I never slept with anyone but Stella. Sad but true. Stella…well, we were “on a break” (Stella-imposed) and she went around and sowed some wild oats. I proved what a great guy I was by waiting patiently for her to fuck it out of her system. If you love someone, set them free and all that shit.
But we never stopped being friends. Back then. She told me about the guys she was fucking around with (and the girl) and to this day I know I was mostly just interested in her happiness what her life was like (and, yeah, more than a little turned on) but, upon reflection in the fullness of time (a phrase I think I heard Welsh use at least the one time if not more) I honestly was not jealous. It never really occurred to me that Stella wouldn’t eventually come back to me.
And she did. And we married. And it was greatness. But even a drop of water, repeated over time, will wear down a stone, and that’s what happened to me and Stella. In another place, another time, we probably would’ve stuck it out for society, for the kids, but in Chicago in the 90s? That was barely society and we never got around to having kids.
It took a while, but I eventually gave into reality. Stella and I were quits. For the first time since Nixon was president, I was, I felt free. I could have anyone who would have me.
That was around the same time the Chicago PD offered me the easiest undercover job in the world: be Ray Vecchio. I read Vecchio’s jacket, met with Welsh for the first time, met with Ma and Frannie and the whole Vecchio wrecking crew and figured I could handle it.
And I was handling it great, even when Fraser showed up, looking like every guy I carefully ignored when Stella and I were on a break, and when Stella and I were together, and after Stella dumped me but I couldn’t seem to get it through my dense Chicago Polish skull that she wasn’t just jerking me around this time. I handled it like a pro, like a champion.
But Stella and I kept crossing paths at work, and even after she learned that I was being Vecchio, she treated me special, but not like old Ray-and-Stella Days Special, more like Are-You-Sure-You’re-Fine-Without-A-Helmet-Before-The-Short-Bus-Arrives Special.
By then I finally knew it was over. Some guys like it when women treat them like that, like less than gum on their shoes, and for awhile I really tried to be that guy, to like being humiliated daily, but it turned out that wasn’t me after all. In the fullness of time, it turned out I was fucking ready to be admired and desired. And it was the nineties and good God were there bars for people like me.
I was the Man in Demand. Go to any bar, grab any beer bottle (I favored Corona with a lime because I could, and would, fish that wedge out of the neck with my tongue and, Goddamn, from one who knows, it really pays to advertise), and reel ‘em in. And while the casual observer might not think I was all that choosy, I actually was. I stuck to people who saw Star Wars in its first run, weren’t socially obligated (I’d even ask if I wasn’t sure, and sometimes I’d just pass them over if I wasn’t sure).
Too bad the Vecchio gig came with a built-in moral compass.
“I’m not sure,” Fraser said carefully, one day, completely out of the wild blue yonder, “that your social needs are being adequately fulfilled.”
Sneaky Fraser, spoiling me for choice in responses. Of course I knew that was Canadian (or maybe just Fraserese) for “My my my aren’t you quite the little slut, S. Raymond Kowalski?” I could play dumb, but by then I knew he was sharper than that
“My ‘social needs’,” I said carefully, implied finger quotes in place, “are really none of your business.”
And, in general, I would not have thought they were. I’d ribbed him about Janet, but that was just a fair tradeoff considering that her kids had handcuffed me to a pipe. Fraser always took my side against Stella’s but that was more down to Fraser being essentially, surprisingly flexible and practical and Stella being bound by the law than it was about anything else.
I couldn’t imagine why my (fucking everyone in sight) gaining a broader social horizon was his problem.
“You’re tomcatting around,” Fraser said, sounding like a senator or something. I couldn’t help but snort my laughter.
“Well, yeah,” I said snidely. “I can you know. There’s no law against it.”
Fraser gave me this considering look. “No,” he said slowly. “I suppose there is not, beyond the statutes you used to justify your… surveillance of Alderman Orsini and….’
“Do not. Do not even,” I interrupted him. “I was just plain nuts at that point, you know that, you know that everyone gets like that,” I reminded him, because I wanted him to know that I knew about Victoria, but I didn’t want to rub his nose in it.
“’Sides, I’m past that. I’m post-Stella. I’m post-modern.”
“Your hair certainly is,” he said with a reasonably agreeable smile, and I considered the matter closed.
It was downright flattering, how much play a guy like me could get on the open market. After hanging around Mr. I Don’t Have a Personal Phone Number As Such and Why Would You Even Ask? for so long, I’d’ve thought I’d get a complex or something. But separate me from the Mountie and…well, my social needs were being adequately fulfilled several nights a week and the occasional matinee.
