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   Jason cut a slice out of a peeled onion at my instruction. "Ok, handsome. You wanna cut thin, horizontal strips from one side to the next, then push then small strips the other way to dice. Please don't cut your fingers. I'd like to use them later." I was happy that he had taken the initiative to learn to cook, because my hands had been shaking all day wondering how he'd react to the souvenir I brought back for him; That being the truth. There was no doubt that I had to do this. I had to start believing in my own judgement sometime, and Jason was like betting on the biggest, fastest, most experienced thoroughbred at the Kentucky Derby.

   "Ok. I think I got that down. Should we stir the sauce?" Jason was a quick learner. I had a feeling he's always been one of those people who seems to attract a knack for whatever he wants to do right out of thin air.

   "Yep! Scoop some of the crème sauce on the chicken and add the onions. Next is the cherry tomatoes and then, voila!" Gosh dinner smelled amazing. And Jason looked amazing. I never knew I could miss someone the way I missed him. It was as if the world lightened in hue when I was around him. I couldn't wait for him to drop that long brown hair from his tie so I could lock my hands in it. I couldn't wait to lie there in his arms again and forget the trauma and betrayal I've been through. If only for a moment.

   It's safe to say Jason's first 'Big boy meal prep' was a success. We even went back for seconds of pasta and sauce with veggies.

   "So, you said you brought me something?" Jason's smile stretched ear to ear. "Sorry, I'm like a child when it comes to gifts."

   And just like that, I was falling deeper in love. "I did, but I'm afraid you won't like it. It's not the traditional souvenir."

   Jason reached across and thumbed over my hand, and miraculously, it stopped shaking at his touch. "If it's from you, I'm sure I'll love it."

   I took a deep breath and remembered that even though I was telling Jason the truth, that I had to do this for me, just as much as him. It felt a bit selfish, but it was something I was going to have to learn to shake off. "I've not exactly been honest with you about my scars, and I want to rectify that, Jason."

   Straightening his back, it was apparent I had Jason's undivided attention. "I'm all ears, sweet thing."

   "Well..." My lip was already quivering which was not a good sign. "I didn't get these scars from an accident. They are a result of an attack illustrated by my ex-boyfriend. He had gotten into a lot of gambling debt, and when I confronted him, he snapped and drove off to a convenient store with me in tow and robbed it." I did my best to keep my eyes wide open except to blink when necessary. I didn't need those images creeping back in right now. "I was ready to move on with my life and make something of myself, so I ran off and called the police. Needless to say, that didn't sit well with his family. His two brothers came over to help me move as a faux peace offering, but instead restrained me in the back of the moving truck then beat and cut me within an inch of my life."

   Jason's mouth hung slightly open. The expression on his face was a mix of shock and red cheeks of rage. "Aiden, I'm so..."

   Brushing my hair over the scar below my ear self-consciously, I cut him off. Not because I didn't want to hear what he had to say, but If I stopped too long, I'd never finish. "I was rushed into emergency surgery as my ribs were broke and I had a punctured lung. I was put under sedation for days and it took me weeks before I put all the horrifying details together. They found written evidence that my ex had told them to do this to me and the betrayal hurt worse than any of my injuries."

   Being such a fast learner, Jason was now just sitting there and urging me on softly with his body language.

   "Anyway, I saw my therapist who helped me get past some of that trauma when I went back home because I couldn't quite figure out why I wasn't honest with you after you saw them. After all the bravery and truth you shared with me, I kept the truth from you. I just want you to know, it isn't anything you've done. Ok?"

   Jason nodded. "I understand. Did you find the answers you needed?"

   He was taking this so well. I almost didn't know how to feel because I had drawn this up so differently in my head. "I think I did. Jason, I've never told anyone aside from those who were there when I was in the hospital about my attack. I always feared that it gave them some sort of control of how I looked to them. I just want to be seen as a normal guy, but I'm not. I'm scarred emotionally and physically, and I can't keep pretending like that isn't true."

   Was he about to cry? Because I swear his eyes looked glossy.

   Welp there goes the dam. Tears driven by a mixture of fear and relief fled down my cheeks. "The fact that I'd lied to you is what made me panic when I took my shirt off. I'd lied to someone so perfect in every way, and there I was with this strike already against me, still hiding the truth from you."

   "I don't think it's a strike at all." Jason's voice was soft and calm.

   "I know that now. Well, I think I knew it then, but I refused to let myself believe it. All I could think of was my attackers telling me no one will ever want me again. I kept thinking of how weak I was after, and I didn't want you to know that was part of me. I'm a mess, Jason. But with you, I'm less mess, and more Aiden." I took another deep breath,

   Jason clearly did the same. "I want you, Aiden. I love you."

   "I love you too, Jason. I'm sorry I lied to you. I don't want our relationship to be built on that." O these wild swings of emotion...My head hung in shame.

   "I understand, baby. I'm not upset. I could never justify being upset over something I've never experienced or could fully comprehend. I'm honored you told me the truth. And, Aiden?"

   I looked up from the floor. "Y-yes?"

   Jason's smile had returned. Soft and sweet and telling of a heart of gold. "I really do think you're beautiful. Every single inch of you."

   It was the fuel for the leap of faith I'd been looking for. I stood up and took Jason's hand. "Good. Because I'm ready to show you just that."

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