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Halle-fuckin-lujah

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I.

Well, maybe there’s a God above

But all I ever learned from love

Was how to shoot at somebody who outdrew you.

 

Tim runs his thumbs over the battered book cover rubbing at the words Eddie Coyle in the title. Watching Raylan stride out of the Eastern Kentucky District office one last time has him all twisted up inside. Reflexively, Tim curls the paperback in his hands.

Forward, then back. Forward, then all over again.

He wants a drink. More than he wants air, but not as much as he wants Raylan to stop, turn back, and say something more. Something different. Anything more. He knows Raylan won’t though, and it’s too damned early in the day for him to hunt down a bottle he doesn’t need.

When Nelson asks to borrow the book from him, Tim abruptly stops bending the gift. At least he can wend something to his will: he enjoys snapping at Nelson a little too much. Snarking is not as good as a beer but it takes the edge off.

Raylan could have acted like leaving bothered him a little bit.

Instead, Tim woke up that morning to cold sheets and a hollow spot in the center of the pillow next to him. Tim half-hoped he’d find Raylan drinking coffee in the kitchen, but he knew better when he padded around his apartment in bare feet. His sniper-honed senses picked up only a stillness in the apartment. No note. No lover, if he could call him that. Not even a kiss good-bye. Just cum-encrusted sheets and a threadbare flannel hanging off the back of a dining-room chair.

The hell with this, Tim decides, tucking the book into a drawer where Nelson can’t find it. He heads for the stairwell.

Taking the steps full tilt, he wonders what he can possibly say if he manages to reach Raylan in time to get one more word in. They’ve already said so many words and skipped over so many others. Important words. Tim’s pretty sure one more won’t hurt. Too much.

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II.

And it’s not a cry that you hear at night,

It’s not somebody who’s seen the light —

It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah!

 

Tim picks a fight with Raylan when he hears that Winona is bringing Willa to Kentucky.

The pregnancy was bad enough—filling Tim with a growing panic that still hits him around four a.m. some mornings. Willa has always been the expiration sticker on Tim’s little whatever with Raylan.

Best before: her birth. Sell by: Raylan’s Miami transfer.

The writing is on the wall—has been for some time. Tim’s just been feigning illiteracy.

When he finds Raylan sitting at his desk with Willa in his lap, Tim can’t take his eyes off them. He’s more than familiar with the baby. He sneaks peeks when Raylan skypes with Winona and Willa. Tim even listens to Raylan talk ad nauseam about his daughter when they’re working, driving, cooking, shaving… He listens because he can hear Raylan falling in love with his little girl.

Sure, Tim’s envious. Some part of him always hopes that Raylan will eventually regard him with remotely that much affection.

Tim pretends to others it doesn’t bother him when Raylan tells Rachel that Tim’s not caring and nurturing. He is. He could be. He convinces himself it doesn’t matter that Raylan says he’s an asshole and won’t let him hold his kid. Regardless of the knell the baby girl rings on his relationship with Raylan, Tim wants to hold Willa. She’s a piece of the man at the center of Tim’s world.

And Raylan is at the center. Tim’s been observing the swathe Raylan cuts when he saunters through the office, Harlan, Tim’s apartment. Raylan’s presence itself is heavy. Always has been. Dense enough, Tim’s decided, that Raylan is this gravitational force that pulls and pushes people around him into either calamity or focus.

Boyd Crowder fell to calamity. Tim thinks the jury is still out on his own fate.

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III.

There was a time you let me know

What’s really going on below

But now you never show that to me, do you?

 

Tim knows he’s Raylan’s doormat.

He’s put up with a parade of women in and out of Raylan’s bed and has become more acquainted with the closet than he was in high school. And that’s saying something. Tim figured out he was gay at twelve but held his tongue for no other reason than to keep his daddy from crossing the line between beating and killing him.

Tim can’t shake the sense that he’s betrayed his teenage self. He’s not too far into his thirties, but he’s spent that time in the closet. A strong part of what got him through middle and high school was believing that hiding that part of himself was temporary.

Worse, spending so much time back in the closet with Raylan isn’t helping avert his PTSD much either. He’s cultivating a strain of paranoia that’s like glitter brushed off an unwanted birthday card Nelson handed him a year ago. Somehow that glitter spread all over his life: his desk to his black jeans, then on to his SUV and his apartment. Three months later, the same glitter showed up on a T-shirt.

