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The Key on the Ledge

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“Move that to the right. Yes... a bit more... yes. Stop!”

 

Marc glanced at the van parked outside the building’s entrance. It says “Holz & Speckmann Landscaping” on the side. They probably shouldn’t park here; the nearest parking space was where Marc has parked his car. Marc vaguely noted. But he’s not here to play traffic cop.

 

The two men standing next to the van were arguing about moving something to the right, so they can fit something else on the left. Marc caught a glimpse of the content inside the van as he walked by and thought he saw something familiar, a red punchbag? And then the door of the van suddenly snapped shut.

 

“Hey! My hand was still there, you idiot!” one of the men, a tall guy in a pair of heavy Timberland boots and torn jeans pushed the other guy to the side, onto Marc’s path. Marc side-stepped just in time to avoid collision.

 

“Be careful! You big lug!” the guy turned to Marc, “sorry!”

 

Marc shook his head. He paid them no mind. In fact, he hasn’t been paying attention to anything since he decided to come here today.

 

Decided to come see Kay.

 

The decision was formed last night after the incident in the shower with Bettina. His girlfriend was back, his son was back, they even sat down and had dinner together for the first time in a week. But while holding Bettina inside the tiled shower stall, Marc finally realised life with Bettina would never be the same again.

 

If honesty is the foundation of intimacy, then Marc has been destroying it for months. When the truth came out, it just proved that the bond between him and Bettina was not strong at all. In fact, it crumbled in spectacular fashion in the space of a week. And Marc wasn’t sure if it was salvageable; wasn’t even sure if they wanted to.

 

But Marc was still indecisive when he went to bed. He worried about going backward, returning the key to Kay was a rash decision but it hadn’t been an easy one; he also worried about upsetting Bettina; and Kay’s reaction. Marc hasn’t seen him for more than a week. First Marc had been taking a few days off himself, then when he returned to work, Frank told him Kay hasn’t been at work since after the party.

 

The decision was made when he woke up this morning. Kay was his first thought. Like the day before, and many days before that. So this is it. He decided. If Kay wanted to hit him, Marc would let him. He just... he had to see him.

 

As he pressed the top floor button inside the lift, Marc’s mind drifted back to the memory of Kay’s face half hidden in the grey hood, a glimpse of the blue-purple bruises under Kay’s eyes and corner of his mouth... is he avoiding me or Limpinski? He had texted Kay once but got no answer, which wasn’t too surprising, given... Marc understood why Kay wouldn’t return his text, he would just have to show up unannounced.

 

The “ding” sound of the lift hurried him outside, he walked purposefully to Kay’s apartment. All of a sudden, he couldn’t wait to see Kay’s face again, to hear his voice… the incurable yearning he had for Kay, blazed back into life.

 

He didn’t have to ring the doorbell. The front door was held open by brown removal box in front. He walked inside the apartment; he could see Kay’s back in a straight line from the narrow hallway.

 

“Didn’t I tell you I only have one box left and I’m taking it with me?” Kay said. To whom, Marc had no idea. Kay didn’t even turn around.

 

Marc moved closer.

 

Kay was trying to take down the world map poster on the wall. That seemed to be the only object left, everything has been cleared out from the apartment.

 

The big van downstairs...

 

“Kay.” Marc called out his name.

 

With his back to Marc, if it wasn’t for the stillness in Kay’s body for a fraction of a second, Marc would think he didn’t hear him. Kay continued to peel off the poster from the wall gingerly. But Marc knew Kay had heard him and knew it was Marc, he just decided to ignore him.

 

Marc took a step closer. He swallowed and tried again. “Kay?”

 

Nothing. Kay started rolling up the poster, his shoulders stiff.

 

“Maybe you should get another transfer.”

“And what about us?”

 

For once, Kay was taking his advice. Marc thought bleakly.

 

“What are you doing?” Marc asked, like he was dumbfounded. Of course, he knew what was happening, knew Kay was in the process of moving out. But that part of the realisation blitzed through his mind, below the level of conscious thought. The pain was so sudden, so unexpected, his heart sat like a boulder in his chest.

 

Leaving. Kay is leaving. Like I had suggested.

 

Kay stood perfectly still. Then Marc saw him shake his head slightly before he finally turned around.

 

Marc took sharp intake of breath. Last time, Kay had his hoodie pulled tight and all the way up, Marc hadn’t noticed the bruises on his arms and neck. After a week, they have turned to yellowish-brown and green. No doubt still hurt, if Kay’s stiffness was any indication.

