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How Do We Get Back

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Soft music played from somewhere, infused into the space like just the right amount of an expensive perfume: not enough to draw attention to itself, but enough to help round out the aesthetic with taste and class. The white walls positively glowed under warm, carefully selected lighting, offering a contrast to the pieces on offer to buyers. Minimalist and spare, every item was lovingly placed by the owner in exactly the perfect spot to highlight its assets and mask its flaws. It was why buyers went out of their way to come here, or so the proprietor had been told in more prosperous days.

“Tell me about this sculpture,” said a woman in a severe suit and a severe haircut and impossibly high heels.

David Rose, the gallerist she was addressing, put his hands together in an obsequious manner and walked over to stand at her side. Her command had come without the courtesy of turning and looking at him; rather with the expectation that she would get a prompt response — she was the kind of woman who always got a prompt response.

“This is another exciting piece by Devonaé Streeter. She works out of New York now, but after a few months in Prague—”

“I don’t want to hear about the artist. Tell me about the work.”

David squinted an eye at the bronze sculpture, standing its solitary vigil on a white pedestal. He imagined the… woman? it depicted was looking back at him, or would have been if she had more than empty eye sockets to look at him with. He launched into his patter.

“Devonaé’s bronze works often challenge the viewer to look past the grotesque features of the art to see the grotesque features in themselves. This particular figure is an allegory for the way in which we fail to recognize each other’s pain, and I think—”

The woman turned on her heel and walked away, dismissing him and the statue with one quick wave of her hand. She turned her attention to the art on the walls, scanning over the canvasses quickly. David could almost see the calculations going on behind her eyes, like a scrolling ticker on a cable business news show. She wasn’t here to appreciate the art, she was here to find something to invest in. Most of them were, especially people like her.

“Tell me about that one,” she said, pointing to the largest canvas.

David winced. He would have taken the painting in question down a while ago, or perhaps never would have hung it in the first place, if he weren’t hurting a little bit for artists these days. And of course if he hadn’t signed a contract. He’d met Carmen at a party, and okay yes, she’d seemed a little crazy at the time but he’d assumed that was because of all the drugs they were taking. He’d agreed to display her art in his gallery. Now, months later, not a single one of the paintings had ever sold.

Clearing his throat, David said, “Carmen Herrera. She has a… unique vision, as you can see from this piece.” He focused on the track lighting above the painting as he talked; he’d never been able to look at this piece without developing an anxious flutter in his stomach. “It is intended to shock, of course. The worshippers…” He let his eyes glance over the blood-soaked imagery, wondering why he was bothering. This woman was never going to buy one of Carmen’s paintings. “The worshippers hurt themselves and each other at the behest of their goddess.” He gestured vaguely upward.

“Mictēcacihuātl,” the woman murmured.

“Umm… bless you?”

“The Aztec goddess of death,” she explained, still staring at the painting.

“Oh, uhh, yes exactly,” he vamped. “Personally, I’ve always thought the worshippers represent the American electorate, voting against their own self interest because of the lies politicians tell them.” He didn’t really think that. He wasn’t sure Carmen could have said, if pressed, who the President of the United States even was. But he gave potential buyers this line, figuring they might recoil a little less from the painting if they thought it was allegorical.

The sharp-suited woman couldn’t seem to take her eyes off of it. “No, I don’t think that’s what it’s about,” she said. Then she turned to him. “I’ll take it.”

David gaped at her for a second before he recovered enough to respond. “Yes, of course.”

After several minutes of dealing with the payment and shipping, tasks that always made David’s palms sweat with anxiety that he’d screw up some detail of the transaction, the woman was gone and the gallery was quiet as a tomb — its usual state. David sighed and looked up at Carmen’s terrifying painting. “See you never, you creepy fucker.”

He walked back into his office and pulled out his phone. Opening Instagram, David scrolled aimlessly through posts by celebrities and influencers, many of whom he had met and a few of whom he had fucked. When no images of his sister appeared after a few minutes of scrolling, he pulled up her profile and checked her last post — two days ago, which was very unlike Alexis. David’s heart started to hammer in his chest with familiar worry for his sister. He checked the time and counted forward. It would be close to midnight in Italy, probably as good a time as any to catch her on her phone.

Hey r u ok? he texted, and then spent a full minute watching for any sign of a return message before he clicked off the screen and tossed the phone onto his desk with a huff. Then when that dramatic gesture didn’t give him a result, he picked his phone up again, just in time for it to vibrate with an incoming call. He almost dropped it.

Seeing who was calling, David almost let it go unanswered, but at the last second he tapped the screen. “Hi, Dad.”

“David, how are you?” His father’s voice was always confident and booming, as if he could summon happiness if he just projected from his diaphragm. David held the phone away from his ear with a wince, and then put it on speaker before setting it down.

“Fine. Why are you calling me?”

“Do I need a reason to call my only son?”

David rolled his eyes. “Yes.”

There was a pause. “Well, actually, I just heard that Eli was released from prison.”

Pulling a nail file out of his desk drawer, David snorted. “What, and you’re going to rehire him as your business manager?”

“Well, of course not, David.”

“Good.”

“I’m never going to speak to him again.”

Good.”

“I mean, can you imagine how our lives might have turned out if he’d managed to get on that plane to the Cayman Islands before the police caught him?”

“Yes, I can, because you’ve mentioned it an average of once a month for the last three years,” David said, taking a few desultory swipes across the end of the nail on his middle finger.

“I mean, it was bad enough with all the tax penalties we had to pay. If it weren’t for Eli, we’d still have the beach house!”

“Uh huh.” If David had heard all of this before once, he’d heard it a hundred times. “Where’s Mom?”

“She’s on location with Sharknado 5. And you know, the prison that jackass was in was pretty swanky.”

“Then maybe Eli will actually be more miserable now that he’s been released. When does Mom get back?”

“Two more weeks. She’s got her phone in Bulgaria; you can call her.”

David didn’t want to call her. He wanted his father to call her so that she could talk him off of this angry ledge before he had another scare with his heart.

“Just… don’t worry about Eli, okay?” David set the nail file down and pinched the bridge of his nose. “He’s not a part of your life anymore.”

“Damn straight he’s not.”

“Weren’t you telling me something about a new business venture at Christmas? Some kind of app?” David didn’t want to talk about this, or about anything really, but he figured he could at least try to pull his father out of this emotional tailspin about the former business manager who almost made off with the Rose family fortune.

“Yes, well, the spouting video market is quite crowded now, of course, but we’re making some in-roads. Slow and steady wins the race, that’s what I always say.”

“It’s streaming video. And that’s what you used to say about your rivalry with Blockbuster,” David snarked, his moment of charitability toward his father difficult to keep front of mind when he was being so irritating.

“And Blockbuster went out of business.”

“So did you!”

“It was a strategic restructuring, David. A shift into other markets. Like streaming video. Sure, the money isn’t flowing as freely as it did in the Rose Video heyday, but we’re doing fine.”

“Okay.” He went back to filing his nails.

“Are you still seeing… what was her name?” Johnny asked.

Trying to remember who his dad was even talking about, David squinted. “Who?”

“You know, the girl who used to eat garbage as performance art?”

David huffed. “Eliose didn’t eat garbage, she covered herself in… you know what, it doesn’t matter. We haven’t seen each other in months.”

“Oh. Is there anyone special in your life right now?”

An image of Brenton flashed in his mind. He was probably back in David’s apartment as they spoke, making the place reek of bong water and eating all of David’s food. He sighed. “No, no one special.”

“Well, don’t give up, son,” Johnny said. “How’s the gallery?”

“I just sold a painting.”

“That’s great!” his father boomed. “Good for you!”

“Okay, selling paintings is my job, you don’t have to praise me quite so effusively for doing my job.”

“No, of course I don’t need to. But I’m proud of you, son. Especially now that…” There was a moment of dead air.

“You still there?” David asked.

“Oh! Yes, I’m still here.”

“I thought the call had dropped. Now that what?”

An uncomfortable chuckle came out of the phone speaker. “You know, I forgot what I was saying.”

“Uhhh… okay.” David rolled his eyes again. “Anyway, the art business isn’t booming like it used to be, but today was good.”

“You know what? I just remembered I need to make another call,” his father said. “Sorry, David.”

“Whatever. You called me.”

“Talk to you soon, son.”

“Mm-hmm. Bye.” David tapped the screen and ended the call. He noticed the time and sighed, glancing out of his office door at the empty gallery. He might as well lock up and go back to his apartment. He moved quietly around the space, flipping off all of the lights and turning off the music that he played from a spare iPad that he’d gotten in a gift bag when he was Hayden Panettiere’s date to the 2012 Teen Choice Awards. Once he had his coat and messenger bag and had the security gate pulled down and locked, David pocketed his keys and stepped out onto the busy SoHo sidewalk. It had been misting rain for hours, the January day not cold enough to produce snow, but the temperature was now dropping below freezing and making the sidewalks treacherous.

The stationary store next door to his gallery was still open and doing a brisk business, and he was tempted to go in and look at the journals, but he resisted the impulse. Even though he used them sporadically, he’d already bought more empty journals than he could fill in a lifetime. The bar at the end of the block was also starting to fill up, and while he’d been known to get a drink there after closing the gallery, he wasn’t in the mood to be around people at the moment. Pulling his phone out of his pocket, he summoned an Uber to ferry him the two miles to his apartment in Chelsea.

Braulio is 4 minutes away, his phone told him. While he waited, he texted Alexis again. Can you respond pls???

“Want me to talk or not talk?” his Uber driver asked as soon as David was settled into the back seat of the black Nissan.

“Don’t talk, please,” he responded. “Sorry.”

“Hey, no worries, man. That’s why I ask.” Braulio turned up his music a couple of clicks, the kind of unobjectionable, nondescript soundscape that was like something you’d hear in a modern hotel lobby. The driver had probably read on a website that it was the key to increasing tips or 5-star ratings.

David’s block on West 21st Street was packed with four and five-story apartment buildings, the short trees at regular intervals along the sidewalk offering a tiny break from the monotony of sandstone and concrete — although not this time of year, when they stuck up like twigs haphazardly shoved into the dirt by a giant, bored child. Shivering in his too-thin but fashionable jacket, he clicked on a rating for his Uber driver and shoved his phone in his pocket before making his way over to the short flight of stairs that led up to his building.

“Spare change,” a familiar voice called from a heap of blankets at the base of the building.

David opened his messenger bag and fished for the coins at the bottom. “It’s getting cold; you need to go to a shelter.”

“Not that cold,” the woman countered, holding her dingy Starbucks cup aloft. He dropped the coins in.

“The temperature’s dropping though.”

“Cold enough to ice skate.”

He took the non-sequitur in stride. “Well, not quite, but almost.”

“Your skates have to stay on the right line, ya know. You slip off and then suddenly—” She hit the cup, making the coins rattle. “Different universe.”

“Uh-huh. Will you go to a shelter, please? Don’t stay out here all night.” He re-clipped his bag and turned to walk away.

“You’re not supposed to be here, Mister Rose.”

“Well, I live here.”

“Not supposed to. Supposed to live in a motel with your family.”

David stopped and turned around. “What? Ew.”

“Rosebud,” she murmured.

“Oh, are we in Citizen Kane now?”

She hunkered down in her blankets, putting an end to what could only loosely be termed a conversation. Sighing, David left the homeless woman behind and entered the building’s vestibule. He then unlocked the inner door, shoving his way in with a grunt when the door inevitably stuck a little bit.

He mounted the one flight of stairs to his apartment. At the height of his family’s wealth, when David had been in his late twenties, he’d lived in a very posh apartment on the upper east side, but after the incident with his father’s business manager, he’d downgraded and moved to Chelsea. It was still a very nice, modern apartment, but it wasn’t what he’d once had.

The scent of sandlewood incense greeted him as he unlocked his door, and he wrinkled his nose and recoiled a little. Dropping his bag, he made his way to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, hoping to find his leftovers from last night’s take-out. Of course they were gone. He slammed the refrigerator and swung around, ready to have it out with Brenton once and for all.

The man in question chose that moment to stride into the kitchen, shirtless, a pair of athletic shorts slung low on his waist. “Hey,” Brenton said. “Glad you’re here, we need to talk.”

“Yeah, we sure do.” David tried not to let his eyes drift down to the v-shaped crease of Brenton’s hips and failed.

“I’m gonna go stay with my boyfriend in LA for a while, so…” He shrugged. “Thanks for everything.”

“I’m sorry, your what? You never mentioned a boyfriend before,” David said, grimacing. He’d met Brenton last month at a cocktail party he’d thrown at the gallery. Young and blond and in his mid-twenties, Brenton was the son of a well-known hedge fund manager, and he seemed to be a guy whose sole occupation was drifting from one party to another, looking for a good time. He and David had hooked up several times in recent weeks, but their conversations had been limited to fashion and art world trends and what kind of sex they were into.

“Because we weren’t like that, you and me,” Brenton said with a disarming smile. “This was never about, you know, unpacking our pasts. And we never said we were exclusive.”

“I know that,” David snapped. “I didn’t say I expected exclusivity. Still, you might have mentioned—”

“He and I were figuring some things out, you know? But he’s gone out there for pilot season and the auditions are stressful, so I think I really just need to be there for him.”

“Oh, he’s an actor,” David said. “How fun for you.”

There wasn’t really much more to say, so after a few more empty platitudes from Brenton, he disappeared into David’s bedroom to get dressed and to gather whatever belongings he’d brought over in the course of their month-long affair. David sat at the kitchen island and flipped through an issue of Vogue without seeing the pages. He probed a little bit at his feelings, pressing against them like you’d touch a bruise, trying to determine how painful it was. He didn’t really care that much about Brenton — he was shallow and mostly unkind. David didn’t think he’d miss him. What did hurt was once again being shoved aside as soon as something better came along, after a lifetime of being shoved aside as soon as something better came along.

Once Brenton was gone, David tried cracking open a window to air out the apartment, but quickly closed it when it let in a biting cold wind. He was starting to get a headache, and he reached up to massage the back of his neck, trying to stave it off. Pulling out his phone, he checked Alexis’ instagram again, and then opened his messaging app.

[David]
911. Call me.

Surprisingly, his phone rang only a few seconds later.

“David, what? What’s the emergency?” Alexis sounded manic and not a little annoyed.

“I’ve been texting you all evening!” he almost shouted. “I’m sorry for worrying that you were dead.”

“I’m fine, why would I be dead?”

“Your social’s been dark for days.”

“Ugh. I’ve just been busy, David, I don’t have to post something every day as proof of life, do I?”

“You have to at least respond to my texts, Alexis.”

“Look, the club we were in might’ve gotten raided by police earlier, a little bit, but it’s fine because we found a back way out and we ran. It’s no big deal.”

“It kind of sounds like a big deal,” David said, rubbing his neck again. The headache was getting worse; the muscles running down from his skull were like iron rods. “Why were the police raiding the club?”

“How should I know what the Monaco police were doing?” she asked.

“Monaco? I thought you were in Italy.”

Alexis laughed. “Monaco is in Italy, David.”

“Monaco is a separate country, Alexis.”

“No, it’s… is it? Well anyway, Tiff and Lily and I are back at the hotel. I might come home, though. Stavros called and he wants to see me.”

David moaned unhappily. “Alexis, no, don’t go see Stavros. You’ll end up getting back together with him and that would be a terrible life choice.”

“Speaking of terrible life choices, is that Brett guy still crashing at your place?”

“It’s Brenton, and we were seeing each other, he wasn’t just ‘crashing’ here.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“And it’s over anyway.”

“Oh.” Her voice softened for the first time. “I’m sorry, David.”

He waved his hand, not that she could see him. “It doesn’t matter. I didn’t like him that much. He was just really hot.” He looked around the quiet, empty apartment. “You could stay here for a while, if you want.” Alexis was a chaos engine, but he also kind of missed her. Her whirlwind life would keep him from thinking about his own sad existence as much.

“Ew, what? Why? I’ve got way more space at Mom and Dad’s, and when I want to stay in the city, Klair lets me stay at the apartment with her stepmom. Who’s actually really cool, although she takes way too many pills.”

“Fine, whatever. Far be it from me to come between you and Klair’s stepmom.” He fluttered his hand again.

“Okay, don’t be like that. See, David, I know how you are. You’re lonely right now and you think you miss me, but you’d be sick of me the second I set foot through your doorway. You’d complain that I was too messy and that my friends were too loud and that I hadn’t used a coaster for my water glass.”

“Well, if you’d use a coaster—”

“David, it’s 3 a.m. here and you’re lecturing me about a hypothetical coaster. I’m gonna get some sleep now, okay?”

“Fine.”

“Go to Mom and Dad’s if you’re lonely,” Alexis said.

“I’m not lonely.”

“Goodnight, David.”

“Goodnight, Alexis.”

Chapter Text

The cardboard tray of chicken enchiladas was barely visible through the dirty microwave door, spinning slowly as it defrosted. Patrick Brewer stood and watched the little digital numbers counting down. When the microwave dinged, he used some paper towels as an oven mitt to pull his lunch out, picking up his refilled water bottle in the other hand to take both back to his office.

“You could eat your lunch here, you know. You don’t have to go hide in your office.”

He looked over at Eleanor, one of the salespeople at Rollins Electrical Supply, where he’d been employed as the small company’s business manager for the last two months. “I’m not hiding; I just like to work while I eat.”

“Well, I don’t think all those spreadsheets are good for your digestion,” she said with a smile, elbow on the table with her fork hovering over her salad.

Patrick shrugged and sat across from her at the small break room table. “I don’t usually see you in here at lunch time.”

“Yeah, I’m usually out on sales calls in the middle of the day, but we’ve got that training at one o’clock.”

He rolled his eyes. “Super useful for us desk jockeys to undergo extensive training on electrical safety, huh?”

“I know my life is frequently in danger from… see, I can’t even come up with an example of something that would be funny.”

“Don’t you sell this stuff for a living?” Patrick asked with a smirk. Eleanor was nice and clever; he hadn’t really made a work friend since coming back to his home town and taking this job. Maybe she could be his work friend.

“So, Linda was telling me you got married recently?” she asked around a mouthful of baby spinach.

Patrick tried not to cringe. Apparently Linda, their administrative assistant, was a gossip. “Uh… yeah. Three months ago.” He looked down at his left hand and winced. He’d forgotten to put on his wedding ring again. He hoped Rachel wouldn’t notice it sitting on his bedside table.

“Wow, really recently. And then you guys moved here to Oak Grove?”

“Oh… not exactly. Rachel and I grew up here, but I had moved away for a few months. I came back when we got married.” He took a bite of his mediocre frozen entree. It was too hot, and he burned his tongue.

“Gotcha. Were you away at school or something?”

Eleanor was clearly one of those people who loved asking questions about your life until she dug down to something uncomfortable. With Patrick she didn’t have to dig that deep.

“No, I’d just…” He sighed — how to explain the temporary insanity that had taken him to Schitt’s Creek? “I thought I needed to make a big change in my life,” he blurted out quickly. “I quit my job and broke up with Rachel and moved to this random town to work for a guy, Ray, who… it doesn’t matter. It was all a big mistake.”

“Wow, so you and Rachel got back together and then immediately got married? That’s ballsy.”

Was that what it was? he thought. “We’ve been together off and on since we were teenagers. She… she knows how to shake some sense back into me when I need it.” He’d certainly needed it when Rachel showed up in Schitt’s Creek, rescuing him from the lonely life he’d fallen into. Renting a single room in Ray’s house in a town where there hadn’t really enough financial planning business to cobble together a full-time job, where his only friend was the sullen woman who worked at the motel, and their only activity had been going to a seedy bar on the outskirts of town to drink beers and mope about their sad lives.

That reminded him, he really should text Stevie and see how she was doing.

Eleanor seemed to finally get the hint that quizzing Patrick about his relationship with his wife might be too much of a minefield for a work acquaintance to navigate. They ate in silence for a few minutes. Patrick got to the middle part of his frozen entree and found that it was too cold. He powered through eating it anyway.

“So are you married?” he asked in an attempt at polite interest.

“Yep. We’ve got two boys, four and six.”

Patrick asked her for pictures, figuring that would effectively occupy the rest of lunch. It did. He paged through the pictures on her phone and cooed appropriately at the cute kids until it was time to grab a cup of coffee — a potion to prevent sleeping during the corporate safety training session.

The rest of the afternoon passed quickly, Patrick letting himself sink into the soothing monotony of working on the budget for the following year’s capital expenditures. When his phone buzzed, he was surprised to see that it was already half past five.

The text was from Rachel. Don’t forget we’re having dinner with your parents tonight.

He had forgotten, but he didn’t mind so long as his mother had finished giving them grief about rushing off for a quickie courthouse wedding and denying her the joy of seeing them get married ‘properly.’

Before he drove the short distance home in the darkness of the January evening, Patrick plugged his phone into the auxiliary jack, loading up a news podcast to listen to on the drive. He’d been listening to podcasts a lot lately, as if he had to be feeding content into his brain during any idle moment. He tried not to think about why.

The apartment was quiet when he walked in; Rachel was picking up some bread rolls and a bottle of wine to bring over to his parents’ house on her way home from work, she’d said. A stack of boxes that he still hadn’t managed to unpack stood in one corner of the living room, shaming him. He went into the kitchen to wash the breakfast dishes that were in the sink, along with a pot that had been left to soak the night before.

When the apartment door opened, Patrick felt his shoulders tense.

“Hey, you ready to go?” Rachel called.

“Yeah, give me just a sec,” Patrick called back, flipping the now-clean pot upside down and setting it aside to dry. Wiping off his hands, he emerged and gave his wife a small smile. “All set.”

He felt his phone buzz in his pocket, and he pulled it out and glanced down.

[Stevie]
hey. whatcha doing?

Patrick put the phone back in his pocket without responding. “You want me to drive?” he asked Rachel.

The trip to Clint and Marcy’s house was ten minutes. Everything in Patrick’s world was within a five mile radius — his apartment, his job, his parents’ house, the stores he shopped at, the bar drank at. No wonder he’d thought escaping to a new place would solve his problems. It hadn’t.

His phone buzzed again as they pulled into the driveway, tires crunching over uneven pavement where he’d tripped and skinned his knees when he was eight.

[Stevie]
i’m about to go to the bar alone and i need u to convince me not to go home with a loser

Patrick texted her back: Don’t go home with a loser.

“Who ya texting?” Rachel asked.

Patrick put his phone away and stepped out of the car, grabbing the bread and wine from the back seat. “Just somebody from work,” he said, the lie coming without forethought. It wasn’t that he had any feelings for Stevie; Stevie had only ever been a friend. But he figured Rachel might be suspicious of the female friend he’d made during the last time they were broken up.

He looked at his phone again as he followed Rachel up the driveway.

[Stevie]
very helpful 🙄

[Patrick]
You’re better than this, Stevie.

[Stevie]
that’s debatable

“Come on in, kids,” his Dad said as he opened the door, giving an exaggerated shudder as the winter wind accompanied them into the house. “Brrr, it’s a cold one!”

His mom joined them in the foyer, taking the wine and bread rolls with a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you, sweetheart.”

“Thanks for having us for dinner. It’s always nice to not have to cook,” he said as he pulled off his gloves and scarf and winter coat. Shoving the gloves into a coat pocket, he hung everything on a peg.

“Of course, we love having you here,” Marcy said.

“Maybe we should make it a weekly thing,” Rachel suggested, following Marcy to the kitchen. Patrick shoved his hands deep in his pockets and shot his father a tight smile.

“So, son,” Clint said, clapping Patrick on the back as they followed the women. “How’s married life?”

Patrick tensed, then hoped that his father hadn’t felt the tension in the hand that was still resting on his shoulder. “It’s fine. Good.” What was he supposed to say within earshot of his new wife, anyway? It’s a lot like before we were married, Dad. I feel tired and sad most of the time. I’m relieved every time Rachel leaves the house and anxious when she comes home. I stay up late watching TV to avoid going to bed with her. The thought of this being the rest of my life makes me want to… He choked that thought off before he could finish it.

Rachel fell naturally into helping his mother in the kitchen while Patrick stood by and watched. It wasn’t that he and Rachel cleaved to those kinds of regressive gender roles with meal preparation in their own apartment, but Patrick felt wrong-footed and awkward with his parents these days. He had for a while now. Rachel and Marcy chatted happily; they’d always gotten along well, those two. It was yet another reason that he’d gotten back together with Rachel each time — he knew it was what his parents wanted.

He checked his phone, but Stevie hadn’t texted again.

Schitt’s Creek had felt like his salvation when he first arrived, Ray Butani a gift from the heavens who offered him a room to rent and a job within a few minutes of his interview. Often in those early days, as Patrick had walked past the shuttered general store to get lunch at the cafe, he’d have a feeling deep in his bones that something wonderful was right around the corner for him. Sometimes it had felt so immediate that he’d stop and turn around quickly, expecting to see… he was never sure. He’d scrutinize what passed for the downtown, wondering why he felt like he’d just walked into a room and had forgotten what he was there for. Eventually that feeling of possibility faded and loneliness had crept in to replace it. When Rachel had arrived in town after a few months and asked him to take her back, he’d told himself it was for the best.

“Patrick’s going to New York in a few weeks,” Rachel volunteered as they all sat down to eat.

“Oh, really?” His father looked over to him, impressed. “What for?”

“It’s New Jersey, actually. And it’s just so that I can take a seminar on U.S. tax law. Rollins wants to do more business outside of Canada and I need to learn more about it, that’s all.”

“You’ll need your passport,” his mother said.

Patrick chuckled. Once a mother, always a mother. “I know, Mom.”

It took until halfway through dinner before his mother mentioned the wedding.

“I was thinking,” Marcy continued, putting down her fork. “I know you’ve rejected the idea of having another ceremony so that the family can be there, but what would you think about just a reception? A party, so that everyone can celebrate your marriage? Would that be okay?”

Patrick felt his stomach turn over. “It would cost a lot of money, Mom,” he said, looking down at his plate and not at Rachel.

“We can help with the cost, sweetheart, and I’m sure Rachel’s parents would say the same.” She reached over and took his hand. “We just want to do something nice that would allow us to celebrate your happiness.”

His happiness. His eyes flicked briefly to Rachel, who was watching him for his reaction. “I don’t know. We’ll talk about it.” Another glance at Rachel — she had averted her gaze and was staring down at her plate.

“Oh, do you remember Mrs. Temple down at the library?” Marcy asked. “She asked me today if it was a shotgun wedding, can you believe it?”

Patrick scowled at her. “In other words, she wanted to know if I had to marry Rachel because she’s pregnant? That’s what she wanted to know?”

Rachel snorted.

“I’m sure she was only kidding,” Clint said, an uncomfortable smile on his face.

“Just tell anyone who asks that it was because Patrick had to get the wedding over with quickly before he inevitably talked himself out of it again,” Rachel said.

“Rach—”

“What? I’m joking,” she said, taking a large swig of her wine. “Lighten up, Patrick.”

Several seconds of excruciating silence passed before Marcy cleared her throat. “Did you end up joining the hockey team, sweetheart? You’d mentioned you were thinking about it.”

Patrick shook his head. He used to play with a local adult league, but he would have had to try to join a team late this year, and even the thought of the whole process had exhausted him. “Not this year. But I’ll do baseball this summer.”

“Oh, that’ll be nice,” his mother said.

“We’re loving that new blender you got us for Christmas,” Rachel said.

“Rach is trying to become a smoothie person,” Patrick said.

“I can be a smoothie person,” Rachel said with a laugh, and Patrick breathed a sigh of relief.

The awkwardness past, they carried dinner over the finish line with similarly banal small talk. Patrick managed to maintain an upbeat facade until they were back in the car.

“I think I’m gonna meet Dennis for a beer down at Cooper’s after I drop you at home,” he said as he backed out of the driveway. “He texted me a little bit ago.” Actually, Patrick had texted his cousin from the bathroom before they left his parents’ house.

“Oh,” Rachel said, staring out the passenger window. “Okay.”

They were most of the way home before she spoke again. “Listen, we don’t need to do that reception thing your mom was talking about.”

“We can if you want to,” Patrick replied.

“No, because I know you don’t want to.”

“I’m fine with it.”

Rachel laughed bitterly. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her hands twisting in her lap. “I don’t know why I thought getting married would make things better. It’s only made things worse, hasn’t it?”

Patrick’s stomach dropped, and he reached for something to say. “I don’t… What do you mean?”

“Why aren’t you wearing your wedding ring, Patrick?”

He stretched out his fingers on the steering wheel. “I just forgot to put it back on this morning, that’s all. I swear.”

She sighed. “Okay.”

“Look, I won’t go to the bar. I’ll come in and we can talk—”

“I don’t really want to talk.” Rachel’s voice quavered. “I’d rather be alone right now.”

Patrick pulled up in front of the house. “I thought things between us were okay.”

“I don’t think you know what ‘okay’ is supposed to be like. And maybe I don’t know what it’s supposed to be like either, but I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to be like this. I think I’m supposed to very occasionally feel like my husband loves me and desires me.”

“Rachel, I do love you.”

“And I don’t know if you know what that means.” She jerked her seat belt off and pulled open the car door.

“Rach—”

“Patrick, don’t. Just… we can talk tomorrow, okay?” She slammed the car door and ran into the building before he could say anything else.

Driving to the bar in a daze, Patrick tried to raise and counter all the things that could potentially have set Rachel off. The fact that he wasn’t wearing his ring, that had truly just been forgetfulness. His reluctance to have a reception to celebrate their wedding, that was because of the cost. His general unhappiness these days, that was just the winter doldrums. The fact that he could count the number of times they’d had sex in the last several weeks on one hand? He was just tired and stressed because of his new job.

The bar was busy, even for a Friday night, the music and raised voices of animated, drunk conversations hitting him like a wall of sound as he pushed through the heavy oak door. He spotted Dennis at the bar, and Patrick waved and made his way over.

“Hey,” Dennis said, gesturing vaguely with his beer bottle as Patrick pulled off his coat. “I would have ordered you something, but they have a lot of new, confusing microbrews here now and it paralyzed me.”

Patrick clapped his cousin on the back as he sat down on an adjacent stool and fumbled to find the coat hook under the bar without looking. “No problem.” He raised a finger to signal the bartender, a heavily tattooed woman with an asymmetrical haircut who Patrick was pretty sure had gone to his high school. She nodded to indicate she’d seen him as her hands moved quickly to pour bourbon into several glasses.

“Is everything okay?” Dennis asked. “It’s usually me dragging you out to the bar, not the other way around.”

Patrick took a breath, uncertain how much of his problems he should spill, but he was saved by the arrival of the bartender.

“Hey, Ash,” Dennis said.

“Hey,” she said before turning to Patrick. “What can I get you?”

“A shot of Bulleit and whatever you have on draft that’s not too hoppy, please.”

The bartender nodded. “Gotcha, just a minute.”

Dennis had an eyebrow arched. “Do we have a goal in mind tonight to get shit-faced? Because if so, I need to level up.”

“It’s been a long week,” Patrick said, eyes following the bartender. “You know, I could have sworn when she was in high school, her name was Katie. Or Kristen? Something with a K.”

“It was Kaitlyn, but now it’s Ash, and they use they/them pronouns now,” Dennis said.

“Oh,” Patrick said, uncertain what his reaction to that information should be. What he felt for just a brief second was a surge of… jealousy? Uncertain of where that could possibly be coming from, he did his best to ignore it.

“So is it the new job that’s driving you to drink?” Dennis asked.

“No, the job is fine. How’s teaching?” Patrick’s cousin taught math at the local high school.

“Is it summer yet?” Dennis asked with a manic laugh. “My kids this year are a handful.”

Ash brought Patrick’s drinks over, and as they set them down, Dennis gestured to their forearm, where a woman’s face was tattooed on their pale skin. Or, half of a face, at any rate. The other half was a skeletal horror. “I don’t remember seeing that tattoo before,” he commented.

Ash looked down at it and smiled. “It’s fairly new. Hela, the Norse goddess of death.”

“I don’t remember Cate Blanchett looking like that in the last Thor movie,” Patrick said, taking a sip of his beer.

Ash rolled their eyes. “Yeah, because I’m not talking about a superhero movie, I’m talking about actual Norse mythology,” they said as they walked away to go deal with another customer.

“So, how’s Rachel?” Dennis asked.

Patrick shrugged, tossing back the bourbon and following it with a long drag from his beer.

Dennis was watching him carefully. “That good, huh?”

“Pretty sure she already regrets getting married.”

“No way. Rachel adores you, there’s no way she regrets marrying you.” Dennis picked up a coaster and rolled it back and forth along the bar. “Unless she’s picking up on some regret on your part.”

Patrick swallowed more beer, impatient for the alcohol to dull the sharp edges of his emotions. “I’ve loved Rachel since I was a kid, why would I have regrets?”

Dennis opened his mouth and then hesitated for several seconds before speaking. “You do know that loving someone the way you love a best friend, or a sister, that’s not the same thing as being in love with them, right? Like, I’m sure some people build marriages on that kind of… I don’t know, companionship, and if you’re both approaching it that way, fine, but it’s not what most marriages are based on.”

“I don’t love her like a sister, Dennis. Pretty sure I wouldn’t fuck my sister,” Patrick said with a strained laugh.

“Okay, fair enough, but tell me honestly: is Rachel truly the love of your life? And don’t answer me with how long you’ve been a couple. Tell me that when you’re away from her, you miss her like there’s a gaping hole in your chest. Tell me that the thought of your future together makes you so happy, you can hardly contain it. Tell me that sometimes you can’t wait to tear her clothes off.”

The bartender was handing a check to the woman sitting a couple of stools down as he said all this, and Patrick could see Ash register at least some of Dennis’ speech. His cousin was now waiting for him to respond, but he had no idea how to. All of that stuff sounded like the way people said they felt in movies. It didn’t sound like real life.

“You know, at one point I thought you were gay,” Dennis said.

Patrick reared back on his stool. “What? When did you think that?”

“During high school. You had that friend on the baseball team… I don’t remember his name. The tall guy.”

Patrick didn’t want to admit that he knew immediately who Dennis was talking about. “Eric.”

“You guys spent a lot of time hanging out, and the way you looked at him…” Dennis shrugged. “Just kind of looked like you were in love with him.”

“Well, I wasn’t,” Patrick said. He could feel himself flushing. It suddenly felt very hot in the bar, and he felt the urge to flee — to run outside into the night and put his face in the nearest snow bank.

“Okay,” Dennis said simply.

“Seriously, I wasn’t,” Patrick said, unsure why he was still talking when Dennis had seemed willing to drop it. “I was dating Rachel then anyway; I wasn’t into my best friend.”

“I said okay.”

“I’m going to be a total asshole and butt in,” Ash said, and Patrick looked up in surprise, wondering how long they had been standing there. “But have you considered the idea that you might be asexual? Or aromantic? Or both?”

“Kinda putting your tip at risk here, aren’t you?” Patrick asked.

Ash shrugged. “I know, I’m breaking the bartender code; don’t offer your opinion unless it’s asked for. Sorry.” They crossed their arms over their vintage Roxy Music t-shirt and didn’t look particularly sorry.

“I’m not asexual,” Patrick said, although he knew he didn’t have as much of a libido as most people seemed to. “I like sex just fine.”

Ash arched a well-sculpted eyebrow. “Convincing.”

“Okay, can we change the subject, please?” Patrick asked, taking another large drink from his beer glass.

“Sorry, man.” Dennis at least had the decency to look regretful. “Look, you know I’m always here for you, right? Whatever you need.”

Patrick knew he should have been comforted by that, but it was hard to feel comforted by his cousin’s offer when he had no idea what he needed. He stared down into his almost-empty beer glass, looking for the answer.

Chapter Text

The first thing David saw when he got out of his Uber in midtown was a big red sandwich board on the sidewalk that said ‘99¢ PIZZA!’.

