The late afternoon sun was creeping in through the window, casting its orange light over Stefan’s now bare bedroom. He sighed softly as he looked around at the piles of boxes and bubble wrap at his feet.
Can I really do this? He wondered. The movers would be coming in just two days to ship everything over to Willow Creek. Then the room would be empty. It would all be gone.
And just a week later, so would he.
He’d be on the other side of the ocean, thousands of kilometers away from his home. His family…
Stefan looked down at his cellphone, furrowing his brow slightly. Just one call, that’s all it would take.
He’d spent the past few weeks changing his mind, again and again. Some days were easy – Stefan felt so certain that he was doing the right thing, that moving away was the best thing he could possibly do. And others, well… Others, he felt sure that he was about to make the biggest mistake of his life.
It’s not too late to back out. He told himself. Just pick up the phone…
The sound of a sharp knock at the door made Stefan nearly jump. “Y-eah?” He called out uncertainly as he watched the bedroom door slowly creak open.
“Hey, Jonas.” Stefan tried to smile at his stepfather. “What’s up?”
“Just checking to see if you needed any help in here.” The older man said kindly.
Stefan shook his head and gestured at the boxes that lay about on the bedroom floor.
Jonas let out a small chuckle. “Guess I’m a little late to the party… Sorry.”
Stefan cleared his throat uncomfortably before speaking again. “So… yeah. I’m all good in here.” Please leave, he wanted to say.
Jonas let out a soft sigh. “Stefan… Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Shit. “Um, yeah. Sure. What’s up?”
Jonas took a seat beside Stefan on the edge of the bed. “Is everything okay?” He asked softly.
“Of course.” Stefan replied, his tone suddenly hard. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
Jonas shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, you just seem a little… lost right now.”
The older man hesitated. “Look Stefan…” He took a deep breath. “I just want you to know that I’m really proud of you for doing this.” Jonas said at last. “I know you’re probably scared shitless about this whole thing — I would be too.” He smiled slightly. “But this is going to be amazing for you. I know it is. You were always meant to do great things — I’ve known that since the moment we met.” Jonas let out a soft chuckle. “You were such a weird little kid… But, from one weirdo to another, please take that as the highest compliment.” He added with a wink. “I knew right away that you were special. And sometimes I’ve wondered if you would ever see that for yourself–“
Stefan rolled his eyes, letting out a small sigh of frustration. “Look Jonas, I really don’t need this little peptalk right now.” He interrupted his stepfather. “Like I said, I’m fine.”
A brief flash of pain crossed Jonas’ face at Stefan’s words. The younger man did not miss the small flicker of emotion before it faded away.
“Okay.” Jonas said softly. “Just let me know if you need anything, okay?”
Stefan said nothing. A twisting feeling of regret began creeping into his stomach as he watched Jonas rise to his feet and walk away, closing the bedroom door behind him.
“Jonas”? Stefan muttered nervously as he stepped out into the cool evening air.
His stepfather glanced up from his book, furrowing his brown in confusion.
Stefan swallowed nervously as he drew closer. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” The young man echoed Jonas’ words from just a short while before.
Apparently this was not lost on Jonas, who laughed softly to himself before replying. “Of course.”
Fuck, why is this so hard? “Jonas… I…” He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I’m sorry for before. You were just trying to help… And I was being a huge jerk.”
“You’re just really stressed right now. I get that.” Jonas smiled. “It’s okay.”
Stefan shook his head. “But it’s not okay. I do it all the time… I have ever since I was a kid.” He sighed. “And I don’t mean to do it. I swear to God, I don’t. I just… do.”
The thought had been weighing heavily in the back of his mind for weeks. The more he began to realize that finding Josh had not been the miracle solution he’d been hoping for, the more he also realized just how unfair and misplaced his resentment toward his stepfather had been.
So many years pushing him away… and for what? I’m such a piece of shit. Stefan thought miserably.
“Stefan, it’s –”
“Don’t tell me it’s okay!” He snapped angrily. “Don’t.”
His stepfather sighed. “Then what do you want me to say?”
“I… I don’t know.” Stefan admitted, his tone only slightly softer than before. “Just… don’t sit there and act like you don’t hate my guts for the way I treat you, okay? I’m leaving in a week. The least you can do is be honest with me. Please.”
“You’ve been nothing but nice to me ever since I was a kid… And all I’ve done in return is push you away and treat you like shit. And you never deserved that. I know you didn’t.” The words spilled from Stefan’s lips so much more easily than he’d anticipated. “And you’ve always put on such a brave face for Mama… But I know what you really think of me. So please. Just… let me have it. Because I deserve it.” He hung his head for a moment. “And I figure you should have the chance to be honest one last time before I leave.”
Jonas said nothing for several long moments. Stefan could feel his heart racing in his chest as he waited anxiously to hear his stepfather’s reply. At last, the older man opened his mouth to speak. Stefan braced himself for what was to come.
“You want the truth?” Jonas said quietly. “Okay…” He paused and took a long, slow breath. “Stefan, you are an ungrateful little shit. You’ve never been fair to me, and you’ve probably broken my heart more times than I could even count.”
Stefan was surprised at how deeply those few simple words had cut him. “I know.” He replied in a whisper. “And I’m sorry.”
“But you’re wrong.” Jonas continued, ignoring the apology completely. “I may get pretty damn pissed at you sometimes… but I don’t hate you. I never could.” He said simply.
“You don’t?” Stefan asked, his voice small. For a moment, he felt like he was a little boy again.
“Not even a little.” Jonas assured him. This time, he finally allowed a small smile to creep onto his lips. “You’re like a son to me, Stefan. All I’ve ever wanted is for you to be happy. And I meant what I said before — I’m so proud of you. It takes a Hell of a lot of courage to do what you’re doing, and it’s not gonna be easy for any of us…” Jonas sighed. “But if this is what it takes for you to finally be happy, then you have to do it. And I’ll be rooting for you every step of the way.” He promised.
Stefan felt the warmth of tears on his cheeks as Jonas’ words washed over him. He didn’t even try to wipe them away. “Thank you.” He managed to choke out. “And I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Jonas. I…” Fuck.
Jonas quickly closed the distance between them, reaching for his stepson and pulling him into a tight hug.
And, for the first time either of them could remember, Stefan did not pull away.