Boyfriend Forever

an excerpt



Prologue

Tim and Bill made gooey faces at each other. Again. Jayden hid behind his beer and let them, simply shaking his head. They were a pair. A pair of nuts, lovey-dovey nuts. Almost nine years together and they still acted like two teenagers.

Jayden cleared his throat. "Bill."

He smooched Tim and straightened in his chair, pretending seriousness. "Sorry. Right." He looked at the cards in his hand, withdrew two and tossed them. "Dos."

Erich dealt him two cards and swept the castoffs into a pile. "Babe?"

Wayne made a face, withdrew one and slid it over. "Just one. This is the worst one yet."

Erich snickered. "Dealer takes one. Jay?"

"Three." Adding them to his hand, he stifled the groan. He'd gone from bad to worse, if that was even possible. He slid a look to Wayne. "I think I beat your worst with this hand."

Wayne grumbled and slouched in his chair. "Okay. Show 'em."

A round of mumbled bitching was loud when Tim played his hand.

"Seriously? A flush?" Wayne looked ready to toss in the towel. He'd had a crappy night of luck. Couldn't accuse Erich of stacking the deck for his boyfriend.

Tim rocked a shoulder. "Talk to Mr. V. He gave it to me." He couldn't stop grinning though as he cupped quarters into stacks.

The poker games had started a few years ago and when Bill had asked if Jayden or Tim knew of anyone who'd like to join for a night of cards, he'd asked Erich, Wayne, and Guillaume. His blustery French got them all laughing whenever he was there to play. His buddy actually had a date tonight.

Something Jayden hadn't had in...a very long time. He tipped his beer. "Anyone need another?"

"I'll take one," Erich chimed in.

Jayden tossed his bottle and grabbed two out of the fridge.

When he came into the room, Tim and Bill were talking quietly, Tim suddenly serious. Bill said something and nodded and Tim almost lit up. Jayden was waiting for his friend to bounce on his chair.

"What's with you tonight?" Jayden asked, maybe a little more petulantly than normal, but he just didn't get them. How could anyone be that happy?

Tim scowled at him. "Sour puss. We've got news and Bill has been making me sit on it."

"Okay." Erich shuffled and passed out cards. "Spill before you pop."

Jayden relaxed against his chair, drawing a sip of the cold brew.

"Bill asked me to marry him!"

"No shit? Really? When?" Wayne perked up and even Erich slowed his dealing.

"Last weekend."

"And you've been able to sit on it this long?" Jayden snickered. He knew that had to kill Tim. He didn't like keeping secrets from Jayden, or anyone.

"Barely," Bill admitted. "Had to swear him to secrecy until I could tell my parents. They'd kill us both if they hadn't been told first."

That was actually...kind of sweet. "Congratulations. I'm happy for you." He set his beer down. "Be right back."

He stood and walked around the corner, his intention being the bathroom. Or escape for a few minutes. He really didn't care.

"Jay?"

He slowed in the hallway and faced Tim.

"Are you okay?"

He smiled. He hoped it was a smile. It was a shame this was Erich's weekend. He suddenly had the urge to get seriously shit-faced drunk. He had to drive home.

"Yeah. Why wouldn't I be?"

Tim studied him. "I don't know. You just seem...off."

"I'm fine."

Tim got closer. "Have you heard from Nash?"

Jayden's heart pinched, yet he kept every sign of what he was feeling off his face. Playing poker wasn't the only reason to keep a blank expression all night long. "No." And he knew Tim would be aware of that. He hadn't spoken to Nash in years. His heart knew it, there was no doubt.

He didn't ask if either Tim or Bill had, though. Bill was Nash's cousin. He didn't want to know if he'd been in contact with Bill only to learn he hadn't wanted to talk to Jayden.

"Well, we wanted to tell you guys tonight because I have a favor."

"You want me to stand," he said. "Sure."

Tim shook his head and Jayden's soul crumbled a little more.

"Okay. I understand."

When he went to turn away, Tim caught his arm. "You idiot. I want you to be my best man. We've decided we each want one person to stand for us, instead of doing an elaborate show."

Jayden blinked. "You do? Me?"

"Of course!" Tim smiled. "You're my best friend. Of course you."

"I'd be honored."

Tim gathered him in a squishing hug and Jayden returned the embrace.

"Thank you!" Tim all but cried jubilantly. "The favor is I need you to travel." When Jayden didn't complain, he added, "It's going to be low-key, but his parents will be there, and my mother."

"What about Devon?"

"If he comes, he comes." Tim rolled a shoulder. "I don't think he will. My stepfather refuses to even say Bill is my boyfriend. Think he'll come to a wedding?" He made a dismissive sound. "I can't let him get to me."

Jayden nodded and really smiled. "I'd be happy to."

"You're the best."

"Well, the best has to piss."

Tim chuckled. "Right." He walked away, vanishing as he turned down the hall. It wasn't until he was washing his hands that he realized Tim hadn't said where he'd be traveling to.



Chapter One

"Lupe! Dinner!" When Nash didn't hear his niece, he called again. "Comida!" Third shout worked like a charm. She came charging from her bedroom like a tornado powered her feet.

