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Figures of Merit

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David arrives at the store one morning to find Patrick at the till, cell phone wedged between shoulder and ear while he rings up a customer with an apologetic what-can-you-do smile that could diffuse conflicts much stronger than the complicated etiquette surrounding the work priorities of a solo employee holding down the fort.

He steps in to finish the transaction, freeing Patrick to take the call into the back room. "And did you find everything you were looking for today?"

"Everything but the cappucinno bark, your partner said it's out of stock?"

"Mmm, it's on back order. If you leave your name and number, we'll give you a call when the next shipment comes in and put some aside for you."

When the customer has left, David threads the receipt through the spike on the desk and finishes unpacking the box of moisturizers Patrick had clearly been in the middle of labelling when he'd been interrupted.

After five minute pass where no one comes to join him, he pokes a head into the stock room to check in and finds Patrick sitting at the desk. "And can you confirm whether both the mileage and insurance on a personal car used for business purposes are qualifying deductions?"

David steps closer, and sees that Patrick has been cross-checking a page of handwritten notes against the computer, a spreadsheet open on the left half of the screen.

"Yes, that will be all, thanks." Patrick writes something else on the notepad and underlines it, then sets the phone down and turns his attention to David. "Thanks for earlier, I've been on hold all morning. This stuff is more complicated than I was expecting, I'm a little over my head here."

On the right half of the screen, a web page from the Canada Revenue Agency is open. Thoughts of back ordered products and today's shipments leave David abruptly, all open processes suspended as his brain misfires and reboots in safe mode.


Patrick's hands are a comforting weight on his shoulders and David looks up at him, realizing that Patrick has moved from the desk. "Sorry, I missed that," he says, because it's clear Patrick had been waiting for a response on something.

"I asked if you wanted coffee, you look a little out of it this morning."

"...yes, please, coffee. Caramel macchiato --."

"-- skim, two sweeteners, and a sprinkle of cocoa. I know."

The bell over the door rings as Patrick leaves, and David holds himself still. Maybe he should have asked Patrick for a smaller size than his regular. If the urge to fidget is this strong before coffee, the additional caffeine might push him over the top and David hates that feeling past the border of wired, when he feels nervy and unsettled, jittery and on edge, everything amplified.

He finds himself spinning one of his gold engagement rings while he stares at the innocuous text on the screen, plain black font on a white background. What would he take from here, given 15 minutes to collect his belongings? Individually, any given item on the shelves is worthless. Together, they are everything. But you can't fit a feeling in a suitcase.

At least Patrick he could carry over his shoulder.


Patrick has baseball practice after work that evening, so David wanders across the street to the cafe where he is less likely to stew in his own thoughts than at the motel. He's actively trying to be less self-destructive these days, but it's a work in progress.

He spots his father at the back of the restaurant and slides into the booth across from him, swiping a mozzarella stick from his plate.

"It's considered polite to ask first, David," Johnny says reprovingly.

"Oh, so you were planning on eating those then?"

"That's beside the point." The marinara sauce takes the edge off the freezer burn, but there's still something to be desired about the taste. David finishes them anyways, because he's hungry and they're there, and tries not to think about the aged Swiss gruyère from the wine and cheese at his last gallery exhibition. It's easier now than it used to be. Every once in awhile he has cravings for something specific, which usually means out of his budget or ability to procure, but they are few and far between these days.

He orders the daily special when Twyla comes around to take his order without asking what it is, and that's different, too.

"How was work today?"

"Busy. Thursday's one of our highest traffic days, we get a lot of next day walk-ins from open mic night."

"You're still doing that, then?"

"Every other Wednesday." Patrick always hosts and always starts the evening off by playing a song of his own, but never anything quite as performative as that first time, when Patrick had taken something new and exciting but tentative and solidified it in three minutes and six chords. Lately he's taken to ukelele covers of rock songs, because just about anything sounds happy when played on a ukelele. Patrick has a deeply sarcastic sense of humour that David appreciates on an almost visceral level but he is ultimately a happy person, and open mic night is a happy place. It is supportive and encouraging and so much kinder than the artistic scene David used to be part of. They've never set down any ground rules to that effect because they've never needed to. It is probably David's favourite night of the week.

