “I can’t do that!” He protests.
“Sure you can,” Caleb responds, crawling out of the fort. Zach follows and watches as he grabs a Sharpie from a desk. “He’s asleep. He won’t wake up, I promise.”
Zach takes the marker from Caleb, the smooth plastic slipping against his clammy palm. “Fine,” he mumbles. “But you have to come with me.”
Caleb follows Zach as they tip-toe out of the bedroom and down the hallway. The door to Caleb’s dad’s bedroom is slightly ajar, and through the crack Zach can see that he is fast asleep.
“Come on,” Caleb pushes in a fierce whisper. “I’ll wait right here.”
Zach pushes the door open noiselessly, until there is just enough space for him to creep inside. He twists the cap of the pen off—freezing as it makes an incredibly loud squeak--before glancing over his shoulder at Caleb, who waves him on with a wild grin.
Zach holds his breath as he tip-toes up to the edge of the bed. His hand trembles as he touches the tip of the marker to Kris’s skin, drawing a single line and waiting for a reaction.
Nothing happens. Caleb was right—he really was a heavy sleeper. Feeling slightly more daring, Zach starts to increase his speed, scrawling his name across Kris’s forehead and drawing a fake mustache under his nose.
Zach can hear Caleb snickering from the door. “That’s it?” He whispers, egging Zach on. “Come on, you gotta do more than that!”
Zach smiles, touching the Sharpie to Kris’s chin, when suddenly, a hand flies up and grabs his wrist, sending the marker flying.
Zach screams on instinct, tries to jump back, but Kris has a hold on him. “What are you doing?!” He exclaims. Zach moves his mouth wordlessly, feels the burning sensation of a blush creep up his neck.
Kris releases his grip, standing and walking across the room, towards a full-length mirror. “No!” Zach hears Caleb hiss from the doorway.
“Oh my…what did you do?” Kris yells, his voice rising. He turns quickly, looming over Zach. “Zach, why would you do something like this?”
“I…he…” Zach points towards the door. “Caleb made me! He dared me to!” Tears started pooling at the corners of Zach’s eyes, and he felt himself trembling inexplicably.
Kris sighs, defeated. “Come on,” he says, pressing his hand in between Zach’s shoulders. “Caleb? You too. Downstairs, now.”
To be fair, both Kris and Adam had gotten a handle at the yelling and punishing aspect of fatherhood.
Kris called Adam, even though it was in the middle of the night, suggesting that an appropriate form of punishment would be to cancel the sleepover and keep the boys separated for a few days. Adam was there in a matter of minutes, giving Zach a stern talking-to and telling him to wait in the car outside.
The second Caleb is upstairs and Zach is outside, though, Adam bursts into peals of laughter.
“Oh, my God,” he giggles. “Your face. I…I’m sorry about…” Adam couldn’t even finish the half-hearted apology.
“Shut up,” Kris mutters, smiling anyway. “You owe me big-time. A really good dinner or…or paying for the cosmetic surgery to remove all of this,” he says, gesturing to the marks on his face.
Adam chuckles before his voice grew serious. “You don’t…I mean, we’re not doing anything wrong, right? As dads?”
The question caught Kris off-guard. He shrugs, dismissing the question. “Boys will be boys, right?” He hesitates. “Listen, Adam. If anything, I…I admire you so much. For doing all of this by yourself, from the very beginning.”
Adam smiles, watching Kris towel off his face in the mirror. “I’ve never been by myself, though,” he murmurs. “Whenever Zach feels like screwing around, I’ll just leave him at your house.”
Kris tosses Adam a grin, and Adam secretly wishes he could pocket it like an aesthetic memory. “Fine, but you’re giving Caleb the sex talk, because I’m horrible at that kind of thing.”
Before Adam leaves, he secures his serious face on again, almost as if pulling on a mask; he’s intent on coming down hard on Zach, since it’s the first time he’s ever really gotten into trouble.
But five minutes into the car ride, Zach’s voice breaks the silence, small and timid from the backseat: “Uncle Kris did look funny though, didn’t he, Dad?”
Adam bursts out into laughter again. “Yeah, but don’t do it again, okay? He’ll kill me if you do.”
“What does ‘gay’ mean?”
Adam had been preparing himself for this moment, most likely since the day Zachary was born, but Kris hadn’t.
For some reason, it never occurred to him that Caleb would broach the subject with him, even though his best friend’s father—and someone he referred to as Uncle Adam—was openly gay. Kris blinks, thrown off-guard, watching Caleb pick at his dinner.
“Today at school, Jackson told Zach that his dad is gay.”
Kris felt his muscles contract almost instantaneously. It was then that he realized he didn’t care what kind of person his son grew up to be, as long as he wasn’t homophobic, racist, or prejudice of any kind.
“Was Jackson making fun of Zach?” Kris asks.
Caleb furrows his brow, looking confused. “No. He just said it.”
Kris clears his throat. “Gay is when a man loves other men, or a woman loves other women.”
Caleb glances up, cocking his head and squinting as if studying something in excruciating detail. “That’s not right?”
“It’s not wrong,” Kris clarified. “There’s nothing wrong with being gay. It’s just whoever you happen to love.”
“Are you gay because you love me?”
Despite himself, Kris feels himself smile at this. “No, that’s a different kind of love. I love you as family, because you’re my son. Mom loves you as family, too. Being gay is loving someone the same way a mommy and daddy love each other, except that it’s two daddies or two mommies.”
Kris isn’t even sure if he is making sense or just confusing Caleb even more, but Caleb shrugs light-heartedly. “So it’s just when two men love each other.”
“Right,” Kris says, feeling slightly relieved at how easily Caleb dismisses the subject.
“Am I gay because I love Zach?”
Kris knows he shouldn’t, but for one reason or another his stomach instinctively tightens. He reminds himself that Caleb is only eight, and probably still confused over the concept of homosexuality.
“If you are gay, you might not know for a while,” Kris manages, stumbling with his words. “You probably love Zach as a best friend, because you’ve known him for so long.”
“When will I know if I’m gay?” Caleb persists.
Kris sighs, growing frustrated—not with Caleb, but more with himself, his inability to fully answer Caleb’s questions. Kris himself hadn’t known much about the concept of being gay while growing up in Arkansas, not until he’d gone to college and later met Adam.
“You know what? Why don’t you save your questions for the next time Uncle Adam and Zach come over,” Kris suggests, standing to clear their plates. “He can answer them a lot better than I can.”
Caleb shrugs again, not sensing Kris’s exasperation, before running upstairs to play a video game.
It only takes ten seconds for Kris to dial Adam’s number.
“Hey,” Adam answers, knowing it’s him. “What’s up?”
In the background, Kris can hear voices, and for some reason it throws him off. It takes him a moment to realize that he can hear voices, plural, not just the one other voice of Zach.
“Do you…have company or something?” Kris automatically regrets having said anything, feeling nosy.
“Uh, no. Hang on.” There’s static in the background, the vague sounds of footsteps. Kris realizes Adam’s leaving the room, wherever he had been. “Brad’s here.”
“Oh,” Kris says, not sure how to respond. If Adam had said that it was Drake who was there, Kris might have punched a hole in the wall, just because he had been there and seen Adam’s heart literally break into pieces. But he hadn’t been around for his relationship with Brad, didn’t know enough to say much of anything.
“We’re not…we’re not a couple,” Adam says softly. “…yet. He’s just getting to know Zach, you know?”
Kris swallows down the lump in his throat. “No, yeah, I know. That’s good, though. That he’s, you know, investing in Zach and everything.”
