I don't want to write this. I want to be sleeping. But I can't sleep because all I can think about is how the
fuck hell I'm going to tell you.
Writing it down should be better than just telling you on the phone. Shouldn't it? This way I can think of the right words.
Only what do I want the right words for, for something like this? Like words are going to make it okay. Like if I can just find nice tactful diplomatic goddamn words, words you'd use if only you were dumb enough to get into a mess like this, it could pretty up the truth. Make it like it never happened.
I wish it never happened, Fraser.
I fucked up so bad.
You know by now, right? You know what I did.
When I close my eyes I can see the look on your face. How you're sitting there not moving a muscle, because I stabbed you in the back and you hurt.
It wasn't on purpose, okay? I mean, it was in a way. I did it. I did it. He didn't put a gun to my head. But I didn't go out looking for it. I didn't put on cologne and get dressed up and decide to go out and fuck around on you.
I had a lousy day at work because I missed you. I went to a bar and watched guys dance with their boyfriends because I missed you. I got drunk because I missed you.
You believe me so far, I bet. Can you believe the next part, though? There was a guy, and I talked to him because I missed you. Went home with him because I missed you. Sucked him off because I missed you. Slept in his bed. Held him. Because I missed you.
It happened because I love you. So much, so fucking much.
Yeah. It's all your fault. Isn't that funny? I bet you're laughing your ass off.
I'm the worst piece of shit in the world, and I don't deserve you, and if you stop loving me I think I'm going to die.
Sorry. Sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry.
I'm sorry, Fraser.
Ray puts the letter in an envelope, seals it, addresses it. And then burns it over the sink and rinses the ashes away.
Ray jumps when the phone rings, just like he's jumped every time for the last ten endless fucking months he's been alone, and for the first time in those same ten months, he's not hoping it's Fraser.
He scrambles off the couch and stubs his toe on the coffee table and makes it halfway to the phone before he realizes that important fact, though. Then the voice in his head, the one he now thinks of as Asshole Ray, starts saying please God not Fraser, not yet. He can't talk to Fraser until he's figured out how not to just spill everything in the first ten seconds. Perps are like that, sometimes--the amateurs, the ones who didn't know how mad they were until they noticed there was blood on the baseball bat that they didn't remember grabbing. Guys like that, the only hard part is getting them to stop telling you after the second or third time. And when you do, usually they start to cry.
By the time Ray knows he doesn't want to pick up the phone, he's got momentum going. That's Ray's problem, momentum. Ray is basic physics, the object in motion that keeps right on rolling until it hits a wall or drops off the edge of something.
He lifts the receiver like some kind of phone-answering robot, and while he says hello it hits him that this can't be Fraser. They only talk on Sunday nights, to keep the phone bills down. They're both saving, all the time, for airfare.
"Hi," a voice says, and oh fuck. Ray remembers that voice. Deep, a little scratchy, the sort of voice that gets rough and sexy in bed. It was the voice, not the guy's face or body, that did it. The voice that did Ray in. "Ray?"
Hang up now, he tells himself. Hang up now, Ray, you dumb prick. He's standing there sweating through the air conditioning, the phone slippery in his hand, and he just can't hang up. Sean's a nice guy, and it's not his fault he's the one person in the world Ray wants to talk to even less than Fraser. "Hey, Sean. Uh-"
"Are you doing anything on Saturday, Ray? I thought we could go out, maybe."
Great guy. Really fun and sexy goddamn great guy. And the screw-up just builds and builds, like a giant cartoon snowball heading straight at Ray. Except Ray's not just the guy at the bottom who's about to get smashed, he's also the guy at the top who started the motherfucker rolling.
And Ray's not alone at the bottom. Fraser's there too, and he doesn't even know to get out of the way.
"Sean, I . . ." It was early in the evening when Ray gave Sean his phone number. When he thought they could just hang out, talk and flirt and it wouldn't mean anything. When he thought what he wanted was a friend, the kind of friend Fraser used to be.
Which is, now that he thinks about it, the kind of friend you end up fucking. Sometimes it takes two years to get there, and apparently sometimes it takes four hours.
"I've got a boyfriend," he says, all in a rush, and he sounds exactly like a sixteen-year-old girl. "A lover," he corrects. "I'm in love with somebody."
