This page was last updated: December 8, 2007
Episode Six of 'Steven's Story' an original story
Melissa J. Vivigatz

~ * ~

  Living with a gay Pagan aside, I was starting to feel better about going to church again. David was right, this was who I was. Just an old dog whom you could not teach new tricks, fine, except I imagined even David would like this place and the people who came here. No preaching negative crap, I guess ones like me received that from osmosis or something, things filtered through the majority of the rest of society over the ages.
  Yes, sense of comfort here, some fine memories of simpler times as well. Growing up in Connecticut with my aunt, a small town with the various socials and traditions like picnics on the common greens afterwards, just folks being themselves amongst family and friends.
  Was polite and did not look around when during middle of service a latecomer arrived and came to the bench behind, the echoing of the doors while people shuffled; sound of throats clearing while the ‘guy on stage’ gave us another round. Moment of pages being turned to the passage of the segment and the organ starting up as we lifted voices together.
  Choked because I recognized one of those voices, one which had not been there previously; whipped my head around and realized I had no right to be here because God had made His move and sent clear sign of that by delivering the woman who had caused my plummet into hell.
  Look at her. First time in six months (and twenty days) I had seen my ex-wife in person. Turned and stared down at the jumble of words on the pages, unable to make sense of them, my place lost.
  Lost. No, I did not belong here, wanted to push my way through the ones trapping me here and bolt before I threw up.
  Hold it together, Steven.
  Why was she here? Yes, this was ‘our’ church, yet she had not come once since leaving me and... Don’t do it. Do not do it!
  Had to. Glanced back over my shoulder and caught her eyes looking directly into mine.
  Oh god.
  Knew what was going to happen and quick-swallowed one of the prescription things in my coat. A show of weakness, yes, yet better this small one than something worse.
  Lie to say I had forgotten how good she looked, the presence she extruded in person, the magnetism. (Nineteen years. Almost half of my life spent with her, this woman whom was my companion. Oh, no indeed, I had never been bored once. Had looked as any man would naturally do, sure, yet never had my head turned away totally. Never had a thought of cheating. Never imagined there would come a point when we would not be together. Perfect match in so many ways, she and I...)
  First turn had burned her image in my mind. Russet dress with green trim, match to her thin, designer winter coat except for the fur trim around shoulders and wrists of some black-tipped animal. The russet was darker than her amber hair, the green lighter than our...her eyes.
  I thought longingly of the flask I no longer carried. Wanted a drink so badly, no matter the fact I hadn’t touched more than a glass of wine with meals since the Blackwell gathering.
  David, I need you. I am not strong enough for...
  No, screw that, I ground down the pathetic cry with gritted teeth. Hard as it had been, very close, I admitted it, yet on my own I had not agreed to meet with her as she had asked. Did that before vacation, before everything with David, when he was first taken in and recovering from his accident, unable to work. So no, I did not need his help in this, was my turn to help him. And thinking of that, part of me relaxed. Calmed, felt easier, bunched shoulders straightening.
  Nope, seen too many of your tricks, Sheila. Watched your act fall apart in a snap, one instant coyly offering everything from your body to ‘compassion’ only to have the real you revealed. The cold, calculating eyes and deep striking, cutting verbal attacks when your ploy did not work. (Christ, she’s even called on my birthday to tell me they were expecting a baby! Cursed me out because I refused to give her the trust fund I had set aside for ours!) And even if I hadn’t, the ‘home movie’ you left me as you screwed the brains out of that guy in everyplace you could think of in our home... Nope. No way and no how, bitch. I got your number right here, and it is all bad.
  Yes, bad news and not anything I needed more of. Before David, before the thoughts of suicide, yes, even with all she had done, my utter, comprehending knowledge that the woman I had loved never existed, I would have taken her back. Had been left that fucked up.
  But no longer. The whore had made her bed (and couch; kitchen island; recliners; bath tub; even my own, god-damn-her-spread-legs, desk) and now she could rot in it.
  Then in next instant: Wait, something...then I figured it out, the softer, disquiet thought jumbled amongst the louder ones. Her coat was open. She was at least four months pregnant, yet there was no sign of it.
  Oh no. Oh, Shell, no. The deleted, unheard messages. Ones left on the voicemail, the answering machine at home, office emails. Ones refused since I had returned home. Tons of them. Knew she had to be going through stress, her embezzling stockbroker broke. Yes, two years younger then myself, not exactly young as far as these things went; not old, yet not young. All the stress, her few calls where she said she wanted to get together and talk instead of the usual demands.
  Oh, Shell, did you lose the baby? Did you need my help and I was not there for you?
  Oh, God, please, I do not care that it was not mine, would have helper her if she really needed it, just please, do not let my failure be the cause of that as well!
  Breath, Steven, just relax. It could have been a lie. She only dropped that bombshell after you had twigged to the fact her current meal ticket had been caught embezzling.
  Perfect distraction, then right after she had gone all soft and saying how she had ‘maybe’ made a mistake. Was thinking a lot about ‘us’. Never mentioned it again after that. Oh, sure, she told you the reason she was leaving you for him was because he wanted to have children, yet again, I know this woman now. That could have been, most likely was, a lie.
  Of course it was. Nineteen years, she knew me as well. Knew exactly where to place her blows.
  Realization, and it was as if something inside let go at that instant. A large weight tumbling off and vanishing.
  I don’t freaking believe it. Fell right for it when she left and even after all this time never saw through it. She did not like children, (burdens, annoyances...or maybe more like ones whom would take attention from herself?) had been concerned about her figure for Christ’s sake.
  There is nothing wrong with me and there never was, at least as far as that excuse is concerned. The rest of it, well another story perhaps because I had loved her totally and could not make her happy, yet not that.
  Actually chuckled a little when we sat down. Not much, a chuff or two, yet something.
  Man, did I get played or what? Whew!
  Left everything right there, returned to the reason I was here in this place of worship. Felt my lips curl up a touch in wry cynicism when the plate came by and I dropped in my weekly donation of a c-note. (Used to only be a fifty, yet things had changed since the leach was off of my neck. Jesus, could that women burn through money or what? Only realized the true extent of it when the drain had been closed. That third of a paycheck was some chunk of change I tell you.) Her neighbors had better watch close, or else when the plate came before her nose it was going to come back a lot lighter.
  Not a charitable thought, yet something which would not surprise me if it actually happened.
  Service ended, and a couple of ‘hopeful’ looks from the old, semi-acquaintances who recognized her/us (Yeah, call me cynical, but where was the noticing when things had fallen apart for me, eh? The support? Why look now?) and I was smiling and nodded as she held things up, waited till we could walk out together. Had the feeling she was bothered that I was not the one she had startled hell out of when she first arrived.
  Outside in the clear and I went on the attack, “Hey, Sheila, how are you doing? Coming back to the fold?”
  “Did you get my messages, Steve?”
  What, no ‘hello’? Ha.
  Shrug as I put my gloves on, “Nope. Damn new secretary, real bimbo. Deletes everything.”
  “Even the ones at home? Where have you been?”
  “You mean my home, of course. Yes, those were deleted as well. It has been over a year, Sheila, figured everything needed saying had been. Time to get on with our lives, right? As for where I have been, I went away for vacation. Back to New England. It was real groovy.”
  “Are you on something?”
  My new expression or because I wasn’t a head-grabbing mess of wimp-putty?
  Oh, David, thank you. Jesus, I can’t believe I was going to kill myself over her! My god, what was I thinking?
  Too much bad, that’s what. Hole in the heart? Oh yes, a large one left. Had only been able to see the negatives around me not the good. Oh yeah, that psychic girl sure had my number.
  “What, that in there?” I asked and she nodded once. “Nah, just saw you and remembered I’d forgotten my vitamins. What happened? Forgot your botox appointment?”
  “I do not need that garbage and you know it.”
  “Actually, I am not so sure of that.” I tilted my head and looked to eye things closely. “Not with the big Four-O being just around the corner.
  “But enough about you, except to wish you good luck at confession. Whoa-ho, my heart bleeds for the poor priest who draws you. And on that note, take care, Shell. Be seeing you.” Wave and I started down the steps.
  “Steve, wait!”
  “Hmm? What?” I said, smiling easily as I turned.
  “Can we just talk for a while?”
  “Are you kidding? I’m freezing my ass off out here, and besides, I’m tired of your lies.” Glanced at her stomach meaningfully.
  “I decided it was not the right time.”
  “You decided? What about Mike?”
  “What did he have to say about anything? Anyway, he is in jail,” she ‘huffed’ and shook her head in dismissal of both.
  Oh boy, hold it together, Steven. Easy to think, yet my teeth were gritting hard as the anger rose.
  “Just as easy as that for you, was it?”
  Sensing my mood, face to voice, she changed her attitude fast, “No, it was not easy, Steve. How could something like that ever be easy? Only, I did not know what to do. All alone, I was confused...”
  “I really was. Steven, I tried to call you...” she emphasized.
  Oh no, not going to lay that on me. Besides, I had only been gone two weeks...during her four months, if it had not been longer. And she had talked to me before that. A couple of times. If she had really been desperate she would have said something, over the phone or not.
  “Sorry, Sheila, I’m not buying.” Ah ha, there it was. Crack in the act, a change in her eyes as something shifted. Thoughts; alteration of attack.
  She crossed her arms and shivered, “It is very cold out here.”
  “You should have dressed for the weather, not the runway. Better hurry along inside now.”
  Bat of eyelids, face slightly lowered in guilt, “Steve, you are the only one I need to say things to. I was so very, very wrong.”
  “Ah well, too late now. Bye.” Flipped up my collar and started to continue down the steps.
  Sound of her following behind, boot heals clacking on cold stone; “Honey, please wait! I thought here of all places you could forgive me?”
  Actually, talking so nonchalant about ending the life of her baby while on the steps of a church, there were others she need to ask forgiveness more of. Again, soon as I had heard that, had seen her, something further inside me had changed, more weight gone.
  If she ever really had been pregnant, thing which I was more and more doubtful of.
  “Look, Sheila, if it helps, I do forgive you.”
  “You...Steven, you do?”
  “Course I do. Hell, I’m even grateful. Yeah, I got to admit it, Shell, you were stronger than me; knew what we had was going nowhere and called it quits. Yes, admit again I was in a bad state for a while, but all of that is well past.”
  “You did meet someone.”
  “Oh, yes, I met someone,” I said, real smile on my face as I thought of David.
  “I do not believe you.” Small smile of confidence on her lips as she ‘glanced’ around us. I hadn’t come with anyone after all. Ha!
  “Your choice, babe. See you next week.”
  “Wait. Steve, I... I still have a few thing at home.”
  “You mean those clothes you left at my place?”
  “Ah, sorry, you said you didn’t want them.” (Please come back for them, Shell! Don’t send more movers, but come back—come home—yourself. Come back to me. Just see, just remember what we had and all I can give you. Please, Shell, I can’t live without you! Please, just come back!) “Gave a bunch away recently. Might have a box left, it has been rather hectic.”
  “Well may I have them now?”
  “Sure, follow me in your car.”
  “I do not have a car.”
