Boy in the Shadows (cont..from CH 12)

Boy in the Shadows (cont..from CH 12)

Status: Finished

Genre: Gay and Lesbian

Details

Status: Finished

Genre: Gay and Lesbian

Summary

On a fateful night, Adam picks up Sam - a mysterious young hitchhiker who instantly steals his heart. But the closer Adam tries to get to Sam, the more Sam pulls away. Adam is convinced Sam is falling in love with him as well, but something is forcing him to refuse Adam's love, causing him to want to run from Adam. Heartsick at the thought of losing Sam forever, Adam must find a way to convince Sam to stay long enough for Adam to gain his trust and help him understand that regardless of what Sam is hiding from him, nothing could make Adam walk away. But when the truth comes out...will Adam's love for Sam be enough to overcome the hard reality of Sam's secret?

Summary

On a fateful night, Adam picks up Sam - a mysterious young hitchhiker who instantly steals his heart. But the closer Adam tries to get to Sam, the more Sam pulls away. Adam is convinced Sam is falling in love with him as well, but something is forcing him to refuse Adam's love, causing him to want to run from Adam. Heartsick at the thought of losing Sam forever, Adam must find a way to convince Sam to stay long enough for Adam to gain his trust and help him understand that regardless of what Sam is hiding from him, nothing could make Adam walk away. But when the truth comes out...will Adam's love for Sam be enough to overcome the hard reality of Sam's secret?

Chapter13 (v.1)

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: April 23, 2013

Reads: 362

A A A | A A A

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: April 23, 2013

A A A

A A A

 

 

I try to go on as if I never met you

I'm awake but my world is half asleep

I pray for this heart to be unbroken

But without you all I'll ever be is...incomplete.”

 

- Incomplete, BACKSTREET BOYS

 

 

Through his bedroom window, Braden watched the flashlight beam bob through the darkness as Sam walk slowly down the rock steps that led to the guest house a few hundred yards away from the main house. He'd given it to the kid so he would feel like he had his own space, his privacy. In a sense, Braden had done it to prove to Sam that he believed he was okay, that he trusted him.

After Sam had suffered at the hands of Jase and Jase's friends, Braden hadn't wanted to let Sam out of his sight. For fear of what he might do to himself...as well as what someone else might do to him. He'd known he was holding on too tight, suffocating the kid, but Sam was all he'd really had left in this life. The moment his parents had turned on Sam, they ceased to exist to Braden. Sam was the only family he had now.

The first time Sam took to the road, Braden knew it was his fault. At least to some degree. Sam was suffocating under Braden's constant surveillance. When Sam finally came home a few months later, Braden had given him the guest house and determined not to hold on to the kid too tight. It had been a struggle. Every morning for the first few weeks after Sam moved out of the main house, Braden's gut would knot and twist with anxiety until Sam walked through the door. If he was late coming to the house, Braden's worst fears would swarm over him instantly and nearly drown him.

Sam was never really okay, but Braden knew the difference of when the boy was deep in despair...and when he was just trying to get through each day. And when the despair was past, Braden relaxed a little. But then Sam had left again. He never really said why, but there was a restlessness in the kid that couldn't seem to be settled. He always seemed on edge, especially when he was just sitting and doing nothing. As if the lack of movement caused his mind to drift and wander...to places Sam didn't want to go back to.

When he took off the second time, Braden knew he was running. He'd had to force himself not to make Sam stay, knowing he might never see his little brother again. Braden had given him the cell phone then and made him promise to check in. And he had, regularly. But he hadn't come home, though Braden repeatedly asked him to. And the fear and anxiety that had settled into Braden's gut the moment Sam had walked out the door, had remained until early this afternoon when Sam showed up at his door.

Sam would stay this time. Braden believed the kid when he said so. He was afraid to go back out there now. He'd gotten caught in something that he hadn't intended, and it had gripped him, broken through to his inner self. And that scared Sam. Scared him badly. He'd been running when he left home.

Now he had come back to hide.

