Chapter 1 can be found in an earlier entry, and there is a prelude to the story in the April 2016 issue of ARDOR.
When I woke it was to the face of an angel nuzzled close against my chest and the touch of his naked body against mine. The warmth of his breath electrified me and I pulled him close to kiss him on the top of his full head of short, wavy, chestnut-brown hair. I wrapped my arms around him briefly and tried to forget that he had given this life up. I let him give this life up. Extricating myself from his embrace, I maneuvered myself out of the bed. I stood there for a few moments just to look at him.
Brian had lost his boxers in the night… and I had lost my war against his flesh. But I had known I would lose it as soon as I drove him here. I shook my head as I gazed down at him. Heavenly, still. I could spend a million nights in those arms and never tire of it. We were meant to be. I had always known it. It didn't make up for the guilt of enabling him to cheat. Lessened it, maybe.
I went into the bathroom and showered, washing the remnants of our exertions from my body. When I returned after my shower, I found him still soundly asleep, and I quietly dressed. I had no wish to disturb him, to disturb my fantasy of us being back together. That was easier than the thought that I had made his faithlessness possible, and not for the first time. A part of me wished I could just stand by the bed and look at him all day, but then… I didn’t need to. I had never forgotten what he looked like. That body, all of it, had haunted my dreams and nightmares ever since he had left me. The memories should be enough. Did I need to ruin someone else in the way Brian had ruined me?
He looked at me oddly for a moment. “Did we…”
I looked away, shaking my head. “What do you think, Bri?”
I felt the iron grip of loss on my heart. “Don’t be.” I flipped the eggs and prodded the strips of bacon to shift the sizzling bits around so they’d cook at least somewhat evenly. “I love you, Bri. I may regret that we don’t stay together, but I will never regret making love to you.”
“You shouldn’t have to—”
“Make you breakfast? I don’t have to. I may hate my choices sometimes, but I chose to bring you here.” I glanced over at him again and said, “Maybe I don’t want to let you go.” And that was the crux of it. He'd left me. I'd let him go. That I regretted.
He sipped his coffee and just looked quietly at the swirling liquid as he stirred it between sips. He liked his coffee sweet, and was constantly stirring to dissolve added sugar. “I…”
“Eat breakfast, Bri. It’s waited this long. It can wait a little longer.”
He nodded and took another sip of coffee as I pulled plates out of the cupboard and set one on each side of the small table. Then I pulled the smaller frying pan off the stove and slid an omelet onto his plate, following it with a few strips of bacon as I started my own omelet. It only took a moment and then we were there, sitting at the table eating breakfast. This little bit of domesticity that I’d always ached for. That Brian had given me once. Shared with me once.
He smiled as he ate breakfast. He finished quickly, but then, he always had. I used to tell him he needed to take the time to savor the food, but he never listened. I didn’t say anything, but I watched him eat, keeping my eyes on him while he focused on his plate. Then, realizing he’d be done shortly I began work on my own, neatly cutting it into pieces with my fork, trying to let the simple domestic task pull me away from the conversation that would follow. I wouldn't like that conversation. Until we had it I could still pretend.
When I was done, I cleared the table and washed the dishes quietly. I tried not to think about it as Brian walked up behind me, resting his hand on my lower back and just standing there. Dammit. We’d been happy once. This had been normal! I finished the dishes, wishing I could savor the touch of his skin, the fragrance of his cologne. That was the hardest, I think. The scent of him filled me with memories that could do no good in remembering—at least not right now.
Once the last of the dishes was on the drying rack, he walked away from the small kitchen and into the living area that the bedroom overlooked, sitting in a small but comfortable chair by the fire. “I missed this,” he said quietly. He choked a little on the words. “I really did.”
I didn’t leave the kitchen. I didn’t say anything. I just looked at him and tried to remind myself that I loved him no matter what. Tried to remind myself that he wasn’t trying to hurt me when he reminded me this was temporary. Tried to keep myself in the now. If the tear running down my cheek was any indication, I was failing.
I forced myself to turn away and poured myself some orange juice. I was going to need to let him warm up to the idea of actually saying what he needed. He hadn’t actually come to me for help in years. I had broken that cycle, declared an end to it, and enforced it. Only an almost morbid curiosity at what could have brought him to the point of calling me had persuaded me to pick up the phone this time when he called. It had been almost five years since the last time. I was frankly surprised he even remembered the number.
He looked over to me, and then to the fire. “I really am sorry, you know,” he said.
“Is that regret?” I walked into the living area. I hadn’t expected that. Brian had always been a master manipulator, but I could also tell… we’d been together for so long, and it had only worked because I was frankly usually willing to be manipulated as long as we were together.
He stifled a chuckle. “You’re surprised?”
“Hey, just remember that you’re the one who left for that endless stream of twink boys.”
Brian bent his head down. “I know. They weren’t worth what I gave up.”
“You could have come back.”
“No. I couldn’t. I really couldn’t, Thommas. I was ready to. I was so close.”
“And then you met Jordan.” I didn't quite spit the name.
“I love him,” he said, glancing back at me. “I do!”
I sighed. “I believe you.”
“I never understood what you meant, you know. When you said real love never dies? I never understood until I met him how hard it was. To be in love with someone when you were still in love with someone else. That the feeling inside never really quite went away, that it’s always there.”
“At least you had someone else to love you,” I said. I tried to keep the bitterness out of the remark, but his recoil suggested I hadn’t done enough.
“He does love me! You know it.”
“I’ve stayed away. I let you go.”
“That’s why my picture is still by the bed?”