“Ew.” He shuddered and turned around, seeing the bar he was looking for a couple of doors down. The Distillery, it said in an understated serif font. Doubting that any distilling actually took place there, he took a breath to steel himself and went inside. He opened his Tinder app and quickly sent a message: I’m here.

The hostess took in his Neil Barrett shirt with black lightning bolts adorning the shoulders, and her haughty expression shifted into a smile. “Hi, can I help you?”

“Yeah, I’m supposed to meet someone, but…” He looked down at his phone again. “I don’t think he’s here yet.”

“Well, you’re welcome to wait at the bar.” She pointed it out, her wrist jangling with bracelets. On a Tuesday, even this tourist-hell adjacent bar wasn’t completely packed, but there were only two empty seats that he could see. With a fluttering hand wave to indicate he’d do as the hostess suggested, David made his way over, taking the stool between a group of bros in business suits and a lone tourist.

He’d been browsing Tinder for a lack of anything better to do that afternoon, and after swiping left on half a dozen guys who listed Crossfit among their interests, and as many women who listed ‘influencer’ among their jobs, David had matched with a guy who appeared to be a nice balance of bookish and handsome. Andrew’s tortoise-shell framed glasses and his flirtatious smirk raised David’s hopes that he might get a decent conversation out of this hookup. The fact that Andrew suggested they meet in midtown had almost been enough for David to call the whole thing off, but then he’d looked at the smirk again and agreed.

The bartender approached David. “Get you a drink?”

David looked up from his phone. “I’d love a French 75 if you have Hendrick’s.”

The bartender nodded. “Can I get you another one?” he said to the man beside David, pointing to his almost empty beer glass.

“Sure, thanks.”

David saw that Alexis had posted a selfie with Stavros in a New York club the night before. He hadn’t even known she was in town.

“Gotta say, I don’t really know what to do with my eyes when there’s no TV behind the bar,” the tourist next to him said suddenly.

David looked up, frustrated that someone was trying to make small talk with him, and blinked a couple of times. “That’s what your phone is for.”

The man talking to him smiled sheepishly. “My battery is terrible so I try not to use it too much.”

“Okay.” David opened his Tinder app but without read receipts, he couldn’t tell if his date had seen his message or not. He glanced around the bar, looking for a man who looked like Andrew’s picture, but he still didn’t seem to have arrived.

“I’m Patrick,” the guy next to him said, holding out his hand for David to shake.

David looked at his hand for just a beat too long before tentatively taking it. “David Rose.”

While he was far from famous, David’s name did inspire a spark of recognition in certain circles. Patrick showed no such recognition. His handshake was firm, skin dry and fingertips calloused. David extracted his hand quickly just as the bartender delivered their drinks.

“What do you do, David?” Patrick asked.

“What’s it like, being from a town small enough to strike up conversations with strangers in bars?” David said, trying to shut the conversation down with a dollop of cruelty.

Patrick didn’t take the hint or if he did, the hint only served to amuse him. He just grinned back at David. “It’s pretty nice, actually. What’s it like living in New York?”

David finally looked the guy up and down. Mid-range denim jeans, wash-and-wear cotton weave light blue shirt, too-short haircut that emphasized the roundness of his face. Cute, with big brown eyes that in the right context could be devastating — the eyes were definitely his best feature.

“In answer to your first question, I’m a gallerist.”

Patrick nodded as if he was considering that. “Hmm, okay. What’s a gallerist?”

David squinted at him, his glass at his lips. “Pretty sure it’s right there in the name. Or do you need me to explain what an art gallery is?”

Laughing and flushing with embarrassment, Patrick held up a hand. “Okay, I deserve that. I guess I’m asking what exactly is involved in being a gallerist?”

“Why?” David asked, his whole body recoiling at the questions from this earnest stranger.

Patrick shrugged. “Just making conversation.”

“I cultivate an aesthetic that centers around outsider art, mostly.”

“And what does that mean?” Patrick asked in an overly patient manner that made David feel like he was being made fun of.

Huffing out an impatient breath, David continued, “I arrange to display artists’ work in my space, I cultivate relationships with buyers, host cocktail receptions for special exhibitions, that sort of thing.” His rings flashed in the dim light of the bar as he used his hands to enunciate each point.

“Sounds like interesting work,” Patrick said, his eyes never leaving David’s. It was unnerving, and a little sexy.

“Let me guess, Patrick. You’re in town on business,” David said, already looking back at his phone to show how disinterested he was in the answer. Trying to get the upper hand again.

Patrick chuckled. “Guilty. I’m attending a tax seminar in Hoboken, and I took the ferry over. This is my first time in New York.”

David’s head whipped up at that. “Well, that’s adorable. Why are you at this bar, though? Shouldn’t you be… going to the top of the Empire State building or something?”

“That’s a bit cliche, isn’t it?”

“Everything about you screams tourist, you may as well lean into the stereotype,” David responded.

“Everything about me screams tourist?”

David rolled his eyes. “Yes. Your whole…” He gestured to encompass all of Patrick. “... vibe.”

Patrick looked down at himself and then back up. “Is that what you’re doing with that shirt and the rings and that drink and with checking Tinder every two minutes? Leaning into the stereotype?”

David gaped at him. He’d been trying to insult this guy a little bit, just enough so that the conversation could be over. He hadn’t expected Patrick to be able to match him.

“Wow, okay.”

Patrick suddenly looked regretful and a little scared. “Sorry, I didn’t mean that in a… homophobic way. I’m not used to talking to people so much more sophisticated than me.”

Sniffing, David looked back at his phone. “No, I imagine not. Oh, fuck.”

“What?”

David turned his phone over on the bar and drank half his drink in one gulp. “My date is flaking on me. And after he made me come up to midtown.”

“Is that bad?” Patrick asked. “Not the flaking part — that’s obviously bad — I meant the midtown part.”

“Not if you’re a tourist trying to get your poster on camera for the Today Show.”

“Ah.” Patrick’s lips twitched. “That would be during the… day though.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Only barely.”

David drummed his fingers on the bar. “You’re from Canada,” he said.

“Come on, I only said ‘sorry’ once.” Patrick said with a grin.

“Your accent is unmistakable,” David said, and then indicated himself. “I have dual citizenship. I was born here, but my parents are Canadian. They still have a place outside of Toronto.”

“Oh, yeah? Where did you spend your childhood?”

David rolled his eyes. “Everywhere. My parents are Moira and Johnny Rose.” When Patrick looked at him blankly, he continued. “My mother’s an actress. My father founded Rose Video.”

That made Patrick’s face light up. “I worked at a Rose Video in high school!”

“How fun for you.” David finished his drink and pulled out his wallet. “Well, I guess it’s time for me to make my escape.”

“Oh.” Patrick’s face betrayed his disappointment, which was interesting. “Who am I going to talk to now?”

David looked over his shoulder at the men in suits who’d been getting louder and drunker. “Those guys?” he said, cocking his thumb at them.

Patrick made a disgusted face. “Yeah, I’ll pass.”

It occurred to David for the first time to check Patrick’s left hand. A simple wedding band sat unassumingly on his ring finger. Not that wedding rings said anything about a person’s sexual preferences anymore (if they ever had), but it did say something about this Patrick’s motivations. Either he was just alone and bored in New York and looking for someone to chat with, as it appeared on the surface, or he was looking to cheat on his wife or husband with someone he wouldn’t have to see ever again. David had been on the receiving end of that kind of attention from more than a few wives and husbands over the years. It never felt great, in the end.

On the other hand, those brown eyes were a little bit devastating. And under his cheap Oxford shirt, Patrick’s arms did look nice and strong.

“I guess I could have one more drink,” David heard himself saying.

~*~

“I’m sorry, but that is the most boring fucking job I have ever heard of. If you say it again, I will literally fall asleep at this bar,” David said, tipping the last of his third drink into his mouth.

Patrick grinned widely. “Business manager at an electrical supply company,” he whispered close to David’s ear.

David masked a shudder by theatrically letting his forehead hit the polished surface of the bar, trying not to get distracted by how sexy Patrick’s voice could apparently be, even when he was talking about his dull job.

Patrick laughed and picked up another slider from the plate they were sharing.

“I mean, I know it’s not as glamorous as being a gallerist—”

“You’re right, it isn’t. It isn’t glamorous at all,” David said, debating if he should order one more drink. If he did, he’d cross the line from pleasantly buzzed over into drunk, and that was probably a bad idea for a number of reasons.

“I mean, I’m not the… what was it? ‘Rembrandt of Wall Street’?” Patrick said, referring to something they’d overheard one of the finance bros say before they’d cleared out to go hit another bar. They’d barely suppressed their giggles at the time, and now David allowed himself a full-out laugh, Patrick laughing right along with him. David leaned over in Patrick’s direction in his mirth, losing his balance slightly and catching himself with a hand on Patrick’s denim-clad thigh.

He let his hand stay there just long enough that it still plausibly fell within the realm of an accident, but he took careful note of a tiny catch in Patrick’s breath, and the way he licked his lips as David righted himself. Interesting, he thought.

Patrick had only had two and a half beers over the last few hours (counting the one he’d almost finished when David arrived), so at least David knew he was in full possession of his faculties. Not that it mattered; why was he worried about whether Patrick was drunk?

Because you want to fuck him, his inner voice supplied. Which was depressing because this very funny, surprisingly attractive button of a man was definitely married, likely to a woman, and nothing good was going to come from going down that road. Best case scenario, Patrick would reject him immediately, being the upstanding person that he was. Worst case scenario, something would happen between them and David would end up getting his heart stepped on.

Patrick was looking at his phone. “Wow, I had no idea what time it was. You don’t have any idea how late the ferries run, do you?”

“Do I look like I ever go to New Jersey?” David asked, taking a bite of the last slider.

Laughing, Patrick flagged down the bartender and asked him the same question.

“You’ve already missed the last one,” the bartender told him. “Separate checks?”

“Shit,” Patrick said at the same time David said, “I’ll take the check.”

“What? No, you don’t have to do that,” Patrick said.

“Please, you saved me from a shameful retreat when my date bailed. It’s the least I can do.”

“I guess I can take a cab back to Hoboken?”

“A cab through the Lincoln Tunnel will cost you at least seventy-five dollars,” the bartender said to Patrick as he handed the little black folder to David.

“Oh,” Patrick said, and David could tell that was a lot of money to him. He gave himself a mental pat on the back for picking up the check.

“I could call you an Uber,” David offered.

“You’re already paying for the drinks and the food, David; I can’t ask you to do that.”

He started to say that the money meant nothing to him, but then he had an idea. “Well, then you can crash at my place and catch the ferry in the morning,” he said as he stuck a credit card in the little pocket and set it on the edge of the bar, trying to seem nonchalant.

He wasn’t looking at Patrick but he could feel his surprise. “Oh… I don’t… I can’t…”

“That’s not a pick-up line, I literally just mean you can crash there. I’m not trying to—”

“No, I know,” Patrick said quickly. David finally looked at him and his eyes were very wide. “It’s just too much of an imposition for someone I just met. And what if I’m an axe murderer?”

David tried to suppress a smile, his lips twisting. “Well, are you an axe murderer?”

“Are you?”

The bartender put the check in front of David, and he quickly filled out the tip line and scratched out his illegible signature. “Yes, but I’m taking a sabbatical from the murdering.”

“What a coincidence, me too,” Patrick said.

“Then it’s settled,” David said, pulling on his leather jacket. “Come on.”

He didn’t really expect that to work but when he headed for the exit, Patrick pulled on his own (much more weather-appropriate) winter coat and joined him.

An Uber appeared like magic a mere minute after he summoned one, and David held the door open for Patrick, letting him get into the car first. Patrick sat silently as they crawled down 9th Avenue, looking out of the window at the storefronts.

“Is there traffic like this at any time of the day or night?” Patrick finally asked.

“It clears out eventually,” David said, watching Patrick. He was fidgeting with his hands, playing with his wedding ring, and David felt a stab of guilt. Yes, there was a level on which this was innocent, but there was another, more true level on which it wasn’t, on which the touch on Patrick’s thigh had been calculated, and the invitation to his apartment a tactic. Still, he could back out and let the innocent explanation for inviting Patrick back to his place become the true one. It wasn’t too late to be honorable for once in his life.

They finally arrived, and David tried to look a little more graceful than he usually did shoving on the sticky vestibule door of his building. He mostly succeeded.

“I can find you an unused toothbrush,” he said as he led Patrick up the stairs. “And if you want to shower tonight or in the morning, I can get you a towel.”

“Thanks again, David. This is incredibly generous.”

David unlocked the door to his apartment and opened it, gesturing for Patrick to go in. “Please, I have a spare bedroom, it’s really no trouble.” After taking Patrick’s coat and carefully hanging it up in the hall closet, David moved deeper into the apartment, flipping on lights as he went. “Do you want a glass of water?”

“Uhh… yeah. Thanks.” Patrick walked over to the living room windows. “This is a really nice apartment.”

David filled a water glass from the pitcher in the fridge and carried it back out to Patrick, standing at Patrick’s side and following his gaze out the window. “It’s not as nice as the apartment I used to have, but it’s fine.”

“What happened to the apartment you used to have?”

David raised his shoulders in a sort of shrug. “Turns out my father’s business manager was embezzling from him a few years ago. He was caught, but he hadn’t been paying taxes for a while so we had to pay…” He suddenly couldn’t think of the word.

“Penalties?”

“Right, penalties. So we had to sell off some stuff, including that apartment. Also, as you can imagine, the video business isn’t what it used to be,” he said with a smirk.

“Yeah. So do you not have a Netflix account out of, like, solidarity?”

David laughed. “No, I have a Netflix account. Why, did you want to watch something?”

Patrick shook his head and set his water down on a glass end table. “I should probably get some sleep. I’ll need to be up pretty early in order to make it back to the seminar for the morning session.” He continued to stand rooted on the spot, though, making no move away from David’s side.

“Did you need to charge your cell phone?” David asked. “You mentioned earlier—”

“Oh. Yeah, thanks.” Patrick pulled it out of his pocket and handed it over. David made a face at his cheap Nokia phone with the chipped edges, but he opened a drawer under his coffee table and pulled out a tangle of different chargers, some of which had been left behind by people he’d dated. He quickly found a suitable one and plugged in Patrick’s phone.

“Okay, well, spare bedroom is right over there,” David said, returning to Patrick’s side and indicating the door next to the one that led to his own room. The atmosphere between them felt heavy, and David knew he should move away from Patrick, go get him a towel or something to defuse things, but he couldn’t bring himself to do so.

Then Patrick made a tiny move of his head, infinitesimal really, in David’s direction, and that was all David could take. He met him more than halfway, mouth on Patrick’s and hand coming up to cup the back of his head. The kiss was relatively chaste, but there was no question that Patrick was on board for it, his lips nipping at David’s bottom one, one of his hands clutching at David’s bicep. David felt a bit like a dam was breaking on the desire that had been building between them all night, and he let himself enjoy the few blissful seconds of that kiss.

“And when I said I wasn’t trying to pick you up,” David whispered when they parted, “that didn’t mean I was averse to picking you up.”

Patrick’s still held onto his arm, but his facial expression was pained. “David, I’m married.”

“Yeah, I noticed the ring.”

“To a… to a woman. I’ve never done that before with a guy. So…”

“Oh.” David did take a step back then. So that’s what this was. A small-town closet case who’d gotten married under false pretenses. Not exactly what he’d hoped he was signing up for. “Is it a religious thing? Are you one of those guys who’s been scarred by conversion therapy?”

Patrick shook his head quickly. “No, nothing like that. I really thought…” He ran his hands over his face. “Holy shit, how could I not know that that’s what kissing someone is supposed to feel like?”

David couldn’t help preening a little bit at that. “I don’t think I’ve ever been a sexual revelation to someone before.”

With an uneasy chuckle, Patrick let himself drop onto the sofa. “What am I doing? Why did I come here?” he murmured, almost to himself.

David sat down on the sofa too, leaving a space between them. “Look, it can end right here. You go sleep in the guest room and I’ll go sleep in my room, and…” He threw up his hands. “And in the morning you won’t even have to see me, because I’m not really a morning person, so…” He trailed off into an uncomfortable silence.

Patrick was fidgeting with his hands again, twisting his wedding ring. “My intention wasn’t to… treat you like an experiment, and that must be what this seems like. As if I set out this evening to go to a bar in a big city and meet an anonymous man so that I could test drive a… another sexual orientation.”

David gave him a sheepish shrug. It didn’t not seem like that.

“I started talking to you for the exact reason you said: I’m from a small town where you make conversation with the guy sitting next to you at the bar. But David, I…” He looked up finally then, and fuck, those brown eyes were exactly as devastating as David had feared they could be. “Thinking about it now, I was attracted to you from the moment you shook my hand, and I honestly don’t know if it’s just you or men in general, but if it is men in general that would certainly explain a lot of things about my—”

David put a hand over Patrick’s to stop his manic motion, and it simultaneously stopped his mouth from moving, the tumult of words drying up as rapidly as they had started. It was a relief. Patrick’s openness was turning David inside out; he wasn’t used to being around people who said exactly what they were thinking, who didn’t play games, whose every word wasn’t calculated to manipulate.

“It’s okay. Whatever you’re feeling is okay. And whatever you want to do is okay,” David said, and then winced. He was definitely going to regret this, but he couldn’t help himself. The idea of helping this man discover a new side of himself was too tempting to resist. “I can be… if you need to test things out and see the way you feel with a man, then I can be that. For you.”

Patrick’s eyes widened, then dropped to David’s lips. “Why would you do that?”

“Umm, because you’re hot?” David said flippantly, trying to lighten things up. “And because it seems like you need a push in the queer direction,” he added with a gentle laugh.

A quick smile flashed across Patrick’s face before his face turned serious again, his eyes still trained on David’s mouth. And then he leaned in.

Chapter Text

Kissing David made Patrick Brewer feel like he was teetering on the edge of a cliff.

After a long day at his tax seminar, Patrick had been tempted to go back to the hotel, crawl under the covers. and turn on the TV. It was shame that had driven him to buy a ferry ticket to Manhattan — the future shame of telling his coworkers that he’d gotten so close to New York but hadn’t actually visited. Of course, he’d lacked any kind of real plan so when he had disembarked, he’d checked his phone and started walking in the general direction of Rockefeller Center. But it was a long walk and he got tired and thirsty, and so Patrick had stopped in for a beer at the first decent-looking bar he saw.

At first, David had just seemed like a flamboyant curiosity, the sort of fashionable person you’d expect to meet in New York City, with his unusual black and white shirt designed to draw attention, four silver rings on the fingers of one hand flashing as he gesticulated. Talking to him had made Patrick feel giddy, like he’d boarded a roller coaster and was hanging onto the metal bar for dear life as David took him around curve after curve. He had mentioned that the person who stood him up for a date was a man in the off-hand way of someone who’d forgotten to be self-conscious about the fact that he was gay, if he ever had been.

Patrick hadn’t examined his reasons for wanting to stay at the bar talking to David, or the reason his heart had been racing for a lot of that time. He hadn’t thought about the fact that he couldn’t take his eyes off of David’s expressive face, or when he could it was only to be distracted by David’s hands. It probably hadn’t been until David caught himself with a hand on Patrick’s thigh — a move that sent Patrick’s heart rate ratcheting up so high that he’d certainly have set off an alarm had he been hooked up to one — that Patrick started to ponder exactly what was happening between them.

He’d known the responsible thing to do would be to say no to David’s offer of a place to sleep. All other things aside, sleeping in a strange man’s apartment in New York City was an objectively risky thing to do. He could get robbed. He could get roofied. It was madness. But when David swept on his jacket, the scent of expensive cologne and leather surrounding him, Patrick had followed like a child under the thrall of the Pied Piper. He should have known then where things were leading. Perhaps he had known.

Now they sat next to each other on David’s sofa, mouths meeting over and over, and Patrick honestly couldn’t remember a time when kissing had been this thrilling. As he let his jaw drop, opening his mouth to admit David’s tongue, he felt the scrape of the other man’s stubble against his own. He reached out with his hand to cup David’s face, wanting more of that sensation on his skin. David was taller than him, and he held Patrick in his arms in a way that made him feel enveloped in the best possible way. Patrick balanced on a knife’s edge, a breath away from losing complete control of his ability to make a rational decision. He’d never wanted anyone this way, not ever.

“Listen, David,” he said as soon as they parted to breathe, unable to resist the temptation to keep planting small kisses on David’s lips as he talked. “I need to tell you, I’m…”

David pulled away, putting some space between them. “Tell me.”

Patrick blushed. “I’m not ready for... Not that I don’t want… Suddenly I want a lot of things that I’ve never wanted, or never let myself want, but I…” He huffed, frustrated with his inability to construct a coherent sentence. “I’m not ready for sex. I hope that’s okay.”

David smiled at him, a smile that was maybe sweet but also maybe patronizing. “Anything you want is okay. But I do want to clarify exactly what you mean by sex? Because some people, especially — no offense — people whose experience has been limited to vanilla, straight sex, when they say ‘sex’ about two men they mean anal.”

Just the sound of that word coming out of David’s mouth made Patrick suppress a shudder. It was terrifying, but also a little bit thrilling, and a hundred pornographic images starring David Rose collided in his head all at once.

“So I actually don’t do anal on the first date? And some queer men don’t ever do it. Being into anal isn’t a requirement for liking sex with men,” David said.

Patrick let out a slow breath. “Okay.”

“But sex can mean other things, and I need a little more guidance as to what you’re not ready for.”

Panic set in again, and Patrick clutched the arm of the sofa hard enough to leave marks in the leather. “I don’t know if I can articulate it. Out loud.”

“Okay, well I’m gonna need a little more than that. Unless you want to stop now?” David picked Patrick’s hand up and traced his fingertips along his knuckles. Patrick shivered and shook his head.

David leaned in close then, using his hand to tilt Patrick’s head back so that he could plant a row of kisses along his neck. Patrick stifled a groan.

“Your responsiveness is very sexy,” David murmured against his neck, “and if you’re willing, I’d like to touch you and see if I can make you come. Would that be okay?”

Patrick gasped, his head spinning. “Fuck.”

“Is that a yes?” David kissed his way up to his chin and then to his lips.

“Yes,” Patrick whispered into David’s open mouth. He felt dangerously close to saying yes to anything if David would just keep kissing him like that.

“Let’s go to the bedroom.”

Patrick tensed up at that, pulling back far enough to bring David into focus. “Oh. Umm…”

He felt David’s hand sort of petting his hair. “Just so we’ll be more comfortable. I promise, nothing is going to happen without your enthusiastic consent.”

Snorting, Patrick moved to stand up, keenly aware of the way his erection was pressing against his jeans. “You sound like an instructional video for horny teens.”

I’m just trying to put you at ease because you seemed nervous about the bedroom.”

Patrick gave him a grateful smile. “Thank you,” he said honestly.

David led the way to a good-sized bedroom of stark contrasts: white walls and black bedding and similarly monochrome modern art adorning the walls. The lighting was warm, though, and not too bright, and Patrick tried to slow his breathing to calm himself down.

“You can take off your own shoes and socks and… anything else you feel like taking off,” David said with an elaborate wave of his hand. “I’m just going to freshen up a little bit.”

Sitting down on the bed, Patrick began unlacing his sensible walking shoes and tried not to think about the fact that he was committing adultery. It was a heavy word, and one he’d never imagined could be ascribed to him. I shouldn’t do this, he thought, even as he was tucking his socks inside his shoes. I should get my coat and apologize to David and leave. But he had to know. If the reason his relationship with Rachel had never seemed right was because he was gay, then he had to know for sure.

A more immediate concern occurred to him as he looked down at his clothes. What exactly should he take off? His jeans was a good start, he supposed. If David was going to do… what he’d said (and just thinking around the edge of it sent a surge of desire through him), then his pants were going to get in the way. With shaking hands, Patrick unbuckled his belt and stood to pull his jeans off by the cuffs. He sat back down, nervously twisting his ring. Then with a guilty cringe, Patrick pulled his wedding ring off and reached over to tuck it into his jeans pocket.

He wasn’t sure why, but Patrick trusted David instinctively. If he was nervous about being half dressed in a strange man’s bedroom in a strange city, it was more at the abstract concept of it than at the actual situation.

David emerged then, wearing a black t-shirt and black sweatpants, and Patrick took a moment to be amused that apparently making out on the bed required a full wardrobe change if you were David Rose. Then David sat at his side, close enough that their legs were touching, and Patrick’s brain sort of shorted out.

There was more kissing — deep, messy kisses that got more frantic as they gradually moved into a horizontal position across the carefully made bed. David hovered over him, holding himself up on his elbow, and Patrick could feel the unmistakable press of the other man’s erection against his thigh. Thoughts of the wrongness of what he was doing disappeared. In that moment, nothing had ever felt less wrong in his life.

David’s hand trailed down from Patrick’s cheek to the collar of his shirt. “May I…” David asked, his fingers hovering over the buttons. His breath coming quick, Patrick nodded.

As he unbuttoned Patrick’s shirt, David made a cringey face. “I’m trying not to think too much about this being, like, a critical moment in the evolution of your sexuality and how very badly I do not want to mess it up. It’s a lot of responsibility.”

David’s fretting weirdly calmed Patrick down, and he tried to suppress a smile. “You know I’m not literally a virgin, right? I’ve had sex with women.”

“And how has that been working out for you?” David parted the two sides of Patrick’s shirt, and Patrick sat up long enough to shuck the thing and toss it aside.

“Not great.”

David’s face contorted into what might have been a suppressed smile of his own. “Okay, well your chest is working out well for me, so I suggest we focus on that.”

Patrick moved to kiss David, trying to show through a little bit of forcefulness that he was fully on board. Based on the moan that came from David when Patrick scraped his teeth across David’s lower lip, it was a good tactic. They collapsed back onto the pillows again, one of David’s legs between Patrick’s now, and fuck, he couldn’t stop himself from thrusting up, seeking friction. He didn’t think he’d ever been as turned on as this. And then David scratched his fingernails over Patrick’s chest and he had to revise his assessment. This was as turned on has he’d ever been.

“Can I touch your cock, Patrick?” David asked, hand settling heavy and warm on Patrick’s belly.

“Jesus,” Patrick gasped, then remembering that David would want to hear his consent, added. “Yeah. I’m… I might be embarrassingly quick.”

“As if that would be anything other than flattering,” David said as he was carefully lifting the waistband of Patrick’s boxers clear of his erection. Patrick reached down to help get them off, and then he was naked — in a man’s bed, in bed with a man, and it should have been shocking, it should have been a bucket of cold water over the whole proceeding, but it wasn’t. He just felt warm and right and desperate to be touched.

David lay on his side next to him, watching Patrick’s face as he reached down and ran a single finger up the base of his cock. Patrick’s eyes snapped shut and a loud, guttural moan came out of his mouth.

“Fuck, you’re so hot like this,” David said, his fist closing around Patrick’s shaft and beginning a slow rhythm. “Spread out and aching to be touched.” He gathered precome on his fingers, spreading it as his hand moved, and Patrick couldn’t help but thrust into David’s fist. He felt like the entire world had disappeared, that all his other senses had bled away, leaving him with only the sensation of David’s hand on his cock and David’s mouth on his shoulder.

“I’m… God, I’m gonna come,” Patrick gritted out after just a few strokes, wishing he could hold out and last longer, enjoy this feeling forever, but he needed to come so badly, needed it to be David who did that for him.

“That’s it. Just like that,” David coaxed, and those words were what sent him plummeting down, a hoarse shout on his lips as he came all over David’s hand and his own stomach. Only when his last aftershock had shuddered through him did David move away from his side. Patrick was dimly aware of a drawer opening and closing, and then he was being cleaned up, efficient swipes by a practiced hand.

Reality crashed in suddenly, and Patrick felt incredibly exposed, again struck by the fact that he’d just engaged in this intimate act with a near stranger, with a man he’d never met before and after tonight, might never see again. Some might find that freeing, but at the moment it made Patrick feel very empty. He shivered.

“Here, let’s get under the covers,” David suggested.

Once they’d arranged themselves, Patrick returned to kissing David, pressing body to body until he could feel David’s erection through his sweatpants, evidence that David really had enjoyed touching him, that it hadn’t been an act of charity. Or pity.

“Can I return the favor?” Patrick asked. He pictured it, touching another man’s — touching David’s — cock, and miraculously felt another surge of want shoot through him.

“You don’t have to.”

“I want to… if you want me to.” Maybe he didn’t, Patrick thought suddenly. And that would make sense, wouldn’t it? Why would a glamorous man like David want him?

“I definitely want you to,” David whispered.

“Thank fuck,” Patrick said, which made David giggle. They fumbled together with David’s sweatpants until they were kicked somewhere near the bottom of the bed.

Patrick started to reach for him but hesitated, worrying that he wouldn’t be good. That he wouldn’t be able to give David the kind of pleasure David had just given him. “Can you lie on your back?” Patrick asked. “So it’ll be more like doing it to myself? I’ve never done this to another person before.”

David rolled his eyes and shifted onto his back. “Yeah, I assumed that, although it’s not impossible for you to have never kissed a boy but to have engaged furtive handjobs under the bleachers with the captain of the football team.”

Patrick chuckled. “Is that a fantasy of yours?”

“It could become one,” David shot back. “Here, hang on.” He reached for the same drawer that had produced the wet wipes and pulled out a bottle of lube. Patrick held out his hand, and David depressed the pump a few times into his open palm. Then he threw off the covers, exposing himself to the room. David still had his t-shirt on but that was it, and Patrick took a second to admire the sight of another man’s cock. A cock he was going to touch.

It was a little awkward at first, spreading the lube and finding the right rhythm, but then things seemed to click as David groaned and clutched at his bicep.

“Harder.” David’s voice was high and breathy, and Patrick followed instructions, squeezing tighter. Patrick felt David’s hand move to the back of his head and then he was pulling him in for a kiss, open-mouthed and dirty. David’s hips pistoned and Patrick held his arm steady and let him fuck his fist. David became less coherent, less able to actively kiss Patrick back, panting into his mouth and it was sexy, it was beautiful, and in that moment Patrick had the wild and errant thought that he belonged here, that he’d belonged here for a long time and had just gotten lost somehow, but now he was found, now he was home.

“Fuck, Patrick, yes,” David gasped, continuing to say ‘yes’ over and over until Patrick felt the pulses of his orgasm. I did this for him, Patrick thought giddily. I made him come.

When David relaxed, Patrick gently let him go, collapsing on the pillows at his side. David was already reaching for the wipes again, grabbing Patrick by the wrist and cleaning him up before he did the same to himself, pulling his dirty t-shirt off and tossing it toward the hamper.

Patrick lay back and looked at David’s chest and how hairy it was compared to his own. He regretted that he was only just seeing it now.

“That was very nice,” David said as he pulled the covers over himself. “Thank you.”

Turning on his side, Patrick met David’s gaze. “I’m the one who should be saying ‘thank you.’”

David yawned, and then reached over and picked up his phone, doing something to turn off the lights. “Oh, are you okay sleeping here? If you’d rather go to the guest room, you can do that.”

“Are you okay with me sleeping here?” Patrick asked into the dark void. Uncertain what he’d do if David said no.

“It’s fine. Unless you snore.”

“I don’t,” Patrick said with a laugh.

“Okay, then.” David turned over, and Patrick could just make out the line of his bare back as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. He felt the sudden urge to press himself against David, but even Patrick with his lack of one-night-stand experience knew that probably wouldn’t be welcome. He was just feeling vulnerable because such a momentous thing had happened, cracking him open in the bed of this stranger. Well, not stranger. Near-stranger who he’d seen naked and exchanged handjobs with.

As he drifted off to sleep, Patrick remembered the weird feeling of belonging he’d had a little while ago. Get a grip, Brewer, was his last conscious thought.

~*~

Patrick awoke still in darkness, and it took several seconds to remember where he was. What he’d done struck with renewed shock: meeting David, talking to him for hours at the bar, going home with him, kissing him, going to bed with him. Was this some temporary insanity, the kind of travel-inspired loneliness that made it easy to cry on airplanes? He rolled out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom, closing the door quietly and flipping on the light.

He looked at his own naked body, trying to see if it betrayed any sign of what he’d done. If he was a gay man, shouldn’t he look different somehow?

After relieving himself, he crept back out to the bedroom and gathered up his clothes and shoes from the floor, carrying them out to the living room where the windows let in more light. He pulled his clothes on quickly, checking the time on his phone. 6:23. Hopefully the ferries were running and it wouldn’t take too long to cross back over the river to Jersey.

He wanted to leave David a note, even started to look around for some paper and a pen, but what could he say that wouldn’t sound too flippant or too emotional about what had happened? For David, surely this was one of a hundred such hookups. A few months from now, Patrick would barely be a blip on his memory. Whereas for Patrick, it had been everything: a terrible betrayal, a rapturous awakening. A cataclysm in his life. He knew that no matter what happened, he’d never forget David Rose for as long as he lived.

Which is exactly what you don’t want to write in a note, he thought. Instead, he pulled out his wallet, took out one of the business cards, and left it on the kitchen island before he bundled up in his coat and walked out of the apartment.

Down on the sidewalk, Patrick looked up and down the street and then checked the map on his phone. Neither of the nearest ferry terminals were within walking distance so he needed a taxi, but there didn’t seem to be any on David’s street. He smirked, cursing all the movies he’d ever seen that made it seem like a New York taxi would be waiting wherever you needed one. There wasn’t any reason to have a ride-sharing app on his phone in Oak Grove, so he couldn’t summon an Uber.

A noise made him turn around. A woman was pushing a cart down the sidewalk toward him, and he assumed by the blankets and clothes he could see in the cart that she was homeless. He didn’t have any coins, but he thought he might have gotten a couple of American dollars when he’d bought a pretzel at the ferry terminal yesterday, so he reached for his wallet.

“You,” she said, stopping short.

“Hang on, I might have a dollar,” he said, shuffling past the Canadian bills in his wallet. “You wouldn’t happen to know where I can catch a cab, would you?”

“You found him,” she said urgently, stepping away from her cart to come close to Patrick. He tried not to recoil. “Does that mean you feel it too? That this world is wrong?”

Oh, she had mental health problems, he thought, feeling a surge of sympathy. “You don’t know the half of it,” he tried to joke.

“So how do we get back?” She grabbed his arm, fingers clutching at the fabric of his shirt.

“Whoa, okay,” Patrick said, pulling his arm away and holding out the dollar bill. “I just need to know where to find a taxi.”

She squinted at him, took the dollar, and then jerked her thumb over her shoulder. “There’s usually a taxi near the bodega at the corner.”

“Thanks.” He walked quickly in that direction, but when he looked back a couple of times, she was still standing there and staring at him.

Chapter Text

David finally stopped hitting snooze on his alarm at 9:45, groaning as he sat up. Looking down and seeing his lack of clothes wasn’t exactly a shock, even when the memories of the night before were a little slow in making their appearance. Waking up naked and confused had been a pretty regular occurrence for him over the years. Then the memories flooded in: Patrick, the closeted button of a man who’d drawn him in with his big brown eyes and his soft lips. Patrick, who’d given him an adequate but enthusiastic handjob and had trusted him enough to fall asleep in his bed. Patrick, whom he’d likely never see again.

He was supposed to open the gallery at 11:00, but David decided not to go in today. He felt like he needed a day in front of the TV, watching old episodes of Downton Abbey and eating a pint of whatever expensive gelato he could get Seamless to bring him. Dragging himself out into the kitchen, he remembered he’d used up the last of his good coffee beans a few days ago, and if he wanted coffee without having to wait for a delivery or going out, he’d have to settle for using the stupid Keurig machine that Alexis had bought him a few Christmases ago. Grumbling, he opened the cabinet where he kept coffee stuff and found only those cursed pods.

As he moved to pull the Keurig machine out of a cabinet, a small white card on the counter caught his eye. He picked it up and held it close to his face to read.

Patrick Brewer, B.B.A.
Business Manager
Rollins Electrical Supply

And, of course, there was a cell phone number and an email address.

