I flopped onto the couch and answered my phone.
“Hey,” Fred's voice cooed. “Party last night?”
“Some,” I admitted and yawned. Glancing at the clock I noted it was 11:20, and so I was up earlier than normal for a Saturday. “You guys stay in again?”
“You know Gary. He used to be a lush, but now he does that at home,” Fred said with a snicker. “We don't go out like you anymore. So how was it?”
I rolled my eyes and then rolled my head around on my shoulders. I reached up and rubbed my neck, even though it wasn't really stiff. “It was alright,” I finally answered. “Ivanna Mann did her show, sang her songs. It was a normal Friday.”
“Ugh, I love her show! How can you be so blase about it? I'd have loved to have been there.”
“Then you should go out more,” I said and yawned. “I should make coffee. Soon. I'll get off the couch in another minute or so,” I thought.
Fred was silent for a moment. “Honey, is something wrong? You just don't sound right.”
I sighed again. “Not completely, no. My heart wasn't in going out last night.” That was saying something on a few levels. I normally lived for going out, hanging with the crowd and generally having fun. I went home with someone here and there, but more often than not I came back to my apartment alone. I mean, Bruce was usually home – my roommate – but he played video games instead of going out. It was more cost effective in the long run.
“Well what's wrong, sweetie?” Fred asked, sounding concerned. Fred and Gary were friends I'd met out in the clubs, and we kind of liked hanging out together. They think I'm their baby gay, and at the same time they think of themselves as my fairy godfathers – Emphasis on the fairy. I'd never met a more effeminate man than Fred, but he was also one of the kindest.
I sighed. “Sean and I hooked up.” I hesitated. “After the company holiday party Tuesday.”
He paused. “Sean as in Field Tech Sean? 'Sean Marcus Rossini' Sean? Sean, the Italian-looking guy you've been drooling over for months, Sean?” he asked. I winced each time he said Sean's name. He'd warned me against dating at work, and dating straight appearing boys in general. Sean wasn't in our office often, but every time he was I felt a piece of my heart leave with him. I know, it's dramatic as all fuck, and yes I'm not a teenager anymore – but I feel like one when he shows up. I even got his details from Carmella in HR. She and I always look at the pictures they take for the new hire ID badges.
Coming back to the conversation I said, “Yeah. Sean.”
“Well. Was he bad?”
“No!” I said petulantly.
“Were you bad?”
“No!” I snapped, indignation entering my voice. “He was really good, I was really good – the hook-up was some of the best sex I've ever had!”
“Oh.” He paused. “Did you do something stupid?”
“What? No.” Then it was my turn to pause. “Like what?”
“Like saying I love you?”
I scoffed. “No.”
I rolled my eyes. “Not unless he said it in his head.”
“Then what's the problem?”
I bit my lip and drew my legs up onto the couch. “He...might be avoiding me.”
He sighed. “Oh, honey. Straight boys always want to get banged by a Harvey after a Harvey Wallbanger or six. You can't expect more after that.”
“Wait, what? I have no idea what you meant there.”
“It's a drink, you poor misguided thing,” he said with a sigh. “After they get drunk, they don't mind cock or ass. Once they sober up and they get all uptight again, they don't want anyone to know what was where with them. Their little egos can't take it. I've told you, male self perception-”
“Is a bitch, I know, I know.” He'd told me more times than I could count.
“But let me ask, how do you know he's avoiding you? You've said he's not in your office all that often,” Fred said, with an annoying recall of our conversations.
I sighed. “They put a new TV in the breakroom and he came in to mount it to the wall.”
He snickered. I smiled. Internally we were both twelve, so I guess it explains why we get on.
“Then what?” Fred asked.
I gathered myself. “I went in to make small talk, and he suddenly forgot something he needed that was located somewhere other than where I was.”
“Did he look panicked?”
I thought for a moment, pushing down my petulance and self-destructive desire to just say that he did indeed look panicked. “He looked a little nervous,” I finally said.
“Well, there you have it.”
“There I have what?” I asked, getting off the couch and stretching.
“He's nervous. He doesn't know what to do now. Your path is clear.”
“Oh? Do tell.”
“You have to tell him what to do now, sweetheart! You tell him – this is where we go out to lunch or coffee and get to know each other. I mean, you've seen each other's bits and pieces, for heaven's sake! How about the rest?”