 

And I haven’t so much as asking him if he’s alright this whole time.

 

Marc licked his lips, his throat parched. He forced himself to meet Kay’s eyes. Kay met his gaze with a dull expression. Bored and defiant. The same expression he wore when he was sitting inside the armoured vehicle, isolated by all his colleagues after he had come out in the unit.

 

His side and the other side. And Marc has sided with the others.

 

“Kay, you ready?” Someone was standing by the front door. It was one of the guys from downstairs, the one with the Timberland boots. He eyed Marc for a moment, then turned to Kay with raised eyebrow. “Problem?”

 

For some reason, Kay seemed to find it funny. He snorted and answered, “no, no problem.”

 

That jogged Marc’s memory - it was like they were back at the training academy. Except Kay was nowhere near as playful now.

 

“I’ll be down in a minute.” Kay said to the guy. “You go ahead.”

 

The guy gave Marc a curious glare, before he held up something in his hand and asked Kay, “And this key? Do you need to return it to the landlord?”

 

“In case you ever need some space.” Kay shows Marc the key, his face open, his voice hopeful.

 

Marc watched as Kay stared at the key for a second, emotionless.

 

“Nee. It’s just a spare I made.” Kay finally replied. A slow flush worked its way through Marc’s chest before Kay added dismissively, “throw it away.”

 

The Timberland boots guy simply nodded. “Alright. Then all’s locked and loaded! We are ready to go. Hurry up, I want to catch the Bayern game.” He reminded Kay and then left.

 

Kay carefully slotted the rolled-up poster on the side pocket of a backpack. He wiped his hands on his jeans and took one last look around.

 

As he walked past, Marc reached out and tried to touch Kay’s arm. But Kay evaded his touch easily with a backward step, just like a week ago when Marc tried to examine the bruises on his face. Marc has lost the permission to touch him.

 

Kay looked at Marc directly for the first time today. “I have to go.” He said. Non-negotiable.

 

Marc never knew such four little words could be so painful, could hurt so much. He knew it was now or never.

 

“I told Bettina about us. I told her everything.” Marc announced. It was a partial lie; he wouldn’t have told her if he hasn’t gotten found out. Marc hated the desperation in his voice, but he needed to say this. His Hail Mary pass.

 

Something glinted in Kay’s eyes for a moment. Some turbulent mix of emotions - shock? Hurt and anger? But it was gone in the blink of an eye. His impassive mask back on,

 

Picking up the removal box by the door, he bored his eyes into Marc’s, his voice steady and without inflection. “Don’t call me. Don’t text me. And close the door behind you when you leave.”

 

And Marc watched him leave without a backward glance.

 

***

 

Marc stood inside the empty apartment, on the same spot where Kay had first told him that he loved him. The memory squeezed his heart. He remained motionless, for maybe half an hour, or maybe it’s only 10 minutes. He had no idea.

 

Then he walked outside to the balcony, alone with the familiar skyline; his hand grazed the concrete ledge where he had placed that damn key.

 

When the finality and the enormity of what Kay has done finally hit him, the sun was setting. And Marc wondered, how many times had Kay watched the same sunset. Alone and waiting for Marc.

 

***

 

Contrary to what Kay might have thought, Marc had never been particularly rule-bound. What Marc had always possessed was a good sense of self-preservation. In school and at work, he’d go with the flow, follow the norm, he’s popular without being the ringleader. He has been careful, most of his life. It wasn’t until Kay that he’d thrown self-preservation out the window; no, scratch that, it wasn’t until Kay has left that he’d finally decided to throw it off the top of the building.

 

Two weeks after he and Bettina had separated, Marc decided he should break a rule and use the police’s access to the vehicle registration database to search for the owners of the van with “Holz and Speckmann Landscaping” logo on the side.   The vehicle was registered to a Fritz Speckmann and he lived in an address just outside Mannheim, about an hour and half drive from Ludwigsburg.

 

Marc drove over there one late afternoon; he parked his car outside a yellow family house with a large landscaped front garden. The same van he had seen outside Kay’s building was parked on the driveway.

 

Before he reached the front door, he noticed the garage door was open and he saw an assortment of furniture in it. Kay’s old furniture. Marc recognized the black sofa-bed.

 

He pressed the doorbell.

 

A guy in olive green overalls opened the door, he was wiry built and had a full head of curly hair. He was the other guy outside Kay’s building that day. Not the one with Timberland boots.