“Sammy.” Braden sighed low as he watched the kid enter the guest house. A dim lamp came on inside. “You're gonna hate me, little brother. But you know I got to do what's best for you...even if you don't know it's what's best.”

Braden dug a cell phone from his pocket and opened it. He typed out a text message, pressed send, then snapped the phone closed and continued to stare out the window. Moments later, the phone vibrated in his palm and he opened it once more and read the short, simple message.

I'm on my way.

Braden slowly closed the phone and looked out at the guest house again. Sam's heart broke even more when he thought Adam had just let him go. But he would still fight the man. His fears were still the driving force, and he would be pissed at Braden. But Braden could handle the boy's anger...just not his pain.

__________________

 

Though he knew when he was dreaming, Sam still couldn't relax in Adam's arms. His body burned as hot as it had when Adam had touched him for real, held him close. But when the dream Adam began to pull Sam deeper into his arms and his heart, Sam resisted. He could feel Adam's naked body snug against this own, the man's desperate hunger undeniable.

Sam was still wearing his boxers, but they did little to shield him from the feel of Adam's fierce desire. He shuddered, his entire body one universal ache that was shoving him to the edge of insanity.

“I want you, Sam.” Adam's warm lips brushed over Sam's ear as his strong arms encircled Sam's body, his hands flat against Sam's chest, holding the younger man securely against him. “Please, baby, let me make love to you...I need you so bad.” He kissed the side of Sam's neck and the kid shuddered again, laying his head back against Adam's shoulder. “Don't you want me, Sam?”

Sam's fingers intertwined with Adam's and he squeezed his eyes shut tight. He felt the dampness under his eyelids, in his eyelashes. He wanted to scream out his love and desire for the man, beg him to take him all the way. But the words wouldn't come.

Adam kissed him between the shoulder blades and he trembled fiercely when he felt Adam's tongue on his damp skin, the velvet tip tracing along his spine, his hot breath causing Sam's skin to prickle with goose flesh. An anguished groan swelled inside of Sam as the sensations Adam incited made him want to scream in pure ecstasy. Sam's breath staggered through him, making his chest hitch and heave. Adam moved lower, his lips and tongue following the path of his spine down through the curve of the small of his back.

Adam...” Sam was shaking with an uncontrollable sexual hunger laced with a gripping fear.

Adam's hands caressed Sam's firm butt cheeks, slipping up inside the legs of his boxers and gently massaging him.

Tears drained down Sam's face. Why couldn't he just let Adam have his way? It was just a dream. But even within the dream, his fears soon overwhelmed even his fierce need for his lover.

Adam..no...” Sam cried, choking on the hated words.

Adam was slowly drawing his boxers down over his hips, kissing his skin as it became exposed. He wasn't hearing Sam's protests...or else simply ignoring them.

“Adam...” Sam choked out, shifting, trying to draw away from the man.

But Adam gripped his hips gently but with firmness. “No, baby.” Adam murmured against his tender, heated skin. “Not this time.” He kissed Sam's tail bone softly, then slowly dipped the tip of his tongue in the upper crease of his butt cheeks. Sam shuddered hard and a sharp gasp lodged in his throat. “I love you, Sam...and right here, right now I'm going to prove to you just how much.”

Sam's whole body was trembling as Adam gently turned him onto his stomach and slid his boxers down his legs and off his feet, then began to kiss up the back of his legs, gently licking the tender skin at the back of his knees, his thighs then his back side.

Soft cries shuddered out of Sam as he clutched the pillow to his face. His body ached so bad he thought he might feint. Adam was kissing up the curve of his spine once more, his strong body slowly moving up over Sam's.

“Adam...” Sam trembled in fear, but then Adam's arms were sliding around him and his lips were against his ear again.

“Shh, baby.” He murmured, kissing him softly. “Don't be scared. Don't ever be afraid of me, Sam...I'll never hurt you.” He leaned lower and kissed Sam's face. “I will always love you. I would move heaven and earth to win your heart, Sam...your undying love...your trust.”

Adam kissed the curve of his shoulder as he pressed his fevered, starving body snug against Sam's in the most intimate way. “Oh god, Sam...” Adam shuddered fiercely. “I love you...

