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Five years old

Timmy ran across the soft green grass heading straight for the sandbox and jumping in. He wiggled his toes, enjoying the feel of sand slipping through them. Giggling, he looked behind him, lifting a hand to shield his eyes. Spotting his favorite auntie settling onto a bench he waved, smiling when she blew him a kiss and gestured for him to go play.
He loved when his Auntie Dell came to visit. She always took him to the park and then out for ice cream. Sometimes, if he was really lucky, she’d even take him to the movies.
Timmy thought maybe Auntie knew that mommy and daddy never bothered taking him anywhere nice. Although this park was just a few blocks from their small house, his mom rarely brought him here and his dad didn’t really like him much; at least that’s what Timmy thought.
Sighing, he turned around, looking at the other kids in the sandbox. There were a few boys building lumps in a far corner and two girls kicking sand at each other. Timmy walked a few steps, his toes scrunching the sand, before plopping down in an uncontested part of the sand.
He placed his little blue bucket down beside him and grabbed the little shovel inside it. Auntie Dell had given it to him the last time she visited, told him it was so he could build sand castles and when she took him to the beach they spent hours playing in the sand, building a castle together. It had been a lot of fun and Timmy had smiled for days after she left.
Standing on his knees, Timmy drew a circle around himself, making it big enough for him to play but not big enough that the other kids would bother him.

He played for a little while, building towers in the sand and knocking them down so he could do it again.
Timmy ignored the voice, and shoveled more sand
into his bucket; packing it down the way his Auntie had shown him so all the corners were filled. Unending it, he thumped it carefully, smiling as he lifted the bucket away to reveal a perfect castle tower.
Little feet stepped into his circle and Timmy looked up slowly.
“Hi.” the little boy repeated, sitting down even though Timmy hadn’t told him he could. He gestured to the tower Timmy had built. “How’d you do that?” he asked.
Timmy sighed, looking down. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to play with the kid but they usually ran off when their friends came to the park and Timmy was left by himself.
He started filling the bucket again, patting it and placing the tower next to the first one.
“Do you mind if I try?” Timmy shook his head, holding out his bucket, though he kept his eyes on the twin castle towers. His Auntie Dell had gotten him a complete set but he liked the tower best.
The boy reached out and covered Timmy’s hand on
the bucket. When he didn’t let go, Timmy looked up at him.
He was met by a crooked smile and sparkling sea blue eyes. His breath hitched. “I’m Daniel.” he pulled his hand back, taking the bucket with him.
“I’m Timmy” he didn’t mean to say anything but he couldn’t help it. Daniel smiled again. Timmy looked down and watched Daniel fill the tower up. When he started to flip it, he stopped him. Reaching out, he showed him how to pack it.
“You have to hit it very hard; Auntie Dell says it makes the sand stay together.” Timmy looked at Daniel and smiled.

Thirteen years old

Tim walked through the crowded hallway towards his seventh grade English class.
He was tired. He hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep the night before. His parents were constantly fighting lately. He knew they tried to keep it quiet but his mom wasn’t one for voice management when she was angry.
Tim sighed, running one hand over
his face, trying unsuccessfully to rub the sleepiness away.
He heard his name being called and slowed down enough for his best friend, Danny, to catch up to him.
Danny slung his arm over his shoulders and pulled him into a side hug before releasing him, leaving his arm where it was. Tim wouldn’t say so, but the embrace felt almost too good.
“Another’ bad night, huh, man?” Danny knew how bad things were getting at home and he always offered his support, making sure he was always available for Tim should he need someone to vent to. It was one of the many reasons Tim loved the guy.
Shaking his head, he sighed again, not bothering to respond.
Danny squeezed his shoulder. “Sorry. Man, this sucks.”
“Tell me about it.” Tim mumbled.
“Do you…” Danny seemed to hesitate, before pushing on. “Do you think they’re going to get a divorce?” he whispered the last word.
Tim shook his head again, reaching for the classroom door and holding it
open for Danny. He waited until they were both seated at the back of the classroom before responding. “Do you even have to ask?” he looked at Danny, shrugging his shoulders. They’d both seen some of their friends parents split and heard stories of how it happened. Tim had no illusions that it was only a matter of time before his parents got divorced and he got shuffled back and forth on the weekends.
As if his life wasn’t complicated enough as it was. He looked at Danny and swallowed the groan that wanted to escape.
He’d learn to deal.