Did that mean Patrick wanted him to get in touch? He didn’t remember how much longer Patrick said he’d be in town but he thought it was at least two or three more days. They hadn’t exchanged numbers, so this business card was the only way they could feasibly reconnect. But it also put the decision of whether to reconnect entirely on David, which he was very much not a fan of. David was not a man who put himself out on a limb easily, not when he’d crashed to the ground so many times in the past. He preferred to let the other person be the one responsible for reaching out so that when they inevitably didn’t, he could pretend he hadn’t cared that much anyway.

Whining and shaking his hands up and down with anxiety, David went in search of his phone. Instead of texting Patrick, he tapped out a message to his sister.

Hey are you up?

While he waited for a response, David turned on the television. A solemn news announcer was talking over helicopter footage of a house, intoning the news that 57 people had died in an apparent mass suicide. “GRISLY END TO DEATH CULT IN SAN JOSE,” the chyron at the bottom of the screen read. “Oh my God,” David whispered to himself, then just as quickly forgot about it as the phone in his hand buzzed.

[Alexis]
Ew don’t text u up to your sister

[David]
I need you to talk me down though

[Alexis]
why

[David]
I hooked up with a guy last night and I need you to tell me whether I should text him today.

[Alexis]
Wait at least 48 hours. You know this.

[David]
Yeah but he’s not going to be in NY in 48 hours.
Also he’s different.

[Alexis]
👀

[David]
What?

His phone rang.

What??” he said, holding the phone to his ear.

“How is he different, David?” Alexis’ voice was sing-songy, like she thought he was cute and also ripe for being mocked.

“I don’t know, he just is!” David shouted. Then more softly: “He’s nice. And I guess just realizing that he’s gay, or whatever.”

“Mm hmm.”

“He actually says the things he’s thinking. Out loud.”

“Ew, who does that?” Alexis asked. “What kind of game is that?”

“Also he’s married.”

“So not that nice, then.” Alexis said.

“Look, he left his business card in my kitchen. So should I text him today or not?”

“I don’t know, David.” It sounded like she’d already lost interest.

“Alexis!”

“Yes, text him. He probably left his card because he wants to hook up again. And if he doesn’t, then it’ll only be mildly humiliating on the scale of humiliating things you’ve done.”

David hung up on her.

~*~

[Patrick]
I need some advice.

[Stevie]
i’m glad you realized that
yes your hair is too short

[Patrick]
No. You know how I had to go to NY for a tax seminar?

[Stevie]
idk i don’t always listen to what you say

The crowd around Patrick was laughing, and he looked up at the speaker who was lecturing on import taxes to see what was funny. When he couldn’t figure it out from the powerpoint slide on the screen, he looked down at his phone again.

[Patrick]
I’m there now. Last night I met someone. A guy. I went home with him and spent the night.

[Stevie]
omg

[Patrick]
Yeah.

[Stevie]
omg omg

[Patrick]
Is that all you’re going to say?

[Stevie]
was he hot?

Patrick pictured David: his dramatic eyebrows and chiseled jaw, his dark eyes that could be steely or surprisingly soft, his leather jacket. And then later, his hairy arms and gasping sighs and his cock in Patrick’s hand.

[Patrick]
Yes

[Stevie]
did you duck?
fuck
???????

[Patrick]
Um. I guess it depends on how you define that word.

[Stevie]
were there orgasms?

[Patrick]
Yes

[Stevie]
🍆🍆🍆🍆🍆🍆🍆

[Patrick]
Please stop

Clearly Stevie wasn’t going to be any help, so Patrick tried again to catch the thread of what the lecturer was saying. He wrote something down from the slide that sounded important, all the while watching his phone, still open to the texting app. The dots to indicate Stevie was typing came and went for a while.

[Stevie]
ok so i know you were only here a few months and i don’t know everything about you. but i thought you only drank white wine, and now i find out you also drink red wine?

Her analogy was obvious, but Patrick sat and pondered his response for a while.

[Patrick]
More like, I’ve been drinking white wine because it never occurred to me that I might like something else. But now that I’ve had red wine, I’m realizing that I may only like red wine.

[Stevie]
wow

[Patrick]
Yeah

[Stevie]
who is this guy?

[Patrick]
His name is David Rose. I guess you can probably google him - his family is sort of famous.

It occurred to Patrick that he could google David if he wanted to. Probably should, in fact.

[Stevie]
so what advice do you need exactly?

[Patrick]
What the fuck do I do?

[Stevie]
like, about your wife? i think you have to tell her the truth if you’re gay

Eyes squeezing shut, Patrick shut his screen off. He couldn’t think about that yet. She was right, but he couldn’t think about the horror that his life back home would become if he went to Rachel and confessed that after all these years, he was actually gay. He tried again to focus on the lecture, but he’d missed too much and had only the vaguest idea what the speaker was talking about. He tried writing everything down for several minutes, hoping he could look up the rest later and that the notes would make sense in retrospect.

Another message popped up on his screen from Stevie: are u gonna see him again?

He didn’t respond to that either.

When a few minutes later another message popped up, at first Patrick assumed it was Stevie again, but then he noticed it was from an unknown number. He swiped his phone up off the table quickly.

[212-555-4561]
Hey, it’s David from last night. I got your card.

Hands shaking, Patrick unlocked his phone and stared at the message. David had actually texted him; when he left his card, he hadn’t really expected that to happen.

[Patrick]
Hey, just waking up? ;)

[David]
No. Did you think the sex was so good that it knocked me into a 12 hour coma?

Patrick cringed. Okay, that stung a little, but it’s not like he wasn’t aware that last night had been a much bigger deal for him than it had been for David.

[David]
Sorry, I didn't mean that. It was very good.

[Patrick]
For me too. Obviously.

He stared at David’s last message for a couple of long minutes. ‘It was very good.’ Was he just being kind? He could have just not texted at all if he wasn’t interested. He must be interested. Psyching himself up, Patrick typed out: Would you like to go out with me tonight? and pressed send before he could out-think himself.

The time between hitting send and when David texted back felt like years. Decades. Millennia, maybe.

[David]
Or we could order in? At my place?

[Patrick]
What time?

[David]
7?

[Patrick]
See you then.

Patrick finally looked up from his phone and realized that a new speaker had taken over to present on the next topic. He also realized that absorbing any more information today was hopeless. He sent one more text:

I’m seeing him again tonight.

[Stevie]
👍👍👍

~*~

“Hi.”

“Hi.” Patrick stood on his doorstep, and if he hadn’t been wearing a shirt in a darker shade of blue, David would have sworn he had on the same clothes.

“Come on in,” David said, opening the door wider and sweeping his hand out dramatically. He’d agonized over his own clothes for far too long before opting for his favorite Kitsuné sweatshirt and a pair of skinny jeans that he thought made his ass look good.

“I brought wine,” Patrick said, holding out a bottle of red, “which is probably terrible, but in my defense, I don’t know or care anything about wine.”

“Thank you,” David said, taking the bottle and looking at it as they walked into the kitchen. “Actually, a Williamette Valley pinot is a safe bet, but it probably won’t pair well with the Thai food I just ordered.” He set it down on the counter. “We can open it after.”

Patrick shoved his hands deep in his pockets, rocking back and forth on his heels. He looked nervous.

“How was your seminar thing today?”

“Oh, I have no idea. Couldn’t stop thinking about stuff. You know, last night.”

David didn’t want to ask, but the word came out of his mouth before he could stop it, his head tilting back like it was trying to extract itself from this awkward conversation that his body had gotten them into. “Regrets?”

“I mean, I’ve cheated on my wife, so… yeah,” he said to the floor before looking back up at David. “But also, no. How could I regret the way you made me feel? Nothing’s ever… nothing’s ever felt as right as last night felt to me.”

“Okay,” David said, his voice coming out as a breathy tremble.

“I guess I wouldn’t be here if I truly had regrets.” And then it was like his hesitancy melted away and David got a glimpse of a confident man underneath as Patrick moved in to kiss him.

Patrick backed David up as their mouths collided, making his ass bump against the edge of the countertop. It was a dominance that hadn’t been in evidence the night before, and it made David go a little bit weak in the knees. “This was all I could think about all day,” Patrick whispered, which weakened his knees further.

David couldn’t stop himself from smiling, which interfered with his ability to kiss Patrick back. “That’s a… very nice thing to say.”

“It’s true.”

They continued making out, and David let his hands wander down to the plane of Patrick’s chest, over his belt to the bulge in his jeans. Patrick moaned into his mouth, and okay, that was it. David couldn’t take it anymore. He’d been thinking about this all day too, even if he wasn’t prepared to admit it out loud.

David turned them around so that Patrick was up against the counter and then sank to his knees. Immediately, he regretted the fact that they were in the kitchen where the granite floor was very hard, and his artfully ripped jeans weren’t doing him any favors.

He put his fingers on Patrick’s belt buckle. “May I?”

Patrick was breathing quickly, his eyes wide. “I… really want to say yes.”

David shrugged and gave him a tiny smile, his other hand rubbing up and down Patrick’s thigh. “So say yes.”

“God, David, you’re so hot. Yes.”

“And I just want you to know,” David said as he unfastened Patrick’s belt, “that I’m no less attracted to you because of this terrible woven belt.” Unfastening and unzipping his jeans carefully, David pressed a hand against Patrick’s erection through his underwear, turning Patrick’s laugh at the belt comment into a gasped exclamation. Inspired to tease him a little longer, David nuzzled and mouthed over Patrick’s clothed cock, his thighs trembling under David’s hands.

“How do you do that?” Patrick asked him.

“What?” David pulled Patrick’s underwear down but didn’t touch him, stretching out the anticipation, letting Patrick’s cock bob there in front of his face,.

“How do you make me feel this way?”

David didn’t answer, didn’t think he could answer even if he wanted to, so he avoided having to do so by taking Patrick’s cock into his mouth. He moved his hands to grip Patrick’s hips, holding him against the counter as he worked. Patrick seemed to have immediately been rendered speechless, reduced to hitched breathy sounds that were very gratifying.

This was an act David had performed countless times, and he often let his mind wander during the process. But right now his mind was full of only this, the rigid length of Patrick and the taste of him and the noises he was making. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Patrick gripping the counter, his knuckles white. David reached out for Patrick’s right hand, picking it up and putting it on the back of his own head, hoping he would get the message. Patrick’s fingers immediately gripped David’s hair, pulling slightly, and David moaned in appreciation.

“Fuck, David, I’m… I’m gonna…” David didn’t let up, swirling his tongue and sucking him deep until Patrick cried out and came down his throat.

Just as David was releasing Patrick from his mouth, the door intercom buzzed. “Look at that, perfect timing,” he said as he pulled himself up from the floor. “Food’s here.”

Patrick looked stunned, his breathing very fast, so David reached down to begin righting his clothes for him.

“I’ll get this, you get the door,” Patrick said, his voice raspy. He looked like he wanted to say more, but couldn’t summon the words.

“Okay,” David said, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek before going out to the hall to buzz in the delivery person.

~*~

“So how old were you when you came out?” Patrick speared a piece of chicken with a fork. “If you don’t mind me asking a personal question.”

David grimaced, but said mildly, “I don’t mind.” He took a sip of water. “Look, I’m not unaware that I have some stereotypically gay mannerisms. So most people assume I’m gay, and that included my parents. The hard part was convincing them that when it comes to sexual attraction, gender doesn’t matter to me.” When Patrick frowned in confusion at that, he added, “I identify as pansexual.”

“Oh. Sorry, I didn’t mean to assume.”

“No, it was a reasonable assumption. I mentioned I was waiting for a guy at the bar last night. Also I just gave you a blow job, so why wouldn’t you assume I’m gay?”

Patrick’s face heated up. It felt surreal that he was sitting politely at a table eating dinner with a man who’d just brought him to an earth-shattering orgasm fifteen minutes before, but he was doing his best to roll with it. He ate his noodles slowly, trying to ignore the loose, lazy feeling in his limbs. David had ordered an assortment of dishes, way too much for two people. Patrick had never been a picky eater, so all of it was fine with him, and the two of them had taken turns putting food from various containers onto their plates. In spite of his undercurrent of sexual panic, Patrick found it strangely comfortable sitting down to eat with David, like they’d done it a hundred times.

“Anyway, when I was a teenager I had dated some boys and some girls, and I guess my family assumed I was still figuring things out? I don’t know, we didn’t really talk about it. There was a point in college when I was in a polyamorous relationship with a couple, and so I just brought them home with me and told my parents to deal with it.”

“And they did?” Patrick asked. “Deal with it?”

David shrugged. “They weren’t… all that invested in my life. I guess they did. My dad did ask me at one point if it wouldn’t be easier if I picked a gender, but he’s never been… there was never any homophobic drama.”

Patrick thought about his own small-town upbringing, where any behavior outside of the norm would result in the epithet of ‘queer’ or worse being hurled at the person in question. It was the kind of bullying that Patrick himself had usually avoided — he was likable and good at sports, and he’d managed to traverse school with enough popularity to feel secure most of the time. His own parents had never said anything bad about gay people, but that was maybe because they’d never said much of anything about gay people.

He envied David, with his cosmopolitan family and his urban lifestyle, where he’d been open to exploring his sexual identity at a young age. He wondered what that must have been like.

“I’m embarrassed,” Patrick said, and then winced at his own admission.

“Why?”

“Because I’m thirty years old, David! How did I get to this age without realizing very basic things about my own identity?”

“Hey, don’t do that. Every queer person has a different journey.”

“Yeah, but if I could have figured it out sooner, I wouldn’t have so royally fucked up Rachel’s life.”

“Rachel is your wife?”

Patrick nodded and pushed his plate away. “It’s not like there weren’t signs, thinking back on it. My cousin Dennis just told me recently that he’d thought I was in love with a high school friend, Eric. And you know what? I guess I probably was. But I was dating Rachel, and I just thought… I don’t know. Maybe I just didn’t let myself think about it. Maybe I was afraid of what I might uncover if I thought about it.”

David was watching him carefully, just listening. It was comforting, having someone to talk to about this to who would just listen.

“I was a late bloomer. When I was thirteen and all my friends were pairing off and playing seven minutes in heaven at parties, I was only interested in hockey and baseball and music. I was small for my age, and I hit puberty seemingly after everybody else in my class.”

“Ugh, not me. I’m so fucking hairy — it’s my dad’s sephardic genes — and I hated it at that age. Braces and acne and hair everywhere and my terrible nose… I just wanted to hide under the bed until puberty was over.”

Patrick smiled. “What’s wrong with your nose?”

“Nothing now; I had a nose job.”

He’d be willing to bet that teenage David was more attractive than he was giving himself credit for, but Patrick let that topic drop. “Anyway, Rachel had been a friend of mine since we were kids, and when we were fifteen and she kissed me, I sort of went along with it. A girlfriend was something every guy was supposed to have, and here she was, a girlfriend I genuinely liked spending time with. I didn’t feel much when we kissed, but I never knew any better. I didn’t have anything to compare it to.”

“And by the time you reached an age where you might explore your sexuality, you were already dating Rachel,” David guessed.

“Yeah. But dating wasn’t… it just wasn’t a big deal in my life. I was a hard worker at school and I had a lot of activities that kept me occupied. Rachel and I did eventually, um…”

“Have sex.”

“Yeah. And it was fine. It felt good, and I figured, okay. This is what sex is. But I didn’t understand why it was such a driving force in other people’s lives,” Patrick said.

“I’ve known people on the asexual spectrum who felt that way.”

“I actually had a genderqueer bartender suggest that I might be asexual a few weeks ago, now that you mention it.”

David smirked. “For the record, you don’t seem to be asexual.”

“Yeah, no. Just in deep denial for a lot of wasted years, I guess.” He heaved a sigh. “Rachel and I were on-again, off-again for a long time, but we always just, I don’t know, fell back into it. We’d break up, and then something would always push us back together. I proposed, and then six months later I panicked and broke it off again and left town.”

“Ouch.”

“Yeah. So I moved to this small town that was even smaller than the one I’d grown up in for some bizarre reason,” Patrick continued. “But that didn’t magically fix me, it was just a change of scenery for my sadness.”

“You might have considered going to a city; Toronto, for example.”

Patrick shrugged. “I don’t know why I ended up where I ended up. It seemed like some kind of weird destiny at first, that it was very important that I be there. And then it just… wasn’t. So Rachel and I got back together and I suggested we elope.”

“Marrying her before you could chicken out again?” David guessed.

Patrick nodded. “In retrospect, yeah, that’s what it was. That was four months ago. Now I have to tell her… I don’t know what I’m going to tell her.”

“I’m sorry, Patrick. If I could have met you before you got married, I would have.”

He laughed, but there wasn’t any humor in it. “Yeah, that would have been nice, huh? If I’d realized this about myself six months ago, I could have spared Rachel some of the pain that…” Patrick wiped his hands over his face and groaned. “You know what? I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

David glanced over to the living room. “We could watch a movie?”

“Yeah, that sounds good.”

“I think I’m in a Sandy Bullock mood.” David drummed his fingers on his lips. “What’s your preference between Two Weeks Notice and The Lake House?”

Patrick had never seen either, so he shrugged and picked one at random. “The Lake House?”

David grinned at him. “Correct.”

Chapter Text

When Patrick’s attention drifted from the movie, which was frequently, he caught himself imagining that this was what his dating life could have been like — a large, masculine hand in his and another man’s stubble against his own skin. As it turned out, Patrick was not a fan of The Lake House, but he was a fan of cuddling on the couch with David. And he was a fan of the way David kissed him after the movie was over, his cheeks still wet with tears from his emotional reaction to the plot of the film. It was endearing that David was so moved by a film that he’d clearly seen several times already, even if the movie had made no logical sense.

Patrick was still unused to the way desire surged up and overtook him, making his head swim and his heart pound and his hands tremble. “Should we go to bed?” David asked, and Patrick couldn’t imagine a world in which he’d be able to refuse that request.

They undressed quickly, and Patrick was again struck by how comfortable he’d gotten with this in such an insanely short time. It felt like a spell had been cast over him, removing nervousness and doubts and guilt and just letting him feel. It should have been scary, getting into bed naked with this man he still didn’t know that well, but when David pulled him into his arms, kissing him as they found a natural rhythm of writhing against each other, it felt like the most natural thing in the world. He trusted David, but for the life of him he couldn’t have explained why.

“Could I try, umm…” Patrick felt his face heat up. What didn’t feel natural to him was talking about sex, but he’d learned quickly that David expected negotiation. Pressing his face into David’s neck, he spoke against his skin. “I want to try… sucking you. If that’s okay.”

“It’s definitely okay,” David said as his hand skimmed over the curve of Patrick’s ass, “but you know you don’t have to… this doesn’t have to be, like, an even exchange.”

“I know.” He kissed the corner of David’s mouth. “But I’ve been thinking about it all night.”

“Well, in that case,” David said, his voice high and breathy.

Patrick kissed him one more time before moving down his body, letting his nose drag through David’s chest hair. “And by the way, I like how hairy you are.”

“Hmm, well, I have my chest hair thinned out professionally, so you don’t know how hairy I am.”

Patrick paused, scrutinizing David’s chest. “Wait, really?”

David nodded. “I used to have all of it waxed but chest hair is back in style, so…”

“Huh.” Patrick glanced down at his own chest, which had never had much hair. “Unlucky for me, I guess.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, you look great.”

He couldn’t help but preen a little at that, and he leaned over again to kiss David’s stomach. “Really?”

“Yes, you have very nice arms and a good cock and ugh, please don’t kiss me there, I ate too much Thai food.” David said, hands fluttering at Patrick’s shoulders.

“Okay, sorry.” He moved further down the bed, running a hand over the top of one of David’s thighs. “Although you really have nothing to worry about.”

David laughed a little. “I appreciate your attempt to undo decades of societal programming, but it probably won’t happen in one night — oh, fuck.”

Patrick had decided he’d stalled long enough, so he’d dived in and ran his tongue up the underside of David’s cock, putting an end to any more discussion of David’s body issues.

He took the head in his mouth, swirling his tongue, tasting the precome that leaked from the tip. Any question in his mind that he might not like this, any lingering doubt about his sexuality at least as it applied to David Rose, was quelled. He loved this. He loved the way his lips stretched around David’s girth, and the salty taste of him, and the velvety texture of David’s skin against his tongue. He operated on instinct, doing to David what he himself enjoyed: a flutter of his tongue against the head and firmer suction as he took more of the length into his mouth. It was a challenge; David wasn’t small and Patrick was a novice. But he’d always been up for a challenge, and that was all this was: a new skill to practice and perfect, like rapid plucking on his guitar or making an accurate throw to first base. He moaned around David’s cock, so turned on that he began to wonder if he could come just from sucking another man.

“Oh my God, come here, come here,” David gasped, pushing him off.

Patrick wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and frowned, moving back up the bed. “Sorry, I’m new at this.”

“What? No, you’re great, you’re a natural, I just need—” He pulled Patrick down on top of him and kissed him, David’s hands moved to Patrick’s ass and encouraged him to thrust his hips. He felt David’s saliva-slick cock against his own and he shuddered, immediately lost to the demands of his body. “Can we… do this?” David asked.

“Yes. God, yes.” David’s legs bracketed his hips and they ground against each other, both of them on the edge. He met David’s eyes and it was suddenly so incredibly intimate, more than he could handle, and Patrick squeezed his eyes shut.

David came first, his teeth biting down on Patrick’s shoulder as he moaned, and that was all it took to push Patrick over with him. His vision whited out and he lost all track of the noises he was making or the way his body was moving as he rode out the pleasure. It took several slow seconds before he was able to even think about peeling himself off of David, grimacing at the mess between them.

“Yeah, maybe we should jump in the shower,” David said, looking down at himself.

“Good idea.” Patrick said, but didn’t move from where he’d collapsed at David’s side.

“Come on.” He heard David moving around, so Patrick levered himself up onto wobbly legs and followed the other man into the bathroom.

David kissed him as he waited for the water to heat up. “You really are a natural at giving a blow job, I wasn’t just saying that.”

Patrick flushed. “Uh, thanks. Who knew?”

“I just wanted to…” David’s eyes rolled up to the ceiling, the way they did before he was about to confess something. “I wanted to come together if we could.”

“Yeah, I’m glad. That was nice.” Nice, he scoffed internally. It was incredible. Life-altering. Everything about the last twenty-four hours with David had been life-altering.

The got into the shower together, rinsing off and leaning against each other, warm and sleepy as the steam rose around them. Patrick wanted to kiss David and so he did, pulling his head down and coaxing his mouth open. It was in some ways the most intimate thing they’d done, perhaps the most intimate thing he’d ever done with another person, this drowsy makeout session as water poured over them from David’s expensive showerhead.

Once they were dried off and back in bed, skin warm from the shower, Patrick hesitantly moved close to David’s side, and was gratified when David put his arm around him, pulling him closer.

“Just for a minute; I don’t like getting sweaty in my sleep,” David said.

Patrick grinned. “Okay, David.”

~*~

“I told you not to go back to him! Didn’t I tell you not to go back to him?”

Patrick woke up with a start, uncertain if the shouting voices he was hearing were the remnants of a dream. He picked up his phone from the nightstand and squinted at it. 4:47am. He was alone in bed.

“Right, and you’re so skilled in relationships, David!” This was a woman’s voice, and she sounded like she was crying. Patrick got up quickly, searching around on the floor for his clothes.

“Maybe not, but I know Stavros is bad news. I’ve told you every time he’s broken your heart but you keep going back for more, and every single time I have to pick up the pieces,” David said.

“Don’t act like you’re the only one who helps the other one after a breakup,” said the woman.

“Oh, you mean like when Sebastian left me and you didn’t even return my texts about it for five days?” David said.

“I was skiing in the Alps, David.”

You don’t ski!

Patrick opened the bedroom door and ventured out into the living room. David was in a t-shirt and sweatpants, one side of his hair adorably sticking up from the way he’d slept on it. Standing across the room from him was a woman in her late twenties. She had long hair with blond highlights, an incongruous gold headband across her forehead, and mascara streaked down her cheeks. She wore a sparkly dress that was short by any standards, but particularly for a February night in New York.

“Oh, you have company,” the woman said flatly, then sniffled. “I didn’t realize.”

“Sorry my sister woke you,” David said, his teeth gritting together.

“Hi,” Patrick said. “Nice to meet you.”

“Is this the one you were texting me about?” she asked.

“Fuck off, Alexis.”

Patrick was intensely curious about what David had texted his sister about him, but he also couldn’t help but notice the fact that Alexis was clutching the back of the sofa she was standing next to, swaying a bit on her high heels and not quite focusing her eyes on anything. On top of being upset, she didn’t seem sober.

“David, do you have tea? I could make your sister a cup of tea.”

“Yeah, in the cabinet next to the fridge,” he said, waving his hand to the kitchen. “Alexis, sit down,” David said more softly.

From the kitchen, Patrick could hear the murmur of their voices. Alexis was still crying but at least they weren’t arguing anymore. He opened the cabinet David had indicated, happy to see that David’s Canadian roots meant he owned an electric kettle. Patrick pulled it down and filled it with water, plugging it in and pressing the switch to start the water heating up.

David had made a few comments in the course of their conversations to indicate that his parents had been absent a lot of the time, leaving David and his sister to take care of each other. For the first time, Patrick really wondered what that was like, having parents who didn’t make their kids the center of their world. He’d envied David’s upbringing earlier when they were talking about coming out of the closet, but now the downside seemed evident. David and his sister both seemed to have personal lives overflowing with past or present heartbreaks.

Patrick found a box of tea bags and some mugs, and when the kettle clicked, he filled each of them, staring down into the darkening water as he listened to the murmur of voices from the next room.

“I think… I think he enjoys manipulating me. Gets off on it,” Alexis was saying as Patrick rejoined them in the living room, setting a mug of tea in front of Alexis before going back for the other two.

“Yeah, I know, he’s the worst,” David muttered.

“I knew he’d cheated sometimes in the past, but the way he flaunted it tonight…” she continued.

David said something Patrick didn’t hear while he was getting the other mugs, but he returned in time to hear Alexis say, “He humiliated me in front of everyone.”

“How?” asked David.

Patrick went to get a box of tissues from David’s bedroom, coming back in and setting them down in front of Alexis. She took one and dabbed her eyes; if she noticed how the tissues had appeared there, she gave no sign of it.

“He texted me and said everyone was going to be at Plunge tonight. That it was going to be a big night because Finneas O’Connell was going to be there celebrating his twenty-first birthday, and he’d make sure that me and whoever I wanted to bring would be on the list.”

David looked impressed by this fact. Patrick had no idea why.

“So I texted everyone: Klair, Lil, Blair, Tiff, the whole gang, and told them to come. We get there, and not only are we not on the list, but Stavros at that very moment starts posting pictures of himself from across town, partying with Tyga and making out with all these models. And I’m just standing there on the street, and everyone sees the posts — everyone knows that he’s doing all this to make me look as stupid as possible.”

David glanced at Patrick and shook his head, but Patrick wasn’t sure exactly what he was reacting to: his sister’s club-hopping lifestyle or the names of her friends or the fact that Alexis’ current level of upset seemed to be centered around some ill-timed pictures on social media.

“So then Klair goes, ‘let’s get out of here,’ so we go to another club and order, like, a million shots, but the whole time people are texting me asking if I saw the pictures Stavros has been posting all night. It was a nightmare.”

“Mm hmm,” David said, noncommittally.

They sipped their tea in silence for a minute.

“Anyway,” Alexis said, “he’s just pissed at me because I caught him trying to take his condom off when we were changing positions the other night. He thought I wouldn’t notice, I guess.”

“What the fuck?” David shouted, his voice rising.

“That’s assault,” Patrick couldn’t help but add. He knew he wasn’t part of this, but he felt a surge of sympathy for Alexis. Perhaps she was a vapid socialite, but she just seemed so lost. And she certainly didn’t deserve this man’s abuse.

Alexis sniffled and wiped at her face. “No, I know, but—”

“No, Patrick’s right,” David said, shooting him a grateful glance. “Alexis, please never see him again. He’s a monster.”

Alexis nodded, and David reached out and awkwardly patted her back.

After a few more minutes, Alexis seemed to shake her dark thoughts off, swiping under her eyes and sitting up straight, her eyes brightening a little. “You know what? It’s gonna be good, actually. Because Klair said she might take a trip to Dubai and she invited me to go, so that’ll take my mind off of Stavros. Nothing like going dancing all night on the other side of the world to put things in perspective.”

David narrowed his eyes. “And when would you be doing that?”

Alexis had pulled out her phone, her finger scrolling on the screen like it was an autonomic reflex. “I don’t know. Friday, I think?”

Sighing, David stood up. He looked resigned. “You can crash in the spare room tonight, Alexis.”

Alexis looked up and gave him a simpering smile. “Thanks, David. Thanks for getting up in the middle of the night and taking care of me.”

David fluttered his hand in the air, a gesture that seemed to mean ‘it’s fine, whatever, don’t make it a thing’ and retreated to his own bedroom.

“Well, it was nice meeting you, Alexis, in spite of the circumstances.” Patrick said, standing to follow David.

She narrowed her eyes at him. “You don’t seem like one of David’s usual hookups.”

“Oh, no?”

“No, you seem too normal. Like a person. You seem like a person.” She pulled off her heels and picked them up, heading for the spare bedroom.

“Thanks, I guess?” Patrick said.

“Night-night.”

Patrick found David sitting on the bed, his expression hard to read. Which was unusual for David; even knowing him for such a short time, Patrick felt like David’s facial expressions were always easy to read.

“Sorry about that,” David said.

“Don’t worry about it. It’s good she had you to come to.”

“Yeah, and then she’s off on another trip before I can turn around. That’s the way Alexis has done things since she was a kid. She shakes off her problems and runs away.” David sniffed, collapsing back against the pillows. “I’m going back to sleep.”

Patrick looked at his phone. “At this point, I may as well stay up. I’ve got to catch the ferry back to Hoboken by 6:45.”

David groaned. “Okay. Wanna do dinner tonight? I could take you to my favorite pizza place. Proper Neapolitan pizza — you’ll think you’re in Italy.”

Patrick’s stomach turned over. “Um, actually my flight back to Toronto is tonight. Today’s the last day of the seminar.”

Eyes popping open, David sat up. “I thought you had one more day.”

Patrick shoved his hands into his pockets. “No, I do have one more day of the seminar, but then I have to go straight to the airport after.”

“So you’re flying home. Tonight.”

“Um… yeah.” Patrick had the sudden wild impulse to postpone his flight. To cancel it. To never let David Rose out of his sight ever again.

David stood up, pacing over to the windows. It was still fully dark, sunrise over an hour away. “Okay, well, it was fun. Have a nice life.”

“David…”

“What?” David was pretty transparently trying to hide his disappointment under a layer of apathy. Patrick felt a little bit honored to have inspired that level of emotion in him.

“There is a big part of me that doesn’t want to leave—”

“Oh yeah? What part of you is that?”

David’s implication was clear. “It’s not just the sex,” Patrick said. “But I have responsibilities. I’m supposed to be at work tomorrow, for one thing, and…”

“And you have a wife.” He waved his hand dismissively. “Whatever, I didn’t invite you to move in with me. We had two dates. It’s not like our lives are in any way compatible.”

That stung. Patrick took a step back. “Yeah, I guess not.”

David continued to avoid looking at him, and Patrick felt the words he wanted to say dammed up behind his lips. That David made him feel right in a way that no one ever had. That his life would never be the same. That he didn’t want to go. Instead of saying any of that, he leaned over and picked up his shoes. “Goodbye, David.”

David turned back to the bed, lying down and burrowing under the covers. “Bye.”

Once he had his shoes and coat on, Patrick left the apartment and descended quietly to the street. He immediately headed in the direction of the place where he’d gotten a taxi the day before. When a hand reached out and grabbed his ankle from a bundle of blankets next to the sidewalk, Patrick jumped. And also might have screamed a little bit.

The owner of the hand sat up, and he recognized the homeless woman from yesterday.

“Have you figured out how to get back?” she asked him.

“Get back where?” he said, edging backwards out of her reach.

“Back where?” She seemed very indignant at the question. “Back home.”

“I’m going home tonight,” he said, wondering why he wasn’t walking away from this conversation. Patrick supposed he wanted to catch a glimpse of where her madness led. Perhaps because he was feeling a sort of madness of his own getting close to the surface.

She shook her head. “That’s not the home I mean. You know it’s not right, don’t you? You know it’s not where you belong.”

“I do,” he whispered.

The woman fixed him with a steely stare. “So fix it.”

Patrick backed up another couple of steps, then turned on his heel and began walking away. As he did, the woman started to sing. Her voice was clear and beautiful, and it carried a long way in the predawn air.

Give me a lifetime of promises and a world of dreams
Speak the language of love like you know what it means…

Chapter Text

We’ve reached our cruising altitude and the captain has turned off the fasten seat-belt sign, which means you are free to get up and move about the cabin. However…

Patrick pressed his forehead against the airplane window, staring down into the darkness. He couldn’t make anything out but he kept looking, almost as if he’d see a sign out there somewhere, something to tell him what to do. He continued to ignore the constant pressure behind his eyes; Patrick feared what his seat mates would think of him if he suddenly started to cry right there in seat 27F. He wasn’t a crier, but he felt very much like crying right now.

He’d been turning his time with David Rose over and over in his mind, looking at it from all angles, trying to figure out what it was about David that has attracted him so intensely. Patrick hadn’t understood his sexual orientation long enough to even begin to think if he had a type, or if David Rose was it. Thinking back over the boys and men in his past, he tried to see them through this new filter. There was Eric, his high school teammate — and yes, Dennis had been right, Patrick had been a little bit in love with him. Eric was tall with dark hair like David, so there was another data point. Going back even farther, there had been a deaf boy at camp when Patrick was fourteen. Patrick had never met anyone who couldn’t hear before, and had been mesmerized, watching the boy’s hands move as he signed. At night Patrick had lain in his bunk, practicing how to sign ‘Hi, I’m Patrick,’ spelling out the letters of his name over and over. Then when he’d finally met the boy, all the signing he’d learned had gone out the window. Instead of signing ‘Hi, I’m Patrick,’ he’d just waved like an idiot and run away. Maybe he’d had a crush then too.

The idea of picking apart every male friendship he’d ever had, every actor he’d ever admired, every Olympic swimmer he’d ever looked at, trying to decode if there had been sexual attraction there — it was exhausting. Okay, maybe the Olympic swimmer thing didn’t take much sleuthing, but the rest of it was exhausting. Besides, this wasn’t about his past. It wasn’t really even about David Rose, even though David was occupying most of his thoughts at the moment. It was about his future. It was about living the rest of his life as who he really was.

And thinking about that made him think about Rachel and how he was going to break her heart, and then he wanted to cry again.

The flight to Toronto from Newark wasn’t long, but the drive to Oak Grove once Patrick had retrieved his car from long-term parking was. It was already late, and Patrick’s head was muddled with emotional and physical exhaustion, so he stopped at the first Tim Horton’s off the highway and bought a large coffee.

An hour outside of his hometown, buzzing from the caffeine, a song he’d been listening to a lot when he’d first moved to Schitt’s Creek came up on shuffle, and Patrick started to cry. He wept for the way he’d felt then, before the bloom was off the rose, when he was so happy to have done something just for himself for once. He wept for all the lost years of his teens and twenties, when he didn’t understand who he was attracted to, didn’t understand why things with Rachel never seemed right. He wept for the marriage he’d stumbled into when a part of him knew it was a mistake.

By the time he pulled into his parking space, it was almost one in the morning and he’d calmed down. He unlocked his apartment door carefully, setting his suitcase down and going to check the bedroom. Rachel lay on her side of the bed, her breathing slow and even. The thought of climbing into bed with her when she was completely unaware of what he’d done, it felt like one more violation of her trust. He couldn’t do it. Patrick closed the door with a soft click and once he was ready for bed, fetched a spare blanket from the hall closet and settled down on the sofa. When he finally managed to soothe himself to sleep, it was by imagining he was in David’s bed in New York with its soft sheets and the smell of expensive aftershave on the pillows.