We hung up then, as Gary wanted to go out to lunch and Fred wasn't ready to leave yet. He invited me, but I looked scruffy and wouldn't be ready for public viewing for quite a while, so I declined. Instead I scratched my side as I wandered into the kitchen and started my coffee pot. If I thought about Sean I thought about his skin tone – a tan that was genetic, his arms and the way his biceps looked in that polo shirt. They weren't huge by any means, but the shirt made them look their best. He had toffee brown hair, and the hairs on his arms were light and short. He had warm brown eyes, and dimples. I know, dimples are so middle school, but he had them in spades.
That ass. Unf. Nobody really looks good in Dickies, but hell if he didn't break the mold. He had a pretty face, more so because you could see it. Too many guys were into growing beards to avoid shaving daily or because they thought it made them look manly. Truth be told, I'm not sure Sean could grow a beard – it seemed like his genetics leaned against it. I also now know the rest of his body is like that, too. Still, there were two sharp points where his jaw met his skull, and his cheekbones popped out to really define his features.
I poured a cup of coffee and sat down at the little table for two Bruce and I had bought at a rummage sale. It had old newspapers covered with a clear coating to decorate the top – very shabby chic. It was also stupidly ugly, but it had been cheap and it fit the space in terms of its size. I really should get a table cloth to hide it.
“Hey,” Bruce said through a yawn as he wandered into the room. “Mm. Coffee.”
“It's fresh,” I said. Bruce works in a data center and his hours fluctuate – he works twelve to twelve, but every three months or so they switch if it's days or overnights. Either way, it's inconvenient as hell. Still, he comes home and changes into a tee shirt and wanders around in his grandpa boxers and plays video games. He does video chats with this girl who lives in Cleveland or something, but other than that I don't think he goes out much. He says he's saving for extra education, which is what I should be doing. I spend too much clubbing.
Bruce pours a cup and leans against the counter. “Go out last night?”
“Yeah. Ivanna Mann had her show.”
He shook his head. “I don't understand it. Guys get to dress in sweats and comfy shit, and women wear tight, revealing stuff. Why would any man want to wear what a woman does?”
“I guess if you have the figure for it....” I let that hang and he grunted in response.
“I mean, I guess if you were trying to get someone's attention, you'd dress like that,” he said, apparently carrying that conversation on by himself. He does that sometimes. He glanced at me. “Are you going grocery shopping today?”
“Yeah. The weekly flier is around here, somewhere,” I said, looking around in an indifferent way. “I have a partial list.”
“Okay. Grab me some iced tea while you're out?”
He bobbed his head, topped off his cup and wandered back to his room to game away his Saturday. I let out a sigh and decided I'd better get moving myself.
After a shower and getting dressed, I felt like I could almost slough off the disappointment that lingered on my skin about the whole Sean thing. I'd crushed on him, as I had many others, but he was special for some reason. I'd felt something of a connection the few times we'd talked. He had a wholesome outer layer that sucked you in, holding you fast like being trapped in honey. At least he did that to me. Once you got through that sweetness, he could be quietly funny, and he often blushed for no apparent reason. It kind of made me wonder if I were making him blush. It was so sweet, like honey to stick with the theme, that I spent more time thinking about him than I should have.
Our company holiday party was during the late afternoon at a large hotel that the company rented year after year. At least that's what had been explained to me, since this is only my second year with the company. I had taken the job with the plan to save for going back to school for my bachelor's, but I'd gotten sidetracked. Now I was into year four of being Bruce's roomie, which wasn't a bad gig, and two years removed from earning my associate's and not really any closer to going back to school.
I hit the street and headed down to the bus stop with my foldable rolling cart bouncing along on the sidewalk. Bruce hates shopping of any kind while I don't mind it as much, so he gives me money to make sure we don't starve. Dimly I heard the growl of a diesel engine, and I looked up in a panic. My bus! I took off at a dead run, hoisting my cart up and waving my arm. The sadistic bastards who drive these things probably go home and giggle over the number of people who are waving arms frantically to ask them to wait, before they drive off. They probably watch the defeated passenger in their mirror or something. I bet they get points at bus driver conventions.
This one must have been off his game as I caught up and boarded the bus a little out of breath. I swiped my pass and collapsed into a seat. I worked to regulate my breathing, and for some reason it made me think of Sean, again. That night I'd had to work on my breathing as well. That sent my thoughts spiraling back to that night.