  “Ouch. What happened this time, another blown engine or run a red light again?”
  “It belonged to Mike.”
  Repossessed or sold.
  “Ah, what the hell? Get in.” Clicked the keychain and the beamer (now perfectly ‘healed’) beeped happily back, doors unlocking.
  All but humming as I got into my side, reaching for my pipe even as she got in and gave a frown.
  “I thought you gave that disgusting habit up.”
  “Like I said,” I mouthed around the stem, the bowl already packed and waiting as I fired the lighter, “lots of things about us just didn’t click, Sheila. People ask me why I was ever crazy enough to stop. Catch a cab if you don’t like the smell. I’ll leave the box in the lobby.” She didn’t say a thing. I wasn’t a total ass though, because I did crack the window same as I always did to let the smoke out.
  The CD had started playing when the engine came to life, and I was nodding along to Brubeck as we made our way out of the lot with the rest of the flock.
  “No classical?”
  “This is classical, babe. Feel free to flip thought the discs if you want though. Radio has a short, something got jimmied when it was in the repair shop. Taking it back next week, though I am not complaining. Those guys pulled off a miracle, didn’t they, Beamer old buddy?” I said and patted the dash, imagining the purring engine noise growing louder for a moment in reply back of our mutual satisfaction. Man, I loved my car. “Tell you, I damn near cried when we saw it in the daylight. Tow guy was lying through his teeth when he gave the odds of it not being totaled, figured it was a done deal.”
  “You were in an accident?”
  “Oh, yeah. Lucky we made it home. Turns out the cops missed some stuff because of the slush on the undercarriage. Everything is new on this side from driver’s door on back. Guys were telling me to scrap it and get a new one. Told ‘em no way in hell. Car saves your life like that you do not abandon it. As is I think it sprouted wings there a second because the rear tire was spinning in the air.
  “Man, oh, man,” I shook my head, grinning around my stem, “would have been one hell of a way to end a vacation, still, if it had to be, that would have been the one to go out on.” Hardly surprised, she did not say anything, most likely thinking about my will.
  I chuckled inside, thinking of it myself with dark humor. My will had been seen to weeks before vacation, and it really would have been something when she got the word on its changes. Talk about having the last laugh!
  Oh, Sheila, if you only knew.
  She was looking perplexed at the discs and pulled one out, “What is this?”
  “Hindi music of course. Great for long drives at night, real atmospheric. Here, this one has some piano,” said as fingers picked it out for her to change if she wanted. “Compilation of Chinese flutes and guitar. Bit laid back, but relaxing.”
  “These belong to your girlfriend?” she asked, like I had fixed a stage in case she would show up. Christ, she thought a lot of herself, didn’t she?
  “One of our favorite pastimes to shop together. Turned me on to a lot of stuff I never even knew existed. Shastro is another favorite, though we’ve been getting more and more into Celtic of late. Gave me a mix that had some Clannad on it for my birthday. Best disc ever. Listen to it all the time while I’m at work. Never thought there would be a present to top it, yet there was.” Tilted the stem of my Ferndown pipe up for emphasis. The favorite one of my collection and no matter what, would remain so till the day I died.
  “You are going to get cancer.”
  “Say that to my doctor—only if you want a lecture to the contrary. That was nice to come home to as well, couple tins of Stockton tobacco he’d sent for Christmas waiting for me. Since then he’s been calling once a week to compare notes on different blends and latest discoveries. He stopped for a while himself and is having a blast on his granddaughter’s computer shopping around. Probably have him and his wife over one of these nights for dinner, was just sort of waiting till Quince and Linda got back. They were at my place in Connecticut for the week, though if Parker forgot to bring us back some of that hot cocoa mix he can just forget it.”
  “Are you still using the same caterer?”
  “Caterer? Are you kidding? No way, we actually use the kitchen these days. Ah, that reminds me, was supposed to pick up a couple of things for later. You in a hurry? Got a brief pit stop to make.”
  “Go right ahead.”
  “Groovy.” Skipped the intersection which would have started the one-way maze and took the next. Be quicker to walk to the gourmet shop from my building, only it was cold as hell out there today.
  Why the hell am I so calm? I kept asking myself over and over, because believe you me, this was not the way I had imagined something like this would go, ever. Think the main reason was that dawning knowledge she had lied about being pregnant, (one of the biggest blows I had ever received in my life, even topping finding her in our bed with another man) and if not, the anger that such had been ended.
  I think the wool is off of my eyes forever in regards to you, Sheila. Damn me if it isn’t.
  Also, had to admit it, I was feeling pretty darn smug about a lot of things. Was actually laughing inside because she was not convinced in any way that I had found someone to replace her in my life. In fact, it was on such a level that I doubted she could even imagine it now.
  Of course not. I am dancing around the subject. No name or description. Then again, that could be working in my favor. Would probably be a detriment if I went on a rave or something, as if I had some lie to prove, if only to convince myself.
  “Should take me five, ten minutes top.” Sure as hell was not about to leave the keys in the ignition.
  “Mind if I come with you?”
  “Free country. Go shopping where you want.” Though I know you are dying to go through the glove compartment. Christ, who did she think I was, the guy she’d tossed me over for? Damn, almost wished I had known she was going to show up. Casey would have a blast if I had asked to borrow a pair of her panties. If she ever wore any. Yowza.
  Gentleman held the door for a lady, with her or not; yet did not have to wait for her to get her bearings and pick direction before heading off to grab a basket and things I wanted to shop for.
  Was getting to know the place like the back of my hand and headed for the tea isle first. Snagged two boxes of David’s favorite, one for home and another for Betty who had borrowed a bag and found she’d liked it a lot. The gang was coming over later, and after the last movie night, a western on a fantasy world, all had decided they wanted to try chicory, a coffee substitute (shudder) so asked a clerk and got a pound of fresh roasted ‘roots’.
  Veggie chips (two bags because of Kimberly) then went to the fresh herb section and pulled out my list. David and Co would be picking most of the stuff up at a larger grocery when they were done having fun at the mall or wherever it was they were spending the day.
  “Just a few more things,” I said to my clinging shadow. “The dessert counter, then a couple of breads for the stuffing and croutons. Casey says she has a recipe that’ll blow your head off if you don’t use a cream dressing to balance the chilly powder. And a jar of honey which I am not going to forget this time. Ha!”
  “Is that the name of your girlfriend?” she asked as we came up to the counter.
  “Casey? No, just a friend. Cooking class tonight. Duck-something-or-other. I have already made the cranberry sauce. From scratch,” I finished proudly. “Hey, Susan, how you doing today? My order ready?”
  “Of course, Steven,” the young brunet behind the counter said with a smile. “A whole almond torte.” Had the box all ready to go and handed it over. “So when are you going to learn to make desserts?”
  “Are you kidding? No way is anyone going to beat the stuff here so I’m not even going to try. So tell me, anything happening with that new delivery guy you were taking about last week?”
  “Second date is this Friday. That club you suggested was fantastic. We both had a blast.”
  “I’ll say. You were right about that waitress, too.”
  “Oh, man, I just have to ask,” grin spreading in expectation. “What was she wearing?”
  “A full tuxedo with rhinestone vest and tap shoes. And a top hat.”
  “No way,” I laughed, more, because I could picture her doing something exactly like that.
  “Really. She was even on stage for a while. I’ve never seen anyone tap dance to Chopin before. Especially with, well...” Slight blush.
  “Oh god, don’t describe it. My heart couldn’t take it.” Casey tap dancing. It was a wonder she survived the g-force.
  “Lets say I am glad she leaves couples alone.”
  “Always. She’s a real lady when it comes to that.” Merciless as hell when not.
  “That’s good to know, though I think they should keep her on stage all the time even if she wasn’t. She was super.”
  “Thanks, I’ll let her know that. As for the stage though, says she prefers the tips working tables as well as not having to cough up everything for union dues.”
  “Or else it has something to do with health insurance for the club patrons. Oh, I can’t believe I just said that!” Full blush now.
  I laughed again, “Don’t sweat it. Between you and me that probably is the reason. Another time I’ll tell you about when she...uh, actually, I won’t!” She giggled when I winked at her. “Well, leave them laughing as I always say, so on that note I’m out of here. Unless there is anything else?”
  “As if you had to ask,” she winked back at me and I rubbed mental hands in savory anticipation as she picked up a tray of samples to hold over. Could not tell what they were because the small brown pastries or cakes were covered in white icing.
  One for me and she held the tray out for the ‘other’ customer as I popped it in my mouth. Cinnamon buns to die for.
  “Oh my god, girl, you are going to give me diabetes, you know that?.”
  “Only if you order the fully iced ones—which you will.”
  “Yeah, yeah, let go my tail. How big are the real ones going to be?” She made a circle using two hands held apart. “Oof.”
  “No kidding. You should taste them when they are heated and the icing is melted. Talk about soft and gooie...”
  “Enough, you got me already. Okay, hold a dozen and I’ll be in Tuesday night. Not all for me I’ll have you know. One of the secretaries is having a birthday Wednesday. Considering the type of stamped cardboard cake the firm usually gets these are going to go over great. These take care of two each, right?”
  “Three, easy.”
  “Ha, not these girls—and before you even try, no on the next two trays. That is it, I am done.”
  “Are you sure?”
  “Absolutely positive.”
  “Oh well, no problem. Means more of these little Kahlua cheesecakes will be coming home with me.”
  “Christ, you do get commissions, don’t you?”
  “Told you no, and they really did make extras. How about a few to go on the house?” Already putting them in a small box. “The usual four...or five?”
  “Four is fine, thank you, Susan.”
  “You are welcome, but like I said, that jazz club was super.”
  “Glad you liked it. Maybe I’ll see you there sometime—if you arrive early enough.”
  “Oh, we will. Again, thanks for the advice. Table tag!”
  Grinning, “Yup. See you Tuesday. And thanks from my dentist.”
  More laughter and a final wave, “See you, have a great day.”
  “Looks like you have made a friend.”
  “Hmm? Oh, yeah, Susan is swell. Did not figure that in my timing, though fifteen minutes talking is the most I can risk at any time. First time I came here she sold me on these tiramisus and I thought nothing could top them. Man, was I wrong. Going to catch it for bringing those rolls in. As is, soon as I get the word they will have the chocolate mousse again I have to bring some for Linda and Quince. Go figure, have them over for dinner and get turned into an errand boy.
  “Okay, lets see.” Double checked my list, “Got it, got it and done. Honey is down here at the isle next to the register...ah ha, they did get the candles in. Only question is hand dipped or rolled?” The rolled honeycomb ones looked cool so I went with those, and after asking the kid at the counter if the four packs (one color of each, the bundle wrapped in twine only) were natural dye, and assured they were, picked up a few of those as well.
  The young man, (Tom was his name,) nodded as he was ringing up my purchases, “Got them in just in time. The woman who makes them told us she was really backed up. They’ll be all gone before the holiday.”
  A thing which happened around February first. Learning slowly, but I was learning.
  “They aren’t for me. Just need to know if the colors are right?”
  “One for each Quarter,” the pentacle wearing Pagan behind the counter assured me.
  “Any CDs before I total up, Mr. Hanscom?”
  “Not this time, Tom, thanks,” I said as the plastic was handed over. “Still going through that Trans Planet one. Thanks again for the recommend. You were right, it is a great way to sample new artists.” Couple more comments exchanged, asked Sheila if she was going to buy anything. Received a look, yet her answer was no so we were back out onto the street.