The fear of him and Raylan being found out has tendrils like that glitter, stretching paranoia out through his life. It feeds a kind of hypervigilance Tim hasn’t felt since he first came back from Afghanistan. He thought he’d starve after his discharge. Grocery shopping was a nightmare of bogies down every aisle; eating out wasn’t much better. He had to relearn the benignity of American public places—that being stateside didn’t require him to check every sidewalk crack for possible danger.

Tim feels that dissonance now with Raylan. He guards his personal life away from his coworkers for Raylan. He constantly catches himself betraying them at work in the simplest moments. Tim’s body language speaks fluent Raylan Givens; his arms fold themselves across his chest when Raylan crosses his. And Tim loves to watch Raylan but buckles down on how often or long he stares to avoid outing them. That, in turn, spikes his vigilance levels from white to orange and all the way up to red because he doesn’t feel like he can look at Raylan without Rachel and Art seeing his feelings. But because he does love Raylan, Tim’s caught in a catch-22. How can he watch Raylan’s six if he can’t risk someone seeing his gaze linger?

The paranoia is exhausting.

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IV.

Remember when I moved in you,

And the holy dove was moving too,

And every breath we drew was, Hallelujah!

 

They’ve always been on and off again.

Tim won’t ever forget the first time he took Raylan home with him: the night he pulled on Shirley Kelso’s cousin Dupree. Raylan needed a place to crash, he’d said, because Ava Crowder was in the bed of his crappy motel room.

Whiskey shots turned into blow jobs. Sloppy, drunken, and wet. Too wet. Tim still likes to fall asleep thinking of that night: how they gave themselves away to each other. Tim’s fumbling exposed his lack of experience and Raylan’s expertise didn’t.

Blow jobs turned into late-night hookups until Raylan started up with Ava. Tim still suspects taking up with Ava was Raylan’s way of coming to terms with his sharp shift up the Kinsey scale from wanting Tim. He can’t say he wasn’t relieved when Vasquez drew a hard line on Ava Crowder. It was almost worth Boyd Crowder getting out of jail to clear a path for him with Raylan. Almost.

But those were the early days when Tim was naïve enough to think the battle was between him and Ava, back when he still believed it was enough that he could wrap Raylan’s ridiculously long legs around his hips and take him places that Ava could never hope to.

Those were the days before Tim realized the fight wasn’t between him and Ava, but between Tim and Raylan’s refusal to come out in Kentucky.

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V.

I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch,

And love is not a victory march,

It’s a cold and it’s a very lonely Hallelujah!

 

Once Ava was vanquished from Raylan’s personal life, Winona wanted back in. Raylan explained on one of the nights he called it all off with Tim that the personal history between him and Winona was too much for him to turn his back on. So, Tim was the one who ended up faced with Raylan’s back.    

Some men just don’t like to lose. Tim believes Raylan is one of those men. He showed up once with a date at a bar where he knew Raylan was taking Winona. The couple left as soon as the set started, but Raylan showed up at his apartment later that night, drunk and angry. Angry at Tim. Angry at Winona. And then they had angry sex. Twice.

Tim’s had a lot of time to think about it and he’s decided that Winona was Raylan’s trophy, his prize, stolen away by Gary. When Raylan did get her back, she upped the ante by walking out on him again.

Tim is 90 percent sure that Raylan is not leaving him and Kentucky to go back to Winona. Not to stay. But then, maybe Tim’s perspective is skewed by futile hope because Raylan is Tim’s highly contended prize.

Every time they get back together, every time Raylan throws in the towel on another blonde and returns to Tim’s bed, Tim falls just a little harder. The cycles of separation and reunion act on Tim’s heart like reps of arm curls. His heart’s grown hardened and strong. His love for Raylan is now calloused but its capacity is wider than it’s ever been.

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VI.

I did my best; it wasn’t much.

I couldn’t feel, so I learned to touch.

I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you.

 

Tim clears the building and slows to a stop on the concrete steps outside the courthouse. He’s there in time to see Raylan climbing into the back of a taxi. As the cab cruises past, Raylan spots him standing there.

Too late, Tim tells himself. He holds up a hand in silent farewell watching Raylan shift in the backseat to keep Tim in his sight.