Everyone is invited to the company party. Rooms can be had for a discount, and there is an open bar for a few hours. The company has a ride sharing account that employees can use for free so they don't drive drunk, or they can crash at the hotel. I'm not a huge fan of hotels. I watched an investigative program where they showed you how dirty hotel rooms really are using black lights and identifying blood and spooge marks. Not my idea of a good time. The thing is, Bruce was having a bunch of friends over for a LAN party where they will drink up the WiFi and make geeky noises of excitement. Even though they are super nice, and I think one of them is sweet on me, I always feel kind of confined and forced to retreat to my room – and have shitty WiFi. So, middle of the week, hotel and all, I got a room. The ride share is good until about nine tomorrow morning, so I'll take that to work and try not to think about the sheets.
So there I was, laughing with Carmella and some guys from IT over how some Senior VP had gotten himself canned, having my second or third drink, when I sat bolt upright as I saw him. Sean. Sean Marcus Rossini, Field Tech and holy shit did he clean up nice. No one was in tuxedos or anything – most of us had come straight from the office, and it's not that he was dressed all that differently from us. It's just he wasn't dressed in his Dickies, that was for sure. He wore a nice button up, covered by a thin tan sweater that made his eyes seem lighter and brighter. His khakis fit him really well. His shoes and belt matched, and you'd be surprised how often people could screw that up.
“Hi, Sean!” I was a little surprised, not having realized I'd crossed part of the room to greet him.
The skin around his eyes crinkled and his dimples popped as he smiled at me. “Hey, Marty – right?”
“Martin,” I gently corrected. “Glad you, um, made it. First time, right?” I asked with a smile, knowing damn well he'd only been with the company about six months.
“Martin, right. Sorry. Yes, first time. Carmella said I shouldn't miss it.” He waved his hands around a little helplessly. “I don't think I realized we had so many people working here.”
“They invite guests, too,” I said and touched his elbow to steer him toward the bar. “It's as much a party as it is an opportunity to network within the company, and to show customers a good time. The bar is open, if you'd like something.”
“Oh? I should probably eat, first,” he said uncertainly.
“Why don't you grab your drink while we're here, then you can grab a plate and join us?” I asked boldly. It never occurred to me that he'd have other people he'd like to sit with.
He smiled. “Thanks. Have you seen any of the other field service guys?”
“Yes, but they tend to stop by and then keep going,” I said. “They don't spend much time in the office as a rule, so they know most of us by our voices rather than faces,” I explained. “I'm guessing this is your day off?”
“Yeah, Tuesday and Saturday. Kind of stinks, but at least I don't start until ten tomorrow morning.” He ordered a Captain and Coke, and I accompanied him to the buffet line and needlessly told him about the food. He seemed vaguely amused, or perhaps just polite, and then joined us at our table.
“Hi!” Carmella said to Sean, letting the word dangle to about sixteen syllables. “Sean, this is Lisa the taller and that's Lisa the shorter, that's Jim, that's Darius, and his wife Kimberly – who is far too good for him.” Laughter erupted and Kimberly nodded and smiled at her husband. “And then there's Kelly – and you know Martin, of course.”
“Of course,” he said with a little smile and a nod to me. Conversation picked up at the table and I sipped my drink, trying to decide on the right conversation starter with Sean. He saved me from picking the wrong one.
“They put on quite a spread, huh?” he asked, cutting into his prime rib.
“Every year,” I confirmed.
“How long have you worked here?” he asked.
“This will be my second year,” I replied.
He raised an eyebrow. “It seems like you really know the people. I'd have thought you'd have been here longer.”
“Seems that way sometimes,” I said with a grin.
He placed a piece of meat in his mouth and adopted a contemplative expression. “Not bad, for hotel food.”
“Are you something of an authority on hotel food?” I asked, fishing for information.
He smiled. “I spent time in the Midwest. Steak houses are kind of a big deal, and most hotels can't cook their way out of a paper bag.”
That led into a long discussion about farms, raising animals that you'll later kill – seems ghoulish to me. I admit he had some pretty interesting insights, but it was plain we were coming at this from two different points of view. The interesting part about it was that neither of us seemed to be trying to change the other's mind. We were just talking. I mean, it was a little irritating when I thought he wasn't seeing my point of view, but then again I had to remind myself of another Fred-ism – just because they don't agree with you doesn't mean they don't understand where you're coming from.
After he'd finished his plate, Carmella – goddess of the office – showed up with fresh drinks for Sean and me. I had just been thinking about ways to detain Sean. He accepted the drink politely, but he let out a breath and raised his eyebrows a little.
“Hmm?” He turned toward me.
“That expression. Did they not make your drink well the first time?” I asked.
“Oh! Oh, no, the drink was very good, actually. Bartender has a heavy hand,” he commented, turning the glass with his fingertips. He leaned toward me, and I copied him. “I don't drink much, so I wasn't really going to get a second. I'll sip this, though, to be polite.”
