"I know, babe, I know," Sam reassured Emerson, continuing to hold his one hand tightly. How could he have completely disregarded such an important part of all this? Sam had four options. Emerson had one, and that one was important. They would make this work without Em sacrificing something he’d worked so hard for.
"You’re going to be a teacher. An amazing one. And I’m going to be an artist." The words came naturally out of his mouth, like he knew for sure they’d come true. It was so hard to make a guarantee like that, but Sam knew that the one thing he and Emerson both had was passion. Em wanted to teach. Sam wanted to make art. And they would both get to do that. "We’re going to make this work, I promise."
As Emerson wrapped his arms around Sam, the blonde boy did the same, his body reminded of exactly what he had to lose if he fucked up this relationship. There was the same instant spark between them now that there was the day they’d met at Belfry, and how could he have been so close to letting that walk out the door over a stupid dumb, argument. “It’s scary, I know,” he admitted into the soft skin of Emerson’s neck. “But that’s why we’re going to figure this out together. Because I want to keep loving you so much that it hurts.”
There was no other way to describe how Emerson felt with school and that was that he felt stupid. He hated that about himself. He had wanted to teach because he didn’t want kids to think that about themselves either. He knew how much it sucked and he was not going to let some child think the worst of themselves. Emerson wanted to believe Sam, though. He’d become a teacher. Sam would become an artist. They could do that, right?
"I want this to work, too," he admitted, the tears actually slowing down for the first time since he’d gotten in his car. His hold on Sam tightened and he felt himself relax into the warmth. "Please don’t leave me," he whispered, almost begging, "We can figure it out, w-we can. I just can’t lose you again, I can’t.”
Emerson wasn’t so sure he’d survive it the second time around. It’d break him for good. And he doubted he’d be able to look at relationships the same. Sam was the one, to him, even if they hadn’t had many opportunities together. It would always be Sam. No matter what.
Sam smiled through the lightly falling tears, knowing Emerson was okay with going with him sometime to group therapy. Sure, rehab itself had been the starting point, but the only way he’d even remotely maintained a sense of sanity living on his own, working, and studying had been to connect with other people his age who struggled with the same things he did. He thought Emerson would actually really like it- he could meet other people who either a) had Sam’s same issues or b) dated people like Sam, and therefore were in Emerson’s boat.
"Darlin’," he drawled softly, looking back up at his boyfriend. "We’ve talked about your insecurities. And while I think you’re the greatest guy on earth and shouldn’t doubt these things, I know it’s not as easy as just saying something like that." Sam took Emerson’s hands in his own as he spoke, hoping that holding him steady might help stop the stuttering and the intermittent gasping sobs. "You’re not being problematic. You’re being you. And we can get through this."
He was confident in his words, too. They’d gotten through Belfry, though Sam being with Casey, and through two years apart. They just needed to approach the relationship like the adult men they now where, and Sam knew they could do it. Reaching up to brush Em’s hair out of his face, Sam placed a kiss gently on Emerson’s lips, wanting Emerson to feel the contact as much as he wanted to feel it, too. “I love you,” he murmured into the other boy’s lips.
Shaking his head, Emerson looked over at Sam. They’d talked a little about his insecurities, sure, but Emerson had never felt them around Sam as much as he did today. “I just..I just can’t…Sam,” he almost whined, “I don’t want you going somewhere because of me but it’s just…I had a hard enough time getting to the school I’m at now. I can’t come to you, even though I would if I could.” Emerson scoffed as he shut his eyes, feeling ridiculous. “I can’t even read without having problems, I have a hard time sitting still and I can’t concentrate for shit. I can’t get into other schools. As much as I want to be a teacher, I struggle sometimes to get a 2.5…”
He sniffled, looking over at Sam meekly, his shoulders slumped. He looked sad and he felt sad. “I’m not smart, and you have the best opportunities and I…got…selfish I didn’t want…I wanted to be important, too. I got scared c-cause I wanted you to want me the way I want you.” And maybe he did but Emerson always got himself in a hole to where those things were almost impossible to believe. How idiotic could he be?
Emerson kissed Sam back, feeling his lips was heavenly and he sighed at the pressure. “I love you, too,” he whispered, “M’sorry, I don’t mean to be like this.” Selfish and self centered, to be exact. “I just love you so much it hurts, Sam, sometimes it scares me. More like terrifies but…but know I love you, too.” Sniffling yet again, Emerson reached and wrapped his arms tightly around Sam, his nose resting into the crook of the other boy’s neck.
"None of this is your fault." It was the first thing out of Sam’s mouth once Emerson had finished talking. He wanted to make sure everything that the other boy wanted to say was said, because he knew that he had a tendency to talk over others when he was fuming, and right now wasn’t a time for that. But he needed to know that Emerson hadn’t actually done anything wrong. That was the most important thing.
