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Reinvention

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562 days.

562 days after Lofty left him at the altar of their renewals, he was ready to ready to stand at another and tie the knot with someone else.

Just barely 18 months.

That’s how long it took Benjamin ‘Lofty’ Chiltern to move on.

Dom had to admit it stung a bit learning of his ex-husband's engagement through a mistakenly sent e-invite to save the date; Lofty had emailed the clinical lead email, under the assumption that it belonged to Sacha- as it once had.

"Mr Benjamin Chessington Chiltern & Mr Joseph Joshua Barden invite you to Save The Date || 28/06/21" sprawled across his screen in a swooping, embellished font.

He pulled a face, instantly masking his shock and offence with a snarky, muttered comment.

“Calligraphy? Who does he think he is? The man ate nothing but BLTs for years because he insisted it was the only Real Sandwich...”

Ok... It wasn’t working. He was still processing the words in front of him.

“Joseph Joshua Barden” he muttered, “more fool him...”

Still wasn’t working... He instantly searched him on Facebook... and sure enough, a fairly innocuous looking man of that name with shoulder length wavy brown hair and a beard had his arms around Lofty in his profile picture.

Dom sat back with a heavy sigh, head banging against the back of the chair as he slumped.

Ouch.

* * *

“What is it? A funeral or a court case? …"

“... A wedding... Sorry... We didn’t want to rub your nose in it.”

“Ah. Yeah, Lofty’s wedding.”

“.. Are you ok?”

“Yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?”

Let me fucking think why I wouldn’t be ok, he thought as his friends turned their backs and walked away without another question. Why wouldn’t I be ok that my ex-husband is getting married to some hippy today whilst I work another shift in a hospital full of people who hate me, with a bag attached to my side that is essentially making me repulsive to all dating prospects and ruining what little of my youth I have left? Oh, I don’t fucking know!? Why wouldn’t I be ok!?

He thought all this as he stormed back into his office, shutting the door hard and flicking the lock across, placing his hands on the back of his neck and taking a few deep breaths as he paced. Calm, Dominic; knowing Lofty, it would all end in flames anyway.

Good, he thought, I hope their marriage is nothing but tremulous, upsetting, and shit until it ends in an abrupt, embarrassing divorce.

He sat down heavily, knowing how irrational he was being, but too bitter to exert the self-control to stop himself. The truth was he was so painfully jealous that Lofty had moved on... And so fast too! Christ, the man was a serial committer for someone who allegedly had trouble committing.

How dare he move on and get to be happy whilst Dom was stuck like this... In this body that not even he could love, let alone a partner- so he couldn’t even blame them!

Weddings, he tried to reason, were stressful. Well, his had been, at least. Hell, the morning that they had tied the knot, he had been sleeping on the sofa in their flat whilst Lofty took the bed... So spontaneous and... In hindsight... Rushed. Like he’d elect to put himself through that again...

But then his mind wandered... Oh it wandered to the champagne tinted blur of the uber home... To the stumbled jolts up the stairs to their flat, arms around each other as they dissolved into hushed giggles... To the giddy bliss...

* * *

“- All I needed was the love you ga-aaave!”

“Lofty- sshhhh- shhhh stop-” Dom interjected as he giggled.

“- All I needed for another da-ay!”

“Lo-”

“- And aaaaallll IIIIII EVerr knewwwww- Only you!”

Dom smacked his chest as they practically fell through the door, kicking it shut behind them, snorting hysterically.

“We probably woke up the whole complex you idiot!” Dom tried desperately to sound serious, but he was practically shaking with laughter as Lofty sprawled half on top of him on their cold, hardwood floor.

“I don’t care! Everyone needs to know that WE’RE MARRIEEEED-” Lofty fell into more fits of laughter, struggling to get off of him, just a little too tipsy to pretend to be remotely sober.

“You oaf- You're crushing me!” Dom helped shove him off, so they were both laid flopped on their backs in the hallway of their flat.

The surgeon raised his hand up in front of their eyes, admiring the silver band on his ring finger... Where he hoped it would stay for life.

“Did we really just get married?” He whispered with an ear to ear grin.

“I think we did” Lofty whispered back, his own smile matching Dom’s.

“Thank you for the cl- clarification... Mister Husband.” Dom slurred and turned his head to the side, looking at him with a wry smile.

“I am never going to get tired of you calling me that... Husband~.” He replied with a chuckle.

Dom pushed himself up a bit and slung his leg over Lofty’s lower torso, sliding to straddle him, looking down into his dilated, deep black pupils with a curious little grin on his lips.

“Now who’s the oaf?” Lofty retorted up at him- but he didn’t mean it. He didn’t care. His warm, reassuring hands slid up to hook around Dom’s ribs as the man on top of him lowered himself so that they were chest to chest; nose to nose...