“Yeah, right,” Adam replies. “That’s what I meant.” There’s a beat of hesitation. “So, um…did you call to tell me something?”
“Oh, right!” Kris exclaims, louder than he should. “Yeah, it’s just…Caleb told me that some kid in their class said that Zach’s dad is gay today.”
“Zach told me about that.” There’s a hint of amusement laced in Adam’s voice, which surprises Kris for some reason. “He said the other kid wasn’t making fun, just stating a fact.”
“That’s what Caleb said, too,” Kris says. “But then he started asking me all these questions about being gay and what it means…and then he asked me if he was gay because he loves Zach.”
Adam laughs, his voice saccharine-sweet through the receiver. “Oh, God. How’d you respond to that?”
Kris sighs. “I was hoping that the next time you guys came over, you could talk to him about it. ‘Cause I have no idea if what I’m saying is helping him or just confusing him even more.”
“Yeah, sure,” Adam replies, and Kris can practically hear his smile through the phone. “He might as well learn from the source, right?”
“Thanks,” Kris breathes, feeling a slight burden being lifted from his shoulders. “And, listen, if you ever want Zach to talk to me about something…”
“Like how to be one hundred percent straight?” Adam snickers. “Will do.” There’s a beat of hesitation, more voices in the background. “Listen, I gotta go. Brad and I are taking Zach to the zoo after lunch.”
Kris clears his throat, feeling a burning sensation crawling up his esophagus. Both he and Adam know he can’t lie for shit. “Sounds fun,” he manages. “I’ll talk to you later.”
“Wait, Kris,” Adam says, his voice softening. “You’re…you’re okay with this, right?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Kris says, much too quickly and much too defensively. He forces a laugh, but it comes out as shaky and nervous. “It’s your love life, Adam. You can do whatever the hell you want. Or whoever the hell you want.”
It’s silent on the other end, and Kris knows exactly what Adam is thinking: it was extremely out of character of Kris to swear at all, much less make sexual jokes.
“I gotta go, too,” Kris mumbles. “But, hey, have fun.”
He slams the phone back into its cradle before he can even hear Adam’s goodbye.
Adam isn’t even conscious of where he is going, but his feet carry him to Kris’s house anyway. He’s left Zach at Neil’s for the weekend, because he knows he can’t maintain a poker face long enough, in front of his own son.
It’s started to rain, a soft drizzle that still manages to pierce his skin. He stands outside of Kris’s front porch, ringing the doorbell once, twice, four times before he realizes there are no lights on, no car in the driveway.
He can’t bring himself to go home, though—it’s still too rampant with the memories, the ones that he’s sure will kill him. So he sits on the front porch, trying to remember the number combination password to Kris’s garage door, but gives up easily.
It’s an hour—maybe two, he’s lost track of any sense of time—before Kris’s car rolls into the driveway. Kris is out of the driver’s seat before Caleb, running the short distance from the car to where Adam is sitting, kneeling with a hand on Adam’s arm in a matter of seconds.
“Adam? What are you doing here? Are you okay?”
Adam blinks. Up until this point, he hadn’t been feeling much of anything, passing through the motions as if completely disconnected from his own body. But in Kris’s eyes, he can see the mirrored reflection of himself; over Kris’s shoulder, he sees Caleb, eyes wide and hands gripping his backpack. This is all it takes for Adam to physically crumble: his spine curves over himself, his shoulders hunch, and he feels a muffled sob attempting to push itself from the pit of his stomach to his mouth.
“He left me,” he whispers.
Adam feels Kris move next to him, sitting on the step, wrapping his arms around Adam’s trembling body. He whispers something to Caleb, who runs inside the house. Adam half-expects Kris to follow, but he doesn’t.
They sit there, tangled within each other, and Kris lets Adam cry until the rain has soaked through their clothes, until the moon begins to rise over them, until Adam feels as though there is nothing left inside.
Adam hugs a wool blanket around his shoulders, staring into his mug of coffee, watching the milk swirl above the black mass. The two don’t mix well.
“Caleb, go upstairs and get me and Adam some clean shirts, okay?” Kris says quietly. Caleb bounds up the stairs without hesitation.
Kris sits down on the ottoman across from Adam, so close that their knees touch. His damp auburn hair clings to his forehead in wet strands. He grips his coffee mug, and Adam watches the steam curl up in ringlets, shrouding Kris’s face.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Kris finally speaks.
“There’s nothing to say,” Adam murmurs. “It was my own fault, you know? Letting him back into my life like that.” His voice trembles, and it reminds Kris of stacking dominoes with Caleb on rainy days, seeing how many they could pile up until the tower tumbled down.
“Did he…did he say why? I thought everything was going well.”
Adam nods. “It was,” he murmurs, and he smiles softly, so bittersweet it makes Kris’s heart ache. “He and Zach, they loved each other. We were even…we were talking about him moving in. And it wasn’t like I was pressuring him, he wanted these things. And then he just…he said he couldn’t…couldn’t do this anymore…” Adam ducks his head, rubbing his eyes with his index finger and thumb.
Caleb reappears at the foot of the stairs, evidently too unsure to move closer. Kris stands, taking the two shirts from him and whispering that he should go upstairs. He hands Adam one of his shirts, an old T-shirt that was much too big for his small frame but that he figured would fit Adam.
Adam pulls the shirt over his head, savoring the scent of Kris within it: Old Spice and laundry detergent. He wishes he could bottle it, like perfumed memories.
“Where’s Zach?” Kris asks.
“Neil’s,” Adam murmurs. “I couldn’t…he can’t see me like this.”
“Listen,” Kris sighs, sitting next to Adam on the sofa. They’re close enough so that their thighs touch. “I know how it feels. Like a bottomless pit, right? I went through that with Katy.”
“But you ended that,” Adam points out, his voice slightly tinged with resentment. “You weren’t on the receiving end.”
“No,” Kris admits. “But sometimes it’s even harder the other way around. You’ll find someone, Adam. There’s someone out there meant for you.”
Adam cocks his head up at Kris. “You believe in that? Fate and soulmates and everything?”
For whatever reason, Kris feels himself blush. “Well…fate, I guess. I think God has one person out there that I’m supposed to be with for the rest of my life.” He hesitates. “I always thought that was Katy.”
“Maybe,” Adam breathes, staring at his coffee. “Sometimes I feel like I’m never going to find that person, though.”
Kris shrugs, draping his arm over the back of the couch. “I think that maybe you and I are the types of guys who are just better off with their best friends instead of their partners, you know?”
“Yeah,” Adam says, and a slight smile twitches across his lips. “I’ll just stay with you for the rest of my life, I guess.” He giggles softly, glancing up at Kris.
It happens so quickly Kris doesn’t know what to make of it. “Thanks, Allen,” Adam says. He reaches his arm over, around Kris’s neck, pulls him in and plants a kiss somewhere in between his upper cheekbone and temple, a spot that doesn’t have a name. Then he stands, walking towards the kitchen to leave his mug in the sink.
Kris sits there for a moment, reeling, before reminding himself that Adam had kissed him on the head many times before. Although he seemed sure that Adam’s nose had never grazed his brow like that; that Adam’s lips hadn’t lingered on his skin that long before; that he had never felt the burning sensation on the spot Adam had kissed long after his lips had left.
Or maybe Kris just hadn’t noticed before.
It seemed to be a popular opinion among relatives, family friends, even people they had never met before, that Zach and Caleb were both spitting images of their fathers.