Reaching up with his thumb, he wiped away a few of the tears dripping down Emerson’s face. “I’m the one that needs to apologize,” he said solemnly. “I hulked out, and honestly, I haven’t done that since… well, Belfry. I should have talked through the stress of it all, like I was taught to when I finally thought I’d beaten this issue. But my Hulk side will always be a part of me, and I think something we need to do sometime soon is bring you with to my support group, and just have both of us listen to some of the other pairs talk about how they deal with anger.”
He’d never gone to any of the “couples” sessions his anger management group had offered before- there was never any need. But Sam had been wanting to go for a while now, since Emerson was back in his life. But he hadn’t found time to bring it up. When they only visited each other a couple weekends a month, there wasn’t exactly prime time to carve out a few hours of group therapy. “It sounds kinda lame, I know,” he admitted, “but it’s really helped me, and I think having you there with me can be good for us. Together.”
A smile crept onto Sam’s face. “Because there is an us,” he said, happy tears starting to fall down his face now. “And there will be for a long, long time, baby.”
Emerson still felt like it was partially his fault, honestly. He’d been the one who’d hinted Sam should go to San Diego. God, they’d only been together for two months now. How could they feel like this? It was as if they’d been together years. Maybe they had been, it’d just been such a long break in between? Who knew anymore. All Emerson knew was that his heart hurt. Everything hurt.
He sighed softly when he felt Sam wipe at his tears. It felt good to have him close, despite everything that happened. The support group sounded like a good idea. Emerson had never been to one before, though, so he felt a little knot in his stomach grow with nerves. But he wanted to make this work, he’d do anything if he were being truthful. He loved Sam so much it terrified him. It almost seemed dangerous to feel so in love with someone.
"It’s..it’s not lame," he whispered, "It…it sounds beneficial. We can…try sometime." Nodding his head, Emerson tried looking over at Sam. His smile was a rather weak attempt, even he knew it didn’t exactly look the greatest. Emerson bit his lip and tightened his arms around himself, taking each of Sam’s words and trying to engrain them. There is an us. Long, long time, baby. “I don’t h-have doubts about u-us. I just…I’m sorry, it’s me, I shouldn’t bring i-it into what we h-have.” His insecurities were his, he shouldn’t be letting them affect with he had with Sam. “I want there to be an us for a long time, t-too.”
Emerson tugged at his hair and huffed, holding himself together from shaking. This day wasn’t about him he had to stop trying to make it. “I’m just being problematic,” he muttered.
When Emerson jumped and then turned to face him, it took all Sam had not to completely fall apart. The other boy had clearly been sobbing, with a puffy red nose and messy hair from running his hands through it. Remembering that the car didn’t actually have a lock function on the door, Sam pulled it open, getting down on his knees on the hard pavement so that he and Emerson were closer to eye level.
"You don’t want me to," he said softly, looking into Emerson’s teary eyes with his own. He knew that when Emerson was this upset, the last thing he wanted was to be left alone. The things he’d learned about the other boy, both at Belfry and in the last few months, had come rushing back to him on the ride over, and each little thing reminded him of how much he loved him. He didn’t want to screw this up and lose Emerson. Not again.
Leaning forward, he gently placed one hand on Emerson’s thigh, reaching up with the other to smooth his hair back out. “I’m so, so, so sorry, baby,” he said without inhibition of any sort. “I hulked out, and you didn’t deserve to handle that.” He hoped Emerson would sort of understand, that this was the reason he’d been sent to Belfry in the first place, but Sam knew Emerson didn’t have any fault in this. That was all him.
Emerson took a couple of deep breaths as Sam opened the door and kneeled down. How pathetic was it that he hadn’t calmed himself down yet? Sam was always so much better at this it seemed. Emerson was always a goddamn wreck and if that wasn’t silly or pathetic than what the hell was? He shut his eyes as he felt Sam’s hands on him. His eyelashes were clumped from the crying and he could still feel tears rolling down.
Gulping, Emerson hiccuped from how much air he’d taken in when sobbing. He felt like a disgusting mess. Pitiful. He was so pitiful. “I-I know you’ve been s-stressed and I d-don’t want this to be about m-m-me,” he sputtered, covering his mouth to try and calm his quivering jaw. Of course he was stuttering. “You had every r-reason to get upset, I just d-don’t like the yelling.”
"I’m sorry," he whimpered, putting his face back into his hands to hide himself. God, why did he feel so fucking shameful? Like it had been his fault. Cause it is your fault, being so selfish. Pathetic, selfish, Emerson. So stupid, it was all his fault. He did this to himself, didn’t he? He always did.
