Adam was heating broccoli when he heard Nigel stumble in. Wednesdays were always his late night, because the NYU kids were good fucking sellers but always fucked up the money. Adam had offered to go with Nigel on his collection run, since he had always been good with numbers, but Nigel had refused. The last thing I need is for those little Park Avenue shits to see you – they’ll fall in love and then I’ll never get my money, Nigel had told him.
As a compromise, Adam had altered their schedule. Adam made dinner late on Wednesdays, moving up his tidying routine by an hour so they could dine at 8. On clear nights, Adam would make sandwiches and pack water so they could go stargazing. Tonight, Adam had frowned at the clouds and started preparing mac n cheese. He was trying to select an episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio for dinner when he heard Nigel stomp in.
“Fucking kids! Sorry I’m late, gorgeous, goddamn Teagan had a movement class. Had to wait forty fucking minutes for her. Now I smell like cloves and…Adam? Adam, where’s my shit?”
Nigel appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, frowning.
“You do smell. Please shower.”
“Adam, where’s my bag?”
Adam bit his lip, he felt his cheeks heating up. “I put it in my dad’s room.”
“Was it in your way today?”
“N-no, I…” Little claws of anxiety dug into his chest. “I thought you should have dad’s room.”
Nigel’s face hardened. “I’m bothering you? You don’t want me in the living room?”
“No!” Adam stepped forward, his fingers tapping on his thighs. “It’s not nice to make you sleep on the couch. It makes you stiff in the morning and you’re too old to have your spine misaligned.”
Something flickered across Nigel’s face. Adam tried to study the expression, but Nigel ducked his head. “You don’t have to-”
“I want to.” Adam smiled. “I want you to like staying here.”
“Adam, I fucking love it here.” Nigel’s voice was soft. “But that was your dad’s room.”
“He’s dead. It’s OK.” Adam paused. “But you have to dust it and make the bed every morning.”
“Can I still come to breakfast naked?”
“I don’t mind seeing you naked.”
“Good to know, kid.” Nigel snorted. “Alright, I’ll move my keyboard into the other room and shower, then.”
“No! You-I- Leave your keyboard.”
“You hate my keyboard, it’s fucking loud.”
“Not if you wear your headphones.” Adam licked his lips. “I like watching you work. And I like hearing your song, sometimes. Not all the time, though. Please use the headphones unless I request you don’t.”
Nigel grinned, Adam smiled back, feeling an odd thrill when he held the older man’s eyes.
Nigel was the first to move. “Right, well, I’m going to shower, then go fuck up my new room.”
“I know you’re teasing!” Adam shouted after Nigel’s retreating form. He smiled and went back to fixing dinner.
“What kind of pictures?” Adam asked around a mouthful of macaroni and cheese.
“Couple shit! Selfies together on our phones, maybe an album with a few snaps at Halloween or from our honeymoon.”
“We didn’t have a honeymoon, Nigel.”
Nigel sighed. “I know that, Adam, but do you want Mr. Price to fucking know that?”
Adam pursed his lips. “So, we’ll just spend Saturday taking pictures to look good for the interview?”
“Yeah! Exactly! I want to give those fuckers an album of our life together, maybe hold up my phone and prove my gorgeous husband sends me selfies because he loves me that much.” Nigel raised an eyebrow. “Maybe a few nudes.”
Adam rolled his eyes. “You’re teasing.”
“You always think I’m teasing,” groused Nigel. “Send me a dick pic and see if I laugh.”
“Does it have to be my penis?” Adam grinned as he forked another noodle.
“You’re a little fucking shit and I liked you better when you had no sense of humor.” Nigel tossed his napkin at Adam’s face, laughing with the younger man easily batted it away.
“Well, isn’t this fancy?” Nigel raised an eyebrow at the hand-painted blue wrought iron chairs and the Italian menu that was hand-drawn on a chalkboard.
“I prefer gelato to ice cream,” Adam sniffed primly, walking into Grom and getting in line behind an older woman. “The texture is better and a higher ratio of cream is more pleasing to the palate than a higher ratio of ice.”
Nigel snorted. “They better have fucking chocolate. I see any pumpkin apple field bullshit I’m taking us to Baskin Robins.”
Adam walked up to the counter, ordering a Fiordilatte and Cioccolato cone. Nigel swatted the younger man’s hand away from his wallet, paying for the cones and handing one to Adam. “I knew you’d get vanilla.”