"Remember how Mark used to bring you a pen every time he'd visit with paperwork?" David asks. Mark, their former business manager. Mark, the reason they're living in this town. It's easier than the question he wants to ask, which is 'Hey, in retrospect do you think you missed any signs he was a thieving bastard?'

His father freezes with his fork part way to his mouth and sets it down slowly. David closes his eyes briefly and bites his lip against the urge to apologize instantly and drop the topic, turning away. He's doing this wrong.

"Yes," Johnny says, after a minute. "He used to have the pen ready, and leave flags on the pages where he needed my signature. What's this about?"



"Really nothing."


"It's just that Patrick was on the phone with the CRA this morning and I --."

His father's eyes go wide with alarm. "You don't think Patrick is--?"

"No!" David cuts him off. "God, no. He would never." The thought has never crossed David's mind, actually. First Patrick had taken it onto himself to get the small business grants needed to cover their startup costs, and then he'd put some of his own savings into the store when they'd started to realize it could really be something. David has never -- Patrick could never -- the thought is offensive to him. He's allergic to it.

"Then what's this about?"

"We've been doing...well, lately, with the community events and the website Alexis set up and the social media buzz."

"That's good, isn't it?"

"Yes, obviously, of course it is," David says, rolling his eyes. At times, it feels like he and his father speak different dialects of the same language. They share a vocabulary but not an understanding. He's always had a hard time getting his point across.

Stevie keeps telling him that people aren't mind readers though, and so he bites back the frustration and tries again. "Patrick's always handled the finances, but we're expanding rapidly and it's starting to be a lot, and I can't be of any help, I don't know enough about any of this, I didn't go to business school--."

"Whoa, hey, David." Johnny reaches a hand across the table and hesitates. They've never been a particularly tactile family, and while many things about the family dynamic have changed since they moved to town that isn't really one of them. After a minute, Johnny pats his arm. "Do you want me to take a look at it? Maybe I can help."

"No," David says, set in his answer but unable to put his finger on exactly why. He's never wanted his parents involved in the business. The store is his and Patrick's and no one else's. Alexis can consult and the Rosebud can sign on as a client but they aren't lifelines, the store sinks or swims without their involvement. "No, it's fine, I'm overreacting."

"Okay," his father says, but he still looks uncertain. "If you change your mind, let me know."


Baseball night usually means David spends the night at the motel, because Patrick tends to go out for drinks with the team after practice and it's healthy for them to spend a little time apart. It worries David sometimes how low-stress the routine they've settled into is. He keeps waiting for Patrick to get sick of him or vice versa, living in each other's pockets between the store and the relationship.

Alexis is in the Galapogos and his mother is at a Jazzagals show, so he bypasses his room and heads straight for the main office. Stevie glances up from a four suit game of Spider Solitaire and sighs. "You were supposed to be Nicole Patterson."

"Okay well, you were supposed to be happy to see me, so I guess we'll both just have to live with the disappointment."

She snorts, and he holds up a bottle of wine. "One for the wait?"

"Do you even have to ask?"

He pours a portion each into two coffee mugs and stashes the rest of the bottle under the desk, just in case Nicole Patterson does show up anytime soon. Stevie's been working more night shifts since the break-up with Amir. She hasn't talked about it but he knows she's going through a rough patch personally. He recognizes that feeling of being stuck, fixed in place while the world moves on without you. He's spent years in that place.

Work is good for her, something to get her mind off of things. Cabaret was good for her too, it got her out of her comfort zone. She enjoyed it more than she'd ever be willing to admit, the performance, the scenery, the camraderie. That said, if she comes in one day and tells him she's joining the baseball team, it will be time to host an intervention.

"Hey, where did you learn how to manage the motel?"

"You mean like the booking system? Ours is ancient, it was set up by my great aunt."

"No, like the other stuff. You file business taxes, right?"

Stevie just looks at him. "Yes David, I file business taxes."

"Did you take a course or something?"

"I thought Patrick handled the finances. Did he say something?" Stevie is like the anti-Rose; she always seems to see what he means, not what he says.

"No. It just seems like a lot, lately."

"He would tell you if there was a problem." She's right. He knows she's right. Aside from that one time, Patrick is like a walking billboard for the merits of open and effective communication. But it's not Patrick that David is worried about. It's everyone else.

He refills his wine, letting Stevie change the topic of conversation.