It never occurred to me to wonder if Fraser’s social needs were not getting adequately fulfilled.
We dropped the whole thing for awhile, until, of course, we were in the usual do-or-die situation: trapped in a warehouse, tied together by some particularly unimaginative goons who had, with the brilliance characteristic of the criminal mind, left us alone because “Jesus, didjya hear that, Ralphie?” We squirmed around, trying to get out of our bound predicament, and Fraser had a, well, I would’ve called a frictional reaction and left it at that, but when all the shouting was done and backup had arrived (because the noise not-Ralphie heard was Dewey who, to his credit, was legitimately trying to create a diversion while Huey called for backup), Fraser and I stood by a bunch of cop cars awkwardly and dumb, stupid, beautiful Fraser tried to justify himself.
“I hope you didn’t misunderstand, Ray,” he said earnestly. I was hopeful I had “misunderstood” exactly what was going on while we were tied together and struggling to get loose and he’d gotten a big fat erection I hoped like hell had my name on it.
“You’ve been dogging me for months,” I said. I didn’t mean to be cruel, but it might have come out that way. Just a little. “Getting all worried about my social life.”
He squirmed a bit. “Just a little,” he admitted. Which would’ve been endearing if Fraser weren’t the number one envoy from the Land of the Passive Aggressive.
I crowded into his personal space, even though we’d been forced in that position just minutes before, that I was doing it voluntarily was, I hoped, sending him the message that I’d been sowing my long-delayed oats only so that my field would be ready for him. If that metaphor even works.
“You need…adequate physical expression,” Fraser explained to me. Like I didn’t know that damn straight I did.
“I do,” I agreed.
“With a variety of partners,” he added sadly, and whether that was nobility or masochism I still do not know.
“Not necessarily,” I told him, crowding into his personal space, “one really,” I breathed on him, almost like a kiss on his collarbone, “the right one, of course,” I breathed in his ear.
“Yes?” Fraser asked me breathlessly.
“Enthusiastic partner,” I whispered, again leaning into his ear, putting a little (very unsubtle and kinda unnecessary) tongue on the ess sound.
Fraser flushed, swallowed, and said, sounding kind of all strangled like (it was a sound I liked on him and wanted to force him to make again), “I’m very enthusiastic.”
I would’ve just shrugged that off as typical Fraser nonspeak nonsense, but I kinda got the feeling I wasn’t supposed to. Especially since I was practically plastered over The Uniform and my tongue had just very nearly been in his ear. And I had not even pulled back while he nearly purred his response at me.
“I bet you are,” I whispered into his ear, and we both shivered, and his hands came up to pull me even closer than I thought was possible, twisting me around so my mouth wasn’t against his ear, but my head was bowed down to expose my neck to his mouth.
“Waited for you,” he said urgently, the vibration of his voice thrumming along my neck, I swear to God up and down my spine, and then he fucking nipped at my ear. “Ray…. Are you ready for me now?”
“Yeah,” I said breathlessly. “Always was,” I further confessed. Him saying that, hell, just saying my name like that….
“You weren’t before,” he said, and it was part assertion, part rebuke. “You had to slut around to get over that bitch,” he asserted.
Now normally I would be all over him in a bad way for talking like that about Stella. About me. And if he’d heard some random guy on the street talk to his girl or guy that way, Fraser’d be just as pissed. But this was about the two of us, our peculiar friendship, our specific relationship, and how the two of us had been fucking triangulating off of everyone for weeks if not months, poor thankless Stella especially. We totally owed her dinner.
“I’m over her,” I told him more breathlessly than I would’ve liked to have sounded at that juncture, but it wasn’t like it was a breathless lie or anything. It was the breathless truth. I was over her, she and I were done, and I’d never stop caring about her, about what happened to her, if it came down to her being happy or Fraser being happy…well, Fraser wins a lot of contests. Why should Stella be the one to beat him in this one?
“Yes, you are,” Fraser told me, and some part of my mind, my heart, my soul just…folded. Recognized its new keeper. Not owner, which is how I always would have described Stella, but Fraser didn’t want to own me and some part of me (my mind, my heart, my soul) knew it. Liked it: being kept safe but not owned.
“Let’s go home,” I whispered, my neck still bowed and bared to his mouth, my own mouth against his collar, but he understood me just like he always had, just like he always would.
And we both knew that home wasn’t any specific place. Home was wherever we were. Together. And anything else, anyone else, was doneski.