Phil hurried through the door, tossing his keys on the entry table and shrugging off his jacket as he headed back to their bedroom. He wasn’t exactly home early, but it was early for him, and he hoped he was in time to have dinner with Clint. It was their anniversary, after all.
Last week Clint had asked Phil if he should make reservations at their favorite restaurant in Malibu, a small, intimate French restaurant that sat right on the Pacific Coast Highway and overlooked the ocean. Phil wasn’t sure he’d be able to make it home in time to make the drive out there, and he told Clint as much, but Clint seemed to understand.
“Clint?” Phil ducked his head into the office they shared at home, wondering why he hadn’t heard him yet. “Clint? I’m home.” Loosening his tie, he walked into their bedroom to find that it, too, was empty.
Phil frowned and laid his suit jacket on the bed before heading back toward the kitchen. The counters were bare and there was a sheet of paper stuck to the refrigerator with a magnet. He walked over to remove it and read Clint’s messy scrawl:
Accepted a night shoot, didn’t think you’d mind. –C
Phil felt his frown deepen as his stomach dropped, burning with disappointment and anger. He knew Clint remembered their anniversary – he was the one who’d offered to make reservations, after all – and he was confused as to why he’d take on a video shoot the same night.
Truthfully, the pair of them were used to spending momentous occasions apart. Phil was the principal at a rundown high school in LA Unified’s school district (and let’s be honest, most of them were in some state of rundown). The music program had been cut years before, but being in LA meant that they would occasionally get professional musicians to volunteer their time with the kids in enrichment programs. Clint was one such musician. He’d played the cello since adolescence (though he could honestly play any instrument you put in front of him and had a voice that made Phil’s knees weak). He made his mark in the music world as something of a prodigy, playing at Carnegie Hall before other kids reached high school, and collaborating with the some of the world’s greatest musicians from all genres well before he turned twenty.
When Phil met Clint, he was on a short break from touring with a band some of his childhood friends had started so they could record a new album. Phil had been surprised by Clint’s natural ability to connect with the kids. He’d expected the musician to preen at the attention from high schoolers that were clearly only taking part in the program because the artwork for his band’s previous album did an excellent job of highlighting Clint’s assets. (And none of those assets had anything to do with music -- not that Phil had noticed.) Instead, Clint proved to be very grounded, relating best with the at-risk kids, speaking with them candidly about how music helped him mentally escape his abusive dad and, later, foster parents.
When Clint had asked him out for drinks at the end of the program’s run, Phil hadn’t hesitated to say yes.
It wasn’t easy, starting a relationship when they knew there would be distance and long breaks between sharing even remotely similar schedules, let alone space. But that was three years ago. A year, now, since Clint left the band to live a more rooted life in Los Angeles, taking on guest gigs at performances and recordings. He was highly sought, still, but managed to spend most nights at home. More nights home than Phil, lately, now that he thought about it, which only angered him further. Clint couldn’t manage to be home tonight, of all nights?
Phil’s cell phone rang, startling him out of his thoughts. He glanced at the caller, hoping maybe it was Clint and this note was actually from last night (Phil had been at the school until late into the night, dealing with the aftermath of a sophomore who was being removed from her temporary guardian’s home when the guy had broken parole again), it wasn’t.
“Hey, Jasper.” He did his best not to sound disappointed or angry.
“I know, I know, I’m interrupting the big anniversary dinner, but I promise, this will be quick. Actually, I’m surprised you answered, I expected to leave a voicemail.”
“It’s fine, you’re not interrupting anything.” Phil tossed the note to the counter.
“Wait, what? Oh, Phil, tell me you didn’t forget your own anniversary.”
Phil frowned, indignant. “Of course I didn’t. Why would you think that?”
“It’s kind of been a pattern, lately, man.”
“No it hasn’t.” He moved to perch at a stool at their breakfast bar, not really wanting to face the empty living room or dining table.
“You missed Clint’s guest performance at the Hollywood Bowl—”
“It was the district’s budgetary meeting.”
