Christopher Thomas glanced over at James Church, who was shifting uncomfortably in his plane seat. "Not a strong flier?" he asked, after watching him fidget for a while.
"Hmm?" James piped up, having been unaware of the other's intent gaze. "Yeah, the only other time I've ever been on a plane was on the way to Uganda, and that wasn't very pretty." He turned to look at Elder Davis, who was busy flipping through the Sky Mall magazine, for confirmation. When the man didn't notice, James nudged him in the side.
"Oh, yeah, he was a mess. He read the safety instruction pamphlet at least four times before the plane was even fully boarded." Chris nodded as Davis explained, but there was something in the other man's meek voice that made him doubt their story.
"Well, I'm here for you, pal," he said, giving James a reassuring smile.
It wasn't long before the plane began moving, and Chris kept shooting glances in James's direction. He seemed fine for the most part, which relieved him, as taking off and landing were usually the scariest parts. When the captain announced that they'd reached their cruising altitude and would be arriving in Salt Lake City in approximately eighteen hours, James visibly tensed up.
"Is anything wrong with Elder Church?" Chris asked softly, looking at Connor McKinley, who was seated to his left.
Connor glanced up from his book to inconspicuously glance across the aisle. "No clue," he said, but once the words left his mouth, his face turned sympathetic. "Oh, actually," he began, trying to keep his voice down, "I might have an idea." Chris looked at him expectantly. "Where do you think he's going once we get off the plane?"
It took a moment, but when Chris finally understood, he felt a wave of guilt for not realizing it sooner wash over him. "Oh," he finally got out, sneaking another look at his friend. "That makes sense."
They were both silent for a few moments, with matching looks of concern on their faces. "Poor guy," McKinley finally spoke up. "As far as I know he hasn't got anywhere else to go."
Chris nodded, and Connor went back to his book. Chris spent a good amount of time in silent thought, trying to think of some way to help the other man. Finally, when the fastened seatbelt light flickered out, he leaned over into the aisle. "Elder Davis?" he said, trying not to wake James as he lay between them, asleep. "Would you mind switching seats with me? I need to talk to Elder Church but leaning into the aisle is kind of uncomfortable."
Elder Davis nodded, and the two men quickly swapped seats. Chris sat silently, occasionally glancing at the still sleeping James. After a few minutes, Chris noticed the other man begin to clench and unclench his teeth, scrunch his face up and then relax, over and over. He curiously watched for a while, noticing the tense, fearful look slowly take over until his expression remained the same. Unsure of what exactly to do, Chris rested his hand on James's, slowly rubbing the back of it with his thumb.
Before long, James began to relax a bit, until he finally appeared at ease.
When Chris noticed him beginning to stir, he brought his hand back to his own lap. This seemed to wake him completely, and James blinked a few times before looking over at Chris. He stared at him in confusion for a moment, having expected to see Davis by his side, but softened after a moment. "How long was I asleep?" he asked through a yawn.
Chris looked at his bare wrist and smiled up at James. "I'm not sure when you fell asleep, but we're only about three hours into the flight."
James nodded slowly and let his head fall back against his seat. "This is going to be a long flight, I guess," he said, raising his eyebrows in exasperation.
"Well, it doesn't have to be," Chris said, earning a confused look from James. "I mean, it's still gonna be fifteen more hours because you can't actually make time go faster," he explained, rubbing the back of his neck. "But time flies when you're having fun, right? So, let's have some fun!"
James thought about Chris's suggestion for a few moments before cracking a small smile. "Alright, what did you have in mind?"
Chris opened his mouth to speak, but quickly shut it. "I hadn't thought of that," he said, tapping his chin and furrowing his brow. He raised a finger when he finally had an idea. "Well, since we mostly had to stick to our companions until now, we haven't really gotten much time to get to know each other, you know?" Despite having spent two years with each other, neither boy could really say they knew much about each other, aside from their shared rough pasts.
"So you're suggestion we play twenty questions or something?" James asked with an amused smile.
Chris shrugged his shoulders. "Sure, why not? It's not like we're running on a tight schedule or anything." James looked at him skeptically for a few moments before giving in.
"Alright, I guess you're right. But you have to go first."
"Should've seen that coming," Chris muttered, tapping his chin in thought. "Alright, we can keep it basic for now, what's your favorite color?"
"Orange!" James spat out almost immediately, before smiling sheepishly. "I mean, it's a nice color, and all. Like the sun, you know?"
Chris smiled, trying not to laugh at the man's eagerness. "Orange is a good choice. Mine's blue; I like cool colors." After a moment, he cocked his head and smiled. "Kinda funny, those are compliments, huh?"
"Complimentary colors?" James asked, trying to think back to his elementary school days in art class. "Oh yeah, I guess you're right. So does that count as my question, or is it still my turn?"
"Your turn," Chris prompted.
