Cheeks has learned many things about Brady over the course of twenty years. Marriage is a form of knowledge, after all. He knows that there are two things certain to send Brady into a fit of what-ifs: anniversaries and the Baseball Hall of Fame selection process. When the two hit at the same time, it is a perfect storm of nostalgia.
He finds Brady in his trophy room—or the den, as Cheeks himself thinks of it—stalled in front of the glass case that Cheeks surprised him with three years ago, staring wistfully at his eight Gold Gloves and his MVP from the year after they were married.
“I just wish I hadn’t messed up my knee,” Brady says, resigned and mournful at the same time “Maybe if I wasn’t playing hurt those last five years—“
Cheeks nods, pretending that he’s never read a newspaper, never caught a few minutes of ESPN while flipping channels, doesn’t know that playing while gay is the chief obstacle keeping Brady from the hallowed halls of baseball immortality.
Being first is always hardest, a part of him wants to console Brady. You’ve made it easier for everyone who comes after you. The majority of him, though, doesn't want to let Major League Baseball off that easily. The whole reactionary organization can just go fuck themselves already.
“You’re wearing that tie?” This is what Cheeks actually says, raising a scandalized eyebrow. A diversion is always the surest way to keep Brady from turning maudlin.
Brady glances down at the tie, and then at Cheeks with an amused half-smile. “No?”
He’s long since accepted that fashion is a foreign language Cheeks must interpret for him, and he goes easily when Cheeks pulls him down the hall to their bedroom. The tie isn't nearly as tragic as Cheeks would have Brady believe, but he makes a show of rummaging around in the closet anyway and comes up with one just a bit better.
Brady perches on the edge of the bed, so Cheeks can do the honors. There’s a bit of a paunch around his middle that they both pretend isn’t there—doing commentary for ESPN isn't much of a workout. Off goes the old tie and on goes the new, and Cheeks smiles at the end result.
“That’s better,” he says, with a satisfied, proprietary note. When he was younger, he slipped like quicksilver in and out of relationships, never wanting to be pinned down for too long. A younger version of him would not have understood the simple pleasure of thinking: This is my husband.
Brady has always understood it. “Cheeks,” he says, suddenly yearning and serious, his hands wandering over Cheeks’ body.
If the phone weren’t going to ring in three seconds to let them know that the car is waiting downstairs, Cheeks would happily let this get out of hand. “Save that for later,” he says, darting a quick kiss to Brady’s cheek, sidestepping the attempts to draw him back.
The phone rings, right on cue.
Brady answers it. “Yeah, we’ll be right out.”
Cheeks checks himself in the mirror one last time, sifts his fingers through his hair. There are lines around his eyes that he didn’t have last year, and a few weeks ago he received his first my-two-dads script. It’s the perfect role for you, his agent had gushed, as if Cheeks should be grateful to be hastened into middle age.
“You look beautiful.” Brady kisses the back of his neck.
Whether Cheeks agrees or not seems less important than the fact that Brady still thinks to say it, still means it.
They slide into the back of the waiting limo, and it pulls away from the curb. The first of these commemorative events had felt urgent, raw, a reminder that a revolution isn’t fought just once. Protesters had lined up for blocks around the venue, jeering and waving signs, frothing with hatred, determined to turn back the clock on progress. Someone had even called in a bomb threat. Brady had kept his arm around Cheeks the entire evening, paranoid and protective, as if his husbandly duties included acting as a human shield.
Today, there is a lone protestor, an aggressively bedraggled man holding up a sign that reads God still hates fags. He mutters aloud to himself, like someone who’s been left behind by history and is fucking pissed about it. When Brady reaches for Cheeks’ hand, Cheeks knows it means simply: Thank God we're not crazy and alone. In some regards, they really have come a long way.
When they arrive, there’s more of a crowd gathered than Cheeks was expecting; interest has dwindled in recent years. Of course, milestones with round numbers have a way of sparking renewed enthusiasm. The question is: at what point do you stop celebrating a victory and simply live it?
Flashes go off in a flurry when they slide out of the car, and they do the obligatory stop-and-pose. Cheeks can see the end result in his head, a little captioned square in People magazine, the two of them, smiling paragons of marital virtue. There will be no hint in that photo of impasses, breaking points, the double-sided loneliness of interminable baseball seasons and grueling film schedules, the cancer scare that thank God turned out to be nothing, the flirtation with a younger co-worker that almost proved fatal to their happiness, the squabbles over everything two people could conceivably fight about. No acknowledgment that marriage can be really fucking hard.
Cheeks smiles brightly for the cameras, tucked into the familiar arc of Brady’s arm. He never asked to be a role model of gay fidelity, but here he is.
Inside, there’s a dais set up at one end of the room with a podium and a line of chairs for the evening’s dignitaries. This includes the governor, the mayor, gay rights activists and marriage equality pioneers—and Cheeks and Brady, who are perhaps the least likely dignitaries imaginable. An enormous banner swoops across the wall: Celebrate 20 years of marriage equality. The event’s organizer, one of the leaders of the cause back in the day, hurries over to greet them.
“Thank you so much for coming.” She shakes hands with them both, excruciatingly polite. “We’re so glad you could join us tonight. You’re an inspiration to a whole new generation.”
They all pretend that she didn’t phone them up the day after they got married and scream at them that they were an embarrassment to gay people everywhere.
“There’ll be time for you to add a few words at the end of the program.” She casts an uneasy sideways glance at Cheeks, as if she’s not entirely sure he can be trusted with an open microphone.
Cheeks smiles to let her know that she’s absolutely right to be concerned.