 

“Sorry to bother you, I am wondering if I can speak to Kay?”

 

The guy looked at Marc up and down, but his tone was friendly. “Kay is not here. He’s traveling.” He tilted his head like he’s trying to remember something. “I think he must have reached Amsterdam by now.”

 

“Do you know when he will be back?”

 

“Next Wee...” The guy was about to answer, then his eyes narrowed, “why don’t you call his mobile and ask?”

 

I would, if he’d answer. Marc thought.

 

Marc just nodded. “Good idea. I’ll do that. Thank you.”

 

And he left.

 

***

 

Contrary to what Marc might have thought, he wasn’t the one who held all the power in their relationship. To hold such power, one would need to be able to walk away. Marc had foolishly believed he could if he needed to; when in fact it was Kay. When Marc gazed into his face that day, he finally understood a few hard truths. It’s there in the steely gleam of Kay’s eyes, that he was ready to walk away, maybe he has always been ready. Just waiting for Marc to fuck up their relationship.

 

Kay said don’t call him, don’t text him; he didn’t say don’t go see his friends. So, Marc went back to the same address a week later.

 

This time it was the guy with the heavy Timberland boots who answered the door.

 

“Kay is not here.” He said to Marc.

 

“Do you know when...”

 

“I know but I won’t tell you. I know who you are.”

 

Then he closed the door on Marc.

 

***

 

Marc went back again two weeks later. This time, he parked the car a block away and waited for Timberland boots guy to leave the house before he walked up to press the doorbell.

 

The curly-haired guy opened the door. He rolled his eyes and prepared to close the door.

 

Marc got one foot in just in time. “Please. I just want to talk to him.”

 

He had worked out curly-haired was his best chance.

 

The guy watched Marc closely, there must have been something in Marc’s face, in his eyes, because curly-haired guy’s expression grew gentle, he finally sighed and asked. “Are you still married?”

 

Marc shook his head slowly, even though he was never married.

 

Curly-haired seemed satisfied with the answer. “Kay is Fritz’s best friend, you’d better not make me regret it.” He said and left the door open and went inside. A minute later, he came back with a piece of paper.

 

“Kay has gotten a new job in Heidelberg. He has moved there few days ago to start some training. We are sending his stuff to this address.” He gave the piece of paper to Marc. “He’s not coming back, so don’t come here again. Fritz will call the police.” Curly-haired crossed his arms, “even though we know you are one.”

 

***

 

“Don’t make any hasty decision.” Frank warned him.

 

Marc sealed the last removal box with the tape dispenser. He lifted and placed it on the patio with the other 20 boxes he filled up.

 

No, he wasn’t making a hasty decision. Comparing to how Kay got himself transferred to Ludwigsburg, Marc moving to Heidelberg was a decision made after much deliberation, months in the making.

 

“Either way, I need to move out and find a new place to live, why not Heidelberg?” Marc wiped the sweat off his forehead. Christ. It’s almost December, I’m still sweating.

 

Frank pursed his lips. “Maybe you can convince Kay to move back here?” He asked.

 

I would need to convince Kay to let me be more than a friend first. Marc thought.

 

Marc knew he would miss living close to Frank, but Heidelberg is only an hour away. It’s not like he’s moving out of the country.

 

“I heard rent in Heidelberg is crazy. Thanks to of all those international students. You will get ripped off left and right.” Frank continued with his Heidelberg-bashing.

 

Marc knew that. One of the down sides of living in a city that’s famous for tourism and its university. But Marc only cared about one inhabitant there.

 

On his first trip to Heidelberg - “What are you doing here?” Kay had greeted him with troubled eyes and an icy voice.

 

“Nice to see you too” Marc didn’t know where he had found the courage to be so cheeky, to throw that answer Kay had once used back to him.

 

For that, he got a sneer from Kay.

 

Well, he's not slamming the door. Good sign.  One thing at a time.

 

Marc had made eight trips to the idyllic city by Neckar River over two months. It went from a sneer, to one-word answers, to a reluctant quirk of his lip. Marc had patience on his side and he fully intended to slowly wear down the big and thick guard Kay has built against him.

 

All he needed was a sign. Just a small thing from Kay.

 

Then on his last trip - when Marc was about to get into his car to leave, Kay studied him quietly for a second, he said, “Text me first next time you stop by. Or the neighbours would think I have a stalker.”

 

Marc handed the packing tape dispenser back to Frank and said, “Don’t worry. It’s worth it”

 

I will make sure of that.