“Aww,” I said to him, tilting my head and giving him a crooked smile. “That's sweet. It's an open bar, so she didn't pay for it.”
“It'd be wasteful, and she did take the time to pay attention to what I was drinking and get me one. I think it would be rude,” he said quietly, and sipped from the glass.
“So the key to keeping you in one place is putting you into situations where you don't want to be rude?” I asked, chuckling.
He chuckled back. “I was raised and spent most of my life in South Carolina in a very...conservative household. Being polite was beaten into me,” he said, his voice trailing off enough that I almost missed it. It was fairly noisy where we were anyway, so that wasn't helping. I decided to make him feel better by talking about my family.
“Well, my family was big on discipline and my being a real man,” I said, puffing out my chest. “My dad clobbered me if the hangers in my closet were facing the wrong way.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”
“Hand to Priapus,” I said, raising my hand up in the air.
“Hand to what?” he asked, laughing.
I grinned. “God of fertility and the harvest. They made all these statues of him with baskets of food and an enormous dong to warn away thieves. I mean, what does that even mean? Was he going to screw them to death?” I broke down in giggles and he leaned toward me, laughing as well.
“But...but why say that? I mean, everyone understands hand to God.”
I gave him a gentle smile. “I gave up on the God idea a while ago. It caused too much trouble in my life.”
His expression sobered and he sipped from his drink, though his hand was shaking slightly as he did. Setting his glass down he cleared his throat and asked, “How's that?”
“It's a boring, common story,” I said with a practiced air, letting him know this really wasn't worth his time.
“I'm sorry, I'm being nosy,” he said, contrite.
“Oh, no!” I said quickly, placing a hand on his forearm. “Not at all! I'm an open book! It's just that the story isn't novel or anything. My dad was military, and when he came home all he could do was fuck and brood. He saw things, did things in the service. Being over there, it changed him; my mom told me that. He was sad and tragic in his way, but as a kid in his house, he was a monster. As soon as I was able to, I got out.”
I rubbed his forearm slightly before removing my hand, before I made a fool of myself. “It's old news, honey.”
His face colored and he laughed lightly.
“What?” I asked, smiling at him.
He looked at me, dimples showing. “You just called me honey.”
I leaned back. “What? No I didn't! Did I?”
He started to laugh and I joined him, out of nervous fear and relief that he wasn't angry.
“My dad didn't have the military to make him an asshole,” he said, nodding to himself. “His mind was poisoned by being Southern Baptist and evangelical on top of it.” He paused and seemed to take a few breaths. I wanted to hear his background, to know more about him – even the painful bits. Maybe those most of all, because they also make us who we are. Not like this, though; both the setting and the timing were wrong.
“Hey, let's go look at the desserts,” I said suddenly. I tugged on the shoulder of his shirt and he stood slowly, some of his normal grace temporarily lost. I'd guess it was the alcohol. He said he didn't drink much.
We bumped against a each other a little as we walked, laughing and grinning lightly as we did. They had a table full of different cakes, cookies, pies – it was a table of diabetes if I'd ever seen one. We both picked up something small, but instead of steering him back to our table I escorted him from the room and across the hotel lobby to where it was quieter.
“I'd love to listen if you'd continue,” I said. “It seemed too public, and the Lisa's are gossip mongers.”
He looked mildly surprised. “Oh. Well, I feel stupid.”
“You kind of just put your business out there. I guess I just...I don't know.”
I smiled at him. “I'm an open book, I told you. I don't care who knows, but you may not feel the same way.” I paused. “But I do want to know.”
He sighed and used his fork to take a literal sliver from his lemon meringue pie. “My father was a deacon in the church we went to. My mom was proper, and quiet the way Baptists raise them to be. Obedient wives.” His voice was devoid of color, of the Seanness I'd grown to enjoy throughout the evening. “There was a guy that moved to our town. I...felt something for him. It was wrong. It felt right to me then, though. We went down to the beach and....” His voice trailed off and I felt a looming sadness well up inside me. This story wasn't going to end well. I reached out and placed my hand over his.
“You don't have to.”
He shifted his gaze to look at my hand. Then he looked up at me, eyes clear and freaking gorgeous. “Do...did you get a room?”
I lifted my head and groaned. I'd missed my stop! I sighed and grumbled to myself that I'd have to wait another four stops to be near a different supermarket, one I only went to if I needed to. I'd discovered it because my normal store had a huge sale on plant based meat products, but had sold out. They'd suggested the other store, and I'd boarded the bus to go get my stuff. I do eat meat, on occasion, but I can't help but think about something else having to die for that. The idea of a slaughterhouse turns my stomach. So I substitute whenever I can.
