It was nice being in Miami in the middle of winter. Even more than L.A., it was balmy, and the winter sun, no different than the summer one, shone down on the happy and unhappy alike.
He moved away from the plate glass window of the wedding designer’s showroom and turned back to his hostess.
Here, they were not merely sales associates, as Marissa, Cuban and flawless, had assured him, but professionals whose presence at this early stage assured the quality and type of wedding that Elite Soirée clients could confidently expect.
He had scheduled the appointment while still engaged to be married.
Now, trying not to have a reaction to her words, he silently maintained interest while she wrapped up.
Smoothly producing a business card seemingly out thin air, she daintily handed it to him. He accepted and bent his head to the card, attentive while she explained that the thirty-day limit on the username and password would give him plenty of time to access their exclusive online catalog, to ensure that he fully explored all their options for a truly unique wedding.
Bar none, she added, smiling attractively and wagging an elegantly manicured finger at him. Did he have any other questions?
Yes, as a matter of fact, he did.
He slowly pocketed the card.
Who, exactly, did one tell when one’s engagement was, in fact, off?
He shook his head and quietly thanked her for her time.
She thanked him for coming by, offered him some Voss water for the road, which he took on automatic.
Pushing open the glass doors, he left thinking of Sean.
Slush on the ground meant that they were in for more winter weather. It was only January, and so far it had been good and cold, and the air outside of Des Moines International Airport was chilly, to put it one way.
Adjusting the strap of his luggage across his chest, he smiled briefly at the Iowans getting a sighting of Sean Jackson outside of arrivals, and scanned the crowd instead for the man he was looking for.
Without much effort, seeing as he was casually strolling right through the crowds against the flow of traffic, he spotted “Tailgate” Davey Jones, his best friend in the wide world.
Sporting his usual hell raising grin, his eyes as mischievous as he remembered, Davey spread his arms and he walked right into them.
They crushed each other, and stood laughing like being together again was the funniest thing in the world, love and relief washing all over him. It was a feeling he could only describe like making it to the end of a very long journey.
Davey pulled back, holding at arm’s length and staring at his face.
“Motherfucker,” Davey said wonderingly.
“Right?” he agreed, and they grabbed his bags and headed for the parking garage.
“With Two For Two Tuesdays?”
“And the lake?”
“Just how you left it.”
He chuckled. “How the hell is Michelle?”
“Still Michelle. Still the light of my life, still sharp as a whip, no signs of slowing down.”
“Goddamn,” he said softly, looking at the passing scenery. “Two years.”
“Yeah, are ya happy now? You fuck. Making us have to keep up with your ass through CNN. I should pull over and make you walk the rest of the way.”
“Yeah,” he said, laughing, nodding. “And I would have deserved it, too.”
Davey dropped him in front of his parents’ house, promising to see him later, promising to “strip all the L.A. right outta him” and he told him he’d he ready for that.
Then he turned and faced the screaming hoard of a welcome party charging out of the house at the sound of Davey’s all-terrain, tricked-out Wrangler. He turned just in time to be slammed by a wall of his sister, a bunch of neighbors, screaming toddlers he presumed were newer additions to the neighborhood, three dogs and a fat, angry cat, none of which were theirs.
His mom and dad waited by the front door, astounded expressions on their faces, as if they couldn’t believe he had finally pulled himself away long enough to come and see them again.
He felt bad, he felt good, and above it all he felt home. He kissed the lips, cheeks, hair and fur pressing all around him, and let every last one of them drag some part of him inside.
They didn’t stop talking for the whole weekend. And by they he meant himself and everyone. It was exhausting but exhilarating.
His dad had built a deck onto the back of the house where he had grown up, elaborate and fancy as hell, a deck that represented everything that was true about their retirement. There were three different sections to it, one side facing a lovely fireplace, one centered around a more social gathering place with long tables and benches, and the third geared toward grilling and serving for party guests.
This was where, overlooking their huge backyard—a necessity, his parents had felt, for a growing son who had shown promise in football—he held court in the days following his return.
His niece, brought to him on Friday evening, had acted as his constant and vigilant companion. His sister and sister-in-law Kay had informed him that upon being told of his presence in town she had screamed at a single, sustained decibel for a horrible amount of time until she had been thrown into the car and brought over to see him. He was pretty sure they had had to gag her, but they’d been smart as ever in making sure that they had informed her of his arrival only after she had been bathed, fed, and been done with her homework.
Now, forty-eight hours later, she stood by his side unconsciously imitating his wide legged stance as he ate his dinner and talked to the steady stream of all and sundry.
In the two years that he had been away, she had turned seven, and it seemed that in that time she had grown from a baby into a wild and beautiful young girl.
His hometowners and neighbors wanted an answer to everything under the sun, and came to him like he was a magic eight ball. Was he going to make NFL MVP? Probably not. Who decided whether or not he went to the Pro Bowl? He did. Were the new contract negotiations kinda fun? Haha. Yeah, they were. So was there going to be another thing with the FRC, or was that over with? He hoped it was over with. What about his foundation? Still coming. Any plans for the kids in Johnston? Definitely. Barbecue this Sunday? Looked like it.
Was he really the Wilson in Wilson Realty?
Was he really thinking about having his wedding somewhere else.
He paused, scraped his food about his plate.
“Cause you know,” the local councilwoman who had asked it was saying. “Iowa legalized gay marriage back in 2009 and you would definitely be the most prominent gay Iowan to get married in the state.”
“It’d be awesome for the town, don’t you think?”
“Definitely!” Deena cried, repeating the word she had been hearing all weekend.
The councilwoman laughed, and it diffused the situation, and he was able to mutter something along the lines that it was something to think about.
The answer seemed to satisfy her enough, and she smiled and accepted more food from his mom.
And it was his mom’s reaction, quiet and unforceful as she was, and as observant as the day was long, that made him finally come down to earth. She had hesitated in hearing his response to the wedding question, and he wasn’t idiotic enough to be mistaken as to why.
It was time to tell them why he had left L.A.
She kept her eyes somewhere mid-distant while his father stared at the floor. Allison sat at the dining table slightly farther away, her head propped against her hand and her eyes fastened on him. He hadn’t wanted to tell them, not any time soon anyway, but she had insisted over the phone that it be the first thing he do when he got here. He’d managed to hold it off for three days with her threatening to cut him off from hiding behind Deena.
Now he gave them a severely truncated version. Certain things had happened in their relationship that he wasn’t sure how to deal with.
“So for now our engagement is off. I’m here for the time being, I don’t know how long. And that’s all I’m prepared to say about it.”
The living room was silent. His mother passed her hand over her mouth, propped her chin, then lowered it.
