Declarations of ‘I don’t care’ aside, the habits of a life built in shadow do not change in the blink of an eye. Instead it starts small…
It’s Lito tilting his head toward Hernando as they stand hip-to-hip and ride the elevator down. Daniela stands across the way, playing on her phone and giving them the illusion of a private conversation.
Hernando is discussing Lito’s latest script and how “The struggle of the film’s hero mirrors the larger struggle of humanity verses nature; the elemental battle of the human race’s will to survive and Mother Nature’s casual flick of the wrist that reminds us how fragile our lives really are” and Lito can’t hold his smile back. The awe and joy that this man – this beautiful, intelligent, force of a man – choose him to love is too overwhelming of a feeling to keep hidden.
When the elevator dings, Hernando glances to see they are passing the second floor and Lito’s made no move to put distance between them. Hernando goes to step aside and make room for Dani, make the whole scene look more presentable for anyone waiting in the lobby when the doors slide open, but Lito drops a hand to his wrist to stay him.
“Lito?” Hernando questions, his eyes darting from Lito’s blank face down to the fingers lightly encircling his wrist, but Lito just closes his eyes and shakes his head once.
The rest of the ride is silent. When the doors open onto the lobby, the three of them stand still for a breath until, with great reluctance, Lito drops Hernando’s wrist and reaches for Dani’s hand.
As they walk out of the building, Lito tries not to notice how Dani’s hand doesn’t fit quite right in his or how Hernando trails after them a half-a-length behind.
It’s Lito stepping aside to let Dani lead them down their row and to their seats the next time they go to a wrestling match.
With a small smile and a twinkle in her eye, Daniela proceeds without question but Hernando stops short on the stairs.
“What are you about?” he demands in a low tone.
“Enjoying the wrestling with my girlfriend and my bodyguard,” Lito whispers, his mouth turned up in a small smile as well as he goes to enter the row.
“Lito.” The word is a question and warning all in one. Hernando doesn’t know what’s going on. He knows the rules, the routine, of how they are in public and this goes against all of it. They haven’t talked about this. “What—?”
“Please, Hernando.” The plea is whispered so low Hernando almost misses it. “Don’t make—” Lito glances around to take in the crowd and his eyes beg when they meet Hernando’s again. “Please, just come sit.”
Hernando nods once. Without another word, they make their way down the row to join Dani and this time Lito is sandwiched between the other two. It takes a while before Hernando calms enough to relax and enjoy himself and even longer before he’s able to turn to Lito and smile. The smile is too big, too wide, but Hernando can’t bring himself to care. It’s the way he’s always wanted to smile at Lito outside the walls of their home and now that he’s been given the chance he’s not wasting it.
The three of them jump up after particularly amazing move and Lito throws his arms around the pair of them in celebration. Riding the emotion of the moment, Hernando wraps his arms around Lito’s waist for just a moment and tries to focus on the fingertips lightly grazing curls at the nape of his neck rather than on Lito’s other arm that is wrapped around Daniela.
Then it’s their anniversary and Hernando is doing his best to keep his anger in check as he and Dani drive.
He and Lito always have their anniversary together at home. Hernando spends the afternoon chopping and preparing while Lito buzzes around and steals bites of this and tastes of that. They linger in candlelight, savoring wine and food and each other, and enjoy the freedom of simply being themselves.
It’s a simple – and secret – way of celebrating but it’s theirs.
Then, Lito had called this afternoon just as Hernando was beginning dinner preparations. Lito and Dani needed to go to some event, a stupid publicity thing that, despite all attempts, Lito couldn’t get out of.
At the apology in Lito’s voice, Hernando swallowed down the disappointment. This was just another an unfortunate reality of their lives; worse than canceled dinner plans had happened before. He would move on and they would celebrate another night.
Then, however, Lito twisted the knife.
“Will you come?” he’d asked.
“To your event?” Hernando questioned. A small spark of hope he knew was stupid flared up in his chest at the idea that Lito wanted him to come.
“Yes. I think—I think I’ll need my bodyguard tonight.” And at that word any hope in Hernando died.
“You—you want me to come and watch you and Dani tonight?” He couldn’t keep the hurt and anger out of his voice. It was one thing for Lito to ask him to come play protector on any other night but tonight was supposed to be theirs.
“I know it’s a lot to ask but—”
“But tonight, Lito,” Hernando bit off. “It’s—”
“Hernando, please.” The plea, the raw need in Lito’s voice quelled Hernando’s objections and, for a beat, there was only tense silence between them.
“I need to think about it,” was the only answer Hernando gave before hanging up.