“It’s not vanilla,” Adam protested with a frown. “It’s Fiordilatte!”
Nigel glared at the cone.
“It’s fucking vanilla, Adam. I know what vanilla looks like.” Nigel found himself smiling down at his husband, nudging him with his hip so Adam would recognize the statement as teasing. Adam rewarded the gesture with a slight twist of the lip. He had never cared for teasing before, but Nigel’s crooked smiles and soft nudges left him feeling flushed and happy.
“It’s not as overpowering as vanilla.” They settled on two wrought iron chairs outside the shop and watched New York walk by them. Adam lofted the cone to Nigel’s mouth. “Try it.”
“Not as overpowering? Only you would find a way to make vanilla more boring.” Nigel bent forward taking a long lick of Adam’s cone.
Adam watched closely as Nigel’s tongue burned a winding path through the frozen treat before flicking delicately over the top. It was a silly way to consume gelato, but Adam found he couldn’t comment, only let his mouth hang open as he watched the muscles in Nigel’s throat flex. Adam huffed out a little breath, annoyed that he could feel arousal pooling in his stomach. He reminded himself that just because he felt an impulse didn’t mean Nigel did.
“W-well?” Adam had dropped his eyes, studying the groove Nigel’s tongue had left in the cone while his flush grew.
“You know, gorgeous. I spent so many years looking for new flavors, I never took the time to appreciate the classics. Vanilla might be the perfect flavor after all.” Adam lifted his chin as a grin curled at the corner of his cheek, preening at Nigel’s praise. Nigel, reached out, grabbing the metal edge of Adam’s chair and pulling the younger man closer. He smiled at Adam’s little yelp, holding up his cell phone. “Now smile pretty, Adam. We need a good shot.”
The picture on Nigel’s cell was of Adam grinning aggressively, too many teeth and lips too wide, a smear of Fiordilatte on his cupid’s bow. Nigel sat to the side of the frame, laughing at Adam’s expression, his Cioccolato cone resting on his lips.
Greenacre Park was a little inlet in the middle of Manhattan that featured a few seats, a coffee stand, and a 25-foot waterfall. It had been Adam’s secret spot for years, where the people-watching was good and the noises of the city were lost to the sounds of crashing water.
His heart began beating erratically as he led Nigel across the flagstone, trellises of greenery and trees blotting out the skyscrapers.
Adam smiled when Nigel heard the water. The older man squinted across the stone park before smiling. “Is that a waterfall?”
Adam nodded. “My father used to take me here when I got stressed after a day in the city. The sounds of the water drown out a lot of extraneous ambient noise. I find it relaxing to sit nearby.”
“I never knew this was here.”
“Find a seat, no closer than ten feet to the waterfall, please, as it can splash. I will buy us drinks. Do you want a cocoa? They use real cream here to make it.”
Nigel watched him for a moment, Adam didn’t know what the facial expression meant, but he liked it when Nigel’s eyes grew soft and crinkled at the edges.
“Cocoa sounds great, Adam.”
When Adam found Nigel, he noted that his husband had carefully moved two chairs out of splash range of the falls, selecting a spot near a tall potted shrub and some flower beds. Adam handed Nigel his drink before grabbing his chair and moving it closer Nigel’s. When he sat, his side brushed up against Nigel, and Adam felt that familiar warm sensation in his chest.
“Y-you want to take the selfie now?”
Nigel smiled, setting his cocoa untouched by his feet and standing with a hand extend. “Waterfall should be in the background, right?”
“O-oh, yes!” Adam stood by Nigel, leaning back when a strong arm came over his shoulder to wrap around his chest. Nigel held up his phone with his free hand, and Adam tried his frozen smile again.
This time, just before the shutter snapped, Adam felt a warm press on the knob of his jaw. Nigel was kissing him for the picture. Adam let his eyes slip closed as he tilted his jaw toward Nigel’s lips. After a few snaps, Nigel pulled back. Adam leaned into the heat of Nigel’s chest, unwilling to be released just yet.
“I, uh, probably should have asked.” Nigel stepped back, his face looked a little red from the fall air. “Sorry.”
“I-it was for the picture, right? T-to show Mr. Price that we’re married?”
A muscle twitched in Nigel’s jaw. “Yeah, of course. Gotta make it look real.”