“I thought—” she said, then stopped and went on a little more firmly, “I had thought you’d figured this all out when you made your announcement. Was he—” She seemed to be having trouble saying whatever was on her mind. She tightened her lips, then said, “Wasn’t he the one that made you come out of the closet?”
He gazed hesitantly at her, at her studiedly blank expression. Then he lowered his head and nodded.
“And now you can’t fix whatever’s wrong? I would have thought that the more difficult part was over.”
“Mom,” he said stiffly, pleading with his gaze on her. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Well,” his dad said, clapping his hands on his thighs and standing up. “If Sean doesn’t want to talk about it, we’re not going to talk about it.”
“Dad,” Allison said.
“No, Allison. A man’s got a right to be upset about what he wants to be upset about.”
“Are you kidding, dad?” she groaned. “How’s that supposed to solve anything?”
“It doesn’t. It gives Sean room to make up his own damn mind. We’re his family and we’re not going to add any more pressures on him. That’s not our job.”
His gaze remained on the rug, and he was thankful when his mother stood up and waved a tired hand between Allison and his dad.
“Let’s not do this,” she stated, and came over to him. Taking him by his shoulder, she bent over and planted a hard kiss on his forehead. It released a breath he hadn’t known he was holding. He smiled gratefully up at her.
But she wasn’t looking at him.
She had her head down and was patting his shoulder, and was already turning away as if she didn’t want him to see her expression.
He watched her make her way to the stairs, then started up, saying she was going to call it an early night.
His father came over and grabbed his shoulder. “It’s good to have you back, Sean.”
He told them both he’d be in the den watching TV, and for Sean to come join him later, and left.
Sitting back, he rubbed a hand over his face, wondering how he was meant to solve any of this.
Allison got up from the dining table and came over to him. She sat on the arm of his chair and began rubbing his back.
“You think they’re disappointed in you, don’t you?”
“A little, yeah.”
“They’re just sad for you, sweetie. I don’t think they’ve ever seen you—”
He was silent. “I just need time.”
“It’s okay, kiddo,” she said, and kissed him on the temple. “It’s why people come home.”
There was a feeling of things leading up to a fine point all around him in the air.
One would be forgiven in thinking that it was because of the Super Bowl being in five days, but one would be wrong.
The real culprit was in the proliferation of throbbing red and tickling pink everywhere all around him.
Red hearts, red roses, red balloons; red boxes of candy, red ribbons, red cupids.
Heart-shaped cookies, heart-shaped candy, heart-shaped patties of butter and jam. Love mints. Be Mine. Everywhere.
And he’d thought he hated Valentine’s Day.
Checking his messages as he hurried down the escalators, he saw that he had three missed calls from his dad, one from Elliot and another from Petey asking if he was “coming tonight.”
He saw Redmond at his usual spot and handed him his coat and briefcase, responding to his greeting, while trying to clear his notifications so that he could pretend he hadn’t seen any of it. Just then his phone vibrated.
He stared at the called ID.
How did the man always know—?
He put the phone to his ear. “What, dad?”
“How did Miami go?”
He trailed behind Redmond, trying to avoid the crowd on a Tuesday night at LAX. “Dad, do you have me bugged?”
“Oh, come on. You’re less than five months out to your wedding. Your mother and I would like to keep informed, if that’s all right with your royal highness.”
He closed his eyes, then had to open then when he realized he would bump into people. “Who’s getting married in five months, dad, who?”
“Holden, stop it. June would have to be the latest since he goes back to football in August, and you’d want to take July off for your honeymoon. I’m looking into some options for that, so you two needn’t worry. As for wedding venues, your mother’s already got reservations down on half a dozen places so don’t waste any more time in calling her. You two can sort that out. Who’d you end up deciding on? Prestige?”
They had exited the airport and reached the car parked on the curb. Redmond reached over and opened the door, while he stared out at the night and the lights.
Impassively realizing he had reached his capacity for insanity for the day, he simply lowered the phone and ended the call.
He got into the car and sat speechlessly. Holding tightly on his phone, it jarred him when it buzzed in his grip. But it was only Petey calling to see where he was.
It was awards season in Hollywood. Someone was throwing a party for someone having accomplishing something.
Petey, who worked for David Geffen, was a liaison between the movie moguls and, well, people with money. And at this time of year he worked overtime making sure the right people met up.
The event was nicely attended, so great for Petey. His heir and business duties entailed that he at lease say hello to David Geffen, which he did, putting a smile on his face and pleasantly answering questions about how Alastair was doing.
After that he split to find somewhere to sit and let the evening pass by him.
It was a sit-down gala, usually his type of evening, one spent sitting at round tables talking to people about the interesting things going on in their lives.
But not tonight. Tonight he wanted to fade into the background.
Keeping to one side of the room, he said hello to guests he knew while he kept his distance from Petey’s erstwhile not-boyfriend Bryan, who was scanning the room like a hawk.
Finally encountering Elliot, he casually suggested that they get a table to themselves in a corner.
Throwing him a curious look—it was an event to mingle—Elliot nevertheless waved his fingers and in his nondramatic way had them a table in no time. It was a table that could seat only four, and Elliot had the waitstaff leave the place settings as is giving the impression that they had guests that were later joining them. They settled in for the speeches.
Resisting the urge to put his feet up and slouch away from the world, he sat up instead and tried not to think. About anything.
Certainly not about the fact that Sean was somewhere at that moment rethinking their relationship.
That after years of putting things aside Sean had finally hit upon something about their relationship he simply couldn’t get past.
That after freaking out, and panicking, and bringing himself from the edge of emotional insanity, he was nevertheless going to lose.
And that in the end, it would have all been his fault.
“H, you look good,” Elliot told him, eyeing him as their host took the podium. “Dirty sex becomes you.”
“Thanks,” he said vaguely.
“Petey is still masturbating to two seconds of seeing him in the flesh, fully clothed,” Elliot said with amusement. “Don’t get us drunk around him.”
His phone buzzed softly in his jacket. After the truly shocking phone call with his dad about his wedding plans—was he actually that fucking screwed where his parents were concerned?—he had once and for all put it on a softer setting.
“Is that Sean?” Elliot purred, stealing a look at the phone as he pulled it out of his jacket pocket.
“My dad,” he said, giving it a cursory glance and letting it slip back in.
“Uh-oh. I know that face. Is Daddy Wilson making you mad again?”
He glanced at Elliot. “You know, he was bad before, but now that he’s retired I think he’s losing his mind.” He shook his head in genuine bewilderment. “There’s something about my relationship with Sean that makes him act seriously crazy.”
Elliot shrugged. “Your dad is obsessed with you. And I guess you’d have to be if a person stood to inherit a billion dollars off you.”
“I honestly wish it was only about his money. That way I could just quit whenever I wanted to, like a normal employee, and save my dignity.” He traced brocade patterns on the tablecloth. “I’d have to change my name as well, but I’m sure that could be easily arranged.”