  Goods trunked and slid behind the wheel, “Place is great, isn’t it? Still can’t believe I was just driving past it all these years.”
  “You seemed to know your way around well.”
  “Mm-hmm, stop in every couple of days. Their fresh herbs beat out the supermarket’s hands down. Reason I went there in the first place, was out of stuff to make salad dressing.”
  “When did you start drinking tea?”
  “I haven’t.” So stick that in your pipe to smoke, baby.
  Alright, I still had anger, happy? I wasn’t, yet at least could admit it to myself. Awareness had to count for something.
  My, oh my, she did open the glove compartment! “Looking for something?”
  “A tissue. The car smells...terrible...?”
  “Oops,” I said with a chuckle as she paused because hey, hey, there was something to discover.
  “You have condoms?”
  An open, half-box at that. Yippee! “Well, you know what they say, baby, ‘No glove, no love’.”
  “Yes, yet, well, why?”
  “Because I was married to you and I have a conscious. Speaking of, you might want to start the practice yourself. How long is Mike going to be in jail?”
  “That is disgusting!”
  “Just saying.” I gave an nonchalant little shrug while flipping the turn signal...not being able to contain a small smirk around the replaced pipe stem. Reason, of course, being my own.
  “Well it does not matter anyway. It is over between us.”
  “Awe, that’s a shame. From the look of things you two hit it off pretty well. Better luck next time.”
  Smirk from her, “So you do watch.”
  “Nope. And I’m sorry to say if you wanted it back for a memento you’ll have to wait. Someone is borrowing it.”
  “What?!” she all but shrieked. “You gave that to...to...!”
  “To a couple of friends, yup.” To David and Kimberly. Not to watch. No, there was something spooky about doing a ‘spell of release’.
  “Since I can’t get her out of your head one way, can we try this?” David had asked as it was about to get tossed in the garbage. Something to do with anger and emotional connections, how the thing was ‘charged’ and would make the perfect ‘focusing point’ to wipe it away, along with some other mojo speak.
  Not a witch, my ass, kid.
  Only, holy crap, had it worked?
  Felt a little shiver go up my spine, yet it ended with a smile. Swear god, nothing at this point would surprise me, even if it was only a head trip.
  Cheaper than a damn head shrink, that’s for sure.
  Another little, inner chuckle as I wondered what she would have made of the cloth bag of protective crystals and spices in the glove if she hadn’t been so blindsided by the first discovery.
  Arrived at the building and the gate went up; my parking space pulled into and engine off, the woman in the passenger’s seat still silent, “Well, ride is over. Let me grab my stuff and you can get yours. Need to catch a cab from here though, I have to get the place ready for later.”
  Ride up the elevator ride was made interesting with the tight-lipped, “How dare you.”
  “What? Said in your email if I ever wanted more presents just to ask. Truth is, once you get past the initial shock value it was pretty boring.”
  “Whatever, only if that is your current career, you need a lot of coaching.”
  “You never had a problem.” She flounced her hair in annoyance.
  “Like I said, missed out on a lot of stuff that was right there before me.” Oh man, had I ever!
  “What are you grinning at?” she demanded as we got out on my floor.
  “None of your business.”
  “Am I going to meet her?” she indicated the door as I worked the lock.
  “Nope. Your stuff is in the closet along with some other junk.” No need to explain which closet that was. Her former walk in, a room in itself.
  Did a little double-take and paused on way of following me into the kitchen, “The place has really changed.”
  “Mm-hmm.” Not just the plants and few statues, lots of small, yet fine changes, right down to the low bowl of stones and cut flowers on the living room coffee table. Japanese thing. Kimberly had given David a book of flower arranging. One of his first tries and it was perfect.
  Comforting smell of incense still lingering in the air. Man, it was so good to come home these days.
  Smile as I put the groceries on the kitchen isle, a note waiting for me which I picked right up.
  ‘Steven, I already put some of the lasagna in a pan in the fridge for you, so lunch is ready. Heat it up!’
  “Yeah, yeah,” I snorted. “Don’t get bitchy.”
  ‘Talking about hot, I keep thinking about this morning and how I woke you up.’ Oof, had he ever!
  Grinned back at the little smiley-face. ‘By the way, does that make me a coffee drinker, yet? With extra cream? Yum!’
  “Jesus, kid, you are killing me.”
  ‘Anyway, we’ll see you later.
  P.S. Did you remember the honey this time?’
  Signed with a grin and winking smiley face. What a scamp.
  The right herbs placed in the fridge and I pulled out the pan. Added a touch of water to help it steam because it was better heated and put it on the burner. Stuck the other herbs in a waiting vase of water and turned around to catch Sheila going over my note.
  “This is not your hand writing.”
  “No shit, Sherlock. You don’t win any prizes.”
  “Steve, what is going on here?”
  “My life without you. Like I said, Shell, I’m grateful.”
  “That can’t be true.”
  Her cultivated speech was slipping, a real nerve touched. Groovy.
  “Sorry to disappoint, babe, but it is—oops.” Too much sizzling from the stove so I dashed over and turned it down. Opened the lid, “Whew, close one.”
  “That smells good.”
  “Bet your ass. That is breaded eggplant under the top layer, sort of a twice cooked thing. My only problem is going to be not finishing the pan and be unable to move for the ducks. Weightlifting exorcise in itself just bringing it out of the oven last night. Swear to god it was twenty pounds or something. Want to try? Believe me there is plenty.”
  “I would, thank you.”
  “Hey, no problem, like I said there is a ton and it will keep me from getting in trouble.” Back to the fridge to pull out the pan; noticed the tinfoiled package in back I had forgotten and grabbed that as well to cut off some of the garlic bread.
  Smiled, because there was already some in the toaster oven in wait for me. “What a kid.”
  “Mm-hmm,” I nodded as I made room for the addition. “You’d think the age gap would be a problem, but it’s not. First thing had us connect was the ability to talk to the other. Couldn’t understand it myself, I mean, Christ, half my age, right? Still, right from the start there was something there...” Only I was too screwed up to see it.
  My body sure had though; further difficulty in the mix.
  Turned and leaned against the counter, my arms folded and looked at this woman I had spent most of my life with while we waited for things to finish heating.
  “Sheila, may I ask you something?”
  “Such as?”
  “What makes you happy?”
  “What do you mean?”
  “Exactly what I asked. What makes you happy?”
  She chuckled and shook her head like I was being an idiot, “You know that, Steve. I enjoy shopping and being with people.”
  “Yes, but why?”
  “I do not understand?”
  “Why do you like to spend all of your time shopping? I mean, what does it do for you? What do you get out of it?”
  “Besides clothing?” I nodded. “Because you have to have these things around people, of course.”
  “That’s it? Wear fancy stuff around other people just so you will get noticed?”
  “Noticed by the right people,” she corrected.
  “What exactly are the right people?”
  “Excuse me?” she laughed.
  “What do you mean by the right people?”
  “Why people like ourselves, obviously.”
  “People like ourselves. Uh-huh.” I flipped off the stove next to me, things done. “So that’s it then. The things which make you happy is buying stuff to you can impress other people like yourself.” I shook my head as I fetched some plates, a sadness within. “Christ, Shell, I feel sorry for you.”
  “Steve...you do?”
  “Yes, because you don’t have a fucking clue about what life is about. Not a one.”
  “Oh really? So tell me, Steve, what do you think life is about?”
  “I am still working on it, only I do know what makes me happy. That is a big start.”
  “You mean screwing some secretary half your age makes you happy? That is some original wisdom gained indeed.”
  “Not a secretary.”
  “A floozy waitress, even better.”
  “Hardly. Tell you truth though, person like that, would not matter to me what they did for a living. Sure as hell beats you out. Hell, even a hooker would, because at least they do it to survive. Not you though, Sheila. No, you just screw guys for trinkets. Lady, that is some pathetic.”
  “How can you say such things, Steve? I am your wife.”
  “Not anymore you’re not.”
  Plates filled. “Okay, we’re all set here. You want any salad there is stuff in the fridge. We only made enough for last night.” Shake of her head (more for the hair bounce I suspected,) because she also said this was fine. Of course it was. Why risk breaking a manicured nail, right?
  Dinning room table had the half Merlot bottle and a single wine glass in readiness—as well as the Panster. Oops.
  “What is that?” she stopped in shock.
  “Belongs to David. Kid has a real eye when it comes to antiques. Lucky find, too. Thing belongs in a museum. Quirky for my tastes, yet the craftsmanship is undeniable.
  “And to save time, he’s a friend from work who is renting out the spare bedroom.”
  “Because he is a friend and needed a place, that’s why. So between him and everything else, the answer is no if you wanted to rent the spare rooms.”
  “That was never my intension, Steve.”
  “Mm-hmm. Eat up before it gets cold.”
  “That things is dreadful looking,” she grimaced again before looking away. “I can not understand how you can eat with a devil staring at you.”
  “What devil? Geesh, Sheila, don’t you know anything about mythology? That’s just Pan. Pretty cool dude if you ask me. Someone who knows how to enjoy life to the fullest, as well as tries to see others do the same. Still, tinfoil is in the kitchen if you want to pack up and go,” I shrugged a shoulder before I dug in. Oh, mama, this was great!
  Contained, yet I knew she was having similar thoughts.
  “Something your girlfriend made?”
  “Sorry, Steven, just because someone comes over with something in a pan for the oven, such does not mean they actually made it.”
  “I shall leave such insights to what others may or may not do to you, Sheila. Especially since I was the one to boil the pasta and slice the eggplant for this.” As well as crack the eggs for the batter, not a shard included, thank you very much. “Kind of interesting to hear how your mind works when it comes to the subject.
  “So,” I took a swallow of wine, “What went wrong with Mike?”
  “The bastard lied to me.” Real force behind the stabbing of the fork. For a moment I thought she had cracked the plate.
  “No, really?” I snorted. “Wow, the mind reels. Ha.”
  She put things down and glared, “It is not humorous, Steven. Of course I had been to his apartment plenty of times—” (Whore.) “—however, I was led to believe certain things which were simply not true. Everything was there only for so much show.”
  “Need to give things another chance, Shelia. The more I learn the more I can truthfully say that you two seem perfect for the other.”
  “No, Steve, you and I are perfect for the other. I do enjoy the music you have playing now, by the way. I find it quite exotic.”
  “Uh, yeah.” Do not look at her. Not when she uses that tone of voice. That deep, throaty note coming from that long, perfect, model’s throat...
  Quick sip of wine, which I knew instantly for a mistake and put it down again fast.
  “Is something the matter, honey? You look tense all of a sudden.”
  “I’m fine.”
  “Are you, Steve? Are you really?”
  “I am not so certain of that. Steve, can we talk for a bit?”
  “We are.”
  “No, I mean... Is there a reason you are not looking at me? It is not one of your headaches, is it?”
  “Because I can understand if it is. Honey, this is not easy for me either.”
  “Stop calling me that, Shell.” Shit! I’d called her Shell and an attempt to look over casual caught the smile on her face. Not triumphant, but a soft one. A small, warm one.
  Quick push back from the table when she rose and started coming over.
  “I thought you might like a massage...?”
  “Well I don’t. Not from you, Sheila. Not ever again.”
  “Are you certain?”
  “Positive,” I said as I rose as well, ending that shit.
  “Not from me. Steve, all those years shared between us, you can not tell me there is anyone who knows you better than I do. I refuse to believe that.”
  “Well there is, so you better.” Same as this had better end now.
  I am not tempted, I told myself firmly. No, it did not matter that she was the only woman I had known like that—the woman—known like that for so long. Didn’t matter that she was a woman and I hadn’t done anything with such since...since herself.