"Alright," James said, pausing to think. "When's your birthday?"
"October 8th," Chris said. "I almost always had school on my birthday, which was kind of annoying."
"I feel you," James replied, patting Chris's shoulder. "Mine's November 19th. Just a few days later and it'd normally fall on Thanksgiving break."
Their little game continued like that for a while; innocent questions sparking brief conversations left and right. Slowly, slowly, without either of them really noticing, the questions began to get more personal. Neither seemed to mind very much at all.
"So when was your first kiss?"
"I… Actually haven't had it, yet."
"Really?" James asked, raising an eyebrow. "That's kind of a surprise."
Chris shrugged. "I wasn't exactly the pick of the litter among the guys in my school," he said. "It wasn't ever a big deal. I was never really interested in anyone anyway."
James nodded slowly. "If it makes you feel any better, my first kiss was during spin the bottle."
"Mormons play spin the bottle?"
"It was during my rebellious years, alright?"
They continued to get more deep and personal from there, each question comfortably segwaying into the next. Finally, after about two hours of conversation, Chris thought it was appropriate to bring up what had been on his mind the whole flight.
"What exactly are you going to do when we get back?" he asked slowly when it was his turn. James stared at the seat in front of him for a long moment, keeping his mouth shut. "You're not going to go back to your dad, are you?"
"Of course not!" James said a bit too loudly. He lowered his voice so nobody would be tempted to eavesdrop. "But there's nowhere else for me to go. Until I can get some plans for college or a job or someplace else to live, I have to stay there. I'd much rather live in a box on the side of the road but I'm not stupid."
Chris winced at the thought of his friend storming out and sleeping under a park bench. Of course, the idea of him staying with his father wasn't pretty, either. "Come stay with me," he said quickly, before the less-than-pleasant thoughts got worse.
James was taken aback. "Seriously?" he asked, his voice an octave higher than normal.
Chris nodded vigorously. "Don't take the train back to Cheyenne. Come to Fort Collins with me instead. We'll have to stay at my parents' house until we can find an apartment but I'm sure they wouldn't mind. I'll call them as soon as we get off the plane."
The other man stared at him skeptically during the entire explanation. "You're serious," he stated, suddenly interested in the seat in front of him once more. "How would that even work?"
"We could stay with my parents for a while, they'll love you, I'm sure. Then we could look for an apartment and get jobs until we're set for college. We could do it," he added for emphasis.
James sighed. "I wouldn't want to screw up your plans for the future," he said, before getting cut off by Chris.
"What plans? I was going to do that anyway, but I'd be alone, or with someone I don't know and trust. I'd much rather venture into the next chapter of my life with you." He realized how cheesy that sounded and felt his cheeks warm up a bit. "I mean, since we're friends and all."
James nodded slowly. "Yeah, I gotcha… Are you sure about this?" He hated the idea of having false hope and getting let down in the end.
"Completely. The only condition is that you'll probably have to sleep in Emma's room for a few days."
"I think I can deal with that."
It was another thirteen hours or so, most of which they spent sleeping, before the young missionaries set foot back in the states. The first things most of them did was bask in the air conditioning, head to the bathroom, or just admire the upper-middle-class conveniences they'd been missing for two years. But Chris headed to the nearest pay phone, James hot on his heels.
The conversation with his parents was brief, and Chris only explained enough to convince them to let him bring James home with them. He promised he'd explain everything else once they were home, and they were very understanding.
"I told you they'd be fine with it," the smaller man said with a smile after he'd hung up.
James practically fell forward into Chris, enveloping him in a hug. "You're the best," he muttered into his shoulder.
Chris smiled and rubbed his friend's back for a moment before taking him by the shoulders to look him in the eye. "I know. Now come on, I saw boxes of poptarts at the newsstand, your treat."
"…and this is where I sleep," Chris said, giving James the grand tour of his home. The walls of his bedroom were still decked out with the posters and paraphernalia he'd left as a teenager. His bed was neat and precise, nothing like how he'd leave it in the mornings. Clearly his mom had come in and done some cleaning; hopefully she didn't move anything important.
Chris led James down the hall and stopped at a door littered with butterfly stickers. "This was Emma's room," he said, slowly opening the door and slipping into the small room. The walls were still a light shade of pink and the bed still had a princess canopy over it. "I hope it's not too girly," he said sheepishly.
"No, it's fine," James reassured him, looking down at Chris with a smile. The fact that he had somewhere to stay away from his dad was all that mattered, what it looked like was irrelevant.
"Alright then," Chris said, patting James on the back. "I'm gonna go help mom get dinner ready, you can settle in. Bathroom's right across the hall."
James nodded and headed into the room, while Chris turned on his heel and headed back down to the kitchen. His mother was peeling vegetables, so he grabbed the strainer she was dumping them in and ran some water over them.
