Waylon had been acting strangely.
Well, stranger than usual.
Miles resigned to staying quiet in the living room while Waylon paced the floors, muttering to himself. He scribbled up lists that Miles later found, indecipherable. He tidied, then cleaned, then sanitized, then cleaned again. Watching the man was exhausting. At least, that was Miles’ excuse for taking a nap every day that week.
Their usual dinner conversations had dried up. They had already binged watched all of Xena: Warrior Princess, and Hercules: The Legendary Journey. Waylon even forced him to watch the animated movie Hercules and Xena: The Battle for Mount Olympus. There was singing involved. The blowjob Miles received in payment wasn’t nearly enough.
It was obvious Waylon wanted to talk about something. Over dinner of baked fish and steamed vegetables, Waylon made eye contact, and even started to speak, before shoving food in his mouth. While Miles sat at his computer, Waylon had walked into the room and stood, awkwardly, before leaving. Almost every night that week, Waylon had started to say something before turning over, and faking sleep.
And Miles knew exactly what it was.
There was only a week left before the big visit. Waylon was having second thoughts.
Even if Waylon claimed he loved Miles, and insisted he wanted to stay, there was a limit. No one in their right mind would bring a killing machine, like Miles, around their kids.
One day, Miles emerged from the shower to find Waylon on the phone with Dr. Mason. He couldn’t stop himself from eavesdropping.
“I just don’t know,” said Waylon. “I’m so nervous, I don’t think he would refuse me, but what if I’m forcing him to do something he doesn’t want to do? How did you get over the fear? Ah, the shower stopped, I should get going. You too, Evie.”
The red circle on the calendar reminded Miles, every morning, that the day was approaching.
“What do you think about like, Poke-mans? Kids love Poke-mans, right?”
“That’s not even how you pronounce it, I’m so embarrassed for you right now…” said Waylon, pushing the cart up and down the aisles of the toy store.
“Sorry, I don’t have kids,” said Miles.
“I was into Pokemon when I was in high school, you never watched the show, or played the games, or anything?”
“No, Waylon, I was too busy drinking, and having sex, to play Poke-mans, Jesus,” said Miles. He paused to hold up a box. “Monopoly. That’s a classic game. Kids love Monopoly.”
“No one fucking likes Monopoly, it makes people angry, it’s all about luck, it takes forever, and my kids are five and eight, they can’t read enough to play Monopoly, that would just be me and you fighting in front of them for eight hours…”
“Here, you push the cart, I’ll get the stuff,” said Waylon.
Miles shrugged, taking Waylon’s place at the helm of the cart.
Watching Waylon flinch and pace reminded him of the Waylon from the past. The Waylon from Kyoto. Not the relaxed, affectionate man that had moved into his Florida home. It made Miles resentful.
It was pointless to be jealous of the guy’s kids, they’re in his life. Waylon loved them more than he would ever love Miles. Miles had to accept it. He didn’t have to like it.
They’d spent a month corresponding with Lisa’s parents—the boys’ legal guardians. Then they had spent time painting the designated kids’ room, decorating it, and now filling it with useless toys and gadgets. A shameless display intended to win the affection of these kids. The prodigal father returned.
A part of Miles hoped it would be a failure. If the kids showed up, and felt uncomfortable, if they rejected Waylon, then there would only be Miles left in his life. Miles would never have to share Waylon’s affection ever again.
It was selfish, and disgusting. Miles knew. He was worse than a child himself. Going silent when Waylon brought up the boys. Pouting when Waylon made him wait while he took a phone call about the visit. Miles had even gone so far as to blow Waylon while he was on hold with the company renting them a boat for a day of the trip.
“You could have waited,” Waylon gasped, the phone falling out of his hand. Miles could hear the monotonous tone of a disconnected call as he wiped his mouth.
“You looked too good,” said Miles.
“You’re strange, lately,” said Waylon. He stared at Miles, cheeks flushed, mouth open.
“I’m still hard, if you don’t stop making that face I’m going to fuck it off of you…”
“Are you worried?” asked Waylon.
Miles groaned, standing back up. “You know how to kill the mood.”
“What mood, I was on the damn phone, that woman sounded eighty…”
“Whatever,” said Miles, wandering out of the room, into the kitchen. There was a long list of groceries on the table. Meal planning for the visit. Miles glared at the list, the humming in his head preventing him from hearing Waylon.
