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Watching Through Windows

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David wakes up with a killer headache in a strange bed. It’s not the first time he’s blacked in with no idea where he was or who he fucked, but it’s the first time in a few years. He does a quick inventory— smooths a palm down his stomach to check for stitches (none, so he’s still got all his organs, unlike Alexis) and runs his tongue along his teeth (all accounted for, unlike that one night in Seattle.) He’s naked, so he doesn’t have his wallet or phone, but they’re probably not far. If he doesn’t find them, he can call Dad’s accountant and get new ones, no big deal.

The sunlight is blinding when he forces his eyes open. Ugh. His head is pounding. Like, worse than the time in Aruba.

David squints out the window. It looks like— summer. There’s a teetering sense of wrongness about everything. He wants to get out.

The sheets (decent thread count) pool around his hips as he sits up. David checks out the guy in bed with him— really cute in a wholesome sort of way. Snuffling in his sleep. There’s three hickeys on his shoulder, so David bets they had a good time.

Oh, shit. Wedding ring.

Oops.

David finds his jeans folded on the dresser, with his wallet in one pocket and a phone in the other. It’s not his phone, though— some fancy model David hasn’t seen before. Maybe the guy works in tech? He would have to, with a bedroom this square-footage in the city.

The phone lights up under David’s touch: the lock screen is a photo of the guy, smouldering at the camera with a guitar in his hands. David snorts. He’s vain, but he’s never even gotten close to being-his-own-lockscreen vain.

Maybe the guy knows where David’s phone is. David gets dressed in last night’s clothes, and crosses the room to shake the guy awake.

“Mmm.” The guy blinks sleepily up at him, nuzzling into his arm. “Come back to sleep, baby.”

Baby? Is that a thing he’s trying here?

David laughs, staccato. “Yeah, no, you probably want me gone before your wife comes home. Where’s my phone?”

The guy huffs, sounding annoyed, rubbing his face into the pillowcase. “Is this a scene? I need at least another hour of sleep. Also, you said we’d do the professor one first.”

David pauses, considering climbing back into bed and following through on whatever promises he made last night. He hopes he gets to be the naughty student. The guy has nice hands: David bets he could spank the hell out of him. But David’s head hurts too much for rough sex. “No, really. I need to go. Sorry— what’s your name, again?”

The guy sits upright. He’s naked too: David hopes he got a good feel of those gorgeous hips last night. He’s staring at David, eyes wide in alarm.

“Don’t take it personally,” David says, patting his bare shoulder right over the hickeys. “I’m sure it was great: I don’t remember lots of great nights.”

“If you’re joking, I’m going to be pissed. But please be joking.”

David flings his hands into the air, annoyed. “Fine, keep the phone. Whatever.”

He heads for the door, and the guy bolts out of bed, blocking him as he reaches for the knob. “David? Sweetheart? It’s Patrick. Please don’t go.”

“Ew,” David says. Begging has its place in bed, and it’s definitely not the morning after.

Patrick reaches up and touches David’s pounding head, thumb finding a bruise that David hadn’t noticed. Yikes. No wonder it hurt worse than a hangover. What had they done last night? “David, I’m your husband. Please trust me. You hit your head yesterday. Um— what’s the last thing you remember?”

“I don’t have to say shit to you,” David snaps, “You think I’m falling for the married amnesiac trap? Yeah, no, my sister has been-there done-that and sent me the Embassy’s postcards.”

Patrick’s chest is shuddering with his jerky breaths. “Alexis. I’ll call Alexis, okay? Just— stay with me.”

He backs away from David slowly, like he’s afraid that David’s going to bolt as soon as he’s out of arm’s reach. And he’s not wrong— David bites his lip, considering it. But then Patrick pulls a phone off the charger on his nightstand. The background photo is David, candid, leaning against some oak countertop. That’s enough to persuade David to sit back down on the bed. Patrick puts his phone on speaker, so David can hear the dial tone.

“She’s in Tokyo,” David says, “She’s not going to—”

His sister’s voice fills the room. “Patrick? It’s really early— who’s dying?”

Patrick snaps, “No one is dying,” and then takes a deep breath. “David’s having some memory issues after his fall yesterday. He wants to talk to you.”

David’s skin feels as staticky as an untuned radio station. He watches himself take the phone and turn it off speaker before he knows he’s doing it. Then the phone is mushed against his face, and he’s rasping, “Alexis, where the fuck am I?”

“You’re at home, right? With Patrick?” Her voice is trill and panicky. She’s never sounded like that, not in all of her international fiascos— the last time David remembers it was when she was seven and David held her while they waited for an ambulance after Adelina broke her arm.

“I don’t—” David glances at Patrick’s shaking hands and steps into the ensuite bathroom, closing the door between them. He runs the water to cover the sound of his hushed, “Who the hell is Patrick?”

He almost drops the phone when he sees himself in the mirror. Holy fuck, he looks ancient. He pokes at his eye bags. Oh God.

There’s the harsh sound of Alexis gulping. “Stay there. I’m gonna get you and take you to the hospital.”

“When’s your flight?”

“I’m… not abroad. I’ll be fifteen minutes.” She sniffles. “Um. Don’t be scared. I love you.”

“I’m not dying,” David snaps, even though he guesses he doesn’t know that. The man in the mirror sure looks like he’s dying. David hangs up.

He turns off the sink and walks back into the bedroom. To his surprise, Patrick is still there. He’s dressed now, in a t-shirt and sweatpants that show off his ass. He’s wearing New Balance sneakers, though, so David stops checking him out.

“So, like… is this a method acting thing? Am I your muse? We aren’t actually married.”

Patrick’s eyes squeeze tight shut. “We are.”

“That’s harder to believe than the amnesia thing. No one would marry me.”

“I married you,” Patrick repeats, more insistent. He forces his eyes back open to stare David down. Then you’re a fucking idiot, David does not say.

It hasn’t even been ten minutes before the doorbell rings. Patrick looks at David, and David has to remind him “after you!” because he doesn’t know where the front door is. Patrick leads the way.

“Oh, God.” David stares at Alexis, who looks like a vagrant on the doorstep. “Is this what you always look like now or is this a special occasion?”

Alexis looks like shit. Her hair is unbrushed and there’s sleep goop in the corners of her puffy eyes. She’s wearing pajamas and a sweatshirt covered in cartoon rodents that says, I Can’t Gopher That! She doesn’t look older, which is unfair, but clearly she’s been through something.

“I changed my mind, can you take me?” David asks Patrick, who frowns at him disapprovingly. Some distant point in David’s chest pangs to see that look on his face. Huh.

“Come on,” Alexis says, gesturing towards the running car. And that’s the scariest part— she just lets him make fun of her like that. Even though he’s a really easy target right now, because he didn’t style his hair and he’s in yesterday’s clothes like they’re Walk Of Shaming to the hospital.

David gets into the car, staring around the street. “Where the fuck are we?”

“Schitt’s Creek,” Patrick says. He climbs into the back, taking the middle seat like he doesn’t want to take his eyes off David.

“The place Dad bought you,” Alexis says, like that explains everything. David wracks his memory and vaguely remembers a joke gift, forever ago.

“I think that was Schittsville.”

“Well, you’d know,” Patrick says. David turns in his chair at the gentle teasing— feels too soon for jokes, right?— and when he does, Patrick extends his hand. “Um. It would make me feel better if we could…”

David thinks about the way Patrick said, I married you. Something in his soul aches to hold this guy’s hand too. He laces Patrick’s fingers with his own, and holds on tight as Alexis speeds to the hospital.

***

“History of head trauma?” the doctor asks, and David widens his eyes like would I know?

“He fell off a ladder yesterday,” Patrick says, “But he didn’t… he said it didn’t hurt. He seemed fine.”

The doctor scribbles on her clipboard. “Before that?”

“Six years ago,” Alexis says. “Right, David? That time in—”

— In Leondra’s Michelin-star restaurant, where he’d slipped on pastry puff while fucking a sous-chef in the produce closet and gotten a concussion. David feels like he’s been dropped in Leondra’s blast-chiller. “Six years? That was last month.”

***

The doctor makes them a weekly appointment with a neurologist, from now until he gets his memories back or three months pass, whichever comes first.

***

On the drive back to Schitt’s Creek, they tell him about embezzlement, a motel, Ted Mutt Ted, city council, his store, Crows, Cabaret—

Patrick does not say anything about their relationship. David doesn’t blame him. There can’t be many Get Out Of Jail Free cards as guilt-free as this one. He wonders if Patrick will say goodbye, or just speed off as soon as he leaves David at the motel.

David twists the wedding ring on his finger: twists and twists and twists.

“I need to fill up the car,” Alexis says, and pulls into a gas station. She closes the driver-side door behind her, leaving David and Patrick in silence.

David would feel less vulnerable naked in front of a thousand strangers. Breathing is a struggle. “You know more about me than I do.”

Patrick’s breath hitches. “I…” He unbuckles his seatbelt so he can lean forward. David tries to turn away, but Patrick squeezes his arm until he’s meeting Patrick’s earnest gaze. “I promise that I will honestly answer any question you ask. About anything. I promise. Can you believe me?”

No one ever listens to David when he says his favorite color is brown. His whole palette, wardrobe and home decor, is grayscale: David belongs in the harsh contrast of black and white. But he adores a rich brown, like hardwood, like chocolate... like the color of Patrick’s eyes. He stares at them, how they are wide and solemn and so warm fixed on David’s face, and thinks oh, look at you.

The doctor said that he still would have all his muscle memory, that he could fall right into worn grooves of routine. Apparently, that’s what trusting Patrick is. He says, “I believe you,” because somehow, he does.

There’s a reverberating click as the gas tank fills and the pump shuts off. Alexis is on her phone. David thinks it’s probably with some guy, hopes it’s not Stavros— but he’s proven wrong when she climbs back in the car and says, “Mom and Dad are picking up dinner. They’ll meet us at the motel.”

“Motel?” David repeats, feeling a bit faint. “They… live at a motel? Still?”

Alexis starts the car and peels out of the gas station instead of answering.

***

The motel is godawful, worse than David was picturing— probably because David has never seen a motel before. Alexis parks in the dirt lot, her headlights shining in the window to disturb whatever pour soul occupies room four. The bushes outside each door are tidily trimmed and the white paint on the wood-paneled exterior is fresh, like someone actually cared about this dump.

“We did not live here.” David’s voice is curdled with disgust.

“You and I shared that room. You snored so I hogged all the hot water.” Alexis points at one of the doors, and David shakes his head in disbelief. At least she’s needling him again. It’s a small return to normalcy, thank God— if she kept being that nice, he’d tear his hair out.

Patrick’s hand caresses his elbow, gentle, for a split second. He says, like it really matters to him that David only hears true things, “You don’t snore.”

It’s hard work, containing his shiver under Patrick’s touch.

The motel door is unlocked. David walks in.

“Oh my God,” David mutters, and reaches for Patrick’s hand before he can stop himself. Patrick squeezes his palm, grounding.

His parents live here. They sleep in that small bed, staring up at night into the puce water stain on the ceiling. Mom’s wigs are tacked up on the walls like the set of a horror movie. Dad’s beautiful leather briefcase is on the wobbly dining table. David turns to Patrick. “I can’t do this.”

“Okay, let’s go,” Patrick says, like it’s as easy as that.

Alexis whips around and yanks David by the shirt collar further into hell. “Yes, you can. They’re bringing burgers.”

David hesitates, looking between their two faces before he steels himself. He checks the lumpy couch for bed bugs before sitting, and then together they wait in silence. Patrick knocks his knee against David’s, a pleasant distraction.

It’s only a few minutes before he can hear a car engine. His heart is racing.

When the door opens, David sees two strangers. He’s never… he’s never noticed his parents aging. They are immortal and unconquerable: static figures that David visits once or twice a year. Last Christmas, Mom had told him that if she was ever nominated for an Emmy and lost, she’d die on that red carpet so she’d still be the headline: she’d rather do that than wilt day by day.

It’s her outfit that breaks David. She’s in a black cocktail dress with an asymmetric frill, fishnets, and golfball-size pearls. She’s wearing a pink wig. Glamorous and striking and absurd as always. She’s standing in the stoop of this drab motel room that she’s had to call her home for half a decade.

David can’t bear this.

“We need to fucking leave,” David says, bolting off the couch. Patrick follows him, reaching for his hand again, so David snaps, “Not you.”

He crosses the room and takes Mom’s silk-covered hands. “Mom. This is a nightmare. Please, let’s— I’ll do whatever it takes: let’s get to New York.”

There is a violent, resounding silence. But Mom looks at him with her watery, worn blue eyes. He’s never seen her speechless before. And then she nods. “Yes. David, yes. I’ll pack.”

“Jesus Christ, Moira!” Patrick’s voice is thunderous. David wheels on him, about to berate him for speaking to his Mom that way, but he’s struck dumb by the furious set of his face.

Mom shakes out of David’s grip to pull on her wig, more negligent that David’s ever seen her treat one of her babies. She always was gentler with her wigs than her children. “It’s what he needs!”

“Mom—” Alexis urges, eyes frantically wide, but she’s cut off by Patrick.

“And conveniently, it’s also what you want!” Patrick says, like that’s a bad thing. Like David isn’t thanking God that it’s what she wants, that one member of his family is familiar. Mom wants to get out, and David can’t believe he hasn’t gotten her out sooner. He’s getting her out now.

“If you do this, I will never forgive you,” Patrick says, “and neither will he, when he gets his memories back.”

David would be cowering under Patrick’s glare, but Mom couldn’t be intimidated by God herself. She’s imposing in her severe dress, stone-faced. “And if he doesn’t… really, you think he can heal here? Be happy here again?”

Again. The word tumbles, clattering loudly through his blank mind. Again: he can’t imagine being happy here, ever. He’s never really been happy. He only gets close to it when he’s high, when he’s giving the champagne toast on a gallery’s opening night, when he’s tired and sweaty after a long night of great sex. He couldn’t be happy in this hellhole.

Dad hasn’t said a word. He just stares at David like he’s seeing a ghost.

Patrick’s jaw is clenched. “Let’s step outside to discuss this.”

“Excuse me, you can’t just— this is about me!” David cries, wrapping his arms around himself.

“Nope, I’m talking to my mother-in-law now,” Patrick says. When he steps around David, he pats his hip absently, like it’s a habit. Mom follows him into the parking strip outside the room. As if it’s reasonable, for her to consult this guy about David without him there.

“You’ve been an asshole all day, stop it,” Alexis snaps at him.

David gawks at her, beyond agitated. “Ex-fucking-cuse me? Are you the one with a major head trauma?”

Her eyebrows furrow as she stares at him, stares through him like he’s not even there. “I... don’t remember you like this. Were you? It sucks.”

David laughs, mean. “Only you could make my crisis into an episode of The Alexis Show.”

She stalks away, trying to yank open a side door. Finally, Dad speaks. “It’s locked, honey. There’s a guest in that room now.”

“Oh. Of course,” Alexis says, and shuts herself and her stupid Gopher pajamas into the bathroom.

In the silence, David can hear snippets of the conversation outside. Scared; I know; help him; stay; please; can’t. There’s a sob that could be either of them, but is probably Mom. Unless her dramatics have changed in the past six years as much as everything else.

After a small eternity, Patrick and Mom walk back in. She cradles David’s face in her hands, acrylic nails digging into his cheeks.

“Mom?”

“Not yet,” Mom says. “Patrick says the doctor wants three months of observation. We’ll wait.”

So David was wrong, then. He doesn’t know shit about her either.

He still wishes she would hug him, but she lets go of his face and walks to stand beside Dad.

“Son?” Dad asks. He looks at David. His eyebrows are touched with gray and there’s twice as many lines on his face as there used to be. “I can vacate a room at the motel, if you’d rather stay here. With us.”

Three months.

David stares at his unrecognizable parents. Even when they’ve spent entire years on separate continents, even when Mom got plastic surgery, even when David was on a bender— he’d always known them, before now.

David stares at the stranger whose arms he woke up in this morning. He thinks about how desperate Patrick was just to hold his hand. I’m his husband, Patrick had said to the doctor, confident and firm like he was proud. David’s finger aches with how he’s been twisting his wedding ring all day.

He can hardly find his voice. “It’s fine. I’ll stay with Patrick.”

Patrick’s eyes fall closed as he lets out a relieved, shuddering exhale. When David leaves, Patrick follows him into the still night.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

It’s clear that Patrick had hoped being in the apartment would surface some of David’s memories. He gives David the full tour, and with every stop he looks more pained, like David is jabbing a bruise.

When David can’t take it anymore, he says, “I’m gonna sleep,” even though it’s barely evening.

“Of course,” Patrick says, and he exhales a breath that’s been hitched in his throat ever since they left the motel.

Patrick shows David to the bedroom even though David remembers the way from this morning. The covers are still mussed from their confused, frantic departure. The way Patrick smooths the sheets is unbearably intimate, and David feels like a voyeur. I’ll be gone before your wife gets home David had said this morning, but here he is in this bedroom with a ring on his bruised finger.

He steps into the bathroom when Patrick starts fussing with the pillows.

“That one’s your toothbrush,” Patrick says, pointing. While David brushes his teeth, Patrick rummages through a dresser and gathers pajamas. Which is horrifying— the last time anyone picked out his clothes was Mom, when he was sixteen and nervous about taking Mallory to Anti-Prom.

Patrick’s hand strokes the small of David’s back when he passes by to set the pajamas on the counter. Then he opens the bathroom linen closet.

“What are you doing?” David tries to ask, but his mouth is full of toothpaste. It comes out as waaarruhen?

Patrick ducks his head out from behind the door, biting down on a smile like he thinks David is cute or something. “Didn’t catch that.”

“Wa—” David begins, then gestures at the toothbrush in his mouth in case Patrick missed it.

“Oh, I’ll wait,” Patrick teases, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms as he watches David. It’s a mortifyingly long dentist-recommended four minutes. Patrick’s eyes are hungry on David’s face: he tries to play it off as amusement but with each passing second, David is more sure it’s an excuse to stare.

Finally, face-burning like the MRI scorched him, David spits into the sink. “What are you doing?”

“I’m getting blankets. I thought you might want space, so I’m gonna sleep on the couch.” Patrick’s voice is firm, like he spent the blurry, endless hours of waiting rooms today thinking about how to make David comfortable.

David can’t process that yet. “We keep bedding in the bathroom linen closet? Incorrect.”

“I know you’re accustomed to luxury, so I’ll break it to you easy: this is our only linen closet,” Patrick says, and when David grimaces he pauses like he might say more. David just can’t read his still expression— which is so fucking unfair, because this guy has been reacting all day to each twitch of David’s face like he’s a seismograph. It makes David want to wear a mask.

Patrick turns away to pull out a pillowcase.

There’s mixed emotions rushing through David, leaving him off-kilter. On the one hand, David does not sleep on couches as a rule. He especially doesn’t sleep on couches in the airy, exposed living rooms of strangers. On the other hand, it feels agonizing to kick Patrick out of his own bed.

David had already woken up this morning pressed against all that bare skin. Once they add clothing into the mix, sharing will be fine. Probably. David has had lots of sleepovers— enough to give him the practice it takes to perfect sneaking out of bed, the way he’d tried to do to Patrick earlier today.

“You don’t have to sleep on the couch,” David says, and busies his hands in the drawers looking for moisturizer.

“You’re totally cool sharing, then?”

“Yep!” David is a terrible liar. He never had to learn how: his family fluctuated between being indifferent enough to swallow anything, or meddling enough to notice anything no matter his deflections. No one else cared what he did. “I mean, no, I don’t usually. Except post-coitally. But it’s a big bed— I’m sure we can keep it reasonable, as long as you’re not a cuddler?”

Patrick’s faint little eyebrows raise. He looks like a sexy Bob the Builder. David had a crush on Bob the Builder, a thousand years ago. He wonders if he’s ever asked Patrick to sing, can we fix it? Yes we can!

Patrick must sleep in his boxers, because he sets the blankets down and starts taking off his clothes. He shucks his sweatpants and drops them in the hamper. He reaches behind his neck to take off his shirt, in the sensual, careless way that David has never managed to treat his clothes.

David’s heart gives an uneven thump as he checks Patrick out. Now he’s wondering if instead of saying keep it reasonable he should have offered let’s get coital.

He would totally fuck Patrick, if he wasn’t— well, it’s a weird hangup to— anyway.

David tears his gaze away and starts examining their medicine cabinet. There’s multivitamins, aspirin, and seven types of lube, which does nothing to calm his pulse.

“What are you looking for?” Patrick asks. His composure is frankly offensive when the sight of his chest is the tenth thing wrecking David’s life right now.

David turns to reply, but the words stick in his throat when he catches sight of the hickeys, vivid on the delicate skin between Patrick’s neck and shoulder. Patrick follows his gaze and turns crimson, like he’d forgotten that David was unaccustomed to this show. The flush goes all the way down his sternum, and David wonders if it ever goes lower.

Patrick cradles the stack of linens, blocking the view.

“Pills,” David says, like he hadn’t nearly forgotten Patrick’s question.

“I left painkillers and a glass of water on your nightstand,” Patrick says, which— cute. But not what David meant.

“No, like… the fun pills.”

“Ohh, the fun pills!” Patrick says, “Of course! Yeah, nope, none of those.”

David forgets he’s holding a tube of moisturizer and gesticulates, nearly pitching it into the mirror. “What, am I just supposed to cry myself to sleep?”

“Guess so!” Patrick says, and walks away with the bedsheets.

“Where are you going?”

“To the couch. You’re a cuddler.” Patrick shuts the bathroom door behind him as he leaves.

***

The next morning, Patrick tries to persuade David to stay at the apartment and rest, but David is dying to see the store.

“It’s not a far walk,” Patrick says. David doesn’t really trust Patrick’s judgement— when he’d woken up this morning, Patrick was all sweaty from a dawn hike, of all things. But David doesn’t argue, so he gets to see all of this pathetic town, from the unkempt roads with littered gutters to the squat buildings.

Patrick can’t stop touching David as they walk, like it’s reflex. He strokes his palm up David’s back, squeezes his hip, rubs his shoulder. David is about to vibrate out of his skin, utterly overwhelmed and still desperate for more. He tamps down his reaction, not wanting Patrick to stop.

David halts in his tracks on the main street. With bone-deep certainty, he says, “That’s our store.”

“Do you— is that something you remember?” Patrick asks, throat clogged with hope, a finger curled through David’s belt loop.

David shakes his head. “I just know.”

Rose Apothecary is the first place in this town that feels right to David. Something in his chest eases as he walks in, taking in the refined lines and elegant composition. It’s clear the products are curated with the same ruthlessness David uses in his galleries. His thumbprints are everywhere, from the tile to the logo. Softer than Mulberry silk, he says to Patrick, “I like it.”

Patrick’s face crumples in sheer joy and relief. Holy fuck, David thinks, and then he’s thinking about all the reckless things he’d do to put that look there again.

The store is busy as soon as they flip the sign to Open. It’s impossible to tell which customers are here to shop, and which are here to cross-examine David.

“How does everyone know?” David hisses to Patrick, dodging an man with a cellphone asking him to just reassure Gwen he’s okay!

Patrick gives a helpless shrug and says, “Actually, here— Bob, I’ll talk to Gwen. The doctor put David on vocal rest.”

Thank you, David mouths, and parks himself behind the register. Patrick had to show him how to unlock it, but the rest of the machinations come with ease. Mouth clamped shut, he ignores everyone’s questions as he rings them up.

He watches Patrick help customers, all polite smiles and sturdy confidence. It’s obvious he can feel David’s gaze on him: every so often, Patrick twitches like it’s effortful to resist returning the stare.

In the afternoon, there’s a lull. David isn’t sure if that’s because the entire town has come in already, or if his silence is repelling the rubberneckers.

So it’s his turn to be a rubbernecker, then. He gets out his phone and starts to backstalk social media. As much as his life has changed, it looks like everyone else’s has stayed the same. His friends are drinking in Tahiti and Rome and Morocco. His rival gallerists are retreading the same social commentary. His exes are single and posting late-night glamor shots in clubs, a constellation of lovely, unattainable stars.