Sam came out of the dream with a sharp gasping cry as Braden shook him awake. His heart hammered in his chest, stealing his breath, as he jerked away from Braden and pressed his back against the headboard of the bed, breathing hard. Sweat dampened his body and glistened his hot cheeks.

“Sam...” Braden drew back uncertainly, staring at the kid.

Sam struggled to regain control of his breathing, but the dream was still burning him alive. As his brother stared at him, he felt his face begin to heat up and flush fiercely as the intimacy of the dream rushed to the forefront of his mind. He looked away quick and rubbed a shaky hand over his face.

“Are you okay, Sam?” Braden asked with a note of concern in his voice.

His throat was too tight to speak, so he just nodded, avoiding his brother's eyes, embarrassed the man might see the details of the dream in his eyes. Sam glanced towards the window instead. It was daylight.

“What...what time is it?” He managed, his voice cracked.

“Almost noon.” Braden said. “I came down earlier, but you were sound asleep. I didn't want to wake. Figured you needed the sleep.”

Nodding slowly, Sam kept his eyes averted, still feeling the heat in his cheeks.

“I just wanted to let you know I have to run into to town for a bit.” Braden said. “I have some stuff to take care of. I should be back in a couple hours.” He looked at Sam, brow pinched. “You sure you're okay? You look a little flushed.” Braden reached out to touch his face. “You don't have a fever, do you?”

Sam jerked away. “No, I'm fine.”

Braden withdrew his hand. “Ok, then. If you say so.” He turned towards the door. “Will you be okay till I get back?”

Sam finally looked at him, eyebrows cocked.

“Sorry.” Braden smiled. “Force of habit. There's lunch stuff in the frig. I want you to eat something.”

Sam looked at him dully. “Whatever you say, dad.”

Braden paused at the door and stared at Sam, then shook his head and grinned. “Smart ass.”

A smirk tugged at Sam's lips, but slowly faded as Braden stepped out and closed the door. Sam leaned against the headboard and watched through the window as Braden walked back up to the house.

God, why didn't you make more men like Braden?

Sam truly believed if a man loved him as deeply in an intimate sense as Braden did in a brotherly sense...it would be a man he could trust.

The thought of intimacy brought the dream back with a rush. Sam shuddered and his skin tingled. He squeezed his eyes shut to block it out, but it only became more vivid. Sam swung his legs over the edge of the bed and leaned his elbows on his knees. He pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingertips, a shaky breath escaping him.

“Shit...” He trembled. His body sizzled with the sensations Adam had set ablaze inside him in the dream. He'd never wanted anyone so bad in his life. That night on the beach with Jase, as much as he'd hungered for Jase's touch...it didn't begin to compare to how Sam had felt in the dream with Adam. Had Braden not awaken him...he would be making love to Adam right now.

His mind knew he should be grateful to his brother for bringing him out before it went any further. But his heart and body tingled with regret and resentment that Braden had interrupted.

“Fuck.” Sam shuddered and raked his fingers through his hair then stood up. He went into the bathroom, turned on the shower then slipped off his boxers and stepped beneath the hot spray. He adjusted the temperature to cool and just let the water cascade down his body, soothing his fevered skin.

“God.” He groaned quiet, strained. “Can you cut me a break...and nix the damn dreams?”

Sam finished showering and left the bathroom in just a towel. He dug through his dresser and took out a clean pair of boxers and a pair of basketball shorts. He pulled them on then tugged on a plain white t-shirt.

In the small living room/kitchen combo, on the far side of the living room, his weight bench still sat in the corner. On the floor beside it was two adjustable dumbbells. A barbell with weights still on it rested in the bench's metal rack. Sam walked over and stared at the bench. He used to workout nearly every waking moment. In part to distract his thoughts, and in part to develop the body he desired. But building muscle seemed to be a constant struggle for him, and the best he had achieved was a lean physique. Braden said he looked fine, that he didn't need to be at bodybuilder status. But when Sam studied himself in the mirror...he never liked what he saw.

