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Complicated Love by Jerry Cole (1)

Chapter One

Aaron Lestrat heard a screech of tires outside his house at half past seven. It was a Saturday morning in August. He sighed, got out of bed, and got dressed. He was just pulling his t-shirt over his head when a key in the front door.

“AARON! WHAT THE HELL, AARON?”

He rounded the corner to find a very attractive black woman in designer running gear in his living room, holding two cups of coffee and a bag of pastries as she closed the front door. Her expression was thunderous.

“Aaliyah…” She stormed into the kitchen, and he followed close on her heels.

“No, don’t you Aaliyah me! How long were you going to wait to tell me about this?!” She set the coffee and pastries on the table, her expression fierce and concerned.

“It isn’t a big deal…” he held his hands up as though to protect himself, though he knew Aaliyah would never attack him physically. She was barely over five feet tall, and her short-cropped natural hair was hidden under a baseball cap. She must have just come from her running group at the park. He wasn’t surprised to see that her makeup looked inexplicably perfect. She taught some exercise classes at a high-end gym in downtown Denver, so she had a lot of practice at looking flawless while sweating.

“It is! It is a big deal! I should not have had to hear about this from June!” She angrily opened the box of pastries and shoved a cream cheese pastry in her mouth.

Aaron sighed and took the cup of coffee marked with “shithead,” which he assumed was his. “Yes, I have MS. Yes, it sucks. But it was caught early and with medications—”

“Aaron. You still should have told me.” She was calming down now, sugar and butter taking some of the edge off of her rage. “I shouldn’t have had to hear it third-hand from your sister. Why didn’t you tell me?”

He looked down at the cup, not wanting to meet her eyes. “I...I felt like the more people I told, the more real it was going to be.”

She paused. “Oh, Aaron…”

He felt her pulling him into a slightly-awkward hug. While she was tiny and made almost entirely of muscle, he was a bony six foot and had been described as being built like a greyhound more than once. He had never quite decided if that was insulting or not.

Aaron’s mother was Hispanic, and his father was British, so as a result, he had a nebulous appearance somewhere between the two. His hair was jet black and slightly curly, and his eyes were a vivid green. When he chose to go outside, he could tan, but since he kept mostly-nocturnal hours, he was usually pretty pale. He wore thick-framed black glasses because he was essentially blind without them.

He and Aaliyah made an odd couple, but they had been friends since kindergarten when their teacher used to make them line up by first names. Aaliyah was always at the front, and Aaron was right behind her. As they had grown up, Aaliyah became heavily involved in gymnastics, then later swimming when her knee was injured. Aaron had become a bookish artist. They drifted apart a bit in high school, then reconnected in college. Now both thirty-two, they saw each other at least once a week, usually more. Aaliyah dated both men and women, but she had a short attention span, so none of them hung around long. Aaron was gay, but also pathologically shy.

And now he had a chronic, possibly-debilitating disease.

Aaliyah pulled back to look him in the face. “How much were they able to tell you?”

He sighed and sat down on the couch, and she sat down next to him. He looked up at the ceiling to respond. “Not a lot, honestly. My leg went numb, and my vision got worse all of a sudden, so I went in, and they did about a thousand tests. Came back as being MS eventually. I’m seeing a doctor in Boulder who thinks it can be controlled since it’s pretty early stage. No way to know anything for certain at the moment, though.”

She took his hand and squeezed it. “Hey, we’ll sort this all out. It’ll be okay.”

He huffed a laugh. “Yeah, I hope you’re right.”

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