"Cooper, come on, you're killing me here."
"You're such a drama queen, Josh. Just relax, we've got plenty of time."
"No, we don't. I keep trying to tell you she'll be here in like…half an hour." Josh told himself he was going to pull away this time; he was going to get up and put as much distance between himself and that mouth as he could get, even if it meant tying Cooper to a chair. It was hard to keep a promise like that, though, especially when he didn't want to stop any more than Cooper did. It wasn't the first time he'd wished that he'd told her to come a day later, but there was nothing he could do about it now. "Coop, we have to go."
The mouth that had been moving against his throat stopped, but Cooper didn't look up. Instead he pressed a little closer to Josh, one arm sliding around his back. "Yeah, I know. It's gonna be a long weekend."
Josh laughed softly against Cooper's hair, turning his face to press a soft kiss against the other boy's forehead. Normally he'd accuse Cooper of being insatiable or possibly even mentally ill, but he had to admit that it really was going to be a long weekend. It would have been one thing if they'd had any time alone together in the past week, but they were both so exhausted from cramming for finals that when they finally did go to bed they both fell asleep right away.
It was still hard for Josh to believe that he could be so crazy about Cooper after over two years of living together, but instead of getting boring things between them had just gotten better over the past two years. He'd gotten to the point that he couldn't even imagine waking up without Cooper by his side; that was part of the reason he never made it back to Indiana for vacation anymore, and it had a lot to do with why he wasn't nearly as uncomfortable around Cooper's family as he had been during that first trip to Buffalo.
Not that he'd ever be completely comfortable around them – especially Cooper's father – but he'd finally gotten to the point that he didn't dread hearing the words 'Buffalo' and 'home' come out of his boyfriend's mouth. He knew he would have gone home with Cooper even if it never got any easier, because there wasn't anything he wouldn't do to make Cooper happy, and his family meant a lot to him. Josh still hadn't figured out why, but he'd decided a long time ago that it wasn't really important. He knew it meant a lot to Cooper, and that was the only reason he needed to convince him to go along with it.
One last kiss was pressed against his lips before Cooper stood up, straightening his shirt and running a hand through his hair as he watched Josh stand up and smooth wrinkles out of his own clothes. "It's not too late, you know. I could get Nick to go pick her up, he could keep her busy for a couple hours. He could say we had a late final or something."
"Are you kidding me? I'd never hear the end of it," Josh answered. The idea was tempting, but he pushed the thought away as quickly as he could. "Besides, I already told her I'd be there."
Cooper shrugged and reached for his wallet, tucking it into his pants before he turned to look at Josh again. "Whatever you say, Josh."
He knew he'd regret it later when he was sleeping alone; well, when he was lying awake in their bed alone, because there was no way he'd be able to sleep when he knew Cooper was sleeping on the floor in Nick's room. If they'd gotten around to finding an apartment off campus they wouldn't have this problem, but they never seemed to find the time during the school year and they'd been in New York for most of the past summer.
He promised himself they'd find a place of their own as soon as the school year was over as he pulled his coat on and followed Cooper out of their room. He didn't care anymore if they had to survive on takeout for the last two years of school – hell, he'd learn to cook if he had to, as long as they didn't have to go through this again. It was only a couple of days apart, but it wasn't fair to kick Cooper out of their room and neither of them slept very well without each other anymore.
It wasn't like their lives were perfect or anything; figuring out a balance between school and their relationship had taken awhile and nearly gotten both of them thrown out of the dorm a couple times during their first semester, and there were more than a few times with Cooper's family that made Josh wonder why he'd ever thought they had a future. He'd never been able to talk himself into giving up, though, and eventually everything had sort of fallen into place. As a matter of fact, it had all gone pretty much exactly the way Cooper predicted it would the first day they moved into the dorm, but Josh didn't have any plans to say that out loud.
He hadn't even had that hard of a time adjusting to the idea of everyone knowing that Cooper was his boyfriend. Once the guys in their dorm figured out that they'd have to go through Nick if they had a problem with Josh or Cooper everyone just seemed to accept that they were together, and nobody else on campus really seemed to notice them. There were occasional stares in town, but nothing even close to what it had been like during his last few months in Indiana.
The only thing he still felt guilty about was the fact that he hadn't been home in over a year. He saw his mother when she came to visit at school, but it wasn't the same as it had been when it was just the two of them. Part of him wanted to believe that it was better for her this way, that it was easier on her if he didn't come around reminding everyone of her son the freak. It was hard to believe that when he talked to her, though; she never said anything, but he could tell when she called or visited that she missed having him around.
Sometimes he wished it was different, but he didn't want to go home without Cooper and he knew it would be worse for his mom if he showed up in Sandborn with his boyfriend in tow. A hand landed on his back and he glanced over at Cooper, realizing for the first time that they'd stopped in front of the door to Nick's room.
"You okay?" Cooper asked, his voice taking on the serious quality Josh rarely heard from him.