His phone screen flashes with an incoming call from Alexis. He rejects it— she’s been texting him too, but he muted that chat— and returns to Instagram.

When Patrick finishes straightening the lotion that Bob had knocked over, he joins David and watches pictures blur by as David’s thumb scrolls faster and faster.

“None of these people talk to me anymore,” David says.

It’s not a question, but Patrick confirms it anyway. “Yeah.”

David puts his phone away.

“You okay?” Patrick asks.

Before, David had bargaining chips like connections and money and sex. It was enough to bring people around, even if it didn’t make them stay. Now he’s in Schitt’s Creek.

He wonders what’s keeping Patrick with him— especially since Patrick wouldn’t even share his bed last night. Not that David blames him: David has really let himself go in his old age. When he looked in the mirror this morning, three of his pores were large enough to have detectable gravitational forces. So apparently it’s not sex, but there’s always something. David will keep watching, and he’ll find it.

David shrugs, a hard jerk of his shoulder. “Makes sense. I had a lot to offer and now I don’t: that’s just how these things go.”

Patrick’s expression is strained. There’s a silent, taut moment until he starts walking into the back office, swatting David’s arm as he passes. Crisp, he says, “Don’t talk about my husband that way.”

Jesus Christ.

The bells chime as a customer walks in. David shelves his frantic emotions to deal with later.

“Can I help you?” David asks, just to have something to do. It’s a grave mistake. The news gets around that David Rose is off vocal rest, and suddenly the store is bustling again. Patrick hurries out from the back.

After they handle the extensive line of customers and questions, Patrick offers, “Why don’t we close early today?”

David winces. This store is an oasis. It’s the only place he’s been so far that doesn’t make him want to drink himself unconscious. “I like it here.”

“Okay, whatever you want.”

“Are you always this agreeable?” David snaps, because maybe this is why Patrick stays: he doesn’t know how to tell David no.

Patrick gives him a steely look, like he knows this is a test and isn’t impressed. Something relieved blooms in David’s stomach. Still, he says, “David, right now you could ask me for the Brooklyn Bridge and I’d start pouring cement.”

David can’t stop himself from getting closer, into Patrick’s space. He hadn’t realized how much taller he was than Patrick until now, because Patrick holds himself like he could blot out the sun. “But usually?”

“No, I’m stubborn as hell usually. Like you,” Patrick says. He bumps his hip against David’s, just a nudge, just a fond little something David doesn’t know what to do with.

“Stop building me the Brooklyn Bridge,” David insists. “You’re right. Let’s close.”

The bell chimes as someone walks in, and without looking away from David, Patrick says, “Nope! Closed!’

The hectic rush of customers left the store in utter disarray. It’s pleasant to straighten it out, the same way it feels satisfying to organize his closet or dust the frames on paintings. He makes everything orderly while Patrick deals with the till. Then, Patrick beckons him into the back office.

As much as David can see himself in the store, he can see Patrick in this office. The desk is tidy, with color-coded binders arranged at perfect right angles.

By the computer monitor is a wedding photo. David sits on the desk and stares at it. It’s candid, a little blurry— David and Patrick in tuxes on a dance floor, entwined closer than polite, laughing into a kiss. David is gazing with an unrecognizably tender expression at Patrick, whose eyes are closed in apparent bliss. I married you, Patrick said, and goddamn had he ever.

“Here,” Patrick says, pulling up a spreadsheet on the computer. David leans over the back of his chair to squint at the numbers.

“Is this my job?” David asks, because he only passed Finance 1010 for Liberal Arts Majors because he was fucking the TA.

“No,” Patrick says. The cursor on the screen is jumpy with the nervous tremble of his hand on the mouse. “But I think this is the easiest way to talk about this. Come look at this month’s finances.”

David stares at the screen. He’d known this, hadn’t he? The fact that he was still in Schitt’s Creek meant that his finances were limited, for the first time in his life. But he hadn’t pictured… he points at the screen. “That’s our income?”

“No, that’s the store’s income.” With gentle fingers on David’s wrist, he guides David downwards. “Our income is here.”

David feels panicky and trapped. He’s had bottle services in clubs with more expensive minimums than that. What would he have done, if Mom had said yes to New York yesterday? Hitch-hiked?

“You’re dealing with a lot right now and I’m sorry to add this to the list,” Patrick says, sounding more than sorry: he sounds heartbroken, staring at the terror on David’s face. “This is one of the facts of our life here.”

“Okay,” David says, muddled through numb lips.

“I know it’s probably hard to believe, but this won’t always feel oppressive to you. You got to a point where it doesn’t even cross your mind most days. But following a budget is something I still need from you.”

Something Patrick needs from him. That clears some of the fog in David’s brain. He has always been responsive to being needed. It’s why he's closer to Mom than to Dad, and it’s why he answers calls from unknown international numbers even though Alexis has never once thanked him. He admits, “I don’t know how. I don’t know what anything costs.”

“I’ll help you,” Patrick promises, “and we can make it work if there's some things you need, to adjust and be happy—”

David has never been happy. Maybe that’s why he deserved amnesia: he is Ebenezer Scrooge, and Schitt’s Creek is his Ghost of Christmas Future. When he gets back to New York, he will never be ungrateful for his life again.

He interrupts. “No, I can do it, it’s fine. Can you print me a copy? For reference?”

Patrick nods, and the desktop printer churns to life. The resulting stack of papers is thick— it’s an extensive spreadsheet, and David isn’t surprised even though he doesn’t know Patrick well yet. David picks it up under Patrick’s heavy gaze.

Patrick takes a deep, shaky breath and hands David a roll of receipt tape. He asks, “Can you put this by the register?”

David does, and then lingers at the counter because he thinks that Patrick really wanted a minute to himself. It takes Patrick a while to come out. When he does, he pulls David into a hug and whispers fervently with lips against David’s ear, “Thank you.”

***

When David wakes up at midday, Patrick is gone. He left a bagel and coffee, prepared just the way David likes it. He also left a note— I’ll handle the store today. Please rest and text if you need anything, with a doodled smiley face in the corner.

So David showers and pampers himself, then settles back in bed in his robe. He checks his phone, but no one has texted except Alexis.

Alexis [11:48 AM]: Day off? You’re in luck bc I’m free to hang out if you wanna be fun instead of boring

In the past he can remember, he’s only seen her in flashes: at a border checkpoint with a fake passport, in a distant corner of an exclusive party, leaving the mansion in a helicopter with the Guy of the Week. The time at the hospital was more togetherness than they’ve had in the last few years combined.

He scrolls up their text history to see if this is something they do now. The messages are sparse and nonsensical, referencing things that David doesn’t know about. So either they don’t ever make plans, or they see eachother often enough to do it person. And why wouldn’t they? Really, who else would he spend time with in this horrific town?

Doesn’t matter. David doesn’t reply. He misses his flighty, beautiful, terrible sister, not the bodysnatcher wearing her face now.

It takes him several tries to guess the password on his laptop, but eventually he boots it up. He spends the day researching how Eli screwed them over, the lease for Schitt’s Creek, and the assets in the town.

By the time Patrick returns, David has a plan.

“I’m going to see my parents,” he says, as soon as Patrick gets a foot in the door.

“That’s great. And hello to you too,” Patrick says. He’s in a blue collared shirt and jeans, same as yesterday— except it’s fresh clothing, so he’s got more than one copy of that boring outfit. Patrick’s face goes fond, and he leans in like he’s going to kiss David hello. Instead he just touches David’s printed short-sleeve button-up like it’s delighting him for some reason.

“So, car keys?” David prompts. They’re dangling from Patrick’s hand, which he moves further from David’s expectant reach.

“Dr. Reese said it’d be a strain to drive. I’ll take you.”

“And what, hang out in the parking lot like a nanny cruising for sugar daddies? Um, there’s one stop sign in this town, I’ll be fine.” David scoffs. If Alexis can drive high all the way down 5th Avenue on Christmas Eve, David’s pretty sure he can handle Schitt’s Creek with a head injury.

Patrick’s grip closes around the keys. David’s eyebrows raise. “I didn’t realize I needed your permission.”

“You aren’t being fair,” Patrick says, like that matters. Like any of this has been fair.

“Sorry, I’ll ask nicely. May I please see my parents, Warden Brewer?” David says. Patrick’s eyebrows startle up and his fist opens. David snatches the keys from his palm and slams the door behind him.

He feels like shit by the time he gets to the motel, eyes burning and head throbbing with effort. He’d hoped that the motel would look less ghastly, now that the shock of it is over— but if anything it looks worse. David spends a minute in the parking lot gulping for air before he musters the courage to leave the car.

A dark-haired woman in a trashy flannel does a double-take when she sees him. “David?”

“Mm, no,” David says, and hurries into his parents’ room. He got enough grilling from townies yesterday in Rose Apothecary: if this woman wants in, she can cough up some money at the store like everyone else.

His parents are waiting at the decrepit dining table, clutching hands like they’re expecting the Grim Reaper or something instead of their eldest son.

“Hi,” David prompts, when they just stare at him silently. He’s trying to avoid looking at the rest of the motel room, but it’s difficult. There’s a lot of dingy corners that could be hiding moths.

Mom elbows Dad, who clears his throat. “David, I’m— I mean, we’re— it’s good to see you!”

“‘Kay,” David says, and gets down to business. He sits across from his parents in one of the wobbly chairs. “So help me understand why we haven’t sold this town yet.”

Dad blinks, startled. “Well—”

“With the increased value these past few years, we could do it.” David’s voice is confident even though he has no goddamn idea if that’s true. He’s testing the waters— and when Dad doesn’t disagree, he knows.

“Well, we’ve made commitments in this town. I’m a co-owner of this motel— you have a store and Patrick to think about,” Dad says.

David’s eyes widen, flicking from the ratty carpet to the stained ceiling. “You’re a co-owner? Um, are you taking constructive criticism?”

“Oh, it doesn’t have to be constructive,” Mom teases, patting Dad’s arm placatingly when he grumbles.

“Just because you lose Boardwalk doesn’t mean you start developing Mediterranean Avenue,” David says, because he’s got decades of winning Monopoly at their family game nights on his side.

“Okay, okay,” Dad complains, raising his palms in mock-surrender,  and David’s heart clenches at the glimpse of the father he knows.

“Speaking of the store,” David says, and takes out the income report Patrick printed. He pushes it across the table at Dad.

Dad’s eyebrows leap up his forehead as he reads. “I had no idea the store was doing this well.”

“Sure,” David says, even though that hadn’t been his impression of the numbers there. “So, you sell the town and your share of the motel. I sell the store. We get the hell out of Dodge.”

If Mom weren’t the foremost expert in securing wigs, her nodding would have thrown hers across the room.

Dad frowns at him. “Patrick wants to sell the store?”

David swallows hard. “Once we break up, it’s not like we can run it together.”

“You don’t know you’ll break up,” Dad says, because the only way he knows how to love is abidingly.

David spent a long time thinking that his imperfect parents had a perfect marriage. It wasn’t until midway through college that he learned the truth— a truth Alexis still doesn’t know, because they’d shipped her off to a Swiss boarding school to spare her. He came home for the first time in years to discover a frozen wasteland. Mom and Dad slept in bedrooms on opposite wings in the house and took their meals separately. Your father is going to leave me, Mom had sobbed into David’s shoulder late one night, and it felt like the mantle of the Earth cracked beneath him.

But Dad hadn’t left, because he loves Mom for all that she is, every miracle and every flaw. So slowly things got better, but every time David’s heart gets broken he feels twenty and helpless again.

Gloom shades the lines of Dad’s face as he mulls over the future of David’s marriage. David hadn’t realized there were still new ways of disappointing him left to be discovered.

Mom’s eyes are sharp, flicking between his face and Dad’s. She settles it when she says, “We won’t get the neurologist’s approval for at least another three months.”

David’s throat is clogged, but he manages to speak. “Well, I didn’t say we could sell the town overnight.”

***

David isn’t experienced when it comes to romantic relationships, but he’s had lots of practice in pretending fights never happened. So when he bolts awake with an epiphany, he doesn’t hesitate before rolling out of bed to see if Patrick is awake, even though they hadn’t spoken last night after David got back from the motel. It’s the hazy time between night and dawn, but there’s a chance Patrick’s up— his sleep schedule is weird as hell.

To his surprise, Patrick isn’t stretching or dressed for his hike: he’s in yesterday’s clothes, slumped over a bowl of cereal at the dining table.

He startles when he sees David. “Everything okay?”

David points at him. “Do you know what you haven’t told me?”

“Um? No?” Patrick says. It’s a blatant lie, because he hasn’t said jackshit about how they got together and stayed together, but whatever. It’s not what David is asking about now.

“All the pop culture I missed, Patrick! What’s my favorite movie?”

It’s an imperative question, because his favorite movie was While You Were Sleeping: Sandra Bullock stars, and it shaped David’s ideals of love. But it’s also a fucking amnesia rom-com, so he’s never going to be able to watch it again. He’s in the market for a new favorite and hopes his past self has already done the shopping.

The spoon falls out of Patrick’s loose fingers and clatters against the ceramic cereal bowl. Patrick stands, sending the chair screeching backwards. “Oh my God. You haven’t seen—”

They race to the couch. Patrick’s lit up with excitement as he says, “It’s a Sandra Bullock film.”

“Of course,” David says, settling back into the cushion. The blankets Patrick sleeps in are piled on the back of the couch, so with each inhale David is surrounded by the smell of him. It’s more soothing than any lavender mist or essential oil diffuser he’s tried.

“Cate Blanchett, too.”

David’s eyes narrow. “If you’re joking—”

“I’m not. And… Rihanna.”

David marvels, “No fucking way. You know, I—”

“Dated one of her backup dancers, and her hair stylist,” Patrick finishes. “You’ve mentioned.”

“Mm, I don’t recall,” David says, and launches into the story anyway. Except it’s not even fun because Patrick nods along to the story attentively and then ruins each punchline by saying it first. Ugh.

They start the movie. Patrick is a handspan away, so close that David can feel the heat of him. David always runs so cold: he wonders how much time he’s spent warming himself against Patrick. Without intention, David drifts closer. He doesn’t notice until Patrick’s head is on his shoulder.

He’s right that David is spellbound by the movie, grinning and wide-eyed. Every so often, David’s eyes slide to watch the lights of the TV dance across Patrick’s face. Every time, he finds Patrick already watching him.

Cate Blanchett says oh honey, is this a proposal? and Sandra Bullock smoulders when she replies baby, I don’t have a diamond yet. David is losing his mind. When he looks at Patrick to experience this together, though, he finds Patrick asleep with his face pressed into David’s neck.

David heart thuds so hard it’s a shock it doesn’t jostle Patrick awake.

He finishes the movie. His eyelids begin to droop as the credits roll, and he decides it couldn’t hurt to rest too.

The sudden absence of Patrick’s weight against him startles David awake, hours later. Next to him, Patrick looks similarly disoriented, blinking awake like a dazed kitten.

His phone says it’s late afternoon. Whoops. He hopes no one in Schitt’s Creek had a toner emergency today.

He slept through about a thousand calls from Alexis, and three texts from Mom.

Mom [1:02 PM]: Lunch together soon? We have so much to catch up about

Mom [1:02 PM]: perhaps including some of the business acumen you’ve forgotten— maintaining regular hours will certainly make the store easier to sell

Mom [1:03 PM]: let me know. Kiss kiss

David feels like he’s going to have a heart attack. He glances at Patrick, Even though Patrick is too busy yawning to notice David’s phone, David deletes the text thread and turns his phone off for good measure. It’s about to die but he doesn’t bother finding a charger.

***

“What did they say in business school about being open half as often but having twice as many customers?” David shouts from the register to Patrick, who’s preparing a fresh register tray in the back.

Rose Apothecary brims with customers, several of whom expressed annoyance that the store was closed yesterday. The’re still spending money, though, the criticism feels weak.

“Nice try!” Patrick hollers back.

Then, the woman from the motel walks in and informs David that she is his best friend.

It’s the sixth time someone has tried that (Roland, Bob, Ray, Roland, Roland in a hat) so David isn’t falling for it. He’s never had a best friend, just loose acquaintances and trusty club promoters. If he couldn’t find one in New York, it seems unlikely there would be one in this small, polluted pond.

Also, this woman looks like a sexually confused vampire who woke up on the wrong side of the coffin. David gives a neutral mm-hm.

“Stevie actually is, though,” Patrick calls from the back.

He’s mentioned a Stevie before. David puts down the oil he was testing on his cuticles and peers at her.

“Yep, I can’t believe it either.” She’s got a perfect monotone and her expression doesn’t twitch under his scrutiny.

Hmm. There’s potential there. “I could see myself possibly liking you, I guess.”

“Wow, and you didn’t even get your present yet,” Stevie says, and reaches into the breast pocket of her flannel to pull out a joint, waggling it at him.

David’s face twists into a grin. “Well. I could like you a lot.

***

Stevie’s car is a deathtrap. It’s hard to believe he’s ridden in it before— but last week he gotten taken out while changing light bulb, so David might have to redefine his sense of danger.

Stevie’s car jolts to a stop when the dirt road ends in an empty field. It’s all patches of brown and yellow weeds. Apparently this town doesn’t even have a nice meadow or something. They get out and sit on the sun-baked hood of the car together. “So this is where we bury bodies?”

“Do you think Roland would be alive if we’d started taking people out?” Stevie counters, which is a persuasive point.

She pulls out a lighter, and David cups his hands to shield the flickering flame from the wind while Stevie lights the joint. Her face puckers around a long, slow drag.

They pass it back and forth. Slowly, David feels a wall erect between himself and the riot of emotions he’s had the past few days. It’s like when he saw the Bodies exhibition in Vegas: hundreds of plasticized cadavers on display for inspection. I’m scared, David thinks with the cool precision of a scientist, then puts that thought back into the Plexiglass case with the other corpses.

***

There’s a cloud shaped like a penis, and David has seen three hawks. He likes birds, especially ones with good plumage. He’s explaining what makes good plumage to Stevie— it’s not all about colors, it’s about patterns, and movement— when he cuts himself off. He gestures at his head. “You don’t seem weirded out by this.”

Stevie plucks the joint from his hand and takes a long inhale. David knows stalling tactics when he sees them. “I’m not, I guess. You know, I was the second person you met here?”

“Who was the first?”

“Roland.”

“Oh God.” David shudders. He imagines his first impression of this town being that mouth-breather, instead of a handsome naked guy who touched him tenderly and called him baby.

“I’m not weirded out. I still know you, David,” Stevie says, but by then David can’t remember through his foggy high what they were talking about.

***

“So. Me and Patrick, right?” David asks.

Stevie bolts into sitting upright, dropping the joint. It falls against the hood, leaving ash on the chipped beige paint, and then rolls into the sandy dirt. “No fucking way. Do you like him?”

“I mean… he is my— you know!” David says, hiding his hot face in his hands. How had Stevie put that together?

It can’t be that strange of a confession. David’s relationships have always been fueled by kerosene, burning hot and quick. He falls easy. Of course he’s into Patrick. Patrick, who is all yearning glances and kind words and touch. He wants to know when Patrick decided to date David, and why, and what kind of expiration date this thing has.

“No, it’s just. God, you took forever to realize last time,” Stevie says, face squished-up in thought. She’s got really nice skin. David bets he gives her stuff from the store. He wonders if he can recommend a dry shampoo, or if it’s too early for that— are they counting their friendship from her stopwatch or his?

He wishes he hadn’t said anything. He asks, “Are you gonna brush the dirt off that joint or do I have to?”

Stevie’s answering grin is wicked, gleaming, batshit-evil. It’s becoming clearer and clearer why David picked her. She reaches into the breast pocket of her flannel again— like, they’re going to Talk about which pockets are acceptable to treat as functional— and pulls out a fresh joint.

***

Patrick is grouchy when David gets home, possibly because David left his phone when he ditched Patrick in their packed store to get high on a backroad. So David forces him to watch TV in the living room while David explores the kitchen cabinets. He can tell Patrick arranges their groceries, because nothing makes sense, but eventually he finds enough to get spaghetti started.

Patrick has a baseball game on. He’s not smiling, which is maybe normal for spectating sports, but David doesn’t like it. He feels like he should probably try to talk it out, but David’s relationships usually have the shelf-life of a bruised avocado. He has no idea what to do here.

After he gets the pasta boiling, he tentatively perches on the arm of the couch. “Um. Hi. Are you… upset?”

Patrick pauses the game, which is alarming. Frowning at recorded sports is even worse than frowning at live ones. Still, Patrick forces a smile. “Well, you know, there’s been a few stressors lately.”

David squints at him, because that’s true enough. “You seem more upset, though?”

Patrick rubs at the back of his neck, and now he just looks sheepish. David is jealous of Patrick’s fingertips, and his own hand twitches with want. Patrick says, “Yeah.”

“You can tell me,” David says, and his voice comes out as a stranger’s: caring and gentle.

"You liked Stevie right away,” Patrick says, “I guess… I guess I just wish you’d liked me. See? It’s stupid.”

He un-pauses the game. David wrangles the remote from him, and pauses it again. “That’s not stupid. It was a bad morning, yeah. But not because of anything about you. You know that... right?”

Patrick smiles ripens into something more real. David continues, “And it’s not a fair comparison. I wouldn’t have trusted Stevie if you hadn’t told me I could.”

“Yeah?” Patrick asks, a little needy. David bets that if their roles were reversed— if Patrick had woken up with amnesia, and David had to deal with it— David would have withered away into nothing, starving from the lack of affection after years luxuriating in it. David’s only had it for a few days and already he’s gotten greedy.

David reaches out and touches Patrick’s neck, right where he’s been dying to, a scratch of nails along his hairline. Patrick’s head lolls into the touch. Low, David says, “You’re the only thing that’s made this bearable.”

Face burning hotter than the water boiling over on the stove, David hurries away to the kitchen. Any reaction from Patrick would ruin him.

***

David has applied serum to his left eye twice and his right eye not at all, because Patrick’s arm keeps brushing against his as they get ready for bed together. It’s incredibly distracting. David says, “I think our mattress is too soft. I slept way better on the couch yesterday than I did last night.”

Patrick bites his lip, but all he says is, “Maybe.”

“What?” David prods, and applies serum to his left eye again. Dammit.

“Uh. It’s not the mattress. Our bodies are used to sleeping in the same bed,” Patrick admits.

David stares at him. He hasn’t known Patrick long, so it’s hard to tell what’s normal. But his face is puffy and his eyebags are purple. Earlier today, David had asked Stevie is he okay? and all Stevie said was let’s just worry about you.

He finally gets serum onto his right eye, and speaks as casually as he can manage. “Well, that’s an easy fix, then.”

“Is it?”

“Yep,” David says, and leaves the bathroom to get in bed with a lingering glance over his shoulder at Patrick.

There’s the sound of Patrick splashing water over his face. When he walks into the bedroom, his hairline is damp and there’s a single rivulet of water running down the side of his neck. David wonders if he likes to be kissed there. He bets Patrick knows the places David likes to be kissed.

Fuck.

Patrick leans against the doorjamb, staring at David tucked into their comforter. A little teasing, a little self-conscious, David asks, “What, did I pick the wrong side?”

“No,” Patrick says, voice rough. He leans over the bed, stroking his thumb across David’s cheekbone. “You’ve got an eyelash.”

He presses his knuckles to David’s chin, thumb a few millimeters from David’s lips. David’s breath is shaky as he blows.

There’s no bitterness in Patrick’s voice, just curiosity and longing, when he asks, “What did you wish for? Your memories or the life you remember?”

David opens his mouth to answer even though he doesn’t know what he’ll say. He doesn’t think he wished for anything in particular: his mind is a ravenous chasm of want for so many things.

“Nevermind,” Patrick whispers, “you can’t tell me or it won’t come true.”

Patrick flicks the light switch, and the bedroom goes pitch black. David lies still as he listens to the bed groan under Patrick’s weight. When he lifts the covers, it sends a rush of cool air down David’s overheated body.

“Come on, then,” David murmurs, even though he doesn’t know what that means for them. He trusts that Patrick does.

Patrick touches him like no one else ever has, like David is precious. He guides David onto his side and spoons him. His arm curls around David’s waist, hand on David’s chest, only a few inches away from his thundering pulse. David has the feeling that hand would usually be under his sleep shirt, splayed on bare skin like Patrick wants to know his heart.