~*~

Moira Rose swept into the dining room at ten past the hour, one of her full, curly-haired wigs on her head. “David, I’m so glad you could join us for the evening repast!”

David always felt a bit like a teenager when he sat at his parents’ dining room table. “You insisted I come. You said, ‘I won’t accept no for an answer’!” He’d almost said no anyway; the idea of dragging himself out to his parents’ house in the suburbs had sounded like torture when Moira had called. But the guilt trip his mother would have given him had he refused was just a different, more insidious kind of torture.

Seating herself at her accustomed place, Moira gave him a knowing smile, like they were in on some joke together. “Well, I wanted to see everyone before Alexis leaves on her next adventure, and before I leave for Vancouver to shoot that episode of Arrow.”

“It’s one episode, it’s not like you’re going to be gone that long,” David said, spooning ravioli onto his plate.

“What even is Arrow, anyway?” Alexis asked.

“It’s a superhero show,” David said, giving her a surreptitious eye roll. “On the CW.”

“Eww.”

“Now now, kids, don’t knock your mother’s latest job,” their father said. “She’s apparently going to be a very important villain.”

“And there’s a chance the character could recur,” Moira said.

“Oh, goodie,” Alexis replied sarcastically, then pulled her phone out and started looking at it.

Moira swallowed a prodigious sip from her martini glass, and David took a moment to hope that she wasn’t mixing booze with pills. “Besides,” she stage-whispered, looking around as if for eavesdroppers, “apparently we need the money.”

David blinked at her. “What are you talking about? We have plenty of money.”

“Moira, we don’t need to talk about that now, sweetheart,” Johnny said. “Would someone please pass the salad?”

“So, David,” Alexis said, looking up from her phone and seemingly oblivious to the discussion of money problems. “What’s happening with that cute little button-faced guy who was at your place last night?”

He glared at Alexis for bringing his love life up in front of their parents. He’d been trying to think about anything other than Patrick, and Alexis talking about him wasn’t helping. “Nothing.”

“He seemed really nice, David,” she said, continuing her prodding.

“He was nice.” Patrick might have been the nicest person David had ever met, and David cringed when he thought about how they’d parted ways. It had just broken his heart a tiny bit to be unexpectedly confronted with the fact that Patrick was leaving New York. In that moment, he’d been completely unable to deal.

“So what’s going on there?”

“Nothing. He went back to Canada, where he lives.” He took a bite of salad, trying to affect an air of not-caring.

Alexis pouted. “Too bad.”

“Oh, are you having a long-distance love affair, David?” Moira asked. She was over-enunciating more than usual, and David estimated based on her speech pattern that she was on her third martini.

“No,” he said, the phrase ‘love affair’ making him physically recoil. He tried to think of something else to talk about.

“Speaking of our mother country,” Moira said, “did you hear about Gloria Gregson?”

“Who’s Gloria Gregson?” Alexis asked.

Moira scoffed. “Only one of the most decorated soap opera actresses of my generation. Anyway, the word on the street is that she’s given away all of her money and joined a cult.” Moira looked very smug about this fact.

“Is it me, or have I been hearing a lot in the news about cults lately?” David asked. Everyone else at the table shrugged. He tried to remember what he’d seen on the news a few days ago, but came up blank.

“Sold any paintings lately, David?” Johnny asked.

“No,” David said again, focusing on his plate.

“Well, keep reaching, son, I’m sure things will perk up.”

“Hoooow can they, John, when we can’t afford to pay for his patrons anymore?” Moira slurred.

“Moira!” Johnny said, his eyes very wide.

David dropped his fork with a clatter. “What? What is she talking about?”

“No no no, n— nothing,” his father stuttered. “She’s confused.”

David turned to his mother. “Mom?”

She looked contrite. “There might have been, in the past, one or two times that you father and I bankrolled a patron of the art at your gallery. Just two or three times at most.”

Alexis hissed in what she might have imagined was sympathy. “Ouch, David.”

“Dad?” David said, swinging around. “Is this true?”

“Is it true that it was only three times?” He asked, his face still betraying his panic. “Well…”

“Oh my God.” David pushed his chair back from the table. “So how much of the past success of my gallery am I actually responsible for?”

The guilty glance between his parents was all he needed to see. David stormed out of the house and didn’t look back.

~*~

A hand was shaking him. “Why’d you sleep on the sofa?”

Patrick cracked an eye open and saw Rachel’s face swimming in his field of vision. Levering himself up, he put his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, still exhausted after three nights of too-little sleep. “It was one a.m. when I finally got home; I didn’t want to wake you.”

She smiled. “That’s very sweet but I know this sofa sucks to sleep on. You should have just come to bed.”

Patrick didn’t respond, squinting at the clock on the mantle. “Shit, I’m gonna be late for work.” He’d forgotten to plug in his phone, so it was probably dead in the pocket of his coat, unable to sound his usual alarm.

“Yeah, that was the next thing I was going to tell you,” Rachel called as he dashed off to shower.

The day was a constant flurry of activity: a meeting with his boss to debrief him on the seminar (which Patrick had to mostly fake his way through, as he’d really only managed to pay attention on the first day), a backlog of emails to respond to, an issue with a client who was delinquent on their payments. But Patrick was glad for the distractions, glad to focus on something other than what he was going to say to Rachel.

Despite his best efforts to slow down time, the work day came to a close and as Patrick went out to his car, stomach in knots, he began to desperately entertain the idea of saying nothing. At least not right away. Maybe he needed to sit with this for longer, really figure out if his relationship with Rachel was truly unsalvageable. There was no need to rush into a conversation that once it was out, could never go back in the box. He imagined how that would go. He’d go home and they’d make dinner together. She would ask him about New York and he’d have to make something up, give some excuse for why he hadn’t taken any pictures. They’d watch something on Netflix and then eventually go to bed.

His stomach twisted, thinking of being in bed with Rachel. After him being out of town for four days, she’d have every reason to expect sex. Any normal newly-married couple, he assumed, would have sex under those circumstances. And he didn’t think he could go through with that.

Beyond that, it would be irresponsible to go through with it even if he found himself physically capable. Patrick was embarrassed to admit that it had taken until mid-way through the day for it to occur to him how reckless he’d been with David. No, he hadn’t had penetrative sex, but a few minutes of googling told him that he was at risk for a handful of STDs from what they had done together. He couldn’t go to bed with Rachel given that. He’d have to tell her.

For a few seconds, Patrick thought he might have a full blown panic attack right there in his car in the parking lot of Rollins Electrical Supply. It took several minutes of controlled breathing before he felt steady enough to drive.

“Hey, I thought we might order a pizza,” Rachel said as soon as he walked through the door.

“Yeah, that’s fine.”

She was tapping on her phone. “What toppings do you want?”

“I’m good with whatever,” Patrick said, setting his bag down and going into the kitchen. He opened the small cabinet where they stored a few bottles of rarely-opened liquor, wondering if a shot of whiskey would help. He pulled the bottle down, then put it back. Then pulled it down again, pouring a few ounces into a glass. He gulped it down, wincing at the burn in his esophagus.

“Pizza should be here shortly,” Rachel said when he rejoined her in the living room. She was still scrolling through her phone. “What is going on with these weird demonstrations everywhere?”

“What demonstrations are you talking about?”

Rachel shrugged. “I don’t know, seems like every time I look at the news people are rioting in cities, and police are killing protesters… the whole world feels like it’s falling apart.” She tossed her phone onto the sofa. “Do you want to watch something?”

He should let her eat first, he thought, not do this to her on an empty stomach. So he agreed, and Rachel spent ten minutes scrolling through the Netflix menu before finally picking an old season of Great British Bake Off. Patrick stared at the screen without really seeing it, thinking about David and wondering what he was doing. Had he gone to his gallery today? Was he out on a date with some new person from Tinder? Was he at home, also watching Netflix? Patrick wanted to text him, but he doubted that would be welcome. He pulled out his phone and read the few texts they’d exchanged on Wednesday.

“So, did you see anything good in New York?” Rachel asked when they’d set the veggie pizza up on the coffee table to share. On the TV screen, a baker sat on the floor and stared despondently into his oven.

The first image that popped into Patrick’s mind was of David stretched out naked on his bed, a beautiful and profane work of art. “I saw the Empire State building,” he lied.

“Cool, did you go up in it?”

“No, the line was too long. And I saw Rockefeller Plaza.” Another lie; he’d intended to do that, he just hadn’t quite made it.

“Aww, I’ve always wanted to skate there. Were there a lot of people skating?”

“Yep.”

When they’d both finished eating and before Netflix could auto-launch another episode, Patrick reached for the remote and flipped the TV off. “Rach, I need to talk to you.” He threaded his hands together, squeezing his fingers tight against the tops of his hands.

Rachel raised an eyebrow. “What about?” They’d never spoken about that night in the car a few weeks ago, when she’d all but said their marriage wasn’t working. Everything since that night had been mundane discussions of work and household logistics, the elephant in the room unspoken about day after day.

He opened his mouth and closed it, uncertain where to start. Terrified. “I’m so sorry,” was all he could get out, which just deepened her frown.

“Sorry for what?”

“You said the other night that getting married had made things worse, and—”

“I was just tired that night, Patrick, I didn’t mean—”

“No, you weren’t wrong. At least, you weren’t wrong that something’s never been right, but I never knew what it was. I ran away to try to figure it out, and I don’t know why it took me so long. Why I couldn’t…”

“Patrick, you aren’t making any sense,” Rachel said, bringing her knees up and wrapping her arms around them like she was trying to fold herself into a ball and disappear. “And you’re scaring me.”

“I know. I know, I just… I have to tell you…” He rubbed his hands over his face. “God, this is so hard. When I was in New York, I met someone.”

“What do you mean, you ‘met someone’?”

“I met a… a man. And I… Rachel, I broke my vows.”

The expression on her face remained confused. “Patrick, are you saying to me right now that you had sex with a guy in New York?” She didn’t look angry, but that was probably because she couldn’t wrap her head around what he was telling her.

“I mean, not sex sex, but…” He could imagine David rolling his eyes at that distinction. “But yes. Yes, I did.”

Rachel stood up and paced across the room before turning back to him. “Why?”

“Because for the first time in my life, I wanted someone,” he said without thinking, and then winced as he saw those words punch Rachel in the stomach.

“For the first time in your life,” she repeated, dazed. “So you’ve been lying to me? All these years?”

“Not consciously! Rach, I swear to you, I didn’t know. I didn’t realize that…” He hadn’t said it to anyone yet, hadn’t said the words out loud. It felt important to say them now. “That I’m gay.”

Anger was starting to flicker in her eyes. “How could you not realize? How could anyone not realize that they liked men and not women? Especially when you and I were…”

“I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know. We got together so young, and I just… maybe I knew on some deep level, but—”

“And now you’ve gone off and fucked a guy and decided that you’re gay. Just like that.” She folded her arms across her chest.

Patrick ran his hands over his face. Her anger was the least of what he deserved, and he resolved to endure whatever she was going to throw at him. “It was different, with him. I’ve never felt…” He stopped. How could he make her understand without being needlessly cruel?

“You’ve never felt that with me, that’s what you’re saying.”

He nodded.

“So some stranger who you picked up in New York can make you feel things that I never have in fifteen years.” Rachel’s voice was like shards of glass scraping across her throat.

“I’m so sorry.”

“What the fuck does ‘sorry’ get me? It doesn’t get me back all those years I’ve wasted. It doesn’t undo this marriage.” Spots of color on her cheeks stood out against her pale skin, clashing with her red hair. “Why couldn’t you just have been honest with me that things didn’t feel right with me?”

“I tried, Rachel. Every time we broke up, I tried to tell you that. I did tell you that! But then you’d pretend to text me by accident and I’d be feeling lonely and you’d manage to glue our relationship back together—”

“Patrick, you’re a grown man; I shouldn’t be able to browbeat you into getting back together. If you weren’t happy, you could’ve just said ‘no’.”

He stood up too, now. “Don’t you get it, Rach? I never said no to anyone about anything, not in my whole life! All I’ve ever done has been to please people. My parents, my teachers, my coaches, you,… I never once did something just for me until a few nights ago. I was selfish, and I know how much this sucks. I will regret hurting you for the rest of my life, but I won’t regret finally taking something that I wanted. I won’t.”

A tear rolled down her cheek. “Must’ve been some guy.”

He smiled in spite of himself. “Yeah.”

“Are you going to see him again?”

“I doubt it,” Patrick said.

“So what do we do now?” Rachel asked.

“The apartment is yours,” he said. “I’ll go stay with my folks, see if I can find another place I can afford—”

The finality of what he was saying seemed to spark her anger again. “Just like that, it’s just over?”

“I should never have married you, and I take responsibility for that. I’ll pay whatever it takes for the… court costs or whatever. It should be easy, we don’t own much—”

“Say the words, Patrick. Say you’re divorcing me.”

“What’s the alternative, Rach? Do you want to stay married to me when we both know I can’t love you the way you deserve?”

“And you never did love me,” she said. It was realization after realization, hitting her painfully each time.

“I do love you, Rachel, but not the way a husband should love a wife. And I would pay any price to have realized that sooner, I swear I would. But all we can do now is… move forward.”

Swiping angrily at her face as more tears flowed, Rachel ran into the kitchen. His shoulders slumping, Patrick picked up his backpack and the suitcase that still stood by the front door, and he left the apartment.

Chapter Text

Spring arrived in New York on muddy, wet feet, pouring down from the sky in day after day of rain. As David dragged himself from his empty apartment to his empty gallery and back (when he bothered opening the gallery at all), he found the rain to be perversely appropriate. The grayness, the lack of sunshine for days at a time fit his mood perfectly.

He knew he needed to stop hibernating alone, that he needed to put himself out there — go to a bar or at least open Tinder and swipe right on someone. But it felt like more than he could possibly handle, and so he stayed in his solitary cocoon. Friends would call or text sometimes, telling him to get his ass down to this or that party, but that too felt like it would require more energy than he could muster.

He rewatched Downton Abbey during those weeks, starting over with the first series as soon as he came to the end, and when he didn’t have the TV on, he wrote and wrote in his journals, filling two full books in February and March. He wrote about the way he was feeling, the heaviness on his heart that he couldn’t explain, and the way the thought of resuming his old dating habits, with its revolving door of shallow people, made him feel like crying. He wrote about the fact that his entire professional life had been a lie, propped up by his deceitful parents. And he wrote about Patrick.

There was a part of David that wished he and Patrick had never met. It was unfair that a person who’d been in his life for not even 36 hours could have made such an impression, could have left him feeling so abandoned when he had absolutely no right to feel abandoned. Patrick didn’t owe him anything, and what else was he supposed to do other than go back to his small-town Canadian life? But David couldn’t stop thinking about him, couldn’t stop unlocking his phone and looking at the few texts they’d exchanged, couldn’t help wondering what would happen if he texted Patrick now. He was too afraid to find out.

~*~

“Patrick, would you like some eggs?” his mother asked as he descended the stairs.

“Mom, I’ve told you that you don’t need to cook for me. I’m trying not to be an imposition,” he said, sitting down at the kitchen table to put on his shoes.

“You’re our son, not an imposition. And I’m making eggs anyway.” She gave him an exasperated but fond smile. “Where are you headed so early on a Saturday?”

“I’ve got more apartments to look at.” He’d been staying with his parents for several weeks and trying to find a more permanent place when he had the time and energy. So far the apartments he’d seen had been nice, but out of his price range, since he was still paying half the rent at the apartment where Rachel was living.

Marcy shot him a sad look. “You don’t have to run out and get another apartment; you can stay here for as long as you need to, until you and Rachel have a chance to work through everything.”

“I’ve told you that’s not going to happen.” When he’d shown up on their doorstep, teary-eyed and exhausted, his parents seemed to have resolved to let him figure things out on his own without commenting on his personal life. Apparently that resolve was crumbling as the weeks stretched out and he wasn’t reconciling with his wife.

“What’s not going to happen?” his dad asked as he came in from the back door, where he’d no doubt been up early trying to get a jump on preparing the yard for spring.

Marcy pulled an egg carton from the fridge and cracked two more eggs into a bowl. “I was just saying that Patrick doesn’t need to rush out and get another apartment. He has an apartment with his wife.”

“Which I’m going to be moving out of permanently once I get my own place,” Patrick said, picking up the newspaper to give his hands something to do. Every article on the front page detailed another horror. The rise of a new extremist sect in Syria that even ISIS was afraid of. Drought in California that threatened the world’s food supply. A mass suicide in China by some group called the Acolytes of King Yan. Bushfires in Australia. Patrick pushed the paper away.

He could see his parents exchange a look in his peripheral vision. “Patrick, I’ve spoken to Rachel a few times,” his mother said, and Patrick’s heart began to race. Had she told them what he’d done?

“What did she say?” he asked, terrified of the answer.

“She won’t say what happened, but I’ve never heard her so convinced that things aren’t going to work out between you two.” His mother abandoned the eggs she was whisking and sat down at the table next to him. “But for as long as you’ve been together, I can’t imagine that there’s no way to work things out. Whatever happened—”

“We aren’t going to work things out because I never should have been with her in the first place. Because I’m gay,” he blurted, his hands clutching together. Patrick sat there in the moment that hung silently after those words had left his mouth, in utter shock at himself.

“What makes you say that?” his father said and then chuckled uncomfortably.

Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound, Patrick thought. “There was a guy I met in February, and if love at first sight were a real thing, then I swear that’s what I experienced. I cheated on Rachel. And I realized the reason things have never felt right with her. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out, but I’ve spent a lot of time soul-searching the past few weeks, and thinking about my past and some of the… some of the other men I’ve known, and… this is who I am.”

His parents were looking at each other, having a silent conversation with their eyes. The other thing Patrick had thought a lot about over the past few weeks was whether his parents were homophobic. He didn’t think so — he knew they were good people — but the fear of rejection clawed at his throat as he sat and waited for them to react.

The first thing that happened was that his mother reached for his hand. “Oh, sweetheart. First of all, know that we love you.” She looked up at Clint, who nodded. “And second of all, this must be very difficult and very confusing, so know that we’re here for you.”

“This man you mentioned, are you… still seeing him?” Clint asked.

Patrick looked down at the table. “No.” He wished he could say yes. He still thought about David every day.

“Rachel knows?” Marcy asked.

He nodded. “I told her everything.”

“Oh sweetheart, I’m so sorry you’ve been struggling with this alone. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have been pushing you to patch things up.”

“Yeah, you did that a lot over the years,” Patrick said, and then immediately regretted it as Marcy’s face fell. “But you didn’t know. How could you? I didn’t even know.” He stood up, anxious to put an end to this conversation. The best thing he could probably do at this point was to give his parents a little while to process. “I’m going to be late for my first appointment, but I’ll be back later, okay?”

“Oh!” Marcy looked at the clock. “What about breakfast?”

“Sorry, I’ll grab something later,” Patrick said, and then found himself pulled into a hug by his mother before he quite knew what was happening.

“We love you so much, sweet boy,” she said. “That will never change, you hear me?”

Patrick nodded. He felt his father’s hand, a comforting weight on his shoulder, and Patrick sagged with relief. He’d told them. He’d come out, and his parents had taken it pretty well.

Once he was sitting in his car, he pulled out his phone and sent Rachel a text.

I came out to my parents. You don’t have to keep it a secret anymore if you don’t want to.

The receipt appeared, indicating she’d read the text, but she didn’t respond. Not that he deserved a response from Rachel — it was enough to know that the message was delivered.

He then switched over to a text chain with Stevie. Her deadpan jokes and the occasional stupid meme she’d send him had been getting him through the last few weeks.

I told my parents I’m gay, he wrote. It was getting a little easier each time he said it. She didn’t respond immediately, so Patrick put his phone in the cup holder and started his car, backing out of the driveway to drive to a block of apartments on the other side of town. When he arrived, there was a message waiting from Stevie.

how’d it go?

[Patrick]
Not bad, considering.

[Stevie]
i’m proud of u 🌈

Smiling for the first time days, Patrick got out of the car and walked up to the apartment building with a bit of a spring in his step.

~*~

David winced as he walked into the club, the thumping techno beat and strobing lights already giving him a headache before the night had even started. Attractive men and women filled the dancefloor and clustered around the bar, an orgy of attempted human connection. Immediately regretting his decision to leave his apartment, David made his way to the bar and ordered a martini, the most efficient vehicle for feeding alcohol into his bloodstream short of an IV. While he waited, he looked around the room, automatically cataloging the designer clothes on display. Seeing a few interesting pieces that he didn’t recognize, David made a mental note to do some serious shopping soon. His hibernation meant he’d fallen out of the loop on a number of fronts, and fashion was foremost among them. He nodded to himself; a day of shopping on Fifth Avenue was perhaps just what he needed to shake himself out of this funk. His drink arrived, and he handed over his credit card, telling the bartender to open a tab, before he set off toward the back of the club.

“David, darling!” A tall woman in a black jumpsuit was waving him over to one of the large roped-off booths. “I told you I could get him to emerge at last.”

He went where he was being summoned, giving her a tiny wave. “I can never pass up an invitation from you, Diana.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You’ve passed up a few, David, but I suppose I’ll forgive you. What have you been up to this season?”

“Just taking some time for me, you know?” He didn’t have to tell her that ‘me’ time was bingeing on Netflix and junk food and sleeping ten hours a day.

David fell into the rhythm of meaningless patter that this crowd of people required: name drops and salacious gossip and loudly proclaimed, buzzword-filled opinions about art or books or film. He bought rounds of drinks for the group, more rounds than anyone else paid for, because he was David Rose and that’s what David Rose did. That was why he was invited to things, he suspected. Not because any of these people gave a damn whether he lived or died.

“David!”

He knew the voice before he even turned around, the raspy scrape of it was like a sharp stick between his shoulder blades.

“Sebastian,” he said, trying to keep his own voice even and unaffected by the presence of his ex. “I didn’t know you were in New York.”

“I wasn’t until recently. Vanity Fair hired me to photograph Jack Dorsey’s spiritual awakening in Tibet, so I was out there for a while. Really beautiful, haunting stuff,” Sebastian said as he plucked an olive out of David’s drink and put it in his own mouth.

David narrowed his eyes. “Can a person have a spiritual awakening when it’s being documented for Vanity Fair, though?”

“How are you? People are saying you might close the gallery.”

David’s mouth dropped open. “I’m not closing the gallery,” he said. Surely the fact that his father’s business manager had advised him to do exactly that couldn’t be public knowledge.

“Okay, good.” Sebastian put an arm around him in a possessive move that made David cringe. “You know how these rumors get started. Must be because it’s been closed a lot lately? That’s what I heard. And that you haven’t hosted an opening in a while.”

Sebastian Raine may have only been back in town for a short time, but apparently it was enough time to collect a whole set of sharp darts for him to throw straight and true into the heart of David’s insecurities.

“Can I get you another drink? Sebastian asked.

David looked down at his mostly-full glass. “No, I’m good.”

He thought about Patrick suddenly, and how refreshing it had been to talk to someone whose every remark wasn’t calculated to cut him down and play on his weaknesses, or to just get him wasted. The gnawing empty hole in his heart that he’d been living with for weeks widened a tiny fraction.

“I spent a lot of my time in Tibet just, feeding my soul, you know?”

“Mm hmm,” David said.

“It made me see a lot of the things that happened in the past in a new light. Us, for example. I want you to know that I care about what happened between you and me. And while my therapist said I should never feel sorrow, I do appreciate your pain.”

“I’m not feeling any pain about the past, Sebastian,” David said. “Not anymore.” Not about you.

“That’s good, David, that’s so good.” He felt Sebastian’s hand slide down his back. “It really frees you to… pursue your desires without baggage.”

David almost laughed. Sebastian’s attempt at seduction was so obvious, and it made him wonder if he had always been this stupidly transparent. What exactly had he seen in this self-important douchebag?

Nodding, David took a large step away from Sebastian, shaking off his arm. “It really does. It makes a lot of things very clear.” Looking around at the other people whose drinks he’d been buying all night, David frowned. What am I doing here?

“Diana? I’m gonna head out,” he called.

“Oh, David, the night is so young!” she said with a fake pout, but then someone else lured her attention and she appeared to immediately forget he existed.

“Can I walk you home?” Sebastian asked.

“Nope.” David said as he pulled on his leather jacket. “I’m good.”

The look of confused disappointment on Sebastian’s face would keep David warm for weeks, he thought as he went over to the bar to close out his tab, a half-smile on his face. Traversing the few blocks back to his apartment, David held his head higher than he had in months.

As he unlocked his apartment door, his phone buzzed with an incoming call. Dad, it said on the screen. Why on earth would his father be calling him at midnight, he thought with annoyance, answering the phone.

“Hi, what?” David dropped his keys into a bowl on the table in the foyer and began shrugging out of his jacket.

There was a pause. “David, are you at your apartment?”

His father’s voice sounded weird. “Yeah, I just got home, why?” He could hear what he thought was his mother in the background, but it was almost like a whimpering, keening noise. Then it faded, like his father was moving farther away from her. “What’s wrong with Mom now?” David asked, figuring she’d failed to get cast in a role she wanted, or that the cleaners had ruined one of her favorite outfits.

“David, can you sit down? I need you to be… I need you to sit down.”

David stood in the middle of the living room, looking out the dark windows of his apartment. “I am sitting down,” he lied. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“It’s Alexis.” He swallowed so loudly that the phone picked up the sound. “David, she…”

“Oh my God, spit it out!” David’s pulse had started to race. Surely she was fine, though, right? She was fine. She was always fine.

“She was on a yacht with some friends, and… they don’t know how it happened, but she fell overboard and no one realized it. It was dark, I guess, and people were drunk…”

David’s vision started to narrow, whiteness filling his periphery. “Is she…?”

“She drowned, David. Alexis… she drowned.”

His body was breaking out in a cold sweat. It felt like a sudden onset of the flu. Or like he’d felt when he was thirteen and had broken his nose, the blood pouring down onto his white T-shirt.

“David, did you hear what I said?” His father’s voice sounded like it was coming to him from the bottom of a well.

“What do you mean, she drowned? Are they sure, or can they just not find her?”

“They found her.”

Her body, that’s what he wasn’t saying. They found her body.

David sagged, catching himself with a hand gripping the back of the sofa. His eyes followed the zig zagging pattern on the rug under his feet. back and forth and back and forth and....

“David?” Johnny said softly. “Are you there?”

“I think I might be sick,” David whispered.

“Okay. That’s okay, son.”

Still holding the phone to his ear, David stumbled into the bathroom and leaned over the sink. He knew it would be better to kneel down next to the toilet, but he felt like if he got down on the floor he might just never get up again. “What do we do?” he asked his father.

“We have to arrange to have her…” Johnny paused and cleared his throat. “We have to have her body flown back to the States, so I’ve been on the phone with the U.S. consulate in Mexico, and also with the airline—” Johnny seemed to lose his voice on the last word, like he’d suddenly been sealed under a bell jar. David looked up at his face in the mirror. His stubble stood out harshly against his over-pale face, the mole on his chin that he’d nicked shaving dozens of times even more noticeable than usual.

“Is Mom…?” David asked.

“She’s taken a sleeping pill.”

“I’ll come up there… now. I’ll come up there now.”

“I can send a limo to get you,” Johnny said.

David considered refusing that offer, but he imagined getting on a train and just the thought brought him closer to vomiting. “Okay.”

He hung up the phone without saying goodbye, setting it carefully on the vanity before finally sliding to the floor.

~*~

“Stevie?” Patrick said into the phone. “I’ve literally never seen you use a phone as a phone, what’s wrong?”

“Remember when you told me to google that guy? David Rose, right?”

Patrick’s eyebrows shot up, and he paused midway through pouring himself a cup of coffee from the office coffee pot. “Yeah?”

“To be honest, I forgot immediately and never did it. But I just saw something online, and… this is the David Rose whose sister is Alexis Rose, right? The socialite?”

She said that like he should have heard of Alexis outside of meeting her, but he never had. “Yeah, his sister is named Alexis.”

“It’s all over twitter. Patrick, she died in a boating accident.”

Chapter Text

The sun was shining the first morning David woke up into a world without his sister in it.

He might’ve expected it to hit him afresh as he surfaced from fitful sleep, the fact that his sister was dead. But it had suffused his sleep, invaded his dreams — there was no escaping the knowledge even in his subconscious. As he awoke, he mostly just felt numb and hungover from crying.

David had rehearsed this kind of thing in his head a hundred times. All the times that Alexis had come back from a long trip abroad with a story about fleeing the Yakuza or being held captive by a sultan, David had played out in his mind a vivid scenario in which Alexis didn’t escape and one of them got a middle-of-the-night phone call with terrible news. He told himself that these morbid fantasies were his way of preparing for the worst. That allowing himself to imagine all of it — how he would behave, what his parents would do, what kind of details would need to be arranged — was a mental insurance policy against the thing actually happening.

None of that was true. It hadn’t prepared him in the slightest.

David emerged from his bedroom and wandered downstairs, keeping his eyes averted from the family portrait in the great hall. He found his father in the kitchen, staring out the window as his assistant, Mallory, sat implacably at the kitchen island and ticked items off of a checklist. He marveled that his father’s ever-capable assistant had come prepared with a checklist of funeral preparations.

“Do you want to go with me to select the casket?” Mallory asked gently.

Johnny stirred himself, looking over at her as if he was trying to parse her question. David suspected he hadn’t slept at all. “You can pick it. It doesn’t really matter what her casket looks like.”

“Mom might care what it looks like,” David said, his voice raspy.

“Your mother isn’t in any state to go casket shopping,” Johnny said.

David threw his hands up. “What, are you just letting her overdose on sleeping pills? Are we going to have two funerals this week?”

“No, I’m not letting her…” Johnny shouted, but quickly ran out of steam. “I don’t think she’ll be ready to leave the house today, that’s all.”

“I’ll go with you to pick out the casket,” David said to Mallory before he went back upstairs to check on his mother.

He expected to find her in bed but Moira was up, sitting at her dressing table and staring at herself in the mirror. David lurked in the doorway for a moment, unsure if he should go in. She had on no makeup, and she didn’t like people to see her with no makeup, even her son. His mother looked old, David thought for the first time in his life.

“Hi, Mom.”

Moira didn’t turn. “Oh, David. John said you were here.” Her voice was low and quiet, lacking its usual expressiveness.

David walked into the room and sat down on the chest at the foot of his parents’ bed. He’d sat here so many times as a child, watching his mother modeling a new piece of couture or trying out a new wig. In a relatively lonely childhood, those were among his fondest memories.

“We’ll need to pick something to dress her in,” Moira said. “I was thinking about that Stella McCartney gown that she wore last Christmas.”

David imagined Alexis’ dead body being bent and stretched like an oversized Barbie to get it into that dress, and suddenly he tasted bile in the back of his throat.

“Sure,” he said.

“I mean, is that what Alexis would have wanted, do you think?”

“Pretty sure what Alexis would have wanted is to not be dead,” David shot back, almost with the hope that it would get a negative reaction from his mother. Tears. Screaming. Something.

Moira didn’t even blink.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know why I said that. Alexis loved that dress; it’s a good choice.”

“I can’t remember the last time I told her I loved her. My own daughter,” Moira said, her voice finally breaking on the last word.

“I’m sure she knew,” he said, although he was sure of nothing of the sort. “We aren’t really a family who says that to each other.”

“And we should have taken better care of her. Not let her jet off to anywhere and everywhere like we did.”

“She was a grown woman; I’m not sure what you could have done to stop her.” For that matter, before she was a grown woman, when she was twelve and ended up in Hong Kong, for example, he wasn’t sure anyone could have ever stopped Alexis from going where she wanted to go when she wanted to go there.

Maybe if she’d been raised in a warm and loving home, and not in a place where the nursery was in a separate wing of the house, maybe then she’d have stayed home more. Maybe then she’d still be alive. Then he closed the door on those thoughts. There would be time later to blame his parents for this. Right now, he needed to be supportive.

“Mallory wants someone to go with her to pick the casket. Are you all right with me doing it?” he asked his mother.

Moira nodded. “I’m sure you’ll pick something tasteful.” She picked up a bottle of foundation and shook it, then set it back down, staring into space.

“I’ll check in on you when I get back, okay?” David said. Moira didn’t respond.

David wasn’t prepared for how heavy the grief would be, how it would weigh him down like a yoke on his shoulders, how stupid and yet somehow crucial all the things about planning the funeral would feel. How he would cry so hard sometimes that he made himself throw up, and other times he’d be so numb that he wasn’t sure he’d ever feel true feelings again. His parents were like strangers to him, like shells of their former selves ghosting around the house, and it made him want to smash things and scream and make them acknowledge that all of this was real. Make them take care of him, instead of the other way around.

The night before the funeral, David went to bed early, a part of him hoping he could just sleep through all of it. Sleep until the grief was a little bit lighter and easier to carry around. When his phone started to ring, it took all of his energy to pick it up and see who was calling.

Patrick.

“Hello?”

“David, it’s Patrick.” After a brief pause, he continued, “From—”

“I haven’t forgotten you,” David blurted out.

“Listen, I saw the news online. I’m so sorry about Alexis.”

Fresh tears filled David’s eyes, and he closed them. “Thanks.”

“I know I don’t have any right to… call you or whatever, but I wanted you to know that if there’s anything at all I can do…”

David wiped at one cheek. “I appreciate that. There’s nothing.”

“Is there a service? If you’d be willing, I’d like to come to the service. But only if—”

“You don’t have to do that.” Patrick was just a hookup, David told himself, there was no reason for him to offer to do something like come to his sister’s funeral.

“I know I don’t have to, but…” He sighed. “Listen, if me being there would only burden you, then I’ll stay away. But if you think it would help even the tiniest bit, then I’ll be on the next plane.”

David allowed himself to imagine it. Patrick; solid Patrick who could be relied on to make tea in a time of crisis, being here. Standing with him at the service. Holding his hand, maybe. Suddenly David wanted that fiercely.

“It would help,” he managed to choke out.

“Then I’m going to book a flight.”

“No, you must have work or something—”

“Let me worry about that. When and where is the service?” Patrick asked.

David gave him the information, and at the end of the recitation couldn’t help asking, “Are you sure?”

“I’m buying the plane ticket as we speak,” Patrick said. “I’ll basically need to leave for the airport in…” he paused, “three hours and drive through the night so that I can get the 6:30 a.m. flight out of Toronto, but I can do that.”

“Patrick… thank you.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, David.”

~*~

The church was surrounded by paparazzi, and Patrick was late, and there was a security guard manning the door. But when Patrick gave his name to the guard, he was allowed in and told to take a seat in the back. He shook his head, thinking there was something appropriate about the fact that Alexis Rose’s funeral had an exclusive guest list. Craning his neck, he could just make out David’s black hair at the front of the church.

A priest who even Patrick could tell had never met Alexis was speaking, expressing vague platitudes that probably came out of the manual on funerals for people who die tragically before their time. After that, some women stood up and sang a song that seemed inappropriate as a memorial to a dead person. An aunt got up and told a sepia-toned story about Alexis as a little girl. Then David stood up and approached the lectern. Patrick drank in the sight of him, looking pale and exhausted, clutching a journal against his chest. He hadn’t expected David to be delivering a eulogy. Perhaps his parents didn’t have the strength to do it, and it had fallen to David as the only other close family member.

David cleared his throat and opened his journal and began to speak. “When I first started planning what I was going to say today, I thought about how I would describe Alexis. That she always knew exactly who she was. That she was fearless. That she was unfailingly optimistic about everything. That she had an unquenchable lust for life. But I don’t know if any of that is true.

“The truth is that Alexis could be shallow and self-involved. She forgot to pay attention to the feelings of the people around her. She made bad decisions. She also could be child-like, and enthusiastic, and she knew how to cut right through my bullshit. She was a complicated person who I didn’t always like very much, but who I did… who I did love.

