When Ben came a few days later out of the storage room where he had put away several boxes of colorful cocktail umbrellas, he returned to a mostly empty bar. Lunch hours on weekdays were slow, and the people that frequented the brunches they offered until happy hour started, enjoyed the casual atmosphere, the great food, drinks and the friendly staff.
Something, that Ben questioned when he heard Anne yelling at someone before he could see her, but when he turned around the corner and stepped from the backdoor into the main room, his eyes widened when he saw Anne, the eyes dangerously narrows, the lips in a snarl, ready to attack a tall man, who held his hands up in a defensive gesture.
“And I tell you, mate,” she hissed loudly. “That Ben is not interested in any of your kind. So leave before I call security and have you thrown out. Or better, I do it myself. Out!”
“What is going on here?” Ben asked when he approached them, brows raised and blinking at his coworker and friend.
“This…gentleman asked if you were done with work already,” she growled. “I told him you’re not interested.”
Ben pressed his lips together, mostly at the annoyed and embarrassed expression on the face of the other man.
“And why do you think I’m not interested?” He asked Anne, examining the toned figure of the man who wore a cute blush on his cheeks.
“Because you do not hook up anymore with fuckboys since you have Emmy,” she looked again at the other one. “I told you to fucking leave.”
“But Anne. Look at him,” Ben smiled, stepping closer to him. “He’s so handsome, and so tall. And he has these cute dimples and such kind eyes.” He was now close, very close, to the man, their bodies almost touching and Ben had to look up. “Hey there.”
The other man smiled.
“I think I am interested,” Ben said and went up to his tiptoes to press a chaste kiss to the corner of the other man’s lips.
Anne stared at him.
“What the everloving fuck?”
“Annie, my love,” Ben started, taking the hand of the man. “May I introduce Billy Manderly to you? My boyfriend?”
That word still made him blush. He had never in his life introduced anyone as girl- or boyfriend, it never felt right, but with Billy, everything felt right, even that he wanted to pick him up from work without announcing it first. Ben remembered the unpleasant stalking that he had gone through when Mary insisted they were dating, but with Billy, he was welcoming the attention he was suddenly getting. Billy was not suffocating him in any way, he just showed him that he cared and wanted to spend time with him, and it made him content. It made him happy.
“Your…what?” Anne asked, surprise, almost shock in her eyes.
“My boyfriend,” Ben replied, squeezing Billy’s hand.
“Your boyfriend,” she deadpanned.
“Yep. My boyfriend.”
“You have a boyfriend.”
“This…giant is your boyfriend?”
“Yes, Anne. Billy is my boyfr…”
“WHEN THE FUCK DID THAT HAPPEN?!”
Ben gave the guests that sat in the booth close to them an apologetic look.
“Will you turn down your volume a bit?” He stage-whispered. “It happened last weekend.”
“And why don’t I know about that?”
“I was not aware I need your permission.”
“God, Gunn, sometimes you are the most obtuse man on the fucking planet. I almost called security on him because I thought you attracted another crazy stalker.”
“Not to mention what she would have done to me herself,” Billy chimed in with a grin.
“Would have scratched your fucking eyes out,” she said, but could not avoid a grin herself.
“I’m sure you would’ve.”
“You bet,” she nodded.
Billy gave her a nod, while Ben looked up at him, something like wonder in his eyes, not quite able to believe how happy he had felt in these past few days.
“Are you done for today?” Billy asked then.
“Yeah. Let me grab my stuff, I have to pick up Emmy at the Walrus though.”
“What a coincidence, I have to pick up her fiancé there too,” the taller man laughed.
With a unstoppable smile, Ben went quickly to the backroom and fetched his leather jacket and his messenger bag. On returning, he saw how Anne stood closer to Billy and said something to him, to which Billy nooded and smiled.
“Stop threatening my boyfriend,” he laughed and took Billy’s offered hand.
“See you tomorrow, Ben. And you think about what I told you,” she said and turned to return to her work.
On the street, walking hand in hand, uncaring if anyone stared or mocked the gay couple, until Ben slowed down shortly before they reached Billy’s car that he had parked in a close side street.
“What did she tell you?”
Billy smiled and kissed him on the forehead.
“She said that she will go after me if I hurt you. And to be honest, I believe she would.”
“Oh yes. She absolutely would.”
“I like her. She seems to be a good friend.”