Patrick nuzzles his face into David’s back. David has never been held like this before, so he thinks it’ll take a long time to fall asleep. But Patrick is right— this is what his body has been craving. He loses himself into the inky darkness of sleep mid-thought, long before Patrick’s breaths have evened out.

 

 

Chapter Text

It doesn’t take Patrick long to wear David down into seeing Alexis. For one thing, it’s hard to tell him no when he’s been glowing like a Caravaggio portrait ever since they started spending nights together a few days ago. For another, it’s clear he knows just how to handle David (presumably in all sorts of ways, which David spends a lot of time not thinking about). He never actually tells David what to do. He just replies your sister when David asks who he’s texting all the time, shares anecdotes about the three of them, and says you’re so proud of her, now.

That one brings David pause. Alexis is a Pandora’s Box of emotion: no one else elicits protectiveness, annoyance, or laughter from him in equal measure like she can. Even when she’s on the opposite side of the world, she’s with him like a shadow, defining his world through absence.

But no, she doesn’t make him particularly proud, which is fine— it’s not like he makes anyone proud, either. So David is curious, and he agrees, “Fine. I’ll see her if you can promise she won’t be in pajamas this time.”

So they wait together for her in the Cafe. Patrick holds himself at a careful, intentional distance, even though they’re on the same side of the booth and sharing a milkshake. He’s been doing that when they’re not in bed, now that they sleep together. David’s desire to be touched is a boundless, ravenous thing, so he thinks this must be Patrick hitting his limit: David can have him at night or day, not both.

Alexis is only five minutes late, which cuts right into the thirty minutes David scheduled to stress-drink his milkshake and plan out what he’s going to say to her, the person he could once predict better than anyone.

Her face lights up when she sees him. He remembers how Patrick had said she misses you.

Fuck.

She greets them, but David can’t hear it over the thunder of his heart. He is not in his own body: he is somewhere else, far away. His hand lifts and presses to his sternum. He can’t breathe, but his hand moves with each of his gasps.

 “David?” Patrick’s frantic voice is distorted, like David is hearing it from underwater, and David can only catch snatches. “— okay?”

“No,” David manages. He can’t hold himself upright. Patrick catches him, letting David slump against his chest.

 “— an ambulance?” Patrick asks, clutching David tight. The touch is grounding, and David focuses on that. 

Then Alexis is rubbing his shoulder. “No— panic attack— gotten them before.”

“It’s a heart attack,” David gasps, because panic attacks are for celebrities with unimaginative PR managers.

Alexis holds a glass of water to his lips, and David chokes down a few swallows. She strokes his hair back from his sweaty forehead with her condensation-cool touch.

She’s right: eventually, the certainty of impending doom fades. He feels empty now, but that’s still an improvement. He instructs himself to sit upright, and as he grits his teeth until his body listens.

His vision focuses again. Both of their expressions are raw. It’s the same face Adelina made once, when he’d darted into the street and been scorchingly close to the velocity of a passing car before she yanked him back by the shirt collar. Together they’d cried on the sidewalk about almost.

“Well,” David says, flexing his hands under the table to ensure he’s regained control of them before reaching for his glass of water. He drains it and crunches the ice between his teeth, the cold waking his body up. “One of you is going to help me with the menu, right? It’s huge.”

 Patrick’s voice is tattered, and David’s gaze drops to damp spots on his shirt where David had pressed his eyes. “Are you— do you wanna leave—”

David pricks with anger at him, but it’s sluggish, like his well of emotions has run dry. Patrick can’t push him into doing the right thing and then let him back out when it hurts: that’s being set up for failure, and it’s not fair, so David ignores it. His teeth chatter as he asks, “What’s good here?”

“Nothing!” Alexis says in a wavering approximation of her chirp, “Right? The menu is so big you’d think there would be something, but there just isn’t.”

“Great,” David says, and pulls up Yelp on his phone. There’s a hundred and twelve one-star reviews. He scrolls, and then gives up when he realizes all the usernames are aliases from Sunrise Bay.

So he orders a salad from the waitress. Her name tag says Twyla, and she looks like she walked off a modern revival of Little House on the Prairie. He’s seen organic markets less farm-to-table than her.

After she leaves, Patrick says, “I didn’t know you’ve had panic attacks.”

They haven’t been touching since David pulled away. Patrick twitches like he wants to change that, and then he clenches both his hands on the edge of the table so hard the laminate particle board begins to buckle.

“It was just a few, when we moved here,” Alexis says.

“And? What did I do to fix them?”

Before Alexis can answer him, the food arrives. It’s alarmingly quick service. David checks to make sure his chicken isn’t raw, and his knife makes a sawing noise. Somehow, it’s overcooked. “Dear God." 

“You definitely did something,” Alexis says, ever so helpful.

She slurps her smoothie— she’s always done that on purpose to annoy him, so he warns, “I’m going to jab that straw in your eye.”

She hops in her seat and flails her arms, like a deranged kangaroo. She trills, “Wait! I think you slept with Jocelyn!” 

That makes Patrick let go of his grip on the table. David asks, “Wait, what? Who’s Jocelyn?”

Patrick rests his hand on David’s knee. “Uh. I don’t think you did. She’s intense— like, small-town intense. And fifty. And married to Roland.”

David admits, “Not impossible.”

“She’s not fifty, and she’s hot in a midlife-crisis way,” Alexis says, making another obnoxious noise with her straw. “I’m texting her.”

Patrick protests, “Well, he’s not going to sleep with her now!”

David stares at him. He’s been wondering if he and Patrick were monogamous, and assumed they weren’t— he’s never been someone’s one and only, though not for lack of trying. He can’t imagine exclusivity spanning years, but something about Patrick’s response makes him think that’s what they have. 

Patrick notices him looking and takes away his hand from David’s knee, scooting back into his half of the bench.

Alexis’s phone buzzes. “Ooh, this position sounds ambitious. So she was curled on the ground, and your back was—”

Patrick’s eyebrows climb towards his hairline.

“Wait wait wait! This is a yoga pose! You did yoga together!” Alexis cries, and sets down her phone to grin at David. “Wow, that makes way more sense.” 

Doing yoga? He’s not sure it does.

 Twyla swoops by, refilling David’s water glass. “You don’t remember? Alexis, you were there.”

Alexis blinks. “Why would I pay attention to my brother all over Jocelyn?”

“Doing yoga,” Patrick says emphatically.

 Twyla fixes her kind eyes on David. No one has mentioned her before, and now he’s wondering why. “I do yoga most mornings. You could come.”

 “Sure,” David agrees, not really meaning it. It’s hard enough getting up on time to open the store. She leaves, and he turns back to his wilted salad.

 “Alexis, why don’t you tell him about college?” Patrick prompts, like a flustered parent trying to start conversation over TV dinners.

David teases, “Yeah, what Latin Honors are we talking here? Cum laude?”

“Ew, David! Don’t be gross,” Alexis says, “Elmdale College doesn’t even have fraternities.”

David squints at her. Patrick says, “I’m not sure you can make fun, David, from what I’ve heard about your college experience…”

He’s making this flirty face at David, and David wants to put his hands all over him, wishes that was something they were still doing.

 He manages to keep his hands to himself for the rest of the meal. As they leave, Twyla catches David’s arm. “Hold on.”

 David grimaces. “If this is about the Yelp reviews—”

 “It’s— wait, we’re on Yelp?” Twyla says, brows furrowing.

“Um, nope! Definitely don’t bother checking!”

“I’m always here if you want to talk. Like, literally here— I’m always in the Cafe,” Twyla says, in the same chipper voice she used to list the specials. “I got amnesia once, after being trampled on an escalator.”

David blinks at her, and then says, voice soft, “Oh.”

Patrick and Alexis are waiting on the sidewalk, looking curiously at him, but David doesn’t say anything.

“I can run the store, if you two want some time,” Patrick offers.

“Aw, Patrick! You’re such a gumdrop!” Alexis links her arm with David’s before he can escape into the safety of Rose Apothecary.

They walk down the sidewalk, away from the Cafe and the store. They make it to the corner before David breaks the silence, asking, “...so?”

“I feel like I should be asking you that,” Alexis says, snippier now that Patrick’s gone. David wants to keep provoking her, to see how much pushing it takes for her to regress into something familiar, but— you’re so proud of her, now, Patrick had said.

They walk another block in silence. He finally asks, “Where are we going?”

“I’m following you,” she says, and then realizes. “Oops.”

 She turns, an elegant pivot she perfected back in their pageant days. She sits on the steps of the rundown Town Hall. He sits beside her, and together they stare at the distant vanishing point of the horizon line.

In his head, he still feels thirty. That’s younger than Alexis is right now.

“Dad told me you want to leave,” she says. “If you do that, you’ll literally be as dumb as Jay-Z cheating on Beyonce.”

“Jay-Z cheated on Beyonce?” David gasps, appalled, but she barrels on.

“Like, what if you do divorce Patrick, huh? And then you get your memories back! But it’s too late— he was so sad he became an astronaut. He’s colonizing space, and you’ll never see him again.”

“Okay, Patrick didn’t even know his star sign, so I don’t think—”

“Um, neither did Vlad or Henrik, but you know what happened when I dumped them?” Alexis asks, pointing skyward. He follows her finger, staring at the cloudless sky. Her knee knocks against his, so he thinks she’s kidding, but he makes a note to double-check NASA’s recent breakthroughs anyway. 

He asks, “You really think he’d be space-travel sad?”

Alexis groans, yanking a hand through her hair. “Yes, dumbass! Oh my God!”

“And if I never get my memories back, is that a doomsday cult situation, or does that only happen to your exes?” he asks, holding his wrists to his chest in parody of her. She rolls her eyes, and he says, quieter, “What if I’m never the person he wants?”

She says, like it’s simple, “Well, you could at least try to be.”

He swallows. He has tried that before, over and over, and he’s never been enough for anyone. Let alone someone who has an idea of him, hopes and expectations, someone David could truly disappoint.

She jabs her elbow into his side. “Please think less loudly or I’ll need a Xanny.”

“If you have Xanax, you better share, because I need it more,” he warns.

 There’s a long silence, and then Alexis says, “You and I did go back to New York, you know. Four months ago.”

“Really? And we didn’t handcuff ourselves to a street corner?” 

“It was for a wedding, but Christopher left Evie at the altar; everyone saw that coming, it was boring. So we just had days in the City and it sucked, David. You moved up our flights, even though it meant flying out of Newark instead of JFK.” 

He’d eat airplane food for the rest of his life before he’d travel out of Newark. But he thinks about last night, how David slept with his head on Patrick’s chest, how Patrick noticed his cold toes and tucked them between his warm calves. He thinks, maybe.

Alexis’s voice shakes. “And when we got back to Schitt’s Creek, you told me it was good to be home.”

David stands. He extends his hand to help her up, because she wobbles sometimes in the Saint Laurent wedges. But she gets to her feet on her own and strides back towards the main street like she knows he will follow.

When they get to Rose Apothecary, she hugs him on the doorstop. She boops his nose and says, “Answer my texts, okay? Don’t be a stranger.”

***

David has never been an early riser, but waking up in Patrick’s embrace makes getting out of bed near impossible. When David’s alarm goes off, his arms tighten around David and he mumbles, lips to David’s neck, “Mm, don’t go yet,” so David is thirty minutes late.

When he arrives at Twyla’s, she perks up. Her excitement doesn’t dim when he falls asleep during their first breathing exercise, or when he can’t touch his toes. She chirps, “Could be worse! Last time I did yoga with you, Alexis seduced my boyfriend.”

The next morning, David wakes up to Patrick stroking his hair. Patrick murmurs, “Time to get up. I made you coffee,” and falls back into bed as David climbs out of it. He walks to Twyla’s, cradling the warm cup between his palms, and thinks that no one has ever cared for him so well or so loudly.

He and Twyla chat as they move through poses. He can tell he wasn’t friends with her before, because she only knows the things about him everyone knows: the plummet from wealth, the store, the husband.

“Okay, sorry I’m not a pretzel,” he huffs as Twyla presses on his shoulders. “Human beings don’t make that shape.” 

Now he’s thinking about pretzels. Twyla chuckles when his stomach growls.

After yoga, they walk to work together. He follows her into the Cafe, and he feels transparent and brittle as glass when he asks, “Can I get one of whatever Patrick orders to drink?”

 Twyla says, “Of course! Let me make you breakfast first, though.”

 “Um, thanks, but I’m not hungry,” he lies, but when she walks into the Cafe kitchen he follows. It’s immaculate, probably because it’s mostly filled with freezers. David is pretty sure the manufacturer’s sticker is still on the oven.

“I’ll make something fresh,” she says, and reaches for Liquid Egg Product.

Exasperated, he asks, “God, what are you making the rest of the time?”

 He watches her season and scramble the eggs. When it’s nearly finished, he asks, ‘When you had amnesia, did you get all your memories back?”

“I’m not sure,” she says, and uses her spatula to divide the eggs onto two plates. “It’s not like I’d know what I’d forgotten, right?”

“But someone would tell you.”

 She shakes her head as she walks the plates to a booth. “Nope, everyone was really busy— my second cousin got his eye taken out on a turkey hunt, which led to a paternity test, and then the media caught the story… Hoo boy, I bet I don’t have to tell you what fame can do to people! Jerry Springer split his interview with us into four episodes, and my amnesia didn’t even get a line.”

“Oh God,” David says. His stomach twists, and it’s not from the smell of Liquid Egg Product. He recognizes something of himself in her— except he packs his wounds with humor, whereas she lets hers heal in the open air and no one thanks her for it.

So they eat breakfast together, and after, she asks, “Do you think the yoga is helping?”

 David shrugs. “I mean, it hasn’t made anything worse.”

She clears their plates and starts Patrick’s tea. He watches each step, wanting to memorize how Patrick takes it. Twyla notices him watching, and starts to narrate what she’s doing. “So now it needs five minutes of steeping. Here, take a few extra tea bags for later.”

David has the tea on the counter when Patrick arrives to open the store. He looks charmed, and reaches for David’s face before he stops himself. “Sorry.”

 “For what?”

“I mean.” Patrick sips the tea, stalling. “I don’t want… it to be too much.”

No one has ever worried about being too much for David: it’s always David who’s being too much. He leans into Patrick’s side and says, “Have you met me? I live for excess.”

So Twyla is decent, and he likes that they weren’t friends before. Doing something new feels like escaping quicksand to finally tread new ground.

***

It’s a long drive to Elmdale Hospital for David’s first follow-up with the neurologist. He tries to do the yoga breathing Twyla taught him, but all he remembers is laughing with her about pretzels. Patrick notices and takes his right hand off the wheel, resting it on David’s thigh.

“Why don’t we catch you up on music?” Patrick suggests. “There’s a playlist of your favorite songs on my phone.”

 David finds it. After listening to Patrick sing along to a few songs, he realizes, “Wow, you’re like… really good at that.”

Patrick’s singing cuts off into laughter. “I told you I was in Cabaret.” 

“Okay, but Alexis was in Cabaret? So I know it didn’t necessarily require talent.”

“I was not Kit Kat Girl Number Six,” Patrick says, and now David is fantasizing about him in lingerie. His thigh twitches under Patrick’s palm.

“Did my mother drag you into it or is performing a thing for you?”

“I’d been in a musical or two before.”

David scrutinizes him. “Danny Zuko?”

He’s picturing himself as Sandy, all dolled up in leather with teased hair as Patrick croons you’re the one that I want

“I was the Teen Angel, actually.”

“Yum,” David says, before he can stop himself. Patrick blushes, dusty pink on his farm-boy cheekbones. And then David remembers, “Speaking of Beauty School Dropouts, Alexis—”

“Yeah, she texted me about her get-together tonight,” Patrick says. 

“Are we attending?”

 Patrick shrugs. “Your call.”

 David takes a deep breath, contemplating it. He’s not sure if he’ll be up to socializing later tonight, but Alexis pitched it hard in her texts: there’s a boyfriend she wants him to meet.

Patrick glances away from the road. “Actually, can you turn the music off?”

 “Sure,” David says, even though a Tina Turner song he adores just came on.

The car ride is quiet and peaceable as they cross into Elmdale. It feels like a scene from someone else’s life: the golden morning sun in Patrick’s hair, the glint of his wedding ring against the leather steering wheel, the absent-minded way Patrick rubs the inseam of David’s ripped jeans. David wonders if this is the life he had and lost.

 He shatters the moment. “You’ve never told me about us.”

The warmth in the car chills like they’ve passed under a cloud. Patrick’s hand freezes on David’s thigh, and David traps it there under his palm before Patrick can take it away. Measured, Patrick says, “You’ve never asked about us.”

 That’s true. Patrick promised him perfect honesty, but David would rather survive in a polite fiction than learn an unbearable truth.

“Just tell me one thing. A nice thing,” David decides. He realizes his nails are digging into Patrick’s hand and forces himself to let go. But Patrick doesn’t stop touching him, just taps his fingers against David’s knee, deep in thought.

“You came in Ray Butani’s office for help starting Rose Apothecary, and from the moment I met you I knew that I wanted you.”

***

The doctor frowns, voice somber as she asks, “No recovered memories?”

He watches Patrick flinch as she explains what that could mean for David’s prognosis.

They’d known this, hadn’t they? It’s like being abducted: if you aren’t found within twenty-four hours, odds are you’ll never be found. Or you won’t be found as anything but a corpse in a shallow grave, seven to ten years later.

David had always tried to make sure Alexis was found within a day.

“Okay,” Patrick says, “Okay. Thank you. We’ll see you next appointment.”

 ***

Patrick drops him off at a coffee shop down the block from the hospital and says he’ll be back in two hours. He kisses David’s cheek as he says bye, and David is so dazed that he forgets to ask for cream in his coffee.

David’s nosiness overwhelms his better judgement when Patrick returns. Patrick laces their fingers together, David’s still warm from cradling his mug, and David asks, “Did you have an appointment too?”

Patrick squeezes his hand. “Yeah. I see a therapist.”

You don’t have to tell me, David almost says, but stops himself. Patrick knows so much about him, and David knows so little in return. He would’ve guessed about therapy, if he’d thought about it— Patrick seems well-adjusted, though David is a bad judge of that. Everyone seems well-adjusted compared to his family.

“I was depressed for a long time, before I moved to Schitt’s Creek,” Patrick says, matter-of-fact like he’s sharing his favorite color or birthday— neither of which David knows.

“So it’s not because of—” David gestures at his head.

Patrick laughs. “Well, I’m increasing the frequency of my appointments for now, yeah.”

David chews on that for the drive back. He’s seen lots of therapists, for no reason in particular other than a restless certainty that life should feel better than it does. He’s never gotten much out of it. You have to want to improve, one had told him, but David has never been one to embrace change.

Alexis had said, you could at least try.

 Patrick seems like a trier. Something fond and protective clenches in David’s chest, a feeling he usually only gets for his family.

 Patrick’s phone chimes with an incoming call. He lets go of David’s hand to answer, holding his phone to his ear. 

“Hey, Mom. I’m in the car with David,” Patrick says.

David perks up and tries to hide it, staring out the car window at the American Gothic landscape whizzing by. He tries to picture the type of woman who would raise someone like Patrick. Oh God— he tries to picture that woman meeting Mom.

“No, don’t be sorry— I shouldn’t have called in the middle of the night. I’m glad it didn’t wake you,” Patrick says. “Yeah, the appointment was fine. I’m driving, though. Okay. Yes. Love you. Tell Dad I love him too.”

Patrick hangs up and turns on the radio, hands at ten and two on the wheel.

David contains himself for as long as he can, which isn’t very long. “I didn’t hear you get out of bed.”

The teasing sounds forced when Patrick says, “Well, you were drooling, so that makes sense.”

“Were you nervous about the neurologist?”

 There’s several beats of silence, before Patrick admits, “Yeah.”

 “But you didn’t tell your mom that,” David says, trying to understand.

“I don’t want to upset her. They worry.” 

“They don’t like me?” David asks, and it makes sense that they’d worry, with how he is. He can’t imagine raising a strong, sturdy son like Patrick and watching him end up with someone like David. 

Patrick snorts. “They adore you. You call my mom more than I do.”

Huh.

“Oh, I— that’s nice.” David says, and he knows he’s blushing so he leans his face against the cool car window.

“I wish we saw them more,” Patrick says. David isn’t sure what a normal amount of seeing a parent is: it was sometimes months before he was on the same continent as his parents, and then apparently they spent years separated only by an unlockable door. “But it’s tricky to leave the store, and they work so hard too.”

David smiles to himself. “That makes sense: you clearly got it from somewhere.”

At that, Patrick reaches again for David’s hand, and David plays with his fingers absently for the rest of the drive.

***

“She didn’t say she invited Mom and Dad,” David hisses to Patrick, when they walk into Alexis’s boyfriend’s apartment and see his parents beside Stevie on the couch. Alexis also neglected to mention several other important factors, like the fact that her ‘gathering’ was a Game Night and everyone would be in sleepwear. “And I told you— didn’t I tell you? I only wanted to see her again if she wasn’t wearing pajamas!”

Patrick is biting his lip, eyes crinkled in amusement. “Oh, you told me. You were pretty emphatic— I promise I passed it along to her in the strongest of terms.”

 David’s eyes narrow at Patrick. He’d thought Patrick looked underdressed, in a white t-shirt and sweatpants, but now it looks like David was the one with the wrong dress code. David shakes out his wrists. “Well, I am feeling very ganged up on.”

“Poor baby,” Patrick says, “Wine?”

David’s face twists as he pretends to consider, and then he relents, because wine. “Please.”

Patrick’s pour is generous. Of course, uncorking summons Alexis like a genie out of a bottle. She’s dressed in a nightie like she’s having a sleepover at the Playboy Mansion. David told Mom that all the time in the Children’s Grotto was going to mess her up.

“I hate you,” David complains. “I’m going to tell mom about the time you lost her Ritani earrings in a game of strip poker.”

“Um, I won those earrings back eventually, thanks.” Alexis filches his glass and knocks it back with an elegant gulp. Unfazed, Patrick pours David another.

Alexis calls a guy over. “So, this is Ted!”

“Hi, David!” Ted’s arms are outstretched like he’s expecting a hug. After a moment, David shakes his hand. 

Ted clasps David’s hand with both of his. He leans in and whispers, “Hey, Alexis mentioned you’d been feeling anxious. I worked with you last time— come by my clinic whenever.” 

“You’re a doctor?”

 “Uh, no. I’m a veterinarian.”

“Wow,” David says, word stretched. “Ted, what a horrifying offer. Still— congratulations on having the best first impression of any of Alexis’ boyfriends.”

“Ugh, David! You were a drug mule one time!” Alexis says, and flounces off.

“She was glad to see you the other day.” Ted looks at David, blue eyes piercing. Then he smiles and walks away, calling over his shoulder, “I’m glad you’re feline better!”

 On second thought, David may have preferred being a drug mule. He stamps his foot, turning on Patrick, whose face is trembling with suppressed laughter. “I thought you said we liked this guy for my sister!”

Patrick grins. “You’re not impressed?”

“No!”

Patrick’s shoulders shake as he laughs, and he ducks so his face is hidden against David’s neck. He murmurs, “Yeah, I think he was nervous— that was worse than usual. But he is good for Alexis.”

David rubs his hand up Patrick’s back. “Well, I guess I already knew you had questionable taste.”

Patrick presses a kiss to David’s neck, the collar of David’s floral gray button-up the only barrier between Patrick’s lips and David’s sensitive skin. “I don’t have questionable taste.”

 “Children!” Mom calls from the table, “Please, my pajama vest will only be creased for so long!”

 Ted has a vast selection of board games, presumably from whatever generic catalog he furnished his entire apartment with. There’s seven players, though, the the options are limited.

Alexis holds out Monopoly. “What do we think? Aww, Dad, you’d get to own real estate and develop little motels!”

 Dad looks at David, face slack. God. He’s going to flinch every time someone lands on Mediterranean Avenue, isn’t he? He’s got no control over his face: David almost suggests poker out of spite. 

David snaps, “Let’s not.”