The shelf of books on business finance at the Elmdale Chapters is almost hidden between a section on travel that is both despairingly sparse and at least ten years out of date -- three of the "up and coming" French restaurants recommended in the Paris guide have since closed, and their recommendations on where to stay are simply not correct -- and a much larger section on personal finance.

He lifts his sunglasses to get a better look at the titles and tries to avoid making eye contact with the sales associate who is entirely too perky to be trusted with such matters. He needs someone angrier for this, someone who looks like they've been burned before.

His phone buzzes in his pocket and he swears loudly, waving a hand at the sales associate as some sort of apology for his foul mouth. Amusement flickers briefly across her face before the retail smile settles back into place, and he turns away from her before he can make a bigger fool of himself.

"So, what's this I'm hearing about you and Brenda's golden retriever?" Patrick asks as soon as the call connects.

"Who told you?"

"I will neither confirm nor deny."

"It was Roland, wasn't it?" David pinches the bridge of his nose and not for the first time he laments the fact that he lives in a town full of people who don't know when to keep their mouths shut. Their complete lack of discretion regarding things that should never be discussed again is reasons one through ten why he had volunteered to do pickups today, so he could buy a simple book under the cover of tinted lenses without speaking to anyone like a civilized person.

"You know, golden retrievers are very good judges of character," Patrick continues and David can almost hear Patrick's smile over the phone, his quiet amusement embedded in the teasing tone.

"I thought dogs were supposed to be man's best friend. Not--."

"Should I be jealous? Sounds like Bruno wanted to be more than friends."

"You can stop any time now."

"Are you on your way back yet? We need to leave by six if we want to make the previews."

"...okay, but we don't want to make the previews," David says. "Literally the only goal is to watch Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant flirt all over Notting Hill."

"And there's nothing significant about a romcom beginning in a small, independently owned shop."

"Are you accusing me of having an ulterior motive?" David asks. He's smiling now too but Patrick can't see him, so he has plausible deniability.

"Hurry up and get back here, I'm tired of reading legalese." The smile falls off David's face and he looks back to the shelf in front of him, no closer to finding something useful now than he had been when he first walked in.

"Yeah," he says quietly.

"Don't worry, there's enough in the budget for the reclaimed wooden furniture you wanted," Patrick says. One of his favourite pasttimes is teasing David but he never takes it too far, always seems to know when to bring it back to a moment of sincerity. "Love you, bye."

There are a truly remarkable amount of books in this section branded 'For Dummies.' Aside from the garish yellow colour scheme, the simplified descriptions are not encouraging regarding their ability to prevent fine print-buried, loophole-driven financial crime from befalling the reader.

The perky sales associate wishes him a good afternoon when she rings up his purchases. He scowls at her and puts his sunglasses back on, shoving his two selections into a reusable Rose Apothecary tote bag and making his escape.


Wednesdays are reserved for filling online orders and Thursdays for inventory, both two person tasks, so David doesn't get the store to himself until Patrick's day off on Friday. In between customers he sets himself to the task of reading about their corporate tax liability, provincial tax credits available to small businesses, and the record keeping involved in all of this.

How many tax seminars has Patrick been to over the past six months and even he still finds it confusing? The alternative is bringing someone in though, and that is -- well, it just isn't a good idea. A faceless drone won't be able to look at their books and see the blood, sweat, and tears that went into this store. (The faceless drone has a receding hairline, oily skin, and thick-rimmed rectangular glasses, but that is beside the point.)

Whoever they bring in won't know these things, and they won't appreciate the -- store, and they won't care about who -- what -- they're destroying.

"My son the scholar!"

David snaps the book shut instinctively, sliding it behind the cash register and out of view. "Mom. What brings you in today?"

"Can't a mother visit her son and take pride at seeing him successful in his place of business?"

"Are you out of bath bombs again?"

Moira frowns at him, two of the bergamot-infused strawberry and cream variety already halfway into her purse. "Oh David, you must find a way of managing your stress. You should try one of these yourself, you look dreadful. Are you working too hard?"

David does not so much as look at the closed book, because his mother has a truly unnatural ability to pick up on minor cues and follow them through to their unpleasant but oddly truthful ends. "Just a normal Friday. Clearly we're overrun," he says, throwing his hands wide to encompass the otherwise empty store.

"There's no need to be like that, dear, I'm just asking," Moira says, her hand coming up to her chest to grasp her necklace. Literally clutching her pearls. He loves his mother, but she makes it hard sometimes.