Adam frowned at the answer. Lying was becoming confusing. It didn’t feel like lying anymore.
Nigel stalked back to the chairs, taking a moment to move his a few inches away before he sat down. He retrieved his cocoa and chugged at it, his brow set in a furrowed line.
“That shirt doesn’t make any sense.” Adam frowned at the green fabric clutched in Nigel’s hand. He had refused to let Nigel take a selfie in the Hayden Planetarium, as there was a sign clearly warning against flash photography. Nigel had insisted if they didn’t get a selfie, they at least needed some cool fucking shirts from the American Museum of Natural History for their next photos.
“Look, I buy you a shirt, you buy me a shirt – that was the deal.”
“But we’re in a learning institution; if you’d like a dinosaur shirt, what about the button down there with the fossil pattern?”
“I want this shirt.”
“You’re annoying.” Adam felt his chest tighten. People were looking at them. He brought his hand down to tap at his thigh only to have it caught by Nigel, who gave it a small squeeze.
“Look, gorgeous, it makes me smile.” He held up the shirt, featuring a roaring T-Rex and the word Hangry. “Come on, doesn’t that look like me?”
“You are not a thunder lizard.” Adam squeezed Nigel’s fingers, making no move to free himself from the older man’s grip. “But you do get very fussy when you’re hungry.”
Nigel grinned. “See? You buy me my shirt, and I buy you this rocket shirt that you can immediately hide under one of your grandpa sweaters.”
“I don’t wear grandpa sweaters.”
“You do,” Nigel brought their joined hands to his lips, ghosting a kiss over Adam’s knuckles. “You’re the only person on earth that makes grandpa sweaters sexy.”
Adam froze, his eyes flitting back and forth, looking everywhere but Nigel. He couldn’t figure out if his husband was flirting or this was part of their lie. He knew he should ask; Harlan had told him to, but the chance that Nigel didn’t want to have sex loomed large in his mind. He hated lying. He hated that this whole wonderful day had been for nothing but a lie – a lie that could put them both in jail if they didn’t maintain it.
“I’m going to wait outside.” Adam said, turning to flee the gift shop as Nigel frowned after him.
Nigel blew his hair out of his face as he held the green backdrop up. He’d been holding the top of the screen aloft for about five minutes, patiently waiting for Adam to find a good height.
“A little higher, I think,” Adam said.
“Make a fucking decision, Adam, or I’m dropping this thing.”
“That’s fine.” Adam ducked down and twisted the stand until it held the screen’s weight. “Now we can take more pictures.”
“Why did we need this thing?”
“It’ll be easier to photoshop with a solid color background.” Adam explained. “Now, please, get dressed for our Halloween photo.”
Nigel had emerged from his room with a black t-shirt that he had painstakingly marked with whiteout, only to stop dead in his tracks when he saw Adam.
Adam looked at Nigel’s face and felt panic flutter in his chest. It was a mistake to wear the suit. Nigel would laugh at it, just like everyone else did. “I-It’s a r-replica. I-I-”
“It’s amazing.” Nigel moved forward reaching out to gently brush his fingers over the suit. “Gorgeous, this is the coolest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. You just had this in your closet?”
“I’d wear this every day.” Nigel tilted his head, inspecting the detail work on Adam’s chest. Adam, felt the urge to brush the hair from Nigel’s face, maybe run a finger along his upper lip. Instead, he clenched his fist, releasing his fingers to tap on his thigh. Nigel glanced down, frowning slightly at the fingers before taking a step back.
“Didn’t mean to crowd you,” He murmured.
“N-no. I- I wasn’t feeling crowded. I was feeling excited.”
“Me too, gorgeous.” Nigel’s mouth quirked. He dropped his eyes, picking at a speck of whiteout on his shirt.
“Don’t do that!” Adam grabbed his hands. “You’ll damage Thuban!”
Nigel laughed, pulling at the ends of the shirt to display the white out markings. “You got the shirt, huh?”
“Yes. You’re Draco.” Adam smiled. “The proportions on the stars are wrong, but I think the meaning is clear.”
Nigel rolled his eyes, but grinned. “Look Copernicus, just take the goddamn picture.”
The Halloween picture turned out well. It wasn’t difficult to insert them into a picture from Harlan’s Halloween party. Adam hadn’t dressed up that year, and had only stayed a few minutes before the noises and the sticky makeup people kept rubbing on their hands after they touched their faces drove him away. He had gone home and watched two episodes of Cosmos coiled under his weighted blanket.