Patrick looks at him questioningly. Stevie says, "One motel is enough, thanks. How about blackjack?”

“Yeah, I have cards!” Ted says, smoothing the moment over as he takes the Monopoly box from Alexis.

“I’d like to veto any games anyone has played to save their lives,” David says, and that gets Alexis to smile again.

“Is that really a limiting factor?” Patrick asks, right as Alexis goes, “Well, that rules out half of them, David!”

Alexis removes several games from the table, one by one, then makes a loose gesture at David. “Same for you!”

With a scowl, David takes Trivial Pursuit and drops it to the ground with a thud.

“Oookay, we’re talking about that one later,” Patrick mutters. Silently, Stevie leans over to top off his wine glass.

 “Dear God,” Dad says, staring at them. “You two are terrible at board games: why would you ever…?”

“Oh, John, let them have their youthful exploits,” Mom dismisses. She never likes to hear about what they’ve done in her absence, like they’re extras on Sunrise Bay, left in pause every time she makes an exit.

Alexis complains, “I’m quite good at them, clearly!”

They play the remaining board games and make a night of it. Patrick is terribly competitive, which is fine, because the only competition David cares about is out-drinking Stevie—  and he’s winning.

“Let’s get you some water,” Patrick says, after David’s flailing attempt to roll dice knocks both of their wine glasses over. He pulls David into the kitchen. David lets him, feeling relaxed and pleased as he stares at the back of Patrick’s head. He tries to sit on the counter and misses, so he sits on the tile floor while Patrick rummages for a glass.

“We could play charades next, since you like acting,” David drawls. Patrick gives him a confused glance as he runs the ice dispenser, so David says, “Roleplay.” 

“Oh, Jesus,” Patrick groans, handing David the water glass. He’s flushed from the wine but getting pinker, and David has always been an agitator.

“Y’know, the first thing you said to me was basically to call you Professor Brewer,” he says, and laughs when Patrick drops his face into his hands.

“Just managed to repress that, thank you very much.” Patrick’s eyes are mischievous when he peeks at David from between his fingers. He’s so beautiful. He’s got nice hands that David wants all over, and right now those hands are on Patrick’s handsome face; the gold of his wedding ring against the brown of his eye; David likes that, likes him, a lot.

“Are you good at repressing things?”

“You have no idea. Drink,” Patrick says, and shuts him up by putting the glass of water to his lips.

When they emerge from the kitchen, Stevie is passed out on the Pottery Barn sofa and his parents are saying goodnight. For a drunken minute, David looks around the room and is overcome with nostalgia for this moment even though he’s right here. Alexis must see it on his face, because she hugs him tight and whispers, “Told ya so.”

 ***

Patrick is showering. David wanders to their kitchen and contemplates drinking a cup of coffee to sober up. But the rack of K-Cups is empty, even though they’d had four yesterday afternoon. 

His imagination conjures Patrick: leaving their bed in the middle of the night, drinking terrible coffee alone, listening to his mother’s dial tone. It’s unbearable.

David pulls out his phone, staring at Marcy Brewer’s contact.

Finally, he dials.

***

“Um, hello. Mrs. Brewer, you don’t know me but— wait, you do! Sorry, this is so—”

“Hi, Marcy?... Do I call you Marcy?”

“Mrs. Brewer, it’s David calling. David Rose. I’m… with your son? Patrick Brewer?”

“Hi, this is David. I’m calling to invite you to visit this weekend. I think Patrick would really like to see you. Also, please delete the other voicemails and just listen to this one, thanks. If you’re available, you can call me back and coordinate, my number— um, you have my number. Okay... Ciao."

***

David [3:43 PM]: so were you going to tell me that Patrick was sporty spice or was I supposed to find that out when I saw him in baseball pants

Stevie [3:45 PM]: lmaooo

Stevie [3:45 PM]: am I scary spice

David [3:46 PM]: stevie this is a crisis please focus

Stevie [3:48 PM]: you’re such a baby

Stevie [3:48 PM]: ...spice

David [3:49 PM]: EXCUSE YOU I’m posh spice

Stevie [3:50 PM]: that’s Alexis

Well, isn’t she just wildly unhelpful. David drops his phone as a customer walks in. He helps her pick a bath bomb, and then returns to his texts.

Stevie [3:55 PM]: your dad was really weird today at the Rosebud meeting, do you know if something’s up 

David’s stomach clenches. He hadn’t known, when he told Dad to look into selling his share of the motel, what it would mean for Stevie. He hadn’t even met Stevie yet, or known he had a best friend. He feels guilty anyway. It takes him a few minutes to compose a casual reply.

David [4:08 PM]: he’s always weird. idk. you’re the one who hired him just fire him

Stevie [4:12 PM]: Oh no, we have a sturdy contract. I can’t get rid of him and he couldn’t get rid of me if he tried.

 David stares down at his phone, feeling tacked up and displayed like a butterfly on a pinboard. As if David needed one more thing to worry about today, Christ.

It’s probably nothing. Tone is so difficult over text.

David [4:21 PM]: come to Patrick’s baseball game with me?

Stevie [4:22 PM]: ofc

***

“Wow, I thought she liked him?” David watches Ronnie taunt Patrick on the field. She’s doing a victory dance so complicated it must be practiced, full of incomplete gestures, like it’s a special handshake that Patrick isn’t reciprocating.

“Why did you think Ronnie liked Patrick?” Stevie is incredulous as she roots around his popcorn bag with one hand, shielding her eyes from the sun with the other.

“She and her wife dropped off a casserole,” David says absently, watching Ronnie do the Charlie Brown.

Stevie whistles. “Damn, a casserole? Bet Patrick lost his shit.”

 David’s eyebrows raise, because Patrick totally had, and he has no idea why. It was a good casserole. But then Patrick is up to bat, and David focuses on that. Team Cafe Tropical has been behind for the last several rounds or whatever, and David is getting the impression that Patrick is a very sore loser. 

Patrick must hit the ball well, because Ronnie curses as he takes off running.

“Go team!” David hollers, and Patrick beams at him from third base.

David glances between his phone and the parking lot, and Stevie asks, “Are we expecting someone?” 

He swallows. Stevie will know exactly what this means: he may as well hired a skywriter or put an ad on the radio to broadcast his feelings. “Patrick’s parents.” 

Stevie’s eyes go wide. “I didn’t know they were coming.”

“Neither does he,” David says. He leaps to his feet and knocks the popcorn everywhere. He paces up the bleacher. “Oh my God. What have I done? Should I call and ask them to turn back?”

“Woww,” Stevie says, “You’ve got it bad.”

“Hush!” David taps his shushing finger against her mouth, and she pretends to bite him. “Oh, ew!”

“You did this before. Threw him a surprise party, too.”

 “I don’t throw surprise parties,” David snaps.

She shrugs at him, and recounts the whole ordeal, from Dad outing Patrick, to his meltdown with her in the Cafe pantry before the party began, to the uneaten crab cakes.

David swallows. “Well. That story is making me question many actions I’ve taken in the past few days, and also in my entire life.”

His phone begins to ring. He shoves it at Stevie. “Answer it!”

“I’m not answering it!”

It’s a moot point: there’s a smack of bat against ball, and then the players are moving. But Patrick is sprinting in the wrong direction, away from home plate, towards the parking lot, into his mother’s arms.

The referee is clearly at a loss until Ronnie walks over and mutters something. Then the ref shouts, “Safe!”

 “How?” Roland complains, and Ronnie elbows him into silence.

Stevie pulls David’s hands out of his own hair. “Hey, it’s okay. Seriously. Ready? Let’s go.”

She leads him over to Patrick’s parents. Marcy and Clint are both hugging him now, heads curled together, a Renaissance painter’s ideal of familial love. 

David is shaking. He wishes he knew what to do with his hands— he should have brought them a gift, obviously, what was he thinking— “Hi. I’m David Rose.”

The Brewers look up at him.

Patrick’s eyes are damp.

“Oh, David,” Marcy says, and then she’s hugging him as well.

She smells soothing, like vanilla lotion and fabric softener. Something about the way she strokes his hair shocks the terror right out of him. David wonders how Patrick can bear not seeing her often. He wonders what Patrick would leave behind to make her happy, and what she would let him.

It’s a long hug, David realizes, and steps out of her arms. “Thank you for coming. I hope the trip was okay.” 

“We had plenty entertainment for the drive,” Clint says, grinning at David, “You know. Voicemails.”

David’s jaw drops and his laugh is shocked. Marcy swats at Clint, scolding. “Honey!”

“Wait, what?” Patrick asks, looking between them. “David. You did this?”

 David nods, arms curled around himself. Stevie comes closer, a steady presence at his side. Voice cracking, he says, “I’m going to let you all have some time.” 

“Wait,” Patrick says, and catches him by the shoulders. Their chests are a handbreadth apart: David can feel his heaving chest with each inhale. Patrick smells like sweat and fresh-cut grass, and David wants him. His face is impossibly still, impossibly solemn, impossibly soft. Patrick is impossible, a miracle, and he’s staring at David like he is one too. “Thank you.” 

“You too,” David whispers, and forces himself to walk away.

***

David spends the rest of the day at the Cafe high-top, stress-eating soggy french fries with Stevie faster than Twyla can make them. Twyla is a great, terrible listener. He catastrophizes aloud to her, and she returns each scenario with a worse story that actually happened to her.

Patrick calls him while David is polishing off his fourth plate. “Hey, hon. You coming back?”

It’s the first time they’ve talked on the phone. David’s eyes close and he smushes the phone closer, delighted by Patrick’s tinny voice in his ear. “Yeah, okay.”

He hadn’t planned on coming back tonight. He reserved a room at the motel, so the Brewers could get quality time with Patrick without him there to interfere. But he hasn’t gotten any better at telling Patrick no, so Stevie drives him over.

He stares at the Brewer’s car in the driveway for several long minutes. The fries churn in his stomach, and he vomits in the bushes.

He hustles inside to brush his teeth, waving at the Brewers as he walks by the living room. Patrick follows him into the bathroom, resting his chin on David’s shoulder and his hands on David’s waist. “You good?”

 David spits. “Yep.”

“Kinda seems like you threw up.”

“Oh, God, can you smell—” David says, waving his hands frantically over the counter before he spots the mouthwash.

“No, no, you’re fine,” Patrick soothes.

 “Don’t worry. I’m just stressy.”

 “I always worry when you’re stressy,” Patrick says, rubbing his hands up and down David’s sides.

“Mm, that must be quite a time commitment for you.”

Patrick rolls his eyes at David. He looks rumpled, like he’s been hugged and patted and doted on. It’s a good look on him.

David looks at his reflection and sees the stupid expression on his face. Fuck, that’s not what he looks like when he looks at Patrick all the time, right? He’s not that obvious?

“I got a room at the motel, if your parents want to stay there. Or… I could stay there, and you could be with them.”

“That was thoughtful,” Patrick says, but he looks flustered at the suggestion.

David bristles. It’s not like he wants to be congratulated. He’s not pleasant or thoughtful the way Patrick is, but at the very least he knows that guests deserve places to sleep.

“Shocking, I know.” David shakes loose of Patrick’s embrace. “Okay, let me pack some clothes. I’ll handle the store tomorrow, you enjoy the time with them.”

Bag slung over his shoulder, he goes to say bye to Marcy and Clint. His heart drops when he sees them inflating an air mattress, because of course they planned on him being thoughtless too. He’s glad he vomited earlier, or he would now, all over their blue linen sheets. “Um— Marcy, Clint, I’m heading out, you really don’t have to—”

Marcy drops the fitted sheet and walks over to him. She’s wearing old-lady jeans, the type with an elastic waistband, and she looks so comfortable that David adores it. She peeks around him to see the empty hallway, and then murmurs, “You’re so sweet to offer, David.”

 “I insist, actually—”

“— and he’s not going to ask, but I think it’d mean a lot to Patrick for us to be all under the same roof.”

David blinks. “Oh. Okay.”

He pivots on his heel and runs back to the bathroom, where Patrick is getting ready for bed. He beams when he sees David, starting to speak, but David cuts him off. “So there’s an air mattress situation happening right now.”

Patrick’s face dims. “Well, if you want to stay at the motel, of course you can…”

David is going to smack this guy. “Patrick! We can’t let your parents sleep on an air mattress in our living room!” 

“They don’t care,” Patrick says, sounding genuinely confused. Maybe the Brewers sleep on lots of air mattresses. No— David bets they camp. He bets Patrick gets his hiking from them, and they all sleep on the ground. Gross. 

“I care,” David realizes, “Oh, fuck, I care. We need to sleep on the air mattress, huh? That’s how this ends?”

“You don’t sleep on—” 

“Air mattresses, couches, or planes, yes, we know,” David says, impatient. “Damn it. Well. Just for tonight.” 

Patrick stares at him. Then, slowly, he reaches to cradle David’s face in his palm. David closes his eyes and leans into the touch.

“God, I’m so—” Patrick’s voice cracks, and his hand drops. “Can I have a minute?” 

David’s heart is racing. He nods, throat swollen closed, and shuts the bathroom door behind him.

David spends eighteen minutes trying to persuade Marcy and Clint away from the air mattress. He’s unsuccessful until Patrick emerges from the bathroom, pointedly tells his parents goodnight, and turns off the lights.

There’s slivers of light coming in from the window facing the street. In the faint orange streetlight, David can barely see the wet sheen of Patrick’s eyes. Before Patrick can climb onto the air mattress, David asks, “Can you sleep on the couch?”

Patrick is just a silhouette, but David watches him tense. “Of course. I’m—” 

David thinks he’s about to apologize, like he thinks this is about what he almost said in the bathroom. And he’s right: it is. But David says, “What if your parents get up for water or something? You want them to see us cuddling?”

Patrick settles onto the couch, a foot higher than the air mattress, his head on the cushion nearest David’s head. David’s toes are already cold and lonely.

Patrick’s chuckle is low into the night air. “They’ve seen us worse.”

“Oh my God, I’m going to the motel,” David says, and pretends to roll like he’s going to get up and leave.

“Sorry, sorry,” Patrick says, laughing. His hand is dangling off the couch, right in David’s eyeline. So David reaches up to hold it, and like that they fall asleep.

***

He sleeps as well as expected on an air mattress, exposed in the airy living room. He slips in and out, fuzzy, unsure what is reality. At one point, he thinks he hears the sound of the refrigerator being opened, three clinks of dishware against the counter. So scared, someone says, and isn’t that someone David, lost in this town of familiar strangers? Don’t know what I’ll do if he leaves me, and David drifts away, sure now that he’s hearing his own voice. He dreams about the stars, and Patrick searching for something among them.

Get some sleep, I’m sorry I woke you, goodnight. When Patrick walks back into the living room, David fumbles, eyes-shut, until he finds the corner of the blanket to peel it back. “With me?”

“You awake?”

 “No, dreaming,” David mumbles. Patrick smooths the blanket back over him, and sleeps on the couch.

***

In the morning, before he leaves for yoga with Twyla, Marcy holds him tight and whispers, “Thank you for taking care of him.”

***

Patrick looks wrung-out after saying goodbye to his parents, leaning against the wall behind the counter with his eyes closed. “David… I don’t even know what to say.”

“You could say thank you,” David teases. One of Patrick’s eyes opens.

“Don’t be smug,” Patrick says, but he comes up behind David to hug him, murmuring into his hair, “Thank you. This meant so much to me.”

He gives David one last squeeze before letting go and teasing, “But— no more surprises, maybe? I don’t think my heart can take it.”

 For a moment, David is overcome with the urge to tell him everything. He’s sure it’s written on his face, but Patrick’s eyes are shut again. He looks more content than David has ever seen him, and in the end, David just can’t bear to ruin it.

***

David has been craving chicken parmesan. They have a small kitchen, and Patrick navigates it with the steps of a well-practiced dance. David gets in the way, at first on accident— but then on purpose, because each time he does, Patrick moves him bodily, just puts David where he wants him with a check of his hip or a hand on each bicep. It’s so fucking sexy.

I’d tap that, David thinks for the thousandth time. It’s weird to remember that he has. More than weird— it makes him want to crawl into the cabinet under the sink and never emerge, even though he’s never been shy about sex before. Probably because David has never slept with anyone who respected him, or treated him nicely. Or who decided they wanted to marry him after.

David decides to get out of Patrick’s way after all. He pours them each a glass of wine and sits on the counter, watching Patrick cook, watching the movement of his shoulders and hands as he flattens the chicken breasts and coats them in egg-wash.

Every so often, Patrick glances at where David is sitting. His eyes catch on the insides of David’s thighs. David’s knees splay wider on the counter.

There’d be space for Patrick to get between them, if he wanted to. 

“My hands are gross, can you—” Patrick asks, jerking his chin towards the wine glass David poured him. David lifts it, and Patrick saunters over. Instead of getting between David’s legs, though, he stops at David’s side and sets his lips against the rim of the aloft wine glass. David tips it back and watches Patrick’s throat move as he swallows.

 Patrick finishes the glass, and David lowers his hand.

“Thanks,” Patrick says, and gets back to cooking.

David finishes his glass too.

 The next time Patrick checks him out, it’ll be obvious he’s turned on.

“This is how we always end up,” Patrick chuckles as he covers the chicken in seasoned flour. For a second, David thinks they’re talking about his dick now, but then Patrick finishes, “You supervising while I cook.”

“Mm, I hate to be predictable,” David says, voice pitching down an octave. Patrick flushes. “How do we keep the romance alive?”

Patrick waggles his clumpy, breaded fingers at David. “This sexy date night isn’t doing it for you?”

“Do we have date nights?” David asks, curious. If Patrick spends all day at Rose Apothecary with him and climbs into bed with him at night, it’s hard to imagine him giving David his free time too. 

Patrick smiles at him, a soft, lived-in thing. “Yeah. Fridays.”

The wine is warm and tingly in David’s chest, and David’s face heats under Patrick’s gaze. “Then we’ve missed two.”

Patrick takes a shaky breath. He walks over to the sink, washing the flour and egg from his hands, up to his elbows in citrusy Ajax suds, then dries them on the towel.

David just watches, hope welling in his chest. 

Patrick stands between David’s knees, putting his hands on David’s hips. He tilts his head back to look up at David, and David can hardly breathe. Patrick is a goddamn vision. His skin is backlit and glowing from the wine, and his eyes are yearning, but David can’t look away from his lips. The clean shave, his Cupid’s bow, the merlot stain. He watches those lips smile as Patrick asks, “You want me to take you out?”

David swallows, then nods.

 The split-second before a kiss is David’s favorite part, more than caressing or groping or even fucking. He likes crackle of anticipation in the air. He likes the devastation of inevitability, the moment when he realizes it’s happening, the beat where he craves it in the luxury of knowing he can have it.

Patrick steps closer, pressing David’s thighs open wider. David’s ankles lock behind his back, reeling him in and keeping him. Patrick’s hands smooth upwards to splay on his back. David leans down. Patrick leans up.

They kiss.

It’s sweet and chaste, just gentle pressure. David is stunned by the way his body reacts to the feeling of Patrick’s lips on his own. It’s a revelation: he is a key on a kite, and Patrick is a bolt of lightning.

He gasps into Patrick’s smile, and he can feel Patrick shudder in response. The kiss deepens as David parts his lips. One of Patrick’s hands rises to clench in David’s hair, and he tilts David’s head with all the confidence he used to manhandle him around the kitchen. It’s more than David has ever had, and it’s still not enough.

The oven chimes as it finishes pre-heating.

 When Patrick pulls back, their lips part with a slick noise. Patrick’s eyelids are heavy and his mouth is shiny. Patrick promises into the half-inch of air between them, “I’ll take you out.”

He leaves to put the pan of chicken into the oven. He looks thrilled, radiant, but it’s clear he’s not wrecked like David is. Because David just had the best kiss of his life, whereas Patrick has had that kiss a thousand times.

God.

Patrick sets the oven timer for twenty minutes. David can get a lot done in twenty minutes. “Kiss me again.”

“But I haven’t even taken you out yet,” Patrick teases. Infuriatingly, he goes to the sink and begins to wash the dishes there. His button-up is rucked from David’s roaming hands, and the back of his neck is rhubarb pink.

“Please,” David says, the word falling easily from his lips even though he’s never begged for something so chaste as a kiss before. 

Patrick’s eyes are dark when he turns. But he says, “David. We should take this slow.”

“How slow can you be? We’re married.”

He doesn’t realize what he’s said until there’s a clatter as Patrick drops a dish in the sink. Patrick strides across the room and clutches David, sudsy hands ruining David’s sweater, his mouth hot on David’s. If the first kiss was a lightning strike, then this is a solar flare: David is scorched beyond recognition.

When Patrick bites at his bottom lip, they both groan. David gets his hands under that button-up, nails digging into the muscles of Patrick’s lower back. He admits, “I’ve been dying to touch you.”

 “Me too. You have no idea,” Patrick says, and the throaty desperation in his voice echoes in the kiss he crushes against David’s lips.

No one has learned David before: he’s never been with someone paying enough attention to discover what gets him hot.

But Patrick has learned: he is writing a treatise with his fingertips and each press of his lips. David has to pull away to pant, chest heaving with frantic breaths. Patrick moves to his jaw, then lower. He tongues at David’s neck and it’s so fucking good: wet pressure that makes David’s vision blur, makes him cry out.

Patrick pulls back with a muttered “Fuck.” He stares at David’s bruised lips and says it again, the word tangled, “Fuck.”

“We could,” David says, even though Patrick said slow. Patrick gives him so much, compliments and a sleeping embrace and fidelity, why wouldn’t he want to just fuck David?

“I— I want to.” Patrick tilts his face closer, eyelashes brushing David’s cheek and lips ghosting over David’s. He whispers, like he can’t help himself, “Christ, you’re beautiful.”

 Patrick’s resolve looks paper-thin, like the distance between their lips. He’s going to kiss David again, and then—

Patrick gives David so much, and he takes so little in return. David has been watching, noticing, waiting for the catch. But he’s only asked for David’s consideration in things that affect them both, like following a budget or taking things slow.

All Patrick asks for are things he needs to take care of himself. David wants to take care of him too, like Alexis said he could if he tried, like Marcy said he does.

“We are going slow,” David reminds him, hiding his face in the crook of Patrick’s neck, arms tightening around Patrick’s waist. 

“Right,” Patrick says, sounding dazed. “We are going slow. Also, we should have dinner.”

“Also dinner, that’s important,” David agrees. “If you want… we could kiss some more, later?”

Patrick laughs breathlessly. “We can kiss whenever you’d like."

***

 Dad [7:23 PM]: Hello, David. Hope you are well! Call me. News. — Dad

Dad [9:51 PM]: Are you there? Let me know when to expect you.

Dad [10:32 PM]: David?

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Group Message: The Moira’s Rose’s Family

Mom [7:04 AM]: X X

David [7:06 AM]: Are those good morning kisses? Should I turn on the news?

Alexis [7:07 AM]: if you’re sexting dad may I remind you AGAIN that you’re in the wrong chat

Mom [7:08 AM]: I’m just telling you how I feel

Mom [7:08 AM]: Which is DOUBLE CROSSED

Mom [7:11 AM]: Would you like to know why

Mom [7:13 AM]: Because I am awake at this ungodly hour for a family meeting neither of you attended. Your father and I are very disappointed.

Alexis [7:14 AM]: literally what meeting

Mom [7:14 AM]: You have the memory of a guppy, dear. We planned it last night. *screenshot.png*

Alexis [7:15 AM]: o my god you guys have a second family group chat??

Mom [7:17 AM]: Nevermind. Your absence is excused. David?

David [7:20 AM]: Okay, how was I supposed to know that apparently we’re a punctual family now? I can be there in an hour.

Alexis [7:22 AM]: I’m helping at the clinic don’t start without me

***

The cuffs of Patrick’s pajama pants drag on the tile floor as he shuffles into the kitchen. Despite the fact that he’s exhausted and his stomach is queasy, the sight makes David smile. He hadn’t noticed those pants last night, but with the morning sunrise spilling through the kitchen window it’s clear that they’re David's Tom Ford pajamas.

 Patrick gravitates to David’s side and says, “You’re awake early.”

