~ * ~
It was a few weeks after all hell broke loose that John Riley was able to meet up with his girlfriend and former therapist for a real date. John made dinner while Iris brought the wine.
Once the dishes were soaking, John sat beside Iris on the couch, sipping his chardonnay weakly. The air was thick with awkwardness. Finally, she put down her glass and shifted to face him.
He straightened his shoulders, prepared for the worst.
She sighed, “So?”
When John looked at her blankly, she rolled her eyes. “You said you would explain everything?” She made a small gesture of opening her hand as if passing John an envelope. “Explain.”
John gulped some of the now tasteless wine, placed his own glass down on the coffee table, ran his large palms nervously over the tops of his thighs, and resettled on the couch leaning forward, his hands balled together. When she thought he wasn’t going to speak he rasped in a low voice, “Four years ago, I was in a bad place emotionally and mentally.”
She looked at him with doubt since she figured she would know better than anyone how bad John was now.
He shrugged, “It was worse. I promise. Harold, that’s the guy with glasses you saw. Harold found me, gave me a purpose, a home, a family, a new life. He’s genius level smart, richer than God, and has a heart bigger than the sky. He cares about…everyone.”
John smiled briefly then continued, “He used his smarts and money to find out stuff over the internet. What he does isn’t entirely legal, but he is a private citizen, a very private citizen. He’s the most honorable man I’ve ever known. I would do anything for him. All he asks of me is to be a good cop or do the right thing for some of the people he finds that are in trouble.”
John stopped talking, but he still didn't look at Iris.
She waited a few seconds then asked, “So, the other day you were helping this Harold to get someone out of trouble?”
John relaxed some. “Yes.”
Iris nodded to herself for a minute. “Okay.”
John did look up at that. “Okay?”
She shrugged, “Yeah. You like helping people and sometimes the law doesn’t get there in time.”
John leaned back. “You’re right about that.”
He draped his arm on the back of the couch, body language open so his hand could gently stroke her hair.
She smiled, “That’s all it was; a friend who helped you, you returning the favor?”
John stiffened a bit. “Well, in the interest of full disclosure; Harold is my best friend, we work these special cases everyday with no time off.” John looked up at the ceiling, letting out a huge puff of air. “And I’ve been in love with him for the last three years.”
Iris stilled with wide eyes. “Wait. You’re gay?”
Reese grimaced a bit. “I don’t know what they label it now; bisexual, pan, demi. I just don't care what gender my partners are. If I like them, I like them.”
“Huh.” she murmured.
John eyed her for a second. “Is that...a problem?”
“Oh, no.” She shook her head briefly. “I was just rearranging some assumptions I had. You and Harold broke up, but stayed friends?”
“Um, no.” He sat up a bit, slightly self conscious. “Harold is straight. I’m not comfortable going into details about his life since he is a very private person. I can say that the only person he was ever romantically linked with that I’ve heard about was a woman, years before I met him.”
Iris slowly asked.“You don’t know if he likes men?”
“Not really, I guess.” John shrugged.
She propped an elbow on the back of the couch to ask, “Well, what did he say when he found out you loved him?”
John paled and only uttered out a meek, “Ah.”
“Seriously?” She stood up to look down at him with her hands on her hips. “You never told him?”
He leaned forward imploringly. “No, I didn’t want to ruin our friendship.”
“So, he’s a homophobe?”
John snorted. “Hardly.”
“Then, how do you know he doesn't want you back?” She asked reasonably.
“I just know.” John stood as well. “Look, I’ve made my peace with it. I’ve moved on.”
“But,” she began doggedly. “You just said that you’re still in love with him. How can that be?”
He ran his fingers through his short cropped hair then over his mouth. With great patience he said, “I learned long ago how to work towards attainable goals. Harold isn’t one of those. I’ve moved on. Yes, I love him. I will always love him, but that doesn't mean I stop living.”
Hotly she asked, “So, what am I? A consolation prize?”
He stepped forward, attempting to hold her, soothing, “Don’t be like that.”
She moved out of his way, placing the coffee table between them like a barrier. “I’m just supposed to live my life with you, knowing your heart belongs to another? I’m supposed to wait around in fear that one day he’ll look at you and realize he loves you too? Then you just dump me like a sack of potatoes?”
Tightly, he growled, “That won't happen.”
Iris straightened her back and squared her shoulders. “You have to tell him.”
“What?” John was baffled.
“You have to tell Harold how you feel.” She said as she crossed her arms over her small breasts.
“I can’t do that.” John shook his head slowly, trying to explain. “I won’t make him uncomfortable around me. I won’t lose the most important person in my life.”
Her lips quivered in silence for a few heartbeats with one hand lifting until she finally shouted, “I’m supposed to be the most important person to you!” The raised hand smacked against her chest.
Quietly, desperately John said, “That’s unreasonable. We barely know each other. I’m not the most important person to you, now am I?”
Her eyes became saucers of astonishment. “Oh, my God.”
Her cheeks flushed a deep red as she went to gather her purse and coat. “I’ve been a fool; a stupid, naive, fool.”
John numbly watched her, unable to move.
As she made for the door,she waved her empty hand imperiously in the air. “Tell him, don’t tell him: it doesn't matter to me anymore.”
She opened the door, turned to sneer at him, and said, “We are through. I’ll have another therapist take your files. Don’t call me. If you see me in the hall, pretend I don’t exist.”
She slammed the door as she left.
~ * ~