Sixteen years old

Tim tossed his gym bag over his shoulder, grabbing his book bag by a strap and shoving his cell into his back pocket. He shut off the light, closing the bedroom door quietly behind him. He stood there in the hallway for a minute, listening to the quiet voices down the hall.
It was the peacefulness he heard in his mother’s voice that had had him
packing an overnight bag and sneaking out of the house.
He’d known it was coming for months now, but there was still a part of him that didn’t want to be there when she dragged her bags out of the house and finally left.
He couldn’t blame her, not really. Though his parents had never had the soul mates kind of love, he’d still been shocked to the core when he found out his dad had an affair four years ago. The fact that he ended it hadn’t changed anything. He’d cheated and as far as his mom was concerned and that had been the end of their marriage. She’d stuck it out this long simply so Tim didn’t have to deal with an absentee parent and he thanked her for that. Although things hadn’t been easy the last few years, there had been good moments.
His mom and he had started understanding each other better and he thought they were finally building that bond that so many kids shared with their moms.
It was the part of him that, for the first time
in his life, felt as if his mother truly loved him that goaded him into tip-toeing down the stairs.
His hand on the doorknob, Tim stopped and turned to the little table by the door. On it rested a house phone, the keys to his parents’ cars, some junk mail and a sticky pad for messages.
Ignoring the keys, he reached for the pad and jotted a quick note, sticking it to the front door before slipping out and locking the door behind him. He may be upset, but that didn’t mean he wanted his mom to worry about him if she decided to say bye before leaving.
Tim felt the back of his eyes start to burn and blinked quickly, refusing to cry.
Pulling out his phone, he shot a quick message to Danny and turned it off, not waiting for a response.

He walked the eight blocks to Danny’s house, spotting a figure huddled into itself against the brisk night weather on the sidewalk. He walked up to Danny and he turned towards the house, leading Tim in and
up to his room. Grabbing the book bag for him, he threw it next to his under the window. Tim pushed the door but left it cracked open a little before he kicked off his sneakers.
Danny flung his shirt to the floor and crawled under the covers in his boxers, watching Tim. When he had stripped down to nothing but his underwear, Danny held the blankets up and waited for him to slipped in before dropping them.
They lay silently for a while, and then Danny sighed and turned towards Tim. He wrapped his arm around his stomach and pulled Tim into his chest.
“We’ll deal with it in the morning. You know I’m always here for you.”
Tim nodded, said nothing and closed his eyes.
He ignored the few tears that slipped from his eyelashes, letting the warmth of his friend’s body and his even breaths lull him to sleep.

Tim woke, the bed beside him empty. A quick sweep of the room showed no signs of Danny. Getting up, Tim trudged to his gym bag, digging
out his toothbrush and his change of clothes. He walked down the hall, showering quickly before brushing his teeth. He rushed through combing his hair, not knowing if Mr. Gibbs was up yet.
He knew Danny’s parents wouldn’t be surprised to see him in their home, as many times as he’d snuck over in the past, but that was no reason to hold up their mornings.
Once dressed he returned to Danny’s room, putting on his sneakers and putting his dirty clothing in his bag before heading downstairs.
He turned towards the back of the house where the kitchen was located and heard voices. He didn’t slow down, recognizing Danny’s voice.
Entering the kitchen, Tim smiled at Mrs. Gibbs before sliding into the seat beside Danny. He smiled at the table set for four and looked towards Danny’s mom, who was cooking breakfast. As if sensing his gaze, she turned, gifting him with a smile almost as beautiful as her son’s. “We heard the two of you on the stairs
last night.” instead of questioning his presence, she smiled again and turned back to the stove cluttered with pans. “I hope pancakes and eggs are fine?” she asked.
Tim smiled. Mrs. Gibbs knew that was his favorite. “That sounds perfect.” he murmured, spreading a napkin over his lap. He always managed to drip syrup all over himself.
Beside him, Danny laughed. He gestured to the napkin Danny was straightening. “You wouldn’t need that if you learned how to eat properly, you fucking pig.”
“Danny!” his mom scolded, but she was smiling.
Tim laughed, relaxing back into his seat. He loved spending time at the Gibbs, they always made sure he felt welcomed and were quick to invite him back.