 David’s actually just up late. He tossed and turned for hours before he gave up on sleeping entirely and got out of bed, not wanting to disturb Patrick. “Yeah. Couldn’t sleep.”

 “Me neither,” Patrick says.

 David winces. He spent an hour this morning practicing in the mirror what he’ll say to Patrick after he’s met with his parents: I’m ready to stop living in the past and start building my future. I’d like to do that with you, if you’ll have me. He did not come up with a script for what he’ll do if, in the twelve hours since they kissed, Patrick already has— “Regrets?”

 “Uh, no.” Patrick’s lips twitch. He walks over to David, pressing him back against the kitchen counter. Patrick leans in so slowly that David can’t bear it, rushes in to meet him halfway in a kiss. It’s just a split-second before Patrick pulls away, but David’s eyes stay closed, savoring it.

Patrick hums. “You taste like ice-cream.”

David’s eyes pop open. “And you taste like morning breath—”

But it’s too late. Patrick steps on the foot-lever of the trash can. The lid opens to reveal the empty containers of Half Baked and Cherry Garcia that David stress-ate earlier. “Really, David? Two pints for breakfast?”

So David’s upcoming confession may not be the only reason he’s feeling queasy, whatever.

“Regrets?” Patrick teases.

“None,” David says, and wraps his arm around Patrick’s shoulder. Patrick tucks himself into David’s side. David strokes his palm up and down the bumps of Patrick’s spine, and he goes boneless.

“Mm, stop or I’ll get sleepy,” Patrick says, even as he nestles closer, muffling a yawn into David’s shoulder.

The kitchen turns golden with the rising run. Patrick is the perfect height to rest his head in the crook of David’s neck, like David was made just for him. He wants to stay here with Patrick in his arms forever and ignore the rest of the world.

David takes a deep breath, and it jostles Patrick out of dozing. “I need to stop by the motel and see my parents, but what if... we don’t open the store today, and I come back here to you?”

“God, I wish,” Patrick says, “I’ve got vendor pick-ups all day.”

David’s heart sinks. Having time to ruminate has always made him less prepared, not more. “Okay.”

Patrick pulls away to stare at David’s face, brow furrowed. “Is it okay?”

“Yeah. Just come home when you’re done? I’ll pick up dinner.”

Patrick nods, disentangling himself from David. “If you want, I can drop you off at the motel on my way to do pick-ups. Just let me get dressed and pack a lunch real quick.”

 In the pantry, there’s a navy Jansport lunch bag. Patrick Brewer is sharpied on the inner flap, as if David had any doubts. The writing is worn, and he can picture Patrick bringing it to a school cafeteria, in his dumb varsity jacket, sitting with a mix of theater kids and jocks.

It sends an achy twinge through David. He’s thinking of Adelina, now. She packed his lunches with a note until he was too cool for it and asked her to stop.

Patrick is a creature of routine: David has watched him pack the same lunch each day they’ve brought them instead of going to the Cafe. So David assembles it, and the only thing he does differently is cut the crusts off Patrick’s sandwich because he never eats those anyway.

 There’s something clawing at David’s throat. His fingers twitch for his phone, because he wants to take a picture of this and send it to Adelina, but he stops himself. He’s a grown man. It’s pathetic to want someone to be proud of him for making a sandwich.

Patrick returns, dressed and ready for the day in his button-up and loafers.

 “Was Adelina invited to our wedding?” David asks.

“Of course,” Patrick says. “There’s this video of you dancing with her granddaughter that I just…”

 David blinks. “I didn’t know she had a granddaughter.”

“Right. She’s five.”

He hands Patrick the lunch bag, and Patrick peeks inside. His face twists. David can’t tell if he’s holding back a smile or laughter or what. “You made my lunch.”

 “Yeah,” David says, because obviously.

“You cut off the crusts from my sandwich.”

“You don’t eat them,” David says, and then realizes what a fucking weird thing that is to notice, let alone to act upon. He flutters his hands towards the lunch bag, hesitating and uncertain. If Patrick doesn’t want this, David would rather throw it away than talk about it. “And now that I’m saying it out loud, I realize that was stupid of me.”

 “It’s not stupid,” Patrick says, sealing the bag and cradling it like he’s worried David is going to snatch it away.

“A little stupid,” David says, stubborn.

Patrick shakes his head, disagreeing, but he says, “Whatever. Maybe it is. I wouldn’t know— if there’s a limit to how stupid I’d be for you, I haven’t found it.”

“We should go,” David says, because his phone is buzzing endlessly with messages from his family. He finds the car keys in the dish on the counter and fiddles with the leather keychain. “...how stupid?”

Patrick tilts his head back, directing his embarrassed smile at the ceiling. “Uh. Well. I haven’t told you this before.”

David waits, breath caught in his throat.

“We chose this place together, after we got engaged, right? And… the day after we signed the lease, I got up into the crawlspace to put moth repellent in all the exterior vents.”

“Oh,” David says, voice cracking. You could ask me for the Brooklyn Bridge, Patrick had said, and David thinks he’s only even begun to glimpse the edges of what that looks like. God. Where had Patrick even come from, and how did he end up here?

“I hurt my wrist getting down, but we were already scheduled to move in— so you did it, carried all the boxes, and you didn’t complain once or ask why everything smelled like potpourri.” Patrick laughs, still staring at the crown molding along the ceiling. The affection in his eyes leaves David winded. “If I hadn’t already proposed— Jesus, I would have right then.”

At that, David has to kiss him. He cups Patrick’s face, thumb stroking his cheekbone. When their lips touch, David feels the same undertow of emotion that wrecked him yesterday.

Being the center of Patrick’s attention is devastating. One of the first things David noticed about him was his single-minded fierceness: he’s seen it everywhere from the store to board game night to the neurologist’s office. But seeing it is nothing like having it all directed at him. Patrick is the sun, dazzling, and David burns.  

Patrick pulls back to murmur, “David.”

He waits for more but Patrick leaves it at that, like he just wanted the taste of David’s name on his lips.

“Honey,” David hums back, then stills. He’s never said that before, except as a listed ingredient in food and face masks. For a moment, he’s even more embarrassed than he was about the crusts— it’s not sexy, and it’s not ambiguous— but Patrick makes a small, desperate noise in the back of his throat. He presses closer, pushing David against the counter, and leans back in to kiss him harder.

The tender skin of Patrick’s neck is right there, inches away from David’s lips: of course he can’t help but lean down to suck on it. That makes Patrick’s fingers dig into his back. When David bites down, Patrick shudders, so David keeps going.

“God, that’s—” Patrick groans, and then his fingers are tangled in David’s hair, pulling him away his neck. The sting is perfect. He knows just how to touch David.

David wants to learn everything Patrick likes too; to touch him everywhere; to luxuriate in this while he can.

“We’re really good at going slow,” David murmurs. Patrick’s laugh is gorgeous, amused and turned on, and that’s great, that’s what David wants— to make him happy and make him feel good.

“Last time we said slow, we made it five days... it would have been two, but I lived with Ray.”

“You lived with—” David begins, and Patrick cuts him off with another kiss. He cradles David’s face in both hands, tilting his head exactly how he wants him. It’s an all-consuming, unrelenting kiss: a kiss meant for the end of the world. It’s also their fifth kiss. David has been counting.

David’s phone buzzes, and this time the vibration pitches it off the counter.

David doesn’t care, couldn’t care less— but Patrick extracts himself to pick up David’s phone.

 “Jesus, you have a hundred messages from your parents.”

“I’m late.”

“Evidently,” Patrick says, “Ready?”

David shakes his head, trying to get his mouth back on Patrick’s. Five kisses isn’t enough. “I could be later.”

Patrick just laughs as he grabs the car keys from the counter. “Well, I’m not arriving to the vendors late. This hickey unprofessional enough.”

“Okay, that’s like— half a hickey, maybe,” David says, but he follows Patrick to the car.

Patrick drops him off in the motel parking lot, and David reminds him one more time, “Dinner tonight.”

“Yep, all yours.”

***

The round dining table is set with cinnamon rolls and printed agendas. David shakes his head as he picks up the paper. “So. Clarifying question. When we had fifteen minutes to save some personals from repossession, you went for the Rose Video letterhead?”

 Dad is power-posing, leaning over his chair to set his palms flat against the table. It isn’t intimidating. No wonder Eli thought he could rob them blind. “It was a business decision, son! The gravitas of the—”

Mom settles into the chair beside David and picks up a paper. “Oh, is this our script?”

“It’s an agenda,” Dad corrects, “We’re making business decisions as a family, so we need an agenda to keep us on track.”

It would take an act of God to keep any of them on track, and maybe not even then.

“Ugh.” David drops his head into his hands. He needs a third pint of ice-cream. “Can we please just get started?”

Dad says, “First, our team vision— David was right when he said we were getting complacent here, and that’s just not the Rose family way!”

Did David say that? That doesn’t sound like David. He thinks what he actually said was why haven’t we gotten the fuck out, but that’s probably not up to Dad’s vision-statement standards.

Dad frowns when this doesn’t rouse the resounding cheer his boardroom of yes-men would have given, but continues. “The town has been valued at three million dollars.”

Three million dollars, to restart their lives. Dad had spent one million, once, on a piece of a paper he gave to David as a joke. “That’s it?” 

“Our investments have tripled its value, David, that’s quite a lot. So there are a few potential buyers, and we need to screen them to find the one in the town’s best interest.”

“So, like, not someone looking for a terrible gift for an elementary schooler?” David teases, and that makes Dad rub his temples.

“Well, I’d say this was one of my more successful gifts, David,” Dad says, like that bar isn’t limbo-low: once, he gave David a trained falcon in a vast misunderstanding of David’s aesthetic appreciation for birds. “Screening will take some time, so in the meantime everyone can get their affairs in order.” 

The front door slams open and Alexis walks in. “Oh my God, the family meeting is about an affair?”

She’s glowering at David. He throws his hands up. “Why are you looking at me?”

“Then did you get in bed with Roland again?” Alexis asks Mom, making a face as she flops into the seat beside David.

David cries, “Oh my God, did you get in bed with Roland ever?”

“Come on, that’s enough, kids,” Dad says.

“Wow, I can’t believe Mutt is kind of our step-brother now,” David says, and Alexis swats his arm.

Dad cuts them off before the bickering gets worse. “Alexis, we’re meeting to discuss selling the town. Look, there’s an agenda, if we can all just stick to it—”

“Selling the town and leaving?” Alexis asks, face drawn in worry. 

“I just—” David begins, and they all turn to face him, heads swiveling in near unison like a three-part whole. And he thinks about them leaving, and how they’ll always have something he doesn’t, memories of a time when they were truly together. Even if they all get apartments in the same building, it will never be like this again.

“What?” Alexis prompts.

 David has already forgotten what he’s going to say. This place is claustrophobic. He needs air. He can’t believe they all survived living in these close quarters; he can’t believe he’s going to miss it, even though he doesn’t remember having it.

His chair falls over as he jolts to his feet. He races toward the side door, but it’s locked, and then he doesn’t know why he came over here at all.

Dad’s shoulders slump as he exits CEO mode. He stands behind Mom’s chair, settling his hands on her shoulders. She reaches up to hold his hand in return. “Son… if you want to amend the agenda…”

“Shut up about the stupid agenda,” Alexis mutters, staring at her nail beds.

David wants to storm off, out the front door this time, but then he won’t come back and they’ll have to start this all over. He rights his chair and sits back down. 

Mom skewers him with a look. She reminds him, “You implored us to do this.”

David swallows, curling his arms around himself. “I know. I just, I didn’t know what it meant, when I did.”

He isn’t used to having anything to lose.

“You could have told us you changed your mind,” Mom says, sharp. “I may have played one the critically-acknowledged season fourteen of Sunrise Bay, but I am not a mind-reader.”

 Alexis makes an irritated noise, finally looking up from her hands. “Uh, don’t think you had to be a mind-reader to catch that one!”

“Who said I changed my mind?” David snaps, because he needs to try and build a life somewhere, and he can’t do that in this graveyard. He’s always been going to New York. He’s just going to try and take Patrick with him, if he can. And maybe Stevie.

 “So what do you want us to do, David?” Dad asks.

David stands. “I want all of you to do absolutely nothing until I talk to Patrick tonight.”

***

The rest of David’s day is terrible. Patrick is away with vendors, so he has to fend for himself at the store. Gwen stops by looking for cream to treat rope-burn, not for herself, of course, for her internet friend, which is a whole ordeal. Then he’s trapped behind the register for hours, unable to even take a lunch break. He’s certain that in the hubbub Roland shoplifted something, but he can’t prove it, and it’s pissing him off.

He takes the long way home, trying to cool off, wanting to get his head on straight for his talk with Patrick. He’s putting his keys in the lock when he remembers that he promised to pick up dinner. He groans, thunking his head against the front door, and ow that hurt.

Twyla lets him bitch to her over the phone for the walk to the Cafe. She steps outside to give him the food, and she’s added an entire cheesecake to the order. He tries to pay but she winks and says, “Oh, this one is on your dad’s tab.”

David drops the fucking cheesecake on the walk back to the apartment. His dismayed shriek causes lifted blinds and opened doors, and he hurries away from the concerned Neighborhood Watch. 

When he sees that the parking lot is still empty, his stomach twists. It’s terrifying. He shouldn’t be disappointed that Patrick isn’t home. He should be— relieved, maybe, that he doesn’t have to face the music just yet. Or even indifferent, because David is good at being alone: he’s had lots of practice. He likes it, even. In New York, there would be weeks where he would take a detox from everyone, when all he needed was a book and a case of wine.

He turns on a movie. He can’t follow any of it, but it’s half-finished by the time he hears the front door swing open.

David’s heart stutters as he walks into the hallway to see Patrick.

Patrick is holding a bouquet of wildflowers. He lights up when he sees David, like his day was also worse for not having David in it.

Terrifying.

“Hi. Rough day?” Patrick rocks on his heels like he’s about to hug David, but thinks better of it at David’s expression. He puts down his briefcase and toes out of his loafers.

 “Yeah,” David admits, and his voice cracks. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

 “Okay. Put these in water?” Patrick says. In his trouser socks, he pads closer to David to hand him the flowers. David lifts them to his nose and inhales. There isn’t a poppy in the bunch, but it smells exactly how David imagined the poppy field smelled from Wizard of Oz, when he watched that movie as a child: something so intoxicatingly sweet that Dorothy would lay there until she died.

 It’s the first time anyone has ever given David flowers.

 He leaves to find a vase. When he gets back, Patrick is opening a door David had assumed led to a coat closet.

It’s a hidden washer and dryer. David watches as Patrick crouches to scoop clothing from the dryer into the laundry basket. He takes it to the living room and settles on the couch, watching David’s movie as he begins to fold.

There’s a lump in David’s throat, watching Patrick turn his pajama shirt right-side-out. “You’ve been doing my laundry.”

Patrick laughs, folding the shirt into crisp lines and tidy corners. “Who did you think was doing it?”

That’s the worst part: it hadn’t occurred to David to wonder at all. 

“I— a lot of my things are hand-wash only.”

 “Yeah, I know which ones,” Patrick says. That’s a worse picture, Patrick hunched over a bucket, wringing suds from David’s sweaters while David didn’t even know to thank him.

“I don’t know these things, if you don’t tell me,” David says. Maybe Patrick doesn’t know that: most adults don’t need reminders that chores don’t happen by magic. Patrick would have noticed, if he put a sweater in the hamper and got it back in his drawer folded.

It’s like failing a test he didn’t know he was taking.

 Patrick stills. “I don’t mind.”

“I do,” David snaps. I’d like to build a future with you, if you’ll have me, David is going to say, and he really has been trying to be an option worth considering.

Now Patrick looks annoyed. “Then just help me fold, David.”

 David sits beside him on the couch and pairs socks as they pretend to watch the movie. Patrick smells like his day, like pine-scented candles and almond hand cream and laundry detergent. David wishes he could start the evening over, and he hasn’t even gotten to the hard part yet.

 Patrick knocks his knee against David’s. “Hey. I don’t expect you to know everything. It’s not a test— I wouldn’t do that to you.”

 Not knowing everything would be fine: David just doesn’t know a single fucking thing, is the problem.

“Okay,” David says. He’s holding the fitted sheet from the blue linen set Marcy got out, and he just can’t figure out how to fold the goddamn thing. He’s never folded a sheet in his life.

Helplessly, Patrick says, “I missed you today. I don’t want to fight about laundry.” 

David’s face crumples. It’s so stupid: he hasn’t cried once, not since waking up in a stranger’s body, and now he’s going to cry over bedsheets. He shudders as he exhales.

“Oh, sweetheart,” Patrick says, and pulls David into his arms. He squeezes David so tight they sway, rubbing soothing circles into his back. “It’s okay, shh, let it out.”

David can’t. He can’t cry, or he’ll be weepy and wrecked for days, and he still won’t have said a thing about leaving.

 He lets out a single, gasping sob into Patrick’s shoulder and then pulls away. He wipes his eyes, habit, even though they’re dry. “Haven’t eaten all day.”

“I’ll make dinner, just one more minute—” Patrick reaches to hold him again.

“I picked up dinner. I said I would.”

“Oh— you should have eaten.”

“I was waiting for you,” David admits, and it’s horrifically embarrassing enough to bring him to his feet, to propel him into the kitchen.

He returns with the bag from the Cafe. Patrick is staring at the ground, and then turns to stare at David. “So… this isn’t just dinner, huh?”

“Yeah,” David admits, throat burning. He sits on the couch, facing Patrick, legs tucked under himself. He’s forgotten every word he’s practiced.

They unfold their take-out boxes. David got lasagna. He’s never going to be able to eat it again without remembering this moment: he’s never going to be able to eat it again.

“Would you come with me to New York?”

Patrick’s voice is a husk as he answers, “No.”

It’s the answer David has been predicting, the one he’s been dreading, but somehow it’s still a suckerpunch. He sets down his fork. “Oh.”

And that’s it, isn’t it? That’s the final word on the most bizarre chapter of David’s life, a story he didn’t expect and didn’t choose and still didn’t want to end.

He gets up to leave. Patrick catches him by the wrist and pulls him back to the couch. “David. Wait.”

The smallest scrap of hope flickers in David’s chest, but it’s extinguished by the look on Patrick’s face as he asks, “Was it something I did?”

David is frozen solid: he could be shattered with one knock of an ice-pick. “No— God, Patrick, I want you to come with me.”

“Sure you do,” Patrick says, “Sure, how long have you been planning on leaving, exactly?” 

David’s eyes squeeze closed. He’s a terrible liar: he wishes he were a better one, for Patrick. “Since the start.” 

“The whole time. Right. Of course,” Patrick says. David has never heard that much anguish in a person’s voice before, didn’t think that was an amount one person could contain. “But how long have you been planning? With your parents?”

“Since the start,” David repeats, miserable. He’s a ruin: Ozymandias, the king of kings.

Patrick can’t be surprised by that, but he flinches with his whole body, curling in on himself. “And I’m invited the day after we kiss.”

“That’s not— no, that’s a coincidence, the timing—”

“Jesus Christ, David, I think I know you a little better than that.”

 David doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t agree that it’s just because they’ve kissed, but he can’t put the feeling in his chest into words.

Patrick scrubs his face with his hands. “And our store?”

If Patrick came with him, then of course David thought they’d sell it. Maybe David had thought, once, that they’d sell it even if he left alone— wring it dry for every last dollar. But now, all he can say is, “It’s yours.”

“Mine,” Patrick repeats, barely a whisper, just a flinch of his lips.

The words burst out of David. “You won’t even consider coming with me.”

“I’m not going to run away with a man who barely knows me, who I’m not sure will even want me next week— even a man I’m in love with.”

It’s the first time anyone has ever told David that they’re in love with him.

 David doesn’t know shit about love: he’s only said it twice before, and once was at a Mariah Carey concert. But he must have known, at some level, that Patrick wanted him enough to marry him. Not that marriage means anything, when it comes to love— of course there are loveless marriages, ones that start that way and ones that end that way— but at some point, Patrick wanted him that much.

It’s the first time that anyone has ever told David they’re in love with him, and now it’s just another thing to mourn.

“I’ll want you next week,” David says, because he can promise that. He can’t imagine not wanting Patrick.

Patrick’s elbows are on his knees, his face in his hands; when he shakes his head, his whole body shakes with it. “Not the way I need you to.”

Before, David lived in a world where he thought no one could ever be in love with him. Now, he’s in a world where he’s loved by the best man he’s ever met, and it’s still not enough.

“At least you get a choice— I just woke up, I opened my eyes and lost everything, I was a stranger— in this godforsaken town with no one I knew, not even my family, and married to—” David is nearly shouting now, but he manages to cut himself off before he says something stupid like the perfect husband. He changes tactics. “How can you tell me to stay, when you won’t even consider leaving with me—” 

David getting louder just makes Patrick speak more quietly. His whisper is razor-edged when he says, “When have I ever told you that you have to stay? I’m not your warden. Go.” 

The motion of Patrick standing is fluid. He gestures towards the door, and every line of him is rendered with fury and heartbreak.

“Now?” David asks, and he’s known this was coming: he’s been counting the days like an addict counts his last pills.

Somehow he’s still surprised when Patrick says, “Yes.”

 ***

The motel room is dark, just the orange glow of the streetlamp illuminating floating dust motes. The tiny beds are against a teal brick wall, separated just by two feet and a decrepit nightstand. There’s a no-smoking sign that clearly no one has obeyed.

It’s spotting a friend in a mob of strangers, only to get closer and realize there was no one you knew at all.

He sets down his overnight bag and collapses onto the bed nearest the door.

***

When David wakes up, he’s disoriented. He’s seeing multiples: Alexis sleeping in the other bed, Alexis pacing, Alexis rummaging through the closet, Alexis leaving to bother Mom and Dad.

He blinks. His vision focuses, and he’s alone.

Well, as alone as he could be in this room— he can hear the sounds of his family on the other side of the thin door.

He gets out of bed, somehow.

He remembered his toothpaste but not a toothbrush, so he leans over the stained motel sink and brushes his teeth with his finger. When he walks back into the motel room, the voices in the other room have fallen silent. He can see the shadows of their feet in the crack underneath the door.

He smacks the door as he passes and Alexis goes, “Ow, David!”

He gets back into bed.

***

In the morning, he’s woken by the clacking of Alexis’ nails against a keyboard. He chucks a pillow at her and misses. When she throws it back, it nails him in the face.

David covers his face with the pillow, trying to go back to sleep or smother himself, whichever way it goes. “Can I at least be miserable in peace?”

“Nope! If we’re doing this, we’re going to be excited about it.” Her voice is commanding, the way Dad’s would get when David complained on vacations. We’re having fun, he insisted when David burst into tears at Disneyland Paris at the sight of costumed characters.  

Alexis never had to be commanded: no one had to hold her at gunpoint to have fun, but she could still have fun being held at gunpoint.

She brings her laptop and sits at the foot of his bed. “I’m looking at apartments.” 

“Congratulations?” David mutters into the pillow. Alexis snatches it away, and his head thuds against the mattress.

 “Ones in Manhattan.”

 David sits up. “What do you mean? You’re coming to New York?”

“Duh,” Alexis says. “Like, I’m not letting you go alone, even if you are being stupid.”

David hadn’t wanted to go alone either, but he hadn’t considered that Alexis would want to leave with him.

“What about Ted?” David asks. Alexis has never been sad to leave a boyfriend before— options aren’t exactly in scarce supply for her— but when she said Ted was different, he had maybe believed her. 

She pats his wrist, condescending. “I think they might have animal doctors in New York too, David.” 

“So you’ve asked him to come.”

“Um, duh. Basically the second after you and Mom tried to pull a runner.”

“But you two are happy here!”

“Ted says ‘owl that’s gonna change is the scenery,’” she says, like it’s as simple as that.

 “Well, how nice for you,” David says, and lies back down. Of course she gets to have it all, New York with her stupid vet boyfriend, when David’s husband

 “David!” She pokes him hard between his ribs. “David! I don’t want to share a bathroom with you again. Do we need two or three?”

“Why would—” He sits up again. “Wait, are you saying you want to live together?”