He remembers the Christmas she received those pearls. It was a gift from Mark, who'd gotten a little something 'for the whole family'  as a year-end celebration. Cigars for Dad, flowery perfume for Alexis, a basketball for David, and a pearl necklace for Mom. One out of four correct. He wonders if his mother remembered that when she put it on this morning, if it would make a difference if she did. Pride comes in many shades.

"Are you sure you're alright, David? You look like you've seen a ghost. And I should know, one night at the Adelphi Theatre..."


He goes back to Patrick's that night to find the apartment has been taken over by a sea of papers. David surveys the scene from the doorway, the three ring binder occupying the left half of the couch bearing the label 'Guide T4012, T2 Corporation Income Tax Guide'. The binder weighs down a file folder of loose papers while Patrick's laptop sits at the center of it all on the coffee table.

Patrick crosses from the kitchen counter to greet him with a kiss before setting a steaming mug of tea down on the coaster beside his laptop and sinking back into the couch.

"This is not what a day off looks like," David says.

"Sorry, sorry, I lost track of time, I'll get it out of our way. It's just hard to focus at the store sometimes. You know, we should really consider closing off some of the stockroom to make an actual office."

"This is...a lot," David says, thinking about how far he's gotten into the two reference books and how little they have prepared him to help with this.

Patrick looks up at him, the tired lines around his eyes softening as he notices the bag of groceries David remembered to pick up on his way home. They're out of milk, and while Patrick has strong feelings about milk in tea David hates drinking coffee without. "What do you mean?"

"It's too much." David clears his throat to get rid of the sudden lump, head tilting back for a second as he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath in, pulling himself back together. "For -- for one person."

"I have been thinking about bringing someone in," Patrick says slowly, choosing his words carefully. His eyebrows furrow like that when he's confused, but Patrick isn't a thinking out loud sort of guy. "Maybe a business manager."

Mark used to call David's father 'Mr. Johnny Rose!', full name and title, exclamation mark included. He used to give David and Alexis a birthday card every year. He used to have a key to the house.

David leaves Patrick to shift the pile of papers to various free surfaces around the apartment so that he can keep his place in everything and starts in on dinner. When he starts to chop the onion, he has to keep running it under cool water to keep his eyes from prickling.


"Hey, you left a message about the cappucinno bark? It's back in stock?"

"I've got your order right here," Patrick says, stepping behind the counter and returning with a paper bag that has the name Jessica handwritten in the corner in Patrick's tight, messy scrawl. David doesn't know how he does it, but Patrick remembers the names of all their regulars.

"I've been looking forward to this all day. It's been such a bad week."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"--getting audited is so stressful, you don't even know. Or you do, I don't know your life."

"No, thankfully I've never been audited," Patrick says. He glances up to catch David's eye because every once in awhile they end up hearing someone's life story and it is a semi-frequent source of amusement, but David's brain has ceased responding to external stimuli.

"You start to think that if you make one mistake you'll lose everything!" the customer complains, throwing her hands in the air. Her blue peacoat is not a windbreaker. It does not have the word 'REVENUE' written on the back. David knows these things.

Patrick finishes the transaction and waits until she's out of sight of the store window to lean on the counter and turn to face David fully. "Don't think cappucinno bark will solve that one," he says, smiling.

David doesn't say anything, and Patrick's smile fades. "Maybe the peppermint though," he tries again.

"Yeah," David says. His voice catches in his throat and he swallows around it, heart beating faster now. It's not a caffeine buzz that's got him in this state but it feels a little like that, amplified and anxious, the world around him growing distant as if viewed through someone else's eyes.

"Okay, that's it," Patrick says, taking hold of his hand.

David lets himself be pulled into the back room, where Patrick pins him against the wall and holds him in place. "David, I need you to take a deep breath for me," Patrick says, and it bothers David how effective it is, how instinctually his body responds to this voice from this man when he has spent most of the last few days trying to keep exactly this fucking feeling under wraps with so little success.

"I'm fine."

"I don't think that you are," Patrick says, and David absolutely hates the part of himself that is pathetically grateful that Patrick's calling him on his bullshit, that Patrick sees David is barely treading water and could use a buoy.