"Minestrone is a good comfort food, right?" she asked, not looking up from the potato she was skinning. "I want your friend to feel at home."
"His name is James," Chris prompted, searching the cabinets for the broth. "And I think 'at home' isn't exactly the best way of explaining it." He grumbled something to himself before sliding the step stool out from next to the fridge, and went back to looking through the higher-up cabinets.
"Right, sorry," his mother apologized. "Anyway, I've set out the apartment listings and classifieds on the coffee table for you two to look through. Don't feel like I want you to leave as soon as possible, take your time. I just figured I'd help."
Chris wrapped his arm around her waist and kissed her on the top of her head. That was something he'd always been proud of – being taller than his mom. "Thanks, mom, you're the best," he said, turning on his heel to head out of the room.
Mrs. Thomas didn't even need to turn around to tell him not to eat the poptarts he'd snagged out of the cabinet when he thought she wasn't looking. Old habits die hard.
Later that night, after they'd eaten, Mr. Thomas suggested they have a family home evening, which they usually had on Fridays, to celebrate the conclusion of their mission. James mostly sat back, watching the reunited family laugh and share stories and play Operation (James would have to remember to tease Chris on how jumpy he was later). Not long into the evening, however, Mrs. Thomas insisted James feel like a member of the family and join them. He was certainly glad he did, as he could easily say it was the best family home evening he'd ever had.
"You seemed to enjoy yourself tonight," Chris said later that night, leafing through the apartment listings with James in his bedroom.
"Your parents are great," James replied with a smile. "They're so nice and welcoming and friendly."
Chris shrugged. "They're pretty cool, I guess." He realized that James's excitement probably stemmed from the fact that compared to his own parents, Chris's were the paragon of loving and caring. "They like you, which is good."
They continued to flip through the newspaper, excitedly pointing out apartments until one of them noticed the one factor that prevented them from buying it. By the time they'd finished browsing, which took longer than it should have as they kept getting distracted and going off on tangents, Chris glanced over at the digital alarm clock on his bedside table. "Gosh," he said, realizing it read 3:27 AM, "I guess we forgot to think about time zone differences." No response. "James?" he asked, glancing over at his friend, only to realize the other man was fast asleep, head resting on the edge of Chris's bed.
Chris smiled and rolled his eyes, wondering if he'd be able to carry him back to bed. He glanced from his small frame to James, taking note of the fact that James was taller and more muscular than he was. 'Worth a shot,' he decided, kneeling down and slinging James's arm over his own shoulders. He managed to get them both to a standing position with great effort. Unsure of where to go from there, he tried to pick him up bridal-style, moving slowly in case James slipped. That never happened, though, as the other man subconsciously clung to Chris, wrapping his arms around his neck. The smaller man let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, and managed to carry James to his sister's room, feeling rather proud of his unknown strength.
He set the other man down on the bed, stepped back, and realized he was still in a button-down shirt and jeans. Not willing to go through the trouble of undressing him and trying to get him into pajamas, he tugged the blanket out from under his and pulled it up to James's chest. Chris glanced down at his face for a moment, admiring his mussed hair, his slightly parted lips, and smiled slightly at how much more innocent he looked than usual. Wrapped up in the camouflage pink comforter and resting under a lilac princess canopy, he looked positively peaceful. Finally, he turned on his heel and headed out, shutting off the light and closing the door softly.
No more than a week later, the two were sitting in their new apartment, completely moved in. Two bedrooms, one bathroom, a sitting area and a small kitchen, just outside of Denver city limits. Both had still been without jobs when they purchased it, so Mr. and Mrs. Thomas covered the deposit and offered to pay their first month of rent, but Chris insisted they could handle it. It was a modest place to live, but it was perfect in their eyes.
They spent most of their time leafing through the classifieds and wandering Denver looking for help wanted signs, but made sure to take some time to enjoy their newfound independence. They often caught themselves following the missionary rules that had been commonplace for the last two years.
They bonded a lot once they became roommates. That would be expected of anyone who began living in close quarters with one another, but the level of trust that bloomed between them was sky-high. Once they both had a steady job and a decent amount of income, they began splurging on rented movies and dinners and things they didn't get to do when they were in high school.
No more than two months after they moved in together, they found out that newlyweds Kevin and Connor McKinley-Price were looking at a house not far from them, and they were absolutely ecstatic to be reunited with their old friends. Not one to let his best friend in the whole world get away from him, Arnold and Nabulungi ended up in an apartment only a few miles away as well.
One night, when he couldn't sleep, James laid in bed thinking about how much his life had changed in such a short time. He had a best friend sleeping in the other room, a warm place to live, a steady (if somewhat boring) job, friends practically down the street from him, and for once, a bright future ahead. He had to admit, it was the nicest feeling in the world. He'd never really felt like he had a home, but finally, he could say he truly did.