Elliot propped his chin, smiling at him in amusement. “Cecelia would definitely get a kick out of that. What would you do about your DNA?”
He looked up sullenly. “Good point.”
Elliot patted him, then skillfully changed the subject. “Are you and the mister headed off to Texas for the Super Bowl?”
He’d said it a bit too abruptly.
Elliot glanced casually at him. “Oh. Well… where’s Sean?”
“Oh,” Elliot repeated, surprised. “That’s different.”
And then they lapsed into silence, and paid attention to what their hosts were saying. Or tried to.
Elliot, sniffing something was wrong, slowly turned back to him, asking, “Is that something he does after the season?”
Elliot huh’d, and turned back to the presentation. Then he slowly turned back to him.
It was clear something was nagging him, but because of their current circumstance, which was what he had been banking on, he couldn’t seem to quite come out and ask what he wanted. Instead he asked, “How long does he intend on staying? You guys have a wedding coming to get off the ground, and you haven’t even sent out your save the dates yet.”
“I’m not sure how long he intends on staying. It depends on his family, I suppose.”
Elliot made another vague sound, deferring to his obvious reluctance to discuss the subject at the moment.
But Elliot’s eyes were roaming all over his face, clearly trying to find out what he was missing.
He kept his eyes on the stage until Elliot turned back to their speaker as well.
His phone, unsurprisingly, had been ringing nonstop since Monday morning.
He was getting calls from just about any organization within thirty minutes of Johnston, asking him to come talk to them about pretty much everything under the sun. Without a publicist or manager he was basically saying yes on a first come, first served basis, promising that he could at least guarantee his presence through next week, after the Super Bowl.
But that afternoon he was on the sidelines with the coaches at his old high school, watching junior varsity football practice.
Come three o’clock he was meant to be picking Deena up from her elementary school. But for now he was enjoying the lack of responsibilities, nothing on his mind except watching his high school practice years play before his eyes.
At this stage in life he knew he had had it easy in high school, being the popular teen sensation everyone wanted to be around. He had been easygoing, and with Davey it had been perfect, the two of them going through high school like Batman and Robin. Though which one of them was whom would have been a hot topic for debate.
He never felt odd coming back as some people did, going back to their high school, and he tried to do it each year he returned.
But this time he felt strange, as though the memories coming to him were of a teenage boy he had just dreamed.
He did remember being that teenager, but standing on the sidelines of the football field on which he had spent some of his most glorious moments, he would never have thought that the feeling coming back to him would be one…of loneliness.
It was disorienting because only Holden had ever made him feel this way.
And it was why he was going to presume that his breakup with Holden was what was causing him to feel this way and nothing else.
He scoped the field cleared of snow, chuckling softly to himself when he saw the play the quarterback was setting up.
“You remember making that same mistake?” the assistant coach, who hadn’t been there in his time, nevertheless accurately called it.
“Over and over,” he told the coach.
The coach nodded. “And look how much better it got. It’s what we keep telling these kids. Face those hurdles head on and give it time. They see you guys on Sundays and think they can take shortcuts. But that’s not the way to success. You faced your problems head on. That’s how you got to pro.”
He nodded, slowly this time.
“They’ll get there,” the coach concluded, nodding to himself.
He was trying not to let the words have any double meanings for him. Running away from L.A. wasn’t looking for shortcuts.
But neither is it facing things head on.
He checked his watch. “Coach, it’s been real, but I gotta go. My niece is getting out of class in a few.”
“Come back and see us any time, Sean.”
He told the man he would and they shook hands. He walked away from the field, back toward the parking lots.
Getting out of his dad’s Ford truck which he was using for the duration of his stay in town, he reached across the truck’s interior and pulled over the tray of gourmet cupcakes he’d picked for Deena’s class.
Everyone knew that the worst thing an uncle and a hometown legend could do was walk into his niece’s second grade class empty-handed. Thanking the janitor that held open the door for him, and greeting the calls that came from the glassed-off administrative area inside the lobby, he made his way to Deena’s homeroom class.
He peeked through the oval glass before knocking on it.
Mr. Tyler, a sweater vest-wearing “old queen,” as Holden would respectfully put it, turned and waved at him. He came over and opened the door, holding it open as he walked in.
“Class,” Mr. Tyler said grandly, “we have a guest!”
There was a soft swell of interested oohing as he placed the tray on Mr. Tyler’s desk and stood back.
Deena sat up and frantically waved at him, and he gave her a pointed finger in acknowledgment
“Class, this is Sean. Sean, this is Johnston Elementary’s second grade homeroom. Say hello to Sean, kids.”
“Hi, Sean!” the kids yelled.
“Sean’s my mommy’s little brother!” Deena yelled at the top of her lungs.
“He’s not so little,” grumbled a little boy, his voice heavy with the need for clarification.
“Yes, he is Deena, and no he’s not, Andrew,” Mr. Tyler said placatingly. “You’re absolutely right.” Then Mr. Tyler placed a hand on his shoulder and lifted a finger, and somehow the two actions had a concentrating effect on the children. They sat still and stared.
“Next week, Sean is going to talk to us about friendship,” Mr. Tyler said, enunciating his words. “So we’re very excited about that. But for now, he’s brought us…” Mr. Tyler stood back and spread his arms, giving him room to finish the sentence.
“Cupcakes,” he said, indicating the tray, and grinned as an eruption of wild screams filled the classroom.
It was indeed the easy life, when cupcakes in the middle of the day captured all that was right with the world.
The bell then rang to indicate the end of the school day, and the kids followed Mr. Tyler’s instructions in lining up and coming for cupcakes one at a time. He ruffled the hair of the kid who’d taken issue with his size, seeing that the boy was in fact very little, and offered him a chocolate cupcake as a peace offering.
The boy tightened his lips and pointed instead to a red velvet one, and he obliged by switching them out. It got him a big smile and a nod. Deena, cupcake in hand, rushed around the other kids, running straight into him and throwing her arms around his waist.
“I love you, Sean,” she said, her voice muffled from her face planted against his stomach.
He bent over and kissed the top of her head, laughing as some of the other kids told him they loved him too. Deena held him tighter, eliciting a pleased smile from Mr. Tyler, and he basked in it, knowing he was being completely spoiled.
But Allison was right. It was why he had come home.
“Okay,” Allison told him. “Whatever else you and Tailgate do today, make sure you make it to Dahl’s before closing. Doesn’t matter whether you end up in Chicago, Kansas City, or the moon, just make sure you two get the shopping done for Sunday.”
She slipped the folded list of groceries into his jacket pocket, apparently not even trusting him enough to hand it to him.