He wanted to be bigger, stronger. Even to just Braden's level. But he'd never been able to achieve it. Braden continued to assure him he looked great, that guys with a slightly smaller frame didn't look good all bulked up. But Sam was obsessed with building himself up more. He'd over trained too many times and done himself more harm than good, and never gotten the results he was looking for.

Sam sat on the bench and reached down, picking up one of the dumbbells. He did a couple slow curls then leaned down, supported his elbow against the side of his knee and performed a set of concentration curls. He switched the dumbbell to the other hand and repeated a set with that arm.

It felt good to use the weights again, without the compulsion. He'd long since given up the quest for Mr. Olympia. Leave that to the big boys like Schwarzenegger. He'd come to terms with the fact that his body would never make it beyond the status of a track runner. And what did it matter anyway? The last thing he wanted to do was show it off.

He set the dumbbell on the floor and laid back on the bench. It was adjusted at a slight incline, and he reached up, gripping the cool barbell. He'd done more bench presses than anything else. Had often used weight that was too heavy. He'd been fixated on developing a strong, muscular chest. He loved a strong chest on a man, and had wanted his to look as good. He had managed decent development, but nowhere near what he'd been going for. But again, it no longer mattered. No man was going to be touching him.

Again, the infernal dream crashed through his thoughts. He felt Adam's hands on his chest, caressing, gripping.

Sam's hands squeezed around the barbell as his eyes shut tight. “Get out of my head.” He whispered, his voice shaking. “Just please leave me alone.” Tears welled up out of nowhere and drained down his temples. “I don't want to think about you anymore.”

I just want to forget.

 

__________________

 

The half glass of soda sat on the table, the ice melting in the dark liquid, tiny droplets of condensation trickling down the sides of the glass and forming a small puddle around the base on the table. Adam watched the wet drops slide down the glass like tears. He closed his eyes and saw Sam's face the moment he walked out, the tears running down his cheeks, the fear and pain in his eyes. If Adam had only understood it then, he would've never let Sam leave.

Remembering the depth of fear that had resonated from Sam squeezed Adam's throat tight with tears. “Oh Sam.” He whispered then blinked back the burning tears trying to well up. He ached to be with Sam now, he hadn't wanted this delay. But he understood the reasoning behind it and he would do whatever he had to do to get to Sam. He tried not to consider what he would do if he failed this part. Would he ever see Sam again?

Adam glanced up when a man entered the small diner. He looked a bit taller than Adam with a strong athletic build, short, dark hair and a neat thin five o'clock shadow. As he came closer, he looked back at Adam with Sam's eyes, just a shade darker but equally piercing. There was no mistaking Braden Connor. Though he resonated a deeper masculinity than his younger brother, he possessed the same level of beauty.

The man appeared to be in his early thirties and was simply dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt. He slowed when he approached the table. His lovely eyes were slightly guarded as he looked at Adam.

“Adam?”

Adam's legs felt weak as he slowly stood and held out his hand. “Braden Connor.” Adam swallowed tightly, feeling humbled in the man's presence. He understood why Sam felt so safe with his brother. Braden had an air about him that seemed to testify to the fact that he would defend and protect what was his with his life.

And now Adam had to prove himself to this man before Braden would allow him to lay eyes on Sam again.

Braden clasp his hand. His grip was strong, and seemed to speak volumes about the man, as only a man's handshake can.

When Braden released him, Adam motioned for him to sit down. Braden slid into the booth seat across the table from Adam. A young waitress who looked like she was barely out of high school approached the table. She cast both men an appraising glance before her eyes settled on Braden.

“Hi, Braden.” She smiled and gazed at him starry-eyed. “Can I get you something?”

“Nice to see you, Jess.” Braden cast her a friendly smile, but though she was clearly looking for more, Braden gave no indication he was offering more. “Just coffee.”

“Be right back.” Her eyes lingered a moment before she left the table.

Adam looked at Braden silently. The man shook his head slowly and smiled. “Don't ask.”