Now, Adam and Nigel were in the middle of the action, hugging each other and laughing. Adam had even added another photo of Nigel photoshopped over Harlan’s army buddy Stan; the two looking like they were laughing at some unheard joke. Adam liked the way the picture looked. It reminded him of all the times Harlan and his father had chatted together in the park. Nigel looked like part of the family. Adam right-clicked on the image and saved it to his personal drive, where all the photos of his dad were stored.
“That looks fucking great!” Nigel settled next to Adam on the couch. He had meticulously packed away the screen and the lighting equipment while Adam worked, making sure the floor was unscuffed and all the furniture returned to its proper place. “How did you do that so fast?”
Adam smiled. “It’s photoshop. It’s easy.”
Nigel sat beside him, leaning over Adam’s shoulder. Adam could feel Nigel’s breath ghosting along his chin. “Show me.”
“OK.” Adam pulled up another picture. Adam was laughing in a blue shirt while Nigel beamed at him in a tuxedo t-shirt. They were both meant to be smiling, but Nigel had made a joke about being better dressed than their wedding and done a little impression of his drunken fumbling. The picture was a little fuzzy, but Adam liked it. He liked how relaxed and happy he looked with his arm looped around Nigel’s waist and his head thrown back. He liked Nigel’s crooked teeth and the crinkles around his eyes. “What should this picture be for?”
“Valentine’s Day.” Nigel’s voice was low in Adam’s ear. “I made you laugh when I showed up in my fancy fucking shirt. Then we ate mac n cheese on the roof and made love under the stars.”
“The roof is locked.” Adam felt a flush of heat in his cheeks.
“I know the super,” Nigel winked. “I can get the keys to the roof.”
“Oh, yes, Darko helped you.” Adam nodded. “So, we want the skyline. Here are some images I took of sunset from our roof last year, which do you think?”
They spent the next two hours carefully arranging their life together: Dinners on the town, cuddling in a cabin upstate, stargazing in the park, smiling at a dinner party in Harlan’s apartment. It was a good life. Adam realized he wanted that life and wondered if he could have it.
“Hey! We need to go to bed.” Nigel pushed the laptop from Adam’s lap.
“OK.” Adam’s heart rabbited in his chest.
“Sorry, gorgeous, I lost track of time. It’s midnight, you’re way off schedule.”
Adam blinked. It was midnight. He hadn’t looked at the clock once, he’d been so focused on patching together photos and the feel on Nigel leaning against him. “Oh.”
“Come on, I don’t need you glaring at me over your goddamn bran tomorrow. You’ve got that fucking interview in the Monday anyway.” Adam cocked his head. He hadn’t thought about the interview all day. Usually he spent the days before interviews stressing and practicing speeches. But Nigel had told him Friday that he was ready and Adam had believed him. Now, he felt a little flutter of anxiety in his stomach. Nigel rose and stretched, Adam’s eyes fixed on the sliver of skin revealed when his shirt rode up. He glanced down at Adam and made a shooing motion. “To bed with you.”
“What about you?”
“Not tired. Think I’ll play around on the keyboard for a bit.” Nigel smiled, holding up a preemptive hand. “I’ll put the headphones on, don’t worry.”
Adam nodded; he was tired. He let Nigel push him toward his bedroom. He wondered faintly if he should ask Nigel about taking a picture in bed together, but decided against it.
He would ask Nigel to have sex after the interview. That would be better, when there was nothing forcing them to be together.
“Goodnight, Nigel,” Adam said closing the door.
Nigel waited 15 minutes until he was sure Adam was in bed. Once he heard the mattress settle, he creeped to the corner, where Adam’s spacesuit lay. He smiled, picking it up.
Fuck, he hoped he remembered enough of that damn photo program.
Adam started humming in the elevator, his hands tugging at his tie. Nigel had offered to go with him, but Adam knew he needed to supervise a resupply in Brooklyn. He tried not to listen to the throbbing of his pulse. He told himself his lungs were drawing air, even if it didn’t feel like it. Instead of trying to control his body, he tried focusing on something external.
He hummed a little louder, keeping his eyes down so he wouldn’t see the woman next to him stare. Nigel’s tune gave him something to think about. He could see Nigel playing it, eyes closed, weaving slightly as his fingers danced over the keys.