Tim remembered the day he’d met Danny. They’d played for almost an hour before Danny had gotten up and walked away. Thinking he’d seen someone else he’d rather spend his play time with, Tim had deflated. He had been having so much fun playing with Danny
that he was sad to see him go. Not wanting to play anymore, Tim had put his shovel back in his bucket and stood.
He was halfway back to his Auntie Dell, his chin hanging against his chest when Danny had run up to him.
“Where you going?” he had asked.
Tim had only shaken his head and continued walking, Danny dogging his steps.
“Hey! What’s wrong? You don’t have to go, do you? My mommy was going to take us for ice cream. I was hoping you could come too.” Tim had stopped walking, only a few steps from his Auntie, turning to look back at Danny. When he didn’t say anything, Danny had turned to leave but before he could go, his Auntie Dell had spoken. “I think that would be fun, don’t you, Timmy?”
Tim had looked at his Auntie and back at Danny. “You really want ice cream with me?” he had whispered, so afraid that he had heard wrong but so desperately wanting this boy to be his friend, his first friend.
Danny had smiled and nodded his head
hard, sending his hair slapping against his face.
And Timmy had laughed, grinning, holding out his free hand to Danny. When he took it without hesitating, Tim had screamed, “I’d love to!” making his auntie and Danny’s mom, who stood a few steps away, laugh.

Smiling now, Tim looked at Danny and knew he’d been lucky the day Danny stepped into his little bubble and smiled at him. They’d been best friends since and nothing could make Tim happier.
Well one thing would, but Tim adamantly refused to let his mind wonder down that path.
“Oh, sweetheart, I almost forgot to tell you that your mom called a little while ago.” Tim looked at Mrs. Gibbs, the smile slipping briefly from his face, and then he pasted it back on. Danny parents knew his were having problems but he didn’t think they knew the extent of it.
“Oh?” he questioned.
Turning with a pan of scrambled eggs in hand, she started dishing them evenly between the four plates.
“Mmmm.” she said, going back to the stove for the pancakes and then the breakfast sausages. As she finished serving, Mr. Gibbs walked into the kitchen, kissing his wife lovingly on the forehead. As he passed he squeezed Danny’s shoulder affectionally, doing the same to Tim’s as he passed. Tim smiled softly. It amazed him how much these people could care for him when he wasn’t even their kid. His own father had never shown him affection of any kind so it really touched him when Danny’s dad did it as if it were natural to him. Looking at the older man as he took a seat across from his son, he thought it probably was.
All the food served, Mrs. Gibbs sat down across from him. Tim dug in.
He’d just taken a bite of syrup soaked pancake when Mrs. Gibbs spoke. “She wanted me to let you know that your dad is going to stay with a cousin and she hopes you and she can speak when you get home after school, today.”
Tim choked and Danny pounded his back.
Holding up a hand, Tim took a drink of milk and swallowed the lodged pancake down. He stared at Mrs. Gibbs, not understanding, afraid to hope.
Danny stepped in, although not even he could find the right words. “You mean…didn’t she…but…?” Danny looked at Tim and they both looked at his mom, who looked rather pleased with herself.
“She figured you thought she was the one who was leaving, something about some note, I didn’t exactly understand she was talking fast. I think she was running late for work. Anyway she wanted you to know that she loves you, you’re her son and she couldn’t fathom leaving her boy behind.”
Tim blinked, wiping at the few tears that trailed down his cheeks.
Unlike last night, these tears were happy tears. He hadn’t let himself hope that his mom would be the one he ended up with; he hadn’t wanted to be disappointed if she’d left.
Grinning like a fool, he turned to Danny who was
grinning just as widely. He was enveloped in a big hug, Danny squeezing him tightly, rocking them side to side. “That’s great, man! I know you were worried she was leaving, but she didn’t! Isn’t that awesome?!”
Tim hugged Danny back, nodding his head as much as he could. “It is amazing. I’m glad she stayed.”
“I’m happy for you, Timmy.” Danny said. He was the only who still called him that, everyone else had started calling him Tim once middle school started. Tim liked that Danny, and only Danny, called him Timmy.
As he pulled back, still smiling, Tim would’ve sworn he felt Danny’s lips graze the top of his ear.
Sitting back in his seat, he resumed eating, sneaking peaks at a smiling Danny, but decided he’d either imagined it or it was an accident.
Tim sighed. He wouldn’t let himself hope, not for something that big.
One miracle was enough; he had no right wishing for another. His life was perfect as it was and he’d do everything he could to keep it that way.
He sighed again and Danny smiled over at him, and then laughed. He pointed downwards. “Good thing you have that napkin.” Tim looked down, shaking his head at the syrup splattered napkin as Danny’s parents chuckled.
Laughing himself, he looked back at Danny.
At the beautiful crooked smile that graced his face and sparkling sea blue eyes.
The same crooked smile he’d given Tim when they’d been five that Tim loved. And the same sparkling sea blue eyes Tim had fallen in love with, before he’d even knew the meaning of the word love.
Tim sighed again, but this time it was a contented sound and the best friends smiled at each other.
Everything would be fine.