He waits for Patrick to get tired of him and leave, and when that doesn't happen it hurts too, the good kind of hurt where his heart feels too big for his chest. Affection wars with anxiety and it is too much, all of it, David doesn't know how one person is supposed to feel all these things and still walk around like a functional human being.

The wall is solid but his knees are not and he lets himself slip, sinking down to the ground and pulling his knees up tight to his chest. Patrick follows him down, slowing the descent and then shifting so that they are shoulder-to-shoulder, David's hand in Patrick's lap, grounding him. "So we're going to sit here for a little while," Patrick says, his voice calm and even and everything David has never, ever been.

"The store."

"It'll keep."

David lets his head fall onto Patrick's shoulder and closes his eyes, blinking back tears of frustration. He takes one breath and then another and neither of them come easy but he works at it, holds on the inhale for as long as he can while he tries to match the rhythm to Patrick's. He's not clueless, he knows what's happening here, gets that this is a panic attack and it will pass. It's just that knowing that doesn't help him any, doesn't keep his muscles from trembling ahd his heart from pounding and a cold sweat from condensing on his skin.

Eventually it does pass, and all of his concerns are still present but no longer as a physical weight on his chest. He feels shaky and nauseous but stable, and finally he lifts his head off of Patrick's shoulder but doesn't look at him, pulling his hand away. "Hey," he says.

"Hey," Patrick says kindly.

"So you uh, probably want to talk about this."

"Nope," Patrick says.


"Right now, we're going to close the store and go home and order a pizza. I'm going to turn the thermostat down and pull the duvet off the bed and we're going to watch a movie. It's my turn to choose, so suck it up."


"You've been off all week, so I think that this has been building for awhile. Which means the underlying cause will still be there tomorrow. Am I right?"


"Okay. So I don't know about you, but I'm hungry. We're going to eat something greasy and throw something on TV and fall asleep on the couch. I do want to talk, but not right now, not while you're feeling like this."

David braces himself for a leading question on the drive home, but Patrick is true to his word and doesn't so much as hint at the day's events, placing the delivery order from the car.

With the remnants of the pizza on the coffee table, they finally settle down with David lying across the full length of the couch with his head in Patrick's lap, Patrick stretched out at ninety degrees with his feet propped up on the lounge chair. Patrick pulls the duvet higher on David's shoulders and rests his arm on top as a comforting weight, pressing a kiss to the top of his head as the theme to Indiana Jones starts to play.

David falls asleep almost instantly.


It's rare that David wakes up before Patrick. Every once in awhile it happens though, and he gets to see the lines of his fiance's face slack with sleep, his chest rising and falling in the slow and steady rhythm of deep sleep.

Faint morning light pools on the floor around the window through gaps in the curtains, giving David enough visibility to extract himself from the couch without jostling Patrick. He tucks the duvet in around Patrick's shoulders and stands, stretching to his full height and feeling the vertebrae in his back crack as they pop back into alignment, making their displeasure known. He is entirely too old to be sleeping on couches, but Patrick refuses to rotate the TV so it can be seen from their bed. He says it's bad sleep hygeine. He woefully neglects implementing a suitable skincare regime but this rule he enforces.

David cleans up the pizza on the table and sets up ground coffee, a filter, and water in the pot but doesn't turn the machine on, afraid that the sound will wake Patrick. Leaning on the kitchen island in a pair of pajama pants and a t-shirt, he swipes to unlock his phone and bring up his text chain with Stevie. He types, 'So I have some unresolved trust issues,' and hits send before he can think twice about it.

'U thnk?' comes the almost-instant reply, closely followed by, 'What happened?'

'Lost it in front of Patrick.'

'How bad?'

'0 to 10? 12.'

His phone rings in his hand and he answers before the sound can travel too far, stepping into the small bathroom. With a concerned glance over his shoulder to make still Patrick is still out, he pulls the door closed behind him to block the light, leaving it open just the narrowest crack.  

"He can take it," Stevie says instantly.

"He shouldn't have to." Sleep has evened out the emotional extremes of the previous day but left him with a lingering feeling of embarassment.

"Don't make me come over there," Stevie warns. "This is about the taxes thing from the other night?"

"A customer got audited."


"She said she was afraid of losing everything."

"Oh." There's silence for a long minute on the line and then Stevie says, "Yeah, that makes sense, then." It's the gentle tone of voice she only uses on rare occasions, when one of them has just admitted something that isn't very funny at all.