There's a whole world of that's original, you dickhead in the noise Sean makes at the other end of the line. "Okay, enough, I get the picture. You don't want to see me. You know what though, Ray? You didn't act like a guy in love."
That's where he's got it all wrong. Because love's in Ray like a virus, breeding, taking him over cell by cell. He's overrun with love, love that makes him burn and ache, love that makes him shiver, love that makes him cry in the middle of the night because it hurts so bad.
"I-" It shouldn't even matter, but he wants to give an explanation. One to make Sean understand how Ray's already so low that hating him would be like pissing on somebody while he drowns.
He can't get out more than that first word before Sean hangs up.
Almost fifty bucks a month for cable, and there's nothing on, absolutely fucking nothing but war documentaries and cooking shows and Law and Order. So Ray watches three episodes of that in a row, drinking Bud and waiting for the good superior feeling he gets from solving fake cases before the fake cops do. But it's not there tonight. Instead his chest aches every time there's a scene with partners talking to each other.
So right after the fourth ep starts with another body in another dumpster, Ray picks up the phone. Stares at it for a minute and then dials. This has got to be setting new standards for dumb, just like when he let Sean kiss him in the bar. And just like then, he can't stop. Doesn't stop, anyway.
The phone rings eleven times before there's a click and a thick, sleepy "Hello?"
"Ray? What . . . Ray, it's after midnight." Faintly--she must have put her hand over the phone, like he doesn't know Vecchio's there with her--he hears her say, "It's Ray, honey. No, I - I'll ask." And ask she does, the only thing she could ask, the only reason he's got anymore to be calling in the middle of the night. "Has something happened, Ray? Are your mom and dad-"
"They're fine. You'd know better'n me, anyway." He hasn't talked to them much since the coming-out thing. Which, to be fair, is probably a big freaky surprise when your kid's almost forty and was married for thirteen years.
In the background he hears Vecchio say something agitated-sounding about 'Benny.' "Is Fraser all right?" Stella asks.
"He's fine too. Everybody's just fucking peachy." Fraser's probably asleep up there in Wha Ti, resting up to put the fear of a red suit into some more bad guys tomorrow. Fraser's okay, because he doesn't know that Ray's a liar and a louse. Only Ray knows. "I just need to talk to you, Stella, okay?"
She's a couple thousand miles away, almost as far away as Fraser, but somehow Ray can feel her starting to get pissed off. Stella's got a big personality, and it sort of pushes out into the air around her and sets things humming. "God, tell me you're not . . . I thought this stuff was all-"
"Not like that, Stella. That's over. Ray the Stalker has left the building." Left the country. Left the planet, shot out into outer space. "I need to talk to you. Like, like friends."
There's a pause, a murmur to Vecchio, and Ray hears Stella walking and the soft thunk of a door shutting. "Talk to Fraser."
"I can't, this is - I fucked up bad, and I can't - I just . . . Stella, I slept with-"
"No, Ray." That's her ASA Kowalski voice, which is also her you're-such-an-asshole voice. Looks like she didn't lose that when Vecchio made her the queen of the bowling alleys. "No. Absolutely not. You will not do this to me. I don't need any more of your emotional shit. It's not my problem anymore."
"Stel, I got no other friends to talk to." Ray's always thought of himself as a one-person person. Stella was all the friends he needed, like Fraser is now. Or should that be was? Ray went out and got himself a secret that'll break Fraser's heart if Ray tells him, so now Ray's got nobody to tell. Cut his own lifeline, poked a hole in his raft, and now he's drowning.
"Ray . . . " She doesn't say it, that they're not friends. They've had that talk already, just like every other talk. He remembers how she said that sometimes there's nothing left to save. "This is private, between you and him. Talk to him."
Her voice is different, softer, nicer. She doesn't love Ray anymore, not the slightest little bit, if she can be nice to him like this.
If things end with Fraser, that's what it'll be like. Fraser will be nice, polite, and that'll mean there's not a damn thing Ray can do.
"Don't tell Vecchio," he says finally. Vecchio would say something to Fraser. Because he's Fraser's friend. Lucky Fraser, with a friend to talk to no matter what.
"There's nothing to tell," Stella says, and it's so true that it sort of echoes in Ray's head.