Hernando was calm as he packed up and put away the ingredients he’d assembled for dinner. He mulled over the decision as he pretended to read a book and then stewed as he got ready after texting Lito that he’d come.
It was their anniversary after all and Hernando wanted them to spend it together, at least. Even if Hernando would spend the entire night an arms length away, watching as his love played at being in love with someone else.
He had thought his emotions were well in hand until the anger and frustration started to seep back in on the ride over. Now, they are minutes from the venue and Hernando’s blood is boiling.
“You’re angry,” Daniela observes, looking beautiful but slightly forlorn in a beaded, black dress.
“Not at you,” Hernando says, trying to keep the emotion out of his voice. Daniela is too often stuck in the middle of things and it is hardly her fault or doing. She’s done nothing to deserve the pulse of anger and jealousy Hernando feels when he looks at her and he does his best to keep them both out of his tone.
“At Lito then?”
Hernando begins to shake his head but stops. He is angry with Lito and hurt that Lito would ever ask him to do this. More than that though, he’s frustrated with himself; frustrated that he let himself be placed in this position again. He’d thought they were moving slowly past this and it stung more than he thought it would to realize he was wrong.
“Hernando?” At Dani’s gentle question, Hernando turns his head around to see the sympathy in her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“You, my beautiful friend, you have nothing to apologize for,” he tells her with a smile, reaching over to squeeze her hand in his.
They pull up in front of the venue and Hernando looks around the quiet street and vacant parking lot. Where are the cameras and the red carpet? The press and the crowds? “Are we at the right place?”
Dani gives him a mischievous look and sly smile. “Yes,” is all she gives by way of explanation, as she gets out of the car and starts walking inside.
Hernando hurries out to catch up with her. “Daniela, what is going on?”
“You shall see, my beautiful friend,” she teases and links her arm with his. It’s been so hard to keep up the ruse as they drove over and she’s so excited for him to see. “You shall see.”
They walk into an empty restaurant and Dani puts a palm to the small of his back. “You go in.” She gestures ahead to the dining room.
“Wait? Where are you going?”
“To powder my nose.” At his confused look, she just smiles again and waves him on with a hand. “Go on.”
Left with little choice, Hernando pulls open the door to the dinning room and takes a step in. The room is lit low and empty, save one table set with two tall candles in the center with Lito standing next to it. His hands are clasped in front of him and Hernando can see the nervousness in Lito’s shoulders.
Stopping short in front of Lito and the table, Hernando looks pointedly around the room. “What is all this?”
“It’s—it’s a surprise,” Lito explains, licking his lips and rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. “For our anniversary. I rented the restaurant. I thought—I wanted to take you out—for us to go out—and you mentioned hearing this place was good and I wanted to take you. And then I mentioned it to Daniela and she thought making it a surprise would be fun but then you got mad—more mad than I had thought you would and I was so nervous you weren’t going to come and that I’d ruined it, like I ruin everything and—”
“You don’t ruin anything,” Hernando insists. While Lito had rambled, Hernando had walked over, reaching out to take Lito’s hands in his. Now, he takes the final step to press his lips to Lito’s and feels a pulse of pleasure when Lito’s shoulders relax. “I love it.”
“I meant what I said.” The way the words come out in a rush makes Hernando suspect Lito’s been holding them back for a while. When Hernando simply lifts a brow in question, Lito explains. “When I said I didn’t care about Joaquin and the photos and—and all of it, I meant it. I’ve been trying to—these past weeks I’ve been trying to get better about—I don’t know if you’ve noticed—”
“I’ve noticed,” Hernando rushes in. He squeezes Lito’s hands in his and his voice breaks when he repeats. “I’ve noticed.”
The hand that cups Hernando’s cheek is gentle and the kiss between them tender.
“I love you,” Lito whispers against Hernando’s lips. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Lito leans back and trails a light thumb over Hernando’s jaw. “Never doubt that. Never again.”
“Never again.” Hernando nods in agreement before leaning in for another kiss.
They make one silhouette in the light, heedless of the wait staff nosing through the glass of the kitchen door or the windows open for any passerby to see. They break apart with eyes only for each other, no furtive glances over shoulders for who may have seen because tonight neither cares who sees. It’s their anniversary and maybe this is something the rest of the world should know about.
After dinner they leave the restaurant with Dani trailing a few feet behind, ready to jump in if necessary, but no one takes note as they leave hand-in-hand. And they don’t notice when Dani slows her pace down even more to give them more privacy as they stroll along, moving ever closer together until not only on they hand-in-hand but also hip-to-hip and shoulder-to-shoulder.
So yes, sweeping declarations are well and good but it really are the little things that matter most.