“The truth is also that Alexis was lonely. The truth is she had to grow up way too fast. The truth is that Alexis was always jetting all over the world because she was chasing something that I don’t think she ever found in life: actual joy.

“I had a dream last night that Alexis and I were sharing a tiny little bedroom. Which is pretty funny, because Alexis and I never shared a room in our lives. We would have despised sharing a room, because she was such a slob…” He seemed to choke up at this, and paused for a few seconds to collect himself before continuing. “But the thing is, in this dream she was happy in a way I never really saw her in life. She was content. I hope that wherever my sister is, she’s found that contentment.”

David walked away from the podium and retook his seat, and Patrick could feel the stunned hush of a crowd who hadn’t expected anyone to say anything like that. Nothing that raw and honest. The priest also seemed surprised as he stood up and welcomed the next speaker, one of Alexis’ friends who seemed more interested in visibly crying in front of a crowd than in saying anything meaningful about Alexis. Patrick understood why David had said his sister was lonely if this was what her friends were like.

When the service was over, Patrick went outside to sit on a bench and wait. He wasn’t sure what to do now — he wanted to go to David and be near him to provide any support he could, but he also recognized that as a selfish impulse. David had his parents to worry about, he didn’t need the guy he’d gone to bed with two months ago hanging around. Suddenly, the fact that Patrick had shelled out hundreds of dollars for a last-minute plane ticket and a rental car struck him as insanity.

“You came.”

Patrick looked up from the paving stones he’d been staring at to see David, sunlight haloing his hair. Standing up, Patrick tried to offer a supportive smile. “I said I would.”

David shrugged. “People don’t necessarily do what they say they’ll do.”

“I do.” Patrick couldn’t take his eyes off of David. After two months, seeing him felt like seeing a mirage.

“So, I have to go to the gravesite now for the burial, which is just family,” David said, indicating a waiting limousine.

“Oh. Right, of course.”

“But people will be coming to the house afterwards. Can you come there? I think I sent you the address before.”

Patrick nodded, relieved. “I’ll be there. David, I’m so, so sorry.”

The corner of David’s mouth turned down, and he shrugged one shoulder. “I’ll see you later.”

Uncertain what to do, Patrick got in his rental car and drove to a nearby McDonald’s. The past twelve hours of travel had screwed up the rhythms of mealtimes, and other than a bagel at the airport and a meager bag of pretzels, he hadn’t eaten anything all day. Sitting down with his tray, he stared at his unappetizing burger and wondered why he’d ordered it. He ate a fry, eyes trained on the acrylic tabletop.

When he figured that enough time had gone by, Patrick got back in the car and drove to David’s parents’ house. The gate was imposing enough (where again he had to give his name to be admitted), but the mansion that was revealed as he drove up the long driveway was even more so. He turned his car key over to a valet, wondering what it had been like, growing up in a place like this. Another piece of the David Rose puzzle slotted into place.

The house was filled with mourners, drinks and small plates of food in hand, talking in hushed tones. Patrick stood in the middle of it and stared up at the family portrait that dominated the great hall, trying to see the man he cared about in the haughty version of David Rose in the painting.

After some wandering, Patrick finally found David in the kitchen, giving instructions to the caterers.

“Hey.”

“Hi,” David said, his eyes still flitting around the room, his focus on oversight of the food.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“No. I’m glad you’re here.”

An older woman came into the kitchen and picked up one of the trays of finger sandwiches to carry back out to the guests.

“Adelina, you don’t work here anymore; you don’t have to do that.”

“I have to do something,” she said. “And you don’t get to tell me what to do, mijo.”

David rolled his eyes. “Fine. Just don’t stay on your feet too long, please.”

Adelina muttered something in Spanish and left the room with her tray.

“She practically raised us,” David explained. “Can we go somewhere and talk?”

“Of course,” Patrick replied, following David through a back door of the kitchen up some utility stairs to the upper floor of the house. David led them into a tastefully-decorated bedroom that was about half the size of the house Patrick had grown up in.

“Is this your childhood bedroom?” he asked.

“Yeah,” David said, sitting on the bed. “Listen, I’m sorry for the way I behaved when you left New York—”

“Please don’t worry about that now.” Patrick sat at David’s side. “I don’t want you to have to think about that now.”

“No, I was an asshole,” David said. “We hadn’t made any plans or promises, it’s not like you were—”

“Believe me, David, I wanted to stay.” Patrick laughed uncomfortably and looked down at his hands. “Two nights with you and I was…” He stopped, unable to admit the way he’d been feeling. The way he was still feeling. “I’ve thought about you a lot, the last two months.”

David cleared his throat. “I can’t help but notice you aren’t wearing your wedding ring.”

“I told Rachel everything the day I got back. We’re separated.”

“Oh. Well, that must be very hard.”

“It is, but it’s also…” Patrick clutched his hands together, worrying the webbing of skin between his thumb and forefinger. “I’ve also never felt more free. I came out to my parents and the world didn’t end. So even if I never saw you again, I would have been forever grateful to you for being the instrument of this change in my life. And then I saw what happened to Alexis, and I just… I had to call, even if you wanted nothing to do with me.”

David looked up at the ceiling like he was trying not to cry. “I’ve thought about you a lot these last two months, too,” he whispered, and then David was leaning in and his mouth was on Patrick’s, insistent and everything Patrick had been dreaming about.

Except David had just lost his sister, and as soon as Patrick gained some control of himself, he pulled away. “David, is now really the right—”

“I just need to… not think about being sad for a while, okay? Can I… can I just have a few minutes where I’m not thinking about what happened?”

Patrick put his hand on David’s cheek and nodded his head. “Of course. Of course you can have that.”

Their mouths met in a frantic press, teeth clacking together as they both tried to deepen the kiss. David’s hand was already unbuttoning the buttons of Patrick’s shirt, trembling, and Patrick did his best to shrug out of his suit jacket while their mouths were still fused together.

When he brought his hands up to resume caressing David’s face, Patrick’s fingers came away wet, and he broke the kiss again. “David—”

“It’s fine, I’m fine,” David said, but he clearly wasn’t. His hands were shaking and the tears were starting to flow more freely now, so Patrick pulled the other man into his arms. That made the dam break, and the sound of pure grief that tore from David’s throat in that moment shattered Patrick’s heart.

“It’s okay. I’ve got you. I’ve got you,” Patrick murmured, holding David as he sobbed into Patrick’s shoulder.

He wasn’t sure how long they stayed that way, David’s tears soaking into Patrick’s shirt as Patrick rocked him gently and murmured quiet words into David’s hair. He wasn’t even sure what he said. Patrick supposed this was why he had come, although he couldn’t have expected David would be willing to rely on him as a shoulder to cry on. And yet somehow Patrick felt like he had known he was needed here, even as all reason and logic had said that it was a mistake to come.

When David’s tears dried up, when he finally let go of his death grip around Patrick’s torso, Patrick reached out to run his thumbs under David’s eyes. “Do you need to go back to the people downstairs?”

David shook his head. “I’m not going back out there.”

“Do you want to try to get some sleep? Or do you want me to go get you some food?”

“Sleep,” David said. “If you’ll… stay?”

“Of course I will.”

~*~

Patrick woke up to the sound of water running in the bathroom, and then David emerged, walking over and getting back into bed.

“What time is it?” Patrick asked.

“1:15.”

Patrick rubbed his face, trying to orient himself in space and time. Between his complete lack of sleep the night before and falling asleep in the early evening with David, he felt hazy and disoriented. “Are you okay?” Patrick asked.

“Just a nightmare about Alexis. I’m getting used to them.”

Patrick reached out and touched David’s back, feeling the way sweat had soaked through his t-shirt. “It might feel better to change your shirt.”

He could just make out David nodding in the dim light before he got up and went over to a large armoire, pulling off his shirt. Patrick watched as David took everything off and put on a fresh shirt and underwear before coming back to bed.

“I keep seeing her drowning in my dreams,” David sighed, getting back under the covers. Patrick put an arm around him and David put his head down on Patrick’s chest, his arm draped across Patrick’s midsection and their legs tangling together. It was nice. It was scary, how nice it was. How well they seemed to fit together, like they’d been sharing a bed for ages.

“And I don’t know what to do now that the funeral is over,” David continued. “It was easier when I had a list of things to take care of. Now it just seems like an endless amount of time stretching out in front of me with nothing in it but grief.”

“Maybe focusing on your gallery will help?”

David shook his head, his hair brushing against Patrick’s nose. “I’m going to close the gallery.”

“Why?”

“Because according to my father’s business manager it’s hemorrhaging money, and the family can’t really afford to keep it open any more.”

“David, I’m sorry.” He tightened his grip on David’s shoulder. “Maybe I can help? I can look at the books?”

“That’s a very kind offer, but even I can understand that if I don’t sell any art, it doesn’t make financial sense to keep the gallery.”

“You don’t sell any art?”

“Not lately. And to be honest, since Alexis died I don’t know if I even care anymore. For that matter, I don’t care if I even stay in New York. Maybe I’ll sell the apartment too and make a fresh start somewhere else.”

Patrick pressed a kiss against the top of David’s head. “Okay, David, I don’t want to second guess you here, but I don’t know if it’s a good idea to make these kinds of huge decisions when you’re grieving the loss of someone close to you.”

David’s breath hitched, and Patrick feared he might have triggered another crying jag, but when David spoke, his voice was even. “Okay, maybe I’ll hold off on selling the apartment. But… I need a change of scenery. I need to get away from everything that brings back memories of my sister, at least for a little while.”

“Come home with me,” Patrick said, and then his mouth dropped open with shock that those words had come out of his mouth.

David raised his head from Patrick’s shoulder and looked at him. “Come home with you?”

“No, I mean… if you’re looking for a change of scenery you could… I just got a new apartment and you’re welcome to stay with me for a few days if you need to.” He chuckled nervously, wishing David’s leg wasn’t pinning him down because he felt a sudden need to put some space between them. “There’s nowhere less like New York than my hometown.”

David moved his head around for a second before saying, “Okay.”

“You actually want to come stay at my place? Because I should probably warn you, the restaurants where I live leave a lot to be desired.”

Meeting his eyes, David said, “I wouldn’t be going with you for the night life.”

Patrick kissed him then, just a gentle peck on the lips, but it felt significant. “Okay. Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

While he didn’t have a lot of experience in his life doing walks of shame, Patrick felt like going downstairs in the Rose house the morning after Alexis’ funeral in yesterday’s clothes would have to rank as pretty bad on anyone’s list. He’d left his luggage in the car, so he pulled his wrinkled shirt and pants back on and snuck down the spiral staircase. The goal was to find someone to ask where his car was so that he could get his toothbrush and a change of clothes.

Fortunately, the Rose family didn’t seem to be awake, and a nice woman in the kitchen showed him where to go to get into his car. He was back upstairs and in the shower before David had even woken up, although by the time Patrick had shaved and dressed and brushed his teeth, David had started to stir.

“God, I slept for twelve hours,” David said, looking at his phone.

“You probably needed it.”

“I don’t know how I would have gotten through yesterday if you hadn’t come,” David said. “So thank you.” He got out of bed and pulled a pair of sweatpants out of his armoire.

“You’re welcome.”

“And listen, if in the cold light of morning, you regret asking me to come home with you—”

“I don’t regret asking you to come home with me,” Patrick said, his hands going into his pockets. “Do you regret saying yes?”

“No,” David said, rocking on his heels as they regarded each other across the room. David finally broke the tension, moving past Patrick into the bathroom and picking up his toothbrush. “So did you have a return flight booked already?”

Patrick nodded “Yeah, for tomorrow? I wasn’t really sure, I thought about booking it for today, but—”

“No, tomorrow works. I’ll see if I can get a seat on the same flight.”

“You know, David, I flew economy.”

David’s head whipped around and he grimaced in the midst of brushing his teeth, making a drop of toothpaste foam run down his chin. “I’ll also see if I can upgrade you.”

When they ventured downstairs to get something to eat, David’s father was sitting at the kitchen table, flipping through a photo album. Patrick hadn’t gotten a good look at him the day before, so he was struck for the first time by the dramatic resemblance between father and son. They even styled their hair similarly, swept up off their foreheads, although the elder Rose’s hair was shot through with grey. He was also struck by the fact that the man was wearing a suit at such an early hour in his own kitchen. Perhaps he was one of those people who always wore a suit, no matter the occasion.

“Oh, David, I didn’t…” He paused, registering the presence of a stranger in his house. “... didn’t think you would be up so early.”

“I cried myself to sleep at seven o’clock last night,” David said, opening the refrigerator.

Since David didn’t seem inclined to introduce him, Patrick went over and held out his hand. “Hi, Mr. Rose, I’m Patrick Brewer. I’m a friend of David’s.”

“Nice to meet you, Patrick.” Johnny Rose stood up and took Patrick’s hand; his handshake was firm as he looked back and forth between Patrick and David, probably trying to figure out what ‘friend’ meant.

“It was a lovely service yesterday,” Patrick said, automatically shifting into politeness. “I’m very sorry for your loss.” Patrick figured he’d probably been told ‘sorry for your loss’ enough to last several lifetimes, but he didn’t know what else to say.

“Ah, well, thank you. Did you know Alexis?”

“I only met her once,” Patrick said.

David pulled a large, half-eaten fruit tray out of the refrigerator, presumably leftover from yesterday, and began picking through it. “I’m going to go out of town for a few days,” David announced with a suddenness that made Patrick wince.

“What, now? Why?” Johnny said.

“I need to get out of this house. I need to get out of New York.”

“David, you can’t just abandon your family when you’re needed! Your mother, in particular, needs you to be here.”

“Okay, my mother was on so many pills yesterday at the funeral that I’m not convinced she even knew I was there,” David said, meeting his father’s anger with a wellspring of his own. “And look, I get it: I’m tempted to swallow half a pharmacy and wash it down with a liter of vodka right now too. Which is part of the reason that I need to get away from here. Just for a week or so.”

Patrick hadn’t realized any of that, and he felt a surge of sympathy for David that nearly brought him to his knees. He was also aware that this was a private family interaction that he definitely shouldn’t be witnessing, so he tried to shrink back against the wall and be as unobtrusive as possible.

Johnny sank back down into his chair, the fight drained out of him. “Okay, David, if that’s what you need. Where are you going?”

David turned to Patrick. “Where are we going?”

“Umm, it’s a town called Oak Grove. It’s about four and a half hours northwest of Toronto.”

“Four and a half hours!” David said, looking annoyed by that fact.

“Second thoughts?” Patrick asked him.

David tried and failed not to smile. “No. Just reconsidering my playlist for the trip, that’s all.”

Johnny was scrutinizing Patrick now, probably upgrading him from ‘friend’ to ‘man who is stealing my son away from me at the worst possible time.’ “And what’s there?” Johnny asked.

Patrick laughed uncomfortably. “Nothing. It’s my home.”

“It’s a quiet place where I can deal with stuff,” David said. “Okay?”

“You need to talk to your mother before you go, at least,” Johnny said, resigned.

“I will,” David snapped. “You and Mom could do the same thing, you know. Get away somewhere. You don’t have to stay here in this house that’s filled with memories of Alexis as a little girl.”

Johnny looked at David with sad eyes. “The memories are a comfort to me right now. You may want to forget, David, but right now, all I can bear to do is remember.”

~*~

“I’m leaving for the airport in half an hour!” David called to his mother through her locked bedroom door. He’d been busy the day before, dragging Patrick with him into the city to collect his personal belongings from the gallery (the realtor was going to be showing it to prospective tenants the following week, he’d been told) and to get some clothes and books that he wanted from his apartment. Having Patrick with him through that whole process, it helped. Particularly at the gallery, where Patrick kept up a steady stream of gentle teasing about the art which probably should have pissed David off, but it helped put everything in perspective as he locked up and walked away from that space for what was probably the last time.

It would have been easier to just spend the night at his apartment in Chelsea and get an Uber to the airport the following morning, but he still hadn’t spoken to his mother and he felt like he owed her that before he left town. So they went all the way back to the house even though it meant getting up even earlier to make it to JFK in time to board their flight. And then Moira refused to make an appearance all evening, making the whole trip pointless.

Finally now, when David was bleary-eyed from too little sleep (he’d shared his bed with Patrick again, but his lack of sleep stemmed from nightmares and not from anything remotely sexual), Moira opened the door.

“You’re leaving,” she said flatly, her eyes accusing him.

“For a few days, yes. Just to get my head together.”

“And who is this man that your father tells me you’re traveling with? What right does he have to abscond with you in the family’s hour of need?”

David was grateful that Patrick was already outside, packing the rental car. “He’s a friend who traveled a very long way to be with me when he heard what happened to Alexis. He’s the only person in my life who offered to do something like that for me. The only one, and I…” David felt tears rising to the surface again, and he didn’t want to cry right now. He was so tired of crying. “I don’t know why, but I need this. You and Dad have each other, and I need this.”

“You can’t escape grief by running, David,” she said, suddenly more lucid than he’d seen her all week.

“I can try.”

~*~

JFK was a crazy place at the best of times, with its security lines doubling back on themselves endlessly, an entire cross-section of America packed into the rows. Then came the infinitely long concourses, bright yellow lighted signage casting a sickly pallor over everything, people movers broken up at regular intervals that made it impossible to adjust to the speed at which the stores on either side rushed by: slow-fast-slow-fast.

Today it was crazier than usual.

Literal hare krishnas had accosted them between the rental car return and the departures level, trying to shove flowers and pamphlets into their hands, and David couldn’t remember if he’d ever seen that happen in real life or if it was just something he knew about from movies. Patrick apologized for refusing what they were offering as he and David dodged them, their rolling suitcases clacking over the floor.

Then, weirder still, there were protesters (he assumed they were protesters, but he honestly wasn’t sure) being arrested en masse in the check-in area; at least two dozen men and women on their knees, surrounded by police, white zip-tie restraints around their wrists.

“What the hell is going on?” David asked.

“I don’t know, I haven’t looked at the news in days,” Patrick said, concern evident on his face.

While he stood at the ticket counter and waited for Patrick to check them in, David opened twitter, searching ‘airport protest’ ‘JFK protest’ and ‘#JFK’, only pausing to hand over his passport when Patrick nudged him and asked for it. Twitter told him nothing useful, so next David tried scrolling through the news, looking for some clue about what was happening. He noticed a story that indicated LAX had been shut down the day before, but before he could click on it, Patrick was steering him away from the counter. David liked how Patrick was taking control of everything. Airports made him anxious under the best of circumstances, and all of this weirdness and his exhaustion was making it worse.

“Where are you going?” Patrick asked when David started to get into the TSA precheck line.

David frowned at him. “Going through security.” Duh.

Patrick was looking at the board passes. “You don’t have precheck.”

“Uhhh, yes I do. I have Global Entry.”

“Maybe it expired,” Patrick said, steering him into the regular security line.

By the time David had endured the indignity of being forced to remove his shoes and letting his socks touch the airport floor, the protesters were forgotten. At least he’d managed to upgrade them to first class, David thought as they finally took their seats on the plane.

“I’ve never flown first class before,” Patrick said, letting his not-very-long legs stretch out as far as they would go. It was adorable, David thought.

“I mean if you have to fly commercial, it’s an absolute requirement. Although it won’t be very impressive for a flight this short. Let me take you to Japan and then you’ll see what first class really is,” David said.

Patrick raised his eyebrows. “You want to take me to Japan?”

David squeezed his eyes shut and let his head fall back against the headrest, not answering. He was so tired. Airport anxiety and lack of sleep and grief were a toxic cocktail in his system, and he wasn’t sure if he was going to scream at a flight attendant or burst into tears in the next thirty seconds, but it was likely that one of those things was going to happen.

He felt Patrick’s fingers brush the palm of his hand and then he threaded their fingers together. “Is there anything I can get you, David?”

Oh, okay. Crying it was, then. David shook his head, eyes still closed, aware that a tear was leaking out of the corner of his eye, in full view of Patrick and everyone filing past them into economy class.

He felt Patrick’s other hand settle over their clasped ones, and Patrick didn’t say anything, he just sat there and held David’s hand. David couldn’t remember the last time anyone had held his hand, and that thought made more tears flow.

“I’m sorry,” David whispered, because he knew he was being embarrassing.

“How about we put a moratorium right now on you apologizing for expressing sadness. Okay?”

David nodded, wiping at his eyes. “Okay.”

~*~

“So this is your car,” David said, standing in the Toronto airport’s remote parking lot, aware that his lip was curling with disdain at Patrick’s sensible Toyota.

“Yep,” Patrick said, muscling David’s suitcase into the trunk. “What did you expect?”

David sighed. “This. I expected this.”

He settled into the passenger seat and closed his eyes, trying to reclaim the fitful sleep he’d found on the plane, but his eyes kept popping open. Shifting around to try to get comfortable, David looked over and watched Patrick maneuver them onto the highway for what was evidently going to be a long drive. “What was it like, growing up so far away from the nearest airport?” David asked.

“Well, there’s Sudbury Airport, but it’s expensive to fly anywhere from there—”

“I meant so far from an international airport,” David said. He still hadn’t really wrapped his head around the fact that when Patrick said a thing was expensive, it meant something very different than when David said something was expensive.

Patrick shrugged. “I didn’t really travel much, so it wasn’t something I thought about.”

Shaking his head, David shut his eyes again. “We’re so different,” he whispered.

He must have fallen asleep after all, because the next thing he knew, the car was stopped. The driver’s seat was empty, but he could see Patrick standing beside the car, filling it with gas. His sleeves were pushed up, and the sight of his bare forearm through the window made a frisson of desire shoot up David’s spine.

Patrick got back in the car and cranked the engine.

“Where are we?” David asked.

“Elmdale.”

“I’ve never heard of any of these places. I think you’re making them up.” David huffed. “Where’s Elmdale?”

Patrick smirked at him. “It’s about a half hour from Schitt’s Creek.”

“Now I know you’re making them up.”

Laughing, Patrick put the car in gear. “I lived in Schitt’s Creek for six months. I assure you, it’s real.”

“Why on earth would you live in a place called…” David trailed off, the name poised behind his teeth. It was triggering a long buried memory.

“Schitt’s Creek?” Patrick supplied.

“Yeah, no… sorry, it just reminded me of something my dad did when I was a kid. Said he’d bought me a town with a disgusting name like that.”

Patrick’s eyes were wide, although he was carefully watching the road as he drove out of the gas station parking lot. “Your dad bought you a town?”

“I don’t think he actually bought the town. It was a dumb joke.”

“Okay.”

“I’m hungry,” David said. “Let’s go see this shitty creek place where you used to live and get some food.”

“There’s better food here in Elmdale,” Patrick said, signaling a left turn.

“I want to see where you lived when you ran away from the heterosexual prison of your childhood.”

“It wasn’t a— Why?”

David threw his hands up. “I don’t know!” He didn’t know. He just had a sudden feeling that it was important. “Is it in the wrong direction?”

“Kind of. Not, like, the opposite direction, but it will make the trip longer.”

“Does Schitt’s Creek have a restaurant?”

“It has a café where the food is moderately edible,” Patrick said, stopping at a stop light. “You really want to go there?”

“Yes.”

“Okay,” Patrick said, his voice pitched high on the word. He switched his turn signal off and when the light changed, drove straight through the intersection.

When David got bored with the repetitive landscape of trees and farmland, he pulled out his phone, opening Instagram. It took a few seconds of scrolling before he realized he was looking for an update from Alexis. She’d called it proof of life once, he remembered, posting a selfie so that David would be reassured that she was safe.

He went to her Instagram and scrolled through the pictures. He wondered if he should try to have her accounts taken down, or if it was better to leave them up until the companies behind them went under, a monument to the life of Alexis Rose.

“Since we’re here, I should show you the town sign,” Patrick said, the car slowing down as he pulled over on the side of the road.

David shut his phone screen off and looked up. “The what?”

“Come on,” Patrick said, taking off his seat belt and getting out of the car. Uncertain what was happening, David did the same, and looked up.

“Oh my God.”

Patrick chuckled. “I know.”

“Oh my God.”

“I never found out what the story was behind this, and at this point I think I prefer not knowing.” Patrick reached his arms up over his head and stretched, twisting his torso back and forth.

‘Where everyone fits in’? The slogan makes it so much worse.” He stared at the woman who was bent over in the picture, holding a bucket over the stream she and the man were wading in. She certainly seemed happy, and not at all put out by being fucked in the ass by the guy behind her, as it appeared was happening in this insane painting.

“I heard kids drive here from all over to get pictures with the sign. So maybe it’s good for local businesses.”

“But at what cost?” David said, kicking at loose gravel as he stood next to Patrick’s car. Then he shuddered, a full body shudder that took him by surprise. Someone just walked over your grave, mijo, Adelina used to say.

“You okay?” Patrick asked.

David held his hand out and touched the tall grass that had grown at the side of the road, dry and dormant from the receding winter. Sunshine hit each rustling blade, making each of them individually glow, too perfectly yellow to be real.

“David?”

“Yeah.” He withdrew his hand. “This place feels… do you feel it? Too real. Hyperreal.”

“Hyperreal?”

“Yeah, I don’t know. Magical. It feels magical.” And then he blushed, because that was a very stupid thing to say.

“Maybe that’s why people like the sign,” Patrick said, teasing him.

David didn’t mind being teased. “Maybe if I go up and touch the sign, I’ll be transported to another time in history.”

Patrick laughed. “Oh man, Rachel loves that show.”

“She is correct,” David said, trying not to think too hard about Patrick’s sexually frustrated wife getting what little satisfaction she could out of watching Outlander. He shook himself to dispel his little flight of fancy; he probably just wasn’t used to seeing this much nature at one time, and it was making him loopy. Opening his car door, he flopped back into his seat. “You said there was a café?”

~*~

“This is the ugliest fucking place I’ve ever seen,” David proclaimed.

Patrick stopped the car in a parking space in front of Café Tropical and got out. “Yeah, it’s not the most picturesque downtown.” He looked around at it and imagined seeing it through David’s eyes: the cracking pavement and the boarded up general store. The lack of even the smallest effort by the town’s government to clean up the trash on the side of the road or to even plant a few flowers. It was no wonder David hated it on sight. “Come on, let’s get something to eat.”

The café was deserted, perhaps because it was four in the afternoon — too late for lunch but too early for dinner, and perhaps because it was one of the few places left in what passed for a downtown that was still open, other than Bob’s Garage. David paused inside the door as if a hostess was going to come and seat them, but Patrick knew that wasn’t how the café worked. He made his way directly over to a booth and sat down, David following him.

Twyla emerged from the back, menus in her arms, and she stopped and exclaimed when she saw Patrick. “Patrick! I thought you moved away! What are you doing back in town?”

“Just passing through,” he said, taking one of the menus she handed him and grinning as David reacted to the size of them. “This is David Rose.”

Twyla smiled, her sunny disposition lighting up the place like always. “Nice to meet you, David. I’m Twyla, and I’ll be your server. Can I get you guys something to drink?”

“Just water for me,” Patrick said. David ordered coffee — well, first he tried to order a macchiato but when Twyla didn’t know what that was, he ordered coffee.

David gave him a horrified look. “These menus—”

“I know.”

“You lived here?”

“Yes,” Patrick said evenly, feeling self conscious. “You’re the one who wanted to come here.”

David twisted up his face and looked back down at the menu. “What’s safe to order?”

“Umm, the turkey sandwich is okay,” Patrick said.

David flipped the pages of the menu back and forth, his brow furrowed. “I’m getting the weirdest sense of déjà vu.”

“About the menu?”

He stopped fidgeting with the menu and looked around at the other booths and tables and the garishly painted walls. “About this whole place. If I didn’t know better, I would swear I’ve been here before.”

“My grandmother thought it was because Schitt’s Creek is a liminal space,” Twyla said, making David jump as she put their drinks on the table. “Are you ready to order?”

Patrick ordered the turkey sandwich. David crossed his arms over his chest. “What is a liminal space?”

“She used to say that there was usually a solid barrier between different dimensions, but that here the barrier is as thin as tissue paper. She would tell me that if I concentrated hard enough, I might be able to see a shadow of something from a parallel universe in this one.”

“Okay,” Patrick said, trying to put a stop to Twyla’s rambling. He liked Twyla, but her stories could be a bit unhinged. “David, did you decide what you wanted to eat?”

David ignored him. “A shadow,” he said to Twyla.

“Yeah. Also, she told me that she could summon small objects from other universes to this one.”

David met Patrick’s eyes briefly as he suppressed a smile. “Oh, really?”

Twyla wasn’t oblivious to their skepticism. “I know, I didn’t really believe her either. But that’s what she claimed! One time she lost an earring, and told us all that she summoned a replacement from a parallel dimension!”

“Or maybe she just found the missing earring,” Patrick said.

Twyla smiled. “Yeah, that’s probably it. Anyway,” she said, turning back to David. “What can I get you?”

David ordered a salad, and Twyla collected their menus and disappeared.

“She’s very… colorful,” David said.

“Yeah. Twyla’s a character. Always cheerful, even when she’s talking about some seriously dark stuff from her childhood.”

“Like stories about her crazy grandmother?”

“Usually about the men her mother brought home,” Patrick clarified, which David answered with a sympathetic cringe.

The food they were eventually brought barely lived up to Patrick’s earlier ‘moderately edible’ characterization, but he got David to smile and even laugh a few times, and that made this detour more than worth it. After the plates were cleared, Patrick ordered a coffee to go along with David’s third cup, and they lingered in the booth, talking about nothing: music and TV shows and the transcendental perfection of a good grilled cheese sandwich.

After they walked out of the diner, instead of going back to Patrick’s car, something caught David’s eye and he crossed the street. Patrick followed him, stopping beside him next to one of the windows of the empty general store, where David was peering inside.

“What?” Patrick asked him.

David was quiet for a few seconds before answering. “I don’t know. This place…” He put his hand up on the glass. “There’s something about it.”

Now it was Patrick’s turn to shiver, because he’d felt the same way when he’d moved here. The general store used to catch his eye every time he went to the café, like something from inside had called out to him, just outside the range of his hearing.

Shaking himself from some kind of reverie, David turned to Patrick and raised an eyebrow. “You have brought us to a very creepy place, Patrick.”

Patrick pinched his lips together, refraining from pointing out once more that David was the one who had wanted to come here. “So let’s get back on the road.”

David’s shoulders slumped. “How much longer?”

Pulling out his phone and looking at the time, Patrick responded, “I guess we’ll get there by eight.”

“It’s just, the thought of more driving is making me want to lie down and cry.”

I was doing all the driving, David,” Patrick said, struggling to be patient with David’s mood.

“I know, I’m sorry.” David had enough self-awareness to look chagrined. “I’m just exhausted.”

Patrick took a second to remind himself what David was going through and he took a deep breath. “My friend runs the motel in town; we could spend the night there. Although I’ll warn you, it’s pretty run down.”

David squinted at him. “So like everywhere else in this town, then.”

Chuckling, Patrick took his hand and led him back to the car. “Pretty much.”

Chapter Text

The drive to the Schitt’s Creek Motel was short, and when they pulled into the parking lot, the only other car was Stevie’s.

“Okay, when you said run down, you meant we are definitely going to be murdered here in our sleep,” David said.

“It’s this or we keep driving,” Patrick said, already getting out of the car.

The office was dimly lit when Patrick opened the door, and the first thing that struck him was the distinctive odor of pot smoke.

“Patrick?” Stevie sat behind the desk, eyes red-rimmed and glassy. It occurred to him that he hadn’t heard from her since she’d called him about Alexis.

“Stevie, are you getting high at work?” he asked, even though he didn’t really need to ask. The joint smoldering in an ashtray on the desk made it obvious even if the smell hadn’t.

David walked in at that point and recoiled. “Okay, so exactly what kind of seedy opium den have you brought us to?”

“I am getting high at work, because this isn’t going to be my work for much longer. What are you doing here?” she said.

“What do you mean, this isn’t going to be your work for much longer?” Patrick asked.

“I sold the place,” Stevie explained, raising her hands to encompass the motel. “They’re coming to bulldoze it in a few weeks so they can put in a truck stop. Aren’t you going to introduce me?” she said, pointing at David.

“Stevie, this is David Rose. David, this is Stevie Budd.”

David raised his hand briefly in a wave. “Your last name is a little on the nose, isn’t it?”

“Oh wow, I’ve never heard that one before,” Stevie said with her best deadpan delivery before turning back to Patrick. “What are you doing here? Seriously, I literally never thought I’d see your face again.”

“David wanted to get out of New York for a while after the… funeral,” he said.

“So you came here?”

“We’re on our way to Oak Grove but…” Patrick looked at David, trying to gauge whether he might have changed his mind about sleeping here now that he’d seen the place. “It’s been a long day, and I thought you might still be running a motel here that rented rooms to people in exchange for money.”

“I am,” Stevie said, swiveling around to the rack of keys behind her. “Room six is available.” She sort of snickered as she pulled down the key. “All the rooms are available, but I actually changed the sheets in room six yesterday.”

“That sounds like an excellent pull quote for the motel’s website,” David said, still lingering back near the door.

“Really? Because I was going to go with, ‘Come for the uncomfortable mattresses, stay for the coffee that tastes like motor oil,’” Stevie countered.

“What about, ‘Number one choice of lonely drifters’?” David shot back.

Stevie grinned at Patrick. “I like him,” she said before looking back at David. “I like you.”

“Enough to share some of that?” David said, approaching the desk and indicating Stevie’s joint.

“David,” Patrick said at the same time that Stevie said, “Go for it.”

David picked up the joint between two fingers and took a long drag off of it, holding the smoke in his lungs as he handed it back to Stevie.

“We’ll take room six, I guess,” Patrick said.

“He texted me the day after you guys had sex the first time,” Stevie stage-whispered to David as she handed the joint back to him for another hit. “He said you were hot.”

“Okay, I’m going to get the bags,” Patrick said loudly, trying to will himself not to blush.

“Did he?” David said with a grin.

Patrick walked back outside, closing the door firmly behind him. He probably should have known Stevie and David would immediately hit it off — they had a lot in common. He also probably should have known that Stevie of the eggplant emojis would waste no time in embarrassing him. He sighed, opening the trunk. At least it was something to distract David from his grief momentarily.

By the time Patrick got the suitcases unloaded into the room, David had left the office and wandered down to join him.

“I approve of your friend,” David said as he looked around. The room had only one double bed in it, which was kind of odd for a motel, Patrick thought. David was moving around the perimeter of the space, touching things: the tacky paintings on the wall, the old-fashioned tube television, the round table in the corner, the cheap accordion-door closet.

“You approve of her marijuana, you mean,” Patrick said as he put his suitcase on the bed and unzipped it.

“Not at all, her marijuana is terrible.” He’d reached the door that led to an adjoining room and pushed on it, making it swing open.

“Well, that’s not safe,” Patrick said. “Shouldn’t that door be locked?” David said nothing and went into the room so Patrick followed, pausing to test the doorknob. The lock seemed to be broken.

This second room had two single beds in it, which was also a very odd motel arrangement. Patrick started to wonder who had furnished this place and whether they were just as high as Stevie.

“I’m having that feeling again,” David said. “Like I’ve been here before.”

“You’re probably just high.”

“I’m not going to get high from two hits of Stevie’s mediocre weed.” David was still touching things in the room, a thoughtful expression on his face. “It’s all just spookily familiar.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ve spent a lot of your life in similarly seedy motel rooms,” Patrick said, standing with his arms crossed and watching David move around the space.

“I know you’re making fun of me, but I still feel the need to point out that I’ve never stayed anywhere like this before,” David said.

“We don’t have to stay, David—”

“No, it’s fine.”

Patrick walked over and bolted the door to the outside. “I assume Stevie isn’t going to rent this room tonight, but just in case.” He patted David on the shoulder as he returned to their room.