“Are you okay, Miles?” asked Waylon. “You seem uneasy, about the visit. Every time I try to talk about it, you shut down…”
“What about you?” asked Miles, turning narrowed eyes on Waylon. “I can tell when something’s on your mind. You can’t even be open about your own feelings about the visit. Just when I think you’re finally going to say it, you chicken out.”
“Well, there is something important I have been wanting to ask you…”
“I knew it,” said Miles, shaking his head. He drummed his fingers on the table, aware of the missed beat from the missing digits.
“You…knew it? Is this a Walrider thing? You know what I want to ask?”
“Wha…no,” said Miles, chuckling. “I don’t need the swarm to tell me you want to talk to me about the visit.”
“That’s true,” said Waylon. Miles watched Waylon avert his eyes, staring at the ground, biting his lip. Nervous.
“You don’t want me near the kids, right? You want me to stay away for the weekend? You want me to…sleep in a separate room? Hide? Make up some excuse about work, or some shit? What is it, just tell me already.”
Waylon’s eyes were wide when Miles finally dared to meet them. Waylon sighed, shaking his head.
“Unbelievable,” said Waylon, chuckling. “After all we’ve been through, you still just, don’t get it.”
Miles frowned, scratching his head. Waylon was confusing, sometimes.
“You’re right, I did have something important to ask you,” said Waylon, walking to stand next to Miles beside the table. “I’ve been nervous about bringing it up. But I guess this is as good a time as any.”
Don’t do it, Miles wanted to shout. Waylon’s voice sounded tremulous. It was a horrible sign. There was no reason to air grievances. Miles would do better. He would do anything to keep Waylon, and…
“I was wondering if it would be okay if, when my in-laws show up, I introduce you as my husband,” said Waylon.
Miles’ mouth fell open, and he forgot to tell his body to blink.
“I know, I know, due to all the issues, and legal documents and whatever, we can’t make it official in courts, and we don’t have friends to invite to a private ceremony or anything, but, I want you to be my husband, and I got you…”
Waylon reached into his pocket, pulled out a black lacquer box, and promptly dropped it on the ground. He cursed under his breath as he knelt down, fumbling for the box. Once he retrieved it, he stood back up and opened the top.
Matching rings. Platinum, by the look. Miles starts to grab one, and Waylon tuts softly. “That’s mine, yours is the other.” Miles grabbed the other, instead of arguing that they were identical. He glanced inside and saw the engraving.
I love you, Miles.
“I…I thought you wouldn’t want them to meet me,” said Miles, staring at the rings, dumbfounded.
Waylon laughed, reaching over to swipe his thumbs beneath Miles’ eyes. “Your gray tears are so cute. You’re crying, that’s adorable…”
“I just…I never expected…and I mean, you know what I am…and…”
“Please, be my husband?” asked Waylon, sliding his arm around Miles’ waist. “Be my husband, meet my kids…I want you to be a part of every part of my life, for the rest of my life, and…”
Miles kissed Waylon, and wished it would never end.
The last time Waylon had seen Ryan, he was barely two years old. Trevor had been four—almost five. He still recognized them both. Their thick, chestnut hair exactly like Lisa’s, but no one had inherited her deep blue eyes. Everyone commented that the kids were the perfect blend of Waylon and Lisa.
Trevor was eight, and he walked directly to Waylon. Ryan, only five, clung to his brother’s shadow. The two boys stopped directly in front of Waylon and Miles, on the porch of the aqua painted wooden house.
“Is that a fishing pole?” asked Trevor. Ryan peeked his head around, without speaking.
“Uh,” said Miles, turning his head. After Waylon nodded and smiled, Miles turned back to the boys. “Yeah. Those are mine. I like to fish for the small fish in the shallows. You kids like to fish?”
Trevor and Ryan exchanged a long, excited stared.
“One time, Papa took me fishing on a lake, but no one caught anything. They just drank lots of beers, and then…”
“Oh look at that, kids, they say the darnedest things…” said Mike, walking up, rolling a heavy suitcase behind himself. Mike was exceedingly tall and thick with brown hair, graying at the temples. He was dressed like a mannequin at Tommy Bahamas. “Hey, Way. Nice to see you again, son.”