Zach knew that some of this was complete bullshit, because he was adopted, so there was no physical way he could be a spitting image of his father; he also knew that his father’s hair was naturally strawberry-blonde. But, by coincidence, they had ended up looking strikingly similar: both had raven-black hair, Zach’s natural, Adam’s not. Both had piercing blue eyes that varied from pale gray to bright cerulean to sea green, depending on the day. And Caleb, even though he had his mom’s dandelion-blonde hair, had picked up Kris’s sharp jaw structure, deep chocolate eyes, and perfectly straight teeth (something that Zach, a metalmouth, resented).
The physical similarities between the four caused people—specifically people on TV, in the media, in the tabloids—to assume that Caleb and Zach shared their fathers’ polar-opposite personalities.
This, too, was bullshit. Caleb was the crazy one, the one who wanted to see what would happen if they put fireworks in the mailbox or stuck a CD in the microwave, and Zach—who was more soft-spoken, with a dry sense of humor—generally just tagged along. In retrospect, Caleb’s personality was more comparable to Adam’s, and Zach’s to Kris’s, which was probably why all four of them got along as easily as if they were related.
Regardless, Zach and Caleb had never gotten into any real fights. Zach couldn’t remember a time when he’d made fun of Caleb beyond a joking way, or when Caleb yelled at Zach in complete seriousness. But it was bound to happen, and the first time it did was a week before Caleb’s fourteenth birthday.
“Let’s go see Revenge. Tanya Sullen is supposed to get naked and everything.” Steve Kaplan, an eighth-grader who is undoubtedly the most popular kid at their school, points towards the ticket booth at the movies. The rest of the guys nod along.
“Isn’t that rated R?” Zach asks, his voice a quiet contrast to Steve’s booming, testosterone-jacked one.
“Yeah,” Steve says. “So what? We’ll sneak in.”
Zach swallows, knowing he’ll get shit for this. “But that’s against the rules.”
There’s an echo of snorts and chuckles among the group, and Zach feels the skin beneath his cheeks burn.
“Who the fuck cares?” Steve says. “We’re not gonna get caught. Come on, let’s go.”
“Let it go, Zach,” Caleb hisses under his breath as the group starts to move forward.
But Zach’s rooted to the ground, his feet unwilling to move, as if separated from his body. “It’s still against the rules,” he says, his voice rising.
Steve turns, slow, exchange a smirk with his friends. “Why’re you being so gay about this, Zach?”
“Maybe you should ask his dad,” another kid chimes in.
Almost instantaneously, as if a reflex, Zach feels his fists curling into balls. But at the same time, his throat is too dry to speak. He glances towards Caleb, desperate for someone to jump to his rescue, but Caleb has averted his eyes to the ground.
“You know, if it weren’t for us, the entire grade would shun you and your queer, freak-show family,” Steve hisses. “If you wanna be a pussy, fine. Let’s go, guys.”
The group starts to move away, and Zach feels the tears—inevitable, and he hates himself for that—start to build behind the walls of his eyes. He looks towards Caleb again, whose eyes seem to wander everywhere but Zach’s.
“Cal?” Zach whispers. At the same time, Steve turns around. “Caleb, come on, man! Or are you a pussy, too?”
Caleb glances over at Zach. “I can’t stick up for you all the Goddamn time, Zach,” he mutters, his voice harsh.
He walks away, leaving Zach standing alone in a sea of unfamiliar faces.
“I guess we should talk about this.”
Adam tangles the curled cord of the telephone around his index finger, unravels it. It’s a vintage phone, one from his childhood before cordless phones were the norm, one his mother still had and he’d asked for when he moved into the house. He’s on his bed in sweats and a T-shirt, resisting the urge to down a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Zach had holed himself up in his room hours ago, after he’d come home early from the movies, distraught and upset. When Adam had asked if he’d wanted to talk about it, Zach had started to reiterate the story, but wound up screaming at Adam before running upstairs.
“Yeah,” Kris responds, and, much to Adam’s surprise, he laughs. “Who knew they’d ever fight like this, right?”
Adam crosses his legs, Indian-style. “You’re not concerned?”
“Not really,” Kris says, dumbfounded. “You are?” There’s a beat of silence. “Come on, Adam. Kids fight like this all the time. It’ll blow over in a few days.”
“That’s not the point,” Adam replies. “I know they’re going to be talking again by the end of the week. It’s just…I mean, Zach stood up for himself, and Caleb didn’t defend him—”
“Maybe Caleb didn’t defend him because he felt threatened,” Kris interjects, tension hinging on his voice.
“Whatever,” Adam interrupts. “Caleb not defending Zach isn’t the point here, either. I’m just…now that Zach’s stood up for himself, and he’s not part of the popular crowd or whatever, he’s going to get shit for this.” Adam rubs his forehead. “I just…I can’t believe these kids are still making fun of other kids with gay dads.” His voice starts to thicken. “I thought that when I sent my son to school I wouldn’t have to worry about that kind of thing anymore.”
“Yeah,” Kris sighs from the other end. “I can’t believe it, either.” More hesitation. “But maybe…I don’t know, maybe it’s just one of those things that he shouldn’t defend himself on, you know?”
Adam feels as though someone’s dropped an anvil weight on his head. “What are you saying? That Zach should just put up with this?”
“I don’t know,” Kris repeats. “I’m just saying, it’s not going to effect him in the long run, right? When I was in high school there was this kid who had two dads, and whenever he got made fun of he’d keep quiet, and eventually they just stopped picking on him all the time.”
“Eventually,” Adam repeats, his voice hollow.
“Yeah,” Kris says, not sensing Adam’s tone. “That’s just how it was for me, where I was growing up.”
“That was thirty years ago,” Adam says tensely. “This isn’t Arkansas. And I’m not you, Kris.”
Adam slams the phone into the receiver harder than he should, hanging up before Kris can explain himself.
When Adam opens the door, the first thing he thinks is that Kris looks like a little kid who didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas.
His mouth is curled into an almost comedic frown, his brow knitted together at a frustrated angle, his arms folded across his chest. Perhaps the most amusing thing was that Adam knew Kris didn’t even mean to appear this way—it was just who he was.
“Why are you smiling? You didn’t even let me finish on the phone.”
Instead of letting him inside, Adam walks outside, shutting the door quietly behind him, on the slight chance that Zach would resurface from his room only to find Kris in their house. “Fine. You want to finish now?”
Kris unfolds his arms, refolds them. “Yeah. Well…okay, first of all, I wanted to apologize for what I said. I realized telling you that Zach should do nothing about it was…well, inappropriate, and not in my place.”
“Thank you,” Adam says, thankful for the fact that Kris was so level-headed.
“But I wanted to tell you that you should leave it up to Zach. You know, about what he wants to do.”
“Are you going to do the same for Caleb?”
Kris hesitates. “I told him he should have stuck up for Zach, because he knew what the other kid was doing was wrong. But, yeah. I’m not going to tell him how to fight his battles, and you shouldn’t for Zach, either. They’re teenagers, Adam. They’re not little kids.”
Adam doesn’t want to believe this. Some days he wished he could blink and, instead of seeing a sullen thirteen-year-old, a five-year-old who was terrified of clowns and thunderstorms would be standing in front of him.
“The point of my story before was that the kid I knew who did nothing when he was being made fun of, he turned out just fine,” Kris says calmly. “And I’m sure that no matter what Zach decides to do about it, he’ll be fine, too. It’s not serious bullying.”
“It’s serious to me,” Adam murmurs. “I got shit in high school, too, just for acting more feminine.”