The rest of the guests arrive, and the doors open to the public, and the program plods along in predictably fulsome fashion. There are speeches about justice and progress and the true meaning of family. Cheeks plasters on an attentive smile and rehearses in his head the talk he needs to have with his agent about how he’s not ready for gay dad roles just yet. He only realizes it’s their turn to speak when he feels the prompting pressure of Brady’s hand on his elbow.
Applause breaks out when they rise from their seats and builds as they make their way to the podium. Cheeks’ mouth lifts at the corner—an ironic smile or possibly an outright grimace, he’s not entirely sure. It's hard not to be a little dismayed that after a decades-long career in film and television this is still what he’s really famous for.
“We’re so happy to be taking part in the celebration tonight,” Brady says, with a hint of a shy smile despite all his years of celebrity. “On occasions like this, I can't help asking myself: what if? What if there had been no forward-looking legislators willing to vote for what was right? What if the cause hadn't been supported by people as passionate and committed as the ones you see on this podium? Everything would be different for Cheeks and me and we’re just so grateful to everyone who helped us get here.”
“Thanks to all those people who worked so hard, one drunken night and a valid marriage license can change anyone's life,” Cheeks adds with a saucy grin, because if you're going to be infamous you might as well work it. "Now that's what I call equality."
The crowd laughs. The woman organizing the event turns an interesting shade of purple—Cheeks would call it eggplant—and she practically shoos them away from the podium. Brady is clearly trying very hard not to laugh as they return to their seats. Cheeks slides his hand into Brady’s. If you’re going to be married for twenty years, Cheeks thinks, it really should be to someone who thinks you're funny rather than a public embarrassment.
At the requisite reception afterward, they mingle and glad-hand, accepting congratulations and nodding along to earnest monologues about how they are a shining symbol of everything that’s right with marriage equality.
It’s a welcome distraction when a high-pitched voice screeches out from the other side of the room, “Darlings!”
Haley comes trotting over, clutching her glass of club soda just a little too tightly. Rehab is only a few weeks behind her, but already she has a teetering look, as if she has one foot over the side, ready to leap off the wagon.
“Hello, gorgeous. ” She swoops in to give Cheeks a big, lipsticky kiss. “And you!” She beams at Brady. “You keep up the good work, and your trinkets will have nothing to fear, Handsome.” She taps him on the nose. “Well, you two are certainly a hit. Everybody’s talking about—“ She stops short, staring off into the distance, like a cat with something shiny. “Is that Josh Hartnett?” She tilts her head appraisingly. “He’s looking good for his age. Ta!”
“My trinkets will always be terrified of her,” Brady says as he watches her go.
“Your trinkets are safe with me.” Cheeks lets his voice drop suggestively, ready to move on to a more private celebration.
Brady’s eyes go wide and then bright, and he darts a glance toward the exit. “Maybe we should—“
He’s interrupted by the sound of a throat being cleared. A young woman stands a few feet away, regarding them with an eager smile. Another girl lurks a little further off, probably the girlfriend, definitely shy. “I hope you don’t mind us coming up to you like this, but we just love you, and we were wondering—“ She bites her lip, hopefully. “If you’d share some of your secrets about how to have a successful marriage?”
For a moment, Cheeks is tempted to tell her the truth: that the true success of their marriage isn’t its longevity. If they’d broken up last month, last year, ten years ago, if they’d pulled a Britney, the marriage still would have been just as important. Because the victory is in having the right to do it all wrong.
He tells her a different truth instead. “We’ve just been really lucky.”
“Especially considering you didn’t even like me for the first two weeks we dated,” Brady notes dryly, as he has many times over the years.
“At least I’ve liked you ever since,” Cheeks says breezily. “Most days anyway.”
Brady laughs, and he has this soft, fond expression that is only for Cheeks.
Cheeks links arms with him. “Have fun,” he tells the girls and spirits his husband away. “One drink and then home?”
“One quick drink,” Brady insists, brushing a kiss to Cheeks' neck.
“Two tequila shots,” Cheeks tells the bartender, and when the drinks arrive, they clink glasses. “To how it all began,” Cheeks says with a mischievous grin.
Brady laughs, and they tip back their drinks, and Cheeks remembers why he doesn't do shots any more. Forty-five is a much different landscape than twenty-five.
"Everyone knows you have the numbers," he says, out of the blue, except not really, because it's been bothering him since they left the house, that Brady might doubt himself, might doubt the achievements of his career. "If they don't let you into the hall of fame, it's because they're assholes."
Brady's first reaction is surprise, followed quickly by amusement mixed with the telltale signs that he's incredibly turned on. "I have fantasies where you talk baseball to me."
"Am I wearing nothing but a jock strap?" Cheeks asks, with a flirtatious tilt of his head.
Brady laughs and gathers Cheeks' face in his hands. Cheeks can remember a time when he wouldn't have been able to imagine still wanting to kiss someone after two decades.
"I love you, you know." Brady strokes his thumb along the line of Cheeks' jaw, smiling.
"I know," Cheeks says. "I love you too."
Years in the business have given Cheeks an unerring sense for when cameras are pointed his way, and for once he really doesn't care one way or another, cheerfully ignoring them as he kisses his husband.
This is possibly his favorite part of all about being married: their commitment is a matter of public record, but what that really means belongs only to them. People will see the pictures tomorrow and have no idea that Cheeks is about to take a little blue pill so the celebration won't end prematurely when they get home, that if Brady gets too carried away tonight his bad knee will bother him for days afterward but he'll declare it completely worth it, that tomorrow morning they'll sit at the kitchen table in their underwear drinking coffee and reading about themselves in the newspaper.
Cheeks can't imagine any other life that he'd rather have.
He smiles as he leans in for another kiss. “Happy anniversary."