"Bye, Stella," he says, and hangs up. Un-mutes the sound on the TV, curls up with his head on his knees and tries to make the voices and music fill all the empty space around him.
The smell of the place--stone and beeswax, wood polish, a little sweet spiciness from years of incense--makes Ray eleven years old again. In those days, he wanted to be Steve McQueen Monday through Saturday, but on Sunday he wanted to be Ignatius Loyola, soldier and saint.
He hasn't set foot in a church since his sister's wedding, and that was in 1989. When he was fourteen he quit being an altar boy, because he got tired of having to confess every Saturday night to all the times he jerked off during the week. By then he knew that chastity wasn't going to be an option.
Some cops have dramatic stories about how they stopped believing in God after they worked their first rape-murder, but it wasn't like that for Ray. There was no moment, no before and after. Just slow decay, like how his marriage eroded around him for years, so that when Stella told him to get out he couldn't fool himself that he was surprised.
Come to think of it, he stopped going to church right around the time he got married. He wasn't living at home anymore, so Mom couldn't nag him, and he and Stella had better things to do with their Sundays.
Ray doesn't believe in God and he's not sure what he's doing here. He was just driving around, the way he does sometimes since he came back and Fraser stayed in Canada. This church was the only lighted building on a dark block, and the sign said "Confession, Saturdays 6-8 pm." And so he's here getting reminiscent about smells and waiting for the little old ladies to finish. He wants to go last.
To pass the time, he looks at the hymnbook and thinks about praying, but doesn't. Thinks about how Fraser's going to call tomorrow and how he still doesn't want to talk to him but can't think of an excuse. Thinks about how he could be out on a date with Sean right now, and how he's in love but he's alone.
When it's his turn he sits on the little wooden seat, in the little wooden room, and closes his eyes. "Bless me father, for I have sinned. It's been . . . a long time. Since my last confession. Years."
Just silence from the other side. Ray's had to go to therapy a couple of times, once with Stella and once for work, and that's what he hated, that big silence that made him small. "Um, I'm kinda nervous here, so could you say something? For all I know the other side of this thing could be empty and I could be talking to nothing like a crazy man, and that would really not be helpful at this juncture." Juncture. Since he's been back he keeps using Fraser words without meaning to, and people like Dewey look at him funny.
"I'm here," the priest says. And Ray knew he was, really--he could see him a little, a darker shape in the darkness. But he's got to have a voice to hold on to. "Tell me what's troubling you, my son."
From his voice--which is soft, gentle, like a prayer all by itself--Ray guesses the priest is about Ray's own age. But priests have to say "son." It's a spiritual thing. Symbolical.
"I-" The whole time he was waiting, he never thought about what he was actually going to say in here. "I committed adultery. I guess."
"Do you mean you're not sure?"
It's a good word, adultery. It's a serious word, a word like a block of stone, a heavier word than cheating or fucking around or whatever. It's a word that grabs all that betrayal, all that sin, and lays it choking-heavy on Ray's chest where it belongs. It's a powerful word, but Ray has to admit that maybe it's not an exact one for this.
"It's kind of not your normal adultery. There's somebody I love, somebody I'm with. Somebody I made promises to." In his head, anyway. They never made any promises out loud.
"Yes, go on."
Ray pauses and takes a breath. It's hard to explain the way he needs to, almost as hard as telling mom and dad was. Stupid, because that's not what Ray's ashamed of. "It's a man. And the thing is he's Canadian, and because of our jobs and immigration and all kinds of crap, he's there and I'm here. And a few days ago I had sex with another guy." Ray leans his head back on the cool wooden wall. Now that he's said it out loud for the first time, he feels even worse. And better because he feels worse. If he was in agony, if his legs were chopped off, if he had some real bodily suffering going on, he might actually feel okay.
"I see," the priest says, sounding so much like Fraser that Ray gets a scared electric jolt. "And I can see that you're grieving over what you've done. But . . . in God's eyes, it wasn't adultery. Whatever promises you made to this man, the man you love, they're not legitimate. That relationship is no less sinful than what you did with the other man."
"No. Don't give me that. Do not feed me that line of bullshit." Ray's got one hand against the grille, like he can push through, like he can just push and push until this dumbass priest listens to him. He should've figured this would happen, but that just makes him madder. "You know that's not true."