“And look where you are now,” Kris grins. “Five gold albums? Three Grammy’s? Come on, Adam. You can’t rope yourself into believing that one incident is going to screw up Zach’s life.”
Adam feels himself smiling, sits down on the front step. Kris sits down next to him, and they’re quiet for a moment. It’s dark, ten-thirty at night, and the smog from downtown L.A. gives the night sky an eerie amber-orange halo.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” Adam sighs, elbowing Kris gently.
“Me neither,” Kris grins. Instead of elbowing Adam back, though, he leans in, kissing Adam’s forehead, just underneath his hairline. He smells like cinnamon, Kris notes.
“Hey!” Adam jerks his head back, caught off-guard. For a moment, Kris’s heart stops—had he done something wrong? But Adam’s grinning wildly, his mouth popped open in surprise. “That’s my thing!”
“What are you talking about?”
“The kissing on the forehead,” Adam laughs. “I always do that.”
“So? That means I can’t?”
“I just…I assumed you weren’t so touchy-feely. It’s just my way of showing affection, you know?”
Kris kisses Adam’s forehead again, feeling a surge of adrenaline pulse through him. “Well, now it’s my thing,” he murmurs, his lips dangerously close to Adam’s ear.
There’s only a beat of hesitation, and Kris finds himself still lingering near Adam’s ear, unwilling to move. Adam pulls back slightly, his pale eyes shining bright in the moonlight.
“Then I guess I need a new thing,” he whispers, before leaning in and pressing his lips to Kris’s.
It was over almost as quickly as it had began.
They moved hurriedly, and Kris liked to believe it was because of a mutual fear that if they should stop, the feelings—the rush, the lust, the pure need—would somehow evaporate. Adam had locked his hand on Kris’s, their fingers intertwined, and silently dragged him downstairs, into a guest bedroom in the basement.
“Zach,” Kris had whispered, throaty and hoarse, as Adam had furiously planted kisses down Kris’s jawline, collarbone, chest, ribs, hips.
“Sleeping,” Adam murmured while working Kris’s belt buckle. “I checked.”
Kris closes his eyes, back pressed against the door, allowing himself to drown in the overwhelming force of sensations. In all honesty, he hadn’t dated much since he’d left Katy—it hadn’t seemed that appealing to him, and he now knew why—and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had sex. He was long overdue.
“God,” he hissed between his teeth as Adam engulfed Kris’s entire dick in his mouth. It was clear Adam prided himself on his talent; he grinned as he flicked his tongue across the head of Kris’s cock, massaging his balls and running a hand along his shaft at the same time.
Kris felt his knees tremble, his back arch against the door, instinctively pushing his hips towards Adam’s head. “Adam,” he whispered, savoring the taste of Adam’s name fresh on his tongue. “Adam, I’m…I’m gonna…”
Before the words could escape his lips, Adam began deep-throating Kris, and Kris gritted his teeth, fighting back the urge to scream.
“Adam,” Kris whispered hoarsely as he felt the release, felt himself let go, shooting his load into Adam’s mouth.
Adam grinned, swallowing eagerly, massaging Kris’s thighs with the balls of his palms. “Let go, baby,” he whispered eagerly.
When he was finished, Kris slumped over slightly, still panting. Adam sat up on his knees, locking a hand behind Kris’s neck, pulling him into a long kiss. Feeling daring, Kris bit Adam’s lower lip, hard enough that his teeth broke the skin and Adam started bleeding slightly.
Adam touched a finger to his lip, pulling back to see the drop of blood on his fingertip. He gazed up at Kris, looking dumbfounded, before breaking into a small laugh. “Oh, damn,” he hissed, dragging Kris over to the bed. “You asked for it.”
He pushed Kris down on the bed. “On your hands and knees,” Adam whispered.
Kris’s knees were still shaking, but he had forced himself to buck up, sticking his ass in the air. The last thing he needed was for Adam to think Kris didn’t really want this.
Adam planted a line of kisses down Kris’s spine, on his ass, before spitting on his hand. Kris winced, even though nothing had happened yet, because he knew it would hurt like hell.
Adam was gentle, though, even more so than Kris had expected. He began with one finger, then two, working his way towards three. Each time, Kris had sucked in his breath, wincing and gripping the bed sheets. But minutes later, he felt himself groaning, bucking his hips under Adam’s fingers.
Adam had pulled out, and Kris heard the sound of his jeans coming off. He glanced over his shoulder, and suddenly felt intimidated: he’d never seen Adam naked, but his dick was even bigger than Kris had imagined it to be.
Adam was poised, ready to attack, but he hesitated, leaning forward. “We don’t have to do this, Kris,” Adam whispered into Kris’s ear. “This will change everything.”
Before, Kris couldn’t have imagined how they could be any closer, so he knew there wasn’t much truth to Adam’s words—things between them would hardly change, if anything. He cocked a smile, meeting Adam’s gaze.
“I want every inch of your love,” Kris grinned, piercing his words.
Adam ducked his head, laughing. And then he began moving: very slow, gradual, working his way inside Kris. The fingering had helped, but not by much, and Kris gritted his teeth and closed his eyes until Adam’s entire cock was inside him.
To his surprise, it didn’t feel awkward or strange, but natural. They fit like long-lost puzzle pieces, and for a moment, neither of them moved; Kris savored the heat of Adam inside him, the feeling of being whole. Kris breathed heavily, and as Adam began to move inside him—slow at first, gaining speed until he was thrusting so fast that his balls slapped against the backs of Kris’s thighs—Kris felt his own dick grow hard, so hard it was physically painful.
“God, Kris,” Adam moaned, failing at his attempt to keep his voice to a whisper. He moved faster, faster than Kris could have imagined him to. Kris reached down with one hand, the other hand still tangled in the bed sheets, and began moving it up and down his shaft, until his pace matched Adam’s.
“Jesus, fuck,” Adam hissed. “God, oh, God. Kris. Kris, I’m…I’m coming…”
Seconds later, following a long, throaty moan from Adam, Kris felt Adam pull out of him—and, also to Kris’s surprise, he was disappointed by this, feeling suddenly empty inside. Adam threw his head back, the shadows of the window silhouetting the ecstasy that outlined his face, and came across Kris’s back.
At the same time, Kris felt the wave of an orgasm slam into him, his body convulsing as he pumped his dick and came all over the bed sheets.
Now, they are curled up, tangled together in the sheets. Kris turns his cheek into Adam’s half-unbuttoned shirt, inhaling the scent of laundry detergent and cologne. It had been upwards of twenty minutes, and neither of them had spoken yet, but not out of awkwardness; it was natural.
Kris shatters the silence. “I should probably get home,” he murmurs, not even aware of the time. All that had existed was him and Adam.
“Yeah,” Adam whispers, taking Kris’s hand and kissing his fingertips. It was almost eye-opening to Kris; during his relationship with Katy, he had always felt he played the part of the giver, but with Adam he was at the receiving end of things.
Kris starts to stand, mentally willing his body to move again. He grabs his old jeans by the belt hooks, shimmying them up his thighs, re-buckling his belt.
“Kris?” Adam asks, his voice quiet.
“What’d you think?”
Kris half-smiles, resting his hand on the doorknob. “I think our sons need to fight more often,” he says, before walking out of the bedroom and leaving the basement.
Even after he’s in his car, though, Adam’s laugh—thick like honey, sugar-sweet and dreamy—follows Kris all the way home.