They each had separate wings of the house, and then she went to boarding school at fourteen. He can’t imagine living with her. She’s still poking him, which isn’t making an attractive case for it.

“Obviously. I mean, as long as Ted and I get the bigger bedroom.” 

David just stares, overwhelmed at the idea of not having to miss her: this loyal, beautiful, ridiculous sister he’s still discovering. He clears his throat. “I hate you slightly less than I hate everything else right now.” 

He sees it coming and tries to dodge, but her nose boop is inescapable. “Aw, I hate you less too.”

***

That afternoon, Dad asks David to push the cleaning cart while he takes out the motel garbage.

“I would literally rather choke on my own vomit,” David says. 

But then Mom is patting his shoulder harder and harder until he stumbles off the couch. She says, “Taking out the trash could be exhilarating! There’s a lot to be learned going through someone’s garbage, as I always say.”

“I have literally never heard you say that,” David complains, even as he takes the rubber gloves Dad is holding out.

“Well, I couldn’t give away all my parenting tricks,” Mom says, winking.

“Ew!” Alexis cries, right over David’s, “Oh my God.”

So he follows, pushing the cart as Dad gathers the trash from each room.

 The rooms all blend together, assortments of clutter and suitcases and take-out boxes. People’s lives, completely separate from David’s. It seems impossible that his world is in upheaval and none of these people know. That the separation of a few thin walls is enough to suppress the earthquake.

Of course, given that they’re all guests at this motel, maybe some of them are wading through their own disasters. He’s in their rooms handling their garbage, and he still doesn’t know. The worst day ever just looks like a day, when it’s happening to someone else.

Dad clears his throat. “You know, the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing your mother is ten days. I’d be lost without her.”

“Yeah.” Everyone knows that. Even Buzzfeed knows that: there was a whole listicle, 52 Johnny Rose Moments To Restore Your Faith In Love, that was just gifs of Dad gazing at Mom.

“Even on our hardest days, I always wanted to see her. There have been rough patches, of course—”

“I remember,” David snaps. He thought that was one of the things they couldn’t talk about, like the four hours they thought Alexis was dead in Qumar, or the semester David left college to go to rehab.

Dad looks startled by the venom in David’s voice. “Most marriages do, sooner or later. It’s not the fight that matters, it’s the reconciliation.”

That’s not how David remembers it: in the year his parents nearly split, the fight mattered an awful lot for David. “We don’t have to talk about this." 

“I think we do,” Dad says, like they’re not dealing with strangers’ trash in motel rooms, “David, have you tried—”

That’s what Dad always thinks, when he’s disappointed that David can’t build anything that lasts: he thinks David’s not trying. “I did.”

“Patrick—”

“Not everyone gets to have what you do.”

***

They give David another day of moping in bed, and that’s it. Alexis goes back to living with Ted. His parents stop ordering pizzas, so he has to drag himself to the Cafe or use the motel room’s tiny kitchen. Mom takes him to the neurologist. There’s no news, but he still spends the entire car ride home agonizing over whether to text Patrick an update.

 He’s surprised by what he misses. He knew he’d miss Patrick’s touch, the brightness in his eyes when he looked at David, those five kisses, the way his whole body got in on the joke when they laughed together. But it’s the little things that ache the most— the smile Patrick made when he flipped the store sign to Open, the way he sang under his breath as he balanced the till, the sound of his practical loafers against tile when he came home. 

***

David hasn’t taken off his rings. Maybe when Patrick serves him divorce papers, or maybe not even then.

***

After a week, he’s worn every sweater he packed. He texts Patrick to warn that he’ll be stopping by the apartment. Patrick doesn’t respond, even though his read receipt pops up right away.

Patrick’s car isn’t in the parking lot, even though David knows he’s not at the store: Twyla says Rose Apothecary hasn’t been open for days.

The basket of laundry is still on the couch, the fitted sheet half-folded where David left it. The hooks that used to hang photos are bare. The dining table is strewn with papers: bills, income reports, and the lease for Rose Apothecary. There’s a framed receipt at the epicenter of the chaos. David looks over a spreadsheet marked with red ink until he realizes it’s calculating how much it would cost to buy David out, even though David asked for nothing at all. He drops it like it burns. 

David can’t breathe in here. He packs his bag of clothing, then sits outside on the curb as he texts Patrick.

David [2:58 PM]: where are you

Patrick [3:00 PM]: why

David [3:00 PM]: can I see you

Patrick [3:01 PM]: bob’s bench

 Twyla described that bench as where all her successful first dates end up, so David is picturing an elegant granite thing in a sculpture garden or something. Instead he finds Patrick behind Town Hall on a concrete bench, half-hidden by a cluster of trees.

He looks so tired. It’s how he looked before they started sleeping together, but David hadn’t known the wrongness of it then. Patrick doesn’t twitch as David walks over; doesn’t look at him. 

I miss you, David almost says, but there’s no sense in releasing that floodgate now, when there’s no end to missing him in sight. He sits on the bench with Patrick.

“Why did you want to see me?” Patrick asks, but not like he’s hopeful, just like he’s bracing for the sting of alcohol on a wound.

 David’s heart clenches. He realizes what Patrick must have thought, between packing bags at the apartment and the texts. He thought this was goodbye. “I don’t know. I just needed to see you.”

“Yeah. This is the longest we’ve been apart since I met you,” Patrick says, and he’s still not looking at David.

So David takes the opportunity to look at him: the lines of his handsome face, turned away from David; those beautiful hands, clenched in his lap; the movement of his ribs at every breath beneath his thin button-up. David wants to touch him so badly he might pass out.

David’s inhale is shaky. “I’m just so sorry. For everything.”

“Don’t be sorry for everything,” Patrick says, voice catching, “Just for getting on that ladder.”

“You’ll never know how sorry I am for that,” David says. He thinks he’ll never know how sorry either: that the sorriest out of them all is the David who doesn’t exist anymore.

“Alexis is going with you?” Patrick asks. 

“I think so.”

“That’s good. I’m glad you won’t be alone.”

David isn’t above begging, and for a minute, it’s close. He could get on his knees, and cry, and promise to make him love New York. He twists the ring on his fourth finger as he thinks about it.

Patrick catches his hand, stilling him. His fingers are so gentle as he angles David’s hand into the sunlight, just staring, like he wants to keep forever the memory of his rings on David’s fingers.

Patrick whispers, “I wish we had more time than we got, David Rose.”

And that’s how they end things together under the shade of the oak trees.

***

Lots of people have broken David’s heart, so many that the sting fades into a punchline: the model in Budapest, the photographer in Sydney, the ventriloquist in Westminster.

He doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to say the husband in Schitt’s Creek.

***

That night, Stevie comes by his motel room. He’s only seen her in passing, around the front desk, and in the hallway, but they haven’t really talked since everything fell apart.

She’s wearing a pair of white sunglasses, knockoffs of the designer clout goggles hiding David’s eyes. She doesn’t say anything, just gets on the bed and holds him as he sobs.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been here for you,” Stevie says, when his crying tapers off.

 “You’ve been with Patrick?” he asks, even though he knows, even though he’s glad for it.

“Yeah.”

David croaks, “Took him for Lover’s Curry at the spa?”

 “God, who told you that story.” There’s nearly a laugh somewhere in Stevie’s voice, buried under all the sorrow. “It’s not too late, you know.”

 It was too late from the moment a light bulb burnt out in Rose Apothecary and David decided to fix it; the moment he woke up in bed with a stranger who said come back, baby; the moment he responded you probably want me gone. It was always too late for David. The shock is that he ever got to have Patrick at all, not that he lost him.

His breath hitches, remembering the look on Patrick’s face when David left him on that bench. “He’s too tired, Stevie.”

“I’ve been tired of you from the day we met,” Stevie says, nudging him with her elbow. “You’re still my best friend.”

“You too,” David whispers.

She yanks the covers off him. “So we’re done being pathetic now, right? Get up. You have five minutes to shower.”

It takes David five minutes just to condition his hair. At his alarmed look, she warns, “I will come in there and drag you out. Also, your five minutes just started.”

He scrambles into the shower.

***

“I do love a botanical garden,” David admits after Stevie outlines their plan for the weekend, shifting in the lumpy passenger seat of Stevie’s car.

“Oh, I know.” Stevie’s smile is wobbly. “You also love polar bear shots.” 

David squints. “What type of garden is this?”

“The hotel has a karaoke bar.”

Ah. 

“How did we find this place?”

“There was a guy. At the time.” She speaks with a practiced carelessness that David recognizes. “It didn’t end well.”

“Like, on a scale of one to amnesia—”

“I offered to leave Schitt’s Creek for him but he was using me for sex. Is that a three?” 

David mulls that over. “Depends. How was the sex?” 

She takes her hand off the wheel to make a so-so gesture. 

“We can give that a five,” David decides. 

“He ended things at the Hospies, and then your dad saw me cry.” 

“Oh God. An eight.”

 ***

David does in fact love polar bear shots, and Stevie is buying.

It only takes three for him to get on stage. He’s no Mariah Carey, but he has half the bar in tears with his mournful rendition of “Without You.”

 Then everyone is buying them both more shots.

 ***

“Don’t you dare.” Stevie snatches his phone away before he can press Call.

***

In the morning, they lie on a picnic blanket beneath a cherry blossom tree. The branches sway in the wind, setting lush pink petals fluttering down around them, and it’s so beautiful David can hardly stand it.

David whispers, “Could I convince you to come with me?”

He hadn’t bothered asking her, not after Patrick said no: if he couldn’t get his own husband to go with, why would anyone else? But he can’t stop himself from trying now, because he’s never had a friend like her before. 

“I can’t,” she says, “But I’ll miss you, if you go. You’ve made this town survivable.”

***

Alexis said be more excited and Stevie said be less pathetic: David tries his best to listen to the both of them. He spends the rest of the week trying, and he doesn’t always succeed but at least he’s getting out of bed more days than not.

One morning he wakes up before dawn and, feeling like a man possessed,  goes for a hike on Rattlesnake Point. When he looks down it’s easy to picture Patrick’s sneakers against the worn trail. David hates exercise, the outdoors, and bugs— but he makes it to the clifftop, chasing whatever Patrick found there during his hikes. When he turns to leave, he half-expects to see Patrick there behind him, but of course there’s no one at all.

It’s reassuring and gruesome, knowing this level of hurt is one David can learn to accept.

***

There’s one potential buyer Dad decides he likes, a business woman with a detailed plan for vivification. They begin to negotiate the terms of the sale.

***

The neurologist says travel won’t be harmful for David.

As David leaves the hospital, walking out through the revolving doors, he sees Patrick walking in. He’d forgotten, somehow, that Patrick’s standing appointments were scheduled right after David’s. 

There’s an instant where they are just staring at each other, walking in opposite directions, separated by the glass walls of the compartments. Then David is outside and Patrick is inside. He watches Patrick get into the elevator.

He’s been drowning, and he hadn’t realized it until he got a gasp of air. 

Then the elevator door closes. 

Mom is waiting in the car. He stumbles into the passenger seat and says, “I just saw him.” 

She starts the car. They drive away from the hospital, and they’re on the highway before she speaks. “You know, I spent my precocious childhood trapped in a town much like Schitt’s Creek, hungering for the opportunity wield my considerable talents somewhere. I had to fight for everything I got. When I held you, my precious bébé, all I ever wanted was for you to have the choices I didn’t.”

David sinks back into the seat. “I know.”

Her brows furrow, and she says, “Well, not all I’ve wanted— I’ve wanted many things, particularly from the 2014 Valentino collection, but—”

“I know.”

“You do have a choice,” she says, and reaches over to pat his wrist. “It’s a frightful new life you’ve stumbled into, but if you want to… you can choose to keep it anyway.”

His heart is racing. He thinks of the way the light comes through the front window of Rose Apothecary; of laughing at the Cafe with Twyla; of Alexis striding down the sidewalk ahead of him; of Marcy and Clint teasing him like family; of the glint in Stevie’s eyes when she says something biting; of the apartment he’d started to think of as home.

But, more than anything else, he thinks of Patrick.

Patrick.

He whispers, “Oh, God. Patrick.”

Mom looks away from the road to stare at him. Her face crinkles, a shade too melancholy to be called a smile. She says, “You remind me so much of your father sometimes.”

“Oh, fuck,” David says, “I need to go save my marriage.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

David sits on the motel bed, staring down at Patrick’s contact in his phone, working up the courage to dial.

When he does, it goes straight to voicemail. His heart stutters at the sound of Patrick’s recorded voice, the professional clip to his words as he says You’ve reached… 

David tries again and again. Same thing.

The last text in their messaging thread was from Patrick, a week ago: bob’s bench.

David [4:26 PM]: Can we talk?

 Delivered, his phone says, and David waits for a read receipt that doesn’t come.

Patrick’s phone must be off. 

Fuck.

“Please,” David mutters to himself, “Come on, please.”

His phone goes to voicemail again. He leaves the motel and begins the walk to Rose Apothecary, his stomach tangled with anticipation and dread.

It seems impossible that David’s entire world has tilted an inch to the left, and Patrick doesn’t even know. Everything has changed: how does he not know? How could he not feel the world shifting on its axis?

If it even matters. It might be too late. Patrick might not choose him again.

The lights are on in the store. David hasn’t been in since everything fell apart, but even seeing the storefront sends a pang of relief through him. He re-acquaints himself with it, the brick and paint and glass. This is his, his and Patrick’s, something they built together.

But when he walks inside, it’s not Patrick behind the counter. It’s Alexis. 

“What are you doing here?” he asks. 

“Um, who did you think was here, with you two in Elmdale?” Alexis says. “Don’t worry. Ted knows he’s banned.”

David almost asks, but decides some things may be better off forgotten. “So where’s Patrick, then? I need to talk to him.” 

She startles, bringing her wrists up to her chest. “About what?”

“I’m choosing him. I’m going to stay.”

In a flurry of motion, she hurries over and throws her arms around him. David stumbles under her sudden weight. Into his shoulder, she mutters, “Took you long enough, dumbass.”

“Okay, great, thanks so much— where is he, though?”

Alexis pulls away and hops onto the counter, swinging her legs as she stares at him. “No idea. Oh my God. What are you even going to say to him?”

“I don’t know.” David’s voice cracks. “I don’t even know if he’ll—”

Alexis shoves him. “Well, you aren’t going to find out here! Go get him!”

Her car keys are right there on the store counter. He grabs them and races out of the store, shutting the door on her protest of, “Ew, David, I need those—”

He speeds to their apartment. Patrick’s car isn’t in the lot, but David parks and goes in anyway. He freezes in the front hallway. It’s in the same disarray it was the last time David was in here. There’s a dusty stillness to the air.

For a gut-wrenching moment, David wonders if the only place in Schitt’s Creek that Patrick returns to is the store. If he’s leaving this life behind like David tried to.

But then David thinks of him at the hospital, the split-second of staring through the separation of glass. Patrick was still wearing his ring. David’s sure.

Stevie must know where he is. David calls her, listens to the dial tone, and then the message that her voicemail box is full. Damn it. She wasn’t at the motel, so she’s probably at her apartment. Wherever that is.

He gets back in Alexis’s car, grips the steering wheel, and wills muscle memory to take over.

Nothing.

He drives back to the store. Alexis is outside, locking the door behind her. She shouts, “I’m going to murder you!”

David rolls down the window. “I need a favor!”

“Oh my fucking God,” Alexis snaps, “What now?”

“Can you drive me to Stevie’s?”

Alexis’s face twists in annoyance. She gesticulates at a squat building across the intersection. “It’s literally right there, why do you need a chauffeur—”

“Thank you!” David shouts as he stomps on the gas and peels away.

“No, leave my car— ugh! David!”

Muscle memory does take over, once he’s standing in the stoop of the building. His feet carry him to Stevie’s front door.

He only has to knock once before it’s swinging open under his fist.

And on the other side, it’s Patrick.

They just stare at each other. Patrick’s eyes are puffy, and he’s changed out of the outfit he was wearing this morning into a stained t-shirt and sweatpants. His mouth falls open at the sight of David. He’s the most gorgeous man David has ever seen, and David wants him so badly, more than he’s ever wanted anything in his life.

Stevie is tiny, but she shoulders between them like she’s a bouncer. She’s got a TV remote in one hand and an unopened bottle of whiskey in the other. Her eyes narrow. “Why are you here?”

David can’t look away from Patrick. The words tear out of his throat. “I’m staying in Schitt’s Creek. I want to be with you.”

“Good answer,” Stevie says. She tosses the TV remote behind her into the apartment and waltzes past David into the hallway, still holding the whiskey.

Patrick stumbles half a step closer as if by gravitational pull.

David breathes, “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

“David,” Patrick says, voice ragged.

“Tell me if I’m wrong here—” David lurches closer, and Patrick meets him in a desperate kiss. They press together so hard it hurts, David’s own teeth biting at the inside of his lip, and David wants him closer still. David never wants to leave, and Patrick clutches at him like he would never let him go.

Eventually, Patrick pulls away. He’s still close enough that their noses nudge together. David’s eyes go unfocused trying to look at him. He watches Patrick blink like he’s waking up from a dream. “We need to talk.”

“Anything,” David says. Patrick clasps David’s hand and he pulls him over to the couch.

Patrick’s head tilts back as he stares at the ceiling for long minutes. David waits for him. Finally, he says, “You’re staying?”

“I’m staying,” David promises.

Patrick’s inhale is shuddery. “Did something fall through with the sale?”

“No.” David winces. For all his disbelief that Patrick could think highly of him, it aches to see that stripped away. “No, I’m choosing to stay. I’m choosing you.”

“I’m so confused, David,” Patrick says, voice cracking. “You wanted to leave. The whole time.”

“Yeah, that was really fucking stupid of me, it turns out.”

Patrick hides his face in his hands. Muffled through his fingers, he says, “You called my parents. You slept with me. You cut the crusts off my sandwiches. The whole time— you wanted to leave, and now you want to stay?”

David exhales, the breath knocked out of him by the pain in Patrick’s voice. “Yes.”

“What changed your mind?”

“Something new every day,” David says, thinking of the hollowness that mounted in his spine each moment they were apart. “Enough to realize that I made a mistake with you.”

“You want to be in this godforsaken town, surrounded by strangers,” Patrick says, voice sharp and bitter around David’s own words, “Married to—”

“Married to you,” David finishes, “Yes, all of that, if it means being married to you.”

Patrick’s hands fall away from his face, and his eyes on David are searching. “Really.”

“Yes. I’m staying for you,” David says, and then he’s staring the photo on Stevie’s coffee table. His arms are around Patrick and Stevie, who are in Cabaret costumes. There’s an awkward tilt to David’s hand on Patrick’s shoulder, like he's twisting to be sure the camera catches his rings. Blurred with motion in the background are his parents, holding out flowers for Alexis. David whispers, “I’m staying for me, too. I want to be better. I want to be closer to the person who built this life and deserved it.”

Patrick shakes his head. “You always deserved—”

“So,” David interrupts, “I’ll be here. You have as much time as you need to decide.”

Patrick reaches for him, hand ghosting over David’s face. David’s eyes fall closed, and it’s difficult to resist leaning into him. But they don’t touch, and finally Patrick says, “Yes. I just… I just need some time. To process.”

***

Dad is waiting in the motel room when David returns. He lights up at the sight of David. “How did it go, son?”

“I’m trying,” David says. Dad folds him up into an awkward embrace. David can’t remember the last time they hugged, but after a minute, he sinks into it.

Dad sounds choked up when he says, “You make me so proud.”

 ***

For the first time, climbing into the small motel bed doesn’t make David dread waking up. There’s a faint hopefulness flickering in his chest. And for once, he doesn’t stomp it out.

He’s closing his eyes when there’s a knock at the door.

It’s probably Alexis, staying to make sure he doesn’t try and drown himself in the sink. Or Stevie, hopefully with the whiskey—

He opens the door.

“You’re here,” Patrick says. His hair is damp and he’s in cotton pajamas. There’s a tiny cut on his jaw that looks like it’s still stinging, like he was in the middle of shaving before he decided to come see David.

“You’re here,” David echoes. “Come in.”

Patrick is holding an overnight bag. The flicker in David’s chest ignites into a full flame.

“We need to talk more, in the morning,” Patrick warns even as he’s shuffling toward the bed.

“Of course.”

“But… I don’t want to spend another night without you.”

David blushes, warm and furious. “Me neither.”

He stares at the motel bed, trying to figure out how the two of them could fit on there. But Patrick just climbs in and curls onto his side. David lays next to him and they share one pillow, limbs entwined.

He wants to take off their shirts, be skin to skin— not even for sexy reasons, just because he can feel the heat of Patrick through their pajamas and he’s desperate for more. He doesn’t realize he’s tearing up until Patrick thumbs at the corner of his eye. Then they aren’t just cuddling: David is being held.

Patrick presses a kiss to David’s hair, and David thinks, how did I ever believe I could live without this.

“I—” David begins, trying to convey the unbearable swelling in his chest, to make Patrick understand how much this means to him.

“Shh, in the morning,” Patrick soothes, “Sleep now.”

 ***

Waking up in Patrick’s arms scrapes away all the pain of the past two weeks. As Patrick wakes up, David watches his brows furrow, his eyelids flutter, his lips twitch. Then he’s blinking and smiling when he sees David’s face, inches away from his. “Good morning.”

“Hi,” David manages. 

He can see the moment that Patrick remembers. He tenses and rolls out of bed. David lets him go. Some time to process, he reminds himself through the aching disappointment, some time, all the time he needs.

It takes Patrick half as long to get ready that it takes David. When David steps out of the bathroom, Patrick says, “Why don’t you open the store today, and I’ll bring you lunch.” 

There’s a guilty twinge when David sees Alexis’s car in the motel parking lot, right where he left it— it’s definitely her turn to take a selfish— but he suppresses it as he follows Patrick into his car.

It’s strange, sitting a foot away from him and not being touched. Patrick always reached for him while driving, like a flower starving for sunlight, holding David’s hand or resting a palm on his thigh.

David wonders if he used to touch Patrick like that too; if Patrick spent so much time reaching because he was used to David being closer.

It takes David a minute to muster up the courage, but then he reaches across the center console and puts his hand on Patrick’s knee. He stares, entranced by the gold of his rings against Patrick’s plain trousers.

When they get to the town’s one stoplight, Patrick looks down at David’s hand with a small smile, and his gaze stays there until the light is green.

As Patrick parks in front of the store, David says, “I’ll see you at lunch.”

“Right,” Patrick says. He stays parked and staring at David as he unlocks the store like it’s hard to let him out of his sight.

David opens the store. It’s a quiet morning, no customers, so David can get out his phone.

David [9:22 AM]: I’m fixing things.

Stevie [9:28 AM]: fucking finally

Stevie [9:53 AM]: Never doubted you would.

***

David is busy assisting a customer, but Patrick is impossible to ignore when he walks in with a bag from the Cafe around noon. His gaze is searing as David punches in numbers at the register. Then the customer is walking away with a receipt and Patrick is still just watching him, like he’s missed the sight of David behind the counter.

“Hi,” David says, breathless. 

Patrick walks over until he’s standing on the opposite side of the counter. David has never seen him stand there before, where the customers do— he looks overwhelmed, all contained in his loafers and button-up and gritted attempt at a smile. 

“Let’s eat in the back. We’ll hear the bell,” Patrick says, and David follows him behind the curtain. They sit across from each other at the desk.

Patrick sets the bag of takeout on the tabletop. “So. You’re staying. You want to be with me.”

It’s not a question, but David confirms it anyway. “Yes.”

“Okay. That… that can be enough,” Patrick says, and he puts his hand palm-up on the table. David grasps it, entwining their fingers. It’s a struggle to open the take-out boxes and eat one-handed, but they manage.

Patrick stays and works the store with him in the afternoon. There’s hesitance and longing in the way they orbit one another from opposite sides of the store. It makes David wonder about how they got together, whether this feels familiar to Patrick. From the moment I met you I knew that I wanted you, Patrick said. David watches him and thinks he must have always wanted him too.

After they close, Patrick rests his hand on the small of David's back. “Do you…?”

“What?”

“Do you want to come home?" 

“Please,” David says, because that is more than he’s been daring to hope for.