“I said I let you go. Not that I ever got over you.”
“Will you ever be?”
“Over you? No. Probably not.”
He made a humphing noise. “It’d be better for both of us if you were.”
“I know. But you’re not really over me either.”
He looked up at me and sighed. “That’s fair. Cruel to say, but fair.”
He glanced up and tried to say something, then turned to look again at the fire, silent. Clearly he was going to need to build himself up to telling me what was up. He always had to build himself up to it. I turned away and started to walk back into the kitchen.
“Wait!” he said, standing to face my direction. “I’m sorry, Thommas. I didn’t come back into your life to confuse you, or hurt you. I need help.”
“Don’t you always?”
“That’s not fair,” he snapped, “and you know it. Yes, I come to you when I need you. Who else can I go to? Think about it.”
“We broke up, Bri,” I said, turning away from the kitchen to face him. “More to the point, you dumped me. You shouldn’t be coming to me anymore. You shouldn’t be expecting anything from me.”
“I don’t expect anything. Especially now. It’s been five years and I’ve tried hard to let you go. When you made it clear you didn’t want to hear from me anymore, I did stop calling. I did.”
“But you need something.”
He turned his face away and closed his eyes, trying to keep tears from coming. “He’s in trouble, Thom. Big trouble. I’m going to lose him, it’s like I can feel him slipping through my fingers. And I can’t stand it. I know this is hard for you. I do know, because I’m going through it right now too.”
“And you think the solution is to come running to me? Seriously?” I shook my head. “Shouldn’t you be there with him if he’s in trouble? Facing it? Supporting him?”
“You don’t get it!” he said, tears streaming down his face. “He’s not in a little bit of trouble. He didn’t get caught with his stash and end up in a court room. I have money too, you know. I would have gone to a lawyer for that.”
I sighed. “What did he do?”
“He… he ODed.”
“No. No. I won’t do it, Bri. You're asking too much,” I said, turning and walking away. “I won’t. I can’t. Not again.”
Brian ran after me and grabbed me by the arm. “Please, Thom! You can do it. You've done it before. I know you can!”
I kept moving and he fell, still clutching my arm, dead weight trying to keep me from leaving.
My breath was coming fast and deep, and I shook Brian from me leaving him on the floor as I strode into the kitchen. I looked at where he'd fallen, collapsed and crying on the floor.
“You should get dressed,” I said to him pointedly. “I’ll drive you home.”
His eyes looked at mine, pleading and I could barely keep myself from shaking. He was so beautiful. The robe hanging open gave me a glimpse of his chest, hairless save for a slight trail leading down around his belly button and into the waist of his boxers. Damn. I was trying to throw him out and all I really wanted to do was strip my robe off him and take him right there. And I think he would have let me too, if it meant that his precious Jordan would get help.
I turned away. I couldn't look at him, not like that. “Dead?”
“Coma. Doctor’s don’t have any hope. They want to pull the plug.”
Shit. I'd explained the last time what that really meant. For Jordan it wasn't what any human doctor would think. “And?”
“We didn’t marry, Thom. His parents want to pull the plug. They won’t even let me near him when they’re there.”
I glanced back at him. “Didn’t you?” We'd talked about the importance before, when it was us. He still had the right to make decisions for me, I'd never changed it, not even after years apart.
“Yes. I have documents. But family always wins these things, and you know it. All those documents do is buy me time. And time is not on my side. The doctors can’t do a goddamned thing for him and that’s not likely to change. You know why. You're the one who fucking told me why!”
“Please, Thom. I’ll leave him! I’ll come back to you. But I need him. I need to know I did everything.”
“No, you won’t. If, and it’s a big if, I can bring him back, your place is with him, not me. So what do you expect me to do? I don’t have any standing.”
“Yes, you do. The documents don’t name me. They name you.”
Fury rose in the pit of my stomach. “You rat bastard. You expected this!”
“I love him, Thom, but he’s always been a druggie. It’s not like this is the first time I had to ask you. After last time, I knew it was only a matter of time before it happened again.”
“And you’re talking to me about it now? Wasn’t there some other time, like before you put my name on documents giving me power over someone I barely know, that you could have brought this up?”
Brian pulled himself off the floor and walked over to me. This time his plea sounded in my head as he reached his arms around me and held me close, his body pressed against mine. Fuck. An anchor, he would not even hear his own sending. But he knew I could.
“Get dressed, Brian. Now.”
If you ever loved me, Thom, you will save him. For me. For the love that we had.
“I’ll help, Bri, but getting me hot and bothered is not going to help you right now. Just go get dressed.” I had to say the words. Utterly immune to even the least of waking magic, he could never hear my thoughts.
As he scampered through the living room and upstairs I looked around the home I had made for us. Wasted. All that happiness. How could I have just let him go? To that druggie twink bastard who did not even belong in this world? I walked into my office and made a quick phone call while he was getting dressed and returned to the living room to find a Brian from a different time coming down the stairs, dressed in what clothes of his I had left.
He had concealed his bed-head under his favored baseball cap, thankfully not turned backwards, and was dressed in khakis and a button front shirt, left untucked as he had preferred to wear them when we were together. For just a moment I could pretend that it was the Brian I had known and loved, and not the desperate man who had come to me last night.
“Let’s go,” I said, walking out the door. He followed, closing the door behind him and getting into the passenger seat. I looked at him one final time. His face was serious and there were still tears trying to form in the corner of his eyes.
“You’re a bastard, Bri.”
And then we were on the road, leaving my last vestige of our life together behind us.