Apollo’s eyes were fixed on the rearview mirror. More and more his memories began to fade…slowly, until he could no longer see the University building at all. The further he got away from it, the more he realized that there were no traces of the place he had just spent the last few months in. It was like, out of that small town, that little university meant nothing. It was just a stepping stone, easily forgotten. He felt the hole in his heart grow bigger and bigger until he felt like he was being swallowed whole by the darkness. Why did it mean so much to him? Was he afraid of having to adjust back to his home life for the next few months or was it the thought of finding something and losing it again? Apollo didn’t notice that he began to hyperventilate. Things would never be the same again and he couldn’t handle it.
“Are you alright?” Noah pulled the car to the side of the highway and eyed his son. In the last few minutes, Apollo had quickened his breathing and became unresponsive to Noah’s many attempts to catch his attention. He had no choice but to pull over.
Apollo blinked as if nothing were wrong, because he wasn’t aware that there was anything even slightly off about him. He was in his own little sanctuary in his mind, one nobody could shatter.“I’m fine. Why did you pull over?”
Noah peered over at the eighteen year old. “Apollo, please tell me that you’re not high…” He understood the temptation. If Apollo was anything like he was in college, he’d be swamped with work and beyond stressed. hell, he couldn’t blame him. The reason Noah went to jail was because he allowed himself to give in to alcohol for one night. He examined Apollo’s seated figure for any visible signs but found none.
“Why would I be high?” He raised his brow. He didn’t hesitate with his answer or even get defensive. Noah had no reason not to believe his son, but if he wasn’t high then what was the cause of his episode?
“I called your name at least six times. You didn’t answer me. When I shook you, you began to hyperventilate. Is something wrong?”
“I didn’t even know that something was happening. I was just so lost in thought. Was I really hyperventilating?” He began to shift in his seat uncomfortably, avoiding eye contact with his father. He was suddenly embarrassed to be talking about this. He had let his thoughts take over and it couldn’t happen again. He needed to keep a hard exterior for everyone he cared about.
Noah gave him a slight nod before continuing his interrogation. “What were you thinking about?”
Apollo let out a nervous sigh. “Just how much I already miss college.”
“Mhmm,” He mumbled before looking out of the window. “Can we start driving again?”
“Uh…yeah.” Noah said quietly before turning the key in the ignition.
“Apollo!” His ears were met by a loud shriek upon entering the house.
“Come on mom, it’s only been a few months,” Ambrose groaned.
“Only a few months, only a few months!? A mother will always miss her son, no matter how long the absence.”
“Mom, I can’t breath,” Apollo joked.
“How was your first semester, Sweetheart?” She let go of her deathly hold on him and let her eyes wander from his head to his toes. He was still the boy she had raised…her sweet little boy, still intact.
“It was great. I had a blast, I met new people, ran into some old ones, stressed over exams and stayed up way later than I should have. You know, the typical college experience.” When he said it out loud, it sounded like he had been in some sort of sitcom. He inwardly laughed, thinking of how funny it would be to have Lynette, Tommy, Katherine, Damian and Mason on a television show together. It’d be insane.
She smiled warmly at her eldest son. “Good, I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.”
“Alright, my turn mom, stop hogging him.” Ambrose wiggled his way in between Leia and Apollo.
“Fine! Just come into the dining room when you’re done alright? I’ve got a surprise for you,”
“How hot are the chicks in college?” Ambrose’s eyes lit up.
Apollo shifted his weight. “Uh…pretty hot I guess?” It wouldn’t have normally been an uncomfortable question for Apollo. He had noticed several attractive girls on campus, Lynette being one of them. But thinking someone was attractive and being attracted to someone were two different things and knowing the difference put him just a little on edge. He couldn’t help think back to Tommy’s story about his cousin. Would they get beat up?
“Pretty AND hot in the same sentence? Fantastic. I can’t wait to visit you on campus one day. So we talking tens or sixes?”
“You like girls now?” Apollo tried to swerve the conversation away from the girls in his university. He didn’t know when it would ever be a good time to come clean. What if he was being premature in his declaration? Was it possible to change your mind? Apollo was desperately confused.
“Hey, are you calling me gay?” Ambrose hit his arm defensively. “Not you too! I’ve always liked girls!”
“What the heck…who’s calling you gay?” Apollo had no doubt in his little brother’s attraction to women. He had always been fascinated with their looks. His problem was focusing on their beauty, but it had nothing to do with him being gay. What was wrong with being gay anyway. Nothing right? He was normal like everyone else…right!? “I just meant that you’re old enough to like girls now.”
“Oh…well you know that kid Kiwi Hale?” Apollo nodded. “Well, I gave him a makeover for our first day of high school. I thought we’d take over the whole damn place but we’re at the bottom of the food chain. They keep calling us the gay Batman and Robin. I can’t believe it.” He slapped his hand across his forehead.
“That “kid” Kiwi Hale? You mean your friend?”
“Thats what I meant,” He mumbled quickly before ushering Apollo into the kitchen. “Your surprise is waiting for you. Just go in there!” Apollo was expecting a, “Hey! I missed you!” from his brother, not this bombardment. He couldn’t stop thinking about Tommy. Ambrose felt such a disdain from being called gay and Apollo had been slightly offended. He didn’t like the term, especially now that he thought he identified with it. He could only imagine the pain that Tommy had to go through with his father.
“Apollo, son…you’re looking as good as ever,” Levi smiled brightly. He held on to Apollo’s arm as he waltzed into the kitchen.
“You’re my surprise?” Apollo felt a surge of joy pulse through him. His grandfather was always a kind and compassionate gentleman, offering whatever he could to the boys to make them happy and comfortable.