"I know it is true." The only thing that stops Ray from kicking the walls, from coming around to the other side of the confessional and beating the shit out of a priest of God, is that he sounds sad about what he's saying, like he wishes he didn't have to. "It's not always easy to obey the church's teachings, when they go against what we want. But we have to trust, like children do, and believe that God makes rules to keep us safe."
"You're not helping me." Ray's been over this ground, dragged his sorry ass up this hill time and again. When he was thirteen and figuring out that it wasn't just girls that turned him on, and when he was nineteen and told Stella he was bi because she had a right to know before she put his ring on her finger, and when he was thirty-four and divorced and had sex with a guy for the first time, and when he was thirty-eight and in love with Fraser and deciding if he could be queer for real, in the open. On that fourth try he got all the way to the top, finally, up in the clear air and certainty, and that's where he's staying. "I need you to help me. You gotta give me Hail Marys or bread and water for a month or something, so I can go back to him with this all washed away."
Softly, so softly, the priest says, "I can't do that, my son. I can't give you absolution if you intend to resume the sin."
Ray bangs his hand against the grille, two times, three times, trying to make himself bleed, trying not to let himself cry. It's because he's so pissed off that his eyes are burning and blurring, but the priest might think he was sorry or something. "I love him. Don't you tell me that's dirty. Not real. Not - not sacred."
"The love, in itself, is sacred. Of that I have no doubt." His voice has gone rough, and that's something, a kind of help. He's not just spouting off chapter and verse and feeling nothing. Ray hears him take a deep breath, then swallow, then take another, and Ray wipes his eyes and breathes deep too, unclenching his fists. "Have you tried to love him chastely?"
"Oh yeah. We had two years of that." Not the way the priest means, of course. They had two years of not understanding each other, two years of waiting and waiting and not daring to say a word. "The unchaste way is a lot better."
"Perhaps you ought to give it another try. It can be done. You can keep what's sacred and leave behind what's false, what's sinful. Believe me, you can."
This guy . . . this priest is queer. What he's telling Ray to do, he's done to himself. And to somebody else, from the sounds of it.
"That's what I should do, huh?" Thinking about never having sex with Fraser again is like thinking about dying. Scary and empty. And the worst thing, maybe the worst thing about all of this, is that he can't exactly remember what sex with him feels like, because he's fucked someone else since then. He rubbed dirt in his own memories.
"Yes." It's still there in the priest's voice, that buried sadness like a bulb underground, hidden but alive.
Loving somebody and not being with them is the saddest thing in the world. Stupidest, too. "I think maybe you got it wrong, Father. I think you should go to whoever it is you're in love with and love him, all the way."
There's a long sigh, a final-sounding sigh, from the other side. "I'll pray for you, son."
"Yeah," Ray says, getting up, thinking now about airlines, flight times, packing. Thinking about Fraser, Fraser's mouth, his skin, his cock. "You do that."
"God," Ray says. "God, God." But he's not praying, he's shoving back against Fraser's cock, taking it deeper, rougher, making it hurt a little. He's wide open, just a space for Fraser to fill, just a clenching need for more of him, more and more, and maybe this is praying after all.
So he switches names, switches to what he does believe in, groans out "Ben" and feels Fraser shiver and push harder. Colored flashes strobe in the corners of Ray's tight-shut eyes every time Fraser's all the way inside, like Fraser's cock stretches to Ray's brain and gives him visions, and then there's darkness when he pulls out again. Nothing but Fraser, nothing. Every thrust, every . . . fucking . . . thrust is a way to forget, every lick of Fraser's tongue and slide of his hands washes something away.
Fraser knows just what Ray likes. He can always find that angle, the one that sets off the Fourth of goddamn July inside Ray's body, and right now it's all Ray can do not to beg him to do it wrong, make it so it doesn't feel so good. He doesn't deserve for Fraser to give him this.
Weight on him, in him, Fraser's weight and Fraser's heat, like he's ironing out all the creases and afterwards Ray will be crisp and perfect. Sunday best, something Fraser can be proud of.
