Nick walked through the streets of Atlanta, refreshed after having spent the night just a few miles outside of the city. His eyes had opened the second the sun rose, though, realizing that today, today would be the day. He'd been walking for over a month, and he was finally, finally here.
He stopped at a gas station that he knew Brian used frequently to change in their bathroom. He used the last of his money to buy a small bouquet of flowers for Leighanne, and then, carrying the flowers and his bag of belongings, he started off on the final stretch towards Brian's house in the suburbia of Atlanta.
Brian lived in a little house that nobody would've expected to be his. It was a steel blue place, with black shutters and a long driveway.
Nick stood on the sidewalk by the mouth of the driveway, his view of the house obscured by trees and bushes that had been planted years and years ago for privacy. He took a deep breath, trying to mentally prepare himself, going over his speech again in his mind.
I know I'm not worthy to be your friend anymore, he recited, I know its never going to be the same between us, and I don't even have to come inside the house. I understand if you don't remember me or don't want to look at me... but I just had to see you, had to hear your voice, had to try to ask you to please, please forgive me for the past...
Brian was standing on the porch with Leighanne. AJ and Rochelle were due any second. Leighanne was fixing the collar of Brian's polo shirt. Brian was staring at the door of their house. "We really should paint this Spring," Brian commented. The door was starting to peel.
"I like our house," Leighanne said, "Peeling paint and all. It's home."
"Yeah it is, but I'm just thinking before it starts getting really bad that maybe we should --" Brian cut himself off when Leighanne's mouth dropped open and her hands lowered from his collar slowly. "What?" he asked, "What's the matter? I'm sorry, honey, I was just thinking maybe we could neaten-"
"Brian," Leighanne whispered, and she lifted a shaking hand, pointing down the driveway.
Brian turned around.
The man walking up the driveway was broken. He was a mess. He was hairy and dirty and hunched over. His face was aiming to the ground, his mouth forming words, mumbling to himself. He looked nothing at all like Brian remembered. But there was no mistaking the sloping walk, the way his hips moved, the bend of his knees, the slump of the shoulders. There was no mistaking the curve of the neck, the long arms, the lengthy upper body.
Brian's heart was pounding so hard, his breath caught in his throat.
He took a tiny step toward the edge of the porch, all his muscles tense.
"Nick," he whispered.
As though he'd heard Brian, Nick looked up and stopped, only a quarter of the way up the driveway. The span of grass loomed between them, like an ocean of green, separating them.
Brian moved down a step.
"Brian," Nick said.
The air seemed to stand still; time did, too. Brian stared across the grass at his best friend - a sight he'd been waiting three years to see. Nick swallowed, afraid.
And suddenly, Brian broke into a run.
Brian ran as fast as his feet would carry him, his arms outstretched, his heart ready to burst, mind reeling with disbelief that this moment had come - that Nick had finally, after all this time, returned. The past didn't matter, none of it mattered, nothing mattered at all except that Nick was here, that Nick was alive.
Brian ran into Nick at full velocity, flinging his arms around him and squeezing him tight to his chest, tears falling down his face as he pulled Nick as close to him as possible, afraid that if he let go he'd disappear and never be seen again, like a bubble popping. Brian shook, rocking them slightly, his arms clutching his friend.
Nick's voice shook as he tried to get the words out that he'd been practicing for days. "I'm not worthy of being your friend," he said, struggling to speak. He found he couldn't get them all out, and finally he squeaked, "Please forgive me..."
"There's nothing to forgive," Brian whispered back, "I'm just so happy you're here..."
Brian didn't let up even a little from hugging Nick. Even when the yellow cab pulled into the driveway, the engine humming.
AJ opened the back passenger door of the cab and climbed out. The first thing he saw was Leighanne standing on the porch, her hands cupping her mouth and nose, her eyes glistening with tears. He followed her gaze as Rochelle, too, got out of the car.
Rochelle saw them immediately. "Oh my God," she whispered, "Is that..."
AJ ran around the back of the cab. "NICK!" he screamed, "NICK!!" Brian and Nick both looked up, their embrace still not broken. AJ rushed into it. They both extended an arm around him and he flung his around each of their backs. The three of them stood in a huddled cluster, clutching one another.
"Oh Jesus, Nick," AJ sobbed, "Oh Jesus."
"I'm sorry, AJ," Nick said, crying, "I'm sorry for everything..." his voice broke in the middle of the sentence, his vocal chords catching in his throat.
"No man, no, don't be sorry," AJ pleaded, "Nick I should be sorry, you didn't do anything wrong and all this time I've blamed you and you did nothing wrong."
"Oh you guys," Brian muttered, blurry eyed, "You guys, I'm so glad you guys are here."
AJ sniffled, "I guess it really is a Thanksgiving like old times, huh?"
Rochelle looked at Leighanne, tears in her eyes, too, and Leighanne slowly made her way to Rochelle and hugged her... they watched while the three boys stood together on the lawn, reunited, and refusing to let go of one another.