The first time he said it, he’d had a real reason. A reason, not a thin excuse.
“I’ll be there in spirit,” Link had said with a grin, before hauling his bag over his shoulder and leaving for his doctor’s appointment. Rhett had clapped him on the opposite shoulder, cheeks crinkling like a Norman Rockwell Santa Claus. Without Link, Rhett had brought Stevie with him to the meeting instead.
It prickled on his skin, the idea of dividing and conquering a strange one. Reflecting upon it months later, Link thought maybe if he could have just rescheduled that first appointment, perhaps it would have changed things.
The next time, Rhett said it, playfully echoing Link’s words. “I’ll be there in Spirit.”
“I know you will, man,” Link said, his grin tight and forced as he ran his fingers through his hair.
The cracks had started to show, then. They took more meetings apart—with the hectic schedules of their individual families it had started to seem easier to find times when only one of them had to be free, as opposed to both of them. It made sense. “For the business,” Link had forced himself to say when Rhett had actually asked him about it, seeming wrong footed and sheepish when he’d wondered aloud if Link felt weird. “We’re a team,” Rhett had said, but to Link it had sounded like a question—like he wasn’t sure what they were anymore.
Link wasn’t sure either.
“I’ll be there in spirit,” they said back and forth, brittle smiles and eyes not meeting one another’s.
As the months wore on, Link watched passively as their show, their little empire, turned into something he barely recognized. They didn’t write together anymore; they had staff to work out their jokes and bits for the show. They didn’t browse eBay for weird items together, laughing themselves stupid and trying to decide which items the mythical beasts would find funny, and which only they did. They had Stevie do it. They didn’t bicker together in the kitchen trying to come up with gross food combinations. They had Josh, his talent, his passion for food and it seemed silly for either one of them to waste time messing around at the stove when they had Josh on the payroll.
“I’ll be there in spirit,” Link had said before Rhett met with the realtor to tour houses for rent. He told himself that he trusted Rhett’s judgement, which was true, really.
“We wanted a place to be creative, to spend more time together,” they’d told the camera, told the world, exchanging coy smiles and standing too close to drive the MB’s wild. But it was the first Link had seen the place, and truthfully the only times they were there together were when they were Producing Content, capital letters implied. Most of the time the little house stood empty, the silly painted Skynwallz just visible through the window from the street when Link drove by, which he did often.
Though Link blamed himself for that damn first time, it was him that first snapped out of this tepid, bland stupor.
What were they doing? The show was stiff now, boring—something he and Rhett had never been. The shipper-baiting, the tired jokes, they all started to grate on him. They re-shot, did so many takes of each segment that GMM was becoming much more scripted than not. He loved Stevie; without her the wheels would certainly stop turning, but every time she cut across him or Rhett right when they’d gotten into a rhythm that felt like them again, he wanted to jump up from his chair and scream. Rhett picked up on that, before anything else, laying a massive hand on Link’s knee (bouncing out of control, agitated, as Stevie spouted food facts over his and Rhett’s natural banter) below the desk. When they wrapped the episode, Rhett leaned in. “You okay man?”
“Yeah,” Link lied. He wasn’t, but as he stared at Rhett’s big grey green eyes he knew he would be. They would be.
He went to the creative house every night that week, scrubbing it clean from board to beam until the little place gleamed. He stocked the fridge with Mello Yello and stashed the flat screen TV, the iMac, the router, all of it, in the basement. He bought a bunch of pens and old school composition notebooks, set up a record player. They were going to get together, just the two of them and bang this out. Back to basics, back to them, back to Rhett and Link. They’d brainstorm, come up with ideas, bouncing off each other like they’d always always done. Without telling Rhett any of this, but knowing he’d love it, Link told him they had to meet at the creative house at six Saturday night. Rhett’s face lit up—it had been ages since Link had initiated plans.
Saturday morning, Link had gotten to the creative house early, set up snacks and pulled out a nice bottle of Lagavulin he’d been saving for a special occasion, set out two glasses. He lit a few candles, then blew them out, thinking they were over the top. Then he lit them again, and waited. And waited. At six forty five, Link sighed and cracked open the whisky.
At 7:15 he poured himself his second double. At 7:24 his phone rang.
“Hey bo,” Rhett’s voice was full of guilt. Link’s heart sank. “Something came up and I can’t make it.”
“Oh, yeah, it’s no big deal. Don’t worry about it, man. See you Monday.”
“I’ll be there in—“
“—spirit, yeah.” He sighed. “I know.”
Link drained his glass.