A smile touched Adam's lips, but the anxiety eating away at his gut erased it. He slowly twisted his glass of soda on the table, wanting to get on with this, get it over with...and at the same time terrified of saying or doing something that would cause Braden to think Sam was better off without him. He didn't really get the impression Sam's brother was one to jump to conclusions or judge another too soon, or too harshly. But this was Sam hanging in the balance. And Adam knew Braden wouldn't play games or pull punches when it came to the well being of his little brother. And Adam admired the hell out of the man for that.

“Relax, Adam.” Braden spoke low, but his sudden words made Adam flinch, startled.

Adam met the man's clear gray eyes. God, they looked so much like Sam's eyes. Adam didn't realize just how much he really missed Sam until this moment. The ache clenched his chest and he looked away quick as he felt the sting in his eyes.

“I didn't ask you to meet me here so I could cut you off and turn you away from Sam.” He went silent as Jess the waitress brought his coffee.

“Can I get you anything else?” She asked with an invitation to her words.

Braden smiled. “No, Jess. That'll do.”

The girl nodded as a note of disappointment darkened her eyes. Adam sympathized with her. These Connor brothers seemed to have a way of gripping a heart and not letting go.

When she was gone, Braden sipped at his coffee without adding cream or sugar, then looked at Adam again, but remained silent as he slowly drank his coffee.

Adam fidgeted beneath the man's stare, but found his voice and asked quietly, “Is Sam okay?”

Braden set his cup on the table and gazed down into the dark contents. “Sam is...taking it moment by moment.” He lifted his eyes to Adam's. “But I don't know that I would say he was okay.”

Adam licked his lips anxiously and asked the question beating at his head and heart. “Are you going to let me see him?”

“In time.” Braden said. “I wouldn't have had you drive over twelve hours to get here, if I meant to just turn you away.” He took another small drink of coffee. “But even though you know why Sam ran from you...there's still a lot you don't know about my brother. Things I think you need to know, to really understand him. He's went through hell, been hurt and betrayed by people who should have loved and protected him. His trust in others has been severely damaged. He only trusts me because I've been with him from the start. But you...” Braden wiped his hand over his mouth and released a slow breath. “You're going to have to earn it. And I'm going to tell you right now, he isn't going to make it easy for you. Sam...is in love with you. But that in itself will make him resist you the hardest. Love scares the hell out of him.” A tightness gripped Braden's handsome face. “And rightly so.”

Jase. Adam knew very little about what happened between Sam and Jase, but watching Sam fall apart when just speaking of the incident was enough to make Adam's hackles raise at the mere thought of the other boy. He didn't want to know the details of what Jase did to Sam. But he needed to know.

“What happened with Jase?” Adam asked slowly.

“He told you about Jase?” Braden seemed surprised. He nodded slowly. “That's actually a good sign...that he would mention Jase to you at all.”

“He didn't tell me much.” Adam said. “But what he did say...it tore him up.”

Braden nodded again as the tightness returned to his face. He gazed blankly at his coffee cup. A deep anguish darkened his eyes. “I'll tell you about Jase.” He spoke low. “But not just yet.” He raised his head and met Adam's stare. “Sam had a long history of pain and confusion before he ever knew Jase.”

Adam licked his lips slowly. A dread squeezed his heart and mind. A part of him wanted to run away now, before he had to hear what hell his beloved Sam had endured. But another part needed to hear, knowing it would make him more able to understand Sam, help him, connect with him. The pain people suffered through life often shaped them and made them who they were. Understanding Sam's journey would help Adam get through into Sam's heart.

Home is where the heart is.

Without Sam...Adam felt homeless, out of place.

 

* * * *

 

Braden was fifteen when Sam began to ask questions. The kid was only five, a ten year gap between them. Sam's first question, coming from such a young child, hadn't seemed odd to Braden at the time. In fact, it seemed normal. There were many things a five year old didn't understand yet.