“Thanks, Mike,” said Waylon, reaching out to accept Mike’s handshake. It was brief, as Mike had to catch the suitcase before it fell over. “Good flight?”
“Terrible service,” said Mike, righting the suitcase. “You know, you have to pay extra for peanuts? Why, in my day…”
Ryan tugged at Miles’ hand. “What happened to your finger?”
“Ah, I forgot to mention that about Miles,” said Waylon, tittering nervously, “Sorry, he…”
“I lost this one, wrestling a gator,” said Miles, his face serious. “There’s tons of them in the swamps around here, so stay alert. If you see one, come find me, that was the first, and last, one to ever take a bite out of me.”
Waylon facepalmed as the two boys exchanged awestruck stares.
“Waylon!” said Teresa, throwing her arms around Waylon’s neck. Teresa was short and willowy, her chestnut hair cut in a short bob. She wore high-waisted Mom jeans and a hot pink t-shirt declaring “Tucson Trade Days” across the chest. “You look amazing. This house is adorable. This is just, everything is so perfect, I’m so glad to see you, sweetie.” Teresa cried as she smacked wetly against one of Waylon’s cheeks, then the other.
“I’ll show you to the rooms?” offered Miles, holding the door open for Mike.
“Thanks, young man,” said Mike, dragging the suitcase through the door, while shouldering another bag.
“Do you have a TV?” asked Trevor, still close at Miles’ side.
“Not only do we have an awesome TV, I have an XBox, and Netflix, no cable, but I do have a huge library of movies.” Miles led the group into the house.
“Terri, it’s so nice to see you,” said Waylon, wrapping his arms around Teresa. She waited, hardly breathing, until the kids were inside the house, and the door clicked shut behind them. Then, she cried openly into Waylon’s shoulder.
“Oh Waylon, we missed you so much. I wanted you to know that, we were there with Lisa, when she died, and all she did was praise you, as a husband, a father, a person. She knew you’d make the right decisions for your family, and you did. You really did.”
“I hope I have,” said Waylon, fighting to keep his voice steady.
“You’re so strong,” said Teresa. “You are exactly what these boys need. And I’m happy you found someone who understands you. Miles sounds great.”
“I hope it’s not too sudden, but considering…”
“You’re allowed happiness, especially after the hell you’ve experienced,” said Teresa. “I’m glad to see you smiling and alive--instead of buried.”
“I’m going to visit Lisa,” said Waylon, resting his forehead against Teresa’s shoulder. “I just haven’t been strong enough, but…”
“She’s not going anywhere,” said Teresa. “She will understand. You’re a good man, Waylon.”
Waylon hadn’t expected so much understanding. He had expected awkwardness, and would have forgiven and understood anger or pain. The warm embrace was better than he dared dream.
“Thank you for taking care of our boys…”
“They’re all of our boys, and I’m happy to be here to help,” said Teresa. “I need to get in there before those boys tear your house apart…”
The beach was foreign to Trevor and Ryan, raised in Colorado and then Arizona. They tirelessly ran from the waves, collected shells, chased seagulls and crabs, and chattered away about their lives.
“And then I broke a board, and got my green belt,” said Trevor.
“I’m going to do karate, too, next year,” said Ryan.
“Hey, wanna see me do some of my karate moves?” asked Trevor. “Here, Ryan, stand over here…”
“No using your brother for karate practice!” said Teresa from her spot on a large beach towel.
“I wasn’t going to kick him hard!”
“Miles! Can we wade out to the sandbar again?” asked Trevor, Ryan nodding along in agreement.
“Uh, sure,” said Miles, shrugging.
“Awesome,” said Trevor. He grabbed a red, plastic bucket and ran toward the water.
“Hey, that’s my bucket, Nana!! Trevor took my bucket!!”
Miles met Waylon’s eye, shrugged, and started toward the water. The kids’ attachment to Miles was unexpected.
The water was clear and calm. The low tide far in the distance, giving plenty of sand to relax on. A few locals wandered up and down the beach, biking, jogging, or sunbathing.
“So you and Miles both living off the government?” asked Mike, once the group was wading into the water in the distance.