I sighed and thought back to that night for just a few moments. Sean was inexperienced and it had shown. Because I'm an optimist and a masochist all in one, I'd packed lube and condoms. In the end we made it work pretty damn well. I smiled a bit, thinking of that precious time where everything outside the room didn't exist. I shed my past, and I wasn't even tipsy by then. I have no idea if the alcohol was playing any part in Sean anymore, but I couldn't make myself care at the time.
It wasn't just being horny, either. This wasn't like a hookup at a club. I'd learned something about him, and he had learned something about me. Neither of us had shared positive things about our pasts, but that just convinced me that our pain helped shape us into who we were and was just as important as our joy. There was no question something more than sex was happening. His hooks were in me, but deep. We spent the rest of the night exploring each other, delving into the mysteries of who we were when hidden from the world.
Later, after we'd cleaned up and were huddled on the bed, he'd started to speak. He'd picked up his story as if we hadn't just had the best sex of my life – not because it was wild or took a long time, but because it had felt like more than sex. More than a hook up. It was just...more.
“When I was sixteen, I went to the beach with a guy. We'd snuck out. It was innocent, but it also wasn't. We had...taken off our shirts and were kissing. We'd...had some wine. My dad caught us.” He paused, his last word having sounded choked. I pulled the covers snugly around us and curled into him. His right arm was hooked around me, and he pulled me closer. “My dad punched me in the jaw, while I was trying to make excuses for him seeing what he'd...seen.” He paused again. “I sent the guy a note. I apologized for having pushed him away in a panic, but he told me to stay way from him.”
Quietly I said, “I guess his family was religious, too?”
He nodded slightly, head shifting on the pillow and making enough noise that it seemed to fill the world, given how close I was to him. “Same church. His father wanted to be a deacon. But when I saw that...I went a little crazy. I thought I could get through it if I had him, which was stupid. I mean, he was fifteen and I was sixteen and how was I going to fight it all?”
“It's a hopeless feeling,” I commiserated. “I know how alone you can feel.”
He nodded again and gave me a light squeeze. “He got sent away. I figured it was a reprogramming thing. It twisted my heart, and my parents were talking about the same thing. I left the house, drove drunk, wrecked the car and barely survived.”
“Jesus,” I said softly. He didn't nod this time, just closed his eyes and took a few measured breaths.
“I did get sent away. It wasn't specifically to a conversion place, but a working ranch kind of program. To toughen you up, and work you so hard you didn't have time to think about other people.”
So that was his time in the Midwest. Just a few years. I didn't ask if he was in touch with his parents, if they'd reconciled at all. I wanted to know, but I didn't want to make him suffer anymore. I know talking about some pain can be cathartic – my therapist said so. But I wasn't a therapist, just a willing ear and a warm heart. If nothing else, I wanted to know everything else about Sean. His story had intensified a thirst within me that was no longer a superficial crush, but something that moved deeply within my heart.
We didn't talk anymore. We ended up sleeping, me nestled to him. I woke as he left, just as the door closed. I was fuzzy, but still forced the blanket around me and opened the door to try and catch him, but he was gone. I thought about running down the stairs for some kind of romantic statement in the parking lot, but figured I'd look too ridiculous for him to take seriously. I'd see him at work.
I jolted from my thoughts as the bus passed my stop yet again. Damn! I stood and hit the button to signal a stop, and figured I'd just have to walk back a block. I made my way to the door at the back of the bus and then to the sidewalk. My cart bounced along behind me as I trundled to the store, shaking my head and wondering what would have to happen to get Sean off my brain.
My phone rang and I glanced down and groaned. “Hi, Mom,” I said, trying to be cheerful.
“Hi, baby,” she said, not having to fake her cheerfulness. “You know why I'm calling, of course. So when can I expect you?”
I sighed. “I don't know.”
“You haven't looked at the bus schedule, have you?” she said, her tone mildly reproachful.
“Mom,” I groaned.
“It's not Christmas without you,” she said quietly, twisting the guilt-knife in my gut. “I completely understand where you're coming from, Mart. I'm not asking you to move closer or to visit more often. I'm just asking for a few days. Your brothers and sister will be here, too. Full house.”
I licked my lips. “And Dad?”