"I'm fine. Just thinking about my mom."
He knew he didn't have to say anything else, because they'd had this conversation before and it always ended the same way: with Cooper offering to go back to Indiana and Josh turning him down. The truth was he didn't want to go back there; that part of his life was over, and as much as he missed his mother he didn't miss anything else about it. He was a completely different person now than he'd been when he left Sandborn the last time, and he didn't really want to be reminded of how much of his life he'd spent living in fear of who he was.
The hand on his back moved up to tangle in his hair, Cooper's fingers tracing a random pattern as they waited for Nick to finally make an appearance. The touch was so soothing that Josh found himself leaning into it, and by the time the door finally opened he'd almost forgotten why they were standing there in the first place. He remembered as soon as Nick rolled his eyes at them, grinning sheepishly as he moved out of Cooper's touch.
"Don't you two ever give it a rest?"
They both knew better than to offer an answer to the question; they'd heard it so many times over the years that it was more of a greeting at this point than an actual complaint. Besides, Josh had learned not to be scared of Nick a long time ago, because underneath the impatience and the gruff exterior he knew Nick would do anything for his cousin. Somehow over the past few years that had extended to Josh as well, and in a weird way it made him feel more like a part of the family than all the pep talks Cooper had ever given him.
He fell in step beside Cooper as they followed Nick down the hall toward the stairs, letting his fingers brush the back of Cooper's hand every few steps. When they got outside Cooper caught Josh's hand in his own, matching Josh's grin with one of his own as he entwined their fingers together and pulled the other boy in the direction of Nick's car.
"Think she's gonna be surprised to see all of us at the station?" Cooper asked as they climbed into Nick's car.
"She'll probably be disappointed that we didn't bring a band."
Nick and Cooper both laughed at that idea, and they settled against the familiar upholstery for the short ride to the train station. Josh had lost count of the times he'd ridden in Nick's car a long time ago. It wasn't the same car Nick had driven to Indiana the time they'd come out to see him; his father had bought him a new car just before college, sort of a bribe to keep him in school until he gave it a fair shot. They were all a little surprised that Nick was still there after two and a half years, but he seemed to like his business classes and he already had a lot of big plans for improving the restaurant when he finally graduated and moved back home.
Josh and Cooper didn't talk much about what they'd do after college, but Josh had a feeling Cooper wouldn't last too long away from his family. He knew there would be a fight with Cooper's dad over whether or not Cooper followed in his father's footsteps, but Cooper was determined to make his own way after school. He was studying journalism, of all things, and even though Josh never would have expected that he was glad Cooper wasn't planning to go into the family business.
Most of the time when they talked about the future they made plans to move to New York City, and Josh's favorite fantasy about their future together involved some modern, industrial-looking loft right in Manhattan. He had a feeling the apartment they could actually afford would look more like their dorm room than the place in his fantasies, but he didn't have to deal with reality yet. Besides, he could go to grad school in the city, and once he was done he'd make a decent amount of money, and then they could afford the loft he always thought of when he thought about life in New York. Maybe he'd have to settle for Brooklyn instead of Manhattan, but it didn't matter much as long as Cooper was there with him.
It didn't really matter to him where they lived; if Cooper wanted to move back to Buffalo Josh would do it, because he knew if he decided to go back to Indiana that Cooper would at least try to make a life there. They could live right next to Daleman for the rest of their lives for all he cared, as long as they were together. And maybe the fact that they spent so much time worrying about how they were going to stay together was the reason their relationship had worked for so long, but he wasn't about to mess things up by overthinking them.
The less time he spent dissecting why they were still together the happier he was, and he knew Cooper didn't spend much time worrying about it. They were both exactly where they wanted to be, and that was all either of them really needed to know. It had worked so far, anyway, and Josh had a feeling it would keep working as long as they both wanted it to.
When Nick turned into the train station parking lot Josh's stomach twisted into a tight knot, and he felt his pulse pick up speed as he scanned the crowd outside the station. He hadn't been this nervous in a long time; not since the first time he laid eyes on Cooper's mother, but all that worrying had turned out to be a waste of time. She still hadn't really acknowledged his existence in all the time he and Cooper had been together, but she barely acknowledged Cooper either so Josh had learned not to take it personally. In a way he almost preferred that to the looks Cooper's father gave him; whenever they went back to Buffalo Josh spent half the time looking over his shoulder, bracing himself for the day Cooper's dad find decided to get rid of him.
He'd never tell Cooper that he actually worried about Mr. Frederickson taking out a hit on him, but the fact was that it wasn't entirely outside the realm of possibility. Only Josh had a feeling that Cooper's father didn't care enough to waste the money getting rid of him, and the last thing he wanted to do was remind Cooper of what lousy luck he had in the parents department.
