But Julian, I'm a Little Bit Older Than You
Title: But Julian, I'm a Little Bit Older Than You
Series: The Best Moves
Disclaimer: Wholly original work.
Characters/Pairings: Julian, Riley, Full-Cast.
Rating: MA overall.
Summary: Sometimes relationships end just because they do, and sometimes magical things happen just because they can. And sometimes starting over isn't the worst thing in the world.
"You've changed," Arden said halfway through a Sunday morning in December. They were both off - a rarity - and Julian was making a late breakfast.
"Mmm?" Julian turned to look at where Arden sat at the table, flipping through a car magazine.
"You have," Arden said almost softly. "You're not drinking as much, and..."
"Oh..." Julian was a little annoyed that he had to pay attention to both eggs and Arden now. Arden was definitely right, but he hadn't expected anyone to notice. He had barely noticed himself, except for the fact that his last six-pack had lingered in the fridge long enough for the cardboard to get stuck to the shelf.
"It's a good thing," Arden admitted. "I was a little worried about you."
"I'm fine," Julian said quickly.
"And you handled all the bills this month, there's food and you're cooking, which I don't remember you even knowing how to do," Arden continued.
"Yeah..." Eggs were done. Was it really such a big deal? He'd been trying to do more with his time. In comparison to Leah working full time in Riley's shop, she was making more candles than ever and had already earned enough for a new sewing machine. She'd promised her clothing line would debut by Christmas and Julian didn't doubt it.
He hadn't quite figured out timing, though - grabbing already-done potatoes and bacon from the microwave where he'd stuck them to stay hot, Julian dished up a plate for Arden and then for himself.
The toast was only a few seconds late.
Arden was just staring at him.
"Aunt Cathy's been teaching me," Julian admitted. "And cleaning doesn't take long, so I've been doing a lot more of that than just watching television."
He sat down to eat. "Is something wrong?"
"No," Arden replied. "I might be dropping back down to five days at work, though."
"Oh..." Julian poked at his eggs.
"We'll still be fine," Arden said quickly. "We'll be better than fine since we should be able to spend some time together. But if you're not drinking..."
"We can still go out," Julian interrupted. "Maybe you can finally meet some of my work friends. Or we could do other things... See a movie for the first time in what, two or three years?"
There was a pause and then Arden smiled. "I think we can do that," he said. "We can reconnect, okay?"
Julian nodded. They'd been so distant for the last few months and yeah... they needed to do something.
It sounded perfect.
"This?" Julian looked up at an otherwise non-descript corner house as he turned off his car. Finally he was going to get to see Riley and Leah's house. While Riley was working, Julian did finally spot Leah's car snuggled up in the driveway against the house. It was the place.
When he got out, he supposed it did look slightly more foreboding than it could. While Aunt Cathy lived only a few blocks away, her house was a bit less stylized and lacked the gingerbread trim that Julian saw on Riley's. And there was a attic, he noted, which was probably actually the master bedroom.
It was starting to snow, however, and Julian didn't see the need to analyze everything about the house. It was just a house, after all. Just because it belonged to an eccentric pair of siblings didn't mean it wasn't just a house.
"Julian!" Leah popped out onto the porch and waved. "C'mon in!"
She was wearing fake-fur-trimmed leg warmers and a cordoroy jumper over a long-sleeved striped shirt. She looked warm, at least. And slippers, he noticed a moment later.
He trudged up the porch, still looking at everything without really meaning to.
"Nice place, isn't it?" Leah questioned with a smile. "Glad you found it, though you said you were familiar with the area."
"It is nice," Julian admitted. Old, he thought, like any other home in the area, but well-kept. Inside seemed much the same. He knocked the snow off his shoes and then took them off, leaving them beside a half-dozen pairs of boots that all looked like Leah's.
"Yeah... when Mingan said he'd bought a house, I was thinking like a nice little place or something," Leah admitted. "And then he invited me to live here and there are still two empty bedrooms and the attic. Doesn't look like too much on the outside, of course, but inside, it's great."
Looking around, Julian saw all the lovely hallmarks of a house of the era. Plastered archways, a curving staircase, large old windows and ornate light fixtures. Basically the same as what Aunt Cathy had, but hers were on a much smaller scale. This home had probably belonged to a large, well-to-do family...
"I like it," Julian admitted. "Maybe someday Arden and I can live somewhere like here. We've talked about it before, but never really gotten anywhere."
"Um..." Leah looked away and fidgeted. "How are you two, anyway?"
"Really good," Julian replied. Her body language seemed off and he frowned. "We spent all of Sunday talking about things and how we've been kinda distant lately."
There was a long pause.
She shook her head. "I'm really sorry, Julian, and I was going to save this for later, but... I've seen him around town with another guy."
Blinking, Julian quickly sat down on the nearest chair. "What? You've never met him..."
Leah winced and shook her head. "I do know the repair I made on his jacket, though. I thought I'd seen it before and was right... so... the thread color was deliberate so I'd recognize it."
