Nate and Sophie head for the door, and then they’re alone, Parker and Alec and Eliot, standing in the back room of the brewpub. Parker feels unexpectedly hot and tight in her chest, and it makes her twitchy, like she should run, like she should get out while she still can. She doesn’t think that she lied to Sophie—she still thinks that she’s ok with it, that this is—is ok, but it feels different than she’d thought it would.
Eliot tilts his shoulder towards the door, looking uncomfortable, and she watches him, wondering if it feels wrong to him, too.
“I should go,” he says, his eyes skittering past her, past Alec, and landing nowhere in particular.
It sounds like the sort of “I should go” that people way when they think that they should leave, but would like to stay. “You should stay,” she tells him, and Alec laces his fingers through hers and squeezes her hand, gently.
Eliot shakes his head, and before she can figure out an argument, Alec says, “Naw. C’mon, we’ll go have a drink and—”
Even Alec’s voice sounds funny, wet and thick, and Parker’s meanly relieved that it’s not just her, that even he seems to be maybe not as ok as he’d said he was.
“Ok,” says Eliot, shrugging, “I’ll lock up and meet you upstairs in a minute.”
She’s pretty sure that he’s buying himself time, but it still feels like a victory, like—like at least not everyone’s leaving, not yet.
It feels closer upstairs, safer, and Parker settles onto the sofa, pulling one of the pillows into her lap. It smells like Sophie’s perfume, though, and Parker sets it aside, carefully. She’s not sure if she’s trying to avoid the reminder of what’s not here, or if she’s trying to save it, maybe, save it for when she needs to be reminded.
She chokes on the thought, on the feeling that she might need to be reminded, and when Alec glances over at her, she looks away and doesn’t say anything. It’s a relief when Eliot comes in, locking the door behind him and tossing his jacket onto the kitchen counter, but then he stands there too long, watching them like he’s seeing something else.
“You guys wanna watch a movie or something?” Alec offers, breaking the uncomfortable silence. Parker knows a distraction when she hears one, but it works, because Eliot’s nodding.
Parker lets them pick the movie, because she never watches their movies anyhow. She watches them, instead. It’s easier to watch them in the dark, when they don’t—people don’t notice things in the dark, she thinks, not really. It’s easier to be alone with people in the dark, when they can’t or won’t notice her.
She stays curled into the corner of the sofa as Alec and Eliot settle themselves. Alec disappears for a minute and comes back with a couple of beers, and he passes them around before sitting on the sofa next to her—not touching her, not quite, but close enough that she knows the offer’s open if that’s what she wants. She’s not sure she does, though, not then. Eliot’s in the uncomfortable armchair, and she wonders why he always sits there when they all know that it’s the least comfortable seat in the whole loft, even including the floor and the toilet and the air vent that’s too small even for her comfort. Eliot sits there every time, though, and never complains about it, not unless Nate and Sophie are there, too.
Sophie, thinks Parker, and she wants to run again—not to get away, but just to—to go until things are different, somehow.
She practices, instead, shrinking the world down to just this, to just them, tuning out the bad fake accents from the movie, the hum of the fridge, the restlessness that lives under her skin. Alec’s body is warm where it’s not quite touching hers, and she relaxes into it until they’re pressed together, until he shifts his arm up and lets her wiggle under it.
Something on the television explodes, and instead of watching the screen, Parker watches Eliot’s profile as the light shifts over his face. This is the best part of movies, the chance to study them without—
“I got food on my face or something?” Eliot asks, turning to look at her. It’s nicer than he usually is when he catches her watching him for too long, less bristly, and she wonders if Eliot feels it, too, like he’s been cracked open. She shakes her head and fits her hand against Alec’s, like maybe he can hold the cracks together and keep her from seeping out.
He rubs gently at her wrist with his thumb, a sweeping back and forth like a clock’s pendulum, like a heartbeat. Closing her eyes, she focuses on the sweep of his thumb and tells herself that this is where she’s supposed to be, that Alec and Eliot are right here and they’re all fine, and that the last twenty-four hours are only half real.
It takes her a while to remember that they’re watching a movie, that she’s meant to be paying attention, but when she opens her eyes, Alec and Eliot are where she’d left them and the movie’s still on, dramatic action-sequence lighting still flickering in the dark room. She watches Alec for a while, and his face seems different, too, not caught up in the movie, but stiller and softer, like he just remembered something sad.
She doesn’t know what to do to make him not sad, though, because she’s pretty sure that she’s sad, too, that the angry itch in her chest isn’t just anger.
Eliot’s sitting very still in the armchair and blinking too much, blinking the way that Sophie says people do when they’re hiding things. When they’re trying not to cry. And Parker tries it, then, blinking hard and fast to see if it makes her eyes stop burning, but it doesn’t, and she wonders if she’s doing it wrong.
She wishes Sophie were here. She doesn’t want Eliot to be hiding things, or trying not to cry, or for Alec to be sad, or for Sophie and Nate to be gone, and it all catches in her throat like she’s drowning, like someone’s caught her red handed and she can’t—
“Parker!” Alec says, and she blinks. The movie’s frozen in the middle of a scene, bright blue-white light thrown over the room, and Eliot’s kneeling in front of her and Alec’s twisted on the sofa to look at her worriedly, his arm still around her shoulders. The choking feeling is worse—she thinks she might vomit—and then a sob tears out of her chest, and it feels like shattering.