“You couldn’t make it to Jacob’s first birthday, and I know, I know,” Jasper cut off his retort, “You had to go to the statewide conference for something or other on educational something something. It’s the only reason Melinda didn’t kick your ass. That, and the lullaby Clint recorded for him was the most amazing gift the kid will ever get.”
“It is beautiful.”
“And,” Jasper continued, “You almost missed Clint’s birthday party.”
“A staff meeting ran late.”
“I know. I’m just saying, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the next thing in a kind of long list of important things you’d missed, or nearly missed.”
“As a matter of fact, Clint missed this one. He left me a note saying he’d taken a night shoot and that he didn’t think I’d mind.” He didn’t manage to keep his tone as neutral as he was aiming for.
“Is he wrong?”
“Of course he’s wrong! It’s our anniversary for god’s sake. Why would he think I wouldn’t mind?”
“Maybe you should ask him that.” Jasper’s voice was serious and quiet in a way that it rarely was.
Phil paused, wondering if he was missing something in his own relationship. He must be if even Jasper was noticing. He ran a hand over his face.
“What was it you were calling for, Jasper?”
“I’ve been asked to write an article for a history journal on the effects of nationalistic propaganda in World War II. I was wondering if you’d want to co-write it with me.”
Jasper was a history professor at UCLA. He and Phil met as graduate students (they both had military backgrounds and were then working towards their PhDs, it bonded them). He’d been trying to get Phil to turn to the dark side and become a professor for years, but Phil always insisted on staying where he was. He got into the public school system because he wanted to make a difference, wanted to help kids.
“I…” he started to say he wouldn’t have the time, but then he considered the conversation he and Jasper just had. “Let me think about it.”
They chatted for a few more minutes about the details of the article, before hanging up. It was a while longer before Phil managed to do anything more than sit slumped on the stool. Eventually he pushed away from the bar, making himself a sad looking sandwich. He used the ritual of his nightly routine to tamp down the mix of emotions he couldn’t seem to get a handle on. Was Clint mad at him? Was Clint regretting leaving the band and thinking about going back on the road? Was their anniversary not as important to Clint as it was to Phil? He mentally shook himself as he climbed into bed. There was no point dwelling on it when Clint wasn’t home, and he might not be home until sunrise.
Phil woke later than usual the next morning, but it was a Saturday, so he didn’t feel too bad. Their bed was empty next to him and he assumed Clint was still working. Which made it surprising when he shuffled into the kitchen to make coffee and found Clint asleep on the couch. He wasn’t sure how to approach him (it was obvious now that something was very wrong), so he went on ahead to make coffee. He didn’t bother being quiet about it, mostly because it was still early enough that he wasn’t quite coherent, but also because he was kind of pissed at Clint and didn’t really care if he woke him up.
Clint wandered into the kitchen a few minutes after the coffee started brewing.
“Hey, you’re home,” he mumbled, voice rough from sleep.
Phil glanced at him from the corner of his eye. “Did you think I wasn’t?”
Clint shrugged. “Wasn’t sure if you left early to head into the school.”
“It’s a Saturday.”
“That doesn’t normally stop you,” Clint replied.
“I wasn’t planning on going in today considering yesterday was our anniversary.” Phil knew his voice was harsh, but again, it was early. He wasn’t good at regulating himself before a few cups of coffee.
“Yeah, sorry about that.” He didn’t sound terribly sorry. “I assumed you were at school late since you didn’t want me to make any plans for us.”
“Well I wasn’t,” Phil snapped.
“How was I supposed to know that?” Clint shot back.
Phil didn’t bother to answer, just made himself a mug of coffee, pushing an empty mug toward Clint as he brushed passed him to sit at the table. He grabbed his tablet and pulled up the news, intentionally ignoring his email. He didn’t want to know what new crap was waiting for him at work and he didn’t want to prove Clint right by finding out he needed to go in.
Eventually Clint joined him at the table. He set a plate of toast at Phil’s elbow, made just the way he liked it – more butter than was advisable for his age and a thin layer of raspberry jam. Phil sighed, he didn’t want to be mad at Clint, and he was self-aware enough to know their current situation was partly his fault. He was kind of worried it was mostly his fault, actually.