  David keep saying, Christ, he damn near insists at times... No! Not her or anyone else! Especially not Her.
  Ruin everything. Destroy everything.
  Quick breath. No, I am not tempted, only, damn, that is it isn’t it? Never going to have anything like that ever again. And you know what? For the first time—actually, truly facing that thought for the reality it was for first time—I was fine with it. Some small regret, sure, but nothing I couldn’t live easily enough with.
  Damn though, hope cooking class doesn’t run late tonight. Man, talk about the ‘pain’ of having to wait!
  Mm, David, going to have a real ‘present’ for you tonight. Yum!
  But on opening my mouth to tell her she was barking up the wrong tree, to wish her a good afternoon and see you later, she spoke before I could, closed the distance and placed her hand on my chest to coo up at me, “Baby, don’t be like this. Steve, what do I have to do? Just tell me what I have to do to prove to you that I am serious, that we belong together? Just tell me, honey, I will do anything.”
  “Anything?” I cocked and eyebrow mockingly.
  Quick furrow of her brow, “Except that.”
  “Damn straight, babe. After all, once you’ve had the best, there’s no need to waste time on the rest.”
  “Stop it.”
  “No, Sheila, you stop it,” I said as I removed her hand. “Stop your games and your tricks because it is not going to play here. Dammit, Sheila, what do you want from me?”
  “What’s mine. And, Steve, you are mine.”
  “Not from the moment you walked out the door I wasn’t. You made your choice, Sheila. Time you faced up to reality. Same as it is time for you to grab your damn box and get the hell out of here. For good.”
  “You say one thing, but your looks say something else.”
  “Lady, you are so full of sh—” and she kissed me.
  Oh god. Sheila. Shell. Those lips and the taste of Her, the familiarity and...
  Blanked for a moment. Body thing, memory, habit, I don’t know what, but it was a moment before I came to the realization that I was kissing her back. Fully. Yes, it was good, it had been so long since I’d truly kissed and been kissed by someone—and the feel of it! My arms come up around her back, fingers sinking deeply into her hair, those slight-curling locks naturally wrapping about my fingers like tiny snakes of silk, sensation longed to feel again so very desperately. Yes, it was good, but...
  But it’s gone. The feeling isn’t here. The rest of it, sure, but not the thing which really mattered.
  Something changed right then and there. Some final drop and lifting.
  Something final, closed forever.
  Good bye, Shell. I truly did love you once, I spoke in my mind softly before ending it. Before stepping back and away from her.
  She caught it in my eyes, same shade as her own. Caught the truth, and whatever it was within her own now, for the life of me, I just could not tell.
  “Yes, Sheila. I am sorry. It was your call to end it. I never wanted it to, but it is over.”
  “I am not giving up, Steve. Not on us.”
  “God damn you, Shell, there is no more ‘us’. It took me a year to realize that, now it is your turn to do the same. I am sorry.” I was. Not for myself, not anymore, but for her.
  “Never. And you can not say you no longer feel anything, Steve. I can see that you do.” Meaningful glance at the front of my pants.
  Didn’t matter. That was just bodies, kissing and physicality. And truthfully, it wasn’t very much of a reaction at that. A stir based on the memories of things more then anything current. No, I needed more now.
  No, I had a lot more now.
  “Don’t fool yourself. Sorry, Sheila old gal, but I’ve traded up and that’s a fact.” Short laugh I couldn’t help, “Man, have I ever!”
  Crinkle at edge of her eyes. I’d only been joking about that botox earlier, but her age was showing, same as that mask over her real eyes was cracking at her failure.
  “You will never find anyone else better than me.”
  “Like I said, I already have. Someone who’s blond, blue-eyed and comes with an ass that won’t quit!” I said with a grin, laughing inside at the craziness of the world. More seeping out of her real self making it even easier. Seeing the thoughts flashing fast behind those now clear, calculating eyes as she worked to manage a come-back; a way to twist things—twist me—to get what she wanted, so I had to add, “Never be a problem with our age difference either. What’s a twenty year gap, right? So sorry, babe,” I said, shaking my head as her face went red, “but the plain fact is you’re no longer my type!”
  “You bastard!”
  “That I am, same as you’re a whore.” And the hell she’d put me through! Fuck, I could even almost feel bad for that other son of a bitch’s life she’d ruined as well.
  Almost, but not, because I wasn’t a god damn saint.
  Anger to be released though. A year’s worth of it simmering beneath, and petty bastard that I was I let more of it out to gain whatever nasty pay-back I could for it all.
  “Yeah, you messed up this play alright, Shell. Come at it differently and you might have made yourself something today.”
  “I have no problem with that.”
  My eyes widened. Jesus Christ, she was serious!
  I wasn’t though, yet I had to ask, “That bad?”
  “I do not know what to do, Steve. I am desperate.” She came over again, but there was no change in me at all from the touch this time, even as she raised her eyes to mine, “Please, honey, won’t you help me? I will do anything, even ‘that’ if you want me to...?”
  Attempt at the kiss like before, but all her lips met were nothing; mine closed and cold, as unresponsive as the rest of me.
  No, not my type at all. Never again.
  “I’ll show you!”
  Disgust when she actually started to kneel, but enough was fucking enough!
  Grabbed her wrists before hands could start at my pants and heaved her up, “Get out of here before I throw you out.” Dead serious and she knew I meant it, loathing in my eyes which I didn’t try to conceal.
  “What about my things?” She rubbed her wrists as she stepped back, released. Another shock for her, the force I had used...against her.
  “Get them and get out.”
  Just a nod and she left to do so. Good. I started cleaning off the table, the bitch coming back to catch me in the kitchen making a pot of coffee, box in hands and something else on top of it, something which had me laugh despite my simmering anger. The ‘present’ from the other whore; thing tossed into the closet until I had to deal with it.
  Composure, the ‘act’ regained when she spoke, “It is addressed to you.”
  “Take it, it’s nothing I want,” I said over my shoulder as I returned to what I was doing.
  “The card says it is from someone named Sally. It looks rather cute.”
  “Looks can be deceiving.”
  “You do not even want to know what it is?”
  “Hell no. The bimbo it’s from is a worse gold digger than you. Has some crazy idea it’s going to make me want to marry her.”
  “Do you mind?” Stalling for time but so what? The clock had run out.
  “Be my guest.” After all, the kitchen had to be cleaned anyways.
  Didn’t even bother to look as paper crinkled, but at the gasp I just had to.
  “Yeah, about what I figured,” I snorted, shaking my head in grim amusement. Some sort of sex toy, and about the only ‘thoughtful’ thing about it was fact the box was still plasticed and unused.
  Other things also fell out of the wrapping though and these brought on a stronger reaction.
  “Oh for the love of god.” Pictures too! And I was all but bursting a gut as I retrieved the ones on the floor.
  “Those were taken at the firm.”
  Not in my office though. No, the ones of ‘Miss Sally Anne Simon’ in nothing but spread-legged birthday suit and ‘at manual play’ had been taken elsewhere...and by someone else.
  “Holy shit.” Baxter’s office? One in particular caught my eye and...yes!
  Got you, you son of a bitch! Oh it was perfect! Baxter had a wall of books as most of us did. Only his office was an upper floor one, fancy, and the books were behind glassed doors and guess who’d caught himself clear-mirrored in their reflection while snapping photos?
  “Jesus, maybe I will kiss her for this.”
  “You’re a pig!”
  “Card carrying member, babe, and proud of it. No, keep it like I said. Clearly you need it more than I do,” I laughed as I shoved the ‘toy’ back in the paper and stuck it on her box. “I’ll take these though if you don’t mind?” and scooped up the photos, grinning nastily.
  Time to clean out the rest of the garbage, whatever plan she’d worked up while gathering her wits in the closet shattered as I picked up the box, handed it to her and made it clear the party was over as I took an elbow to escort her physically to the front door.
  Bad, bad, timing...or maybe the best of it, because on opening the door there was sounds of lively voices coming down the hall; the Trio returned from shopping.
  Lets just say there was a bit of a ‘pause’ as everyone went quiet, some faces doing odd things at the meeting.
  Bless her though, Casey was the first to step up, pearly whites flashing wide.
  “Hey, Mr. Man, what gives?”
  “Yourself a chest cold, Miss Casey if that’s the way you’re walking outside.”
  “What, these puppies?” she gave her usual heft.
  “Well don’tcha worry yourself none, Mr. Man. These doggies are always warm enough for ya. Same as these lips be,” and talk about having a lucky day if she didn’t finish her swirling hipped swagger and come up to plant me a good one dead on.
  And here I’d thought I’d had my last kiss from a woman!
  “Oomph,” I breathed when it was over. “Damn, girl, a greeting like that makes a man want to fetch his wallet and make a deposit.”
  “All doors are always open for your insertions, Mr. Coffee Man.” Chocolate hand reached up and fingers twirled through my ‘thick’ hair with a foxy wink and hard tug.
  An “Ouch” which had nothing to do with the final yank.
  “Oh, sorry,” I blinked and shook my head innerly to clear it of the daze. “Hi, Kimberly.”
  “Is that all you have to say to me, Steven?” she seemed to ‘huff’ before shoving her grocery bags at David.
  Well what the hell else was I supposed to do here?
  Namely stand there as the little blond button came up and damn if she didn’t pull me down by a shirt collar for a hug.
  “That her?” she whispered in my ear.
  A giggle and “Good!” and being a twenty year old, cute lesbian or not, this kiss was given with more gusto than Casey’s had been!
  “Hey!” an irritated voice piped up. David. Shit.
  “Sorry, David,” I said, feeling, and looking, red.
  “Yeah, sorry, Davey,” Kimberly said and returned to give him a peck on the cheek as well as retake her half of the bags.
  Then they all trouped by on into the apartment passed my rather stunned ex-wife.
  “Bye!” I waved and shut the door fast, shoulders already shaking in wild laughter. “Holy shit. Thanks, guys, that was perfect!”
  “Been some trouble?”
  “Not a bit of it, Miss Casey. She just came by to pick up the last of her things.”
  “Good,” David said softly.
  “More than good,” I said back. “David, put that crap down, I’ve got something to say.” He did so, face set too neutral for my liking. Understood the girls’ ‘jest’ I’m sure, but it still hadn’t been right. Not to him.
  I came close and looked down at him, “David?”
  “Yes, Steven?”
  “She’s gone.” He just looked up at me. “She’s gone, David. From the head, get it?” Lighter look, he did. Or thought he did at least before a small smile was managed and nod of head before he went to pick things up and go on to the kitchen.
  You haven’t gotten it, kid. Not one bit of it.
  “Wait a minute.”
  “What? Steven, I’m not mad.”
  “Good, because I wouldn’t want to get slapped for doing this.”
  “Doing what?” he looked up at me again.
  “This.” And it was my arms around him and me coming down for a kiss this time. Not a simple lip-peck either, but a real one. Our first one. The only one I’d truly wanted during that lock with Sheila.
  Took him a moment because there were others there and Steven was like he was and...and then it didn’t matter anymore. Not to him and not to me.
  Holy god...
  Everything else just vanished as it went on...and on, and it was a painful shame that there were others there because there was only one thing this was leading too as a couple shuffled steps were taken, meaning to use the door as brace against his back when a whooping laugh of, “Lawdy, someone toss a bucket of ice water on those two before they burst into flames already!” had our flushed faces break apart fast.
  As well as something (say a box of clothing) thrown crashing against the other side of the door.
  Lots of laughter from us all then, more so from the girls though as they left and David, still in my arms looked with shinning eyes up at me.
  “Mm-hmm,” I grinned back down. “Good thing you like to wait.”
  “Not this time it isn’t.”
  “Tough shit, kid. We’ve got company. We’ve got friends.”
  “Yes, we do. I love you, Steven.”
  Smile from me and I tousled his hair.
  I love you too, David. And after that kiss, I knew I would have my time, manage finally, somehow, to soon be able to say those words to him aloud.