In the waiting room, he stopped humming, afraid it would make a bad impression. As he sat in the uncomfortable chair, he found his fingers tapping on his leg. The familiar beat that he’d used since childhood.
Adam paused, mid tap.
He hummed again, starting Nigel’s song from the beginning and tapping his fingers. The beat matched. Nigel had used his rhythm for his song. Adam smiled, thinking about Nigel mirroring him, learning his rhythm and making it beautiful. He liked the idea of inspiring Nigel. He hoped that meant Nigel liked him too.
“Mr. Raki?” A tall brunette woman approached him. She smiled when Adam stood and adjusted his tie. “Hello, I’m Dr. Susan Voss, head of the engineering team. Please, follow me.”
Adam felt his throat dry; he tried to swallow. The air seemed thinner as he followed Dr. Voss into her office. He looked around the room, filled with small space shuttle models and pictures of star systems. His stomach rolled. He wanted this job. He should work in a place like this. Adam tapped at his thighs, trying to reign in his anxiety. He needed to focus.
Voss leaned against her desk, waving Adam to a leather seat. “Would you like anything before we start? Coffee? Tea? Water?”
Adam shook his head. His chest tightened. Should he have asked for water? Was it rude to refuse a beverage? Did the other candidates ask for something? She probably thought he was weird already.
“Alright,” she smiled at him. He felt light headed. “I believe you had a microchip blueprint and a proposal to show me?”
Adam nodded, reaching with fumbling fingers to retrieve the folder from his bag. When he opened the folder, a photo fell out.
Dr. Voss leaned over, grabbing the photo first. She raised her eyebrows and let our a surprised laugh, handing it back to Adam. He blinked at the picture, his heart fluttering in his chest.
The image was of Nigel, clad in Adam’s spacesuit. He’d been poorly photoshopped into a picture of the eagle nebula, posed like he was soaring through space. The edges around Nigel’s image were clearly visible, and the blend of the two images wasn’t very good, but Adam smiled anyway.
“Who’s that?” Dr. Voss was still smiling.
“O-oh, that’s my husband, Nigel.” Adam kept his eyes on the picture, he laughed softly. “He wanted to make me laugh because I get nervous in interviews and don’t do well.”
“He sounds like a keeper.”
“Y-yes. I want to keep him.”
Dr. Voss nodded, taking the proposal from Adam’s hands. “I don’t need you to do well in interviews, Mr. Raki, I just need you to design a better navigation system.”
She scanned Adam’s proposal. Adam felt air returning to his lungs as his fingers carefully traced over Nigel’s picture.
Adam sat on the blanket, adjusting the telescope. “We should go in early, review one more time for the interview.”
Nigel stretched out under the stars, his head next to Adam’s thigh. His breath curled toward Adam in white puffs. “What was the first song I learned how to play on the piano?”
“Nocturnes by Chopin,” Adam let his hand rest on his thigh, his fingers brushing the edges of Nigel’s hair. “You heard Gabi playing it when you were sick; you thought it was a sign.”
“A fucking warning sign,” Nigel snorted. “What’s my ideal threesome?”
Adam rolled his eyes; he pretended to take a puff on a cigarette. “Any threesome is an ideal threesome, gorgeous.”
Nigel laughed, a loud, barking sound that arched his back. Adam wanted to trace the girl tattooed on his neck, follow the lines of the muscles there. Instead, he started tapping.
“Who’s the greatest drummer of all time?”
“Wrong!” Adam looked down in shock as Nigel smiled. “It’s Adam fucking Raki.”
Nigel reached up and tapped on Adam’s thigh, mirroring his beat. Adam smiled, his blush concealed by the darkness.
“We’re ready for this fucking interview, gorgeous.”
Nigel’s hand stopped tapping, but the fingers stayed on Adam’s thigh. Adam didn’t want them to move. “I know you, but what about me?”
“What is my favorite food?”
Nigel rolled his eyes. “Fuck you. Challenge me.”
Adam laughed. “What is my favorite star?”
“Tabby's Star in Cygnus,” Nigel said, squeezing Adam’s thigh. “It doesn’t act like the other stars we know about. It fluctuates in brightness, and no one can explain why. Your father told you about it when you were little. That even though it didn’t act like the other stars, it was still a star – and just as beautiful.”