He grinned down at her, and she lifted her gaze grudgingly at him.
Due to him being town, none of them were heading to Dallas this year either, and so it was a cookout at his parents’ on Super Bowl Sunday. It was only their second, but from the amount of buzz it was causing, it was fast looking like it was going to have to turn into a yearly tradition.
It also seemed to be everyone in his family’s opinion that he do all the shopping, since he was the only one without a day job. Retirement, according to his dad, was a full-time job.
But it was the one day Davey had finally been able to score since he’d been here, so Allison knew, and he knew, that if they saw the inside of anything resembling responsibility today, it was going to be a miracle.
“Wipe that grin off your face,” Allison said, eyeing him. “I’ve got a buttload of baking to do and I know it’s only Tuesday, but I won’t have a lot of time during the week.”
“You know I’m good for the barbecuing,” he teased her. “Maybe you can ask Davey to help you out with the baking.”
“Why do you even bother,” Kay called from her home office down the hall. “Michelle called and wanted to know where to drop off the bandages and other first aid items. That’s a more realistic attitude if you ask me.”
He grinned even wider, pushing the piece of paper deeper into his winter vest pocket and snapped it closed. Allison flipped her hand, already resigned to defeat. He bent and kissed her flushed cheek.
Then he watched as she left, getting into her sensible Nissan Altima and leaving for work, and as seconds later, as if knowing just when to arrive, Davey cruised his Wrangler down the street.
He chuckled to himself. Everyone acted as though he and Davey were still wild teenagers, when clearly they had become responsible adults. And Davey rolling that Jeep down the neighborhood street was proof enough.
Trying to control the grin he had been wearing all morning, he watched Davey park, get out of the car, warming his balls by scrubbing them with both hands, and make his way to the front door.
The sound of the doorbell broke through the house. He called back to Kay that he would see her later, she called back that they have fun, called hi to Davey, who shouted back, and they were out of there.
“Okay, sixty seconds to and from the no swimming sign,” Davey said, setting down his phone, his eyes still on the timer. “No fucking around this time. We got a record to beat.”
“You know we're nuts for doing this, right?”
Davey, poised next to him on the rock outcropping, turned to him with a serious look on his face. “Are you telling me we're getting too old to do something this stupid? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”
"Yes," he said, laughing, nodding, naked except for his briefs and freezing his balls off.
“Fuck that. We are not going out like that. On the count of three.”
Which was their signal to go.
They broke from the rock and plunged head first into the frigid water.
“Jesus Christ,” he said around his chattering teeth.
“Oh, God,” Davey howled softly.
“What the fuck just happened?”
“Jay,” Davey mewled. “We are old as fuck.”
They were huddled at a corner table in their favorite restaurant, Hashers Bar & Grill, dry and fully dressed again, but still freezing like kittens in a snowstorm. Quivering under blankets the waitstaff in the mostly-empty restaurant had been kind enough to supply them, they blew warm air into their hands and swore at the world.
He sent up a prayer of thanks as Marlena their waitress, and the waitress to many Johnston teenagers before them, showed up with a huge salad bowl filled with hot water. They quickly stripped off their gloves.
“Let it cool a bit,” she told them, dumping it on the table. “And you two jackasses need to know you're not seventeen anymore.”
“It’s what I told him,” he cried, pointing at Davey.
“Quiet down. I thought you being gay would make you the more mature one.”
But she was on her way, and Davey was eyeing the steaming hot water. Catching his eye, Davey dropped his eyes to the bowl and gave his head one determined shake. They were fucking freezing and that water wasn’t cooling any time.
They clenched their jaws and plunged their hands into the water.
Biting off harsh curses, they held on until the pain started fading away, to be replaced by a warmth so delicious that Davey groaned out of control, and he winded himself laughing.
They stuffed themselves with truckloads of ribs, corn, biscuits and gravy, and all the salad they could eat, they left the restaurant.
Outside, stripping off the party streamers from the impromptu welcome-back Sean Jackson party the waitstaff had thrown for them, he touched his breast pocket and remembered the grocery list. He reminded Davey of their need to stop at Dahl’s.
“Later,” Davey growled, reaching for the door handle to his Wrangler.
He stood on the other side and stared at Davey. “You know they’re not expecting us to pull this off, right?”
“Are we gonna live our lives in fear?”
“I fear Allison,” he offered.
“Jay, you heard the woman,” Davey said, pulling open his door. “We’re not seventeen anymore. We don’t have to worry about rules anymore. Beer and pool,” Davey went on, trying not to laugh as he laughed at the absorb logic. “Beer and pool with your best buddy, at two o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, while all the other schmucks are hard at work. I don’t know about you, Jay, but that to me is worth dying for.”
He grinned, already inside the car.
“Holden, where are you?”
“Um…” he sat up, looking around from his desk to the windows, at the sunset colors of the cityscape. He was wondering whether for some reason Elliot could see him. “Where are you?”
“Are you home?”
“Let me up.” The line disconnected.
Less than a minute later his landline rang from the concierge. It was the amount of time it would have taken Elliot to hand his keys to the valet, walk into the building and ask the concierge to call him.
Time which he had spent redepositing his Sean-cushion back in its place on the sofa, the one which had been sitting in his lap, and which Elliot associated with him pining not in a good way for an absent Sean.
He closed a couple of tabs in his browser, quickly clicking “no” when the popup asked him whether he wanted to stay on Locker Room Studs, exited the photo gallery on his iPad and slipped his issue of ESPN magazine back into his drawer.
He answered the call from the concierge and told them to let Elliot up. He reached over and unlocked the door, then walked back to his writing desk.
Elliot entered, walked over to him, and stood there staring down at him with his hand on his hip.
“Where the fuck is Sean?” he asked interestedly.
“I told you, he’s in Iowa.”
“And what’s he doing in Iowa?”
“He uh …”
“What’s he doing in Iowa?”
“He’s staying away from me.”
He had said it in a small voice. He finally looked up at Elliot, at his bright, confused eyes, and said in an even smaller voice, “He left me.”
He didn’t think, from the look on Elliot’s face, that whatever Elliot had expected to hear, it had been that. His expression didn’t change. He merely asked, “What?”
“He left me,” he repeated.
Elliot didn’t react. Then he said, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I quite heard you right. I could have sworn you just said Sean left you.”
Elliot bent over, putting them eye to eye. He looked like his plug had been thoroughly sparked.
He was startled to see how furious Elliot was.
“On what basis, Holden?”
“Why are you upset?” he asked in confusion.
“Oh, geez,” Elliot said. “Let me see. Why would I be upset, Holden? What could possibly make me upset about ingratitude?”
“He's just spent a week getting fucked massaged and fed. At the Beverly Hills. What could you possibly have done in the space of that time, after pining for him for ten weeks that could possibly have justified him leaving you!”