  The cooking class was a blast. Lots of jokes and there was no bitchiness in the kitchen, even when Kimberly offered to bet that Davey would be the one to burn something this time, he was so distracted. Same a I was, unable, and no longer needing, to refrain from a few meaningful touches...affectionate caresses...of shoulder and hip had here and there as the afternoon faded to early evening.
  Fine time for all, and after the grand meal was finished it was more relaxing for everyone as we all hung around in the living room watching the reflection of the flower arrangement and lit candles on the flat screen. Just listening to music and kicking back to digest.
  Another first, because this time there was nothing to hide, and I exchanged a smile with Casey over the head of the curled-up girl snuggled happily upon what would always be the best pillows in the house, while I, with a happy David held in crook of arm doing thing similar, leaned back settled contentedly on the couch.
  “Told you,” she mouthed over at me.
  Yes, she had. And it was a special blessing in itself to just lower my face and place it resting with closed eyes upon David’s head, everything right with the world at last.

  No one had to say anything, and it was all on their own that our friends made choice to leave early.
  Soon as the door shut David turned to me, “I can’t wait any longer.”
  Brush of my hand on his already flushed cheek, “We don’t have to.”
  Started there, but eventually worked our way back to the couch, arms going around as we settled first side by side and there was no more need to hold anything back as the serious kissing began...and kept going.
  Eyes closed and it was sound of good leather creaking as things tilted and I naturally moved on top.
  It was all there; the breaths, feel of working lips...the tastes and cupping, pulling hand at back of my neck... Old instincts of the hind-brain kicking in strong as my hand worked at buttons of shirt at the soft moans for things more; an actual start and flush of embarrassment when my hand, seeking to close around a breast, of course did not find one.
  His hand trapping mine there; whispers against my cheek.
  “Are you sure?”
  “Same thing, Steven. Just without all the fat,” he laughed softly.
  Then catch of his breath as my fingers found and squeezed gently the nipple. Yes, movement and sounds from the body beneath mine showed the sensations were the same as things resumed.
  I loved those sounds, loved him, and this was a time of further explorations and intimacies, another inner barrier removed.
  To please you, David. To show you what I truly feel...
  And even if it was a thought I kept to myself, part of me admitted I liked the taste of them.

  One of those pauses, his whole body trembling with arms gripping my back tightly, his repeated, whispery, “Oh, oh, oh...” a thing indescribable.
  Catching himself at last, the way his shinning face turned back up to look at me, his eyes wide with something as he stared up...then abrupt lift and there was more kissing, almost franticly done. God, we couldn’t get enough of the other tonight! And as the kiss continued, so deep, so long...I lowered my hand down to cup and lift.
  Kiss broken fast and it was a gasped, “Wait, I’m not—!”
  But I knew better (of course I did. I was his Top after all,) and continued, pressed deeper and fully and there was a tightening, his whole body clenching and shivering.
  “T-there. Oh, Steven, there. There, there, now, n-now, oh now—” a moaned mantra against my ear; continuing as my own body went over the crest and spilled into him.
  I think I’d actually lost count during this night’s marathon, but this was the last. Incredible as the orgasm was, there was still something of pain there, my body making it clear it had put up with enough.
  I’ll be damned if we’re both not walking funny tomorrow after this insanity.
  Collapsed on him with a heavy groan. Fuck anymore of that too dangerous kissing after that!
  His hands were still wrapped tightly around my shoulders when he started to whisper, and I am not certain he had meant to say it aloud.
  “Never change,” the quiet plea cut through my groggy brain. “Oh, Steven, never change. Never hate me. Please, never make me leave you. Never lose you. Please, please, please...”
  “Never,” I managed to lift my head up and turn to look down at him. “David, never leave me. Never, because I... I l-l... I-I...” Oh, please! Please, not now! Not my throat gone tight and seal shut like this now! Not now!
  Hand lifting to rub up my face to my matted hair, gripped and held, ignoring my tense shaking of desperate frustration.
  “I love you too, Steven,” he said, eyes serene, calm and knowing. “I love you too.”
  YES! the word shouted through my mind as I hugged him hard as I could. Yes, he knows! Thank you, thank you, thank you...
  I love you too!