“She is. She listens to my whining, and even though she pretends to be tough and without emotion, she is full of love. Wouldn’t know what to do without her.”
Billy took him into his arms, embracing him tightly and Ben put his head against his boyfriend’s chest, listening to his heartbeat.
“You’re not alone, Ben,” Billy said, a hand in Ben’s today open hair. “You will never be alone again.”
Ben had a hard time understanding the meaning of those words, but when he did, he believed in them.
“And I tell you: YES!”
Ben and Billy both raised their brows when they put foot into the Walrus Daycare, and Hal Gates, who had taken his place at the reception only shook his head.
“It’s going on like that the whole afternoon. I’m very close to just kill them both so we’re over with their bullshit,” he said with a wink.
“And I tell you: NO!” Came John’s voice back.
“Do I want to know what their problem is?” Billy asked.
“You’re Silver’s best friend. Why don’t you step foot into the tiger’s cage and see if the wedding will still happen.”
Ben chuckled and then followed Billy towards Flint’s office, where he only knocked shortly and then opened the door.
Flint was sitting behind his desk, the hair a mess and the face red in anger, while John stood on the other side of said desk, the arms crossed and leaning against a chair. Between them, on the desk, was an open folder, onto which both man stared with glaring eyes.
“You are unreasonable,” Flint said.
“And you are stubborn,” John gave back. “Maybe you should not marry me when I’m so unreasonable.”
Flint’s eyes grew dark.
“Is that what you think this is? That I don’t want to marry you? I may should remind you that we are to be married in less than two weeks. And suddenly you think I don’t want to go through with this?”
John glared at him, nodded, then he turned around and left the room without another word. Billy looked confused and started to go after his friend, but Ben stopped him and shook his head.
“Stay with him,” he said, pointing his chin towards Flint, who stared at a spot on his desk, the eyes empty and filled to the brim with tears.
Ben was the one who turned around and rushed after John, and found him on the porch facing the backyard, panting. He had his head lowered and looked like he was having a panic attack. Without saying anything, Ben put a hand on his arm. Now, John looked up.
“He doesn’t want to marry me,” he whispered, and Ben noticed how there were tears in John’s eyes, his lips trembling. “He…”
“Let’s sit down,” Ben said softly and pulled out two of the colorful lounge chairs, pushing John to sit down. “What happened?”
“We had this discussion like one thousand times,” John’s husky voice was barely audible. “I thought he understood by now that I don’t want this, that I think it’s not the right thing for me, but today, he just handed me those fucking papers, and…I…”
Ben touched the other man’s hand, knowing that they still were not friends, barely knew each other, but there was Billy connecting them, and Ben thought that talking to him would be easier, knowing that he would not judge or be biased, and he hoped that John would understand that too.
John blinked tears away and leaned back, looking at the grey sky for a moment.
“Adoption papers,” John said. “James wants us to adopt. He has contacts and his lawyer has already arranged everything. It’s as if he has not listened to a word I said.”
“Oh wow,” Ben said. “That’s not cool. He can’t make such a decision without you. Can I ask why you are so against having a child with James?”
John took a deep breath and looked for a moment at Ben, obviously considering if he should tell this stranger about his thoughts and emotions, but then, this was Billy’s boyfriend, and he seemed like a nice guy.
“I grew up in a group home,” he whispered, not noticing how Ben tensed up. “I was taken from my so-called parents when I was four. They were addicts and neglected me, let me almost starve. I spent my whole childhood in the system. I have no fucking clue how a family works. What could I offer a child, Ben? I’m disabled. I’m damaged. I got already so lucky that a man like James wants me, but…”
Ben shook his head.
“Can I tell you something? Just listen and then consider, okay?” He asked, and John nodded. “You may are damaged, but you’re not broken. Billy has told me some things about you, and I think you are cool and I hope we can be friends too, because honestly, I’m planning to stick around. And James is damn lucky that he found a man like you.” Ben’s voice was serious and he was sitting close to John, his leg touching one of John’s. “My parents died when I was three. I went into group homes too and I never got to know what family life is like. But I have a daughter and that’s my chance to have the family I always dreamt of, now maybe with Billy and Percy too. When I was a child, I was jealous of this kids that had a Christmas with presents that were not donated to welfare. I was jealous of kids that got into arguments with their parents or were grounded. A room of their own. I hated being mocked in school for being an orphan. I think you and I know what that feels like. And I think that James would accept if you didn’t want a child if you really didn’t want one,” Ben smiled a little. “But honestly, John. I think James knows you best. And I saw how you were with the kids on the party last week, they loved you and you looked like you had the time of your life. James would be the last man on the world to force you to become a father. But I think he knows you would be a great one.” He straightened his back. “And now, I think you should go and talk to your husband-to-be. The last thing he wants is to make you unhappy.”