“And me!” Kayden popped his head out from behind his father.
“Uncle Twin,” Apollo smirked. The name didn’t fit anymore. His mother had told him about how shocked they all were when he was born with black hair. He resembled Kayden by the color of hair only. Now, standing side by side his father, there was no resemblance to Apollo but to Levi. They were the real lookalikes. Apollo wondered if he’d closely resemble his father when he got older.
“How’s school buddy?” He asked.
“Good, I’m studying hard.” He was beginning to dread this question. It brought him back to the friends he was detaching from now. He couldn’t stop thinking about Lynette, Tommy and Damian. It was slowly killing him inside and yet it had only been a few hours since their departure.
Apollo tried to push that thought out of his head and began to joke around with his relatives.
Leia giggled as she plopped next to Noah in their home sauna. He was reading a book! Even she had to admit though, it had been a stressful day. She had been running around, cooking, calling family members and cleaning just to get this day perfect for Apollo. She wanted him to know that they missed him deeply and were proud of him. He seemed ecstatic enough but something was off.
“Honey, did you notice anything different about Apollo today?” It was as if he read her mind. She turned to him and placed her hand on his forearm. He had long since closed his book and watched her intently for a response.
“I did, he seemed kind of, I don’t know…sad? I figured it was because he was missing his friends but then I thought about it, how could he be so upset after a few hours only?” She placed her thin finger on her lips as if deep in thought. “I don’t know what’s wrong.”
“I noticed it too. On the car ride home, he was actually hyperventilating. He was oblivious to what I was calling out to him. I think I figured it out.”
“Hyperventilating?” Worry spread over her face. “I don’t get it. He’s always been, so…I don’t like this word, but normal?”
Noah nodded his head. “I know what you mean. It’s hard to find the right word to explain it. I think that he has separation anxiety and his experience in university was enough to trigger it. I don’t know what happened, but it must have been emotionally tough.” He began to explain to Leia how he had come up with this deduction. Apollo had left his home and moved to a new place. Though it was only for a few months, he had began to become absorbed in the university lifestyle. It was different from something like getting a job. You didn’t have to live at your workplace for the most part. You returned home at the end of the day. In university, your whole lifestyle had to change for the semester. From the hesitance he sensed in Apollo, Noah realized that his son was attached to this lifestyle more than an average student would be. Noah was positive that he was the reason for all of this. Apollo had always been accepting of Noah’s sudden return into his life. Apollo accepted him without any doubts, unlike Ambrose who handled it as Noah would expect an adolescent to. Apollo lacked the curiosity, he didn’t question Noah’s whereabouts, he didn’t question his mother, he just accepted it. Noah couldn’t delve into the depths of his son’s mind, he had a degree in medicine not psychology. Yet he knew for sure his absence was the cause of all of this. Apollo’s anxieties had laid dormant and something triggered it.
Leia listened to his story intently. When he was finished talking she placed her head in her hands and cried. “I….I can’ t believe it…were we so enraptured with Ambrose’s rebellion to you that we failed to realize how Apollo was coping? What kind of parents are we Noah? This wasn’t I pictured when we got married…everything was supposed to be different!”
“I shouldn’t have gone to jail.” He soothingly rubbed her back. “It’s my fault our son is like this. I was just trying to protect you guys but I ended up causing more damage.”
“Shut up, Noah. You’re an amazing father to our boys. We’re both to blame for this but there’s no reason to dwell on it now. What can we do for him?”
“I think it’d be best if he saw a therapist. Maybe it’d help for him to talk to someone impartial in his life.” Leia nodded and placed her head against his chest. What if they were just overreacting? If Noah was so adamant about it, then she knew something was seriously wrong.
Apollo dragged his feet across the corridor. He was tired. He had worn his smile proudly until his grandfather and uncle left. He didn’t want to worry them with his sorrow.
“Apollo, where are you going?” Ambrose called out from the couch.
Apollo had his hand on the doorknob to what he thought was his room. “To bed. I’m exhausted.”
“That’s not your room anymore. I’m staying in there, mom turned Caleb’s old room into a guest room and got rid of the outdated nursery in the guest house and moved you in there. She figured you’d want some space now that you’re an adult.”
“My own room?” He pondered the thought. He had never not shared a room with someone, it could be nice being on his own for a few hours.
“Yepp, it’s practically like your own apartment except you don’t have a kitchen in there, or a TV. It’s nice, I picked out the decorations.” Ambrose picked up another controller and held it out to Apollo. “I know you’re tired, but do you have enough energy for a game? It’s been boring playing on my own.”
“I guess I do.” Apollo missed this time spent with his little brother. He hadn’t had much time to call him or video chat. He’d sometimes sneak in a text here or there during classes but it wasn’t much.
“About earlier…” Ambrose bit his lip. “I made it sound like I didn’t want to be friends with Kiwi because people thought we were gay. I was just angry. Kiwi is my best friend, even if he does have a weird name. I’m not giving him up for some stupid stereotypes, it’d be stupid.”
Apollo smiled. He couldn’t be more proud of his little brother in this moment. “Besides, there’s nothing wrong with being gay, right?”
“Of course not.” Ambrose shook his head. “Who am I to stop two people from loving each other? Love is blind. It doesn’t see age, gender or race.”
Apollo shut his eyes and leaned back against the sofa. What was wrong with him? He spent his entire day trying to rationalize his feelings for Tommy, but Ambrose was right. Love was blind.
Just a quick note, I may have dramatized separation anxiety a bit for Apollo’s case. [Not all cases!] I haven’t done much research on the condition but the reason I made it such a big deal for Apollo will hopefully become clear in the next chapter. Thank you for reading!