"Patrick wants to bring in a business manager," he tells her, because it's Stevie and he knows she'll fill in the missing links from A to B.

There's a knock on the door shortly followed by it opening wide and then Patrick is standing there, sleep-disheveled but awake, so adorable with that look of steadfast concern on his face that David falls a little bit in love with him all over again.

David just blinks at him. "Door closed," he says, for lack of anything better.

"Gotta go," Stevie says, voice made tinny from distance. "Call me later." The call ends before he can respond. Traitor.


Patrick's clearly up for the day so David feels no shame about starting the coffee. He lingers by the counter until the gurgling has stopped and there is enough in the pot for at least the first three cups of the morning. He pours one for himself and fills a second mug with a tea bag and hot water from the kettle for Patrick, bringing them both back to the couch. It's a testament to the strength of their relationship that David lets Patrick kiss him good morning even though neither one of them have brushed their teeth yet.

When they've settled down, Patrick puts the tea down on the table and leans forward, bringing his forearms to rest on his knees with his hands clasped loosely between them. "David, I'm sorry. Your family was betrayed by your business manager, of course the idea bothers you. I should have realized."

"Oh my god," David says. "First, no, you have absolutely nothing to apologize for."

"You've been upset all week and I didn't clue in until you were having a panic attack right in front of me."

"What you did yesterday is probably the nicest thing anybody has done for me ever. Second, that's on me and my truck load of baggage. It has nothing to do with anything you did or didn't do."

"Still, I could have--."

"You couldn't have. I don't even think I could have," David says bitterly, and Patrick finally looks up at him.

"I know you know what happened to my family, why we moved here. But probably in the...abstract." David hesitates, taking a sip of his coffee. The hot liquid helps thin out morning congestion in his sinuses and he clears his throat, trying to figure out how to tell the story.

"Our business manager was a man named Mark," he continues. It's easier than he thought it would be to say the name. He can still picture the face attached to the name, it still makes his cheeks colour with rage and bile rise in his throat, but talking about it is somehow easier than keeping it all bottled up. He's been trying that all week and look where it's gotten him. Maybe it's time for a new strategy.

"You don't have to--."

"I want to," David says, and Patrick quiets.

"Up until the day the CRA showed up, he was someone between a fun uncle and a family friend. We never saw it coming."

"That must have been very hard."

"You have no idea. Or maybe you do, I don't know your life," he says, raising his voice to mimic the customer from yesterday.

Patrick gives him the half-smile that means he's amused but trying not to be. "I didn't think you heard that."

"Fortunately, I have excellent hearing."

"If you're not comfortable with bringing in someone else, we won't. End of story."

"That's not fair to you, this seems horribly complicated -- did you know we have to keep records going back six years?"

"Yes David, I did," Patrick says, smiling. "Anyways, it isn't that bad, I know I've been complaining a lot lately but it's just the first filing. Honestly, we could get away with a one-time consultant rather than a dedicated business manager."

"That sounds...fine," David says, turning the idea over in his head. It doesn't inspire any strong feelings positive or negative, and every once in awhile he finds himself willing to compromise. A consultant won't have the authority to sign their names, won't have access to the accounts.

"I was thinking about asking Ray, actually. Just for advice on navigating the paperwork, tips and tricks sort of thing. What do you think about that?"

Ray is nothing like Mark. He is warm and friendly and knows Patrick quite well, even David a little. He knows what the store means to them, that Patrick put in his two weeks notice to dedicate himself to it full-time. He came to the opening. He knows them, plain and simple.

"I like Ray," David says.

"I do, too. More so now that we're not living together anymore," Patrick says, and they share a smile. "We can ask him tomorrow, I'm sure he'll say yes."

A feeling of relief blooms in David's chest, spreading out to his fingertips, filling him up with a peaceful sort of calm. Ray is safe. "The store means a lot to me," he says after a minute. "It is my favourite thing."

"Favourite thing, huh?"

"Thing, Brewer. Not person."

"Just good to know where I stand."

"You are so transparent," David says, and Patrick practically beams.

He pulls David's head down to kiss him with a warm hand on the back of his neck, whispering in his ear, "I'm fine with second place."

"Is that what you learned playing sweeper?"


"Same thing."

"It's not. But we'll save that for another day."