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The Confession

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“Ah, Brian, what can I do for you?” Paul returned to his seat and folded his hands upon the now barren space where a stack of papers once sat.

Brian took his appropriate position in front of Merroney’s desk, “Paul, I...I wanted to ask you for a favour, of sorts...more like a request.”

“On with it, then.”

“I...uh,” he scratched the back of his head and chuckled to himself, “I wanted to invite you over this evening for a casual get-together”

Paul scowled, “At your mother’s?”

“Goodness no…! At my place.”

Paul leaned back in his seat, resting his hands between his legs, “Whatever for? I’m a very busy man, Brian, I simply don’t have time for trivial leisure activities and, frankly, nor do I care to.”

“I understand wholeheartedly, but I thought I’d...repay you for taking care of me, in a way, during my difficult time.”

“You can repay me by continuing to present thorough (and green) balance sheets.”

Brian turned his attention away from the piercing pupils of Paul Merroney and chuckled again, “Yes, that is one way to do it…” He tapped the edge of the desk before making his way towards the door, “But just think about it, won’t you?”

Clare waited until she heard the click of the door shutting behind him before speaking up, “So, are you going to go?” she chirped, unwinding her work from the typewriter.

“Did you not hear what I just told him? It’s bad enough his family insists on inviting me to every ghastly party they seem to throw each weekend. No wonder they’re all so inefficient: wasting their days indulging themselves on liquor and vapid conversation.”

Clare shrugged, “Yes, but Brian’s the obvious teacher’s pet. It seems almost neglectful not to take him up on his offer.”

“And like any dog, they quickly forget the day their owner decides not to play fetch with them.”

Clare turned towards her boss, twisting her lips into a wry smile, “Paul.”