Despite the fact that it had been years—two, to be exact—Adam and Kris had managed not to fall into the trap of sloppiness. They had accurately covered their tracks, savoring moments when both of the boys went on mission trips for a week or when they could get a hotel room together for an evening unnoticed.
They had wordlessly agreed not to come out publicly, and not to tell Zach or Caleb. Adam had to persuade Kris into the latter decision. “I can’t lie to my son,” Kris had said one night when they were alone.
“You’re not lying,” Adam pointed out. “Just avoiding the truth. There’s a fine line.” Before Kris could argue more, Adam muffled his complaints with a long kiss.
Things had fallen into a simple routine. Zach and Caleb hadn’t noticed anything suspicious, any change of behavior between their fathers, and Adam and Kris managed to maintain that balance. While the boys were at school, they either hung out as they would have when they were still just friends, or they shared a lunch date and a rendezvous back at one of their homes.
It’s a cool February afternoon. Zach is home, sick with a flu, and there’s absolutely nothing to do but flip through the infomercials on TV. Adam is upstairs, toweling off from a shower, when the phone rings.
“Hello?” Zach sniffs.
“Hey—Zach? Is that you? You don’t sound too good, buddy.”
“Hey, Kris,” Zach coughs. If it were any other adult calling him buddy, despite the fact that he was fifteen-going-on-sixteen, it would’ve irked him. But Kris had been calling him that all his life. “Hang on, my dad’s upstairs.”
Zach holds the phone with one hand, curling his free fist around a blanket, and drags his sore legs up the stairs, to his father’s room. Adam stands in front of a mirror, raking his fingers through his thick, jet-black hair, a towel draped around his neck.
“Dad?” Zach mutters, sticking his head over the threshold. “It’s Kris.”
Adam takes the phone, cupping his hand over the receiver. “You should try and get some sleep,” he whispers. “And keep drinking water, okay?” He slips back into his bedroom, shutting the door.
Zach carries himself to his bathroom, grabbing a handful of tissues and blowing his nose until it feels as though his brains are going to fall out his ears. He stares at his wan reflection in the mirror before splashing some water over his face, and prays that he’ll be better before Caleb’s birthday.
Instead of going back down the stairs, he turns down the hallway towards his room. But as he passes his father’s room, door closed, a soft murmur catches his ear and he freezes.
“…I know. It’s been forever. Yeah. Well, I don’t know. Zach’s got the flu or something…maybe when he’s better we can do something. I know. I miss you like crazy.”
Zach knows his father has always been more sensitive than most guys, less censored when it came to expressing his emotions. But there was something about his voice—the way he accented the crazy, the sadness that overshadowed the simple fact—that makes Zach press his ear against the doorframe, listening intently.
“Last night was amazing,” Adam says, his voice low and husky. Zach feels his spine tingle. “Tell Caleb to go to student government meetings more often.” He chuckles, pauses. “No, I know. You’re right. Okay. I’ll call you later, we’ll figure something out.” There’s another pause before Adam’s voice cuts through, soft and gentle. “I love you.”
Zach backs away from the door as if it’s on fire; a little too quickly, and he bumps into an end table, nearly knocking over a lamp. He catches it before running down the hallway, stumbling into his bedroom and jumping underneath the covers. It reminds him of being a little kid, pulling the blankets over his head when there was a thunderstorm, as if the mere action would make everything go away.
Ten seconds later, before he can even begin to comprehend anything, there’s a soft knock on the door, and Adam enters before Zach can answer.
“…Zach? You okay?”
Zach pushes the covers away from his face, trying to mask any emotions that may show. Adam’s eyes are wide, prodding, concerned, and Zach can’t tell if he knew he’d overhead anything.
Zach nods, clearing his throat. “Yeah, I just. I thought I should, um…get some sleep.”
Adam sits on the edge of Zach’s bed, touching his forehead with the palm of his hand. “You feel feverish.”
Zach swallows down the dry lump in his throat. “I’ll be okay,” he whispers.
Adam drops his arm, stares at his hands, clasped in his lap. “Listen, Zach,” he begins, chewing on his bottom lip. “I wanted to tell you that—”
“Dad?” Zach cuts him off, pushing the blankets further back. He realizes he doesn’t want to know anything, any details. In all honesty, a million things could go wrong, and he’d give anything to be able to keep the harmony between his family and Caleb’s.
Zach’s father glances up. “Yeah?”
“Are you happy?”
Adam stares at his son, whose dark hair falls in thick locks over his brow, whose pale blue eyes are expectant, waiting. He smiles slowly, as if he’s gradually revealing a deep secret.
“Yeah,” Adam whispers. “I really am.”
Much to his surprise, Zach returns the smirk. “Then…then you don’t have to tell me anything.”
Zach moves over on his bed, making room, and Adam lays down next to him, the way he would when Zach was younger and couldn’t sleep at night. Zach nestles his head against his father’s chest, feeling his heart beat hollow in his eardrums.
“You know I’ll always love you more than anyone else, right?” Adam murmurs into Zach’s dark hair.
“Yeah, I know,” Zach whispers into his father’s shirt.
It’s silent for a moment. “I guess you’re too old for me to sing to you, huh?” Adam chuckles.
“Nah,” Zach murmurs. “I’m never too old for that. Can you do Come Home?”
Adam laughs again, harder this time. “You made me sing that one for you almost every night before you went to bed, back when you were little.”
Zach cocks his head up, his forehead grazing Adam’s jaw. “I guess some things never change.”
For a second, Zach is sure his dad is going to cry, something he can’t remember having seen before. Instead, Adam leans down, pressing his lips to Zach’s feverish forehead. Zach lays his head back into the crook of his dad’s arm, closing his eyes and letting delirium overtake him as his father begins to sing.
Hello world, hope you’re listening. Forgive me if I’m young, or speaking out of turn…
Zach could never be sure of how long his father had been seeing Kris, but he realized that however long it had been, neither he nor Caleb had noticed any change. Maybe that’s because their relationship had always been present, one way or another, innate and organic; Zach remembers his dad explaining to him that he and Brad were dating now, and Zach had wondered if this meant Kris would no longer be coming over.
There’s someone I’ve been missing, and I think that they might be the better half of me.
Zach knows that Caleb would never handle the news the same way, and it was understandable, to grow up your entire life assuming your father was straight. And if he technically knew nothing, then not saying anything to Caleb wouldn’t really be lying, right?
They’re in the wrong place trying to make it right, and I’m tired of justifying…
Zach feels his father’s hand running through his hair, brushing his cheek. He had never really had his dad all to himself—because, for his entire life, he’d had to share Adam with Kris. It was your least-expected, unconventional type of family, but it was still a family, and Zach wanted to keep it that way.
So come home, come home
‘Cause I’ve been waiting for you for so long, so long
And right now there’s a war between the vanities
But all I see is you and me
And the fight for you is all I’ve ever known
So come home.
The United States declares war on North Korea four days before Halloween.
Adam is sitting up in bed, legs crossed and tangled in a mess of blankets, because it’s been unusually cold for late fall. The glow from the television screen basks against him amid the black abyss of the room.
As he watches the President issue his Declaration of War speech—something that, after the disaster of Iraq during Bush’s administration, Adam though he would never again have to witness—he feels a strange sensation quake throughout his body, the combined and overwhelming wave of nausea, numbness, and uncontrollable shaking.
He feels Kris’s body shifting, moving as he pulls himself upright, squinting in the artificial rays of the screen. “What the hell is going on?” He murmurs, rubbing his eyes.
“It’s official,” Adam whispers, licking his lips. They’re so chapped, he can feel the cracks in his skin when he runs his tongue over them.