They ended up reclined side-by-side on the bed, watching movies that happened to be playing on the few basic cable channels the motel had. Stevie joined them for most of Twister with a bottle of wine in hand, sitting in a chair with her feet up on the dresser and sharing their extra-large pizza. It was nice, and it was comfortable, being here with his friend and with the man who wasn’t his boyfriend but who he maybe definitely was falling in love with.

After the movie, Stevie left them alone with a wink and a filthy comment, her grin the last thing Patrick saw when he closed the door in her face. Then David commandeered the bathroom for his nighttime beauty regimen, which gave Patrick plenty of time to contemplate the bed they’d be sharing, and the things they could potentially do in that bed. Since their kisses the day of Alexis’ funeral had led to David breaking down, they’d done little else but hold each other, and Patrick was uncertain what David was ready for. For that matter, Patrick was uncertain what he was ready for. Two months of near-constant fantasizing left him with a vast chasm between what he’d thought about doing with David and what he’d actually done. He was nervous, and after a day of David’s constant presence at his side, filled with longing.

David finally emerged from the bathroom in a t-shirt and sweatpants, his face pink and well-moisturized, and sat down on the bed. Patrick shot him a small smile and took his much-shorter turn in the bathroom.

When they were both settled into bed with the lights off, David said, “Thanks for today.”

Patrick turned on his side and drank in David’s profile in the dim light, the cheap curtains failing to block out the illumination from the street light outside the window. “For what?”

“Just… at the end of every day it feels like a miracle that I got through it. You’ve made it a little easier.”

Patrick’s hand itched with the desire to reach out and touch David. “I’m glad.”

Clearing his throat, David continued, “And I don’t want you to think I’m going to burst into tears if we kiss. Last time—”

“David, I completely understand about last time,” Patrick said.

“It doesn’t mean I didn’t want you. Or that I don’t want you now.”

Patrick’s heart skipped a beat.

“Or that I haven’t wanted you since you left New York,” David said, and then his face scrunched up. “I didn’t mean to say that last part out loud.”

Rising up on his elbow and hovering over David, Patrick said, “I’ve also wanted you since I left New York.”

David reached up, his hand spanning across Patrick’s cheek and neck, pulling him down into a kiss. Their mouths opened, tongues meeting, all of it messy and perfect. This time when Patrick pulled away there were no tears, and he quickly dove back in for more.

They paused in kissing only long enough to get their t-shirts off, then they were pressed chest to chest, Patrick shifting to get on top of David fully. David spread his legs, hands settling on Patrick’s ass and pulling while he lifted his hips, an accurate grind that made Patrick feel like he was going to lose it in his pajama pants if they kept doing that much longer.

“Fuck, I need…” David gasped, the words tripping out over Patrick’s lips, “I want you inside me, I want you to fuck me.”

Patrick froze. His body and his brain and everything froze, one crystalline moment of being unable to process or move forward or think at all.

David got a panicked look in his eyes. “Sorry, no, I didn’t mean… Okay, that’s a lie. I do want that. But not if you’re not ready—”

Patrick propped himself up an elbow again, giving David a gentle kiss to shut him up. “It’s not that I’m not ready. I’ve thought about doing… a lot of things with you, that included. And I want to. I very much want to. But I… I mean, you know I don’t have a lot of experience, and that seems like something where I could hurt you if—”

“You won’t hurt me.”

Patrick gave him a skeptical look.

“I’ll talk you through it, I’ll show you how…” David groaned, covering his face. “Oh my God, I sound desperate. Never mind.”

Pulling one of David’s hands from his face, Patrick gave him a serious look. “No, not never mind. We can… do that.”

“Wow, don’t overdo it with your enthusiasm,” David said with a roll of his eyes.

Patrick groaned in frustration. “Sorry, I’m nervous. But…” He couldn’t say it while he was looking David in the eyes, so he buried his face in the crook of David’s neck, his teeth scraping at David’s skin. “I want to fuck you so badly,” he whispered.

David’s hips moved against Patrick’s one more time and he moaned, fingers pressing into the back of Patrick’s thighs hard enough to leave marks. “I have stuff in my bag, I can… umm…” David sat up and Patrick tipped to one side, letting David stand. He felt thrilled and terrified and sexy somehow all at once, and it made him want to die, it made him want to scream from the rooftops that David Rose wanted him, even after all this time, even though he was little Patrick Brewer from Oak Grove, Ontario who hadn’t even known he was gay until he was thirty years old, David still wanted him. Throwing caution to the wind, Patrick pulled his pajama pants and boxers off and threw them onto the floor while David was rooting around in his bag, so when David returned with condoms in one hand and a bottle of lube in the other, Patrick got to watch him react to the fact that he was already naked, waiting for him on the bed. David’s resulting grin was gratifying, and somehow calmed Patrick a little.

David tossed the condoms and lube onto the bed, pulling his sweatpants and underwear off before joining Patrick in the bed. Kissing him and trying to suppress a smile at the same time, David maneuvered them until Patrick was on top of him, like before.

“On the one hand, I very much like being naked with you, but on the other, these sheets are the worst,” David said, squirming his back against the selfsame sheets and grimacing.

“Who gives a fuck about the sheets?” Patrick asked as he kissed down David’s neck, pausing and sucking when he found a spot that made David gasp.

“Umm, I do,” David said, but then his hands were back on Patrick’s ass, guiding Patrick to grind against him, grind their cocks together, and it was so good, it was one of the many things he’d been imagining all those weeks after he moved out of his apartment, alone in his childhood bedroom at his parents’ house, taking his cock in his hand and biting his pillow to not make a sound as he got himself off thinking of David.

“Jesus, David,” Patrick moaned, stopping the motion of his own pelvis. “If you want me to fuck you, we’ve got to stop this before I come.”

“Mmm, well I do want that, although I’m also pretty fond of you being out of control,” David murmured.

Patrick sat back on his heels, David’s legs already spread around him. “What should I…”

David sat up to grab the lube, giving him a comforting squeeze on the thigh. “I’ll need some prep, but I can do it myself if you don’t… if you find it distasteful.”

Patrick leaned over and kissed him. “Nothing about you is distasteful, but maybe you can… show me? And I can follow your example?”

Nodding enthusiastically, David reached over and turned on the bedside lamp and then grabbed a pillow and put it under his hips. Patrick shifted forward a bit, rubbing his hand up and down David’s thigh in a way that he hoped was sexy, or at least soothing, while David opened the lube and put some on his own fingers. David brought his hand down between his legs, his long arm alongside his cock, and began massaging the puckered skin around his opening without pressing any fingers inside.

Patrick watched, enraptured. “You’re beautiful,” he said without thinking, and David gasped, his eyes falling shut. David’s cock was so hard, flushed and pressed against his belly, and the sight of it was making Patrick’s mouth water. But he wanted to focus on what David was doing to himself, how he made himself ready.

“The key is relaxing,” David said, shifting into teacher mode, which Patrick had to admit wasn’t exactly a turn-on, since it served to remind him that he was new at this, and that David was bound to find anything he did amateurish and unsatisfying. Then David crooked his index finger, easily slipping it inside to the second knuckle, moving it in and out.

“Can I…” Patrick said, reaching his hand tentatively toward David.

“Yes, um-hmm,” David agreed. “You definitely can.”

Patrick touched David’s rim, below where he now had two of his own fingers inside himself as far as his reach would allow. Patrick had done enough experimenting on himself to know that the stretch would make David deliciously sensitive, so he just continued to rub the skin next to David’s fingers, hoping he was adding at least a little to the pleasure of it. David’s breathing sped up.

“Would you… inside?” David said, taking his fingers out, and Patrick quickly grabbed the lube and squeezed some onto his hand. He found David’s entrance again, rubbing around it a few times before pushing his finger in. It went easier than he had imagined. He turned his hand and crooked his finger, pressing against the strong muscle of his perineum.

“Is that okay?” Patrick asked.

David nodded rapidly. “More. Another.”

It was more of a stretch with two fingers, and Patrick pressed inside slowly and carefully, hoping he was making David feel good. All he wanted was to make David feel good. This time when he crooked his fingers, David whined, his hips bearing down to take Patrick as deep as he would go.

Reaching out with his other hand, Patrick wrapped David’s cock in a loose fist, stroking him in time with his thrusting fingers. David picked up the lube, clumsily spilling some onto his cock so that Patrick could slick all of it up, and he started working David more in earnest with both of his hands.

“Fuck, stop stop stop,” David gasped. “You’re gonna make me come too soon.”

Reacting to David’s words, Patrick let go of David’s cock and pulled his fingers out quickly, making David hiss.

“Sorry,” Patrick said, wincing.

“No, it’s okay.” David squirmed his hips around, getting comfortable. “Just go slower when you… take anything out of there,” he said with a half-smile.

Patrick propped his wrist on David’ knee, trying not to get lube everywhere, and leaned forward to give David a gentle kiss. “Are you ready for me to—”

David kissed him deeper, an edge of desperation in it. “I need your gorgeous cock, Patrick. Fill me up with it, fuck, please.”

Trembling, Patrick grabbed for the strip of condoms, pulling one off and tearing open the wrapper. This he knew how to do, but unlike in the past, with a woman, when the process of putting on a condom would sometimes be all it took to deflate the fragile conditions that allowed him to maintain an erection, this time he almost groaned as he rolled it on. He was so sensitive and so turned on and he worried that he wouldn’t last long enough to give David what he needed.

David already had more lube on one of his hands, and he reached out to spread it over Patrick’s cock. Patrick groaned through gritted teeth, clutching David’s knee and trying not to thrust into David’s fist. Then David was lying back, adjusting his hips, and this was the moment of truth, Patrick thought. He shifted forward, taking himself in hand and rubbing against David’s opening. Nerves started to take over again. He had a mental image of David’s sympathetic glance when he proved himself to be bad at sex.

“Go slow,” David said, probably sensing his apprehension. “It’s been a while for me, and I’ll need to adjust to your beautiful cock, but it’s gonna be so good. You’re gonna make me feel so good.” He put his hand over Patrick’s where it was still resting on David’s knee. “Okay?”

Patrick nodded, pressing forward. At first nothing happened, and Patrick had just a second to wonder if he was already doing it wrong, and then David’s muscles gave way and the head of his cock pushed inside.

David moaned, and it didn’t sound entirely like a pleasurable moan. Patrick met his eyes, worried.

“I’m okay. Patrick, you’re so hot. Do you know how many times I’ve thought about this? Just give me a little bit at a time, okay?”

Following directions, Patrick did as David asked, pushing forward in increments, watching his cock disappear inside David. David threw his head back, panting, bearing down and taking him in and fuck, it was all Patrick wanted, it was this, him and David being joined like this. Images came unbidden to his mind: fucking David hard over a table in a storeroom somewhere, surrounded by boxes, a glass bottle of some kind of moisturizer falling off the table and crashing to the floor as Patrick’s teeth scraped against his lover’s shoulder blade. Face-to-face in his room at Ray’s, giggling over how new and wonderful it was, whispered entreaties to keep quiet as they peaked together. Clutching David’s hip as he sprawled half on-half off of a sofa, pushing deep into him as David whimpered and grabbed a cushion, gold rings on his fingers catching the overhead lamplight.

Patrick came back to himself, leaning over David to let their mouths touch, his cock buried deep.

“Oh God, David, you feel… Can I…” He tried to pull out a little, and felt David’s hand clutching his ass to hold him still.

“Hang on just a minute, let me…” David moved underneath him, a tiny shift of his hips, and both of them gasped at the sensation. “God, I’m so full, it’s so good,” David said and then kissed him again. “Yes, you can move. Short thrusts.”

Patrick was powerfully grateful for David’s directions now, making it safe to experience this for the first time. He knew that even having been in a straight relationship didn’t necessarily mean Patrick would have been new to this, but he was, and David didn’t judge him for it.

Every tiny thrust made it easier to move, but still, God, David was so tight and it lit up every one of Patrick’s nerve endings. Gradually, he lengthened his strokes and David, a desperate look on his face, took his own cock in his hand, squeezing and stroking in time to the motion of Patrick’s hips, the wet sound of it filling his ears.

Patrick lowered himself over David to kiss him, but he was too overwhelmed and uncoordinated to do much more than drag his lips against David’s, breathing into his mouth.

“I’m gonna come so hard,” David whispered. “You’re gonna make me come so hard, fuck, Patrick.” David’s mouth dropped open and his eyes squeezed shut, and Patrick looked down to watch as David came, every pulse of it echoed by a squeeze of his muscles around Patrick’s cock, and that was all it took to push Patrick over along with him, his voice loud enough that he had to hope Stevie had gone home or he’d never hear the end of it.

When he’d regained a fraction of his senses, Patrick levered himself up, gripping the base of the condom and pulling out as slowly as he could. David groaned, flexing his hips and stretching while Patrick got up to get rid of the condom. He washed his hands and then grabbed a washcloth, wetting it with warm water before bringing it back for David.

David cleaned himself up and then got out of bed just as Patrick was settling back into it, and David started reaching for his clothes. “Don’t take me getting dressed personally, certainly not as a critique on the sex — which was fantastic — but I just can’t sleep naked in this place.”

Smiling, Patrick rested his head on his pillow. “Suit yourself.” Once David was back in his t-shirt and sweatpants, he climbed into bed. Patrick rolled toward the window and his grin widened when David spooned up against his back. “Fantastic?”

David swatted gently as his chest. “You know it was.” They fell silent for a minute. “Also, I appreciate you sleeping on the side of the bed that guarantees that you’ll get murdered first.”

“No one’s going to get murdered, David,” Patrick said, stroking his arm.

David pulled Patrick in tighter, his arm squeezing him and his nose pressed against Patrick’s shoulder. “It’s something Alexis used to say when we were little kids,” he whispered. “In hotels, she always wanted to sleep in the bed farther away from the door.”

Patrick turned over under David’s arm and pressed a kiss to his chest, then his cheek, then his lips. He felt a fierce desire to try to hold David’s grief at bay with a sword and a shield in his hands, if only that were possible. “Okay, David. I’ll get murdered first.”

Pulling him tighter, David returned his kiss. “Please don’t. I can’t lose you too.”

Chapter Text

The sun was in his eyes. He could feel the heat, he could see it through his eyelids, and David rolled over to the other side of the bed where the smooth pillow was cool, where shadows lay. He risked cracking an eye open.

Where was Patrick?

Where was here?

David sat up, looking around at a small, attractively furnished studio apartment. It was difficult to focus on any one thing, but he felt a sense of home here, a sense of safety, although perhaps that was due to the respectable thread count of the sheets under his palms. Standing up, he moved over to a tasteful shelving unit along one wall, where neatly folded stacks of blue pullovers were nestled in one of the nooks, and dark-wash denim jeans were stacked in another.

A shelf near the top caught his eye. There was his Balenciaga sweatshirt and his Rick Owens tunic and that Givenchy flame print shirt that he’d bought on a whim and then never worn because it didn’t match his monochrome aesthetic. He spun around and, spotting a cedar chest at the foot of the bed, opened it to find more of his knitwear. Did he live here? It seemed like he lived here. Or at least slept here a lot.

On the other hand, there was a guitar and a couple of baseball bats propped up in one corner, and those didn’t seem like items that should be in any home that David lived in or even slept in a lot.

Then suddenly David was in the bathroom and it was more of the same, his skin care products lined up in a neat row on a shelf. He chanced a look at himself in the mirror and now he was ready for the day, his hair perfectly coiffed, his face dewy and freshly shaved, and now he was dressed in that Balenciaga sweatshirt. Touching his temple and ensuring that his hair was perfect, he nodded at his reflection and left the bathroom. His bag was waiting for him on one of the kitchen chairs, the bag where he stashed his wallet and his journal and a change of clothes in case he wanted them and files that he might want to look at from work (what work?). Picking up the bag, he opened the door to the apartment and walked through it and…

and a bell chimed

and he was in a store. It had a sand and stone aesthetic, exactly how he would have designed a store if he’d ever designed such a thing, which he hadn’t. It was subtle and understated and perfect, even down to the stained glass hung on the back wall. The store smelled fantastic, like scented candles and cologne, and he wanted to roll around in this place and live in it forever.

“Hey,” someone said, a hand on his waist and a kiss on his cheek and here was Patrick, already moving away toward the cash register. He was so solid, Patrick, his biceps visible under his sensible Oxford shirt, his gait not graceful — it was the gait of someone with stocky legs, someone who played baseball and hockey and did not care if the term ‘graceful’ was ever ascribed to him. The short hair on the back of his head caught David’s attention. It was the haircut of a dad who lived in the suburbs and drove his kids to soccer practice and grilled steaks in the backyard. It wasn’t the haircut of a man who fucked David until he couldn’t see straight, except that it was.

David’s hands were trembling, and he looked down at them. Silver rings shimmered, and then suddenly, in front of his very eyes, they turned to gold. Four golden rings, was that the way the song went? Four golden rings, all the better to marry you with, he thought, and then he shivered.

Customers moved around him, plucking items off of the shelves, touching things in a way that he was certain he would find annoying if this store belonged to him. He wanted to scream at them to get out so that he could enjoy this wonderful, calming place in peace.

“Hey, I was thinking,” Patrick said, and David looked up, because he needed to give this man all of his attention.

“What were you thinking?” David asked, desperate to know.

“I was thinking, what if the wedding reception is sort of like a… block party? We could ask the town council if they could close off the street out here,” Patrick said, gesturing to the front of the store, “between here and the café, and we could set up tables and lights and make it a whole… thing.”

“The wedding reception?” David asked, his ears buzzing.

Patrick grinned and came out from behind the register, approaching him with a sexy confidence, a comfort level that David had never seen before from him. “I know it wouldn’t be completely consistent with the things on your moodboard, but it would be within our budget, and we could make it romantic.” Then Patrick kissed him easily, like he’d done it hundreds of times before.

“Yeah,” David said faintly.

“Yeah?” Patrick grinned, looking very pleased. “Okay, I’ll talk to your mom about it.”

Patrick was going to talk to his mother. David felt like he needed to warn him not to do that, except Patrick seemed unconcerned, like it would be a simple thing for him to do, so David didn’t say anything.

“Do you want to go get lunch?” Patrick said, and it was weird because hadn’t he just arrived? Wasn’t it still morning? But then David’s stomach growled and he did need to eat, so he left the store as Patrick had told him to.

Opening the front door, the bell rang again, and he didn’t know where to go except his feet took him to the right, stepping across the street toward another building, this one with ‘Café Tropical’ on a sign out front. David almost laughed as he crossed the street, because there was nothing tropical about this place. David had visited a lot of tropical places in his life and this was just about the least tropical place he’d ever been. He stepped up onto the wooden patio out front, where tables were set up but no one sat, and then walked through the doors.

The restaurant was empty, it was desolate, there might have even been cobwebs in the corners, but his feet took him to a booth in the back and that’s where his parents sat, monstrous menus open in front of them on the cheap tabletop.

“You shouldn’t be here,” David said to them, even as he knew it wasn’t true. It was where they’d sat hundreds of times, in this very booth. His father would order meatloaf if it was Tuesday and his mother would order a fruit cup or perhaps a salad, and their eyes would meet across the booth, the love they shared in spite of everything so fucking obvious — in spite of the poverty and the hardships and the close quarters, they still loved each other more than reason.

What poverty?

“How’s the store, dear?” his mother asked.

“Thriving,” David answered, because that was what he always said except that was never what he said, nothing he’d ever been in charge of had ever thrived. He couldn’t even keep a houseplant alive. He couldn’t keep a pair of earbuds alive; he’d always forget them in a pocket of his pants and then leave them to be laundered, and half the time they’d be stolen or just washed, and… what was he talking about again?

“And how’s the wedding planning, going?” his mother continued. She wore the green wig that he’d always loved and didn’t think she wore often enough. It made her look fresh and young and vibrant, the way she should always be, forever.

“I don’t… it’s good.” He didn’t know, really, but apparently there was going to be a block party after Patrick married him, and if that wasn’t both the most excruciatingly awful and the most gloriously romantic thing he had ever heard of, then David didn’t know anything about anything.

“We’re so proud of you, son,” his father said, and okay: this was a dream. He probably should have figured it out before now, the way time was dilating, the way space was dilating, the way Patrick looked at him and touched him and talked to him like he loved him, like spending the rest of their lives together was a given. Like it was easy. Like it was real.

His father’s eyes were bottomless, they were his own eyes, they were wells of feeling that never in his whole life had he noticed before. David felt tears coming unbidden, because the pride in his father’s eyes shone out like a beacon, and it wasn’t fair that this wasn’t really his life. He wanted all of this: the store and his parents looking at him and at each other with kind, caring eyes. And Patrick. He wanted Patrick, especially — this happy, confident Patrick who knew that they belonged together the way you’d know a fundamental physical constant of the universe.

“Hey, will you tell Alexis to hurry up? We’re going to order without her if she doesn’t get here soon,” his father said, and David almost doubled over, almost fell on the floor, because Alexis wouldn’t be coming. Alexis was dead. He might be dreaming, and perhaps he didn’t know where he was or why, but he knew that much. He knew his sister was dead.

“I’ll tell her,” he heard himself saying, and he was walking back toward the kitchen — he tried to stop himself from moving because that didn’t seem right, he shouldn’t be going that way. He saw his hand come out in front of him and push through the swinging door,

and he was in the office of the terrible motel.

Stevie sat behind the desk, staring at the computer.

She was painfully beautiful, with her flannel and her baggy t-shirt underneath and her jeans from the clearance rack from Target — beautiful nonetheless, with her raven hair and pale, perfect skin. He loved her and he’d also had sex with her and those two things weren’t really connected, not with her.

Wait, no. That wasn’t what happened. He’d just met her yesterday. They’d shared a joint and then later a bottle of wine and a pizza with Patrick. She was Patrick’s friend, not David’s friend.

He frowned and shook his head. This dream was getting more and more disorienting.

“You think this is just a dream,” she said, staring straight into the heart of him, and he almost collapsed under the weight of it.

“Isn’t it?”

“I’m not the oracle of this piece, you know. Intoning riddles for you to puzzle out.” She moved out from behind the desk and walked over to where he stood and then she shoved him, kind of hard actually, and he stumbled back a few steps.

“This is what your life was supposed to be, idiot. I mean, maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh; it’s not your fault that it didn’t end up this way. It’s…” — she waved her hand around in frustration — “fate or some bullshit. I don’t know. The fact is, you never came here with your family and Patrick was alone, and Alexis… I mean, you know what happened. I don’t have to tell you.”

David shook his head. He knew.

“So it may not be your fault, but you may be the only one who can solve it, so… we’re doomed, I guess is what I’m saying.”

“That’s insulting,” he said.

“Yeah, I know. She’s in your room. Go see her.”

David didn’t know what she meant by his room except he totally did know. Of course he knew. It was room seven, the one with the two single beds and the broken door to the adjoining room that Patrick was asleep in (that his parents belonged in). He left the office and he walked the familiar path to the (his) room. He probably could have told someone how many steps there were between the office and that door, he’d walked it often enough (he’d never walked it).

The door opened and there she was, sitting at her little desk, the one she’d set up as a home office with her framed diploma and with Buzzfeed’s most motivational quotes for girlbosses under thirty.

“Ugh, David, what are you doing here? Did you forget you moved in with Patrick?” She was being annoying and mean and he wanted to hug her and never, ever let go.

“I just…” He felt tears pressing behind his eyes. “I wanted to see if you were okay.”

She stood up and narrowed her eyes at him. “I mean, I’m very busy if that’s what you’re asking, between organizing Mom’s soap opera convention appearances and planning your wedding and with the third annual Singles Week coming up, there’s a lot going on in my life right now.” Her hands flopped around as she ticked off each item, her eyes flashing with intelligence and pride.

“I know,” he said, although he didn’t know (he did). “Alexis, don’t ever get on a yacht again, okay?”

She laughed. “Not much chance of that. What are you talking about?”

He stumbled forward then, pulling her into a hug. Her hair smelled lovely and floral, different than it used to but still lovely. David ignored her protesting squeak and kept hugging her, arms wrapped tightly around her thin frame.

“Did you and Patrick have a fight? Because it’s just wedding stress; he loves you and you know he loves you.”

“We didn’t have a fight,” David said, pulling back and taking in Alexis’ perfect face. “I love you.”

“Ew, David,” Alexis said, but she was smiling, and she finally hugged him back. “I love you, too.”

“I miss you,” he said, tears flowing freely now.

Alexis laughed again. “Okay, what is with you right now? You and Patrick live, like, two miles away. Although I know some of the houses he’s been looking at for you two are a little farther.” She brought her hand around and booped him on the nose. “We’re still going to see plenty of each other.”

“I want all of this,” David gasped. “You here, and Mom and Dad, and Stevie, and Patrick, and the store… how do I get all of this? How do I get you back?”

When Alexis spoke, the quality of her voice had changed, almost like another entity was speaking through her. “This is a singular path, David Rose. Not easily won. So easily lost.” She touched his cheek gently. “A sacrifice will be required of you.”

And then he woke up.

“David? You okay?” It was Patrick. Not the Patrick from the dream. The Patrick who was only with him right now because Alexis had died. She wasn’t next door sitting at a desk and being competent; she was in the ground.

“I…” He reached up to his face and wiped away tears. “I had a weird dream.”

“Yeah, me too. Also, I’m freezing.” Patrick got up, and David watched in the predawn light as he put on his pajamas before getting back under the covers and pulling David into his arms. “More nightmares?”

Replaying the dream in his mind, David shook his head. He felt the need to remember all of it, the store and his parents in the café and Alexis in the motel and the fact that Patrick was going to marry him. And Stevie, what had she said? That part was fuzzy. “No, not really a nightmare,” he said, pressing a kiss against Patrick’s temple.

~*~

“This is a much nicer town than Schitt’s Creek,” David commented as they drove through the middle of downtown Oak Grove.

“And not a heterosexual prison?” Patrick asked with a grin.

“Well, it may be that, but it also has a cute little indie bookstore,” David said, pointing. “Ooh, and that looks like a good coffee place; is it good?”

“I guess it’s good. We used to have open mic nights there when I was in high school.”

“Ew, never mind.” The contorted grimace on David’s face made Patrick laugh.

“Listen, I should warn you, I just moved everything into my new apartment a week ago, so things are not fully unpacked yet.”

“Hmm.” David picked an M&M out of the bag of trail mix Patrick had bought at the airport yesterday and popped it in his mouth. “How bad is it?”

“I mean, there’s furniture and the kitchen is usable. But a lot of stuff is still in boxes.”

“Do you have a bed?”

Patrick turned and gave David his best sexy smirk. “Yes, I have a bed.”

“How’s the water pressure in your shower?” David asked.

“Better than at Stevie’s motel, I can assure you.”

“That is a bar so low that I can’t even see it, but I’m sure I’ll manage.” He picked out another M&M. The bag was mostly peanuts and raisins now, Patrick couldn’t help but notice. “I could even… help you unpack.”

“You’d help me unpack?”

“Sure, if it’s something like books. Or maybe clothes, although that would probably just make me sad about your wardrobe. Not… sports paraphernalia.”

“What makes you think I have sports paraphernalia?” Patrick asked, amused.

“The night we met at that bar, didn’t you say you played baseball recreationally?”

Patrick was impressed David remembered that. “I did. I promise not to make you handle my…” He tried and failed to suppress a giggle. “... bat and balls.”

“Okay, no,” David said, digging through the bag for the last of the chocolate. “We’re not doing that.”

Patrick laughed some more.

~*~

Patrick texted his parents as soon as he and David were at the apartment, telling them he was back in town. They knew that he’d gone to New York for David’s sister’s funeral, and Patrick hadn’t forgotten that he’d used the phrase ‘love at first sight’ to them when he told them about David that morning in their kitchen. At the time, he had no reason to expect their lives would ever intersect. Now David was in his apartment, opening boxes and generally making things more of a mess than they’d been when they arrived. But it was fine, it was good. It was just the man that he’d spent two months fixating on after the most revelatory sexual experience of his life, here in his home, scraped raw by grief over his sister and somehow still wanting him for some reason that Patrick couldn’t fathom. It was a lot to wrap his head around, and he didn’t even know how to begin to explain to his parents what was going on. Thus his text to them: back home safely. He’d explain David’s presence to them at some point. Or he wouldn’t: he didn’t know how long David was planning on staying — maybe a few days, maybe a week. Perhaps once David had surfaced from the sadness he was currently submerged in, he’d come to his senses and realize that Patrick held no interest for him. David would leave town, and Patrick’s parents would never be the wiser.

There was a knock on the door.

Or, he thought, faced with them standing on his doorstep, they would meet David, like, right now.

“Mom, Dad, what are you doing here?”

His mother held out the casserole dish she was carrying. “We figured you were still unpacking, and after all that traveling, might want some home-cooked food.”

“Thanks,” he said and then realized he was still blocking the doorway. “Come in, come in,” he said, taking the casserole just as David stood up from the sofa, making his presence obvious.

“Uhhh, David, these are my parents. Mom, Dad, this is David Rose.” He gave David a wincing shrug, trying to communicate that he hadn’t expected them to be here and that he was sorry for any awkwardness that was about to occur.

“Mr. and Mrs. Brewer, hello,” David said, holding out his hand to shake theirs in turn. His voice was softer, like he was trying to be smaller and less obtrusive in this confined space with Patrick’s parents. Like he was trying to be on his best behavior and make a good impression.

His parents smiled and greeted David, but Patrick could see the wheels turning as they processed that this was the man who Patrick had cheated on Rachel with, as they wondered what his presence here meant.

“I’m so sorry about your sister, David,” his mother said, and Patrick was grateful that he had at least explained that much to them before he got on a plane.

“Thank you,” David replied.

“Should I…” Patrick held the casserole up.

“Thirty minutes at 350,” his mother said. Patrick went quickly into the kitchen and set the oven to preheat, trying to return quickly before David was stuck making too much awkward small talk.

“Sorry about us popping in unannounced. Patrick didn’t tell us he had company,” Clint said with a glance back at Patrick. “How long are you in town for, David?”

“Umm, I’m not sure exactly?” he said, ending his statement as if it were a question. He did that a lot and Patrick was already used to it, but having his parents here made him notice everything about David anew: his weird fuzzy sweater and his jeans with rips in the knees and his overly expressive hand gestures. “A few days, I guess, but then I need to get back to my parents.”

“He, uh, wanted to get out of New York for a little while,” Patrick explained.

“It just isn’t the healthiest place for me to be… at the moment,” David said.

“And I want you to stay here as long as you need to,” Patrick said, no longer talking to his parents. He didn’t want to keep David here if he had responsibilities at home, but he also didn’t want him to leave if being away from New York was helping.

David paused, his mouth half-open like he didn’t know how to respond, or didn’t know how to respond in front of Patrick’s parents.

“Anyway, our plans are fluid,” Patrick said, hoping that put an end to the subject, while David turned back to the box he had been unpacking onto the floor, perhaps to give his hands something to do.

Patrick’s parents offered to help with the unpacking, and before Patrick knew it David and his father had teamed up to shelve books and his mother was arranging framed pictures on his desk. By the time they were sitting down to eat dinner, David and Marcy were engaged in a very in depth discussion of the plot and characters on Downton Abbey, a conversation that Patrick and his father could not contribute to. Patrick had never imagined David, or any man he might end up dating, could exist on the same plane of existence as his parents like this, and it unlocked something inside his chest to watch David chatting amiably with his mother, or instructing his father on the “correct” way to organize a book collection.

Strangely, it brought to mind part of the detailed dream he’d had last night. It was evening in this part of the dream, and he’d found himself seated at Café Tropical, two tables pushed together to accommodate everyone: The entire Rose family including Alexis, Stevie, himself, and even the mayor and his wife of all people, laughing and eating dinner together. He’d talked to Johnny Rose about the Blue Jays and he’d talked to Moira about the merits of Jesus Christ Superstar versus Godspell, and all the while David was resting a hand on his shoulder or picking his hand up off the table to thread their fingers together. At one point when Patrick had made a particularly strong point to Moira, David had leaned over and kissed him on the cheek and said to the table, “My fiance doesn’t fully appreciate Andrew Lloyd Webber’s early period, but I guess I’ll marry him anyway.” Everyone had laughed, and when Patrick had turned to him in surprise, had received a smiling kiss on the lips from David.

As he was carrying dishes from the table into the kitchen after they’d eaten, Patrick’s mother followed and put a hand on his arm.

“David’s very nice,” she said softly.

Patrick felt his breath hitch. “Yeah.”

“And very handsome.”

He laughed nervously. If only he’d realized as a teenager that he and his mother both found men attractive, they certainly could have had some interesting conversations. “Yeah.”

“So, is… boyfriends the right term?”

Patrick winced, scratching behind his ear. “We haven’t labeled it. It’s still pretty new.”

“And you’re being… safe?”

Mom. I’m thirty years old.” He felt his cheeks heat up as images of the previous night flashed in his brain.

“Yes, I know, but if all of this is new to you—”

“Yes, okay, we’re being safe, so please can we never talk about this ever again?” he whispered.

She patted him on the arm, seemingly more amused by his discomfort than anything else. “Okay, dear.”

They reentered the main room. “Patrick, did you know David has sat right behind home plate at Yankee Stadium before?” his dad said.

Patrick raised an eyebrow. “I wasn’t aware you knew what home plate was.”

“Okay, don’t get excited — I was there because I was dating the team’s physical therapist. I didn’t actually watch the game,” David said with distaste.

“That makes sense,” Patrick said with a grin, picking up the remaining dirty plates.

His parents left not long after dinner was cleaned up, and as Patrick closed the apartment door, he watched David go back over to the bookshelf to rearrange a few books that his father must have shelved incorrectly.

“Thanks for helping to keep my parents entertained,” Patrick said.

David shrugged, looking self-conscious. “Your parents are very nice.”

Unable to resist touching him any longer, Patrick approached David and rested his hands on his hips. “So are you.”

David’s face went through a contortion that Patrick was starting to learn was the way he processed compliments. “No one’s ever called me nice before.”

Leaning in, Patrick kissed him. “You’re nice to me.”

David snorted, blinking his eyes a few times. “Mostly in bed.”

Patrick shook his head. “Yes, but also other times.”

Can I be nice to you in bed, though?” David said before kissing him back.

Smiling against David’s mouth, Patrick nodded before pulling him toward the bedroom. “Yeah.”

Chapter Text

Patrick was drifting, halfway between sleep and wakefulness, thinking about the nature of orgasms.

For a long time there had been two kinds of orgasms that he had first-hand experience with. There was the masturbatory kind, which he took care of in a perfunctory, utilitarian way when he felt like the needs of his body were distracting him from something more important, like schoolwork or practicing the guitar or a good night’s sleep. Quick and harsh, a tight fist and hand lotion and his brain carefully blank while he was doing it, just an efficient, neural shortcut to a little burst of pleasure, then a quick cleanup and it was back to whatever he’d been doing before.

Then there were orgasms from sex, where quick and harsh wouldn’t cut it, but where again he shied away from thinking too much about what he was actually doing. It felt like a job, being skilled enough at sex that his partner wouldn’t have any complaints. And he was happy that he could please another person, he was, but it left little room for the work his brain needed to do in order to find that neural shortcut. A lot of the time, he never got there. When he did, it was underwhelming, to say the least.

If those experiences were like weakly flickering light bulbs, then being with David was like a supernova.

Patrick did things for David, touched him and sucked him and fucked him, not because of an obligation to be competent at sex but because he wanted to. No, want was too small a word for what he felt — he was starving, he was aching to do those things for David. And orgasming with David didn’t take effort; it was inevitable — it was simply impossible not to be swept along to that heart-stopping conclusion, so intense sometimes that he felt like he barely stayed conscious.

“What are you grinning about?”

Patrick slowly opened his eyes and looked over at David. “I thought you were asleep.”

“Nope.”

“I was thinking about orgasms, if you must know.”

David hummed in a way that said, Oooh, I’m intrigued, tell me more.

“Also I was thinking that as much I’ve enjoyed this weekend of hardly leaving the bed, I do have to go to work tomorrow. Will you be okay on your own for the day?”