And Tim decides it’s not too early to go find a six-pack of beer or better yet a bottle of something stronger.

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VII.

Even though it all went wrong

I’ll stand before the Lord of Song

With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!

 

Tim makes it all the way to spot where he likes to park his SUV. A tall Ginkgo casts a long shadow in the afternoons over his truck. Unlike the maples scattered around the courthouse, the ornamental doesn’t dump thousands of helicopter seeds that stick under his windshield wipers and slip down under the hood to clog his ventilation intake.

Tim’s Ginkgo is not the only one on the courthouse grounds. His tree’s mate grows the other end of the courthouse, but Tim avoids her. While both slough off exotic fan-shaped yellow leaves in the fall, Tim’s tree is male. The female version down the row spit seeds that smelled like ripe vomit all over the hood of his truck once. Only once. He had to power-wash them off to get rid of the stink. Tim even avoids the building entrance down that way come late fall.

“Why’d you come down?”

Tim is shocked from ruminating on his parking spot and turns at the voice, his breath catching. His lungs don’t seem to want to work right. He realizes that he caught up to Raylan after all, and relief smooths out the tightness in his chest. Then the emotional rubber band around his lungs snaps back tight again.  

It occurs to Tim that catching up to Raylan was the easy part.

“Did I get that wrong?” Raylan asks. “Seemed like you were looking for me.”

Tim’s eyes slide from Raylan to the cab idling behind Tim’s SUV; the driver is tapping his thumbs on the wheel either to music or out of impatience. Tim isn’t sure he can tell one from the other.

“He waiting for you?”

“My ride to the airport.”

Tim nods. “I’ll take you to the airport.”

Raylan’s face flashes surprise and what Tim has clocked as guilt. “Thanks. That the reason you chased me down?”

“Nope. Either I came down to punch you or to ask you to…” Tim still doesn’t know what the rest of his “or” scenario should be. He didn’t know how to ask for it last year, last month, or last night. And how to say what he wants sure as hell hadn’t come to him on the way down the steps. All that had come to mind were good reasons not to ask at all.

Raylan had been moving toward the cab but hesitates. “If it’s all the same to you, I’ll keep the cab if you think you’re gonna go with the punch.”

Tim fights a smile. “I think I can manage to hold myself back. Let’s get your stuff. I’ll try to explain on the way.”

 

Tim transfers Raylan’s luggage into Tim’s SUV and settles the suitcase in the back while Raylan pays the pissed-off cabbie.

“This is it?” Tim pauses before shutting the truck door. He knows Raylan kept his possessions few and far between while assigned in Kentucky, but seeing it all in one rolling case reminds Tim again of how temporal all of this was meant to be to Raylan.

“Tossed the rest or gave it away.”

“Huh. Found a purple plaid flannel hanging on a dining-room chair this morning,” Tim says.

“I know.” Raylan breaks off their conversation to head for the passenger-side door.

“Thanks?” Tim murmurs to Raylan’s back. He then sends a text to Art explaining he’s taking the afternoon off to take Raylan to the airport, climbs into the SUV, and backs out of his favorite spot.

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VIII.

Baby, I’ve been here before.

I’ve seen this room, I’ve walked this floor.

I used to live alone before I knew you.

 

Tim feels time pressing in on him. The drive to the Bluegrass Airport is not a long one, maybe fifteen minutes. He thinks he should park and walk Raylan in because he’s already halfway down Versailles Road and he hasn’t said word one.

“When’s your flight? Do you have time for me to park in short-term?”

“Parking’s fine.”

“I did come looking for you,” he admits.

“Why?”

“I’m not sure exactly. I wanted to ask you to….” Tim can’t finish the words and trails off into silence. He wants it all with Raylan but he doesn’t know how to lay it out. Even now.

“Ask me to what? To stay?” Raylan sounds suspicious and a little resentful.

“I know you can’t.”

“Then what?”

“I know you’re leaving, but can we try giving this thing we have a chance? You and me, I mean. Together. But... we gotta be out. I can’t hide anymore.”

Raylan’s quiet stare in reply is making him self-conscious and Tim has to force himself to keep his eyes on the road. They keep wandering back to Raylan.

“I didn’t know you wanted that,” Raylan finally says.

“What did you think we’ve been doin’?” Tim’s tone sounds sharper than he means it to, even to himself.