Sam knew there was only one way to fix this. The only logical place Emerson would have left for was back home- despite an awful, 8-hour drive that he had done just the other day to get there. That was where he felt comfortable. And Sam knew that his trusty old car was just as slow as Emerson’s, so there was one way to try and catch him (or ride all 8 hours).
Quickly, Sam headed for his room, throwing on jeans and a t-shirt. Slipping into a pair of canvas Toms, he tucked his keys, wallet, phone, and a granola bar into the satchel he attached to the back of his motorcycle. It was definitely too warm for a jacket, and if Sam was going to at least try and make the best of what could potentially be an 8-hour ride, he wanted to feel the wind on his skin to keep himself awake. Helmet in hand, he headed down to the garage, where his beautiful bike was waiting.
The man wasted no time getting the bike revved up and heading up to street level. He knew the route Emerson took every time he visited- it was so routine, and Sam had replicated it on a visit down to San Diego. He made his way over to Market Street, quickly transferring onto the 80 to cross the Bay Bridge over to Oakland. Just in case, he kept his eyes peeled along the side of the road. He was hoping Emerson hadn’t kept driving in his upset state- it was bound to end in disaster.
Sure enough, when Sam reached Lake Merritt, he saw Em’s Mustang parked just inside the entrance. He’d sure chosen a picturesque place to cry, but Sam’s focus was on anything but the view as he sped over to the car, pulling right up on the driver’s side. He removed his helmet and set it hastily on the ground next to his bike, turning back to take the keys out of the ignition before he went to rap on Em’s window. The other boy looked a sobbing mess, and he knew it was all his fault.
Emerson kept trying to catch his breath. Oh, was he trying so hard. But the tears kept coming and how was he supposed to make them stop? How could he do this? No matter how many times he wiped at his eyes, they kept filling up with the stupid tears. His eyes felt so puffy and his nose was raw from constantly rubbing it. “Why do you have to get so attached? You’re such a dumbass.”
His mom had even told him to be careful. Not because she didn’t have faith in their relationship, but because she didn’t want anyone getting hurt. “Too late,” he murmured, sniffling yet again and wrapping his arms around himself for comfort. It didn’t do much considering he wanted another set of arms but at the same time he figured he didn’t need those arms. Not when they had been so angry. He hated yelling. Hating fighting. He just didn’t feel good about this at all.
When he heard someone knock on his window, Emerson jumped so high his head hit the roof of the car. Looking out, eyes squinting from how bright it was outside, Emerson saw Sam. His heart stuttered in his chest (he came for him!) before he whimpered and covered his face with his hands, shoulders falling forward. “Go’way,” he whined, the words hardly forceful enough to be taken seriously. Besides, it’s not like he had locked the doors when he drove off. His older car didn’t have that nice feature. He had a headache and just wanted to curl up into a ball. Was that so bad?
Even if Sam had tried to open his mouth, he was just plain unable to say anything. He just stood there, watching Emerson get mad and spew hurtful words at him. Suddenly, he unexpectedly stumbled back, realizing quickly that Emerson had shoved him. The anger was so consuming that everything felt very surreal- a lot of Emerson’s words had registered in his head like the bland noises reminiscent of an adult talking in a Charlie Brown cartoon. He just couldn’t take it right now.
Without warning once again, Sam was being dragged forward. This was new- Emerson wasn’t the kind to push Sam around like this. Not unless he was really, really angry. And his words? Those registered unlike anything he’d said in the past twenty minutes.
Give me my heart back.
Each syllable, each sound, stung him worse than the one before it, and it took everything Sam had not to grab Emerson’s neck and refuse to do so. He loved Emerson. That heart was his, and they both knew it. And Emerson wanting it back… it was exactly what Sam had feared hearing two months prior.
And just like that, his boyfriend was gone. The only thing left of him was the sound of a door slamming behind him, and Sam knew he was headed for his car. For a second, he began to run after him, to tell him how dumb it was to run from an argument, but his anger began to subside just as quickly as it began. The gravity of all the things he’d just said and done to Emerson, and all Emerson had said and done right back, hit Sam hard, and he felt himself collapsing on the ground and letting it all out. He wasn’t usually a cryer, but this, all of this- it was just so much to handle, and the tears began to fall fast down his face as he wished he could do the last twenty minutes all over again.
To be honest, it wasn’t safe for Emerson to be driving. Not with the state he was in. He was crying, hot tears rolling down his cheeks, and his vision was blurry. Not to mention his hands were shaking from the adrenaline and emotion, making it a little harder to shift. “God, you don’t even understand,” he whimpered, shaking his head as he turned onto the interstate and began heading down south to San Diego. “You don’t even fucking know how fucking dependent I am with you!” he sobbed, almost as if Sam were still next to him.