"What is it?" she asked, tugging her chair from the table with a jarring wood to wood scrape.

He finished adding to both plates and sat down. "Fish. It's good for you."

She frowned. "Doesn't that mean it's going to taste bad?"

Nash pinched his lips to stifle the laugh. "No. When you're done eating, we'll take a plate to your mama." He took a bite of the buttery filet to enjoy the resting silence for a moment. "What did you do in school today?"

"We're learning about dinosaurs," she said, munching happily through the green beans. She was a power eater. Most of the time.

Nash pointed at the fish on her plate with his fork. "That too." Most of the time. He smiled at her.

She sighed, but took a bite, resigned. When it didn't look like it was going to kill her outright, she began to slowly make inroads through the fish plank.

"Dinosaurs sound like fun."

She shrugged, eating without complaint, when out of the blue she said, "Tio Nini. Why can't Mom get better?"

Nash did his best to not choke on what he was eating. He gulped a few swallows of tea to clear his throat, before he said, "She is, a little every day."

Lupe rested her head to the back of her propped hand, pushing food around on her plate. The silence made Nash's throat ache.

"I know she's not going to get better. I hear you talking with the doctors on the phone."

Nash wiped his hands and studied his niece, growing up so fast because of something she couldn't help. He was trying to protect her, but knew he couldn't stop life from happening all around her.

He put the napkin down on the table. "Can we talk after dinner? If you're asking, I guess it means you can handle the truth."

Bold eyes, darker than even Nash's widened, sadness making them watery. He swallowed hard.

"After dinner, okay?"

Stiffly, she nodded.

This wasn't a conversation Nash was looking forward to. It was one he'd never wanted to have, never wanted to be responsible for, yet here he was.

So much had happened in his life since he'd moved to San Francisco. He'd hit his studies with gusto, plowing through classes with a tunnel-vision determination that had been his power and his weakness. His only thought then had been getting his degree and getting home to Jayden.

Then life stepped in.

Acing classes right and left, his entire life and future wasn't merely derailed by what had happened to Trini. His life was redirected, uprooted, and replanted. He'd finally gotten through his Master's degree, but his doctorate was a pipe dream now. He was okay with that. His family was important to him, at least his sisters were. His father was gone; his mother, he had no idea. He knew she was out of jail, but other than that? He couldn't put the energy into caring.

His world was Guadalupe and Trini. Elizabeth was in Japan and would be for another three to four years. That left Nash to help with Trini and Lupe. When his sister had been diagnosed with cancer, there had been a lot of caring platitudes, but none with longevity to stick around and ease the burden. He didn't have time to hunt for family members and beg for favors. They were either going to be there to help, or they weren't.

So far, most weren't.

Bill had kept in close contact, but Nash knew he had reasons for it.

Nash had settled into his role as uncle, provider, and caretaker for his sister. Her will had been written and Nash had been named Lupe's guardian. Any funds would be put aside for her to go to school when she was old enough. The house was already in Nash's name, though only Trini and Nash knew that. He was positive when the time came, the family vultures would descend looking for scraps, but the house wasn't going to be one of them.

When they were done eating, he made a small plate for Trini and both he and Lupe went to her bedroom. The window was covered, making her bedroom dim for her to rest.

"Trini, are you hungry?"

Lupe put the plate on a wheeled table and scooted it over the medical bed. "Mom?"

Slowly, her eyes opened. "Hija." She smiled.

"We brought you dinner."

Nash pushed buttons and the bed started to adjust. He had to keep a clinical, nearly impartial distance, because seeing his sister withering away on the bed, his sister, destroyed something inside of him. And he couldn't do that with Lupe in the room. He knew it had to be as distressing for her to see her mother like this. She was a very strong eight-year-old little girl, and he couldn't let her down.

The cancer was aggressive and there was little they had been able to do to stop it, so keeping her comfortable as it advanced had been the highest priority. Nash knew the pain was getting worse. Trini was physically eating less, staying coherent more infrequently.

He sniffed. He could usually hold it together until Lupe was in bed, then he cried himself to sleep, almost every night.

"What did you bring?" Trini asked softly.

"Fish! And I ate some!"

Trini grinned. "You did? She's not lying?"

Nash laughed, gathering cold fingers into his own. "No, she made an honest attempt at it."

"Well, I must try this wonder fish that got you to eat."

Nash's throat burned forcing himself to bottle up the emotions, and he managed to. Barely.

They talked, and Trini ate about three bites before saying she couldn't take more.

"Let me rest," she said, a paper-thin whisper. "I'll be up for more in a few hours."

Nash fixed the bed and then gathered the plate. He put a hand out for Lupe. Pensively, watching her mother, she took his hand.

"It's okay. She's going to sleep." He'd be back to check on her and sit with her for a while before bed himself. He got up three times a night to make sure she was comfortable, to check her stats, and record anything out of the norm. They couldn't afford an around the clock hospice care nurse, so the majority of her care fell on him. He was able to cover the nighttime hours, and there was a little insurance, but after, it was only him. Lupe trudged behind him.