  Stepping into the elevator the next morning on way up from carpark to the office and I glanced down at him, “Whatever has you grinning like that keep it to yourself.”
  “Me grinning?” he smirked back. “Look who’s talking!”
  “Ha,” I snorted, though my lips were full up doing exactly that. “This is a god’s damn grimace of pain. Threw my fucking back out, swear to god.”
  “You think your ‘back’ is sore. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to sit today!”
  “Serves you right after that move you pulled in the shower, you little shit.” Shook my head incredulous, “I still can’t believe you did that.” And we had. Again. For the love of god, he’d got us going again.
  “I couldn’t help it,” he sighed ruefully as I just snorted. “It’s just well, you were washing my hair and...”
  “Yeah. Still.”
  “Yeah, still. But don’t worry, because I don’t think I can do anything more for at least a week.”
  “Good, because I’m figuring a month.” More like several. Maybe even a year. Jesus!
  “Wanna bet?” he wrinkled his nose impishly.
  “Fuck. Off,” I growled as I turned away, doing my best to ignore him, my back and a small twinge of ache from my crotch.
  Jesus, what a night!
  A good morning though. Could not remember a time when the spirits side of me had felt this good. Easy laughter, talk, smiles and waves passed all around. Enjoyed fully listening to and looking at the heap of photos of the latest adventures of Betty and her grandkids. The youngest clan member had gotten chance to try out her first pair of ice-skates, and bumped button of a nose had been easily forgotten beneath the kettle of hot chocolate she’d downed. Had me thinking, crappy back or no, that maybe David and I should take a long weekend, catch the train to Connecticut and get in the looked-for cross country skiing we’d been unable to manage over Christmas because of his injuries.
  Then again, smug smirk given as I passed him at his desk because he was sitting oddly, maybe we should wait till next week.
  Favorite CD in the player and humming away as on break from the unending paperwork of the profession I was walking around, trying to stretch out the damn kink in my back when there was a rap on the doorframe.
  “Hey, Quince. How’d it go?” First time I’d seen him all day, though there’d been a card of thanks waiting in my inbox from Linda that morning. As usual though, when anyone around here ‘dared’ to actually take their vacation time, once back they got hammered with a workload. Sort of an unspoked rule of penalty for actually having a life outside of the firm.
  “Breezed through easier than I’d expected. Amazing what a man can do when his head is clear.”
  “Yup,” I agreed as he went to take a chair and I crossed round my desk to do the same.
  Sitting down smiling, “So tell me—owe!” And I cracked a snort as hand went to my lower back. “Son of a bitch,” I laughed again as I rubbed.
  “Hell with me, what’s up with you? Looking like the canary that swallowed the cat.” Gesturing nod, “Pick up some more antique furniture or something while we were away? Got to tell you, Steven, the stuff at your aunt’s place was incredible, but there’s no way you’d get me to lift some of those chairs even. Saw the kid at the water station and he looks in the same shape. Don’t tell me you two were fool enough to go moving furniture like that on your own?”
  “Christ, I think we did,” I grinned unthinkingly at memory of some of our more exuberant moments.
  “Oh my god.” Total change in his voice and I looked over in surprise...looked into his face.
  Pale. Neutral and tight, relaxed manner gone.
  I blinked, not understanding when he got out of his chair fast, still looking...then blanked my face out when he ducked his flushing one away.
  My guts clenched and I looked away, feeling...
  I see. Oh yes, got the picture real clear, same as he just had.
  Doesn’t matter to you, eh, Quince? No, it hadn’t when his ‘knowledge’ had just been a casual thought, but the actual idea of it? The image maybe?
  My god, why did I say that?!
  Because I hadn’t been thinking, that was why. Had been in a place where I’d forgotten, had been relaxed. Had been a regular ‘man’ in relaxed company of another man. Just a ‘guy’ who’d had a super night, hanging out the next day with ‘his’ friend and...and...
  I did not look up as he stammered, making his way fast towards the door, “Well, got to go, Hanscom.” (Hanscom, not Steven. My eyes slowly closed briefly.) “Mound of work up there. Forgot something. Real busy. Shouldn’t have left...”
  “Understood, Parker. By the way,” I said coolly, voice tight with quiet anger, “if you would pass on my welcome to Linda. The ‘thank you’ card for staying at my house was nice, but she didn’t have to do it. After all, that’s what friends are for, right?”
  “Yeah. Uhm, thanks. I will. Gotta get back to my desk now. Later, Hanscom,” and he bolted.
  One, two, three— Didn’t make it to ten before it was a sharp arch downwards, desperate scramble for the wastebasket and I was heaving up lunch.
  Oh, Christ...
  The smell rose, but I was an old hand at this, grabbed a folder and used it as a lid, feeling...
  This couldn’t stay in the office and the cardboard wouldn’t work for long so I got up on stiff legs to take my mess and myself to the washroom. No reply to David’s question when I walked passed his station without looking.
  Didn’t take him long to follow, but like I said, I was an old hand at this and was already doing the first rinse and dump into the toilet when the door opened.
  I didn’t turn around.
  “Steven, what’s wrong?”
  “Quince...Parker. He...”
  “He what? Steven, what is going on?”
  Rough laughter and I just shook my head.
  “Oh. But I thought he... He was okay with it?”
  “Okay with it. Yeah, he was ‘okay with it’ until it hit him. And then he couldn’t run out of the fucking room fast enough to get away from me—” Gut clench and I dropped the basket, dry heaving over the mess in the john.
  “Don’t!” I flinched back from his reaching hand, my own coming out to keep him back. “Just...don’t.”
  “I... All right.”
  “Just... Just give me a minute here.” Closed my eyes and spat acid again.
  “It is all right, Steven. I understand.”
  “No, I do. Steven, this...it happens all the time.” I wiped my mouth and finally glanced at him. I didn’t know what I expected to see, not that blanked out and too calm face. Not that unreadable look in his eyes.
  “It is very normal,” he was saying as I blinked at him, not knowing what the fuck he was going on about or why he was looking at me like that. “Sometimes men, when they end a relationship really badly, well, sometimes they need something different for a bit. A different type of company. I always... In my other job, I always seemed to attract them. And then...then everything goes back to normal. For them.”
  “My other job, Steven. The old one.”
  The runaway, the starving street kid selling himself to survive.
  Being kept...then tossed away when finished with.
  “Steven, yes.”
  Oh god, his eyes!
  “No. David, that is not what is happening here.”
  “Isn’t it?” He didn’t wait for me to find any words, but said firmly, “I’ve been expecting it. What you did... There is nothing to be ashamed about, Steven. It does happen all the time, just like I said. Everything will be fine for you now. All back to normal. I’ll... I will be out by the time you get home.”
  “Don’t say that!” I stumbled over and griped his shoulders hard, myself shaking hard, “Don’t you fucking say that, David!”
  He just looked up at me, walls around emotions and eyes built up solid. Protective walls to keep himself safe. Walls to keep me out. “It’s okay, Steven. I understand, like I said. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I can take care of myself.”
  “Stop it,” I snarled as I hugged him (and he wasn’t holding me back!) “David, please, don’t leave me. You promised.”
  “But the way you... I mean, I thought...”
  “You little bastard. You god damn little bastard. Stop this. Stop always giving up on everything so easily! Stop expecting to lose everything!”
  “But I do. I always do.”
  “Not. Me,” I husked into his ear. Lowered my face till it was pressing next to his, held him tighter and could have cried in relief when his walls came down and arms came up and around me. “Don’t give up on me, David. Please. Not me, not ever.”
  “Steven...” he hick-upped and started shaking, crying in his small voice, “I love you.”
  “David, David, David...” Raised my face and placed chin on top of his head as one hand held him tight to me by back of the neck, my eyes blinking rapidly. “David, I am so sorry. I did not mean to push you away like that. I wasn’t thinking, don’t know why I did it...”
  “At least you didn’t hit me. I do not like it when...when people hit.”
  “Oh, Jesus, never.” Oh, David.
  I pulled away just enough to look down at him, “Nothing has changed, you got that?”
  “David. I mean it. Nothing, do you hear me?”
  “So you would still kiss me if I asked?”
  “If you wanted to taste puke in a men’s washroom I would.”
  “Uhm... Maybe later then,” he sniffled and I managed a smile.
  “Yup.” Then I started shaking again.
  “Hush, it’s all right. I’ll be fine, I just...” Took a shaking breath and held it, gained a bit of control again. “I just didn’t expect it... No, I did expect it, only...” He was my friend.
  “He is wrong, Steven.”
  “Right or wrong it doesn’t matter to me, David. You matter to me and that is all. Everything...everything else is secondary.” Another deeper breath taken and the calmness was returning. The calmness as well as the first stirrings of returning of anger, thing I locked down as well. Now was not the time for such. Things were still too charged and he was too sensitive. “I can handle anything, David, and I will. Can handle it because you are worth that much to me. Because you are with me, got it?”
  “You shouldn’t have to...because of me.”
  “Tough shit, kid, but that’s life.” My life.
  I don’t care. No, I don’t care at all, because no matter what it is going to be like, it is still better than anything else I’ve ever known.
  Now if only my guts would listen and unknot...
  “I hate him.”
  “Don’t. Not Parker’s fault.” I pulled away and straightened, went to the sink to flush my mouth and put things to rights, knowing we were lucky as hell that no one had come in as it was.
  As if that mattered now.
  Gripped the sink suddenly. Jesus Christ...
  “It is his fault because he lied to you.”
  “David...” Dry swallow before I managed to speak again, “Later, all right? We’ll talk more about it later. Let’s just focus on getting through today, okay?”
  “Okay. Do you want me to take care of that?” The wastebasket.
  “No, I’ve got it. Go on now, I’ll be fine.”
  “Seriously, I’ve got it. Besides, left my office door open and you are gone from your station. It’d be all we needed if that bitch shows up right now and got ideas.”
  “All right. Do you want some coffee?”
  “Sure.” Still, he took a moment to clean his own face as I went back to deal with my mess, then he was gone.
  Done, final flush and closing of the lid as I sat down, face in my hands, guts still in knots.
  Oh, Christ, what am I going to do? How was I going to face everyone I knew when they all wore the expression Quince had? When they all looked at me...as my fucking best friend had?
  Well, guess I’ll just have to get a better set of friends...or do without.
  Then again, that latter wouldn’t have been any different then before David had come along, was it? No, it hadn’t.
  And we do have friends. Casey and Kimberly.
  Yes, I could find comfort in that. “You hear that, guts? I am better off now then I was before, so remember that fact when the time comes, got it? Good.”
  Sat up then got up.
  Time to get back to work.