"Why is it always me, why does this always happen to me? You don’t realize how much I love you! D-doesn’t matter though." Sniffling, Emerson squeezed his eyes shut to prevent more tears before realizing he was driving and snapped them back open. "Stupid, god m’so stupid. I’m always left behind, always. Everyone goes and does things and I stay, I have to stay. Always have to stay. I’m sorry, I’m too stupid to get into a school closer to you. Sorry I want you to choose me, is that so bad? I’m sorry I’m selfish, this is your dream not mine I’m so sorry. Fuck!”
A car horn snapped him out of it. He was drifting into another lane and immediately swerved out of the way. “Shouldn’t be driving. God, shouldn’t even fucking-why did I do this? Why do I love you so much?! Two fucking years and I’m back to square one! You make everything hurt, hurt so much more. I’m so sorry.” He shouldn’t have been driving, there were too many cars honking at him. His face felt too warm from the crying and contorting, his head was beginning to split with a headache. Everything was hurting now. He was just passing over the Oakland Bay Bridge, feeling himself distancing from Sam now. As much as he had wanted it before, it was starting to become too much and he knew he couldn’t make it to San Diego right now. When he almost ran into the backend of a car, Emerson decided to pull over.
Lake Merritt was on his right and he immediately exited. The view was beautiful but it did nothing to comfort him as the tears continued to flow. Leaning forward, Emerson rested his forehead on his steering wheel, his body shaking from emotion. “We won’t have time for each other if you stay,” he negatively thought, “we won’t. So if you’re staying just fucking let me go stop holding onto me. You’re so damn impossible to get over. Please just let me go.” He didn’t want that, of course. He did at the moment, sure, but there was nothing he wanted more than to be in Sam’s arms. He loved him. “I love you so much,” he whimpered, “Why can’t you see how much it hurts?”
Shaking his head, Emerson shut his eyes and tried to calm his breathing as he sniffled, whispering, “why can’t you understand how I feel?”
There was a tiny part of Sam that knew he had gone just a little bit too far. He and Emerson hadn’t talked much about his time at USD, and his decision to go there, but from the little he had gathered, it was something Em was pretty insecure about. And Sam had just pushed that button. But the majority of him was still just absolutely fuming, and unable to get a handle on the rage that felt like it was pressing to escape every pore of his body.
As Emerson left the room in tears, Sam sad on the ground, more concerned about getting a grip on his anger than anything else. He tried everything- the breathing exercises and mantras he’d learned in rehab, imagining the slight pressure of a tattoo needle against his skin- but none of his usual calming techniques came close to calming him. He just needed to release this energy. And unfortunately, the nearest target was the boy in the other room.
"You’re just going to fucking walk away right now?" he said, grasping the doorway with a tightly clenched fist. "Seriously? That’s why what you say doesn’t matter, just like you just said. Because you follow it up with walking the fuck away.”
When he heard Sam’s voice, Emerson could help but feel tears sting his eyes. After everything Emerson had just said…that’s all Sam had to say? God, it was like he didn’t are about what Emerson felt or thought! Maybe this was why they didn’t work out the first time. It was a sign saying to drop it. But I love him, he thought to himself. And God, had he thought that a thousand times already. He loved Sam so damn much. It’s why he couldn’t ever date another guy after Belfry, why he always went for girls instead. He couldn’t compare a girl to a guy. The only guy he did try dating made him think about Sam. Maybe the problem was Emerson loving him. And not knowing when he was supposed to turn away and really step foot into that next chapter of his life.
But Sam’s lack of words really weren’t getting them far. Turning back around, Emerson stormed over to Sam, getting close enough to look him in the eyes. “You know what?” he snapped, gritting his teeth, “I’m sick and tired of being constantly in the way.” His words came out hard, dropping each word as if they were bricks, as his eyes continued to sting. “Perhaps, just maybe, I was getting hopeful that I wouldn’t be in the way with you! But no, when does anyone ever choose me? Never. Because I’m too busy choosing them! I know I’m not the only thing in your life but maybe I want to be!”
Out of frustration, Emerson shoved Sam, grunting as he shook his head. “And I walk away because maybe I’m hoping someone will want to stop me! Jesus, Sam, why do I always want you more than you want me!? Right, because it’s stupid Emerson, getting too fucking attached, stupid Emerson that doesn’t have options, stupid Emerson that thought I could come back to you and not feel so dependent!” He didn’t even know where half of this was coming from, all he knew was that it was from somewhere deep inside of his self esteem. Grabbing fistfuls of Sam’s shirt, Emerson glared at him, leaning in and hissing, “give me my heart back,” before pushing Sam away.
Grabbing his jacket and keys, Emerson sniffled as he found the doorknob. The door slammed behind him and he quickly ran over to his car, getting inside and slamming his hands against the steering wheel. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” he screamed at himself before yanking his car into gear and speeding off. He was going home, for Christ’s sake.