John nodded, the words he just listened to settling slowly in his brain, and then he stood up, but stopped in his movement when he looked to the porch door. Ben turned around and saw James Flint standing there. The daycare owner looked like he had cried too, and behind him Billy looked sad and worried. Then, James nodded, and John made the few steps towards him to fall into his embrace, sniffing and burying his head at James’ shoulder.
“I love you,” he whispered.
“I love you, too,” James replied. “So much.”
Nine days later, Ben attended at Billy’s side the wedding of James Flint and John Silver.
The ceremony was romantic and intimate, with only friends attending since both grooms had no family to speak of. Ben recognized the Vanes, and Teach, Anne and her girlfriend Max were invited because Max worked for Flint.
Billy smiled with pride, being John’s best man, and Ben and he often made eye contact, both beaming and happy that they could attend this together, the first gathering that they went to as a couple, and it felt to Ben like being really accepted in Billy’s world, like he arrived somewhere that felt like home.
The children were taken care of throughout the ceremony, and Ben loved that James, who he stopped calling Flint in his head by now, had considered that the children would get impatient and bored while the grooms gave their vows, making their guests chuckle with the sassiness in their words, and cry with the heartfelt love they both expressed. The only child present was a little boy who was at the hand of a man Ben was surprised to see there – his lawyer Thomas Hamilton, who was at the side of a pretty dark haired lady, who smiled softly.
Later at the reception, Ben was waiting for Billy to get them something to drink, when he was approached by Hamilton, who was accompanied by the little boy, who was looking with wide and nervous eyes at the many strangers.
“I didn’t know we had mutual friends, Ben,” Hamilton said.
“I’m dating John’s best friend, Billy Manderly, Mister Hamilton,” Ben explained with a proud smile.
“Thomas, please,” the barrister said.
Ben went into a crouching position.
“And who are you, young man? I’m Ben.”
Instead of replying, the boy hid a little behind Thomas’ leg, the blue eyes even wider.
“This is Jim,” Thomas replied for him. “Say hello to Ben, Jim, please?”
Jim went a courageous step forward and offered Ben his hand, which he shook. Now the boy almost smiled, but then remembered that he was scared and pressed his lips together.
“He’s not much of a talker,” Thomas said.
“I didn’t know you had children,” Ben said.
“Oh,” Thomas chuckled, the moment Billy returned with two glasses of cidre, acknowledging the third man with a nod. “He’s not mine. I’m only watching him.”
Ben raised a brow and wanted to ask, but just then, James Flint joined them, a happy smile on his face, a little flushed from all the attention he was getting, and without showing any sign of overwhelming fear anymore, Jim crushed into James’ legs, hugging them tightly, and the groom immediately picked him up and held him.
“Oh, I think now I know whose he is,” Ben said with a grin. “John came to his senses after all?”
“Thomas is helping us with the process, it will take some time, but we are positive that Jim will be able to stay with us,” James said. “We only got the first confirmation yesterday and we wanted Jim to be here today.”
The men all smiled when Jim whispered something to James’ ear, just when Thomas had excused himself and returned to the lady he had come with, already attached to the man who was likely to become his father soon.
“I just got order from Captain Jim to find Mister Silver-Flint,” James winked. “I’m afraid, I have to follow my captain’s orders.”
Ben leaned against Billy’s chest, both still smiling, and watched how James and the boy in his arms, found their way to John’s side, and saw how John’s face was consumed by a bright smile at the sight of the little family he had found.
“They look happy,” Ben said.
“Hmm,” Billy made. “I would make any bet that they are. And you know what?” He asked, looking down at Ben. “I am too.”
For a moment Ben was speechless, then his smile grew wider.
“I’m too. I’m very happy.”
Billy nodded, looking into his boyfriend’s eyes.
But despite being happy, being home at Billy’s side, Ben had learned one lesson in his life.
Happiness never lasted.