“There’s been you keeping that fucking candle burning in the dark for him. He needed to come home singing your praises!”
“Elliot, I don’t get it either. I’m probably missing something. But you weren’t there when all this stuff came out. Something is weird and I don’t that there’s anything I can do except give him space.”
“Holden, you’re high. You don’t get the first thing about being in it for the long term. Where the fuck is he right now?”
“Where in Iowa?”
“He’s from a small town called Johnston. It’s near Des Moines.”
“For how long.”
“I don’t know… For the foreseeable future.”
“That man has some fucking nerve. I have heard of high maintenance, but Holden, that man of yours is the prize winner.”
“So where the fuck are you going to be this time tomorrow?”
Opened his mouth, then closed it, and looked pleading up at Elliot. “Elliot please don’t make me do it. This isn’t something that just started when he got back. It’s something— I-I never told you, but it’s the one thing between us that’s been there from the start. He doesn’t—”
“Where…” Elliot said, leaning over. “Are you going to be, come sundown tomorrow?”
He lowered his gaze.
Elliot held up a thumb and forefinger, pinched together to form a point. “Holden, he gave you an engagement ring. Do you know what that means? That is a pledge of marriage. He doesn’t get to just walk away from that. He’s lucky as fuck your father doesn’t know about this. Is that what he’s so pissed about?”
“Did he not mean it when he proposed?”
“He meant it.”
“Go fucking get him,” Elliot said with finality, straightening. “Jesus Christ, after twelve weeks of this shit.” He looked around, searching for his wet bar. “I need a goddamned drink.”
He and Davey found a booth in their favorite neon-lit bar, still empty on a Tuesday afternoon, but sure to fill up and provide them with a good game of pool. They sat drinking their favorite bad beer.
"I didn't know,” Davey was telling him earnestly. "But I can honestly tell you I wasn’t surprised. No women, all that focus on football and nothing else... It was like that last piece of the puzzle fell into place, you know?"
Davey leaned across the wooden table. "You mean to tell me all that time, you never made it with a girl? What about Trina? And Yvette?"
"Never went all the way."
“Are you fucking shitting me?”
He shook his head.
"Man," Davey said, sitting back. "You picked the right girls, Jay. If I’d failed to chase them to third base every time everyone in school would have been talking about how Tailgate couldn’t get it up.”
“You had a reputation to keep up. I had a responsibility to score touchdowns on the football field.”
Davey let out a respectful breath. “So you fuck anyone in high school?" Then he remembered, pointing. "You told me about this girl, the one from the high school near Ames. And then there was that other chick who lived out on the farm by the I-80."
He sat wondering at this moment. After half his life, it was time to come clean.
He held Davey’s eyes and he told him, “Those were guys.”
He watched a look of pure astonishment descend on Davey’s face.
Davey was still staring at him after a long while, and he kept looking back.
“I don’t think I’ve ever see you before,” Davey said quietly.
He couldn’t help chuckling.
“So have you never been with a girl?”
“Honestly, no,” and Davey sat forward, fresh astonishment taking over his face.
“Are you shitting me, Jay?” he crowed softly. “You just— that just changed my life.”
Then he slumped back, staring at him, and he let him have his moment.
“How the fuck did you pull that off?” he finally asked.
He thought about it for a second. “In a lot of ways it really wasn’t that hard. Football kinda made it easy.”
“You fuck any guys in school?”
“Had to be real careful, huh?”
“Something like that.”
“Shit,” Davey said, still astounded. “Well, I’ll tell you what, if nothing else I think this proves that you’re way smarter than me.”
He snorted. “You care to repeat that when we have witnesses?”
Davey sat back, his eyes still on him. Then he tilted his head and said, “You know, when you came out Michelle asked me to ‘fess up. She was sure we must have done something in high school.”
“I guess that would seem likely.”
“Wouldn’t it? So that’d be my question. How come you never made a pass at me?”
He stopped with his beer bottle to his mouth, thinking he might have heard wrong. But Davey was eyeing him with perfect seriousness.
“What?” he asked to clarify.
“You heard me,” Davey said, not taking his eyes off him. “All those times we got drunk throughout high school? Fuck knows you had plenty of opportunities. Remember that time we got drunk and stranded out by the interstate in your dad’s truck, and we thought we were gonna freeze overnight in the snow? Die out there like a couple injured deer?”
He had lost his mouthful of beer snorting laughter, and set it down as the ludicrous memory came back in full force.
“We smeared goose fat all over ourselves, remember?” Davey continued. “And then tried to remember what the hell your pop’d taught us about ever getting stranded out in the snow. And then that state trooper found us the next morning and thought were out of our fucking minds.”
“We tried to act all cool about it, too,” he said, wiping his eyes. “Remember that? Uh, no, officer, we weren’t stranded, just bunked down for the night. We were fucking traumatized. I’ve never been so scared of dying in my life.”
“Right. We had to sleep bundled up together for body heat. You had your chance then.”
He sat back, smiling. “Are you upset?”
“Yeah, I'm upset. I’m not a bad looking guy.”
He shrugged. “You’re not my type.” And at Davey’s baffled expression, “You don’t know the first thing about taking care of a man.”
“Fuck you,” Davey stated, tossing beer nuts in his direction. “I take care of myself at least once a day.”
That cracked them both up.
By four o’clock the after work crowd started wandering in, and they took their act back to the back room. It was guys who were old childhood friends and some work colleagues of Davey’s. They shook hands, he got some nice words about the season, even got some hugs, and talked about the upcoming Game on Sunday.
Then he ordered all the beers, they picked up a game of pool, and that was where the afternoon left them.
At some point during the afternoon he started noticed that Davey was eyeing him every time a decent looking guy walked into the back room.
He hid his laughter but in no time Davey caught him looking. Davey smiled, lowering his head at least in a little of self-consciousness, and came over. He joined him where he was sitting against the wall waiting his turn.
“Man,” Davey sighed softly, shaking his head. “Jay, I cannot picture you with a dude.”
He narrowed his eyes at Davey. This was all very familiar… “Is there a reason you’re trying to picture something like that?”
Then it came to him. “It was Yvette, wasn’t it? You were living vicariously. You always liked her. Don’t even fucking try to deny it.”
Davey was grinning, looking for a moment like he might try to talk his way out of it and then giving up.
“Are you fucking kidding me, asshole?”
“Jay, she had that skin. But you know what? It was actually farm girl. Or when I thought it was a girl. Man, I loved that idea. I’d used to picture those big-ass JD Caterpillars in the background, all grease stained and slippery, you know? A lot flowery print dresses, a lot a moaning. Like in a fucking Carl’s Junior commercial.”