When they walk back into the apartment, everything is tidy: no laundry baskets in sight, the dining table cleared, even the photos back on their hooks. Patrick sees his surprise and looks away, fidgeting with the empty vase on the credenza. “That’s what I was doing this morning. Cleaning and moving back in.” 

“From Stevie’s?”

“She didn’t tell you I've been on her couch?”

“No,” David says. God. He knew he owed Stevie a lot, and he thinks he probably will never even know the extent of it.

“Let’s watch a movie or something,” Patrick says. He settles onto the couch, right where he was sitting when David told him about New York and said since the start. David would have avoided it, but he thinks that maybe Patrick is the type to push through the hurt.  

David hesitates before sitting beside him. “Is this okay—” 

“Yes.” Patrick leans into him, so David wraps an arm around his shoulder. David spends a moment, eyes-closed, just savoring the touch. Then it’s all too much and he’s reaching for the remote with his free hand for a distraction. 

Most of David’s mind is consumed by the line of Patrick pressed into his side, but eventually he settles into the familiar world of Notting Hill.

I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her, Julia Roberts says. Patrick twitches against David. Then David is remembering again the last time they were on this couch, when Patrick said a man I’m in love with.

Patrick reaches for the remote and pauses the movie. David protests, “Hey, I love that scene!”

“I know you do,” Patrick says, and there’s a flash of a wistful smile. “That’s why I paused it instead of talking over the movie.”

 “I mean, we’ll have to restart the whole scene, but okay.”

“I’ve been wondering…” Patrick clears his throat. “You don’t have to tell me.”

“What?” David asks, even as his pulse picks up.

Patrick’s eyes close and he leans his head on David’s shoulder. “What was the last day you remember?”

“Oh,” David says, surprised. His last day in New York is blurry, but not in the time-worn way. His whole life there is a blur, nights bleeding into mornings, a complete lack of routine, the only touchpoints being terrible break-ups or distress calls from Alexis.

But he tells Patrick about it: waking up in his loft, meetings with performance artists for an upcoming installation, lunch with friends who don’t merit footnotes now. Alexis was in Tokyo and not answering his calls, so he was worried about another run-in with the Yakuza. He had a booth at a launch party and drank so much it wasn’t a shock to wake up in bed with a stranger who was wearing a wedding ring. 

As David recounts it all, Patrick begins to stroke David’s arm with his knuckles. His eyes are still closed like he’s trying to picture this last day, and David wishes he wouldn’t. Finally, Patrick sits up and turns to face him. There’s a teasing lilt to his smile as he asks, “So, who were you dating?”

“It wasn’t serious,” David says, though Patrick must know that— must know how very few of David’s relationships were serious. “He was, um, an entertainment artist? One who specialized in... live slapstick comedy.”

Patrick breaks into a grin. “The birthday clown? You were dating the—”

“What, does that not end well?”

 Patrick cuddles back into David’s side. “Well, I don’t think it’s in your top ten worst break ups.”

“Mm, that doesn’t say much,” David says, pulling Patrick closer. Patrick reaches for the remote, but David asks, “What about you? What was your day like?”

Patrick exhales. “I think about that a lot,” he whispers, “You know. Trying to make sense of it all.”

 “Yeah?”

“It feels like there should have been signs, but… it was normal. I woke up with you. We opened the store and got lunch with Alexis. You fell, but it wasn’t— it wasn’t anything. You just got back up and took an aspirin, I didn’t— that night, we even— I don’t know. It was just a day.”

As much as David has lost— so very much, money, status, a lifestyle, everyone he knew— somehow, Patrick may have lost more.

“I want that with you,” David says, because it sounds like a great day, a day that would be a pleasure to have become normalcy. It was just a day.

“Then it’s yours,” Patrick says. He hits rewind on the remote, and they watch Julia Roberts plead for Hugh Grant to love her again.

 ***

That night, they curl together like facing parenthesis. Patrick strokes his face. Weeks ago, the first time they slept together, Patrick asked him what he would wish for: his memories back, or the life he remembered. David didn’t have an answer; couldn’t put words to the riot of emotion in his chest. Now David has his answer. Neither, he could say, or even more simply: you.

 “If I never get my memories back—” David says, and he can’t see Patrick’s face in the dark but he can feel him tense. “Will you still want me?”

“David,” Patrick says, pulling him closer, “I’ll always want you.”

But not enough to come to New York, when that was the only option besides losing him. “Not always.”

“Christ. Is that what you’ve been thinking?” Patrick sits up. “Let me turn on the lights, we—” 

“Don’t,” David says, turning on his side to face the other way. The way Patrick’s expression crumpled as he admitted he wouldn’t leave for David isn’t something he needs to see again. Especially not now that David knows that he would stay for Patrick.

The mattress creaks as Patrick lies back down. “That wasn’t why I couldn’t go.”

David swallows. “Then why?”

Patrick rests his hand between David’s shoulder blades. When David doesn’t shrug him off, he begins to rub his back. “Just because you woke up married doesn’t mean I expected that commitment from you. But I couldn’t leave my life behind with the— the extreme likelihood that I was losing you either way. Especially— we had just kissed, and I know your history with—”

“This isn’t a fling for me,” David says with scorching conviction.

After a long, taut moment, Patrick says, “I know that now." 

“Good.”

“Of course I want you to have your memories back. You’ve done amazing things, and you deserve to remember it. But even if you never do, I won’t stop wanting you.” Patrick is still rubbing soothing lines into David’s back, and it’s making his eyelids heavy. He’s just starting to drift off when Patrick whispers helplessly, “Are you… are you okay with that?”

David turns to face him, confused. “What do you mean?”

“That I’d want any version of you.” 

David pulls him closer. Patrick lets him, pressing his face into David’s chest and wrapping an arm around his waist.

“I’m glad you do,” David says, stroking his hair. Patrick inhales like he might say more, but David interrupts. He needs some time to process too, maybe. “Will you be here in the morning? Or are you going to hike or something?” 

“No, I’ll be here,” Patrick says, tangling his legs with David’s underneath the covers.

David whispers, “I went for a hike.”

He can hear Patrick’s smile in his voice. “Did you?”

“Yeah. I don’t know, I woke up and it was just like— I had to. I went to Rattlesnake Point. Have you been there?” He feels the mattress jolt with Patrick’s startle. “What?”

“I proposed to you there,” Patrick whispers. David remembers standing at the edge of a cliff and the certainty in his bones that when he turned around, Patrick would be there.

“Huh,” he says.

“Huh,” Patrick repeats.

 ***

David [4:32 PM]: help

David [4:32 PM]: I want to take Patrick out.  

Stevie [4:38 PM]: okay so like… do that

David [4:40 PM]: WHERE STEVIE

Stevie [4:41 PM]: literally anywhere lol

David [4:42 PM]: I couldn’t get a reservation in Elmdale

David [4:42 PM]: I just want to split a bottle of wine with him by candlelight why is this so hard

Stevie [4:44 PM]: I mean… Twyla would get out the candles if you asked.

 David’s annoyed huff makes Patrick sidle closer. He rubs at David’s back. “What’s up?”

“Well, the good news is that I heard somewhere that tonight is date night,” David says.

“Oh, you might have heard that,” Patrick says, and he presses a kiss to David’s shoulder. “Is there bad news?”

 “Yep,” David says, rolling his eyes. “Apparently there are two nice restaurants in Elmdale and they’re both booked. So our second first date is going to be at Cafe Tropical.” Patrick laughs, and David’s eyes narrow. “Was our…”

“Yeah. It was.”

“Wow.” David grimaces. “You must have been into me, to say yes to that.”

 “Mm-mm,” Patrick says, and tilts David’s face towards him. They kiss, and it’s lovely enough that David almost forgets the indignity of the Cafe. Almost. “Actually, I asked you out.”

David pulls away in surprise. “You did?”

“I sure did,” Patrick says, widening his eyes at David. “In fact, you didn’t even know it was a date.”

Yikes, David tries to say, but Patrick cuts him off with another kiss. Then he’s murmuring against David’s lips, “You invited Stevie to third-wheel,” even as he’s sliding a hand into David’s back pocket.

“This is all sounding very un-sexy,” David complains. Patrick’s hand slides back up to his waist, which isn’t what David wanted at all.

Patrick is laughing at him as he says, “Well, that’s good. We haven’t even had a second first date yet.”

They close, and Patrick starts to walk right over to the Cafe. David shakes his head. “Um, no. I’m going to need an outfit change into appropriate date attire.”

Patrick rubs the hem of David’s sweater between his fingers and asks, “Will it be another black and white sweater?”

“Rude,” David says, swatting his hand away.

While Patrick is getting dressed, David stands in their walk-in closet idly contemplating wearing a colorful sweater just to spite Patrick. Then Patrick walks in, talking to someone on his cellphone.

He looks devastatingly hot. God. He’s in charcoal slacks and a black button up, more fitted than anything David has seen him in before. David gives him an obvious once-over and mouths, goddamn. Patrick flushes, and David stares at the line of his arm as he holds the phone to his ear. There is literally nothing David wants to do more than to take him on a date and possibly suck his dick.

Patrick covers the phone mouthpiece and says, “So, Roland got ambitious with a can-opener and Jocelyn needs to take him to the hospital for stitches. She wants to know if we can watch Rollie." 

“Um, can we?” David says, trying to tamp down his panic. “Like, literally, are we capable of that?”

Patrick sighs. Into the phone he says, “Yeah, of course, we’re here.”

He hangs up, and David gestures frantically at their apartment. “Fuck, do we need to baby-proof?”

Patrick squeezes David’s shoulders. “Yes, we are capable of this, and no, he’s a preschooler.”

“Preschooler,” David repeats. Is that knee-high, maybe? “Can he talk?”

Patrick laughs. “He can talk.”

“Thank fuck,” David mutters. That’s good. He can tell them— things, express whatever needs a preschooler would have. What does a preschooler even need? Fuck, David will have to try not to curse, too, if Rollie can talk. 

“I’m sorry,” Patrick says, rubbing his hands down David’s biceps, “I would rather be having a second first date, too.”

David hooks a finger into Patrick’s belt loop and pulls him closer by the hips. He murmurs against Patrick’s ear, “You look so fucking good.” 

Patrick makes a low noise in his throat, then backs away. “I should change.”

“Yeah, you should,” David agrees. “Wait, should I change? How messy do we think this kid is?”

“Roland’s son,” Patrick reminds him, and David goes to change. He wishes he had a pair of Ted’s scrubs, or something else he could burn after wearing.

Jocelyn is somehow Mom’s best friend here, despite being married to Roland, so David has been picturing her as some type of cryptid. Like, maybe every full moon she went from shotgunning beers in monster trucks to donning wigs and haute couture. Instead, she looks like the ending you’d get in a rural Choose Your Own Adventure book if you picked the boring options at each turn.

In her arms, Rollie is silently crying. She wipes her sweaty forehead and says, “Whew, sorry about this, you know you two are my last choice for this—”

“Flattering,” Patrick says, face twitching. But when Jocelyn sets Rollie down, Patrick crouches on the floor and says, “Hey, buddy!”

He holds out his arms for a hug, but Rollie hides behind Jocelyn’s thigh.

“Okay, time to go with Patrick!” Jocelyn says, trying to wrestle him forward.

Patrick makes a thoughtful face. “David, do you like playing hide and seek?”

“...yes?” David ventures.

“Hmm, I wish there was someone to play with us,” Patrick says.

Rollie shuffles out from behind Jocelyn and whispers, “Me?”

“Oh, you!” Patrick says excitedly, and swoops in to pick him up. He puts Rollie on his hip and turns them both away from the door so Jocelyn can slip away. “Okay, David is going to hide. Can you help me count to ten?”

 Conveniently, hiding is exactly what David wants to do.

***

Patrick seems convinced that Rollie can survive unsupervised watching PBS while he makes them dinner, but David isn’t. He remembers Alexis at that age, sticking brooches into outlets and balancing on balcony railings. The first phone number David memorized was poison control. So he perches on the arm of the couch, watching Rollie for any sudden movements.

Halfway into an episode of Cyberchase, Rollie’s lower lip begins to tremble. “Dad got hurt.” 

“He’s going to be okay."

A single tear escapes Rollie’s eye. David freezes. Alexis had never cried.

“Come with me,” David says, and reaches out his hand. Rolle clings to him with grubby fingers, and David’s face pinches. He’s going to sanitize a dozen times. At least. 

He finds printer paper and Patrick’s highlighters, and together they sit on the floor and color. At first, David doesn’t know how to make conversation, but then he realizes it doesn’t matter what he says as long as his tone is chipper. Like talking to a dog, or a tourist. 

Rollie holds out a scribbly green creation for approval, and David nods. “That’s a nice use of negative space. The monochrome is very bold.”

“Green,” Rollie agrees.

David can feel Patrick’s gaze, so he turns around. Patrick is leaning against the wall and smiling down at the two of them.

“Mac and cheese is ready,” Patrick says. Rollie scrambles to his feet, his light-up sneakers flashing.

Rollie eats in front of the TV, and David watches him from the dining table. Patrick strokes David’s hand, which is clenched around his fork. “Hey, you okay? I know this is a lot.”

David shakes his head. “It’s just making me think.”

“About what?”

“Alexis,” David says, and Patrick’s thumb stills against David’s knuckles in surprise. “When she was little, we were inseparable.”

My little Peter Pan, Adelina called David. That made Alexis his wayward shadow: they went everywhere together. But New York wasn’t Neverland, and David grew up. There were years where David was old enough to not want to hang out with his baby sister but Alexis was still young enough to miss him. He would bat away her chubby hand reaching for his. Eventually, she stopped reaching: she thought she was grown too, and then he was the one chasing her around the world, wanting to be stitched back together.

“I wasn’t any better than Mom or Dad,” David admits, and the confession has him averting his eyes. “I left her.”

“You were just a kid.”

“I always tied her shoes,” David says, miserable, “She didn’t learn how until third grade.”

Patrick takes the fork out of David’s hand, resting it against his bowl, so he can lace their fingers together and squeeze. Slowly, he says, “I think maybe things got better for you two here.”

“Juice?” Rollie asks from the couch.

Patrick gets up. Over his shoulder he says, “You could talk to her. It might help.”

***

Rollie falls asleep on the couch, and Patrick tucks him in with a blanket.

“Jocelyn hasn’t texted me back. It might be a while,” he warns as they clean up.

“So how was this for a date night? Would we call this better or worse than Stevie third-wheeling at the Cafe?” David asks.

“As long as it’s time with you, I have no complaints,” Patrick says. David looks up at him. He doesn’t look teasing, or even like he’s paying much attention to what they’re saying.

“Let’s clean in the morning,” David says, pulling Patrick toward the bedroom. When the door shuts behind them, David leans in to press a chaste kiss against Patrick’s lips, and when he pulls back he’s thrilled by the delight on Patrick’s face.

With hands on David’s hips, Patrick guides him backward until the back of his knees hit the mattress. David falls back onto his elbows and Patrick gets on top of him, pressing him into the mattress. He brushes a gentle kiss onto David’s lips, innocent and perfect, even as David burns with the realization that this is the first time they’ve kissed horizontally.

“Are we…” David asks, sliding one hand up Patrick’s t-shirt, “Are we still going slow?”

Patrick’s eyes are dark.“Yeah, yes— we can make out. That’s slow.”

“So slow,” David agrees, spreading his legs so Patrick can get one knee between his thighs. Then they’re kissing, slow and deep, sparks shooting up David’s spine. David nips at Patrick’s lower lip, and that gets Patrick’s hips grinding into his. He gets his other hand under Patrick’s shirt as well, exploring his back, his torso, his chest, wanting to find all the places he likes to be touched.

“Oh,” Patrick says, shivering as David scratches up his side.

“Yeah? You like that?” David asks, genuinely curious, but it comes out throaty and seductive.

“So much,” Patrick says, and starts to suck on David’s neck.

David is more turned on than he’s ever been from some teenage making out, even back when he was a teenager. He thinks he’s been starving for this. He’s used to having lots of sex in New York, but he thinks this body is used to even more— lighting up like he’s been deprived, like he’s gotten accustomed to having sex with a husband most nights. The entire world narrows to where their hips are pressed together. David gasps, “Fuck.”

The doorbell rings.

“Fuck,” Patrick says, but in an annoyed way. He climbs off of David, and his gray sweatpants leave it obvious what they were doing. He pulls on a fluffy robe that must be David’s and walks out of the bedroom.

David tries to maintain his seductive sprawl while Patrick deals with the Schitts, but when Patrick returns, he’s looking ill.

“Roland showed me his stitches,” he says, grimacing.

 “I could make you forget all about that?” David offers, but it’s weak even to his ears. Patrick just laughs as he turns out the lights, and David resolves to continue where they left off tomorrow.

 ***

Except David doesn’t get the chance the next day either. He spends it at the store, brushing up against Patrick and whispering in his ear, and Patrick laughs like he knows exactly what he’s doing. Then as they’re closing, he says, “Well, I’m off for drinks with the baseball team!” 

David perks up. “I like drinks.” 

“Mm, then it’s too bad you didn’t play this season,” Patrick says, drumming his fingers against David’s side.

David blinks at him. “Did I play… any season?”

“One game. You were the VIP.”

“And the VIP isn’t invited for drinks?”

Patrick nuzzles his face into David’s hair. “Why don’t you see what Alexis is up to? Tonight is Ted’s late shift at the clinic.”

 “Maybe Alexis and I will go for drinks,” David teases, fixing Patrick’s collar where his hands had rucked it earlier.

“Nice try, but you don’t know what bar.”

 “I bet Alexis does.”

 “And you think she’d tell you?” Patrick says, and kisses David’s forehead. Ugh.

 So that’s how David ends up in Ted’s living room, eating ice-cream right out of the carton with Alexis and arguing over which Property Brother is cuter.

Patrick [10:39 PM]: miss you

David [10:39 PM]: hmm maybe I should have been invited

Patrick [10:39 PM]: :(

David’s face twists. His insides sort of melt, looking down at the little colon-parenthesis frown. He takes a bite of ice-cream large enough to get brain freeze.

“So it seems like you and Patrick are on track,” Alexis says.

“I guess,” David says.

Patrick [10:41 PM]: ae you with Alexis,?

David [10:41 PM]: yeah

“But are things… on track?” Alexis asks, widening her eyes dramatically.

It takes him a minute to realize his little sister is asking about his sex life. He flushes bright red, stinging right over the frozen hurt of his brain freeze. “Um. Last night— it was almost, maybe? But then we didn’t." 

“Hmm,” Alexis says. She brings her hand to her mouth like she’s going to bite her nails with nerves, even though she hasn’t done that since discovering manicures in kindergarten.

“Stop,” David warns, digging through the pint to excavate the cookie dough bits.

Patrick [10:45 PM]: wshi was whit ou

David [10:45 PM]: no idea what you’re saying hon

He stares at the message after he’s sent it. Hon.

“Did the amnesia make you forget, like, how to?” Alexis asks, making an indiscreet signal with her hands.

“What an elegant gesture, Alexis,” David complains, “No, I remember how to do that, thanks so much.”

“Sure,” Alexis says skeptically, and now David is sure she’s winding him up, but it’s still working.

Patrick [10:51 PM]: hon 

Fuck.

He stares down at his phone until Alexis pokes him to get his attention back. “Have you talked to Mom and Dad?”

“Not really. I’ve been busy.”

“Not that busy,” she sing-songs under her breath.

“You’re the worst,” David says, and then, “What, did they say something?" 

“I think they’re still selling the town. I don’t know what they’re doing after that. Not sure if they know.”

“We’ve lived in different cities than them before,” David reminds her: the rare occurrence was for them to even be in the same country.

“It’ll be weird, though.”

Like it’s a secret, like it’s not as obvious as the color of the sky, he whispers, “Mom isn’t happy here.”

“No, she’s not."

David asks, “Were you happy, before Schitt’s Creek?”

Alexis’s brows furrow. “Why?”

David shrugs, a hard jerk of his shoulders. He tries to turn back to the TV. “No reason. Last night I was just thinking about when we were kids, I guess.”

“I was happy,” Alexis says, “I thought you were too, until this happened and I— saw. I didn’t know, before.”

“I didn’t want you to,” David says, and reaches to turn up the volume on the television. Together, they watch a couple debate the merits of fixer uppers versus turnkeys. 

Patrick [11:06 PM]: com/e  home apartemnet ?

David [11:06 PM]: Do you need a ride? I’ll come get you

Patrick [11:06 PM]: no got one thx bAby

So David goes home. He sets a glass of water on the nightstand, then curls up in bed with a book, waiting for Patrick. He saves his place with a bookmark when he hears the front door open. There’s the sound of stumbling footsteps through the apartment.

The bedroom door swings open. Patrick's face is blotchy and his eyes are glassy, but he lights up when he sees David. He moves toward the bed.

“Hi, you,” David says. “Wait, shoes off first!”

Patrick kicks off his shoes and flops on top of David, rubbing his face into David’s t-shirt. David runs his fingers through his hair.

“David,” Patrick mumbles into David’s chest. 

“Good night?”

“Mm. Missed you,” Patrick says. He noses from David’s chest up to his neck, nipping at David’s jaw. “Smell wrong.”

“Yeah you do.” David snickers, “Cheap liquor and cigarette smoke, huh? Seems like a really classy establishment.”

Patrick goes quiet. David glances down, wondering if he’s already fallen asleep. But he’s just blinking owlishly. Finally he says, “You.”

“Whatever you say,” David says, manhandling him into sitting up. He makes him drink the water, and then takes him into the bathroom to brush his teeth. David pokes into the medicine cabinet and finds the aspirin, right next to the multivitamins and seven types of lube.

And two types of aftershave. There’s the Dior one David has been using for years, and then a half-full bottle with a Rose Apothecary label. He’d assumed it was Patrick’s. David stares at the the smooth, unstubbled skin of Patrick’s jaw.

He sprays the Rose Apothecary aftershave and Patrick’s eyes fall closed, head lolling against David’s shoulder. “Smells like sleep.”

“Yeah,” David says, throat clogged. “Let’s go to sleep.”

***

In the morning, David slips out of bed and turns off Patricks alarm to let him sleep off the hangover. He has time for breakfast before he needs to open the store, so he goes to the motel to see his parents.

He swipes three cinnamon rolls from the front desk and knocks on the door to Mom and Dad’s room.

“Wow, who ordered room service?” Dad jokes, opening the door and reaching for a cinnamon roll.

David cradles the plate to his chest. “These are all for me, thanks.”

Mom is at the vanity, putting on a smokey eye to compliment her striped bell-bottom jumpsuit. “Look who’s up devilishly early.”

David sits at the dining table. “So, funny thing, Alexis was wondering what you guys are doing with the money from the town sale.”

“Oh! I’ll call her,” Dad says.

David waits, but that’s all Dad says. He rolls his eyes. “Fine. I was also wondering.”

“Some of it will go to you two, of course,” Dad says, “Your mother and I are thinking we’ll end up somewhere a bit more our speed. You know, the woman we’ve been negotiating with really has a vision for what this town could be—”

“Alexis also said she’d miss you,” David says, wringing his hands.

Dad smiles. “We’ll miss you too. But of course we’ll spend time here, for the motel and to see you two—”

“Speak for yourself, Mr. Rose. The closest I’m returning is the city limits of Elmdale. The children can meet me there,” Mom says, turning away from the vanity.

Honestly, David is just impressed she would get as close as Elmdale. She nearly missed Alexis’s high school graduation because the only flight to Zürich departed from Newark. He doesn’t remember sharing this motel room with them, so them visiting Schitt’s Creek at all feels like getting more than he used to.

“Well, I’ll let her know not to worry,” David says. On his way to the store, he takes another cinnamon roll.

***

It’s eleven before Patrick shows up to the store, looking gray. “Thanks for letting me sleep in.”

“‘Course,” David says.

“Sorry you had to deal with that. I didn’t plan on getting drunk,” Patrick says, biting his lip and looking embarrassed. 

“Lightweight, huh? I would’ve thought your time on Stevie’s couch would’ve fixed that.”

“No, I knew better than to drink with Stevie.”

“She’s a lot to keep up with,” David agrees, remembering his time on stage belting out Mariah. It’s blurry. Had he introduced himself as Dana to some guy?