Adam stretched out his fingers, touching Nigel’s hand. “What’s the best way to store dishes in the cabinet?”
Nigel grinned, squeezing Adam’s thigh before sitting up. He adopted a tight, higher voice and pretended to adjust his sweater. “Well, there are two schools of thought on this subject. One maximizes storage space, the other maximizes convenience for dishes that are in daily use. I prefer the first method, as New York kitchens are small. First, one must take the measurements of the shelf in question….would you like me to draw a basic diagram?”
Adam grinned in the dark. He felt warm in spite of the December air. He rested his hand on Nigel’s chest, shoving him back to the blanket.
“I suppose we’re ready.”
He went back to adjusting the telescope, Nigel sprawled beside him.
Adam tugged at his sleeves as he eyed the man sitting at the desk. He hadn’t wanted to do separate interviews, but Mr. Price had insisted. Nigel had squeezed his hand, whispered you’ll knock ‘em dead, gorgeous, and left before Adam could panic too much. Adam looked at his hand; he could still feel Nigel’s warmth if he concentrated.
Adam looked up. The man tapped a pen on a pad, carefully studying Adam.
“Tell me about your husband. I believe Mr. Belea is a song writer?”
“Composer,” Adam corrected. “He writes jingles right now. They’re silly and I don’t like them, but he needs to start somewhere. He’s working on a song. It’s beautiful. He’s very talented and we’ll both be happier when he’s not writing ridiculous songs about fried chicken and only writing serious music.”
“How did you meet?”
Adam felt a little pang of anxiety, but tapped his fingers until it quelled. He knew this answer. He had reviewed their fake life together until it was rote. He’d spent long hours at night wishing it were true.
“I was lost in Chinatown, I was trying to find a store that sold electronic parts. Nigel saw me and said ‘need some company, gorgeous?’. He’ll tell you that I couldn’t resist him, but that’s not quite true. I didn’t understand he was hitting on me until later. Then, when I realized we were both sexually attracted to each other I suggested we have intercourse and perhaps date.”
The man with the pad blinked. “So…the sex was good?”
“Oh yes, it’s why we’re married.” Adam smiled. “That, and we’re a very compatible couple. Would you like to see pictures?”
“You going to ask me any questions, or are we just going to look lovingly into each other’s eyes all day?” Nigel slumped in his chair, glaring at Mr. Price.
“I only have one question,” Mr. Price leaned forward tossing some photos on the desk. “Is this what a typical marriage looks like in Romania?”
Nigel leaned forward. The first picture was of Adam and Beth at dinner. Adam looked so uncomfortable, Nigel wondered if Beth understood he didn’t like it when people crowded him. The second picture was Beth kissing Adam in front of her apartment. Nigel felt jealousy rolling in his stomach, cold and heavy as he flipped to the next picture – Beth tugging Adam inside.
He felt panic at the back of his mind, but schooled his face into a careful neutral expression. Christ, he hoped they weren’t doing this to Adam. “It’s just a fucking kiss; that’s not proof of anything.”
Mr. Price raised an eyebrow. “I spoke to Ms. Buchwald Friday. She would be happy to attest to the nature of the sleepover, should you or the courts need convincing.”
Nigel’s jaw ticked. “Of course she fucking would.”
“I wouldn’t blame her too much, Mr. Belea.” Mr. Price glanced at his computer screen. “According to the file, the clerk at the courthouse was the first to raise questions that lead to the investigation. Apparently one of you was inebriated and making quite the scene, talking about money.”
“Why’d you wait?” Nigel snarled. “Why fucking give us two months?”
“Honestly?” Mr. Price folded his hands on his desk. “Seeing what type of ridiculous fairytale fraudsters create to sell me on their sham unions is the highlight of my day.”
Nigel ran his hand through his hair. He tried to think of a plan, think of something he could say to fix this. As his mind raced under the watchful eye of Mr. Price, Nigel found he had only one concern.
“I don’t care what you do to me,” Nigel leaned forward, resting his hands on the desk. “but please, leave Adam alone.”
“Mr. Belea, surely you understand the US Government can’t allow our citizens to engage in-”
“I fucking made him. I-” Nigel’s chest felt tight; it was hard to draw air. “He had just lost his father, he wasn’t thinking clearly. Please.”
Mr. Price studied Nigel quietly. For once in his life, Nigel allowed every bit of the panic and desperation he felt to play clearly on his face.