He was struggling with laughter, having to use his pool cue for support. Davey, like most people in town, worked for John Deere. God help him if he was left with the image of Davey at the office beating off to their own machinery. He would permanently injure himself laughing.
He stood up, his turn having come up.
“Was I close? I know no flowery dresses but I was close, wasn’t I?”
He threw him a look. “Not that far off.”
They emerged to twilight skies, and to Davey asking him what Holden was like.
Not that surprised—they’d spent the entire day and Davey hadn’t brought it up—he held up a hand and gave Davey one firm shake of his head. He’d had a few beers, but he wasn’t buzzed enough to believe that he was somehow now immune to feelings.
“Aw, come on,” Davey said, standing still.
They were on their way to his Wrangler, but suddenly he was going, and Davey was not.
“This guy’s got my Jay by the fucking short hairs. You tell me who he is,” Davey shouted, pointing at him. “And I will sort him the fuck out, right now!”
He was grinning so hard his face was spliting apart. “Oh, you think so, right?”
They both turned toward the strip of lawn bordering the parking lot. Two twenty-something girls, walking beyond Davey’s Wrangler, were heading into a bar farther up the strip. One of them was turned in their direction.
“Maybe it’s because you just never had a real woman!” and she lifted her shirt and flashed them a pair of spectacular, pink-tipped tits.
His eyebrows went up.
Davey’s jaw hit the floor.
The girl’s friend seemed to have just noticed what her friend had done, and shrieking, she swatted her arm and made her drop her shirt. Flashing them what he could only describe as a shit-eating grin, she let her shirt fall back in place and herself be dragged off.
Davey was still rooted to the spot.
He went over and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Son,” he said solemnly. “Don’t ever let it be said I never did anything good for you.”
Davey tipped his head back, resting it against his for a brief moment. Then he straightened and turned, clapping his hands together.
He didn’t like the pure evil smile on Davey’s face.
“It’s a sign,” Davey said softly.
“Davey, it’s not happening.”
“Get in, Jay.”
He stood outside the Wrangler, staring into the cab while Davey strapped himself in.
“What fucking reason do you have to go to a gay nightclub,” he cried, staring at his nutcase friend. "I don't want to go to a gay nightclub."
Davey put the car in gear. “We’re celebrating your coming out.”
“I don’t need to celebrate. I’m perfectly happy with the day we’ve had.”
“Get in, Jay.”
It’s in Des Moines!”
“I’ll make it in thirty.” Davey turned to him across the interior of the car. “Come on, you fucking wuss! We’re gonna go see male go-go dancers, knockout trannys, and a bunch of drunk frat boys who are about to find out that they’re gay. You’re gonna make their fucking night!”
“There'll be pictures on the Internet!”
“Who gives a fuck? You’re out and you’re fucking proud.”
He pulled back and folded his arms.
Davey, leaning across the cab now, locked eyes with him.
“Jay,” he said adoringly, turning on the Tailgate charm. “Get the fuck in.”
He stood having a struggle with himself.
“On the count of three,” Davey enticed.
"Fuck it," he decided, reaching for the door handle.
They got back at ten-fifteen and sat in the Wrangler staring at the "Closed" sign in front of Dahl's supermarket.
“Oops,” Davey said, turning to him. “Guess we'll have to do this again tomorrow,” he said, then slid his gaze over him. “You heartbreaker, you.”
He lifted a finger. “You are sworn to fucking secrecy. You hear me?”
Davey laughed, shifting the Wrangler into gear. “Please,” he tossed, and sent the car roaring down the street.
It was bright, beautiful Wednesday morning in L.A.
The temperature was warm here, but wondered whether he was heading for a cold day and an even colder reception in Iowa.
Rather than letting him take a car, Elliot had asked Petey to drive him to the airport. And apparently also to give him a pep talk.
So flying down the 405 in Petey’s exorbitantly expensive sports car, Petey cheerfully carried on a conversation mostly with himself about the things he needed to consider absolutes in order to view this trip a success.
“Number one, bring him back. You automatically forfeit all points if you fail in this, the objective of your mission. Number two, stop forgetting who you are.”
He cut of his sigh, pulling his hands into his lap.
“I remember years ago when I first met you, Holden, and you said to me, problems are the things we don’t want to look at the answers to.”
He contemplated the passing scenery. “What does that even mean?”
“You tell me. I am still trying to figure it out. Which is why my personal life is a fucking mess. But Holden, that’s how you roll. You eat problems for breakfast. And that thoroughbred of yours is no different. He’s just another problem you have to solve.”
He dropped his gaze back to his hands. “I don’t think this is the same thing.”
“Of course it is. The only difference is that it’s love, so you have to be a little more patient. Listen, I don’t care how much drama he’s got going on, that man is gaga over you. He didn’t even see me at your condo,” Petey said, flashing him a cynically raised eyebrow. “Have you ever seen such a situation?”
He slowly shook his head. Men with any degree of homosexual orientation, whatever their tastes, had to at least give Petey a detailed once-over.
“Right. So go take care of it. And come back soon, babe. We’re looking forward to getting wasted at your wedding.”
They were strolling through Dahl’s and making good progress. Forget scheduling work related events, without someone taking care of the big stuff, he really had forgotten what kind of effort went into things like like.
They had picked up all the beef, beer and any food that was barbecue-related and that their carts could carry. So far they were doing pretty good, and were slowly making their way towards the hot dogs, Deena's favorite food, on which he was going to have to spend a little more time picking out brands.
Davey was picking out dipping bowls, grimacing at having to pick between Colts and Saints logos and presumably not Chargers, while he sporadically signed autographs for kids running up to him.
They had talked about a lot of things, mostly filling in on details from conversations they had started the day before. They talked, catching up on two years wroth of important news, about Davey and Michelle, the direction of politics in town, life changes of some of their friends.
Inevitably, they got to Holden.
Leaning on his cart, using just enough momentum to push it along, he felt just as disinclined at spending any mental energy on Holden. He made a small push not to discuss it, but Davey waltzed right past his prolonged silences.
Unlike Allison who treated him like a baby brother, with care and respect, Davey treated him like an asshole little brother, with no regard for his feelings and knowing way too many of his secrets.
He made a tentative statement about him and Holden coming from different camps with regards to what he would politely call emotional fidelity, and that for the time being they could just leave it at that.
Davey gave him a sidelong glance. “What is that, like some garbage L.A. thing?”
“It's how I feel about it.”
“Lots of guys sleep around.”
“That’s because you were scared of getting busted. What with you being gay and all. And you mean to tell me every last one of those farm boys meant something special to you?”
“There were only two of them, and yeah, they did.”
Davey made a dismissive sound.
“Besides, I had plenty of opportunities. Guys were getting handjobs all day long in the boys bathroom in school.”