Fraser's close to coming now, grunting like he only does when fucking melts his manners away, so Ray lifts up to reach his own cock. He wants to come when Fraser does, needs to. Got to be with him then, not separate even by a second. He works himself fast, rougher than Fraser ever would, and when he's almost to the edge he grabs Fraser's hand and guides it, wraps it around his cock. "Need - make me - make me-" Pull and thrust and pull and thrust, like Fraser's everywhere, and Ray comes just as Fraser starts to jerk and tremble.
Flat on the mattress, squeezed flat under Fraser's weight, Ray breathes and feels almost clean, almost right. "Don't," he says when Fraser starts to move. "Stay here. Stay inside me."
"Yes," Fraser says, the s fading out in a slow, happy sigh. Being Fraser, of course he asks, "Can you breathe?" but he's settling in as he says it. Head tucked against Ray's neck, fingers laced through Ray's. So Ray doesn't bother to answer.
There's a nice long stretch where Ray doesn't think, but not even Fraser fucks well enough to turn somebody's brain off forever. After a while, Ray starts to remember that he hasn't explained anything. He just showed up at eleven o'clock in the morning on Fraser's Monday off and got naked. Ray spent three flights and an overnight layover in Edmonton thinking about what to do, and that was the best answer he could come up with. Because no way could he talk to Fraser while some other guy was still the last person to touch him.
One of the good things about Fraser, and also one of the bad things, is that if Ray waits long enough to talk, Fraser will start. He kisses Ray's neck and the back of his head, slides off of him, kisses his mouth, and asks, "What's going on, Ray? I was worried last night when you didn't answer the phone."
"I musta been at the airport by then. Sorry." Ray rolls over to his side and puts a hand on Fraser's face. Ear, smooth cheek, mouth gone soft the way it does when they're alone. His eyes are anxious, but his mouth is happy. Damn it.
"How did you even get the time? Are you-"
"Ben." It's the first time Ray's ever said that outside of sex, and if he wasn't so scared he'd think it was funny, the way Fraser blinks and turns a little red. "Later." If there's a later, if he's not back at the airport half an hour from now. "I gotta . . . there's stuff I have to . . ." And his throat closes up. He lies there thinking about how Fraser's going to look after he knows the truth, knows he's been betrayed one more time.
It's going to hurt him so bad, worse than any of the bullets and knives that have dug scars all over his body. And that's backwards, because Ray should be the only one who hurts. It's Ray who fucked up, fucked around, but now Fraser's going to pay too. Confession, Ray's thinking, is way overrated.
"What is it?" Fraser's kiss is light, but slow. Loving.
The weird thing about cheating is, it only hurts the other person if they know. While Ray's still got his secret, he can keep Fraser safe from that pain. He'll spare himself pain, too--no point being a hypocrite about it--but that's mostly a side effect. "Love you," Ray says. "And I can't do this anymore." Fraser's mouth tightens, like he's getting his stiff upper lip ready, and Ray hurries to spit out the rest. "The long-distance thing. It messes me up. I gotta be with you for real."
It's not the whole truth, but it's the main one. The truest part of the truth. Being apart was the sickness; what Ray did was just the symptom, like a snotty nose or one of those really gross hacking coughs.
"Can I stay with you? Live with you?"
Worries and complications are twisting around behind Fraser's eyes, and for a second--just long enough to tell himself that this is what he deserves--Ray thinks he's going to say no. But in a hoarse voice, like he's been crying, Fraser says, "Stay with me. Here, Chicago, I don't care, I love you. Be with me."
Miracles, miracles dropping out of the fucking sky.
Ray starts shaking, but Fraser holds him through it, and then they're just lying there, tilted into each other, arms and legs all confused together. I'm sorry for what I did, Ray thinks, and out loud he says, "Here. Let's stay here." Fraser's happier here, in this town of 500 people that doesn't even have a road, than he ever was in the city.
Ray'll miss Chicago, but that can be his penance, on the days when he needs one. His conscience is bound to nag him sometimes. If he starts to feel really bad about not telling, he'll just work that much harder at keeping Fraser happy.
He'll spend his whole life making amends to Fraser, quiet amends that Fraser won't know about. Maybe that's not the perfect situation, but Ray threw away his chance at perfect.
Anyway, he's pretty sure that after a while it'll stop being amends. It'll just be love.