An hour before Sam's bedtime, the kid was in the tub, playing with his bath toys in the bubbles, just being his usual happy self. Sam had been a happy child nearly from birth. It seemed he never stopped smiling, his beautiful clear eyes big and bright, glowing with life. Though only ten when Sam was born, Braden had instantly bonded with him. Often cared for him as an infant. As Sam grew, the two had become inseparable.

The night Sam began to question Braden, he remembered entering the bathroom as the kid sat immersed in a tub of bubbles. Sam looked up at Braden as the older kid entered, eyes bright, smiling.

Braden grabbed the shower curtain attached to the sliding rack above the tub. “I gotta take a leak, squirt.” He said and dragged the shower curtain around the edge of the tub, blocking view of the toilet. “Don't look.”

He commenced to urinate then noticed Sam had pulled aside part of the curtain and was watching him, an odd look on his young face.

“Hey!” Braden chuckled and stepped sideways with his back to Sam so the kid couldn't see his goods. “I said no looking, you little freak.”

Sam didn't laugh as he usually did when Braden joked with him. Braden finished his business and fastened his pants then shoved open the curtain. “Can't a guy get any privacy?” He grinned then ruffled Sam's damp hair with his hand. He closed the lid of the toilet and sat down. “You want me to wash your hair, squirt?”

Sam held a plastic dinosaur in his hands and was just staring at it blankly.

“Hey.” Braden ran his hand over the kid's head again. “Why so quiet?”

Sam finally raised his head and looked at his older brother. His pretty eyes were big and inquisitive...and shadowed with confusion. “Why don't I look like you?” His young voice was low, soft. His smooth lovely face pinched in an uncharacteristic frown.

“What do you mean, Sammy?” Braden asked, not taking the question too seriously as he grabbed the bottle of shampoo and squirted a little into his palm then rubbed it into Sam's soft, golden hair.

When Sam told him what he meant, Braden laughed softly and explained.

 

* * * *

 

Braden's hands clasp the coffee cup in a tight grip. The memory of that night hung heavy in his mind. “When I explained it to Sam.” Braden murmured tightly. “He got angry. He started crying and telling me not to say that. He was so upset with me that he started screaming at me. He said I was a liar and that...that he hated me.”

Tears stung Braden's eyes. It had been the first time Sam had ever spoken to him in anger. And to hear this child he so adored tell him he hated him...it had broken Braden's heart.

“I was blown away.” Braden whispered, his throat tightening. “I didn't know why he was so angry. Or why he would...say he hated me for just explaining something so simple.”

Across the table, Adam sat silently. Braden raised his eyes to the young man. There was an anguish in Adam's dark eyes that wiped away any shred of doubt he might have had about the man.

“It wasn't just a fleeting thing.” Braden said. “For days Sam wouldn't even speak to me, or hardly even look at me. And when he did look at me, his beautiful big eyes were full of hurt and anger, as if I had betrayed him somehow.” Braden downed the last drink of coffee in his cup, now cold. He barely noticed. “It was killing me. Sam was my buddy, always had been. And for reasons I couldn't begin to comprehend...he suddenly hated me.”

Adam stared down at his glass silently, listening to Braden, letting him choose his words without interruption.

“He was way too young to start seeing the world as an unwelcome place.” Braden said thickly. “He'd been such a happy little kid...until I inadvertently made him realize he was different.” Braden rubbed his hand over his mouth and shook his head. “He was only in kindergarten at the time, and after that night in the bathroom...he just stopped playing with the other kids, stopped talking to anyone. I tried to talk to our parents about him, but they just said he was going through a loner phase, that a lot of kids did. But I knew that wasn't it.” Braden cleared his throat as tears thickened his words. “The sweet, happy-go-lucky Sam I knew...was gone. He looked at me like I had betrayed him. He trusted me...and I'd let him down. At least in his young mind.”

Adam twisted his glass on the table then looked at Braden. His eyes were glossy with tears. “When did you...” He faltered, his voice thick. “When did you realize what was going on with him?”

Braden started answer when Jess returned with a fresh pot of coffee and asked Braden if wanted a refill. The strained look on the man's face seemed to let the young waitress know that now wasn't the time to be making veiled passes at him. She filled his cup and left again. Braden wrapped his hands around the warm cup and stared at the steaming black liquid.