"It can't be," Julian said. He really didn't think it could be true. She had to be mistaken. Arden had been working long hours, anyway... Though that was probably the most classic excuse in the book and... "Maybe it was just a coworker? Like I go out with you and Riley?"
"Without getting into details, coworkers should not be doing things like what I saw," Leah said firmly before folding her legs and sitting on the carpet in front of Julian. "I'm so sorry... and this isn't how I wanted to tell you. But I wanted to be sure and..."
Julian wanted to scream and swear and everything else. How dare Leah interfere! How dare she make up stories that could be so totally true because he'd never for a second questioned Arden's behaviour. Or any of his slightly-odd statements or insane work schedule or where the new car was that he should have been able to afford a month or two ago...
He'd never let himself be touched by anyone other than Arden. For him, there wasn't anyone else. To even think that he'd been second in Arden's mind... It was like a bullet through his heart.
"It's okay," Julian finally managed. He felt like a deflated balloon. "I just..."
"Arden's at work, so I can't do anything right now anyway and I don't know and need to think and... You're just really, really sure?" he asked. "Blond hair, taller, bigger..."
"And a SuperKwality jacket," Leah continued, "that's had a tear in the back patched with slightly off-shade thread."
Julian winced. Obviously he'd done something wrong. The drinking... but Arden had always taken him out to bars and gotten him drinks even when he was underage. It wasn't as if Arden could have a problem with that. And he'd always contributed to bills even if it wasn't a full half. Arden had always seemed to like taking care of him, cleaning up after him and generally trying to be the good influence. They'd survived through Arden's car accident and when he'd been off work from that. They'd survived Uncle Henry's death and SuperKwality closing...
Maybe he just wasn't interesting anymore. But Riley and Leah seemed to like him. And Sherri had been stopping by more and more as the holidays approached, sneaking him homemade cookies and even a family photo so he could see what Jeff looked like now.
There was no reason...
"I'm sure you two can work things out," Leah said softly. "Or not, if that's what needs to happen. If you need anything..."
Right then, what he really thought he needed was not to be around anyone for a good long while.
Without saying a word, he got up, got his shoes and headed back out into the snow.
He even switched the radio off, because he couldn't stand to hear another song about heartbreak. Not when his heart was singing its own.
The next morning, Julian and Leah stared at one another in the entrance of Riley's shop. Riley had been re-arranging a shelf and turned to stare at them both.
"O?" he suggested. "Possibly 'U'?"
They both glared at him.
"He didn't deny anything," Julian finally said. "I spent last night packing but I don't know what I want to do."
"Oh, Julian..." Leah had him in her arms a second later. "I..."
"I'm sorry I walked out on you yesterday," he continued. "I just needed to think and get drunk, mostly."
"I know," she replied. "But I worried... I hoped you'd come back if you needed to."
"I might go see if I can stay with Aunt Cathy for a bit," Julian admitted. "For the holidays, at least."
Leah nodded and let him go but stayed close.
"Did I miss something?" Riley questioned, moving over towards them. "Don't tell me..."
"Remember when I told you that I thought I'd seen Julian's boyfriend?" Leah asked with a little wince. "Yeah... and yeah..."
Frowning, Riley looked at both of them. "And all suspicions were based on fact, I'm presuming."
"Yeah," Julian said. He wasn't actually angry. Just kinda numb and heartbroken. But otherwise... kinda okay. The more he thought about it, the more... He just thought he should have seen it coming, really. He loved Arden, and he was sure Arden loved him, but if they were really still in love, well... things would have been different.
"Maybe I shouldn't have..." Leah started, only for Julian to cut her off.
"No, it's okay," Julian said quickly. "Better that I know. I just think... I don't know how to not be with Arden."
Riley reached to put a hand on Julian's shoulder. Warm. Supportive. Julian tried to smile.
"If you want to stay with us, or just need somewhere to put your things for awhile, let me know."
And then he went to talk to a couple of customers, leaving Leah and Julian to stare at each other again.
"I might need some help moving my things," Julian said after a moment. "I don't have much, but two cars are better than one. None of the furniture is mine, so I guess all I have is clothing and movies and a few books."
"That's it?" Leah questioned. "No paintings or posters or knick-knacks?"
Julian shook his head. Maybe one of the fridge magnets was his? He'd left home with nearly nothing and had done his best to make his presence with Uncle Henry and Aunt Cathy as unnoticable as possible. So when he'd moved in with Arden, he was already stuck in a mode of non-accumulation. Even his own growing collection of books -- all sorts, reference and comics and novels and nonfiction -- was a surprise to him. He'd been debating asking for a spot on a shelf for them all. They were all in a box under an end-table otherwise and Arden hadn't questioned them. One might be in the bathroom.
"I'll have to get you something, then," Leah said. "Once you have somewhere to put it."
Julian nodded. He had to get to work.
First day of the rest of his life and all.
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