Looking offended, David said, “I’m not a child.”

“No, of course you aren’t. But I don’t know if being alone is necessarily the best thing for you right now.”

“I’ll read a book. Or maybe, I don’t know, take a walk.” Patrick raised an eyebrow; David going for a walk without a destination in mind seemed a bit out of character, but there were likely hidden depths of David’s character that Patrick hadn’t seen yet. He was excited to learn them all, every facet of David’s personality, every quirk and annoying habit.

Whoa, slow down, he thought to himself. Just because David had chosen to lean on him in this time of mourning, it didn’t mean he was thinking in terms of a long-term relationship. Just because they’d spent most of the last two days in Patrick’s bed, learning each other’s bodies, didn’t mean David was falling in love with him. For the first time, Patrick realized how in danger his heart really was. And that perhaps it was too late to do anything about it.

“What’s wrong?” David asked.

Realizing his face was betraying his thoughts, Patrick relaxed his features. “A walk sounds like a good idea.”

~*~

“This place is cute,” David said, the grimace on his face saying he thought it was anything but.

Patrick looked at the local bar through David’s eyes: televisions tuned to a variety of sporting events, signed hockey jerseys mounted on the walls, wide-board wooden floor and tables with decades of initials carved into them.

Giving him two firm claps on the back (“You’ve got such straight boy body language,” David had once said), Patrick grinned at him. “Come on, I promise you’ll have a good time.”

Dennis had invited them out, having no doubt heard through his parents or perhaps just through the town rumor mill that Patrick had a guy staying with him. Between the other tenants in Patrick’s building and the people in the bookstore and coffee shop that David had visited over the last few days while Patrick was at work, Oak Grove was almost certainly churning with news that little Patrick Brewer had a boyfriend.

Not a boyfriend, Patrick reminded himself, although with every day that David didn’t return to New York, it felt more and more difficult not to name him so. David had been in town a week now, and with every day that passed it seemed more impossible that the day would come when this would be over.

Patrick spotted his cousin at a table near the bar and he steered David over.

“Hey, man!” Dennis said, up and out of his chair and hugging Patrick before he quite understood what was happening. He didn’t particularly remember Dennis being a hugger, but he went with it.

“Um, this is David,” Patrick said simply. Dennis reached out and shook David’s hand enthusiastically, as if being introduced to a man that Patrick was in an unlabelable romantic relationship with was a normal thing that didn’t require remarking upon. Which, maybe it didn’t.

They fell into easy small talk; it turned out that Dennis had a lot of opinions about music and so did David, and Patrick could just sit back and watch another member of his family welcoming David into the fold. When Dennis suggested they play darts, David didn’t want to play but he seemed content to serve as Patrick’s one man cheering section. And when Patrick won and got a kiss for his efforts, he tried not to let it show on his face how overwhelming it was, the simple fact being out in public and sharing casual affection with a boy he liked.

Ash brought over their third round of drinks themselves, as things at the bar had started to slow down.

“Ash, dude, what’s this I hear about you moving away?” Dennis asked.

They shrugged. “I’ve got some people in Norway that, if the world is ending, I’d prefer to ride out the apocalypse with,” they said, collecting and stacking empty glasses.

“I’m sorry,” Patrick said, “‘if the world is ending’?”

Ash gave him an impassive stare for a second. “Have you read the news recently?”

Patrick frowned. He hadn’t, really. He’d been too busy with David to give any thought to the outside world.

“To the people living in any particular time, it always seems like things are the worst they’ve ever been. It doesn’t mean you need to go join a doomsday cult in Norway,” Dennis said.

“There it is, cults again,” David said, making Patrick raise his eyebrows in surprise. “I swear I keep hearing things about cults these days.”

Dennis chuckled. “I mean, between climate change and so many of the world’s governments being taken over by dictators, maybe it’s not surprising that people are turning to mass protests and weird religions.”

“We saw protesters being arrested at the airport in New York,” Patrick said. “A lot of them.” He felt embarrassed that he’d let the event slip his mind entirely.

“The violence has only gotten worse in New York the last few days,” Ash said, looking annoyed at them for being so uninformed. “They’ll probably have to shut things down like they did with O’Hare and LAX.”

“I’m sorry, shut what down?” David asked, his voice rising in pitch.

“The airports. There have been so many threats of terrorism that they can’t afford to keep those airports running. I’ve got a flight out of Toronto to Heathrow in three days, and I’m praying that things don’t get too bad before I can get on that plane.”

“What the fuck is going on?” Patrick asked no one in particular.

“The world is falling apart, man,” Ash said. “And the old gods are in ascendance.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I read that Neil Gaiman novel,” Dennis said in a way that made it clear he wasn’t taking any of this seriously.

“We should make sure we have a way to get you back to your parents,” Patrick said, trying not to wish too hard that David would somehow be stranded here with him forever.

David looked startled, and he paused before saying, “Yeah. Yeah, I guess we should.”

“I wouldn’t go back to New York now,” Ash said. “Best to stay out of the big cities. That’s where the worst shit is going down.” They looked over at the bar, where more people were waiting for drinks than it looked like Ash’s assistant could handle. “I’ve gotta get back, guys. Good luck with everything.”

“Thanks?” Patrick said.

“Just…” Ash gave him a piercing stare. “Don’t ignore your dreams, Patrick. Let your subconscious be your guide.” They turned and went back to the bar then, leaving the three of them looking at each other, bemused.

“That was weird,” Dennis said.

Unnerved, Patrick reached over and took David’s hand. “Yeah.”

~*~

“That bartender was right.” David was looking at his phone when Patrick emerged from the bathroom, ready for bed. “JFK, Newark, and LaGuardia are all closed as of today. It says they don’t know for how long.”

“That’s insane. How is anybody flying anywhere?”

“They aren’t. It’s almost like 9/11, when I was stranded for four days in Portugal.”

Patrick lifted the blankets and got under the covers with David. “I was only thirteen on 9/11.”

“Oh, fuck off,” David said affectionately.

“And what was the thing Ash said about dreams? Let my subconscious be my guide? What was that?”

David gave him a sidelong glance. “I don’t know, had any interesting dreams lately?”

Patrick laughed. He didn’t usually remember his dreams. Except… “I mean, I dreamed you and I were planning to get married in Schitt’s Creek, but…” He blushed at having admitted even that to David. “It was silly.”

“Wait, what?” David asked, turning fully to him.

God, David must be freaked out by what that might reveal about his feelings, Patrick thought. “It was just a dream, it doesn’t mean I actually want to—”

“No, that’s not… I dreamed the same thing, that night at the motel. That you and I were engaged.” David looked down at his bare fingers. He always took his silver rings off at night and put them in a little dish on the bedside table that he’d borrowed from Patrick’s kitchen.

“Huh. That’s a weird coincidence.” Patrick settled down onto his pillow and closed his eyes.

“Is it?”

“Is it what?”

David huffed and nudged Patrick’s shoulder until he opened his eyes. “Is it a coincidence?”

Patrick laughed. “Well, what else would it be, David?”

“I don’t know, it’s your bartender friend who was spouting all that mystical stuff about old gods and dreams!” He gesticulated wildly with his hands.

Patrick sat back up. “I don’t actually know Ash all that well, but… look, I just don’t believe in stuff like that. Stuff I can’t verify with my own eyes and ears.”

“Okay, fine, so let’s collect some data. What else happened in your dream?” David said.

“David—”

“Humor me.”

“Okay.” Patrick rubbed his face, trying to remember. “We worked in a store together.”

Now David looked genuinely alarmed, as if even though he’d been arguing on the side of the import of these dreams, he hadn’t really believed in what he was arguing. “Without telling me what it was, do you remember the name of the store?”

He did. It had been all over everything — baggies of coffee beans and bottles of who-knew-what; it was abbreviated on the wall and on the top of the refrigerator case. Patrick took a second to be amazed that there had been that level of detail in the dream, and that he remembered even a fraction of it. “I remember it.”

“I’m going to tell you what it was, then, since you’re the skeptic. It was Rose Apothecary.”

Patrick’s heart started to thunder in his chest. “Maybe… maybe there’s a mundane explanation.”

David crossed his arms. “What?”

“Maybe we saw a place with a similar name somewhere, and it happened to register in both of our subconsciouses—”

“Two little roses, one on either side of the name,” David said. “And I had four gold rings in place of my silver ones. I’m pretty sure you gave them to me.”

Patrick stared at him. “Okay, so… so we shared a dream?”

“I don’t think it was a dream. Or, it was, but it was more than that.” David was up and out of bed now, like he couldn’t contain these ideas unless he got up and walked them off. “It was like a view of an alternate reality. One where for some reason my whole family was in that town, and so I met you a while ago, and… I don’t know, but it was good. Everyone was happy, and…”

“And Alexis was alive,” Patrick said as soon as it struck him why David wanted the dreams to mean something. “That’s what this is about, right? Your sister was alive.”

“Yeah, this is the ravings of a grief-stricken person except you saw it, Patrick. It wasn’t just me. You saw it too! And you felt something when we were outside that general store, didn’t you? And… and the waitress said it was… that the veil between worlds was thin or whatever.” He was so manic now that Patrick worried that David might be on his way to a panic attack if he didn’t calm down.

“I don’t know if I’d hang this theory on Twyla,” Patrick said, but then he had to pull himself up short, because it was triggering something else in his memory. Someone else who’d raved at him… “The homeless woman outside your building,” Patrick said softly, lost in memories of those nights, months ago, when his whole life changed.

“What?” David stopped pacing, his chest rising and falling with heavy breaths.

“There was a homeless woman outside your building; I ran into her both times I left your apartment in the early morning. And she said…” — he struggled to remember. “She said that this world was wrong and we needed to get back to the right one. Wait, before that, the first time I saw her, she said to me ‘you found him.’

“Patrick, if you’re fucking with me—”

“Why would I fuck with you?” Patrick rubbed his sweaty palms off on the bedspread.

“I know who you’re talking about; she was a regular in the neighborhood,” David said. “She used to say all kinds of crazy stuff to me, stuff like…” He dragged a hand through his hair, making it stick up at all angles. “That my family and I were supposed to be living in a motel together.”

Patrick didn’t want to, but it would have been dishonest not to connect those dots. “You did say those rooms felt familiar.”

David sat down on the bed and put his head in his hands. “Fuck.”

Not knowing what else to do, Patrick crawled over and rested a hand on David’s back.

“What do we do?” David asked.

“We… we get you back to New York, to your family, for a start. And we try to find that woman, because maybe she knows more.”

“The airports are closed,” David pointed out.

Patrick shrugged. “So we drive. If we leave early in the morning and take turns driving, we can probably be there by this time tomorrow.”

“What about your job?”

“David, we’re going to drive to New York in the midst of a violent uprising to seek out a mystical homeless woman to explain why we’ve both dreamed of the same alternate reality. My job can go fuck itself.”

David laughed, an edge of hysteria in it, and kissed him.

~*~

“This is insane,” Patrick said as they pulled away from the third police checkpoint since crossing over into Manhattan. Only David’s ID with his Chelsea address had allowed them to get this far.

This is insane had been Patrick’s mental mantra for many of their hours of driving, and he wasn’t sure if the increasing evidence of societal collapse was bolstering the idea that they were doing the right thing or detracting from it. He knew it was insane when he called his parents from the road to tell them that he was driving David to New York since the airports were shut down (the rest of the story, he left out). He knew it was insane when they had to spend almost a full hour at the U.S.-Canadian border, undergoing extensive questioning before they were allowed to cross. He knew it was insane when he left a message for his boss, resigning his position at Rollins Electrical Supply via voicemail. He knew it was insane when David had an extended phone call with his parents as they drove through Buffalo, arguing about which of the properties that his parents still owned would be the safest if civilization fell.

David directed Patrick to a parking garage near his apartment. The automated gates had been broken off, so Patrick drove in without taking a ticket from the machine.

“If we somehow manage to get away without paying to park in Manhattan, then society really has collapsed,” David said, which made Patrick laugh.

Rain was coming down steadily on them as they walked to David’s apartment from the garage. Even Patrick, with his limited time in New York, could tell that the streets were unnaturally quiet. “I don’t see our prophetic friend,” Patrick said as they approached David’s building.

“With the rain, she might be in a shelter,” David said. “We can try to find her tomorrow.”

He looked as exhausted as Patrick felt, so Patrick didn’t argue.

At least nothing had changed in David’s apartment during their days away, and Patrick was struck by the way the smell of the place took him back to that first night in February, when he’d gone home with David and ended up in his bed. That had been insane too, but it might have been the best thing he’d ever done in his life. Maybe insane wasn’t the worst thing.

They took turns showering off the funk of the long road trip, and while Patrick waited for David in his bed, he started trying to catch up on what exactly was going on in the world. By the time David joined him, Patrick’s palms were sweating and his stomach felt queasy.

“David, I’m starting to think the world might really be ending.”

“Why?” David asked, sitting down on his side of the bed and rubbing some kind of moisturizer into his heels.

“The amazon rainforest is on fire, for one thing. Like, intentionally. They’ve instituted full-on martial law in Brazil. And that guy Jeff Bezos and some other billionaires have bugged out to some private floating city and disappeared, which I’m pretty sure was the plot of an Ayn Rand book.”

“Don’t tell my mom, she’ll be pissed she wasn’t invited,” David said, settling down onto his back and pulling Patrick into his arms.

“And legitimate people are writing articles questioning whether it’s possible for the U.S. to ever have fair and free elections ever again,” Patrick went on.

“Okay,” David said, his hand caressing Patrick’s hip.

“You don’t seem worried,” Patrick said.

“It’s not that I’m not worried, it’s that my brain literally doesn’t have any room for anything else to worry about.” David rolled them so that he was on top of Patrick and began kissing down his neck. “Also, fifty-seven percent of my brain is occupied with thinking about sex.”

Patrick grinned, wrapping his arms around David and sliding his hands down to David’s ass. “Fifty-seven percent?”

“Eighty-three percent.” Patrick thrust up with his hips, grinding against David. “A hundred and nine percent,” David breathed.

They quickly shed their clothes and were back to grinding against each other immediately, their bodies almost on auto-pilot, desperate for friction and closeness and connection.

“So I guess there’s a universe where I asked you to marry me,” Patrick said when David pulled away long enough to lube both of them up, his slick hand on Patrick’s cock and stomach and on himself. The idea of that being real somehow had turned itself over and over in Patrick’s mind on the drive until he felt compelled to speak it out loud.

“That’s the part that strains credibility, that any version of you would want to spend your entire life with any version of me,” David said, and only David Rose could manage to be self effacing while he stroked himself.

“David,” Patrick said, reaching up for David’s shoulders and pulling him down so that they could kiss, and now each thrust of their hips was slippery and so wonderful that it almost brought tears to Patrick’s eyes. “That part is easy for me to imagine.”

David kissed him, frantic, and when they separated to breathe, David’s eyelashes were fluttering as he tried to blink away his own tears. “I doubt that, but thank you for saying it.”

Patrick pulled him as close as he could, rolling his hips, trying to bring him pleasure and comfort in equal measure. “That life with you, the one we dreamed… I’d take that life in a second.”

Gasping, David kissed him again. “Me too. God, Patrick, me too.” He buried his face the crook of Patrick’s neck, his hips slowing into a more gentle undulation. “Can we pretend, just for a minute…?”

Patrick brought one hand up and carded it through David’s hair. “That we’re in that world?” He felt David nod.

His heart hammering in his chest, Patrick matched David’s rhythm and tried to imagine what he would say in that life, comfortable and confident and in love with a man that he planned to spend the rest of his days with. “I’m so happy you’re going to be my husband, David,” he murmured, his voice pitched low, and the answering noise from David told him he was on exactly the right track.

Considering and discarding several other endearments — he didn’t want to tell David he loved him until he could be certain David knew he meant it — Patrick went on. “I don’t ever want this to end. I don’t ever want to not be sharing your life. You’re the most wonderful man I’ve ever known.”

“God, Patrick, I—” Whatever David was going to say got lost as he climaxed, wet and hot against Patrick’s stomach. Patrick groaned and moved faster, seeking and finding his own peak, biting down on David’s shoulder as he came.

After a quick cleanup, they settled back into bed together, Patrick resting his head against David’s chest.

“Thanks for… I probably shouldn’t have asked you to do that in the heat of the moment,” David said. “Roleplaying scenes usually require some pre-negotiation.”

“I didn’t mind,” Patrick said. It’s not like anything he had said hadn’t been a sort of truth. “It, umm, worked for me too. Obviously.” He pressed a kiss against David’s sternum.

David laughed uneasily. “Who knew that my kink was domesticity?”

It gave Patrick a chance to lighten the mood, to get out of the territory that was going to lead to premature confessions of love, and he took it. “Should I have also talked about mowing the lawn?”

“That depends, what do you wear when you mow the lawn?”

Patrick laughed. “I’ll save my material on painting the garage for next time, it’ll drive you wild.”

Chapter Text

It was still raining when he woke up the next morning, and Patrick had to admit that he wasn’t in any hurry to go out and search for their mysterious homeless woman. He looked over at David, still asleep, his cheek pressed into the pillow and his hair sticking up in a tangled mess from his head, stubble dark on his cheeks. I’m in love with him, Patrick thought. It wasn’t a maybe for him, not now, not after last night. He would have been happy to just spend the day in bed, not thinking about what was going on in the outside world. Not thinking about the fact that something supernatural, something that didn’t fit into his analytical worldview, might have touched his life. He’d finally found the person that maybe he was meant to be with, and he wanted to just enjoy that for once. He wanted to protect it from the world.

David, in contrast, woke up to his phone alarm with determination on his face. He wasn’t even deterred when he discovered that Seamless was down and that he couldn’t get breakfast delivered, and he sent Patrick out to pick up food while he got ready for the day. By the time Patrick returned with egg sandwiches balanced on top of a tray of coffee cups, David was sitting at the table, studying something on a laptop computer and making notes in his journal.

“You didn’t see her, did you?” David asked as Patrick shook out his umbrella.

“No, but I saw a scary number of police cars, given that I only walked two blocks.” Patrick sat down with David and began unwrapping his sandwich.

“There are a fuckton of homeless shelters nearby,” David said. “This may take a while.”

It did.

A lot of the places that had popped up on google when David searched ‘homeless shelters’ weren’t actually that: they were thrift stores or soup kitchens or the offices of volunteer organizations. By asking around, they were finally able to find their way to a few shelters where they might find their missing woman, but by mid-afternoon, they’d had no luck.

The rain had finally let up, but David’s earlier determination was clearly melting away. “Let’s go back to the apartment and rest for a bit. Maybe she’ll turn up in your neighborhood now that it’s not raining.” He gave David a quick kiss on the cheek.

It almost wasn’t a surprise when they turned the corner toward David’s building and there she was in her usual spot.

As she watched them approach, her shoulders sagged with what looked like relief.

“You went there, didn’t you?” she asked.

“Went where?” Patrick asked. Let her say the name of the place if she really knew so much.

“Schitt’s Creek. Where all of us belong.” the woman responded.

“How do you know all this?” David asked.

“I’m a technopagan. I’ve known for years that the timeline took a wrong turn, and the people I work with online narrowed it down to the fortunes of your family. My mission was to come here, David; to watch you, to try to nudge you in the right direction.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Now… if you want to know more, some food and a shower would be appreciated.”

David grimaced.

Patrick put a hand on his arm. “Why don’t you go pick up some food and I’ll take her up to the apartment, okay?”

David pointed to the woman’s cart. “That doesn’t come into my apartment.”

“Okay, David,” Patrick said with two quick pats on David’s shoulder. “Maybe get me a reuben?”

David made another face. “Incorrect, but I’ll get you a reuben.”

“What’s your name, by the way?” Patrick said as he accepted David’s key and ushered the woman toward the building.

“It’s Gwen.”

~*~

“I’ve been here in New York for almost a year. My husband doesn’t know anything; he probably assumes I’m not coming back. Although if you two can fix things, maybe it won’t matter what happens on this timeline.”

That’s what she had said to him months ago, Patrick remembered as he chewed a bite of his sandwich, that he needed to fix things. “What makes you think we can fix things?”

“That’s what all the portents tell us,” she said mysteriously, which didn’t really answer anything at all. It seemed like the kind of thing that someone who termed themselves a ‘technopagan’ would say, whatever that was.

“I don’t understand why my family has anything to do with anything,” David said.

“Why has the fact that your father didn’t lose all of his money led to the downfall of society?” She laughed, running her fingers through her drying mop of gray hair that looked way overdue for a trim. “If I could answer that, I’d be leading our coven, not living rough on the streets of Manhattan, believe me.” She took a big bite of her sandwich, and then proceeded to continue talking while she chewed. “My people have been trying to answer that question for ages. A million tiny things changed when the Rose family continued to live as they had in New York. Moira Rose had acting roles she wouldn’t have otherwise had. Johnny employed people he wouldn’t have otherwise employed. Eli went to jail and interacted with other white-collar criminals he wouldn’t have otherwise spoken to. Alexis traveled places she wouldn’t have otherwise traveled. You sold art that wouldn’t have otherwise been sold. Any one of those things, or a combination of them, has sent the world down a path that’s just a bit darker than it should have been. It’s chaos theory.”

“I still don’t get how you know all of this,” Patrick said.

“I lived there, dummy. You’ve been to Schitt’s Creek, so I don’t have to tell you about that place, right? There are a few places around the world that work that way. Windows to parallel worlds. And I have ways of quite clearly seeing how things were supposed to be: the Rose family there and the town revitalized by your presence.”

“The store?” David asked.

Gwen nodded. “Among other things. I mean, I would have preferred Christmas World, but you can’t have everything. And people love Rose Apothecary; some of them drive all the way from Elmdale to shop there.”

Patrick snapped his fingers, suddenly remembering. “You’re Bob’s wife!” He recalled the town gossip not long after he’d moved to the town, that Bob’s wife (Bob of the eponymous garage) had left him.

“He’s been clueless about all of this, poor lamb,” she said. “And then I was summoned here, so I had to drop everything and go.”

“What was the plan?” Patrick asked.

“I only got pieces of it; the leaders of the coven aren’t exactly forthcoming. I do know they’ve been trying to get you two together in the same place for a while. Attempts to lure David to Canada didn’t work; I myself spent at least a month in the public library crafting emails to David about art shows in various parts of Ontario.”

“I don’t read spam,” David said.

“When Patrick got married, we were pretty disheartened, but then he took that business manager job and the goal became getting him to a conference here,” Gwen said.

“Wait,” Patrick said. “The conference in Hoboken was you?”

“I mean, it was a real conference, but I did send some of the emails about it to you,” Gwen said. “And to your boss.” She put the last bite of her sandwich into her mouth. “Then it was just a matter of getting David to a bar where you could run into each other. As I understand it, someone hacked your Tinder account.”

Oh my God,” David said, and Patrick couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that in the midst of all of this, David had the space to be offended about the integrity of his Tinder account.

“So we met because of these techno-wiccans?” David asked.

“Technopagans, and yes.” Gwen grinned at them. “I mean, we couldn’t make you actually hook up with each other, of course. That part of was all you two.”

Patrick grinned back, images of those nights flashing in front of his eyes, but David’s face had gone ashen.

“What about Alexis?” David said quietly.

“David—” Patrick began.

“No, because we hooked up but then we went our separate ways. The thing that brought us back together was Alexis dying. Did the technopagans do that too?”

Gwen shook her head. “No, absolutely not. We don’t murder people,” she said emphatically and she looked like she was telling the truth as far as she knew, Patrick thought, but she didn’t know everything. She’d admitted that she only saw pieces of the operation.

“So what do we do now?” Patrick asked.

“You go to this address,” she said, grabbing David’s diary and pen and flipping it open to a blank page. David’s hands twitched like he wanted to rip it out of her hands and was restraining himself. Once she’d written the address down, she handed the diary to David.

He raised an eyebrow. “Nice neighborhood.”

“Well, she is a goddess. What do you expect?”

~*~

David looped his arm around the subway pole, trying not to touch anything with his hands. He hated the subway. It was dirty and smelled bad and germy people stood way too far inside his personal space. His other hand was clutched in Patrick’s as they made their way uptown.

“Maybe I should have tried uninstalling the app and reinstalling—”

“David, it seems pretty clear that Uber is no longer functional, at least in New York,” Patrick said.

“Then we should have taken a cab.”

“Did you see any cabs?”

David pouted, his eyes darting around at their fellow passengers again, trying to assess if any of them were ill with a communicable disease.

Finally, the doors opened at their destination, and David and Patrick pushed their way out into the 77th Street station, making their way over to the nonfunctioning escalator. They climbed the metal stairs and emerged into the early evening twilight, walking east.

“ID please,” said a bored police officer standing by a crowd control barrier.

David reached for his wallet. “What is this?”

The police officer took his driver’s license and stared at it. “You don’t live up here; I can’t let you through.”

“Show her the address, David.”

David opened his diary and showed the police officer the address that Gwen had scrawled inside it. “We have an appointment at this address,” he said, hoping that the police officer didn’t ask the next logical question, which was ‘with whom?’ Because David had no idea.

Instead, the officer looked back over her shoulder, where the brownstone they were headed toward was only another half block away. She sighed. “I’ll escort you, but if you’re lying to me, you can expect to spend tonight in jail.”

David met Patrick’s eyes. Were they expected? Reluctantly, he squeezed through the gap in the barrier that the cop widened for them, Patrick following. The cop set a quick pace despite her stature, and David trotted a little to keep up. She stomped up the stairs to the door and rang the bell, eyes darting back to the post that he suspected she wasn’t supposed to have abandoned. David and Patrick stood two steps down from her, like street urchins looking for a place to spend the cold night.

The woman who opened the door was strikingly beautiful. She wore a peasant blouse and a long floral skirt, bare toes sticking out beneath it. She had an astounding number of tight, black braids on her head, some of them piled up in a messy topknot and some of them hanging down past her waist. Deep brown eyes took them all in.

“These gentlemen say they have an appointment at this address,” the cop said.

“They do,” the woman said, nodding. “David, Patrick, it’s so good to see you finally. Come in.”

The police officer nodded. “Have a good evening, then,” she said before hurrying back up the street.

The woman stood back, opening the door wide, so David took Patrick’s hand and walked through the door.

She led them down a dark hallway to a small room, where a rocking chair stood before a crackling fire in the fireplace. “Sit down,” she said, gesturing to a couple of high-backed, overstuffed chairs. Dropping each others’ hands, they sat.

It was a nice, cozy house, but every time David tried to look at something specific, like a hanging on the wall or a knick knack on a shelf, it seemed too far away and blurry to bring into focus. Meanwhile, the woman seated herself in the rocking chair, picking up some knitting from a basket and moving it to her lap. The needles started to move, almost too quick for David to follow. His eyes followed the… scarf?... from the woman’s hands to where it trailed down into the basket, and then beyond, into… well, he couldn’t really see where it ended. Maybe it didn’t end. He shook his head, trying to clear it.

“My name is Istus. Some people call me the lady of fate. Some call me the goddess of destiny. But Istus is fine.” She smiled a small smile. “I must say, the two of you are just in time.”

“Goddess,” Patrick said flatly. “I’m sure you can understand my skepticism.”

She chuckled, the rhythm of her needles never stopping. “You’ve seen your alternate futures. David, you saw first hand the connection that the artist Carmen Herrera had with the ethereal plane. Patrick, you heard Ash talk about Hela and her worshipers in Norway. Even Gwen’s technopagans are divinely inspired, after a fashion. Is it really that hard to believe in me when I’m sitting right here in front of you?”

“But you could just be… you know. A person,” Patrick said.

“Could I?”

And no, no she couldn’t. No human being had ever been as beautiful as Istus was, the perfection of her brown skin and the angle of her eyes and the shape of her lips. An actual, literal goddess. David felt a tear slide down his cheek.

“Ironically, the sickness of the world has made us more powerful, although I don't like to brag. But humans are starting to notice us more, worship us more, and… I’m not gonna lie, it’s kind of nice? But it’s not the way things are supposed to be.”

“Okay,” David said to prompt her to go on.

“You’ve been to a liminal space and gotten a glimpse at another reality, a better one. Well,” she said with a tinkling laugh, “maybe not better from the perspective of the Rose family fortune, but better in other ways. It’s unfortunate that you’ve seen something you cannot have. Most humans aren’t ever burdened with that kind of knowledge.”

“You’re the one who said you were a goddess of time and fate or whatever,” David said. “So fix it. Undo it and do whatever it takes to get us to that place.”

“David, if it were that easy, the world would have been a lot less shitty a long time ago,” Istus said. “Do you think you’re the first people to come to me and ask me to change the past?” She smiled to herself. “There was a famous comedian who feared that he’d inspired the current U.S. president to run for the office by making fun of him at the Correspondent’s Dinner. He came to me and asked me to undo it. But when he understood the price, he backed out.”

“What was the price?” Patrick asked.

“Uncertainty.” Her needles paused long enough for her to run a hand down over the scarf. “I can pick out the threads of a certain event, but other things will change, and even I don’t have enough power to control for everything. So in that case, yes, I could make it so that he never made those jokes. But I couldn’t guarantee that his children would still be born. In fact, it was very likely that they wouldn’t be. Other children, perhaps, but not the ones he already knew and loved.” She shrugged, resuming her knitting. “He couldn’t go through with it.

“I can make certain that Eli gets away with his theft, and that will almost certainly drive the Roses to Schitt’s Creek, which with any luck will set civilization on a slightly less terrible path. I’d even lay good odds on that saving Alexis’ life, if for no other reason that she won’t be on that yacht. But I can’t guarantee she won’t die another way. And I certainly can’t guarantee that the two of you will ever meet. In fact, I’d say it’s highly unlikely.”

David looked over and met Patrick’s eyes.

“But I went to Schitt’s Creek in both realities,” Patrick said, and David could see the effort he was making to treat all of this like it was a reasonable topic of conversation. “This one, and… and the one we dreamed about.”

Istus made a scoffing sound. “Coincidence. The odds of you ending up in Schitt’s Creek after you ran away from your engagement to Rachel are…” She held up her fingers to her face and counted on them for a moment. “One in one hundred seventy thousand.”

“So I’ll track him down,” David said. “I’ll find him.”

“You won’t do anything of the sort, because you won’t remember him.” She rolled her eyes. “I know you’re new at this, but try to keep up. What you’ve asked me to do is unweave time to the moment that Eli gets away to the Cayman Islands with your father’s money. You won’t have ever heard of Patrick Brewer, so how can you track him down?”

“Can David and I talk alone for a moment?” Patrick said, standing up.

Istus shrugged. “Certainly.” She indicated the door with an upturned palm. “The rest of the house is at your disposal.”

Patrick pulled David up out of his chair and marched him down the hall into a sizable kitchen. As soon as they reached the center island, Patrick swung around and pinned David down with a serious stare.

“I still don’t know if I believe any of this, but if you can save Alexis, and I guess the world, then you have to do it,” he said.

“No, I know, but…” David fumbled with the hem of his sweater. “She could be lying. There could be a way to save Alexis and have you too.”

“I don’t think she’s lying.” Patrick huffed. “I think she might be certifiably insane, but I don’t think she’s lying.” He put his hands on David’s biceps. “Regardless, I’ll be fine. And you’ll have Alexis.”

David nodded, and there wasn’t any doubt in his mind what his choice should be. But it didn’t mean that he didn’t feel it in a rising lump in his throat, in a thundering in his heart and a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He pulled Patrick in for a hug, and the feeling of Patrick’s lips against his neck as he let himself be pulled unlocked David’s tears.

“I don’t want to lose you.”

“I don’t want to lose you either, David.” Patrick squeezed him tighter, kissing his neck again. “And if I don’t get another chance to say it…” He pulled away and looked David in the eye. “I love you.”

David shook his head, another tear falling. “You don’t have to say—”

“David. I hope you know me well enough by now to know that I wouldn’t say something like that if I didn’t mean it. I know it’s soon, and that we haven’t spent all that much time with each other, but…” He laughed a watery laugh. “I don’t know, maybe I absorbed something from that alternate reality we dreamed about. All I know is that I’ve fallen in love with you, and you know what?” Patrick’s eyes flashed with determination. “I’ve just decided that I don’t care what Istus says, I’ll find my way back to you in any reality. I swear it.”

With a sob, David put his hand on the back of Patrick’s head and pulled him in for a fierce kiss. He opened his mouth against Patrick’s and tried to pour everything he was feeling into that kiss.

“This isn’t the last time I’m going to kiss you,” Patrick said when they finally parted.

David wanted to believe him more than he’d ever wanted to believe anything, but deep down he knew this was it for them. It brought him a burst of courage to say what was in his heart. “Maybe I absorbed something from that other reality too because I… love you. I’m also… I’m in love with you.”

The expression that bloomed on Patrick’s face was heartbreaking, and for just a second David changed his mind — let the world burn if he could just have Patrick, if he could lock himself away from all of it and just be with Patrick. But then he remembered his sister, he remembered Alexis, and he dismissed that idea. He’d never be able to forgive himself knowing he could have done something to save her and hadn’t.

“I’ll find you,” Patrick said.

“One in one hundred seventy thousand,” David whispered.

Patrick winked at him, a terrible wink that caused his other eye to half-close, and gave him a quick kiss on the lips. “I can beat those odds.”

It was a lie and David knew it, but he clung to it as they went back into Istus’ den.

“Okay. Do it,” David said. “Make my family poor and save the world.”

Istus gave him a long look and then nodded. Holding up her knitting needles, she let a stitch slip off of the pointed tip of the right needle and drop. She pulled the needles apart, stretching the yarn, and the stitch continued to slip down, creating a long scar, a gap in the middle of the rows.

“If my sister isn’t alive in this new world, then I will make destroying you my life’s ambition,” David said, grabbing for Patrick’s hand for strength. He was feeling weak, and like his vision was narrowing, but Patrick’s thick fingers threading between his helped.

Istus laughed. “You won’t remember me, but I take your point.”

His vision was only a pinpoint now, and he squeezed Patrick’s hand tighter.

“And if it helps?” Istus said.

“What?” He’d lost his vision entirely, and he was no longer aware of his body in three dimensional space anymore. He was just a consciousness now, the apartment and Patrick and the world around him gone.

He heard Istus’ voice distantly, from down a deep tunnel. “David Rose. You’re going to be amazing.”

Chapter Text

David opened his eyes and stared at the stained popcorn ceiling overhead. He sighed and closed his eyes, ready to fall back to sleep, but nagging responsibility kept him from drifting off. He had a lot to do, and not much time left to do it in. Groaning, he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed.

The bed next to his was empty. Giving it a quick glance, he gathered up some clothes and went into the bathroom to shower and get ready for the day.

While the water warmed up, he stared at himself in the mirror, touching the dark circles under his eyes and wincing. He hadn’t been sleeping enough lately: too many worries to get a good night’s sleep. Testing the water, David slipped off his pajamas and got under the inadequate spray.

After so long in this motel, he had his shower routine down to about seven minutes, which his old self would have died to think of. But the hot water was limited, and the weak water pressure wasn’t particularly pleasurable to stand under, and so he’d paired it down to the basics of washing, shampooing, and conditioning. At seven minutes exactly, he turned the water off and groped for his towel.

Face shaven, hair blow dried and styled, daytime moisturizer with sunscreen applied, and clothes on, he stepped out of the bathroom and went over to the door to the adjoining room. He tapped and listened for a ‘come in’ before he entered.

His mother was sitting at the round table in her pajamas, sipping a cup of tea and reading a book. His father was pulling on his suit jacket next to the wig wall.

“Hey, I just wanted to let you know, I should be ready to open the store in just a couple more weeks.”

“Oh, that’s great news! A grand opening!” Johnny said.

“It’s certainly taken long enough; we’ve been waiting with bated breath,” Moira said.

“Okay,” David said in acknowledgement of his mother’s negativity before turning to his father. “I was thinking about a soft launch, actually? Like, Gwyneth soft launched the Goop newsletter and now it’s a thriving lifestyle publication?”