“I-I know it was wrong, but he didn’t. Not really. I’ll go quietly. I’ll leave whenever you say and never come back.” Nigel swallowed, flushing slightly when he realized there were tears in his eyes. “I love him now. I know that’s not good enough to stay, but isn’t it good enough to spare him? Please don’t punish him because of me.”
Mr. Price cleared his throat, looking away from Nigel.
“Two weeks.” He said, typing into his computer. “It’ll take me two weeks to process the uncontested deportation paperwork with the holidays coming. If you don’t report back here on the 27th at 9am for deportation, I’ll arrest Mr. Raki and he will spend five years in jail. Do you understand?”
Nigel nodded. “Thank you.”
Nigel stood, swiping at his eyes and trying to get his breathing under control.
“What will you tell him?”
“Nothing.” Nigel said with a small smile. “It’s for the best. He’d only blame himself and he doesn’t need someone like me hanging around him anyway.”
Mr. Price watched Nigel walk out the door. The Romanian smiled wide when he saw Adam and pulled him into a hug. The smaller man hugged back, pressing his face into Nigel’s neck. With a sigh, Price brought up the deportation forms and began typing.
Adam held Nigel’s hand as they walked out of the office. Their fingers stayed entwined for the elevator ride down and the walk around the block. Adam frowned when Nigel let go of his fingers.
“I think that went well,” Adam said with a bright smile. “Do you want to have dinner at Tony’s? I know it’s not a Friday, but I thought-”
“I, uh, I have a thing tonight, actually.” Nigel ran a hand through his hair. “Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, I guess with all this shit I uh, I forgot.”
“That’s OK.” There was something odd in Nigel’s expression. He was smiling, but it didn’t look quite right. Adam squinted at him. “We don’t have to pretend anymore, do we?”
Nigel huffed a small laugh. “No, gorgeous, I guess we don’t.”
“You don’t have to call me gorgeous anymore, then.” Adam stepped closer, something in his stomach twisted. What was wrong with Nigel’s eyes?
Nigel’s hand came to Adam’s face. He closed his eyes as a thumb brushed his cheek. “I call you gorgeous because you are, Adam, not because of some fucking sham marriage.”
“Oh…well, thank you.” Adam let his head rest in Nigel’s hand. “I wanted to ask you about our marriage. I thought maybe we could-”
Nigel dropped his hand. “Don’t you fucking worry, gorgeous, I’ll be out of your hair by tomorrow.”
Adam’s face fell, panic clawing sharp and fast in his chest. This wasn’t how the conversation was supposed to go. “You want to move out?”
“I’ll get my things tomorrow while you’re out.” Nigel laughed, but it sounded wrong. “I promise, everything will be back the way you like it by the time you get home.”
“I-I could just give your things to Darko tonight?” Adam started tapping on his leg. He felt sick. “O-or you could stay? I-I really don’t mind you there.”
Nigel touched a finger to Adam’s chin, smiling softly. “No, darling, I’ve fucked with your life enough. Time I got you the rest of your money and left you alone.”
“Nigel, I- you d-don’t understand, I-” The air was thinning again. Adam had to make him understand.
Nigel grabbed Adam into a tight hug. His arms and the pressure helped Adam focus. He drew deeper breaths and melted a little into Nigel’s arms.
“Thank you, Adam,” Nigel whispered into his hair. “Thank you for being the best fucking husband I could ever have.”
Nigel released him, stepping back. His eyes looked watery, but he turned before Adam could ask him about it. “See you around, Adam.”
Nigel started to walk away. Adam felt another stab of panic in his chest. “Nigel!”
The older man turned, blinking rapidly. “Yeah?”
“D-do…” but Adam couldn’t think of anything to say. Nigel didn’t want him. Nigel wanted to be divorced. He felt the heat rising in his cheeks and dropped his gaze to the pavement. “Do you want your ring back?”
“O-oh, uh, sure, gorgeous.” He walked back holding out his hand. Adam pulled the cheap gold band from his finger immediately regretting the loss when it slipped from his knuckle. He placed it in Nigel’s open palm.
“Thanks, darling.” Nigel winked at him. Adam tried to twist his mouth into a smile. “Goodbye, Adam.”
“Goodbye.” Adam stood, tugging at his sleeves. He watched as his husband walked away and tried to remember how to breathe.