"Let me put this away. Would you like chocolate milk?"

She nodded.

"Okay, go to the living room. I'll be right there."

He squared his shoulders watching her go.

Carrying a tumbler half full of milk for her and a cold tea for himself, he sat on the couch and patted the cushions beside him. He waited, letting her get comfortable.

"I know this is hard, scary stuff, and it's even worse when you don't know what's going on, or what to expect." He bit at his lip but let it go. "Tell me what you think you know." He hadn't touched his tea yet. He didn't see any of the living room surrounding him, either. His entire focus was listening to the little girl next to him.

She held the tumbler of milk between her hands, sitting deep on the couch with it braced against her legs. "Mama's dying."

Nash's chest shuddered with the pain. "Yes. She is."

"Where will I go?" Her little voice shrank like a brick was sitting on her voice box.

"Nowhere. I'm staying here. I'll be taking care of you until you're old enough to do things on your own."

"Will I ever see Dad again?"

Nash blew out a breath. "I don't know." He caught himself. "No, that's a lie, and I shouldn't lie to you. You want to know." He put the glass he held on the table in front of him, twisting to face Lupe. "Your father is in another city now. When he and Trini broke up, they did what adults do, and got a divorce."

"What's a divorce?"

Nash scrubbed both palms over his face, cupping them together to lean into braced fingers. "When two people love each other very much, they get married. It's a lot like a boyfriend or a girlfriend, but more. Well, things don't always work the way we want them to. This is far from a perfect world we live in, and when that happens, when things don't work for people in a relationship, they get a divorce." He didn't add all the truly vile things he wanted to say about Carlos, because it had been a whole lot uglier than just a break up.

"So why don't I see him now? Will I have to live with Dad?"

"The second answer first is, no, you will not have to live with him. As for why?" Because he was a dick who couldn't get out of town fast enough when he realized Trini was pregnant-and so was his girlfriend. Trini got full custody on adultery and abandonment charges. It took a few years, but the lack of communication and refusal to face Trini's family had a lot to do with it. In that regard, it was the only reason he was still breathing. Carlos had a bounty on his head as far as Nash's family was concerned. The man they thought they knew, who'd married Trini, had more secrets than Swiss cheese had holes. Nash was relieved he was out of Lupe's life, if he were honest with himself. She didn't need that kind of influence.

Lupe hadn't seen her father in nearly four years, and Nash was perfectly fine with that. He paid monthly, but that was all he did.

He knew she didn't remember much about her father if anything, and he wouldn't have been surprised if that was her real fear. Going to live with someone she didn't know, but was supposed to trust. Nash was glad that somewhere on the inside, she didn't. The girl had good instincts.

"You don't see him because he lives too far away." He couldn't come close to telling her the truth on this. Just couldn't.

"So, I'm going to stay here, and live with you?"

"That's the plan. Your mom has already set up a few things for you, and for us so we'll be okay. I have a job. I can take care of us." He put an arm around her shoulders and bopped her nose with a finger. "Just you and me, kid. Taking on the world."

She cuddled into his shoulder.

"Tio Nini?"

"Hmm?"

"I'm glad you came to live with us."

He smiled, swallowing glass for the umpteenth time. "Me too, Lupe. Me too." He let her finish her milk before asking if she had any more questions. When she said no, he told her, "Okay, go get ready for bed and read for a little while. I'm going to make sure Trini is comfortable."

"Can I tell her goodnight?"

"Always." He gave her a quick hug. "Go on. Go change."

She vanished out of the room as only a child who can bounce back from the worst life throws at them can. A lot of their lives had become routine, but soon-a lot sooner than he was ready to have to face, it would only be the two of them. He let out a breath and picked up his drink, rolling it slowly between his palms.

What I wouldn't give to have you here. The memory of flashing blue eyes and a husky laugh that always had made his heart beat faster filled him.

If Trini took up his waking thoughts, Jayden filled his dreams.

He hadn't meant to lose touch with Jayden. But things had happened, Trini's diagnosis, his moving in, legal stuff, Lupe, more legal demands, school, finances. Before he knew it, more than two years had flown past him and he hadn't blinked. He didn't have the right to reach out to Jayden, not now after so many years. The only reason he knew Jayden was still around was because of Bill and Tim. He'd made his cousin swear to not say anything about any of his situation once he figured out they were all still friends in Arbor Heights. He wanted Jayden to be happy, and if that meant he found someone else, then that was the way it was. It was on him to deal with the life he was living, no one else.

Nash wasn't looking for anything, or anyone. He didn't have the time or energy to put into a relationship, not while he was caring for his sister and niece. He was doing okay for himself, keeping it all together.

No one knew he was barely standing under his own power, or that he was functioning on an average of three hours of sleep a night. He wasn't taking drugs to stay moving and he wasn't going to. He just needed to last a little longer. That's what he told himself every day. It didn't mean he was waiting for Trini to die, because he sincerely would give anything, even himself, to keep her alive and well for her daughter. But that wasn't life. Not hers. Not his.

Day by day, it was all he had.