“Who?” Johnny asked as he adjusted the collar of his shirt in the mirror.

“I don’t know, David, that sounds meek!” Moira proclaimed, setting her book down and looking at him. “You’re looking very tired, dear. The bags under your eyes would barely fit in the overhead compartment.”

David huffed, throwing his hands up. “Getting the store ready to open is a lot of work.” And more importantly, he’d been lying awake worrying about all the things he needed to do, and worse, all the things that he probably didn’t know that he needed to do.

“You should probably hire some help, son.” Johnny sat down with his wife at the table and picked up the newspaper.

“I intend to, eventually, but I don’t have the money to pay anyone at this point. Hiring someone means you have to pay them.”

His mother was looking at him pityingly, as if maybe she was wondering if they wouldn’t have all been better off if Christmas World hadn’t changed their mind about moving into the town. In his darker moments, David wondered that too.

“Anyway, I’m thinking I’ll do an exclusive opening for friends and family only. Maybe I’ll offer a discount.”

“On the first day? Sounds a bit defeatist.” His mother shook her head, picking up the book she had been reading and opening it. “Well, David, we’ll be happy to come and support your modest little vigil, if ever the day for it finally arrives.”

“Great. So glad I came in here,” he said, going back to his room and leaning against the closed door, taking a second to wallow in the shaky feeling of inadequacy that his parents were so good at mining, even if it wasn’t intentional. He took some deep breaths, trying to calm himself down.

The outside door to the motel room opened and Alexis came in, dressed in her running clothes.

“I’ve just about had it with Mom and Dad,” David said.

She pulled out her ear buds. “What?”

“I said I’ve just about had it with Mom and Dad.”

“Why?”

“Hey, can you help me at the store today? I have a list of things to do that’s like a mile long and I really don’t know if I can do it all by myself.”

Alexis put on a wincing expression. “I need to study, actually.”

“It’s Saturday morning; you can’t need to study that badly.”

“I have a history test on Monday, David,” she insisted, flipping her ponytail. “But fine, I can help you. I’m not carrying any heavy boxes, though.”

“Ugh, fine.” He watched Alexis as she went over and set her phone and ear buds down on the table between their beds, then pulled her ponytail holder out and shook out her hair. “Are you done in the bathroom? Because I need to shower,” she said, moving over to the closet to pick an outfit.

“Yeah, I’m…” Something was bothering him, like he’d forgotten to tell Alexis something. He felt a sudden, keen worry for her in the pit of his stomach, like when she used to send word to him from a sultan’s palace that she needed a new passport, a wig, and some colored contact lenses.

Alexis turned, a dress on a hanger in one hand. “You’re what?”

David shook himself. “I’m done in the bathroom.” Looking at her face, the sudden urge to cry took hold of him. “I think I might need a hug?”

“Ew, David. I’m sweaty right now,” Alexis said. “What’s wrong with you?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t know, I feel…” He couldn’t articulate it. “I think I might just be really lonely,” he said, which didn’t have anything to do with the anxiety about Alexis that had grabbed hold of his throat a minute ago, but it also wasn’t untrue.

Alexis laid her dress on the bed and came over to give him a very hesitant hug, but David overruled her, pulling her into a firmer embrace. “I’m glad you’re my sister,” he said, swallowing against a lump in his throat.

“David, you’re being very needy,” she said, slapping gently at his shoulder until he let her go. “But I’m also glad… that you’re my brother,” she said, pulling away and looking anywhere but at his face. “Okay, if you want my help today, then you have to let me go get ready.”

He watched her until she shut the bathroom door.

~*~

Gwen was late to Jazzagals rehearsal, and so when she arrived and ducked in behind Twyla and next to Ronnie, vocal warm-ups were just ending.

“Now,” Moira Rose said, clapping her hands. She had on a white-and-black vertically striped dress, similarly striped tights, and white shoes with heels so high, Gwen couldn’t imagine how anyone could walk in them without snapping an ankle. “Everyone please get out your sheet music for ‘It’s Raining Men’; I’d like to begin with the bridge today.”

Gwen tapped Twyla on the shoulder. “Do you have a minute to talk after rehearsal?” she whispered.

Twyla winced. “I have to get to my shift after this; can we talk on the way to the café?”

Moira shot them a disparaging glance for whispering during rehearsal, and so Gwen quickly found her place in the music and began to sing.

It had started with dreams, several weeks ago, that she was living out on the street in a strange city. She would wake up shivering, convinced that the cold and damp was sinking into her bones and freezing her from the inside out, only to awake to find herself safe in her warm bed with Bob. Dream after dream, the same — cold winters and rain and homeless shelters or the unforgiving sidewalk for a bed. Then she began to dream that she was chasing after David Rose, of all people — she didn’t think she’d ever exchanged two words with the man in all of the time that the Roses had lived in Schitt’s Creek, and yet he was plaguing her dreams. Either him, or another man that she didn’t recognize.

She’d been documenting the dreams on the message boards from the very start — all of them were encouraged to do that. Dreams could be powerful portents for what was to come, particularly for people who lived at weak points like Gwen did, and a lot of her fellow technopagans had much to say on the reason for these dreams, none of it useful. Until yesterday.

The rehearsal dragged by, Moira’s exacting standards and occasionally thoughtless comments bringing out a few passive aggressive mutterings from Jocelyn. Finally, it ended, and Gwen made the usual pleasantries with her fellow townswomen for a few minutes before hurrying to follow Twyla out the door.

“Sorry to bother you, Twyla, but I wanted to talk to you about your grandmother,” Gwen said.

“Oh yeah?” Twyla flashed her an easy smile. “What about her?”

“The stories around town were that she had powers.” Gwen glanced around to make sure no one was close enough to hear them. “That she understood what Schitt’s Creek is and how to exploit it.”

Twyla looked at her, surprised. “Yeah, there were always stories, but I’m not sure how true any of them are. She certainly believed she had powers to touch other dimensions. Which, I know, sounds crazy.”

“Not so crazy.” They were almost to the café, and Gwen knew she had a limited amount of time with which to speak before she risked being overheard. She put a hand on Twyla’s upper arm and stopped her. “We can’t feel it, but people with powers that greatly exceed my own have confirmed it — there was a huge shift in the timeline a couple of years ago. No one knows why, or how, but they believe that the universe was almost headed down a very dark path and that someone set it right.”

Twlya’s eyes were as big as saucers. “Really?”

Gwen nodded. “Or, almost right. It was a patch job, that was the way my coven— er, someone I know on the internet described it. So some things are still out of place. Some threads were dropped. People have been working to set them right, no matter how trivial they might seem. And now it seems I’ve found another dropped thread.”

“What is it?” Twyla asked in a hushed tone.

“Someone who is supposed to be here in Schitt’s Creek, but isn’t.”

“Who?”

“Don’t worry about that,” Gwen said, not wanting to get into more detail. “When you get off work, can you bring me everything you have that belonged to your grandmother? Letters, diaries, anything like that?”

Twyla nodded. “Of course. I have a box of her stuff, although I don’t remember what’s in it, exactly.”

“Perfect. Go, get to work before you’re late,” Gwen said, indicating the café. “And Twyla? Don’t tell anyone we talked about this.”

Twyla frowned, and then wiped the frown from her face and replaced it with a smile. “No problem, Gwen.”

~*~

“What’s this?” Alexis said, picking up a large white envelope from the counter.

David glanced up. “Oh, it’s got my business license in it. I guess I’m suppose to… display it?” He looked up at the wall behind where the cash register was going to go. “I don’t know, I don’t really have time to think about it.” He went into the back to get another heavy box of hand cream to have Alexis put the labels on for him so that he could focus on setting up the cases where the fresh vegetables were going to go when they were in season.

They worked all day, or David worked all day while Alexis intermittently worked and sampled products that weren’t really samples while David restrained himself from slapping them out of her hands. Stevie stopped by after her shift at the motel, and although her goal in coming by was to drink with him, David managed to press her into service as well, putting bottles of body milk onto the shelves. Alexis took that as her cue to leave, flouncing out the door and heading over to the café.

“Can you drink this?” Stevie asked, holding up one of the bottles.

“It’s liquid moisturizer,” David replied with an eye roll.

“It says milk, though.”

The bell on the door rang again, and David looked up to see Ray Butani coming in.

“David, I looked over your business plan,” he said without any preamble, “and I have some concerns.”

Stevie gave David a questioning look.

“Ray is helping me with some of the business stuff,” David explained.

“For a nominal fee,” Ray said quickly, like he didn’t want any rumors to get around town that he was doing work for anyone for free. “Anyway, David, while I think eventually you’ll have enough money coming in to sustain you, I don’t think you have enough start up money to get you through the first year.”

David’s heart sank. “But I’m not buying the products, I’m selling them on consignment—”

“No, I know that, David, that’s the reason that I’m not coming in here and saying your business is going to fail. Which I would do if you weren’t selling on consignment.” Ray smiled at him, and David recoiled at the Ray’s toothy grin. “But there are still start up costs that you have to deal with while you’re building the business.”

“So where do I get this start up money?” David asked.

“I don’t know!” Ray cooed cheerfully. “But that’s my assessment. I wrote it all up for you,” he said, handing David a folder. “I’ve got to run; I’ve got a date.” Ray turned to leave, and then stooped and picked something up from the floor. “You dropped this,” Ray said, handing David a small card.

“Must have fallen out of one of the boxes,” David said, slipping it in his pocket since he didn’t have a trash can handy.

“See you later!” Before David could say anything else, Ray had gone again.

“Well, fuck,” David said. “My business is going to fail.”

“He specifically said he wasn’t saying it was going to fail,” Stevie said.

“But he also said I needed more start up money, which is basically the same thing,” David set the folder down and shook his hands out, feeling his heart starting to race. “I don’t have more money.”

“Okay, you’re freaking out.” She set her bottle of body milk down and pulled something out of her pocket and held it up. “I found this under the bed in room two this morning, so do you want to take a break and share it with me?”

David winced, looking at the joint in Stevie’s hand. “That’s disgusting. And yes. Yes, I do.”

~*~

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” David murmured, tipping his chair back and letting his head recline to look at the ceiling. The store had a really nice ceiling, but no one was going to look at it, probably. What a waste.

“You do know what you’re doing,” Stevie said from the floor. “You’ve walked me through it a million times.”

“I know what I’m doing with the whole…” He gestured around at the store. “I don’t know what I’m doing with the money.”

Stevie propped herself up on an elbow and held out her hand, snapping her fingers until he handed her the mostly smoked joint. “Well, don’t ask me to help you with that. I don’t do math.”

“You’re useless.”

“And your stained glass back there looks like they have dicks on them,” Stevie said, pointing at the decorative hangings on the back wall.

“That’s why I like them.”

Stevie inhaled a long drag and handed the joint back, lying flat on the floor again. “You need a partner.”

“I should start with a first date, maybe,” David said.

Laughing, Stevie rolled over onto her stomach. “Not that kind of partner, you complete idiot. A business partner.”

“Oh, a business partner. Okay, well where am I going to find that here?” David slid down off of his chair onto the floor next to Stevie. The ceiling really was beautiful. Not like the ceiling at the motel that he’d been staring at for years, water-stained and horribly textured. Maybe he could just sleep here. He could live in the store, amongst his perfectly ordered bottles of facial cleanser and lotions and baggies of tea until they hauled him away for not paying his taxes or not making the lease payments on the store. One of the hundred financial things that he was guaranteed to screw up because his parents hadn’t prepared him for any of this.

Stevie reached over and threaded their fingers together. David was touch-starved, and it felt good to hold his friend’s hand. “I wish I knew. I really want you to succeed at this.”

He snorted. “You get so sincere when you’re high.”

“Take that back.”

They lay there in silence for a while, and then Stevie let go of his hand and reached for his pocket.

“What are you doing?” David asked.

“There’s something falling out of your pocket.” Her hand withdrew, and she was holding a card up to her face. “Who’s Patrick Brewer?”

David was watching the way the sunlight played over the bottles of toner. It was one of the most beautiful things he’d ever seen. Belatedly, he registered that Stevie had asked him a question. “Who’s what?”

She was clumsily waving the business card in his face now, risking a paper cut on the bridge of his nose, so he snatched the card. “This business card from your pocket. Patrick Brewer. Who’s that?”

“I don’t know, Ray picked this up off the floor earlier. It’s not mine; it must have fallen out of one of the boxes.” He squinted at the business card.

Patrick Brewer, B.B.A.
Freelance Business Consultant

“Huh.”

Stevie grabbed the card back. “It’s a card for a business guy.”

“That’s kind of spooky, given what we were just talking about,” David said.

“You should call him!” Stevie said.

“What, and ask him to come work for my failing business?”

She rolled her eyes and struggled up into a sitting position. “No, but it says business consultant. Maybe he’d give you better advice than Ray.”

David didn’t say anything to that, and after a few seconds Stevie shoved on his shoulder and put the business card on his chest. “Call him.”

Closing his eyes, David sighed. “Maybe later.”

“No, I know you — you say ‘later’ but you won’t do it. Call him right now.” Stevie tapped on the card and on his sternum underneath it. “I’m not leaving until you call him.”

With a groan, David sat up, grabbing for the card as it fluttered into his lap and pulling his phone out of his pocket with the other hand. “Fine.” It took longer than it probably should have for him to remember how to dial a number on his phone, and then longer still to squint at the small numbers and type them in correctly, but he finally managed it. He listened to distant ringing, followed by a nice voice saying he’d reached Patrick Brewer and to leave a message. It was a short, no-nonsense message. No frills. Unremarkable. Still, the brief sound of that voice made his heart race.

“Hi David, it’s Patrick,” he said at the beep, and then immediately winced while Stevie laughed silently at him. “I found your card… your business card… in my store, and I was wondering if you… umm… no. I think I called you David, and that’s not your name. I’m David… David Rose, and I own a store that… well, we sell local products and crafts, and I was wondering if you’d be interested in consulting with me. For me. Okay. Ciao.” He pressed the button to end the call. “Ciao. I said ‘Ciao’ to that person.”

“Masterful,” Stevie said, standing up.

“You’re the one who made me call when I was high.” He was staring at his phone again. “I forgot to tell him where the store is. And I didn’t explain it well enough.”

Stevie grabbed her messenger bag and threw it over her shoulder. “Well, better call back and leave another message,” she said as she headed toward the door. “I’m gonna go home and crash. See you tomorrow?”

David waved absently at her, pressing the button to call Patrick Brewer and leave another message.

~*~

“Well?” Twyla said as she put Stevie’s ticket for her takeout on the order wheel.

“It worked. I had to slave over containers of hand cream for a couple of hours and smoke half a joint, but I finally managed to get him to do it,” Stevie said, her head starting to ache as she sobered up. “Now are you going to explain why it was so important that David call that guy? And why I had to be so sneaky about it?”

Twyla gave her a cheerful shrug as she wiped down the counter. “I’m not sure I understand it either, and I’m pretty sure Gwen wouldn’t tell me if I asked. It’s just… important for David. And for Schitt’s Creek. That’s all I know.”

Stevie shook her head. “And they call me the creepy one in this town.”

Chapter Text

Patrick listened to the fifth message from David Rose again, unable to wipe the smile off of his face.

“The text cut us off. Anyway, the point was that I sell the items from local artists and vendors under the brand of the store. Which is my brand. And I’m not buying the products — I’m selling them on consignment — but Ray says I need more start up money, which I don’t have, and I guess I want a second opinion. So I have your card. Which, I don’t know why I have your card. Maybe you work for one of my vendors? Probably not the Mennonites, though? Although who knows, I’ve heard of weirder things.”

It went on like that for a while.

He looked at his calendar. He had two appointments with clients in the morning and then needed to stop by the Elmdale town hall to pick up some paperwork, but he could probably drive over to Schitt’s Creek after that and meet this David Rose. Despite the rambling messages, his business plan sounded legit. And what’s more, Patrick knew exactly how to help him. He supposed he could just call, but Schitt’s Creek wasn’t that far away from Elmdale, and it helped sometimes, to meet someone in person.

He’d been living in Elmdale for a couple of months, ever since he’d broken off his engagement with his fiancé and had fled his hometown. Elmdale was nice and he’d made a few friends, including a handsome barista named Ken. The way he’d found himself thinking about Ken had certainly helped Patrick realize why things had never felt right with Rachel, but Ken had a boyfriend and nothing had ever happened between them. He was pretty sure he was mostly over Ken now anyway, although he figured being gay was probably a more permanent state of being.

Patrick pulled up in front of Rose Apothecary just after 2:00 pm the following day, getting out of his car and looking up at the workers who were mounting the large sign above the door. He liked the lettering, gold against black, with roses on either side of the name. He turned in a circle, taking in the little downtown, with a café nearby and a pretty flower garden and a car repair garage across the way. It was tiny compared to Elmdale, but there was a hominess to it that pleased him. Taking a deep breath, he went up to the front door of Rose Apothecary. There was a sign proclaiming that the store was closed but when he tried the latch, it swung open.

The bell above the door summoned a tall man from the back. Patrick was immediately struck by how not of this town he appeared. He wore tight black jeans, the knees ripped in a way that Patrick assumed was by design rather than through wear and tear. He had a sweatshirt on in monochrome leopard print, his black hair swept up off of his forehead in a coif that looked like it took time every morning to get right. He’s beautiful, Patrick thought immediately, and then mentally shook himself. Where the hell had that come from?

“Umm, sorry, I thought you were a friend of mine,” the man said. “We’re closed.”

“Oh, yeah. I know, sorry.” Patrick approached and held out his hand. “I’m Patrick Brewer. You must be David?”

David’s eyes widened. “Hi. I didn’t know you were going to come here. In person.” He reached out to take Patrick’s hand.

“Well, Elmdale isn’t far,” Patrick said as their hands clasped together in a handshake.

*

They sat together at a pizza restaurant in Elmdale.

“What’s an appropriate topic of conversation for a second date?” David asked, his mouth turning up on one side and down on the other. It was one of Patrick’s favorite David Rose facial expressions, and David had a lot of facial expressions to love.

“Does this even count as a second date? Because you invited Stevie on our first date,” Patrick said.

“I kissed you,” David said, his voice dropping into a sexy whisper, and Patrick felt his whole body respond. Jesus. “It counts.”

“Uh, we could talk about the store?” Patrick suggested, trying to get his heart rate under control.

“We spend all day talking about the store. When did you realize that you liked me?”

Patrick flushed, unsure if he should admit the truth. He could say it was the day the store opened, when they hugged each other after. Or he could say it was the day David wore a shower cap on his head to protect himself from Alexis’ lice. That would be a cute thing to say.

“The day you walked into Ray’s. When you said it was a general store but also a very specific store. That’s when I realized I liked you.”

“You’re lying,” David said, but his eyes flashed with happiness.

“I’m not. I thought you were beautiful. That was the first thing I thought about you, that you were beautiful.” Patrick dropped his gaze and cleared his throat, trying to break some of the tension between them before he jumped over the table and climbed onto David’s lap. “When did you realize?”

David fidgeted with the shaker of parmesan cheese on the table. “I’m very good at convincing myself that I’m not feeling things, so it’s difficult to say. But when you told me you’d get the grant money, I definitely felt something.”

The way he said it made Patrick sit up a little straighter. “Felt what?”

“Nothing I’m going to tell you about in public,” David said with a sexy smirk.

*

“Nice to, ahh, meet you,” Patrick said, quickly letting go of David’s hand. He shook his head, trying to figure out why he suddenly smelled pizza and was imagining a sexually charged conversation with this man.

“You too,” David said, looking as shaken as Patrick felt.

“So, I got your messages,” Patrick said, trying to regain some control of this meeting. “And I listened to all of them.”

“Oh,” David said, and now he kind of looked queasy. “Sorry about that, I was—”

“Based on what you told me, you’ve got a good business model, David. Good enough that I wanted to come down here and see it for myself.” He looked around, finally taking in the interior of the store. It was clear that David was still setting things up, but it looked good. Patrick didn’t use words like aesthetic or, as David had said in one of his many messages, ‘branded immersive experience,’ but he could definitely see that David had an artistic vision for the place. “And if start up money is the issue, then I have some ideas for how you could get that.”

Now David looked very interested. “How?”

“There are grants you can apply for when you’re supporting local businesses. But I’ll need to know a few more details about your business model to make sure you qualify for them. Do you have time to go over it with me?”

David was eyeing him. “You don’t know me, and I’m pretty sure the messages I left you made me sound insane. Why are you so willing to help me?”

Patrick shrugged. “Just an instinct, I guess. Also I do expect you to pay me for my time.”

“Of course.” David went over to the counter where Patrick assumed the cash register would be set up. “I’ve been putting all the vendor information in here,” he said, pulling out a binder. “And also I have a file that another consultant put together for me. To be honest, I don’t understand all of it.”

“That’s no problem. I’m sure I can help with that,” Patrick said, noticing David’s hands as they curled around the binder, the way he had dark hair on the backs of them.

“I don’t have anywhere comfortable to sit, really,” David said. “Do you want to go get a coffee at the café? We can look through everything there.”

Patrick smiled, feeling a little bit giddy for some reason. “Sure. Coffee sounds great.”

The coffee wasn’t great, but they spent a productive hour going through everything in David’s files and discussing his plans for the business. Patrick thought his first instinct had been correct. David had a good plan and with a little more money, he’d be in good shape to succeed. Patrick neatly stacked Ray’s summary and put it back in the folder. “You definitely qualify for the grants, David. I’ll get the paperwork started right away.”

“And do you think if I don’t get the grants that my business is going to fail?”

“Oh, I’m gonna get the money,” Patrick said, holding the folder out for David to take. David reached for it, and their fingers brushed.

*

“So…” Fingers trailed up and down on Patrick’s bare arm, raising goose bumps. “Did it live up to your expectations?”

Patrick felt like laughing, because there was so much joy inside him that he didn’t know how else to let it out, so he did. He laughed. “Wasn’t it obvious?” His voice was raspy, and he was pretty sure the noises he’d been making should have left no doubt with David whether it lived up to his expectations. He hoped Stevie’s neighbors weren’t home.

“Maybe, but I want you to tell me.” David lowered his head, pressing his face against Patrick’s shoulder. “I guess I’m needy.”

“And fishing for praise,” Patrick said, but he didn’t mind, really. “So are you asking if sex with you lived up to my expectations? Or gay sex in general?”

“Are those different answers?” David asked, and Patrick had to stop him from looking so apprehensive with a kiss.

“It was amazing, David,” he whispered into the space between their mouths when they parted. “Nothing has ever made me feel as good as you make me feel.”

David hummed in the back of his throat. “That’s too nice a thing to say.”

Patrick reached up and stroked David’s stubbly cheek. “It’s true.”

*

Patrick shivered as David tucked the folder away in his bag, grateful that the table was hiding the fact that his body had started to respond to David. A brief touch of his hand, Patrick thought hazily, and suddenly he’s having sexual fantasies about the guy. What the hell was happening to him?

“I should get back to the store,” David said.

“Okay, I’ll be in touch as soon as I hear about the grants. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks. You’ve got my number, in case you need to reach me.” He felt the urge to flirt, just a little bit, so he added. “And if I don’t pick up you can just… leave a message,” he said, the last part coming out in a huskier timbre.

David nodded at him, his mouth doing a weird thing. “Thanks, Patrick.”

~*~

“He got the grants,” David said as he burst through the door to the motel office. “Patrick got the grants for the store.”

“That’s great news, David,” Stevie said, dragging her eyes away from her solitaire game on the motel computer. “Did he come by?”

“He texted me just now, but he said he’d drive over tomorrow with the paperwork. Why?”

She shook her head. “Just curious.”

“I’m worried about him coming by, to be honest.” David started pacing back and forth in front of the desk, his face tilted up toward the ceiling.

“Why?”

“Because we spent maybe a sum total of an hour together the day we met, and my mind was already creating some… elaborate fantasies about the two of us. It was bizarre and disconcerting.”

“Fantasies?” Stevie asked with a filthy leer.

“Not that. Well, okay, that, but also dating and… post-coital snuggling.” He grimaced as if he smelled something bad. “That’s not normal.”

“So you’re just really into Patrick,” Stevie said, keeping her voice even.

“I barely know him. Also, I don’t know what his preferences are. Also, he dresses like a guy who works all day in a cubicle. Also, I barely know him.”

“You’ve never been attracted to someone you barely know?”

David threw his hands up. “This was different from just being attracted to someone.” His phone buzzed, and David looked at it and his face broke out in a wide smile.

“Oh my god, you’ve got it so bad.”

“Fuck off, Stevie.”

~*~

“This is… not a small amount of money,” David said, signing and initialing everywhere on the government forms that Patrick told him to.

“I know, it’s good, right?” Patrick shot him a happy smile, and David suddenly wanted to think of more things to say that would make him smile like that. “You’ve probably got enough capital that you can hire some help.”

“Oh. Yeah.” David hadn’t thought he could hire help right away, but he’d figured he would eventually. “My sister Alexis knows some teens who are probably looking for work and could be trained to run the POS system.” Which reminded him, he really needed to get that set up. Which meant he needed to figure out why the internet wasn’t working.

“I was thinking of someone more specific.” Patrick cleared his throat. “Like myself. A business manager.”

David’s mouth dropped open. “You want to work here?”

Patrick jammed his hands deep in his pockets. “I don’t really have enough freelance work in Elmdale to pay the bills. And I think you’ve really got something here, David. I’d like to be part of it, if you’ll let me.”

The idea of Patrick being around every day made David’s heart hammer in his chest. Also the idea that someone would be able to help with all of the business stuff made him so relieved that he came over a bit light-headed.

“Well then, you’re hired,” David said. “Even though I personally think you’re making a very rash decision.”

Patrick shrugged. “I probably am. But something is telling me that I’m making the right call here.”

They were just grinning at each other now, and David groped for something to break the tension. “I’m just gonna go get a coffee,” he said, gesturing with his thumb at the café, “and then I guess we should discuss… details?”

“Sure. Would you get me a tea?” Patrick asked.

David nodded. “I will get you a tea.”

“Great,” Patrick replied, smiling that smile again and holding out his hand for David to shake. “I’m looking forward to working with you, David.”

David took Patrick’s hand.

*

“I know, I know, that took forever, sorry,” David said as he pushed through the door with Patrick’s tea. “There was a whole thing going on over at the café.”

“That’s okay,” Patrick said, accepting the cup and grinning at him. “What was going on over at the café?”

He tried to think of a flippant way to say it, but he was too full of happiness and love to even pretend to be cynical. “Ted and Alexis just got back together very publicly. It was a scene to rival any romcom.”

“Wow,” Patrick said. “That’s a strong statement coming from you.”

“Okay, maybe not Notting Hill. But almost any romcom.”

“Should I have waited and told you I love you in front of a room full of people?” Patrick asked over the lip of his cup.

“No — I like those things in theory, not in practice,” David said. “I’ll make a single exception for my sister. And for you singing to me on very rare occasions.”

Patrick set his tea down and put his hands on David’s hips, swaying into his personal space. “So a few exceptions, then.”

David leaned down and pressed his forehead against Patrick’s. “Will you say it again?”

“If you will.”

“You may not be able to stop me from saying it now,” David said, tears close to the surface. “I love you.”

“I love you, David.”

*

The thing with his juice just wasn’t fair.

They were opening in three days, and David did not have time to think about what Patrick’s neck looked like when he was drinking David’s juice, his throat working, all that pale, vulnerable skin on display above the collar of his shirt.

At least he could now manage to touch Patrick’s hand without his brain being flooded with fantasies of a relationship they might have. Which was good, because when they worked together to pot all of the plants that were on display in the front window, their hands had met a few times, and at the rate David’s brain had been going, he’d soon be envisioning them with a house and a white picket fence and 2.5 children. Which, ew. Fortunately, he was starting to get some semblance of control of himself around Patrick, or at least he had been until Patrick stole his juice and told him he had a sloppy mouth.

I’ll show you what I can do with my sloppy mouth, David thought.

“Hey, David, where do you want to display these wooden whistles?” Patrick was emerging from the storeroom with a box.

David made a face and shook himself out of his reverie. “Oh, I forgot about those. Unfortunately they were a package deal with the other wood carving that Mr. Cooper does.”

“Don’t write them off so quickly. People love buying rustic looking toys like these for children.”

David tilted his head to one side, considering. Patrick had a point. “Okay, then let’s put them on a low shelf, I guess? Where a child might see them?” Not that he wanted children in his store, but he figured he’d have to tolerate it on occasion.

“Good idea.” Patrick made his way over to one of the shelves. “Maybe we can move these bath bombs higher?”

“Okay.” David walked over, indicating another shelf that wasn’t yet full. “How about here?”

“Sure,” Patrick said, crouching down. It gave David a perfect vantage point on his stocky, muscular thighs, and he took a second just to stare before he had to focus on reshelving the bath bombs.

~*~

It didn’t take too much asking around town on Patrick’s part to learn that Rattlesnake Point was a nice hike. He had so much nervous energy about the store opening soon and about David that he felt like was about to crawl out of his own skin, and a hike seemed just the thing to settle his nerves. And at first, as he reached a gorgeous overlook and surveyed the vista below, he thought he’d been exactly correct to come here. He looked out over the town, thinking about how quickly David and the store had become the most important things in his life, and how badly he didn’t want to lose either of them.

He also thought that if he hadn’t figured out he was gay before, his feelings about David Rose would have left him with absolutely no doubts.

Everything looked so beautiful from up here, he thought, inhaling the fresh air. There were hawks wheeling in the too-blue sky overhead, the leaves of the trees rustling in a steady breeze, and for just a moment, that rustle seemed deafening. Patrick blinked and turned around, and suddenly this clearing seemed entirely, fundamentally familiar. There were flickers at the periphery of his vision, motion of people moving around, but when he turned to look, there was no one there. Just a memory (that wasn’t a memory) of black hair and black clothes and the scent of champagne on the wind.

*

“You taste like brie,” Patrick said, giggling and kissing David anyway.

“We’re eating cheese; what am I supposed to taste like?” David said. The rock they were sitting on was uncomfortable against Patrick’s backside through the thin picnic blanket and his foot was still sore but he didn’t care. He’d sit here forever if it meant he could keep living in this moment.

Patrick didn’t answer, opening his mouth wider and pushing his tongue into David’s mouth while he tightened his fingers on his plastic cup of champagne, trying not to spill it.

“You really want to marry me?” David asked. “Me and my sloppy mouth?”

Patrick looked at David, seeing through the attempt at a joke that was really a desperate request for reassurance. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you, David Rose, and I want to stand up in front of our friends and family and make a vow that I will. That’s what I want.”

David started to cry again, and he pressed more kisses against Patrick’s lips, and Patrick’s happiness was so huge that he feared it might lift him up and carry him off the side of the mountain.

*

“How was your hike the other day?” Twyla asked when Patrick stopped in early at the café for a tea. It was the day they were opening the store, and he’d hardly slept a wink the night before.

“Oh,” he said, distracted by an older couple at one of the tables. The woman seemed like she was watching him but trying not to be obvious about it. “I don’t know, it was weird up there.”

Twyla put the lid on his to-go cup and slid it over to him. “Weird how?”

He chuckled. “I can’t really describe it. It was like… like déjà vu, I guess? And a little bit like being very mildly high?”

Twyla just smiled at him, unperturbed. “That’s this town. The windows to other dimensions can really make you feel loopy sometimes.”

“Ah, I see,” Patrick said, even though of course he didn’t see.

“It happens to me all the time,” Twyla went on, oblivious to his confusion. “I think other lives you’ve led, or are leading… parallel lives, I mean, I think they leave impressions that you can pick up if you’re in the right frame of mind. Especially in places that are important. Maybe Rattlesnake Point is particularly meaningful for you for some reason?”

He blinked at her, fumbling for his wallet to pay for his tea. “I don’t think so.”

Twyla took his money, shrugging. “Maybe in another life, it is.”

~*~

“Well, this was a success.” David said.

Patrick nodded, looking around at the store in the dim light. “Yeah, I’d say so. I mean, we’d be twenty-five percent richer if we’d just done a hard launch, but hey, I’m just the numbers guy.”

“Hmm. But if we hadn’t done a soft launch, we never would have lured in all those people.”

“Mm. I think the best thing is that we never have to talk about it again because we’re officially open,” Patrick said, setting his cup of wine down and holding his hands out.

“That’s true,” David said, looking around at the store and not at Patrick.

“Congratulations, man,” Patrick said, opening his arms wider. It felt like a moment when you would hug someone, right? Even business partners might hug after a successful launch of their business.

“Congratulations to you,” David said, meeting him for the embrace. One of Patrick’s arms was over David’s shoulder and one was around his middle, and he patted David on the back the way that men do. Men who definitely haven’t been imagining what a romantic partnership together might be like.

David’s hand stroked up and down over his shoulder and it felt really, really nice, and the hug was probably going on too long now but Patrick couldn’t bring himself to pull away. He felt the stubble of David’s chin against the side of his face and god, if this was what hugging David was like, anything else might kill him.

*

“I think my mother is drunk,” Patrick said, hands splayed across the back of David’s tuxedo as they swayed to the music. The fact that Patrick knew exactly which Mariah album this ballad was from was possibly one of the most powerful demonstrations of his love for the man he’d just married.

“Drunk is a strong word, but she’s definitely had more than her usual one glass of wine,” David said, and Patrick could feel his cheek move in a smile. “It’s cute. She’s hugged me three times.”

“She loves you,” Patrick said.

“She’s my mother-in-law,” David said as if the idea was only just now occurring to him. “Moira Rose is your mother-in-law.”

Laughing, Patrick pressed a brief kiss against David’s neck. “I know, David. That’s a natural consequence of me being your husband.”

David shivered. “Say that again,” he said, holding him tighter. “Never stop saying it.”

*

“David,” Patrick said, finally pulling back from the hug, his head swimming with everything the two of them had accomplished in just a few weeks working on the store together, and of how good it felt to be in David’s arms. His head swimming with these glimpses he kept getting of what a life with this man could be like. “Do you ever feel like… like we’ve known each other a lot longer than we actually have?”

David’s lips pressed together. The warm lights caught a hint of tears in his eyes before David managed to banish them with some rapid blinking. “A past life, perhaps,” David said.

“Can’t say I believe in reincarnation, but… yeah. Something like that. I just… I feel like I know you. Like I was…” Patrick chuckled nervously. “Like I was destined to be here. With you.”

Something seemed to break inside David in that moment. “Patrick, I feel like if I don’t kiss you right now I might literally die, so can you tell me if that’s entirely the wrong impulse? Because I think at this point probably all I can wish for is a swift death.”

Patrick lost feeling in his extremities. All he could hear was the pounding of his own heart. “It’s not the wrong impulse,” he managed to say, and then David’s hand was on his neck and David’s mouth was on his and he thought David had it all wrong. This is what would kill them. This kiss was what felt like dying.

“Definitely the right impulse,” Patrick gasped when their lips parted.

David grinned, a wide grin he almost never allowed to break out on his face, and kissed him again.

~*~

Two women paused on the street as they left the café, looking through the windows into Rose Apothecary.

“Does that mean everything’s fixed?” Twyla asked, smiling at David and Patrick in each other’s arms. She liked seeing people in love. It made her feel like the world was a fundamentally good place, if people could fall in love with each other like that in the midst of everything the world was capable of throwing at them.

Gwen pulled her sweater close around her, the summer night unseasonably chilly. “In this tiny piece of the universe, yes. But it’s a big, wide world out there, and a lot of things are still bad. Most things, in fact.”

Twyla looked at her with concern. “So what do we do about all those bad things?”

“We share our homes and our meals where we can. We work hard. We play games. We sing songs.” Gwen shrugged. “What else can we do?”

“In other words, we love one another,” Twyla said, a tear slipping down her cheek.

“Exactly so, Twyla,” Gwen said, giving her a squeeze on the arm before heading off into the night. “Exactly so.”

 

THE END