Dom’s own hands moved to hold the sides of Lofty’s jaw and his neck, his fingers looping into the soft twists of curls that sprouted from the back of his neck and behind his ears, his thumbs gently rubbing his cheekbones... Instead of kissing him, he leaned their foreheads together, taking a few deep breaths, his eyes closed... All he could feel, smell, and sense was Lofty. Lofty’s arms holding him; Lofty’s nose squashed against his own; Lofty’s heartbeat pounding strongly against their chests; Lofty’s breath on his face; Lofty’s skin on his skin, his hair on his fingers.

“I love you.” This wasn’t a casual ‘I love you’ that Dom would chuck at the end of a text, nor one he’d call as Lofty left to go to Tesco’s.

These three words spoke of more than just the material love that was so commercialized by the society they lived in. This was a: you complete me; my heart only filled up half as much before you entered my life; my finger was formed to carry your ring; my mind is never void of a thought of you; my lips never stop tasting you; and my eyes never stop seeing you. You are my love, and you always were. You are mine in this life and you will be in the next, too- you were before, and you will be again.

Lofty let his thumb rub the curve of Doms back gently. He knew what it meant.

“And I love you.” He replied, which was all Dom needed to hear, because it was true, and he, too, knew what saying it meant.

Dom rocked their foreheads apart, the tips of their noses still gently pressed together. He smiled softly and tilted his head to the left, latching his lips against his husband’s.

Kissing Lofty was the only time in his life Dom had understood the phrase ‘butterflies’, because, the truth was, kissing him made him feel lighter than air, like he was lifting up through the atmosphere from the inside out... But he never felt scared of floating away, as Lofty never kissed him without holding onto him- even a little bit... A gripped cuff of a jacket, a linked pinky finger, or- in this case- a full body embrace.

Lofty sat up a little, holding Dom in his lap as the kiss went from softly loving, to impassioned, to full of unbridled need, hands gripping at shirts, fingers tangled in hair, hearts racing and breaths shortened.

“You are wearing entirely too many clothes right now-” Lofty pulled away to pant, tugging Dom’s grey shirt over his head quickly.

“Pot- Kettle- Button up!” Dom pointed out breathlessly, his hands shaking a little as he undid Lofty’s buttons in a rush, opening his shirt before kissing him again, skin on skin now; hands roaming over chests and arms.

Lofty held the back of Dom’s neck a few moments later, his curls a little damp on his forehead from the sweat “Bed?”

“Definitely bed-” Dom confirmed, scrambling upright, hauling his husband up with him.

Lofty grinned and kissed his cheek as he tugged him into their room, falling onto the bed in a tangled mess of limbs as the hastily swung door closed behind them.

* * *

Later, Dom doom-scrolled through the pictures Sacha and Donna had been tagged in by the wedding photographer and other guests... And Lofty. The sunny smiles on the faces of all present just made him feel ill. And increasingly cynical.

They are celebrating a momentary snapshot of a relationship that is nowhere near this polished and happy as the photos let on. No one knows what's going on behind the scenes. They probably hate each other...

But one photo of the supposedly happy couple broke down Dom’s bitter facade.

A back shot of the grooms looking out across Wyvern Lake, the backdrop of their venue... Joseph had his hand rested on the small of Lofty’s back as they stood side by side.

His eyes watered. Lofty had always been immensely uncomfortable with anyone rubbing his lower back. It sent him into shivers and made him freak out- often flinch away. No funny anecdote as to why- just one of those things... Like hating nails on a chalk board to the sensation of stroking velvet. In the 28 months he spent as Lofty’s other half, he could count the number of times he had touched him there on two hands.

Yet here was a casual picture of someone else doing just that. Holding him gently, fingers splayed just above his hips and pressed against his back.

Dom’s eyes blurred with tears. Lofty must really love him. Love him in all those little ways that they never voiced but both assumed.

Dom left a like on the picture after heavy consideration, and then opened the personal messaging window with Lofty... The most recent message had been sent on January 2nd, 2020, from Lofty.

“Div. Papers mailed off today. Should get a letter confirming the annulment in 14 days give or take.”

Dom had never responded. What could he have said?

He quickly tapped out a message:

“Hi Loft, congratulations!! I’m glad the weather was kind to you. You both look fab x”

He stared at it for a while... Then amended it to:

“Hi Ben, congratulations. I’m glad the weather was kind to you. You both looked perfect.”

Then again to:

“Ben, congratulations. I’m glad the weather was kind to you. You look perfect for each other.”

Rubbing his face, he sent it, instantly shutting off the screen and rolling over.

It was only 9:24, he doubted Lofty would be asleep yet... But he also knew that he and his new husband would likely be far too busy to answer text from an embittered ex on their wedding night.

Better to sleep. He needed today to be over.

* * *

Dom’s cheek pressed against Lofty’s chest, the pair slowly caught their breath; legs still tangled beneath the covers and their skin dampened with sweat.

