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I tried to relax, but I needed to say something and I didn’t know how he was going to take it. “I don’t want to push things, Tanner. And I know that I don’t really remember him as my son. But I feel him. He’s a part of me. I know it.” I paused. After starting with all the reasons why he should be reluctant to allow what I was about to ask, I was hesitant to continue.

I closed my eyes. Took a deep breath, and blurted it out. “I want Sammy with me as much as possible. I think he wants to be with me too.” I turned my head away and braced myself for the rejection.

Tanner scoffed. “You’re his mom, Ray. You don’t need my permission to spend time with him.” He stretched his arm over the back of the couch. “Let’s take it slow. Sammy can start spending more time with you, but I think it would be better if it was gradually. It was a hard adjustment for him to be without you, I don’t want to push him into anything too quickly.”

I felt my face light up. It felt good to smile again. “Thank you, I really mean it. That would be great.” I sighed in relief. “Can I ask you something else?”

“Absolutely anything,” Tanner said, and I could tell from the way his eyes shone when he spoke that he really meant it.

“If we were together, then why didn’t we live together. With Sammy? This two houses less than a mile apart kind of seems a bit strange don’t you think?”

“And I know it’s not common these days, but after we had Sammy, we decided we wanted to do things the right way and wait until after graduation, like how we’d originally planned.” Tanner laughed and scrunched his nose. “Actually, you decided that we were going to wait. I’m not going to lie, I did try to talk you into it a few thousand times or so. So that was it. We were going to move in together after the…” he trailed off and slapped himself on the thigh. “Nothing, I shouldn’t have said anything. Just forget it.”

“No, tell me. You promised to help me, to walk me through my life, right?” I reminded him.

Tanner stood and walked over to the kitchen. He opened one of the drawers and pulled something out of it. Holding whatever it was in one hand and covering it with the other he walked back over to me and sat back down on the couch, this time with his thigh pressing up against mine.

Tanner took his one hand away, revealing a small black box in his palm. “We weren’t going to move in together until after…” Sheer panic. It’s what I felt as he opened the hinged top of the box, revealing a thin gold band topped with a tiny round diamond.

The few other memories I recalled had kind of flowed into my mind. This one came crashing in like an out of control bus.

*     *     *

Ray

15 years old

Tanner is sick. Really sick. Sicker then he’s letting on. It breaks my heart to see the dark circles under his eyes. The cheeriness of his bright pink Polo doing nothing to brighten the mood of what I know he is just about to tell me.

When he goes to sit at the edge of my bed, he winces when he connects with my soft mattress. He is in pain, has been for a long time. But no matter how many times I ask him if he’s okay, he brushes it off and tells me he’s fine. He can’t brush it off anymore. He was about to come clean and I don’t know if my heart can handle it.

“So, you know I’ve been sick for a while,” he starts, reaching for my hand and intertwining his fingers with mine. Holding hands came naturally to us. We’ve been doing it since we were five. He is my best friend. Him and Nikki. Always have been. We used to act out getting married in the houseboat when we were younger. Upon Tanners insistence, Nikki was always the reverend and Tanner and I were always the bride and groom.

“You’re so bossy. You’re always telling us what to do. It’s not fair.” Nikki used to tell him. “Why don’t I ever get to be the bride Mr. Bossy-Pants?” She’d whine.

“Cause Nikki,” Tanner would answer. “Me and Ray really are gonna get married someday.”

Tanner has always been so certain of our future together. It’s his certainty that keeps me from telling that I think of him as just a friend. But that’s also a lie in a way, because I may not love him the way a wife would love her husband, or the way a girlfriend loves her boyfriend, but Tanner and I are so close that he IS so much more to me than just a friend.

And I do love him.

He’s my family.

He is my world.

Him and Nikki both are.

I always thought that maybe I would grow to feel the same way about him that I know he feels about me. We have time. We’re still so young.

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