  The ‘Lawyer’s face’ put on before exiting, but smile, nod and word of quiet thanks for the coffee, his effort to do something for me. No, this was not the time for further talking, or loosing it again, so back to his desk and me to mine without anything further than that.
  Not the time for thinking either, though that latter was easier said than done as I grabbed a folder at random off the pile and opened it; pulled my computer back up from sleep mode in preparation of getting to.
  Was almost grateful as a minute later it started beeping; an inter-firm private message coming through.
  Oh fucking wonderful. Baxter’s identifier. Of course.
  “What the...?” No text. Blank except for an attached file. Media file? Well, that would be a first. Of course the ugly, bulldog-mugged bastard preferred roaring down spit at someone face to face, only did it through live video in a pinch, but something recorded?
  Ah well, soon got to and done with.
  Still trying to handle the one shock, I clicked the play mode and stared for a moment, needing it to comprehend exactly what I was looking at.
  My office. A silent video taken at strange angle in my office...of me leaning back in my chair while David massaged my head.
  I blinked and recognized it instantly. Our first day back from vacation.
  What the hell—Oh, my God! —When he came around and I lifted my face to kiss him.
  Something deep inside me lurched even as it cut off...a moment of black then it started again. Different scene...which was edited to show David walking in after Casey had just left and...!
  Oh. My. God!!
  The bastard had it set to loop, and all I could do was just sit there in ridged horror and watch it again.
  That son of a bitch wired my office!
  Explained it. Explained everything, from his pulling back and not causing trouble to that triumphant grin at the party.
  That’s it, he’s got me.
  Explained why there was no text as well. There wasn’t any need. Oh yeah, I got the message clear, alright.
  “Wanna trade, asshole?” all but pulsed with his laughter from the screen.
  He’s got me. The old son of a bitch has got me.
  I sat there watching it again, unable to even lift my hand to cut it off.
  Well, that’s it, Steven. Ran yourself a good race, but there’s no going against one of the Big Boys for long.
  More than that, I was out. Out of the firm and most likely my career anywhere else as well because he had connections everywhere. Even then though, no. There was no way I could possibly stay here now, not with him having this held over me.
  Oh yeah, you’ll ‘trade’ alright. Trade, but keep a copy for yourself. Sorry, old son, no way am I ever going to become your lackey. He’d do it, too. Of course he would. Stay and I’d be the one forced to do all the dirty stuff he wouldn’t risk being caught at himself.
  No way and no how, asshole. Win you might have, but never that.
  Watched it again, too defeated still to move.
  Some small saving grace, the desk David had joked about. I absently wondered where the camera was, the one which no doubt was recording merrily away even now? Way I was leaning transfixed forwards, was most likely only getting a good one of my shoulder, but still.
  Thank god for that. Can’t see a god damn thing of David. Not as if anyone had to, of course, was clear as hell enough to anyone what was going on having seen the young man go kneeling down and my reactions...
  The ‘calmness’ was descending. That fear or anger triggered reaction which stilled everything and I used it to capture that thought harder before it slipped away.
  You can’t see anything.
  Oh, who was I kidding? There was that kiss after all.
  Sighed as the defeat resumed. So what if you couldn’t see David later? Was very clear that kiss, though again though, had to be thankful it wasn’t like now, the way we really went at it.
  Look at it, Steven. Look at it closely.
  Why? So I could see the shitty way I’d been treating David before? A little fucking peck of tight-closed lips because that was the best I could manage of such?
  Exactly, Steven. Exactly. You look like that is all you can manage when it comes to kissing another man.
  Yes, but...
  Wait. Think! I’m missing something here. Something important.
  Then I had it; watched the video taken in my office do its loop one more time, the reasons other.
  Bad angle and it’s low. He thought whatever ‘action’ would take place here would happen on the couch. Plans to use his bitch? Possibly. Didn’t like to give up his toys though, not a ‘sharing’ individual. Covering his ass, knew her, might have been worried she would stray... No, my bet was that Baxter had just set things up hoping to catch whatever dirt he could on me and that was that.
  I knew my office, the camera was somewhere under the shelf across from me, someplace anyone dusting wouldn’t come across.
  “Ahem.” I did it again, cleared my throat (he didn’t have sound wired, thing I got from the video. Sound—discussions recorded here—would have been the nail in the coffin and he would have used all his ammunition...if he’d had any,) and strove to blank down my face, to keep the grin off of it before I reached up, clicked off the monitor and sat back to pick up the phone, dead serious as I could manage.
  Buttons pushed, identified so secretary was skipped (thank God he was taking calls from me) and Parker picked right up.
  “Steven,” he said right off the bat before I could speak, “I’m sorry. Look, I was an asshole, alright? I admit it, only—”
  “Parker?” I said, anger returning to my voice.
  “Shut the fuck up.”
  “Now then, you once said you owed me a favor.”
  “I did! I meant it, Steven. I won’t tell—”
  “Shut up and listen to me a fucking moment.”
  Silence on the other end. Good, because there was no knowing how far this went, or who might be listening. No way I could hint that the phone system might be bugged.
  “Good boy. Now, my friend, I am going to call in that favor, and it is this: Come to my office right now. Right now, Parker, and when you get here do not say a word, got it?”
  “No, but...”
  “Right now, Parker,” I said and cut the connection.
  Single touch of another button and I had David on the line.
  “David, could you come in here please? There is something that is going to keep you smiling,” I emphasized and hoped he got it.
  “Yes, Mr. Hanscom.”
  Smart and fast, had hardly put the handset down when he came in. Smiling.
  “What’s up, Mr. Hanscom?”
  Good kid.
  I rose from my desk and walked around front, hands clasped behind my back, turned slightly and said softly, “It’s showdown time, kid. The Beast is going down and he’s going down right now.”
  “Oh, good. Uhm, can I ask...?”
  “I don’t know. Can you?”
  This cracked a real smile. “Okay, may I ask then?”
  “That you may, my boy. Only wait another minute till Parker arrives.”
  Not a real smile now, “Why him?”
  “None better. It’s his fucking problem after all.”
  Anger aside, it was still all I could do to not start rocking up and down on the balls of my feet in nasty glee.
  May one even say, triumphant glee?
  Yes. Yes, one could at that.
  “Hanscom?” nervous from the doorway.
  “Quincy, thank you for coming.” I nodded. “Now then, just a small favor—” and then you can run away again, you son of a bitch “—and it really is small.”
  I don’t think he liked much the look on my face, or in my eyes, because he grunted, “What?”
  I pointed, “That shelf right there. Just poke your head beneath for a moment—without touching anything—and tell me if you seen anything.”
  “Just do it, Parker.” Probably thought I’d lost it, but he must really be feeling guilty because there was no further backtalk or questions as he crossed the room to do so. David asked question with his eyes and I winked at him.
  “Hanscom, what the hell am I trying to...” Pause, and gave an internal sigh of relief because I’d judged right. Still would have worked, maybe not as easily, but it was better that I had. “Alright,” he straightened up, looking puzzled. “Private joke I’m sure, Hanscom, but why’d you tape one of those lazer pointer gizmos under your shelf?”
  “It’s not a pointer and I didn’t put it there.” Pause for effect, then: “It’s a camera.”
  “What?” He dipped back for another look and I yelled for him not to touch it.
  “Yup,” I nodded. “And figuring the bastard wouldn’t want to miss this, I expect my phone should be...ha, right on time. Take a seat, Parker,” I waved at the couch as I returned back around my desk to pick up the buzzing instrument. “This is a show you ain’t gonna want to miss.”
  Smug growl right off the bat, “Got all your butt buddies together, eh, shithead?”
  “Hey, Baxter, how’s it hanging my man?”
  “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
  “Actually, one barf a day is my limit so keep it to yourself. Not to mention choking on laughter isn’t exactly how I want to go out either.”
  “You’ve cracked, haven’t you? Always knew you were a weak son of a bitch.”
  Sat down in my chair, “So then, like the little performance David and I gave you?”
  “Lets say you gave me plenty. An’ you’re about to give me more.”
  “You didn’t hear me right, Baxter. I said performance, meaning along the lines of what goes up on stage.”
  “Maybe where you hang out, faggot.”
  “Cut it, Hanscom. Bring it to my office now!” he roared.
  “Temper, temper, old boy,” I tsk’ed when I brought the phone back to me ear. “Wouldn’t want you to have a heart attack before they locked you in prison. Yeah, you dying behind bars is exactly what you deserve.”
  “You can’t bullshit me, not this time.”
  “Who’s bullshitting? Baxter, you know where this is, right? About the firm we both work for? About the type of delicate, legal matters that go on here?”
  “Stop stalling!”
  “It’s not stalling, it is savoring,” I purred. “Yup, I’m sitting here savoring the fact that you are so fucking stupid as to put an illegal video camera up in an office in this firm and then, given a token something, you jumped at the chance to cement things with proof by sending me a video captured on it directly from your computer to mine...identifier codes included.”
  “What?” came from the receiver as well as gasped from the peanut gallery.
  “Yup. This little sting of ours got you, old boy. Got you nailed up, down, left right and backwards so fucking tightly that the moment I hang up it’s the security come in.” Didn’t put my hand over the mouthpiece as I called over, “Hey, Quince, think Levin will just take him out back and shoot him or what?”
  “With a fuckin’ shotgun, Steven.”
  “Yeah,” I said. “If we let him in on it before the Feds show up.”
  “You...” Slight wheeze from the other end. “You’re bluffin’. Yeah,” (Uh-oh, I didn’t like that hint of backbone creeping into his tones.) “just bluffing, Hanscom. I know you and your ways. Talk a fast string of shit, you cock sucking queer, but—”
  “How come you edited out Ms Chesterfield’s visit?” I cut him off with the question.
  “Uh-huh.” Thank you, God, for making me a pig. No offence intended, Big Guy.
  “Fuck you! I know what I saw!”
  “Lets just say,” referring back to Casey’s show, “as a gentleman, I am glad you could only see things from the back.”
  “Could figure it out. Blacks don’t do it for me, but I’d slip that watermeloned bitch a ‘pen’ in the dark anytime.”
  “Watch your mouth, asshole. That is a lady you are talking about. One who’ll never be interested in your just self-admitted, pen-thin dick. Trying to hide it in the dark or otherwise.”
  Sounds of escaping, high, nerve-pitched laughter. Wink at David who was trying to hold things in better behind his now trapping hands and a nod at the thumbs up from full grinning Quincy.
  Sounds of profuse swearing from the phone held from ear.
  I had the bastard turned around, uncertain. He had seen my reactions to the woman full on. Time to pull the phone back and deliver the next hit while he was open.
  “Turn on the vid because I am just dying to show you all I got on you and how bad your situation is.”
  “Screw you!”
  Ignored him, “Oh, wait, forgot we don’t need the monitor, thanks to you. David, here,” I tucked the phone between shoulder and ear and reached down to open a drawer in my desk, pulled out a stack of photos and placed them on top. Sifted through to the one I wanted and passed it to the kid.
  “No shit. Bitch bleaches her crotch, too. That is more clear in this one. Here, Quince, something for your collection,” I snorted as I pushed it to the edge, him already coming over. “Don’t worry, I’ve got a stack of ‘em. David, while Mr. Parker is getting his jollies on over Miss Simon, you go hold that one up to the fish-eye. Thanks, kid.”
  “You’ve gotta be fucking joking me,” Quince was laughing hard as David left to do so, now knowing exactly where the camera was. (Acting as if he’d known where it was all the time. Good job, kid.) “She does bleach it!”
  “Told you, didn’t I?” I grinned before getting the phone, and myself, more comfortable for the kill. “Now then, Baxter, minding the time date stamped across your naked ass, what bets you are going to have access to your mouse of a wife’s family’s money now? For legal fees and the like when they bring you up on espionage charges and the rest? Screw that, for anything, anymore?”
  Dead silence on the other end...no, wait, wheezing breath, even better.
  “These cameras are cool,” David was saying so I flicked things over to speaker. “Because they are wireless, you have to have them coded. So no one else can pick up the feed.”
  “I know,” I said. “So you hear that, asshole? We got you, your computer, and as soon as the Feds show up to grab it—and the files—they’re gonna backtrack the senders.”
  “They’ll kill me,” came the faint whisper.
  “Groovy. Well then, Baxter old boy, time to hang up the phone now and make another couple calls. Before that though, I’ve got one final thing to say to you, you lowlife, scumbag, piece of hell-aimed shit.”
  “Enjoy the trip.”
  “It’s okay, kid. It’s all over.”
  “But it’s not,” he said, looking pale. “There will be court and the stand and...” And exposure. That sort of trouble...for me.
  “Quince?” I looked up and over at the man, giving him his chance.
  He looked back...and nodded.
  Cleared his own gruff voice, “It’s gonna be fine, kid. Steven’s right, it’s all over. None of this is gonna get out.” Turned as I rose and went over to put my arm around David’s shaking shoulders. “Only regret I got is fact that they won’t be able to use his computer to backtrack.”
  “They won’t need it, Quince. Everything’s on those files after all.”
  “I don’t understand,” David was saying...then I gave him a hug as from the outer hallway the first shocked yell and scream rose.
  Yup, the windows on the upper floor offices may be high up, but the trip down to the street was always a short one.
  “You heard him yourself, David,” I said. “Bastard was terrified at the idea his ‘friends’ would catch up with him.”
  “Probably figured he’d squealed on ‘em or something. Never know what a man trying to stay out of prison will do. Not that he was going to.”
  “Nope,” I agreed.
  A little hick-up from David, “I guess...guess he didn’t have the right sort of friends.”
  “Ain’t that the fuckin’ truth, kid,” Quince snorted...before extending his hand for me to shake.
  “You’re welcome.”
  “Steven, thank you. Kept your word. Christ, a god damn lawyer keeping his fuckin’ word.”
  “Not a lawyer, Quince. A friend.”
  “Yup,” David said and beamed.