“When Sam started first grade.” Braden murmured. “All through that summer, Sam remained withdrawn. His anger towards me seemed to fade, but he still rarely looked at me, or anyone. Summer used to be our favorite time of year. Sam loved the water since he was about a year old. I taught him to swim when he was just two.” Braden smiled as a distant look crept into his eyes. “He was like a fish.”

The pain of all those years ago slipped in and wrapped around Braden's heart, squeezing mercilessly. After all this time, he still hadn't gotten all of the old Sam back. He prayed he was still in there somewhere, and maybe this man sitting across from him could help bring him back for good.

“What happened when Sam started first grade?” Adam asked quietly. There was a note of dread in the young man's voice that said he didn't really want to know...but for Sam's sake, he would listen, and he would hear.

“Our mom had went shopping.” Braden murmured as he gazed distantly into the past. “She'd bought Sam a bunch of new school clothes.” He sipped at his coffee. “When I walked into his room on his first day of school...” Braden faltered, his eyes glossing with tears.

Adam stared at him, waiting silently.

“He had a pair of scissors.” Braden said tightly. He licked his lips and took another sip of coffee. “He was cutting up the clothes, crying and shaking...”

 

* * * *

 

Sam!” Alarm gripped Braden and he rushed over, grabbing the large metal scissors Sam was clutching in his small hands. Sam screamed and tried to hold onto the scissors, jerking against Braden's grasp.

“Sam, stop it!” Braden cried. “You're gonna hurt yourself!” He yanked the scissors loose of the kid's hands. Sam was on his feet, trying to grab them again, crying hysterically. “Sam, what're you doing?”

“Give 'em back!” Sam screamed.

Braden threw the scissors across the room and grabbed the kid by the shoulders, dropping to his knees. “Sam!” Braden shook him just a little. “What's wrong? Why're you cutting up your clothes?”

Sam broke down and Braden pulled him into his arms, hugging him tight, stroking his soft hair. “Sammy...talk to me, tell me what's wrong.”

“Don't...make me wear them.” He was shaking in Braden's arms, clutching his shirt, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“But they're nice clothes, Sam.” Braden murmured, rubbing Sam's back gently. “Mom bought them so you'd have something real nice to wear to school.”

Sam cried harder and began to shake his head fiercely. “I hate them! Please don't make me wear them! Please, Braden!”

Untangling Sam from his arms, Braden frowned and wiped the tears from Sam's cheeks with his thumbs. He gazed into the kid's distraught eyes. “Why do you hate them, Sam?” Braden murmured slowly, uncertain and confused by the child's drastic behavior.

Sam trembled as fresh tears slid down his flushed face. “Because they're...girls' clothes.”

A hard frown pinched Braden's brow as he gazed at the child. “But, Sam...you are a girl.”

“I'm not!” Sam screamed and swung his small fists at Braden's chest. “Stop calling me that! I hate you!”

Braden caught his fists and pulled the kid into his arms again as Sam struggled and kicked and screamed at him. Braden held him secure, tears welling up and spilling down his face, his eyes hard with confusion and fear. He stroked Sam's hair and kissed his head as the kid shook in his arms and cried against his shoulder.

“It's okay, Sammy.” He murmured with a dull tone to his voice. “Everything's gonna be okay.” He kissed Sam's hair and hugged him tighter as sobs began to lodge in his throat.

“I'm not.” Sam whimpered against Braden's neck. “Don't call me that anymore.”

Braden closed his eyes as hot tears slid down his cheeks and he buried his face in Sam's soft golden hair. “Ok, Sammy...I won't. I promise.” He kissed his hair again. “I promise.”

A deep anxiety gripped Braden's gut as fear and dread wrapped around his heart. What was gonna happen to Sam? What would their parents say?

“You're gonna be okay, Sammy.” Braden whispered. “I'll take care of everything. I'll take care of you.” He pressed his lips to Sam's warm head as the kid clung to him, his small body hitching with sobs. “I promise.”


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