“Anyway,” he slid his papers back to the centre of his desk, paying no mind to his secretary’s subtle coaxing, “I suspect he’s simply trying to fulfill a social nicety—nothing will come out of it.”

~~~~

“On the contrary, Paul, I do have something rather important to tell you,” Brian said, walking over to the arrangement of glassware and spirits that sat by the fireplace. “Tomato juice?” The lights in his flat were dimmed just enough to set the atmosphere and, on one of the cassettes Merroney had bought for him, was Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique playing faintly in the background.

Paul took a seat, crossing his legs at the knee, “No, I’ll have water. Thank you.”

Brian removed two cups and poured water in one and whisky in the other. He handed his guest his drink before taking a seat in an adjacent chair, “...This is something I’ve been, um—sorry, I knew I’d get anxious…!”

Paul blinked, completely unfazed by it all (but as everyone knows, this means he’s silently judging).

“Um, I…” Between nervous chuckles Brian gulped down the rest of his firewater. He lowered his eyes to the patterned rug, tracing the motifs on the side of the textured cup, “...Paul, I like you.”

“I ‘like you too', Brian, but I fail to see why this admission needed to be said outside my office. Not to mention that I thought the feeling was already mutually shared.”

“No,” he replied, still in the same position, “I don’t mean ‘like’ in that way. I mean, I like you.” He tried to add as much emphasis as possible to the verbiage.

Paul cocked his head slightly, “I don’t understand.”

The accountant took to his feet and paced around the living room, knocking back another drink in the process. The time it took to make one complete revolution was about three seconds, but it felt like three hours—time dripping like molasses. That is, until Brian slammed his fist against the mantle, rattling the trinkets that laid upon it and sending adrenaline-soaked chills up his spine, “I love you, Paul! Alright!?” His heart palpitated and he rested a hand against his forehead, massaging his temples with his thumb and middle fingers.

“You love me?” Paul chortled, “Good heavens, Brian, are you drunk?”

“I’m serious. I—I don’t remember exactly how these feelings came over me...maybe it was when I had my outburst in the restaurant,” He sat down his glass, “There you were, a man who everyone was expected to despise, showing unadulterated compassion towards me—more so than my own family. I know it’s not your style, but you could’ve...screamed back at me. You could’ve fired me, for all I know.”

“You’re a fine accountant. It would’ve been foolish to depose of you for reasons out of your control; breakdowns happen to the best of us.”

“True, but I had a considerable amount of time to think about this while in my enforced abeyance and—did you know that you’re the only person I allowed to visit me? Well, I did speak to the Rileys (almost because I felt compelled to) but you, Paul...it was only you who I yearned for.”

Paul looked up at him with a blank, nonplussed expression. Brian laughed heartily, “Are you at a loss for words? This is unprecedented! If only Ted could—”

It was true. Brian had, indeed, successfully put Merroney in a bind. After such a personal confession, the banker didn’t even know what to think! How was he, a man whose every waking second was spent towards business affairs, supposed to navigate this conversation? It’s not like he was known for his romantic sentimentalities.

He did like the accountant, though—the only studious, hardworking member of the Hammond Bunch who looked better without the mustache but that little detail could be forgiven. And based off of his music selection: cultured as well.

But then an unwelcome thought that was meant to be filed away resurfaced in Paul’s mind: the first and only other time he had been in this same predicament. It was in business school when another bright and diligent student asked to be more than friends and, being young and foolish, he accepted. And as furtive as the relationship was, it checked all of the boxes as far as Paul was concerned.

One day around when exams were due to begin, his partner promptly severed ties. ‘Lack of intimacy and preoccupation with studies at the expense of all else’ was the diagnosis; the resulting emotional whirlwind coupled with the stress from exams and internships was enough to send him to hospital for a mental breakdown. But unlike Brian Hammond, his was internal—an empty, unresponsive look in the eye and, when he wasn’t silently brooding to himself, constant loathing about the world and its inhabitants. His parents and roommates knew he was the type to spend hours working without respite, making ‘stress’ the unequivocal reason for the event.

But he never told anyone the full story.

Brian’s face fell five stories as he watched a grimace spread across Paul’s face, “Oh, gosh, I’m sorry if this was all—I thought you were—”

Paul cleared his throat and took a sip of water, “No,” he enunciated, trying to curtail the sudden wave of heat that overtook him, “Your assumption of me was accurate, but I’d rather not mix business and pleasure, if you don’t mind.”

The muscles in Brian’s body began to tense (more like seize). He traipsed back to his seat, falling like a stone in a sea of regret. He dared not to look too long into the other’s eyes, for fear of what he might see. Instead, he focused on the lines and shapes of the fireplace. “Yes, I understand…”

“It’s nothing personal, Brian. I just can’t afford for your work to become lackluster nor for you to have another breakdown if the entire affair crumbles.”

“And what about you?”

“You needn’t be concerned about me,” Paul checked his watch conspicuously.

“Time to go, then?”

“Indeed,” he rose to his feet and made his way to the door where Brian followed suit.

“Well...thanks for coming even if this evening didn’t go as I had intended.”

“Mm, it was most informative.”

The host helped Merroney with his coat, wishing that one day he could rest within those arms and feel his troubles slip away. He unlatched the entryway and turned back towards his guest whose grey eyes seemed to sparkle in the dim light. A small, coy smile appeared across Paul’s soft face, but before Brian could make sense of it all he felt his cheek being pecked by the warm, smooth lips of his chairman.

“Goodnight, Brian,” he purred “See you on Monday.”

When the door snapped shut, his eyes widened to the size of dinner plates. His heart began to palpitate once more as blood rushed to colour his face. He lifted a trembling hand to caress the tender spot.

Now what was he supposed to make of it all? Typical Merroney, leaving one in a state of limbo until he was ready to share the unambiguous details. It was absurd to think that he would profess the same feelings on a ‘first date’. But, at the same time, this was perhaps the best possible outcome considering.

Brian stuffed his hands into his pockets and plopped back into his comfortable chair “Goodnight, Paul,” he chuckled wistfully to himself, “Goodnight.”