Davey looked at him. “That’s horseshit.” But when his expression didn’t change. “Really?”
He nodded, stopping as they had reached the specialty meats section. He picked up some pre-cut sirloin and turned the packaging over to see the what lean meat percentage were on these. He picked up a couple more and replaced them with the ones they already had in their carts.
“Well, why didn’t you?”
“Because I’m not a slut.”
Davey cocked him a look. “So you think he’s a slut?”
They moved on.
“What about college? You get a lot of guys there?”
“There were some.”
“You should’ve gone to State. They have a gay frat and everything.”
“What, to go play football, or go be gay?”
“Right,” Davey said, giving his head a shake. “What the fuck am I thinking.”
They had reached the hot dogs section. He stopped the cart and went over and picked up some brands.
“But seriously, Jay,” Davey said. “You can’t not marry him just because—”
Davey stopped, turning from looking at the hotdogs—he was doing not much else in terms of helping—and stared him.
“I can’t believe I just said that about you and some guy,” Davey said softly.
He ignored him and contemplated the hot dogs.
A look of wonder had lit up Davey’s face. “I know it makes everything make sense, but the reality…”
He lowered his voice, though he didn’t bother to look up. “Davey, you took me to a gay nightclub and paid for me to get a lap dance. From a guy.”
“That’s different. That’s— like saying you got a lap dance and now you’re going to marry the stripper. That doesn’t fucking add up. But this is real. You’re not straight. We can’t talk tits, or hot asses… or getting checked out by hot girls.”
“We can talk hot asses. And I get checked out all the time.”
Davey gave him a patient look, then accepted he wasn’t going to get a more empathic response from him.
They picked up some hotdogs, tossed them into the carts, and moved along.
Davey turned to him. “So what’s a hot ass on a guy?”
Davey gave it a moment, then tilted his head in acquiescence.
They circled and started a long, slow push toward the cashiers, about half a mile away from their current location. Some kids showed up, he posed for pictures, and signed their baseball hats.
And then, just like that, they started talking about real things.
“So what’s it been like, being out in the league?” Davey asked in somber tones.
“Ah, you know how it is. Trash talk all you want, but come game day—”
Davey nodded, needing no further explanation for what their coaches, all the way back to peewee football, had always taught them.
He shrugged. “The league’s been good. You know Mike Goodall’s brother’s gay?”
“Plus we got all those gay advocacy rights groups. They make a lot of noise if people try something funny.”
Davey stopped moving altogether, apparently giving up the pretense that he had been shopping at all, and leaned against an aisle shelf. He contemplated him seriously. “So how’d you get laid? Before you came out. How’d that work?”
He stopped his own cart and bent over it, staring into space. “Strange as it might sound, players in major league carry on gay relationships for years.”
“What?” Davey said. “Bullshit.”
“Swear to god. It’s its own world, man. It’s easy enough in L.A., though, where unless you’re on someone’s radar you can show up just about wherever with whomever and nobody thinks twice about it. I mean, I live on the same street as Jennifer Aniston and that guy that produces all those music reality shows. So when paparazzi show up they’re usually more interested in the bigger fish to fry. If you keep to yourself, it really isn’t that much of a hassle.”
“And in the league?”
He took a breath.
After a while, when he still hadn’t said anything, Davey looked at him. He snorted softly, shaking his head, as the words just wouldn’t come. “It’s tough,” he said to Davey.
“Well, spit it out,” Davey replied.
And so he told him how it been.
Experiences he hadn’t put into words for anyone, not even for himself.
He explained how it had been hooking up with reporters and sportswriters and the weirdness all that generated, the type of things they had constantly tried to pull.
The other side had always been the ones with a coating of anonymity, by virtue of not being the famous football player, and they had turned being gay and in the closet in that arena into a magnificent power trip that one had to see to believe.
“It was like— You just kind of walked around, not just with the understanding that you couldn’t fall for anyone knowing that you might not be able to trust them, but I went around holding my heart tightly in a fist. You know… out of your body for safekeeping. You protected yourself, mentally, emotionally, sometimes physically, all the time.”
As he spoke the words for the first time he realized that this was his story, the one that Kara had been pushing him to write, or talk about on a serious talk show. He had never understood why she'd thought it would be of interest to anyone, but now he thought he got it.
Davey was looking at him. “And that was on top of staying psyched to play football.”
“There you go.”
There was a pause.
“And that’s where he came along,” Davey said.
It took a moment to answer. “Yeah,” he said, and stared at the linoleum floor underneath his cart.
And despite the jumble of emotions he was feeling right at that moment, he found himself holding onto one.
“It was like feeling yourself relaxing when you didn’t know you’d been tensed up. Forget holding myself tightly, I didn’t even know what had happened to me, when my heart was gone. It was just…”
He laughed a little, pressing his finger to his eye, having a memory.
It had been on one of their first dates when Holden had taken him to a very upscale restaurant, and had spent an inordinate amount of time trying to pull over a chair using nothing but the tip of his boot while they had been sitting at their table waiting for their server.
It had been one of their early dates, so he hadn’t known him very well, so he had sat there completely mesmerized that someone so devastatingly attractive could do something so astoundingly goofy. The chair had been nowhere close, it would have been much more efficient to just stand up and go get it, and he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why Holden wanted it in the first place.
When their server had arrived Holden had said nothing about it, and had spent a brief time after that glancing longingly at it. When Holden had finally seen him staring, he had smiled and said that the chair was “being really difficult.”
He remembered how impossibly smitten he had been by that moment, how real it had seemed after the power filled, half life he had been carrying on.
All he had been able to think of was how much he had wanted to feel all that realness that all over him, beneath him.
There had been no holding himself, or his heart back. “My heart was just gone,” he said finished lamely to Davey, who had been staring at him.
“Wow,” Davey said softly. “He sounds really special.”
He didn't say anything. Then, because he couldn’t deny it to himself, that Holden was that and much more, he said, “That he is.”
Davey pushed away from the shelving and grabbed his cart. They resumed their push toward the cashiers.
“So, basically, you’re here to hide.”
“Hide?” he said nonchalantly, pulling to a stop as they reached the cashiers.
“Not that I blame you,” Davey went on undeterred, and pushing his cart ahead. “When I was about to marry Michelle I could have thrown up every day. I wish I’d had the guts to run though. Or really, just somewhere to run to.”
“You probably wouldn’t have made it as far as West Des Moines. That’s as far as you’ve ever been outside of Johnston, right? About twenty-second and Ashworth?”
“Haha. This from the guy who ran halfway across the country.” Davey pointed at the subtotals flashing across the screen. “You just signed a multimillion dollar contract. You can pick up the fucking tab.”
The cashier, grinning, swiped away, while he pulled out his wallet and obliged.