“Can I make it up to you? Maybe with that second first date tonight?” Patrick says, wrapping his arms around David.

“Sounds great. Drinks?” David suggests, and Patrick groans. “If you’re still hungover, you know the best cure…”

“I’ll see if that tapas place in Elmdale has a table.” He kisses David’s neck, twice, just little pecks. “You can drink sangria, if you want. I’ll drive.”

***

A sudden storm blows in when they’re halfway to Elmdale. The rain is so violent that the windshield is blurred like it’s made of privacy glass. Patrick radiates tension, his jaw clenched and his knuckles tight against the steering wheel. David wants to reach out and soothe him, but Patrick looks like he wants all of his focus on the road. “You okay?”

“There are very few things I find more stressful than driving in weather like this.”

 “Do you want me to drive?”

“And you driving in this weather is one of those things.”

“I’m a great driver,” David lies. “Is there somewhere we could pull over?”

“We’ll miss our second first date. Again,” Patrick sighs, but flips the turn signal. The clicking sound is obscured by sound of the downpour. It’s nearly impossible to see, but Patrick must know where they are. He turns onto a back road, and then they’re parked in a muddy field.

“Another time,” David says, finally reaching out to squeeze Patrick’s knee.

The tension ebbs out of Patrick, and that alone is worth giving up tapas. Eventually, he turns and grins at David. “You know… we actually had plenty of date nights in this car, until I moved out of Ray’s.”

“What, he wasn’t a knock-first guy?” 

“Not at all.”

“Ew,” David says, but he’s laughing. “You wanna get in the backseat with me?”

“Let’s stay up here,” Patrick says, and pulls the lever to recline David’s seat. He leans over the center console to kiss him, cradling David’s face with his left hand, ring cool against David’s cheekbone.

“Come here,” David says, trying to pull him closer. Patrick bumps his head on the car roof and knees David on the way over, but then he’s straddling David and everything is perfect.

The orange glow of street lamps refracts through pulsing rain against the window, and Patrick is glowing. He breaks their kiss to murmur, a breath away from David’s lips, “You’re so gorgeous.”

“You should see yourself,” David says, running a hand down Patrick’s chest over the black button-up. Then he’s slipping each button from its hole, like he’s been dying to do ever since he first saw Patrick dressed up to face the world. Inch by inch, he reveals Patrick’s flushed chest. When the shirt hangs open, David strains forward to kiss everywhere he can reach. 

“Yeah, just like that,” Patrick groans when David bites at his nipple. So David teases them both with teeth and tongue, until they’re so oversensitive that Patrick gasps at just David’s breath on them. He yanks David into another kiss, hips stuttering forward as David parts his lips and lets Patrick’s tongue fuck into his mouth.

David should have worn a button-up too: getting his sweater off is awkward.  He manages to elbow them both trying to pull it over his head. Then his sleeves are caught on the headrest, arms stretched over his head. Patrick bites down on a smile. Apparently being hard doesn’t stop him from teasing David, because instead of moving to help he says, “Huh, getting kinda kinky for a first date.”

“Haven’t had that date yet—” David complains. He cuts himself off as Patrick starts mouthing, slick and lazy, across his collarbone. “I want to touch you.”

Patrick reaches up and frees David’s arms. David gets his hands on Patrick’s ass, and somehow the feeling of his leather belt and wool slacks is hotter than bare skin. He pulls Patrick closer until their grinding is absolutely filthy. Patrick sucks on his skin, leaving hickeys that will flirt with visibility under the collars of his sweaters.

“Can we?” David asks, and holds his breath until Patrick is nodding. Each step feels luxurious, like unwrapping a gift: unbuckling the cold metal of Patrick’s belt, undoing the button of his slacks, unzipping him. Peeling down his underwear, just low enough so that his cock is in David’s hand, hot and hard. “Fuck,” David hisses, like he’s the one being touched.

“God,” Patrick mutters, hips jolting into David’s touch. It’s beautiful, watching his brows knit and his mouth fall open as David strokes him. David can’t hear his hitched breaths over the pounding rain, but he can see the way Patrick’s chest heaves. “Wait— can I touch you too?”

“Please,” David says. Patrick’s hands are one of the first things David noticed about him, before he even knew his name, and when Patrick touches him he groans at the sight of it as much as the sensation. He gets one, two, three strokes, arching into it, before Patrick is pulling away.

“Lube,” Patrick explains at David’s disappointed noise. His eyes are still fixed on David’s cock, so hard it’s pressed up against his stomach, as he reaches blindly into the glove compartment.

“Well, aren’t we adventurous,” David teases, but Patrick shuts him up when he wraps a slick hand around them both. He doesn’t jerk them off, though— he rolls his hips, fucking his own hand and against David’s cock. The passenger seat rocks with each thrust, the reclining springs creaking. David moans, watching the shift of his muscles with each sure movement. “God yes. Just like that. Fuck me.”

“Yeah?” Patrick gasps, as if he doesn’t know what this is doing to him. David just nods frantically in response, and Patrick’s grin flashes all of his teeth. Then he’s leaning down to kiss David, mean nips soothed over by his tongue.

“Gonna come,” David moans. Patrick pulls away, eyes glassy, staring down at their cocks in his hand—

For a moment, David thinks it’s the storm: there’s thunder in his ears and lights popping in his vision. Then he feels the wetness of his come dripping from Patrick’s hand onto his stomach and he realizes it’s actually just the best orgasm of his life. Pleasure throbs through his body, deepening when Patrick gasps, thrusts once more against David’s wet, oversensitive cock, and comes. 

Patrick slumps against him, all damp skin and shuddery breaths as they linger in the afterglow. After a few minutes, Patrick sits up, and he hits his head on the car roof again.

David stares down at them, half-dressed and splattered with come. The rain is still torrential. They both burst into laughter and David manages to say, “Well, what are we gonna do now?”

“I think we have wet wipes,” Patrick says, opening the glove compartment again. “Okay, no, looks like we used all of those— there’s a napkin?”

David is grinning, despite their come cooling on his stomach. “Can’t believe I’m thirty and having sex in a car instead of eating tapas.”

Patrick freezes and David realizes what he said. But then Patrick is suppressing a chuckle as he ducks to kiss David’s cheek. “Baby, you’re closer to forty.”

David gasps, mock-offended. “Barely!”

“Whatever you say,” Patrick says, and now he’s really laughing.

David realizes, “That was really fun.”

If someone said that to him after sex, he’d spiral. But Patrick just beams, like he knows exactly what that means for David, who’s had good sex and bad sex, but never sex that left him giggling and joyful.

Patrick strokes his thumb over David’s bruised lip in a way that has David contemplating a second round. He murmurs, “I’m glad. It’s always fun, with you.”

***

“Wow, congrats on the sex,” Stevie says as David walks into the motel front office holding a takeout bag from the Cafe the next day. 

David’s jaw drops. “How did you—”

“Kids!” Dad calls from the back room, “I’m still here!”

“Ew,” David whispers, and Stevie mouths sorry. Lower, he asks, “How did you know?”

She pokes between his eyebrows. “Your wrinkle here is slightly less pinched than usual.’

“Fuck off, I don’t have a—” David complains, but he checks in the reflection of his phone screen anyway.

“I’m taking lunch!” Stevie calls to Dad, and then loops her arm with his as they walk out of the office. Once they’re outside she says, “So…? Did it blow your mind? Blow your—”

“Stop,” David says, elbowing her. “Um. It was wonderful, yes, thanks.”

“Wonderful,” Stevie repeats, stretching out the vowels. “Ooh, sounds romantic.”

“Ugh,” David says, and then sombers. She takes in the look on his face and leads them into the field beside the motel. A sheet on a clothesline flutters in the breeze. She pulls it down so they can sit on it. David unpacks their meals, but they don’t eat: they stare at the sky, just like they did from the hood of her car on the day she informed David they were best friends. “Is this a clean sheet? Smells like cigarettes.”

“That’s just the way they smell.”

David turns to face her. “So I think I owe you. Like a lot.”

“Oh, you do,” she says, still looking up at the cloudless day. “So, you and I usually don’t do feelings—”

“Thank God.”

“But I knew you’d stay. Just like I know you’ll get your memories back,” she says, and nudges him with her elbow. “It’s not that easy to get rid of you.”

David startles. Everyone else’s hope for his recovery has waned. There’s something reassuring about her certainty, even if he doesn’t feel it himself. “Is there any way I can make up for—”

“We don’t run a tab, David. There’s nothing to settle,” she says. He thinks about the friends he had in New York, the ones he told Patrick about when he described his last day, and none of them are like her. There might not be another friend in the world like her. “Which is lucky for you because, damn, do you owe me.” 

After they finish lunch, David notices Alexis in her car in the motel parking strip. He knocks on the passenger-side window. She rolls it down. “Want to give me a ride?”

“Ugh, no, I think you’ve used up all your privileges with my car,” Alexis complains but she unlocks the door and David gets in. 

She squints at him as she puts the car in reverse.

“Eyes on the road please!”

“So you look like your love life is less of a fiasco now.”

David’s hand flies up to rub between his eyebrows. “Is it really that—”

“Which is good, because it’s my turn for drama,” she says, still looking him as she pulls out of the motel parking lot. He tries to reach for the steering wheel. She bats him away but finally focuses on the road.

“What is it?” David asks, and then, “Shit, are you pregnant—”

“You are so mean! No!”

“Are you cheating?” David asks, voice low. “Is he cheating—”

“No! God, stop guessing!” Alexis says, smacking his arm. “I’m going to propose to Ted.” 

David blinks. “Okay, holy fuck.” 

“I know, right?” she says, “It’s just very Girl Boss of me, I think, and also he proposed the last two times.”

“Wait, when you say the last two times—”

She reaches into the backseat to rummage through her tote bag. When she pulls out a box containing a simple gold ring, David falls silent.

“Should I go with whale you marry me or I want to be your wife beary much?” Alexis asks. David’s face twists, and she giggles. “I’m kidding. Well. Not really, but I’ll lie when anyone else asks how I did it.” 

David’s eyes are welling with tears. It’s really embarrassing. “You’re going to be amazing.”

“Thanks,” she says, “I’m gonna do it soon.”

She parks the car outside the clinic and they climb out.

“Go with the whale one,” David says, “It’s… uh. It’s killer.”

She gives an excited shriek of laughter and hugs him. They’ve hugged more in the past few weeks than the past few decades David remembers, and it makes him think about how Peter Pan was reunited with his shadow, in the end. Then David does cry, just a little, since she can’t see it. 

She pulls back. “Come in for a second, Ted wants to say hi. But, if you ruin the surprise? I will smother you in your sleep.”

“I’m actually very bad at keeping secrets, I should probably—” David says, but then she’s leading him inside.

They walk into the clinic together, and Ted is behind the front desk. “Hey, babe! I thought you forgot about me!”

“Ugh, never!” Alexis says, flouncing over to his side and smacking a kiss onto his cheek. “I’m going to make myself coffee and then we can get lunch.”

She smacks Ted’s butt as she walks away. Ew.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you,” Ted says, and David freezes. If he’s asking for advice about proposing too— “I’m glad you and Patrick are working things out.”

“Um. Me too?”

“You know, you’re the one who talked me into giving Alexis another chance.”

“Did I?” David says, and bites his tongue to keep from blurting out anything about third proposals. There’s a bowl of cookies on the counter, and he lunges for one.

Ted blocks him. “That’s a dog treat.”

“Looks like a real treat.”

“Yours and Patrick’s marriage, well, it really makes me think that—” Ted shakes his head, smiling, and David thinks fuck, because he doesn't want to ruin the surprise. But then Ted continues, “Sometimes? Sometimes it does work out.” 

David freezes, those words clattering around his empty mind, and then he says: “And when you’ve got it, don’t let it go.”

There is no earthquake or choir song: one minute, he does not remember telling Patrick he loves him and the next next minute— he does. The way he would sometimes remember a word on the tip of his tongue, hours after needing it, and think oh, there it is, how obvious.

***

He sprints into the store with the same careening sense of bravery coloring that memory. The feeling in his chest swells, and it’s been there ever since he looked into Patrick’s eyes in a gas station outside Elmdale, but now he can finally put it to words.

It’s love. Of course it is.

Patrick looks up at the tinkle of the bells, and he smiles when he sees it’s David. “Took a nice long lunch, huh?” 

“I love you,” David says. He begins to ugly-cry as elation blooms across Patrick’s face, and then Patrick’s arms are around his waist and they’re kissing through David’s tears.

Patrick punctuates each kiss with a gasped, “I love you, I love you, I love you.” 

David draws back, hands on Patrick’s shoulders, because he wants to capture each moment of this. “I forgot the tea this time, too.”

Patrick’s jaw drops open, stunned. Then he’s swinging David around, lifting his feet off the floor and whooping, “You remember that?”

David yanks them back into another kiss. “I do. Just that, so far, but— it’s good, right?”

“So good, David.” Patrick’s hands come up to cradle David’s face, and each press of his lips is perfect. It’s the cacophony of emotion that David chased through countless galleries and endless nights. He laces his hands in Patrick’s hair and thinks, I’ve been looking for you everywhere.

***

Patrick is a vision. David has known it from the moment he saw him, tangled in these same bedsheets, but even that pales in comparison to how he looks now: on his back, eyes dark, David’s for the taking.

“I think I’ve remembered a few things, actually,” David whispers, kissing at the hollow of Patrick’s throat. “You thanked me the first time I kissed you.”

“I did,” Patrick agrees, gravelly. Then the words are falling from his mouth at each touch of David’s lips to his skin: his neck, his chest, his stomach, the vee of his hips. Thank you thank you thank you thank you.

He just gasps, when David kisses the base of his cock. David strokes his palms down Patrick’s thighs soothingly. Then, on the next stroke, he digs his nails in hard enough that welts rise, because he’s remembered that too. Patrick pants, hectic color blooming on his face. “Fuck.”

“Can I suck you?” David asks, voice raspy like Patrick’s already fucked into his throat. Patrick nods, head thrown back against the pillow and eyes shut tight.

David wraps his hand around the base of his cock to angle him and then takes Patrick into his mouth, moaning. Patrick tastes like salt and heat, and David sinks down until his lips meet his hand. The skin of Patrick's cock is softer than velvet, and the size of him has David’s jaw aching beautifully. Usually, he would try to draw things out, to work someone up until they’re begging for more, but he’s not patient enough for that now. Not when Patrick is shuddering and falling apart beneath him, soft uh noises punched out of him each time David sucks. 

David wants to taste it when he comes.

 Except— the way he’s touching David is really distracting. He’s carding his fingers through David’s sweaty hairline; stroking his palms across David’s shoulders; caressing David’s face, his stretched lips, his throat when David takes him deeper. Even as he gets close, hips bucking into David’s mouth, the way he touches him is so—

David pulls off of him with a wet noise, using his hands to stroke Patrick's spit-slick cock. His throat is shot but he manages, “I really like the way you touch me.”

“What way?” Patrick asks, eyes focused on David’s face even as he thrusts into David’s hand.

“Like you love me.”

“I do,” Patrick says, voice catching. “Let me touch you some more.” He pushes David onto his back. Slowly, like they have all the time in the world, Patrick’s lips and hands find every place on David’s body that he loves to be touched, some he hadn’t even known about. He teases David until he’s trembling, struggling to stay still because the last thing he wants is for Patrick to stop.

“More,” David pleads, and Patrick reaches into the nightstand for lube. He bites at David’s inner thigh while he works him open with slick fingers, avoiding the spot where David wants to be touched the most. Until David gasps “Please,” and then Patrick is rubbing that spot, hard and relentless, and lightning crackles through David’s body.

“Wanna come?” Patrick’s breathing is ragged.

“No, fuck me, please,” David says, and Patrick groans. The loss of his fingers is heartbreaking, but watching Patrick slick himself up more than makes up for it. David realizes, “Oh.”

“What?”

“I was just— noticing that we don’t— condom?” David says, because he’s never gone without one before, because he’s never been someone’s one and only. For the first time, that thought doesn’t sting. Every failed relationship has lead him here to Patrick, sweating and flushed and in love with him.

Patrick stops touching himself. He offers, “Want me to find one? We definitely have them... somewhere?”

“In the glove compartment,” David teases.

“I mean, probably,” Patrick says, laughing, and the idea that they can laugh together like this lights David up inside.

“It’s fine,” David says, spreading his thighs. “Fuck me.”

 Patrick’s face twists, like he’s so aroused it’s painful. He braces himself above David on one elbow, using the other to angle his cock. When he presses inside, they both gasp.

Patrick’s forehead is tilted against David’s: all David can see is the faintest hint of brown in his blown eyes. He pulls Patrick by the neck into a kiss. When Patrick begins to thrust, David is left gasping into his mouth. He wraps his legs around him, urging him on. Pleasure mounts in his spine, hot and insistent, until David has to reach down and stroke himself in time to each snap of Patrick’s hips.

“I love you,” Patrick groans as he comes.

Those words and the feeling of his pulsing cock nearly black out David’s vision. He spills into his hand. He’s coming so hard he can’t hear it over the blood thundering in his ears when he says, “I love you too.” Then, when the rest of the world fades back into existence, he has to double check that he managed to speak at all. “I love you, Patrick; I love you.”

***

 David rests with his head on Patrick’s chest. He strokes his hand across Patrick’s torso, absent-minded. When Patrick speaks, his voice is a low rumble beneath David’s ear. “What are you thinking about?” 

“In the memory, when you told me you loved me…” David says, straining to unearth the words from the hot blur of emotion in that moment, “I think you mentioned I’d said it three times before. I only remember twice.” 

Patrick strokes David’s hair. “You said it to your family in Schitt’s Creek, before I’d met you.”

“Is that all? Besides when I’ve said it to you?”  David asks, which he has to assume is many times: in the past few hours alone, he’s tripled the times he remembers saying it.

“No. You said it to your family again, at our wedding,” Patrick says, and his body tenses with hesitation beneath David.

“What?”

In a rush, Patrick says, “You’ve said it to my mom. She always signs off the phone with ‘I love you’ and sometimes— you say it back.”

Emotion wells in David’s chest, messy and undefined. He listens to the thump of Patrick’s heartbeat beneath his ear. He thinks about how Mom said it was a frightful new life here for the choosing, but David has never been less afraid in his life. 

***

They hardly leave bed for the next few days, except when they absolutely must: to meet with the neurologist about the trickling return of David’s memories, to update his family about the recovery, and to run the store. 

One morning, David steps out of bed and into a puddle of champagne. He looks around and realizes that while they were having a sex marathon, the apartment has become a hazard. He shakes Patrick awake. “Hi. I think we need to, like, clean?” 

Patrick huffs, turning away from David and rubbing his face into the pillowcase. “Can we sleep more first?”

David’s feet are sticky. No, he cannot. But he leaves Patrick in bed, pulls on some underwear, and explores their apartment to see if he can find a mop.

Patrick joins him a few minutes later, eyes still heavy with sleep and hair mussed. His boxers are low on his hips. “We’re cleaning?”

“It’s urgent,” David says, even as he’s striding over to kiss Patrick senseless.

Patrick turns, and David’s kiss lands on his cheek. “Well, we aren’t going to clean if you start that.” 

“Ugh,” David complains, but he pulls away. “Where’s the mop?”

“That’s my job,” Patrick says, reaching into the laundry closet to pull out the supplies. “You sweep.”

They settle into a routine so familiar that it’s effortful not to reach for the edges of memory, but the neurologist said not to strain himself. Patrick puts on music. David sweeps, and Patrick follows him with the mop. 

Patrick is bopping his shoulders in time with the music, and it’s really fucking cute. And very distracting. “You want to get more dressed?”

“I’m comfortable,” Patrick says, tone innocent even as his eyes rake David up and down.

When the next song comes up, Patrick stops dancing with the mop. He moves towards his phone like he’s going to press skip, but David stops him with a hand to the chest as he listens to Tina Turner sing about a heart on fire. “Did I… lip-sync this for you?”

The mop falls from Patrick’s slack hand. “Yes.”

“And you sang it to me.”

“I did,” Patrick says, and he’s tearing up as he kisses David.

David pulls him back into bed.

***

After, staring at the puddle on the floor, David admits, “We did not accomplish much today.”

“See, if your husband was as hot as mine, you’d understand,” Patrick says, mouthing at David’s chest like he has another round in him.

David rolls so he’s on top of him and says, “Oh, you must not have met my husband.”

***

“I think I’m getting pieces of a bachelor party,” David says, reaching over Stevie to take another burger. “Is that—“

“Oh, most of that night was gone way before the amnesia,” Stevie says, setting down her beer. “You threw up in my hair.”

“Yeah, that part is vivid,” David says. Stevie still looks smug, like she does each time he gets a new memory. He’s surprised this motel cookout for Mom and Dad’s anniversary didn’t come with an I told you so banner.

He looks across the lawn, and sees Patrick deep in a tense conversation with Mom and Dad. David hurries over, petting him anxiously. “Everything okay?” 

Patrick turns away to wrap his arm around David. He presses his face into David’s neck and whispers, “It will be. Just not yet.”

Patrick leaves to sit with Stevie. David takes a deep breath, looking at his parents. “It’s not only Alexis who’s going to miss you.”

“What about me?” Alexis asks, sidling over. “Ew, David, you’ve got sauce on—“

Dad looks teary. “You know... you two are precious to us.”

“We do have a great affection—“ Mom says, and then clears her throat. “Ah, that is to say— we love you.”

“Aw,” Alexis says, “Love you guys too!”

“Love you too,” David says, because he does, and it’s getting easier to say it each time.

***

The memories continue to return, and some of David’s excitement dims. As he learns more about himself and his life here, he starts to grasp the shape of what he put everyone through. Especially Patrick.

“I never wanted you to see that version of me,” David says into the midnight air, achy and mortified.

“I know,” Patrick says, lifting his head off the pillow so he can get a better look at David.

“You loved me anyways.” 

“Always.” And that’s something they’ll have to talk about too, the way Patrick went through hell and would’ve kept going.

It should feel like relief, to know that Patrick has seen the worst of him and still not left, but instead it just makes David really sad. He wants to take care of Patrick, and he wants Patrick to take care of himself too. He drums his fingers against Patrick’s bicep and says, “Do you think it would be… helpful… if I talked to a therapist too? Or maybe, we found one to talk to together?”

David would have panicked, if someone confessed in bed to him that they had professional-grade concerns. But of course, Patrick sees this for what it is. He whispers, “Yeah, David. Let’s do that.” 

You have to want to improve, he’s been told: finally, David wants.

***

When David walks into the Cafe to pick up their dinner the next night, Twyla’s face draws into a perfunctory smile. “Congratulations, David.”

“Thanks,” David says, and realizes that he hasn’t really talked to her since he got back together with Patrick. “Actually— Twyla, thank you for everything.”

“Of course,” she says, and hands him the takeout he ordered. “It was really nice being your friend.”

He hesitates. “It’s no longer medically urgent, so feel free to say no, but— am I still invited to join you for yoga?”

She beams at him. “I’d love that.”

***

He brings dinner to Patrick, who’s hunched over the computer in the store’s office. David sits on the desk, trying not to distract him, and stares at the wedding photo on Patrick’s desk.

I married you, he thinks, because goddamn had he ever.

 He doesn’t remember the wedding yet, but he thinks he probably will soon, and he’s looking forward to it. 

He decides to distract Patrick away from his spreadsheets after all, pushing the photo towards him. “What song were we dancing to?”

Patrick’s eyes fall shut as he thinks, smiling in an echo of the blissful expression on his face in that photo. “No idea. I don’t think I noticed anything that day but you.”

“Huh,” David says, looking at them laughing into a kiss in the photo. He believes it.

“There’s a playlist, though,” Patrick says, clicking away from his spreadsheet. Music fills the office. David doesn’t recognize the song, but it sounds like the air in the car when they’re on the road together, like walking into the apartment that David now calls home, like the gleam in Patrick’s eyes each time David says I love you.

Patrick stands and extends his hand. David takes it, lacing their fingers together and putting his other hand on Patrick’s shoulder. Patrick leads them in slow circles across the hardwood floor of the store they built together, and like that, they dance.