“He's made progress,” she said definitively. “He's doing well with the medication, and the trips to the VA have paid off. He still has scars – and I know, he's inflicted his own share of them. But he's not the same man, anymore. Please, Mart. I haven't seen you in four years. Don't make me beg anymore. Come home. Bring your boyfriend or – Jesus! Have you gotten married and not told me?”
“Mom, no!” I said and started to laugh.
“Good, at least you can still laugh,” she said, sounding sad.
I hated to say yes. My insides turned to water at the thought of seeing my father again. My mom had always been torn between protecting us kids and the man she loved. I was a little resentful of that – after all, she'd picked him, we hadn't. But maybe the way I was feeling about Sean was how she felt about my father. Maybe you don't always choose who you fall – whoa! Okay, let's just pull back on that one!
“Don't call me that,” I said quickly. With a sigh I said, “I'm out grocery shopping. I'll...book a bus ticket when I get home. I'll call you.”
“I can't wait to see you!” she said, and her joy was so plain it hurt. My eyes actually watered.
So there I was, on an emotional roller-coaster with my old-man wire cart strolling into a grocery store I wasn't familiar with – and let me just say, nothing makes you feel more out of place than when you are in a strange grocery store. Nothing is where it should be, even if it's the same chain. I look like a goddamn tourist, wandering around with my eyes up to study the stupid signs at the ends of each aisle.
“Better be careful, you'll run into something.”
I looked around in slight bewilderment, because no one should know me here – yet it sounded like it was addressed to me, maybe because I was wandering with my eyes aimed at the eight foot level.
“Sean?” I asked, and smiled involuntarily. “Hi. How...hi!”
He blushed slightly and a smile touched the corner of his mouth. “Hi, Martin. Um....”
“Uh, so, this is your store?” I asked, just to say something.
“Uh, I shop here. Um, yeah. Not, mine mine, but. Yeah. Shop here.”
“I, uh, missed my bus stop so I don't usually...I mean...weird to run into each other, right?” I said, stumbling around like the idiot I am. He wasn't running from me, though.
“Yeah. Um...” He glanced around, looking back at me and tipping his head to the side. “Can I buy you a cup of coffee? The cafe here in the store isn't bad.”
“Do they have tea?” I asked, moving to stand beside him, and to flow with him as he turned toward the little shop within the store. Jesus, I was nervous!
“Yeah, they do,” he said. “You prefer tea?”
“I'm weird with coffee,” I told him. “I'm okay making it at home, but commercial coffee has given me issues.”
“Oh, okay,” he said. We got to the counter and ordered. We quietly moved to the end of the counter to receive our drinks, and then sat at the small, uncomfortable wire tables to drink – or in my case, to wait while my drink steeped.
“So,” he said. “I haven't seen you...I mean, I saw you at the office, but....”
“Yeah,” I said, my voice dropping. “I...well, I thought you seemed uncomfortable. You left and didn't come back.”
He raised his eyebrows. “I needed my wire strippers for the co-ax cable, but when I got to my truck, I couldn't find them. They're usually right on my tool belt, but they must have slipped out and I hadn't noticed.”
“Oh?” I asked, hope welling inside me. “Did you find them?”
“Not right away. I had to go buy a second set – which guarantees I'll find the first set – and by the time I got back to the office for that TV, I'd lost you.”
I coughed lightly. “Not lost. I worked a half day. I had an appointment.” My therapist. I can tell him that, why did I omit it?
“Oh. I – ”
“An appointment with my therapist,” I blurted. “It's why, um, I had to leave.”
“Oh, yeah, I understand. I just...misunderstood.”
I tilted my head and regarded him. “Maybe we both did.”
He nodded. “I didn't have your number. As far as I know, you don't have mine. I...wanted to see you. Talk to you. Um.”
My heart pounded. “Me, too.”
He smiled. “I dumped a lot of stuff on you.”
“I wanted to know,” I replied. “It made you more real. Not just a passing crush.”
“A crush, huh?” He blushed, yet smiled. “So I guess that means you...aren't seeing anyone?”
I leaned forward, cupping my hands around my drink. “There's this one guy at work. I think he has potential.”
He let out a slow breath and sighed. “Before anything else happens, I need your number. This has been killing me.”
Sean had just arrived to do his shopping, so we shopped together. We teased each other about the things we were buying – and I foisted a lot of stuff onto the fact my roomie liked certain things. Easily the most fun I ever had grocery shopping. As it happened, Sean had a car and drove me home. So I invited him up and to stay for dinner. Bruce wandered out for his iced tea, still in a tee shirt and grandpa boxers, said hello, and retreated once more.