At the exit to Dahl’s, they saw a man standing in front of Davey’s Wrangler holding up a sign with a homophobic slur on it.
He had been so comfortable being back home that it took a moment for him to realize the sign was meant for him.
Davey, however, needed no such moment.
Abandoning his grocery cart, Davey went flying towards the man. “Get the fuck out of here!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. “I’ll fucking kill you, you motherfucker!”
Startled, his eyes wide as saucers, the man dropped his sign and turned tail, running all the way across the parking lot shouting obscenities back at Davey over his shoulder.
“Yeah?” Davey yelled, throwing up a hand, stopping just short of chasing him. “We heard you the first time and didn’t give a shit, you fucking asshole!”
The whole thing was so sudden, and so much something like out of their teenage years, that he stared wide-eyed at Davey, who was by now coming back toward him red-faced with rage, and when their eyes met the two of them simply buckled at the knees.
They were howling so hard they had to abandon their rolling carts, sit on the asphalt and wipe their eyes.
“Did you see that joker?” Davey whispered, leaning against the tire of the Wrangler.
“Who the fuck was he?” he gasped.
“Probably some asshole from Des Moines.”
They helped each other up, grabbed and pulled back their carts, opening the back of the Wrangler.
“Jesus, that was funny,” Davey said, as they began hauling in grocery bags. “I hope I scared the shit out of him.”
“I’d say he got off lucky. Holden would have probably had him tailed, arrange to get his house foreclosed, then planted false stories about him on the internet.”
Davey gave him a surprised look. “I think I like this guy.”
He caught himself, then nodded to himself. You and me both.
Okay, let’s see…
He squinted through the car’s windshield into the purpling dusk.
The air in Johnston was freezing.
It was a town of approximately 17,000 people, repeatedly selected one of the top fifteen small towns to live in America, and was a political stopover for US presidential candidates. It was a town of great schools, great residential real estate… and, if this trip went right, the future site of his family vacations.
The rental car’s navigation system had said to make a left on Euclid Avenue and then a right onto Merle Hay, and that the hotel would be right there on the right.
And sure enough, there it was.
He turned the car into the driveway of the AmericInn Hotel & Suites, a sprawling home-style hotel of two floors, eighty-nine rooms and fourteen suites, one of the latter of which was to become his home away from home for the foreseeable future.
He rolled the car up to the glass front doors under the lighted columns, then after moments of idling with no sign of activity, realized that they wouldn’t have valet. He rolled the car past the entrance and saw a parking lot farther down the winding driveway.
He parked, got out, and was at the front desk in under five minutes. The receptionist smiled happily at him, welcomed him and asking for his information.
While she ran his credit card and pulled up his reservation, he brought his phone up to viewing distance. Assuring himself that he had done the right thing, he activated the keypad and sent Sean a text.
He and Allison were unpacking items she’d need for her baking marathon come Saturday, and every other thing they had bought from Dahl’s was currently chilling in his parents’ freezer.
Allison was asking him about his days with Davey, how he had taken his coming out.
“Exactly as you’d expect,” he told her, and she snorted.
“Is he charging people to touch you yet? Oh, wait, he already did that one when you signed with the Chargers.”
He chuckled. “He wouldn’t do that, we’re grownups now,” and she rolled her eyes. He laughed. “The last couple of days have yielded some interesting things though.”
“Oh? Like what?”
“We talked about some stuff I’d forgotten about from high school. Stuff about me being so into football and not even messing around when I could have. He thought I could have gotten laid all I wanted at Iowa State.”
“What’d you tell him?”
“That I got laid plenty enough, just not around here.”
She stopped stacking flour and looked at him. “You told him about that?”
“Yeah. He was pretty—” He stopped and looked at her. “You knew about that?”
But she was still looking at him. “Why did he start talking about the past?”
He threw her a look. “We always talk about the past.”
“But since your coming out? You talked about when you were kids?”
His phone trilled with a text message. He pulled it out. “Yeah,” he said in response, wondering at all her pointed questions. “Why is that weird to you?” he asked, looking at his phone. Then he stopped.
He stared at the text.
He couldn’t be seeing right.
Bringing the phone closer to his face, he stared at the words on the screen. His heart skipped a painful beat.
He looked up at Allison.
Her eyes were just as wide as his probably were. She was looking from him to the phone, her face paling.
“Sean, what is it?” she asked quickly.
After a couple attempts, and him failing to speak, she quickly asked, “Did something happen?”
“He’s in town,” he said hoarsely.
Allison still looked confused. Then her mouth opened.
“I’m not doing it, Allison! He’s not making me do it!”
“Then I’ll go.”
“Sean, you can’t not,” said Kay, leaning in the doorway. She had heard the commotion and had come out of her home office to speak placatingly from the hallway entrance. “You proposed to him. Do you get that? You can’t just turn your back on him because things got tough.”
“Where’s he staying?” Allison asked, moving to counter where he had dumped his phone like something which had stung.
He wasn’t saying a word, roiling feelings hurting his insides. How could Holden do this?
Allison picked up the phone, unlocked it and checked the text, and set it back on the counter. She headed for the foyer.
Her eyes were full of disappointment as she tossed him a look while walking by. “See you later. Don’t forget to say goodnight to your niece. Who won’t judge you.”
Hands on his waist, he stared at the floor and didn’t watch her leave.
After a moment, Kay silently left the doorway and returned to her office.
He was still rooted to the living room floor when Allison returned.
She was trailed by Davey, who pulled in behind her Altima and parked as she got out. They entered the living room and he and Allison picked up where they had left off.
“You’re being rude, Sean. Even if you’re having a fight, it doesn’t mean you can’t treat him with civility. He came all the way from L.A.”
“Nobody asked him to! And it sure as hell didn’t mean you had to go invite him for dinner! At mom and dad’s? If he’s going to meet my parents, shouldn’t we at least be on a speaking basis?”
“That’s entirely up to you.”
Davey was standing next to them, fascinated. His eyes were moving back and forth between them like a kid on Christmas morning. He’d heard the news from Michelle who’d heard it from Kay.
“What’s he like?” Davey asked Allison now, his hands on his hips.
“He seems really nice,” Allison said, turning to him with a much too sympathetic look on her face. “He rented a car and has been driving himself around, and seems totally self sufficient. He only wanted to know if Sean was okay.”
Davey lifted his eyebrows, impressed.
He turned and held up a finger at Davey. “You’re not allowed to go over there.”
Davey raised his hands, backing off.
Allison shook her head in clear disappointment. “I’ve done my part, Sean. Dinner with your fiancé and parents is Friday at seven. Hope to see you there.”
She dropped her keys into the bowl by the entrance and went into the house.
He looked at Davey, who shrugged innocuously.
He turned and stared out the window at the street lamps illuminating the snow.