He lets Kris watch the news broadcast, lets the news sink in. Kris is shirtless, and Adam can see the flush of goosebumps rise over his smooth skin.
“I can’t believe it,” Kris finally murmurs. “I can’t believe this is happening.”
Even though Adam and Kris had grown accustomed to the media blowing almost everything out of proportion, they also knew that what they were reporting now had more than a little truth to it. Neither of them had lived through a full-scale war in their lifetimes—and never had they dreamed of the serious threat of nuclear warfare.
“What are we going to do?” Kris whispers.
Adam glances down, noticing Kris’s hands are visibly shaking. He takes them into his own, but Kris’s eyes are still transfixed on the screen.
“We don’t let it stop us,” Adam breathes into Kris’s ear. “We don’t let it interrupt our lives.” He starts to trail a line of kisses along Kris’s perfectly curved shoulder bone.
Kris sighs, allows himself to fall into Adam’s grasp, to fall backwards onto the bed. They’re slow and gentle and rough and fast, somehow all the same time; it seems like seconds before Adam is fumbling for a condom, wriggling in between Kris’s hips, pulling Kris open and pushing himself inside. Kris gasps, even though they’ve done this a million times before, and digs his fingernails into Adam’s shoulders so hard, he leaves half-moon imprints.
But at the same time, it feels like it lasts for hours; Adam moves against him, achingly slow, bending so that Kris’s erection is pressing against Adam’s chest. It seems like a century before Adam picks up speed, bucking faster, clawing his nails into the bed sheets as if he’s trying to find something under there. Kris locks his hands around the back of Adam’s neck, pressing his face into the hollows of his collarbone, feeling his own heart beating inside his throat.
They come at the same time, swimming in the hollow sounds of the news broadcast that is still airing in the background, fiercely whispering each others name’s until words like next world war and nuclear weapons of mass destruction are drowned out.
After, Adam presses his cheek against Kris’s chest. He’s sleeping, Kris notices, and somehow time has lapsed—instead of the news bulletin, there is now an infomercial playing, one broadcasting a seemingly simple solution to life’s everyday problems.
Sometimes, Kris wishes his life were like an infomercial.
It was inevitable, but Kris had never allowed himself to believe that it would actually happen.
Up until the summer of ’28, the war had been going “well”, as the President slated it on television; but then the rumors began, of the fact that the U.S. Army was suffering horrendous casualties, of the fact that some sort of conscription was going to begin.
Kris dismissed them as rumors, until the President gave a national speech a few days after Thanksgiving.
“My fellow Americans,” he began, his voice trapped somewhere between somber and revengeful. “This is our time! We must stand up together, as a Democratic Union, and fight for peace, liberty, and freedom!”
He went on to state that a draft of all men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five would begin on December first.
“I guess that includes me, huh?” Caleb had joked lightly. He had graduated that spring, but was taking a year off before going to college.
Kris had attempted to shrug it off until Caleb went out later that night; until he called Adam and started to cry over the line.
The worst part was that Adam couldn’t even comfort him, because they were both in the same situation—Zachary was turning eighteen in a matter of days.
The draft overtook the country much in the same way a plague would. It seemed slow at first, distant, a few mentions here and there of a number of young men from New York or Kansas or Michigan being drafted. Places far away from L.A., people Kris did not know.
But the numbers suddenly started to fly. Reports of thousands of men being drafted, to replace the next thousand that had died. Kris drove home one day to see two men in uniform standing outside a neighbor’s house, handing a young man a letter, and watched as the woman next to him leaned against the doorframe and started to cry uncontrollably.
When Kris receives the call, he feels as though someone has shoved him down a bottomless hole.
Between Adam’s choked sobs and hiccups, he manages to make out the words “Zach” and “drafted” in the same sentence.
“Adam,” Kris whispers, his voice sounding unfamiliar even to him. “Adam, you need to calm down. Don’t let Zach see you like this.”
“I…I can’t…Kris, he can’t leave me,” Adam sobs. It makes Kris feel sick, mostly because he could barely remember the last time he’d heard Adam cry like this.
“Do you want me to come over?” Kris murmurs, cupping his hand around the receiver.
It becomes so suddenly silent that Kris believes Adam hung up. But after a moment, he hears the crackling of Adam’s shaking breath. “Yes,” he whispers, sounding broken. “Please come over.”
Caleb takes Zach out that night to dinner, in what Kris assumed was an attempt to take his mind off of the war. The word war still tasted strange on Kris’s tongue, still sounded foreign and unfamiliar, even though it was all anyone had been saying for the past year or two.
Walking into Adam’s empty house, Kris half-expects to see Adam re-watching old home videos or flipping through a scrapbook of Zach’s baby photos; instead, Adam is standing in Zach’s bedroom, staring out one of the windows into the backyard.
Kris stands in the threshold of the doorway, and Adam doesn’t have to turn around to know he’s there; when you fall in love with your best friend, you become so attune to their aura that you just know the exact moment they’ve entered a room.
“I chose this room because of the windows,” Adam murmurs, running this thumb along the pane. “I wanted him to wake up in the morning and see the sun shining, and to fall asleep at night counting the stars.”
When Adam turns around, Kris sucks in his breath instinctively, and tries to mask his reaction. Adam’s eyes are bloodshot, puffy pink around the creases, weary and worn and resentful.
Adam pulls his eyes away from Kris’s, gazing around Zach’s room. “You don’t know what it’s like,” he whispers, “having your son taken away from you. And there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s not like he’s sick, and I can send him to the best doctors and get all the right medicines. It’s not like he wanted this.” Adam glances back at Kris, who shivers. “They’re taking him from me.”
“Adam,” Kris murmurs, crossing the space between them. He reaches out, but Adam doesn’t move; his eyes seem fixated somewhere in the distance, memories surfacing over his glossy eyes.
“The reason I chose to adopt him,” Adam whispers, “was because I knew that he would never be like some other guy. He’d never get up one day and pack up his things and say, ‘I think we should see other people. Things aren’t working out. It’s best if I leave.’” Adam shakes his head, ducking his chin. “I always assumed it’d be impossible for Zach to break my heart.”
Kris swallows, touching Adam’s forearm. There are a million things he wishes he could say: By the time they actually draft him, the war will be over. He’s young—they’ll probably just put him in the Reserves. He’s a smart kid, he’ll be safe. Even though he knows just as well as Adam that saying those things would be complete bullshit, he still wonders if it’s better than facing the aching silence.
“You remember that night we took the kids to the Christmas tree lighting?” Kris asks softly. “They were, like, five years old, and I’d just gotten the divorce.” He doesn’t wait for Adam to respond. “You told me that at that moment, what Caleb needed most was for me to be his dad.” He moves closer, sliding his hand down to meet Adam’s. “I think that’s what you need to be now, for Zach.”
In a fluid motion, almost as if it is second nature, Adam turns and falls easily into Kris’s embrace. Kris can feel Adam’s tears pooling in the hollows of his collarbone, soaking through his plaid shirt.
“I can’t lose him,” Adam whispers into Kris’s neck. “I can’t lose him, I can’t lose him, I can’t.”
Kris feels his own throat tightening, and realizes that this was going to be just as painful for him: over the past eighteen years, he’d grown as close with Zach as a father and son would. At this moment, he wants more than anything to be able to tell Adam he won’t lose Zach—but he knows he can’t.
Instead, Kris simply holds Adam, lets him cry. There’s nothing else either of them can do, nothing they can control about the situation, and it’s terrifying.