“I talked to Jasper last night.” He decided to wade into the conversation they needed to have.
“Oh?” Clint was avoiding meeting his eye, checking what was probably dozens of messages on his phone.
“He pointed out that I’ve maybe been a little more absent than I intended lately.”
“He’s not wrong.” Clint’s tone left little doubt that he was highly miffed.
“I’m trying to apologize,” Phil retorted.
Clint set down his phone and leveled a look at Phil that was equal parts angry, hurt, and defensive. “I don’t want a fucking apology, Phil.”
“Then what do you want?”
“I want my boyfriend back. I want to have more than a roommate I occasionally see in the evenings.”
“My job isn’t like yours, Clint, I can’t just pick and choose when I want to work.”
“I know that, but when do you pick anything but work? When was the last time you let someone else help you do your job? You have assistant principals for a reason, Phil. You’re not supposed to do everything yourself.”
He wanted to argue that point, but he knew that much was true. He could delegate more, he just didn’t because he knew no one would be as thorough as him. Phil never denied being a perfectionist.
“Do you think maybe the next time you’re angry about how much I’m working you could try talking to me instead of throwing a hissy fit and ignoring our anniversary.”
Clint’s look was mutinous and he pushed away from the table, stomping to their bedroom without a backwards glance. Phil sighed and dropped his head to the table, letting himself mope for a few seconds before going after Clint.
He found Clint hastily shoving his shoes on.
“Where are you going?” Phil asked quietly.
“We didn’t get everything we needed last night. I have to go back to the studio today.”
“When will you be home?”
“I don’t know.”
Clint sat up from tying his shoes, both hands were on his thighs and he was very intentionally not looking at Phil. “I’m sorry that I want my boyfriend to wantto spend time with me on his own accord. I didn’t think I’d have to ask you to occasionally pick me over your job.” He stood and moved to their dresser, opening his sock drawer. “And I wasn’t ignoring our anniversary, I just figured you didn’t care as much as I did, so why should I bother?” He pulled a box out of the drawer and tossed it onto the bed as he abruptly walked out.
Phil stood motionless. He distantly heard the front door open and then shut, but all of his focus was on the box on the bed. The ring box. Oh god, he was such an asshole.
He wasn’t sure how long he stood in their room, thoughts racing. Clint wanted to propose to him, had planned to propose to him last night before Phil had off-handedly told him not to even make dinner reservations. Phil was wrong before, this situation wasn’t mostly his fault, it was entirely his fault. Clint had tried, he could see that. He’d brought Phil dinner at school as recently as Wednesday of this week; and he always asked him at home if there was anything he could do, even anything mundane like filing or filling out paperwork. And every time Phil had refused his help, insisted on doing everything himself, giving one hundred percent of himself to his job. But what did that leave Clint?
It worked when they were long distance. It was easier, actually, for Phil, who was still half-convinced there was no way Clint wanted to be with him long-term. If he made work his life, then he’d have something to fall back on if Clint told him he couldn’t do distance anymore. And he distinctly remembers the phone call when Clint told him exactly that (he’d had a self-pitying moment of I knew it), but then Clint told him he didn’t want to tour anymore. He was tired of living on the road and wanted to leave the band. He wanted to be able to take all those collaboration offers and, more importantly, he wanted to be with Phil more. Phil asked him to move in without a moment’s hesitation.
For the first few months after that, Phil was so caught up in the newness of actually sharing their lives that it was easy to make a point to be home. But old habits die hard and he’d gradually fallen back into overworking.
Looking at it now he could see that Clint had picked him, and he was the asshole who picked his job.
Clint didn’t come home until late that night, well past dinner. He paused at the front door when he saw that Phil was still awake, sitting on the couch, waiting for him. He closed the door quietly behind him, setting down his keys and taking off his boots before turning back. He opened his mouth to say something, but Phil cut him off.
