Highway 1 swung back to the coast again. To the left, the ocean reflected rippling shards of the full moon. Raj always insisted on taking the scenic route, and always fell asleep an hour or two after they left. Still, Howard never went any other way, even if it would have saved hours of driving. He wondered if he could get away shortcutting on the way back, so that he might even make it to dinner with Bernadette's mother on Sunday night. Still, if he didn't, no big deal - they knew he'd be out of town all weekend.
He shrugged. Then, he was puzzled by why he shrugged. So he shrugged that off, too.
He turned back to Raj, sleeping on the seat. Maybe he should pull over, wake him up, show him the moon on the ocean. Nah, he'd let him sleep, like a baby lolled by a long drive. He looked so cute, his head rolling against the headrest. Howard reached out and stroked his cheek and smiled.
He jerked his hand back, smile gone, and gripped the wheel. Eyes on the road. What if someone got hurt?
The yellow lines disappeared under the car. There was nothing outside of the headlights except the moon. He kept driving, and forced a smile onto his lips.
This was good. A good way to be.
He shrugged and kept driving.
Fog was rolling out over the Bay, but the sun was doing nothing to keep the air warm. Regardless, Raj stood outside on the end of the cable car as it climbed the hill, and, after much cajoling, had convinced Howard to do the same. Like a living guidebook, Raj was rattling off facts about the buildings around them. In his windbreaker, he was impervious to the chill; Howard was clutching his arms tightly around his chest to keep warm.
"Most people think that just because San Francisco is in California, it's climate is consistently warm, like its more popular Southern neighbours, but it's really in a more temperate zone."
Howard glared at him and wrapped his arms around himself more tightly.
"What?" asked Raj, then sized up the situation. "Here, take my windbreaker."
"No!" Howard argued. "No, then you'll be cold. Can we just go back inside?"
"I'll be fine," Raj grinned, taking off his windbreaker and wrapping it around Howard's shoulders. He pointed to his remaining shirt and sweater vest. "See? Layers."
Howard gripped the windbreaker, and laughed. Raj always made him laugh. He was gazing into Raj's eyes, and Raj's eyes were smiling, like they always did, sparkling, and slightly crinkled at the corners. What Howard did next seemed natural to him, like he'd done it a thousand times already, like it was a reflex, like it happened every day, like he didn't even think about it.
He bounced on his toes and kissed Raj on the lips.
What he said after that felt natural, too, like he'd said it a million times before, like it followed the kiss every time.
"I love you so much."
Raj stared at him, mouth hanging open, confusion creasing his forehead. Howard's heart pounded along with the jerking of the car up the hill.
It was going to be a long drive back to Pasadena.
Somehow it was Sunday, and somehow he was being driven by Bernadette to her mother's house for dinner. He couldn't remember if he'd been saying anything or not - the car seemed awfully silent. There was something he needed to say.
"How was the trip?" Bernadette asked. Howard didn't know if she'd been talking before that or not, and he wracked his brain trying to remember. Had he already said what he needed to?
"Howard?" Bernadette asked again. He couldn't figure anything out; it was the most difficult question he'd ever been asked, and it was making his palms sweaty. Was she ever going to let him tell her?!
"I don't know! It's too hard!" he yelled in frustration.
Bernadette pulled the car over.
"Howard, you've spent this whole time sitting there saying nothing, and now you're yelling at me? What the hell is going on?"
She had every right to be angry, of course, she must know what he had to say already. He stared at his hands like a child in trouble. He could feel her angry stare. He looked up a her and his confession came pouring out.
"I'm sorry Bernadette I can't do this anymore, I can't do it to you, I can't do it to myself, it's not fair, I'm sorry, I can't see you anymore."
Then somehow he wasn't in the car anymore, but standing on the sidewalk, and she was gone, and he knew that she was crying even though she had been yelling, and he knew he deserved the guilt and he hoped his pain diminished hers.
He made his way back home on foot, alone.