Raylan spread his hands in front of him. “Tim, I had no idea you wanted more,” Raylan says, pulling his hat from his head and resting it on his knee.

“I do. I have.”

“How long?” Raylan asks, his voice quiet.

“Long time.”

“How’d you figure this is supposed to work? You and me? When you’re in Kentucky and I’m in Florida?”

“Long distance, I guess,” Tim says. “You do remember when I taught you how to skype?”

Raylan grunts.

“I’ve been watching you handle it with your kid. I want to try us without the hiding. Just you and me without you dating a bunch of women. One honest stab at us.”

“Your timing is for shit,” Raylan says, rubbing his forehead.

“I know. I should have brought it up last night.”

Raylan sighs. “That too. It’s just that this ‘trying’ you want is what I told Winona I’d do with her a while back.”

Tim scowls. “And yet, that didn’t keep you out of my bed last night.”

“Fair point,” Raylan says. “But I….”

“But you what?”

“You gonna punch me if I tell you no?” Raylan asks.

Tim scowls. He’s disappointed Raylan would seriously ask him that. “I should. You treated me like shit.”

Raylan nods. “I did. You deserve better.”

“Give me better, then.”

“What about Winona?” Raylan runs the pad of a fingertip along his bottom lip. It gives Tim ideas.

“What about her? Tell her it’s my turn.”

“Mm-hmm,” Raylan murmurs.

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IX.

There’s a blaze of light in every word,

It doesn’t matter which you heard,

The holy, or the broken Hallelujah!

 

“Is it the gay thing? Are you still that afraid of coming out?” Tim asks. He pulls into a spot in the short-term lot and shifts into park.

Raylan snorts. “I’ll be livin’ in Miami. My daddy’s dead. Ain’t no one to raise a fuss.” Raylan lifts his left shoulder in a careless shrug, then goes on. “Well, aside from Winona and she clued in from checking my Internet history years back.” 

Tim watches Raylan position his hat back on his head, his hand already reaching for the car-door handle. After all this time, Tim does what he’s always wanted to do. He shifts, leans across the console, and presses his lips to Raylan’s. They’ve never kissed outside Tim’s apartment or a motel room with the curtains pulled tight. Angling his head so their noses fit, Tim slides his tongue along the seam of Raylan’s lips briefly before he opens to him.

Raylan has not yet answered him, he realizes. Tim doesn’t know if he wants to give this a shot or not, but Tim at least feels like Raylan heard his peace. Come what may. Part of Tim is suddenly afraid this is their last kiss and it spurs something in him to aggressively tangle their tongues together, to push a small part of himself inside Raylan a final time. If this is their last kiss, he’s going to make it memorable. He earns a moan from Raylan. Tim slips a hand behind Raylan’s neck and prolongs the kiss, shifting angles again, sucking on Raylan’s tongue, then nipping his bottom lip before he pulls back.

“Mmm. Wow.” Raylan's words are thick.

Tim pulls away enough so he can watch Raylan’s face for the emotional barometer that it is.

“I think I like the new hat,” Tim says. “I don’t get caught on the brim of this one.”

Raylan clears his throat. “That’s what I was going for when I got the last one all shot up.”

“So what do you think? You wanna try?”

“Tim. I can’t.” Raylan’s eyes are unbearably sad when he says it. So much so that Tim believes he’s not just being a dick.

“Shit.” Tim closes his eyes to hide. Seeing Raylan’s expressions turns out to be a double-edged sword.   

“I mean I can’t right now,” he says. “Just… not yet, okay? I told Winona I’d try. I gave my word.”

“When do you think you’ll get around to yet, do you think?”

Raylan huffed, swallowing a laugh. “Pop the trunk and I’ll get my bag. Maybe parking wasn’t such a great idea.”

“Hell no,” Tim says. “I’m already paying for an hour. I might as well walk you to the security gate. If this is the last I see of you, I’m getting all I can.”

“It won’t be,” Raylan says, leaning forward to kiss him. “I gave her my word and I’ll make good on that. But going in, neither one of us expects it to stick.”

“I’m not going to wait for you,” Tim lies.

Raylan presses his lips together like he expected to hear the opposite. “Guess you shouldn’t have to.”

“Halle-fuckin-lujah to that.”