“Lofty...?” He whispered.

“Mm...?” The older grunted, eyes half shut.

“This is the start of the rest of our lives...”

“Yes, it is...” He murmured back, yawning a little.

Dom’s eyes sparkled as he nestled closer to him, hooking a leg across his waist and pressing a soft kiss to his collarbone as Lofty’s hand trailed lazily up and down his back.

“I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you...” Dom whispered a few minutes later.

“Mm... Me too...”

“I just want it to be tomorrow... So that it can all just... Start already!” Dom beamed...

No response, as Lofty’s breaths got deeper and more regular... Sound asleep...

Dom chuckled fondly and settled down too, eyes closed.

Better to sleep. He needed today to be over.

* * *

A few weeks later, Dominic Copeland was in a walking queue at the vaccine clinic in Holby Central, his pride mask clamped around his mouth as the guidelines required. Second jab time.

Lofty had read and liked Dom’s message but had not responded. Fair enough, the doctor had thought, he had probably deserved that after 17 months of radio silence on his end.

He stepped up to the administration table, confirmed his time slot, and that he was ready and happy to have his second dose of Pfizer this afternoon.

“Right, booth... 8 is free.” The sparky young woman behind the desk told him.

“Thank you...” He hummed his response as he walked down pathway to the booth she had gestured to, sitting down into the stool, the man in full PPE ready to vaccinate him had his back turned as he pulled the correct amount of liquid into the syringe.

“Alright then mate- this is your second jab, correct?”

“Mmm, yeah, had my first in April... Missed my original slot earlier this month due to a positive LFT...” Dom confirmed, a little in his own world, not registering anything significant about this man... Until he realized he’d gone quiet.

Dom looked up, confused at the silence, only to be met with the wide, instantly recognizable green-brown eyes and barely-contained black curls of Benjamin Chessington Chiltern. He held his breath...

Lofty had definitely clocked him by his voice yet seemed speechless himself now.

Silence blanketed the unusual tableau like a thick layer of snow. Cold, still, and suffocating.

Dom swallowed and blinked a little, finding it hard to break eye contact with the man he had once held tenderly with the hands he was now fiddling in his lap.

“Do you want... Someone else to do it...?” Lofty eventually managed to whisper.

“- No... No, I don’t want to cause a scene,” Dom quickly answered, “Just do it, ok?”

The nurse nodded sheepishly.

“Right- any allergies?”

“Cats, but that’s it.” Lofty knew that, but still had to ask.

“Are you taking any medication we should be aware of?”

Dom swallowed again and looked down.

“10mg of metoclopramide three times a day.”

Lofty looked at him, confused.

“- Right...? Any... Existing medical conditions...?”

“I have a permanent stoma bag.” he muttered quickly.

Thank you, God, he thought, for your divinely satanic sense of humor.

“O- Oh Dominic... I...” Lofty had no idea, “I- When- What? I’m sorry-”

“- Just-” Dom cut in quickly, “Just do your job, ok? You don’t need to pretend you care-”

“- I’m not pretending! Jesus...” Lofty sighed, “I care about you! I lo-”

“- Please don’t say you love me.” Dom cut him off before he had a chance, his eyes brimming with tears.

Lofty went quiet... Before taking a cotton bud dipped in alcohol and swiping it across Dom’s left arm, pinching the skin gently.

“This might sting a bit...” He mumbled.

But the tears had dripped down Dom’s face before the needle had pierced his skin.

“Ok... All done.” Lofty pulled off his gloves, “It’s going to feel numb for a few days, but before long everything will get back to normal.”

“I feel we’ve had this conversation before.” Dom quipped dryly, looking at the stranger he had once loved.

Lofty looked down a little “Sorry...”

“Don’t be. I meant what I said in that text. You two look great together.” Dom surprised himself with that one... Biting back the bitter comments he’d internalized since learning of Lofty’s engagement to be the bigger man.

“Thanks, mate.”

Dom nodded a little “Take care, ok?”

“Maybe we could... Speak more, I don’t know...” Lofty suggested just as Dom turned to leave, “Text a bit. Have a pint every now and again... Be mates...?”

Dom bit the inside of his cheek hard.

“Ben, I... I think right now you need to focus on Joseph and your marriage, not rekindling a friendship with your ex.” he turned and looked at him, “Don’t repeat our mistakes.”

Lofty sighed and nodded.

“Then... Take care, I suppose.”

Dom raised his good arm in farewell as he walked through to the observation area, sitting down in the back left corner as he stuffed his air Pods in his ears and hit shuffle on his playlist.

The synthetic beats of Yazoo’s ‘82 hit “Only You” punched themselves into his ear...

And for the first time in about 594 days, he didn’t skip it.

1 year, 7 months, 2 weeks, 1 day, and a wedding he wasn’t allowed to attend.

Just over 19 months.

That’s how long it took Dominic Copeland to move on.