“—I —I—” she gulps out, because it hurts, inside, and she hates this.
Alec wraps his arms around her and pulls, and she lets him, not sure where they’re going but relieved at the feeling of being enclosed, of being—held, she thinks.
When Alec rocks her off of his lap and back onto the sofa, Eliot’s at her back, and they fit her between them, gently, Alec’s arms still wrapped around her, Eliot’s broad chest against her back. After a moment, Eliot wraps one of his arms around her waist, carefully and slowly, like he’s giving her a chance to get out.
And that hurts, too, the thought that they’d just let her go. Everything is itchy inside, and she keeps coming back to the fact that Nate and Sophie left, which means that this isn’t a family after all, and that someday Alec and Eliot are going to leave, and she’s going—she’s going to—it catches in her throat, and she coughs wetly against Alec’s neck and presses her eyes hard against his jaw.
“Hey,” says Alec, “hey, c’mon, you’re ok.”
That makes it worse, though, because she knows that he’s lying. She doesn’t even know if he knows, but he’s lying and—
“Parker,” Alec says, “we’re still going to see them. It’ll be ok.”
“Yeah,” Eliot says against her hair. “Sophie’s gonna call you every damn day from Europe, probably bore all of us to death tellin’ us about the shoes and stuff she’s bought.”
That makes her straighten, a little, because that’s not fair. “Sophie’s classy,” Parker says, and she knows that she sounds defensive but— “she doesn’t buy shoes.”
Alec smiles, like this means that things are ok, somehow, and whatever had been starting to dissolve in Parker’s chest comes back as a solid lump under her breastbone.
“Parker,” says Eliot, sounding frustrated, “what’s wrong?”
And Parker knows that you’re supposed to tell people who you care about things that are important to you, but she doesn’t think that you’re supposed to tell them that—
“Babe?” asks Alec, and they’re clearly waiting for an answer, and it feels like she’s melting inside, going hot and liquid and away, the lump turning to a pool of molten dread.
“Someday you’re going to leave,” she says, quietly.
Alec pulls back a little bit, like he’s trying to look at her, but she keeps her face down, trying to protect whatever—whatever bits of herself she can, whatever she can keep. Whatever she hasn’t already given away.
“What?” he says, and he sounds incredulous.
Eliot doesn’t say anything, and he shifts behind her, and maybe, she thinks, this is why you don’t tell people that kind of thing. Maybe once people know that something’s going to happen, there’s no point to trying to stop it anymore. Maybe when you can see how something will end, it’s better to just let it happen.
Her face is wet, and she thinks that her nose is snotty.
“Nate and Sophie and—” she chokes again. “We were like a family,” she says. “We were like a family, and now they’re gone, and that means that someday you’re going to leave, both of you, and then it’ll—then I’ll—you’ll…” She can’t bring herself to say the rest of the words, and she trails off, letting it hang there.
Alec tries to pull her head back to his shoulder, and she has to push him away, because it’s too close and too much and this is why, she thinks furiously, this is why it’s going to—
“Hey,” says Eliot, low and quiet.
She shakes her head, because she doesn’t want to hear what he’s going to say, because knows how this ends and she can’t bear it.
Alec is crying, and this is the opposite of what she wanted, she thinks. She just wanted—wanted not this, not Eliot about to leave and Alec sad and Sophie and Nate—
“Hey,” says Eliot, louder. Parker snuffles, hard, and twists to look at Eliot, letting herself learn back, just a little, on Alec’s shoulder. “You hear what I said to Sophie?” Eliot asks, and Parker has to think for a minute, but Eliot keeps going. “I said ‘til my dying day.’ And I meant that. I ain’t going anywhere until—until I don’t got a choice, ok?”
She glances back at Alec, who’s watching Eliot over her shoulder.
“You sure about that, man?” asks Alec, and Parker feels like they’re having a conversation that she’s not part of, one that’s important and just out of reach.
“Yeah,” says Eliot, his voice breaking a little bit.
“I’m not going anywhere either,” says Alec. “I had—I had to put you in a body bag,” he says to Eliot, and Parker twists her fingers into Alec’s shirt. She’s not sure if she’s ever heard him like this before, like the words hurt him.
Eliot reaches his arm over Parker’s shoulder and pulls Alec’s head in until Alec’s forehead is resting against Parker’s, and Eliot’s head is resting against the back of Parker’s skull. It should feel too close, should feel like being trapped, because she’s bracketed by them, their arms tangled around her waist and neck, Alec’s fingers still twined through hers.
It doesn’t, though; instead, the panicked, too-loud throb of her heart seems to quiet, and the itchiness in her chest starts to fade. Instead, it feels like they mean it, like they’ve both seen how this could end and decided to run the game anyhow. Like maybe they can make a different ending.
“Promise,” she says, leaning more heavily against Eliot and feeling him shift so she can rest against him, so that he can support her and Alec both.
“Yeah,” says Eliot, “I do.”
Alec kisses her cheek, softly. “Promise.”