“I know,” Kris whispers. It’s the only thing he can say.
February 25, 2029.
It happens three days after Caleb’s nineteenth birthday.
Kris had been in the studio all day; the whirlwind of everything that was happening, the tumultuous series of events of the past month or two, had at least the silver lining of new songwriting material. The studio was always something of an escape, the ability to hole himself up for hours at a time with nothing but a microphone and his guitar, until he had to return home and wonder if Caleb had, too, gotten a conscription notice.
All it takes is the simple motion of opening the front door for Kris’s heart to plummet into his stomach.
Caleb is sitting on the couch, elbows on his knees, hands clasped in front of him as if he were praying. His head is hanging low between his shoulders, his flaxen hair shrouding his face.
Kris drops his guitar by the door, but for whatever reason, can’t bring himself to move forward; it’s as though his legs are independent from his body.
Caleb glances up then, acknowledging his father’s presence, but his expression is surprisingly calm. It’s then that Kris notices the folded paper on the coffee table in front of him.
“You were drafted.” Kris does not ask it, because, for whatever reason, stating it rather than questioning it seemed to soften the blow.
Much to his surprise, Caleb shakes his head. “No, I wasn’t drafted,” he says quietly. “I enlisted.”
It’s one thing, Kris realizes, to have the government forcefully take your son away from you, throw him headfirst into a deadly game of warfare while he was still just a teenager. But it was quite another thing when your son consciously chooses to make that decision for himself.
“You what?” Kris breathes, nearing the couch. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, a part of him is silently praying to whoever is listening that this is all just a cruel joke. That Caleb’s blank face would part into a grin, that they’d laugh over it and then get Chinese takeout for dinner.
Of course, this doesn’t happen. Caleb hands the paper over to Kris, who begins to scan it.
In accordance with Army Regulation 601-20, upon completion of Phase 1 and Phase 2 training, I agree to be commissioned as Private and fulfill my duties as such, hereby signed into agreement on this day, February the twenty-fifth of 2029…
His eyes skimmed to the bottom of the page, where Caleb’s signature, in dark ink, graced the line next to the massive “X”. He suddenly felt increasingly nauseous.
Kris glances up at Caleb, who was now standing. Somehow, Caleb had grown to be taller than both his mother and father, and was easily the tallest member of the entire Allen family, to the point where Kris had to tilt his chin just to meet his eyes.
“Why? Caleb…why would you do this?”
“What else was I going to do, Dad?” Caleb retorts, as if the decision had been a blatantly obvious one. “Just sit back, maybe go to school, get a degree in something I don’t even want to do, have a boring nine-to-five desk job that doesn’t do anything for me? Stay home and wait until we get the call that my best friend died in some country a million miles away?”
He turns his cheek slightly, so that it’s impossible for Kris to look him in the eyes. “This wasn’t your only option,” Kris stammers, trying not to let his voice break. “You could have done anything you wanted to, Cal. Anything in the world.”
“Come on,” Caleb mutters, his pale eyes darkening. “You’re the only one in this family that lucked out, Dad. Not everyone gets to win American-fucing-Idol in their lifetime.”
Kris winces at Caleb’s language, but can’t even bring himself to chastise him; the thickening lump in his throat has prevented him from even opening his mouth.
“Sorry,” Caleb says, apologizing for himself. “But you know it’s true.” He sighs, collapses back onto the couch.
Kris glances back down at the letter, which he now notices was printed on fine stationary, with a heavily-inked U.S. Army stamp in the top right corner. “It says here that Phase 1 training is in…Fort Sill, Oklahoma? And it begins on March 31st?” Kris looks up, suddenly incapable of keeping his hands from trembling. “That’s in less than a month, Caleb.”
Caleb stares forward at nothing in particular. “I know,” he murmurs. After a moment, he lifts his head towards Kris’s. “Zach’s my brother, Dad,” he says softly. “I couldn’t just let him go out there alone. You’d do the same thing for Adam, wouldn’t you?”
Kris can’t even find words to describe what his life would be like if Adam were away at war, and he were still at home—living hell was the only accurate description that came to mind. He figures it would hurt enough to push him into following Adam; but this was different. Wasn’t it?
“Yeah,” Caleb mutters, suddenly standing and making his way towards the stairs. “I thought so.”
March 3, 2029.
“Oh, come on. There’s no way you can do that many.”
Zach grins and puffs out his chest slightly before dropping to the floor, toes arched on the surface, arms perpendicular to the ground. If there was one trait that he and his father differed drastically in, it was athletic ability; sure, Zach was more sensitive than Caleb, but in high school he’d also been on varsity for at least four different sports.
“…eighty-one, eighty-two, eighty-three,” Zach grunts, finishing the last push-up before collapsing onto the floor.
“Impressive,” Caleb admits. He’s sitting five feet away, knees hugged to his chest. “But why stop there? Eighty-three’s such a random number.”
Zach shrugs, picking himself up off the ground. “If you wanted me to go to a hundred, you should’ve asked,” he smirks. After a moment, Zach adds, “Ten bucks you can’t pass eighty-three.”
Ten minutes later, Caleb lifts himself up with trembling arms after an eighty-fourth push-up, before sinking onto the hardwood floor and rolling over onto his back, panting. “Eighty-four,” Caleb laughs. “You owe me ten bucks.”
Zach smiles, picking at the hem of his worn-out jeans. “You didn’t have to do that, you know,” he murmurs.
“Are you kidding me?” Caleb rolls over onto his stomach, propping himself up on his elbows. “At training, they’re probably gonna make us do, like, two hundred fucking push-ups. In the rain.”
“That’s not what I mean,” Zach rolls his eyes. “I mean…you know. Enlisting.”
“Oh.” Caleb pauses, pressing the palms of his hands together. “No, I’m pretty sure I did have to do it.”
Zach furrows his brow. “What? Why?”
“There’s no fucking way you’d survive in Korea without a familiar face,” Caleb says, flashing a bright grin.
Zach feels himself start to smile, despite the fact that, in the back of his mind, he can’t help but wonder if either of them will survive, period. He shakes the thoughts away and rolls over onto his stomach.
“Hey, Zach?” Caleb asks softly.
Zach glances over at him. “Yeah?”
“Bet you can’t do a hundred and ten.”
March 10, 2029.
Adam glances around him and, as quickly as humanly possible, grabs every copy of the People magazine on the shelf in front of him, throwing them into the shopping cart.
He side-steps up to one of the cashiers and starts placing items on the scanning belt: Fruit Loops (Zach’s favorite cereal), peanut butter, a loaf of bread, a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream, toilet paper, eggs, Doritos, oranges, milk. And then the twelve magazine copies, in a stack at the end of the belt.
“You want…all of these?” The cashier asks. He’s a young guy, maybe in his early twenties, Adam guesses.
“Yeah,” Adam mutters, pulling out his wallet and handing over the wrinkled twenty-dollar bills.
As he watches the kid meticulously place his groceries in the plastic Shop Rite bags, Adam can’t help but realize that the guy had bagged his groceries many times before, yet he still didn’t know his name. As he’s punching numbers into the register, Adam glances at his nametag, feels his heart come to a halting stop: Zack.
Adam clears his throat. “You in college?”
The kid glances up, as if surprised Adam was speaking to him. “Yeah,” he says. “UCLA.” He hesitates, unsure of what to do next. “I’m…I’m an English Literature major.”
Adam nods, and the kid pops open the register. “Here’s your receipt,” he stammers, handing the flimsy paper over.