I cooked; he tried to help. We ate and then sat together on the couch. “I think the polite thing is to ask if you want to watch a movie, but I'd really rather just talk. Is that too selfish?” I asked.
“I don't think so,” he said, then poked me in the ribs, and making me jump. “So talk.”
I rolled my eyes a little. Should have seen that coming. “Well, I have an associates degree and I'm supposed to be saving for school so I can get a bachelors, but I've kind of turned into a club kid, I guess.”
I sighed. “Yeah. I mean, I like going out. I like the dancing, the music and hanging out with people. When I first moved here and started to go out to the clubs, I met Fred and Gary. They are older than I am, and they totally adopted me.” I smiled, thinking about how silly they are. “They helped me navigate my way in town – I mean, they gave me the story on the people they knew and I know they talked me out of going with this one guy, Mike, who turns out is a total douche.”
“Close call, huh?”
“Totally,” I said, placing a hand on his forearm. “I, of course, told Fred about you. My work crush.”
“Oh?” he asked, blushing. God, it was so exciting to confess something silly like that to him.
“Yep. I told him I was all worried that you were hiding out from me, after you left for that stripper thing and never came back.”
“But I told you – ” he protested, and I interrupted before he could finish.
“I didn't know that, then,”I said placatingly. “I'll have to call him to update.”
“Uh huh. So. Did he give you advice?”
“About you? Of course he did. Fred gives me advice about my love life, toilet paper that's on sale – it doesn't really matter, Fred advises me anyway,” I said and laughed. He joined me. “I mean, he calls and tells me when bad weather is coming. I'm like, 'Fred, my phone gives me the weather!' But it fills some mothering instinct he has, I guess. They're sweet.”
Sean's hand settled on top of mine and my heart fluttered. “So. What was his advice?”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “He said I had to tell you what to do.”
“What?” he asked, his voice rising and bubbling with laughter.
“Well, I told him you seemed unsure when I saw you.”
“Well, yeah. We don't know each other that well, but we had a pretty personal conversation and slept together. Kind of unexpected.”
“You're telling me,” I said with a grin. “Anyway, he told me I had to tell you what came next. Like to take me to lunch, or to the movies, et cetera.”
His thumb began stroking my knuckles. “Well, it wasn't horrible advice, I guess.”
I gave him a tender look. “No, it wasn't.”
He let out a long breath. “So this is probably a bad idea, you know.”
“What? Why would you say that?” I demanded.
“Well, we both had troubled home lives as kids. That can make us rough around the edges. We work together, and work romances are sort of frowned on.”
“Well, yeah and yeah, but so fucking what?” I said petulantly. “My parents don't rule my life, even though my mother just guilted me into going home for a few days around Christmas.” I rolled my eyes for emphasis. “And you know what? In a fucked up way, I'm glad to know that it won't be an issue that my family can't measure up to yours, or vice versa.”
“What do you mean?” he asked with a frown on his face.
“Let's say you had a fairy tale childhood, okay? So then along comes me with my trash childhood, and that's all anyone focuses on and feels bad for me or whatever. But that's not how it is with us. We both got the shit end of the stick, so now we can just leave it and get on with whatever this is.”
He rolled my hand over and slipped his fingers between mine. “Are you saying I can have this? You'll let me?”
My heart skipped a few beats. “I'm saying we can have this. Whatever we want it to be.”
He choked out a small laugh. “What about us working together?”
“We're in different departments,” I said reasonably. “Besides, I do need to get serious about saving to go back to school. Unless you like clubbing...?”
“I'd go with you, but no, I'm not big into a club scene,” he admitted.
“There you go. I just saved so much money, they should cast me in one of those stupid insurance commercials.” We grinned at each other. “Are you going home for Christmas?”
His expression sobered. “I'm not welcome. My parents and I don't speak.”
I sighed. “Okay. Well, my mother asked me to come and even said to bring my boyfriend. So. Want to come home with me for Christmas?”
The snow started to fall while we were on the bus. The seats were uncomfortable, and both of us had absolutely had it with the bus by the time we arrived. The funny thing is, we kind of commiserated about it instead of sniping at each other. It wasn't a warm thing, just kind of happened. Once into the terminal, each of us with a duffle in one hand and a backpack on our shoulders, we were greeted by my parents.
My father looked old. Hesitant. Small. It wasn't just age that was hitting him, but life was crushing him down. It wasn't hard to find the lines on his face that I remembered so well in my nightmares, but it was just as easy to see that he was...diminished.