18 years old

“We did it, man!” Danny yelled above the roaring crowd of their fellow high school graduates and their family members.
Tim turned, embracing his best friend.
It had been gruesome towards the
end, Tim hadn’t been sure if he’d pass his finals and he almost hadn’t. But as always, Danny had been there for him, helping him study late at night, not letting up on him until they both felt confident that he’d ace his exams. And while he hadn’t aced them exactly, he’d done exceptionally better than he would have on his own.
He only had Danny to thank for that.
As he’d done countless times since meeting Danny, Tim wondered what he’d do without the guy.
He was pretty sure he’d be pretty lost most of the time, not to mention lonely.
Releasing Danny, Tim stepped back, welcoming the pats on the back and overly friendly hugs from classmates he had barely known in high school, but who he welcomed today as they all celebrated their happiness and joy together.
After a while they found the Gibbs and his mom, wondering aimlessly, trying unsuccessfully to find them in the crowd.
“Mom! Over here!” Tim jogged over to the small group, flapping his
cap in the air. Danny followed, calling out to his parents.
“Tim, sweetheart! You did it! I’m so proud of you!” his mom swept him into his arms, jiggling up and down.
Releasing his son, Mr. Gibbs slapped him on the back, squeezing his shoulder hard.
“Your mother’s right, Tim. You boys worked so hard and it finally paid off.”
“Where do you boys want to go?” Mrs. Gibbs kissed him on the cheek, smiling affectionally.
“IHOP!” they shouted, their parents laughing as they filed out of the school yard, heading towards where they’d parked the cars that morning.
“Breakfast special, huh?” his mom shook her head, smiling softly.
“What else would we want?” Danny grinned, pulling Tim close by the shoulder, his graduation cap held loosely in his other hand.
For the past two years whenever anything worthwhile happened to any of them, they’d celebrate it with pancake, eggs and sausages. They’d started going to
IHOP the year before because Danny loved their strawberry pancakes and Tim’s mom was a fan of their whipped hot chocolate, claiming there was none better.
They piled into Mrs. Gibbs new 2010 Ford Crown Victoria, Danny and Tim sliding in next to each other.

Later that day they were all seated around the Gibbs kitchen table eating a special meal prepared by their moms to help celebrate the boys’ accomplishment, when the subject of college came up.
In the past year, Tim had excelled at changing the topic whenever it arose, not knowing how to tell his mom that he hadn’t applied to any colleges. He didn’t want to disappoint her, but he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life and he knew they didn’t have the money for him to waste years in college learning something that he’ll never need, only to have to go back and do it all over again.
Tim shook his head. He knew he was lying to himself, but really was it a surprise?
He spent
most of his life either lying to his self about what he wanted or to afraid to hope for what he wanted.
Glancing across the table, Tim had to bite his lip to keep from groaning as he watched the tip of Danny’s pink tongue flick out to lick at the oil-based spaghetti sauce coating his mouth.
The fact of the matter was Danny was the undecided one, choosing to take up a few classes at the local community collage until he decided what he truly wanted to do with the rest of his life.
As far as Tim was concerned, whatever kept the two of them together was what he wanted to do.
But when his mom turned to him and asked what he planned on doing, the story he had spent all day rehearsing about how he wanted to take a year off of school; maybe pick up a business class or two but that would be all, fell away forgotten.
As he hesitated answering, he felt everyone look at him and said the first thing that came to mind.
“I’m staying with
There were no hesitations, only smiles from the Gibbs, a grin from Danny himself and a pat on the shoulder accompanied by a knowing nod from his mother.
And that was that.

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