They climbed out of the car and made their way across the parking lot, Cooper's hand once again clenched tightly in his. He was so busy letting his imagination run away with him that he didn't see her until she was almost past them, but as soon as they found her train there she was, walking down the platform toward them. She dropped her bag when he said her name, practically launching herself at him and sending him staggering backwards under her weight.
"Geez, I thought 'the freshman 15' was just an expression," Josh muttered when she let go of him.
"Nice, the first time I see you in forever and all you can do is insult me. Besides, I'm a sophomore now, dumbass."
He grinned and took a step backwards so he could look at her. The truth was she hadn't really changed that much in a year and a half; maybe she'd gained a little weight, but it was in all the right places. Her face had thinned out a little and she'd done something different with her hair, and for the first time since they became friends he realized that she was actually pretty. "You look fantastic, Emily. Really."
"So do you," she answered, closing the distance between them to hug him again. "Married life totally agrees with you."
He choked on a laugh and willed himself not to blush hard enough to make Cooper curious; he wasn't sure he'd be able to come up with a lie fast enough to satisfy his boyfriend's curiosity, and he wasn't about to repeat that to him. "I guess I deserved that."
She didn't answer, but he could tell by her expression when she let go of him that she wasn't planning to argue with him. Instead she turned to search for Cooper, grabbing him as soon as she spotted him and squeezing him just a little harder than she needed to. "There you are. I should be mad at you for keeping Josh away from everyone else all this time."
"I haven't had him locked in a tower or anything," Cooper answered, squeezing her back before he let her go again. "Besides, you could have come visit before now. Things at University of Indiana that exciting?"
She rolled her eyes and reached for her bag, but before she could get to it Josh picked it up. "Please, nothing ever changes in Indiana. It doesn't matter if you're in Sandborn or Indianapolis, it's always the same. The guys at college are cuter, though. All we had in Sandborn for eye candy was Josh, and you got him out of there before anybody else had a chance."
"Well if it makes you feel any better, you were never really my type," Josh said, matching her amused grin with one of his own.
"Yeah, and I saw him first. Well, I hit on him first, anyway." Cooper smiled and slid an arm around her shoulders, guiding her in the direction of the parking lot. "Hey, have you ever met my cousin Nick?"
"I don't think…wait. You're not that guy from the party, are you? The one where Josh made his big gay debut?" she asked, peering around Cooper to look at Nick.
He nodded and dropped the cigarette he'd been about to light back in his pack, clearing his throat and tucking the pack back in his pocket. "Yeah, I was there."
"I heard about you. Ashley told everybody at school about how you picked her up and then kicked her out of your car before you even got anywhere. She was totally pissed."
For a second Nick's expression was a complete blank, but finally his mouth turned up in a crooked grin. "Oh yeah, I remember her. Totally not worth it."
"That's what I said." Emily matched his grin with one of her own, falling into step with him as they made their way back out to the car.
For a moment Josh watched them go, frozen in place with Emily's bag dangling from one hand. It was a lot to take in all at once; seeing Emily for the first time in over a year, and then there was the way she'd just smiled at Nick…
"Josh? You okay?" Cooper's hand landed on his shoulder, and he blinked and looked down to find his boyfriend frowning at him.
"Coop, tell me I didn't just see what I thought I just saw."
"What do you mean?"
"Tell me Nick's not flirting with Emily." He turned to look at Emily again, but she and Nick were already halfway across the station, oblivious to the fact that he and Cooper had stopped following them. "Oh, no. No way, Cooper. You know how he is with girls."
"Well look at it this way – at least he'll keep her busy this weekend," Cooper said, grinning at the look Josh shot him. "What? You never know, she could be just the girl to finally get him to start taking his life seriously. She's not Italian, is she?"
"That's not funny," Josh muttered, but he had a sinking feeling that Cooper wasn't kidding, and judging by the way Nick was looking at Emily he had a feeling he was fighting a losing battle already. "Great, her family already hates me enough, and now I've gotta worry about her and…Nick? Geez, she'd be a mafia wife."
Cooper's only answer was a surprised laugh, his hand landing on Josh's back again to guide him toward the door. "Josh, relax. You worry way too much, you know," he said, pushing the door open and guiding Josh out of the station before he let go of him again. By the time they reached the car Nick and Emily were leaning against the door, carrying on an animated conversation that stopped as soon as Josh and Cooper were within earshot.
"What took you guys so long?" she asked as she pulled open the front door and climbed into the passenger seat, grinning at Josh as Nick pulled her bag out of his hand and tossed it in the trunk.
He rolled his eyes and let Cooper push him into the back seat, settling back against the upholstery to glare at the back of Nick's head on the way back to the dorm. When he felt a familiar hand land on his knee he relaxed a little, tearing his gaze away from the front seat long enough to look at Cooper. And surprisingly enough, as soon as their eyes met it didn't matter so much that Nick was flirting with Emily or even that she was flirting right back. There were worse things that could happen, after all, and as long as he and Cooper were together he could handle pretty much anything.