My mother looked tired, but beamed as we embraced. She fussed, and kept touching my face. Then she turned to Sean and made a bigger fuss, making comments about how she could see why I'd want to keep him to myself. My father shuffled a hair closer and held his hand out to me.
“Hello, Martin,” he said in a soft, gravelly voice. I only remember his voice being loud, mean. Had he ever spoken softly?
“Hi, Dad,” I said, taking his hand and shaking it. “This is my boyfriend, Sean Rossini.”
Dad turned his eyes to him and held his hand out. “I'm glad to meet you. I hope my son is happy with you.”
“Thank you,” Sean replied, smiling at him. “At least as happy as I am with him – but I think we're both seriously happy to be off that bus!”
“Aren't they horrible?” my mother asked, then began to prattle. “I can remember taking the bus up from the city one time, and they had to change the bus! There was something wrong with the brakes and the driver kept mashing on them! I mean, just mashing! And the bus would lurch to one side because I suppose only one side of the brakes was working. And....”
I just watched my father as she talked, oblivious to me and really more focused on Sean. My dad finally noticed my looking at him and gave me a wan smile. Sean and my mother were a few steps ahead of us, and my father slowed down and turned toward me. We looked at each other for a moment, people streaming around us. In my peripheral vision I saw Sean and my mother stop and look back at us.
“Are you doing okay?” my father asked.
“Yeah. I'm good,” I said.
“Good. Need money?”
“No. I have a job, and I'm saving to go back to school,” I said.
“That's good. You were always smart.”
I widened my eyes in surprise. “Did you just say I was smart?”
He looked away from me, his eyes downcast. “Look, Martin...I know it was bad before.” He looked up at me, but not directly in my eyes. “I know it was bad before. I knew it, but I...” he waved his hands helplessly. “I couldn't....” He paused an tried again. “I'm sorry. I'm still not...who I should have been. I'm...glad you're happy, in spite of how things were. How I was. I'm glad you came home for your mother – she misses you all. She doesn't deserve to be punished for all this. I know I do, but please...be kind to your mother.”
I leaned a little closer. “Mom says...you're getting help?”
He looked away and nodded.
“Why are you ashamed of getting help, Dad?” I asked quietly.
“You wouldn't understand,” he said quietly, yet firmly.
“You know what? I think that's bullshit. And over the next few days, I want you to make me understand. Okay?”
He looked up and studied my face for a moment. “You're different.”
I looked him in the eyes. “I'm okay, now. What about you?”
His lower lip trembled. “Working on it.”
“Okay, then,” I said with a curt nod, feeling unsure of myself all of a sudden with the strange waters I was swimming in.
The snow continued to fall as my father drove us back to my childhood home. My mother prattled on, and Sean asked questions about my childhood and my siblings. My mother was only too happy to spill any detail that flitted across her mind. Once home my sister and brothers gathered around, hugging us both. Dinner was good, with my mother loudly talking, and my sister emulating her. My siblings' families swarmed the house – nieces and nephews I'd never met.
That night Sean and I settled into my childhood bedroom. We were cuddling when my phone rang – Fred. I put him on speaker.
“Darling, we're at Haven, but we don't see your gorgeous face. Where are you?” Fred asked.
“You got Gary out of the house?” I asked, stunned.
“He says fuck you, in a non-sexual way. Yes, we're out of the house and we've hit the two cocktail rule.”
“The two cocktail rule?” I asked, raising an eyebrow and looking at Sean with amusement.
“Yes, of course!” he said, like everyone knew the rule he likely had made up three minutes prior. “If you don't see someone by the second cocktail, you have to call them so they can come to the club and clink glasses with you, darling boy. Now are you here? And if not, when will you arrive? I can get a nice drink ordered for you,” he said.
I looked at Sean and smiled. “I'm at my parents'. With Sean. For Christmas.”
“You mean Sean Marcus Rossini? You mean you told him what to do next?” Fred asked.
“Actually, Fred,” Sean said. “I'm just going to kiss him, now. You have a happy holiday, and we'll see you when we get back to town.”
“You'd better beli-” Fred's reply was cut off as Sean pressed the button to end the call.
“Going to kiss me, huh?” I asked, raising an eyebrow in challenge.
“I don't need to be told everything,” he said with a grin.
So the snow fell on a holiday season filled with new beginnings. I suppose everything can be looked at as a beginning, and you don't need the stillness of winter or a holiday to seize the opportunity for a new beginning. But sometimes, they give you the excuse you shouldn't need. This was the right time, the right place – and the right man to make my holiday – and life – truly merry.