“You know what?” Adam says, hand gripping the shopping cart. “You can keep the change.”
The kid’s eyes widen. “But…but that’s thirty bucks,” he says. “It’s not customary to tip the cashier.”
“Yeah,” Adam shrugs. “Don’t worry about it. Good luck at school.”
He pushes the cart through the Exit door, to his car, dumping all of the bags in the trunk, save the one with the magazines in it. He climbs into the driver’s side and gingerly pulls one magazine out, setting the rest on the passenger seat.
It wasn’t like he’d never been in the tabloids before—hell, his picture had started appearing in celebrity magazines before Idol had even ended. But this time, it’s different.
He thumbs through the glossy pages until he reaches the one he’s looking for. The large photo takes up an entire page, and it looks like something out of an ad, or a picture you’d find framed on someone’s mantel.
Zach, Adam, Caleb and Kris take up the entire sidewalk, almost as if they’re larger than life when put together. Zach’s head is ducked—he’d never been a fan of confronting the paparazzi—but beneath his dark hair that shields his face are the remnants of a smile. Adam’s head is tossed back, his hands together in a clap, his face contorted underneath his sunglasses in mid-laugh. Next to him, Caleb—who had been in the middle of telling an anecdotal story that was now lost on Adam—has his hands spread wide, gesturing, his sky-blue eyes smiling. And on his left, Kris has his hands in his jean pockets, his mouth open in something of a smile and his eyebrows raised.
Like Father, Like Son!, the caption next to the photo reads. Adam Lambert and Kris Allen, with sons Zach and Caleb (from left, 18 and 19), share a laugh while strolling through Beverly Hills on March 5.
From the outside looking in, it seems like they all have a secret—like anyone not involved would desperately want to know what they were laughing about. In reality, Adam vaguely remembers Caleb telling some typical story, and he and Kris had forced themselves to laugh along. That’s how it was these days, for both of them: everything was forced.
Adam grazes his thumb over the smooth finish of the page, running his fingers over Zach’s face. He isn’t even sure why he bought every copy of the magazine; it wasn’t like he didn’t have any pictures of Zach at home.
Maybe, he imagines, it’s because, in that moment, they all look happy. They all have a smile on their faces, and it’s candid and raw and pure, an inked memory that would last forever.
Even though he’s well aware of the fact that the ice cream is melting and the milk is going sour, it takes Adam another twenty minutes to eventually pry his eyes away from the photo and drive home.
March 22, 2029.
“Get your suit and towel, Cal. We’re going to the beach.”
Caleb is draped across the loveseat, which is much too short for his lanky body, and his ankles hang over the edge. He sets down the Sports Illustrated he’d been reading and glances up at his dad, cocking one eyebrow.
“The beach? Really?”
“Why not?” Kris smiles. “You love the beach.”
“Dad,” Caleb mutters, sitting up, “you’re acting like I’m dying or something. I’m just going to boot camp.”
Kris swallows and refrains from saying what they both know: that after boot camp, which now only lasted two short months because the Army was so desperate for men, there was a chance that Caleb would never come home.
“I know,” Kris says instead. “Can’t we just hang out at the beach for the day? C’mon, Adam and Zach are going.”
Caleb sighs, tosses the magazine on the coffee table. “Fine,” he mumbles, with all the angst and indifference of a normal teenager.
In the days remaining, that was all Kris really wanted: to act like his son was a normal teenager.
“Oh, my God. Do you remember the time I drew on Kris’s face?” Zach says before he bursts out laughing.
“I was so mad,” Kris snickers. “It took days for that to wash off.”
“You should probably know that the second we got in the car that night, we both started laughing,” Adam grins, dodging as Kris hurls a clump of sand at him.
It’s eleven-thirty at night and the beach is, for the most part, deserted. They’ve set up something of a bonfire, even though you were supposed to have city permission to do so, because Zach and Caleb had wanted one. “Just like when we were kids,” Zach had said with a smile. They also weren’t supposed to have alcohol on the beach, but Kris and Adam were desperate to be subdued.
“That was all me,” Caleb says, lying on his stomach in the sand. “I was such a badass when we were little. And I roped Zach into doing everything with me.”
“You were like that from the start,” Kris smiles, still feeling lopsided from the alcohol buzz. “Even when you guys were toddlers, Cal would be so hyperactive and constantly bouncing around and Zach, you’d want to sit in the corner and color.”
“It’s kind of funny, when you think about it,” Zach muses, tossing a stick into the dwindling fire. “How our personalities are the exact opposite of our dad’s.”
“Yeah,” Caleb agrees. “I always wonder what it’s going to be like when we’re parents, you know?”
It falls silent, and Adam stares at his hands, holding his breath because it’s all he can do not to fall apart at the seams. Ever since Zach had been drafted, he’d forced his subconscious to avoid the blatant fact, but now it smacks him across the face: there was a chance he’d never see either of them become parents.
Kris is the one to shatter the silence. He lights the tip of a branch on fire, then lifts it up against the black canvas of a night sky, watching as it burns out and the embers flit from it like unnatural snowflakes.
“You two,” he smiles, a light hitch in his voice, “are going to be great parents.”
Even though it is considered trespassing, they remain on the beach throughout the night, the sand conforming like a soft blanket around their bodies. They stay until the moon completes its arc over the sky, until the soft rays of sunrise begin to emerge across the horizon, until the bonfire deteriorates into nothing but ashes.
It’s almost five o’clock in the morning. Both Zach and Caleb have drifted off to sleep in the sand, lying next to each other on one of the blankets, and it reminds Adam so much of how he and Kris used to but their sons in the same crib for naps when they were young. The sun is rising, breaking dawn across the calm ocean, and it only occurs to Adam now that he hasn’t slept at all.
Kris hadn’t fallen asleep, either. He sits up in the sand, nudging the remaining embers of the bonfire with a stick before tossing it to the side. The tide is starting to pick up again, the cyclical lap of waves nearing dangerously close to their small camp-out, yet neither of them feels any urge to move.
Adam watches Zachary sleep, curled into the fetal position with his knees hugged to his chest. As a baby, there were moments when Adam would find Zach with his feet in his mouth while he slept; not once could Adam remember having seen Zach sleep stretched out.
Caleb, on the other hand, is sprawled across the blanket, one arm outstretched so that his hand grazes Zach’s hair. Kris watches Caleb’s chest rise and fall in a peaceful rhythm, the reassuring sign that his heart is still beating.
Both Adam and Kris are aware of the fact that the early-morning joggers would be arriving soon, running laps up and down the beach; shortly after, tourists and families would begin staking their spots on the sand to spend the day in the sun. The lifeguards and storefront owners would come in for work, and someone would probably lecture them for having constructed a bonfire without permission.
Kris reaches over, twines his fingers in between Adam’s. Adam realizes it should never surprise him how seamlessly Zach and Caleb fit together, because they were only taking after their fathers.
“Should we go home?” Kris asks tentatively. His voice reminds Adam of a spiderweb just after a morning rain: beautiful, laced with something unnatural, but fragile enough that even the slightest disruption would cause it to fall apart.
Adam is well aware of the fact that in a year, or five or ten, he will look back on this moment and regret not having tried desperately to hang on to it. The simplicity of lying on the beach at dawn, watching their sons sleep, was so achingly beautiful to him that the idea of letting it go was almost painful.
Adam feels himself smiling softly, and leans in to kiss the tender spot just behind Kris’s ear. He leans down, hands still intertwined, so that his head is in Kris’s lap.
“Just a little while longer."