  Oh, and in case you didn’t get it, the Beast took his computer—and everything such as incriminating videos it contained—with him.
  Case closed.

  Well, for those of us who hadn’t gone out in a bad cliché, life continued. Things went on same as before, better than before since the first change was a certain, unqualified bimbo getting fired. Some hard, final studying and David passed his bar exam, huge party held for him and the other interns who had been up and passed as well. Not at the firm though, for some things they went all out, namely rented the local pub, a truly groovy time had for all.
  Break in the weather came (though despite the false spring, another storm was reported to hit in a few days) so folks who’d been cooped up from the last one took what opportunity as could and the sidewalk was fairly crowded as David and I came out of the gourmet shop that Sunday afternoon.
  “Those garlic’s are huge,” he said again in amazement and I nodded in agreeing anticipation of lunch. Of course along with the freshly trucked in garlic’s the shop had just ‘happened’ to have a sale on terracotta roasters. Combined with the fresh baked bread there was going to be a real slice of Italian heaven at the old homestead very soon.
  “Yup, I—oops!” I stopped mid-stride as I felt something shift in my bag and changed position to catch it before disaster struck. Heard the sound of some car backfiring oddly and was taking a step when David spoke.
  “Steven? I don’t feel so good.”
  “Hmm?” Glanced over to see he’d stopped as well, face white. “David, what’s...?” Blood.
  Blood. On the lower front of his jacket.
  Lots of it.
  “I don’t...”
  Crash as grocery bag slipped from his arms and he looked at me, mouth working to say something (Sorry! He was trying to say sorry!) before eyes rolled up and he slid to the ground.
  “David! David!” I dropped down, not understanding what was going on, only that David was on the ground and there was blood everywhere! “David!” I yelled again as my hands scrabbled for him. What was happening??!
  “David, wake up! Wake—” Something jerked and it was instant headache, a blackening around my vision but David needed me so I couldn’t let go to the pain. Shook my head, some sort of hot, wet red shit trying to blind me, but I held on. (Sound was odd. Screams. People running. A blackboard-painful voice screeching obscenities somewhere behind, glass breaking and horns blaring and...)
  “Press here,” some old man suddenly kneeling down beside us said. “Have to stop the bleeding.”
  “Ambulance is on the way,” a high-pitched voice yelled. Some young man, a punker with metal shit sticking out all over him holding up a fancy cell.
  Snarling at whoever the fuck it was trying to grab my splitting head to get the fuck away!
  “You’ve been shot too,” the old man said.
  “Migraine,” I shot back at the idiot. “David, wake up!”
  His lips were moving but I couldn't hear. Too much noise! Why couldn’t everyone just shut up?
  Tried to punch away the one who was getting between me and David who I was trying to pick up, but I was way off. Dizzy, blinded again by the red shit as well as hands now.
  “We’ve got him, Mr. Hanscom.” I knew that voice. Tom from the shop. “Got you both. Help is coming.”
  “Can’t see.”
  “Be glad your brains are still in your head,” the old man said calmly. “Be glad this old soldier survived the Storm. So just calm down now and let me try to keep this kid’s guts inside of him...”

  Timeslip, every eternal, non-ending moment of it coming back later to haunt. The head-splitting siren ride in the racing ambulance; the techs throwing soaked gauze, (the way one stuck fast to side of a white plastic box, forgotten in the chaos) sounds of ripping bandage tape; needles stabbing into David.

  The hospital. I was fine, why didn’t they leave me alone? Where was...?
  Surgery. They had taken him away for emergency surgery—and they wouldn’t let me be there!

  “Are you family?”
  “I’m his partner.”
  “I am so sorry, sir. Legally, we can not recognize...” True sincerity in the soothing voice. No, not legal, yet they had other paperwork which I could sign.
  Done and done.

  Arms around me, a pair of them on both sides. Casey and Kimberly, the blond button crying and I held them both back tightly despite my shock. (Concussion left by the bullet grazing.) No, there was no word yet. I did not know how long it had been, only that there was still no word.
  “What happened?”
  Told them what I could of the only semi-remembered talk with the cops. The whores had done it. They already had the one bitch, the bottle-blond cunt caught at the scene, the one with the gun, spitting curses because the stupid asshole had made her miss. Told the cops everything, how the ‘asshole’ had gotten her fired, but she was going to split everything with the inheriting wife afterwards. Of course they would, the ‘asshole’ owed them both after all. What a mean jerk he was!
  Sheila, in her designer trench coat and brunet wig, had bolted after the first shot.

  Hours in the waiting room. They’d given me a couple shots of something at some point, antibiotics, I don’t know,
  (“You should be out after that first one. I have no idea how you can still be on your feet after that.”
  “I can’t. Have to stay awake. He needs me.”
  “Mr. Hanscom, there is nothing you can do for him. If it was not for your own injuries and the risk involved I would give you another one.”
  “Fuck off.”) but point came where I did have to sit. Held Casey’s hand in the next chair; little Kimber curled up leaning on her from the one next, the girl having cried herself to sleep.
  Raised my eyes and Quince nodded at me from their chairs across the small room, arm around his wife’s shoulders.
  (The old number they had shared had been disconnected. The operator had nothing more current on the one named Dellan. No further records.
  “Put the phone down, sugar.”
  “But he should be here,” I said as Casey took the cell away. “David would want him here. I can’t do anything for him! But if I could do this...”
  “Hush. Steven, you are the only one he wants here. You are the one who should be here.”
  But I can’t do anything for him! I can’t do anything for anyone!)
  Others had stopped by, Betty, Stanly, a few more including Susan and Tom from the shop, but only the core group had remained as the hours dragged on.

  We waited together for the word.

  Not what we were waiting for, but a tired doctor came out, said it would be a little longer. Nothing more than that, except to offer that the hospital did have a chapel if we wanted to use it?
  “It won’t work for him,” I muttered. I mean David was a Pagan, right?
  “Yes it will,” Kimberly told me as she took my hand. “It works for all of us.”
  Well, maybe it would at that. Mysterious ways, and after all, a bunch of Pagans had come along to keep a Christian from committing the ultimate sin of suicide, hadn’t they?
  It is not wrong, God. How can what we have be wrong? What we feel for each other? Please, punish me for being a worthless failure, but not like this...
  So we all went together, and despite myself, despite the reason I was there things caught up and I dozed a bit. Had those strange dreams again, the lonely walk on the ugly beach, the gray coastline, dead grass and cold sand.
  The stench of the funeral pyre on the low hill behind, thing inescapable.
  I couldn’t save her. She got sick and I could do nothing, was helpless as I watched my young wife die. She was so beautiful, thing far beyond simply having long, flaxen hair. Something inside of her, a compassion and a kindness, even for a battle scarred warrior such as myself.
  She was too young to die! We never had any time. It was too soon, Gods! Too soon for You to take her from me! How am I supposed to live now without my wife?!
  Failed her. Was unworthy of someone like her.
  I couldn’t save her...and now I am lost. I am lost forever...without Her.
  Hand on my shoulder and I jerked awake startled.
  “He is out of surgery, Mr. Hanscom,” the nurse said.
  “He’s okay?”
  “Mr. Taylor is in recovery.”
  “But he’ll be okay?”
  “The next few hours... Well, it is good that you are here right now.”
  “Can I see him?” I begged.
  It was bad because the cross-wearing nurse looked down at me and placed a hand on my shoulder, “I will see what I can do, sir. I will get you in very soon.”
  “Thank you.”

  He was so pale, a lost waif amongst all the beeping machinery and white linens. No color, eyes sunken with bruised circles in thin face. Even his hair was limp...though that stray lock would never be contained so I reached up and brushed it out of his eyes just in case before I sat down to take his hand in mine.
  “David, can you hear me?” No response. “I’m here, kid. David, I am here and I have you. Nothing bad... David? David, please, don’t do this,” I choked, whispering as eyes watered. “Please don’t do this. David, I can’t lose you again like this. It’s too soon. You’re not supposed to go first this time. You promised to stay with me. David, you promised.”
  Wiped my eyes with my free hand then used it to grip his, “David, I love you. Do you hear me, David?” I asked louder. “I said I love you, so you have to stay with me. Pl...David?” He was moving...machines were starting to beep faster and something started shrilling. An alarm.
  “David?!” I gripped his hand tight as I could, saw motion in his face. “David, I love you!”
  Crack open of blue with green flecks eyes even as the room flooded with people yelling.
  “I love you,” I said again loud as I could and then...and then he...
  Smiled at me.


  Oh. David.


Back to top
Click to read from my book "Hunting Shadows"
Everything on this page is (C) Melissa Vivigatz 2007
No copying or reproduction without the artist's written permission, thank you!

The following story contains adult language and situations.
Sexual content. For mature readers only.
email me
Tell a friend about this page
Support the fight against AIDS
Support the fight against AIDS