“Well, Mike, the government kinda owes me,” said Waylon. Lisa’s father was over six foot five with a barrel chest and thick salt-and-pepper hair. Waylon used to find him intimidating. “Miles is actually working at writing up a kind of memoir, for me, about my experiences at the asylum. Kind of a dramatic retelling, something that would sell, you know? Miles is a good writer, he was even thinking it could turn into a screenplay for a movie, or like, a video game…”
“Sounds like a pipe dream,” said Mike. “But, I’m glad you’re keeping busy. You didn’t invite us to the wedding.”
“Well, uh,” Waylon stuttered, running fingers through wind-styled hair, “we didn’t get officially married, per se, due to some legal issues, and, my marriage to Lisa is still…”
“It’s fine, Way,” said Mike. “It’s more than fine, even. I’m from a different time, but, love is love. I think Lis loved you so hard, it spilled over and brought you another great love. We got no problem telling the boys that Lisa is in heaven, and their father has a new husband. Kids don’t even question that kind of thing, and Terri and I won’t be the ones allowing them to hear prejudices against two men getting married.”
“I’m really relieved to hear you say that,” said Waylon, feeling as though a weight had lifted from his shoulders.
“And for a guy, I mean, he’s pretty attractive,” said Mike.
“Uhh, stop looking at my husband,” said Waylon. Mike looked legit offended for a brief moment before they both laughed and turned their attention back out to the water where the boys were splashing Miles, and Teresa held the already forgotten buckets.
“Did he really lose his fingers to a gator?” asked Mike.
“Nah,” said Waylon, “an insane doctor in a butcher’s apron cut them off with bone shears.”
Mike gave a quick hmm. “You two are a good pair, you both love to bullshit.”
Waylon fought his own laugh and just gave a halfhearted nod.
“They’re good boys, Way,” said Mike. “They got lots of friends, and hobbies, and they love you. Kids process stuff differently, as they grow, so Trevor has a better understanding about what happened with Lisa, and your situation. When they’re old enough, they’ll know it all.”
“I want to come visit,” said Waylon. “I want to be there in all of their milestones, from here out. And I’d love for them to come down and visit during the summers and breaks, for as long as they like.”
“They’re lucky to have a dad like you.”
“It’s fucking freezing,” said Miles, hunching into his brown leather jacket. He glared at Waylon, as though he had some magical control of the goddamn weather.
“Just, shut it, don’t you run hot,” said Waylon, adjusting the heavy box in his arms. He had to pause every few feet, and pull it higher on his hip.
“I’m hot so it makes the cold feel colder, you know like how you get chills when you have a fever?” asked Miles. He sighed when Waylon adjusted the box again. “Just let me carry it?”
“No, you’re already carrying two, you don’t wanna draw attention to yourself,” said Waylon, huffing slightly from the effort.
“This is worthless, you know that, right?” asked Miles.
“Nothing that brings me closure is worthless,” said Waylon.
“You’re just giving some horrible work for the poor guys responsible for landscaping and cleaning this place,” said Miles. “Jeez, I bet they find all sorts of weird stuff here. You think they ever found like, condoms? I mean, people are freaks, and…”
“Just, shut up, please,” said Waylon.
Miles kept quiet the rest of the walk through the cemetery. A few caretakers roamed the grounds, but there were no funerals that day. It was a clear day, even if it was near freezing temperatures.
“It should be close,” said Waylon.
Around a bend in the path, near a large, marble mausoleum, was a small, gray polished marble stone, flat on the ground.
Lisa Michelle Park
A tiny engraving on a nondescript headstone. A simple resting place, for an extraordinary woman. Waylon carefully put his box down near the gravestone, careful to keep it away from any other plots. Miles easily set his burden down, as well.
“Are you going to like, read them all to her? Because I’m freezing my tits off, and…”
“Just, wait in the car,” said Waylon.
Miles shrugged, but Waylon could tell he was sulking. Still, Miles walked back to the rental car and got inside. The engine cranked, and Waylon turned his attention back to the small bit of earth. Lisa’s final resting place.
Waylon sniffed loudly, his nose already running due to the cold. Snow was forecasted for later in the day. He had to get Miles back to their warm lodge before that happened, or he’d never hear the end of it.