“I quit my job.” He winced, that wasn’t how he meant to start this conversation.
Clint’s eyes widened. “Phil, no. That’s not, you can’t do that.”
“I can, and I did.”
Clint rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “This is so out of control. I never wanted you to do that.”
“I know.” Phil gestured to the couch. “Come here? Please?”
Clint nodded, moving to sit carefully next to Phil. Phil shook his head at the caution in Clint’s posture and moved to sit on the coffee table directly in front of him. He wanted to take Clint’s hands in his, but wasn’t sure the gesture would be welcomed at the moment.
“Clint.” Clint looked up, eyes cautiously hopefully as they met Phil’s, but still tinged with so much hurt. “I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry.”
Clint’s shoulders slumped in relief. Of what, Phil wasn’t sure. “I’m sorry, too, babe. I should have told you how much it was bothering me.”
“You tried to show me, and I wouldn’t have listened anyway.”
“No, Clint, you’ve done everything for me. You left your band for me.”
“I, uh…” Clint shrugged, “Yeah, I kind of did do that.”
Phil smirked. “And look, I love my job. No,” he shook his head, “Actually, I love the idea of my job. I became a principal at a public school because I wanted to make a difference.”
“You do make a difference, Phil.”
He shook his head again. “Not really. I mean, maybe some, but I spend more time fighting bureaucracy than I do actually affecting the kids. And the little difference I do make isn’t worth it if I’m going to hurt you so badly in the process.”
“I can’t ask you to stop, I won’t.”
“You didn’t, I’m choosing to do it. Do you think I love beating my head against a wall over something so ridiculous as new wrestling mats? Because I don’t.” He took Clint’s hands in his, unable to not touch him any longer. “I love you, Clint, and I’ve done a completely horrible job of showing you that.”
“You really haven’t.”
Phil cocked his head, raising one eyebrow. “You genuinely thought I wouldn’t care that you chose to work through our anniversary,” he said matter-of-factly.
Clint rolled his eyes. “Okay, you’re right. You totally suck at loving me. You’re a horrible boyfriend. Feel better?”
Phil shrugged. “It’s what I deserve.”
Clint rested his hands on either side of Phil’s face. “I was going to propose, babe, you’ve made it clear enough that you love me.”
He let Clint pull him into a kiss, but pulled back, leaning forehead to forehead after a brief moment. “But you didn’t propose.”
“It’s hard to propose to someone who’s not there.”
“That’s my point.”
Clint hummed, pulling back to sit up. “So what are you going to do?”
Phil grinned. “Jasper said there’s still a spot for me in the history department at UCLA.”
“Oh man,” Clint’s grin matched his, “He must have been so fucking pleased by that phone call.”
“There was actual shouting in triumph.”
“Are you sure you wanna do this?”
Phil nodded. “I’m sure. I’m going to finish the school year where I am and start at UCLA in the Fall.”
“And you won’t resent me when you realize you’re stuck lecturing a bunch of punk ass undergrads?”
“Never. Jasper, maybe, for being a big fucking liar about how wonderful professorship is, but never you. I’m serious, Clint, I could never regret picking you over a career that makes me marginally happy.”
“You’re really sure?”
Phil huffed. “If you ask me again I will systematically shred the sleeves of every vinyl you own.”
Clint gasped in over-dramatic horror. “You wouldn’t.”
Clint laughed and pulled him from the coffee table to the couch. “Are we done fighting now?”
“Do you forgive me for being an asshole?”
“Can I propose now?”
Phil knew his grin was enormous, but Clint looked pretty damn happy, too, so he wasn’t too bothered by it. “The box is still on the bed.”
Clint rolled his eyes. “You didn’t even look at it, did you?”
Phil shook his head. “I couldn’t. I was afraid I’d never be able to see it in the context you intended, and knowing what I was missing would make it worse.”
“Aw, baby, you know I can’t stay mad at you. Not when you make grand fucking gestures like switching your career for me.”
“It’s no more than you did for me.”
“And I’m happier for it,” Clint said easily.
“I intend to be the same.”