“Sorry, I’m so late,” said Waylon, hanging his head. “Took five years, but, I’m here, now. I wish I never had to come here. I guess I never considered the possibility that you would leave me alone in this world. But I know why you did.”
Waylon knelt down, putting a hand on the ice cold stone.
“You saved Trevor, and Ryan, and me,” said Waylon, closing his eyes. “I love you for that, I love you so much, forever. I’m beyond asking why life does this shit to us, there’s no answer. There’s no reason you had to suffer, and die, and I had to suffer, and survive. The world isn’t fair.”
Heavy tears splashed on the stone, and Waylon chortled. He leaned down, using his sleeve to quickly wash away the moisture. No use getting Lisa’s stone all muddy.
“There’s still some good here, Lisa,” said Waylon, chuckling through his own tears. “There are beautiful places I have seen, our beautiful children, and amazingly, there’s still love for me. I didn’t think that would ever happen again, after you. And that love didn’t diminish anything I felt for you but, rather, just, multiplied it. You will forever be my wife, but it seems now, I have a husband, too.
“I’ll never forget you, or the immense love we shared. We weren’t perfect—but you were pretty fucking close,” Waylon laughed, wiping away his tears. “I can’t thank you enough for giving a chance to a dork like me, and giving me my sons, and making me the man I am today. It’s all because of you.
“And I’m sorry it took me so long to visit, but I promise to make the trek more often now, I promise to visit just to remind you how much you mean to me, and show the kids that you’re still remembered. Miles helped me, and together, we’re keeping your name alive, saving more people.”
Waylon reaches into the box he had carried, knocking aside a small stack of journals. All of the journals he had written, that he had been able to save and keep, he had brought to lay at Lisa’s feet. He had no more need for them. Waylon pushed aside several journals to get the hardcover book. He pulled it out and sighed.
“Damn, I was gonna sign it for you, but I guess it doesn’t matter,” said Waylon, shaking his head. He carefully set the book down on the stone. Whistleblower, by Waylon Park and M. Casiano.
Fifty percent of all profits donated to the Lisa M. Park Children’s Hospital.
Waylon picked up his phone and dialed the familiar number.
“Hi, you’ve reached the voicemail of Lisa Park. Please leave a message after the…” a small giggle, “stop…” Beep.
“I’ll stop—last call, I promise. But I wanted to hear you one last time, and tell you how much I love you. Great place you’ve got here. What a view.” Waylon let out a long breath, turning in almost an entire circle to see all of the mountains outlined on the horizon in all directions. A clear, gray, Colorado day. “I’ll carry you with me always. Bye, Lis.”
Waylon pressed end on the call, and stared at the phone until it was just a blur.
“Are you okay?”
Waylon almost fell onto the grave out of fright. “Jesus Christ, Miles…”
“Sorry, but the tank’s low on gas so I don’t know if I should keep it idling there much longer, and we have a ways until the nearest station, so…”
Miles paused, doing a turn to view the entire panoramic view of the picturesque cemetery.
“Nice place,” said Miles.
“Yeah,’ said Waylon. He held out his hand, and waited for Miles assistance before returning to his feet. Miles patiently tugged on his sleeve, and used the cuff to dry Waylon’s cheeks.
“But seriously, are you okay?”
Waylon spun around and threw his arms around Miles’ neck, holding him close.
“I’m okay,” said Waylon. “Are you?”
“Absolutely not,” said Miles. “It’s cold, I hate this state…”
“You sure you don’t wanna go pop over to Mount Massive?” asked Waylon, letting his arms fall from around Miles.
“They say it’s haunted now, you know? Kids go up to the burnt out ruins to catch a glimpse of the Walrider on the anniversary of the riot!”
“Jinkies, Scoob, sounds like a horrible time,” said Miles, hooking his hand around Waylon’s waist and pulling him close.
“You’re no fun,” said Waylon, fighting laughter. Somehow a vision of himself and Lisa as Daphne and Fred appeared with Miles as Shaggy and the swarm as Scooby. They made a nice group fighting their way out of Mount Massive.
Once you click upload, your life is over.
Waylon paused, causing Miles to miss a step. “Miles, I hate everything that happened, but I love you.”
“Uh, everything…you okay?” asked Miles.
System Check. All Normal.
“Against all odds,” said Waylon, smiling. “I guess we are.”