"Right. Before we get to proper business, I think I need to say something about–" Kade lowers the meeting agenda into her lap. She pauses and looks around the lushness of her living room, seems to search the face of each irritated member present. From her place in the crimson armchair, she clears her throat at Freddie who is texting on the other side of her leg. Then, continuing: "Community."
Jack and Phyllis look at each other.
"Now," says Kade, "I feel as if, lately, there's been some – mm, shall we say, dissension." Her gaze bounces along those on the couch, the loveseat, to land directly at Beverly, who looks to be thinking of something else. "I mean, I'm not blind. I know we have some ill feelings floating around. Well, I want to clear the air. As you all know, I am nothing if not dedicated to the well-being and livelihood of Sol Terrace."
Someone coughs. It sounds like Brian.
Kade sends the entire room a wry glance, yet goes on: "It's true. I've always had a great love for this place and it is because of that love, and my vast amount of compassion for my neighbors, that I have been so – perhaps overmuch – enthusiastic in seeing our problems ended. This includes but is not limited to our fiendish peeping tom, who must have also stolen my mail, and the oak tree incident."
Beverly looks to sigh, and flips a lock of dark hair back over her shoulder. The room is flooded in evenlight and reds and oranges soak into her skin. It too touches the soft bubbles in several champagne glasses on the coffee table, each padded by embroidered coasters. For a moment it is silent, save the minute taps of Freddie's manicured fingers against her phone screen.
The light from the window touches the left of Kade's face. And in this way she looks younger, the edges of her being less sharp. She folds a hand over the agenda. "I may have been– pushy. And for this, I want to say I'm sorry."
The room continues in silence; this moment lighter with confusion, and Jimmy looks to Brian and Brian is studying the ceiling. He taps at the stem of his glass.
Jimmy sighs and says, "Well, Kade, that's very kind of you."
"Yes," she says, nodding, "Jack and I are profusely sorry–"
"Kade, why am I being dragged into this?" he asks, ignoring his wife's quiet suggestion that he should let it go.
Brian shrugs. "You did raise your hand on the Beverly thing."
"So did you," Jack says, raising his voice despite Phyllis tugging on his shirt tail. He looks over to Beverly, eyebrows tented, and turns again before she can meet his gaze. "So did everyone! I don't think I should have to apologize–"
Beverly raises her hand, half-limp. She points with curled fingers across the coffee table to the loveseat where Will and Frederick sit side-by-side, glasses held lightly in their laps. The two of them with similar expressions on their faces: wondering, dazed eyes, dark rings beneath and an air about them as if they are not meant to be here. That they came by mistake, wandered in. Or forgot something left behind.
Beverly says, "They didn't."
Jack pauses, following her finger-point. "Right."
"Oh, yes," Kade says, looking down now into her agenda. She brightens, perhaps relieved to move forward. "And speaking of our good Chilton neighbors, they will be moving at the end of this upcoming week. Seems rather sudden. We shall all miss their dues, and their presence."
Jimmy kicks back a huge gulp of his champagne. He raises the drained glass. "That house empties faster than the condom aisle on prom night."
Kade says, tersely, and raising her own glass: "I think he means, 'to Frederick and Will.'"
"To Frederick and Will."
Everyone present tips back their glasses. And Will and Frederick nod appropriately and sip from their own. Kade moves on to more pressing matters and in the din of quarrel and complaints, they two look at each other. Will offers something of a smile, and touches Frederick's thigh with such tenderness. Frederick gives him a slight nod, and turns his body away, to heed Kade.
The week felt long. But somehow this feels longer.
Will's heart still has not moved from his throat. He can barely speak over it, and when he does, when he overcomes such an obstacle, it does not seem to matter for Frederick does not respond. It is as if he had not spoken at all. Enduring this for the week – the mornings of quiet breakfasts, bereft goodbyes at the door where Frederick did not stay for a kiss, and terribly awkward dinners where Will could not get through half the meal without crying. And selfishly, so selfishly, he thought each time, through his sorrow: I am crying. Why isn't he consoling me? Why isn't he hugging me?
The voice in him, the only thing responding in Frederick's vocal absence: You know you don't deserve it.
I know I don't, Will thought with his head in his hands, across from a husband quietly cutting into his steak. That doesn't mean I don't want it.
He had the days to himself. Long, and so short. He wandered about the house, repacking boxes. Most of them hadn't been discarded – merely folded into large closets that littered the upper floors. Will stuffed clothes into them from the back of the closet, things neither of them would wear in the next week. He has found a house on the other side of Baltimore, a colonial style in a suburb with much more space between the houses. Each one fenced in. The website said it was a great space for dogs.
Will showed the listing to Frederick one night over dinner, and asked if it would be okay. Frederick shrugged, and left the table prematurely.
Will thinks this is worse than the first time. The first time, even immediately after, wasn't like this. Frederick spoke to him, sometimes just lackluster sighs, but it was something. It was something. Will supposes that was when the marks first appeared on him. Perhaps Frederick spoke to him just to cover his shock and horror.
The only thing Will can count as positive is the lace of beads Frederick wears on his left wrist. He has it when he leaves for work, and wears it to bed though it causes small welted dips in his skin at night. Will watches it on him – and he cannot help but feel a trickle of pride. It is love, is it not? Just as much as the wedding rings they wear. Frederick must know, somewhere inside him, that Will loves him – that Will never felt a sliver of the same for either Matthew or Hannibal.
Just the name fills Will with sickness. Throughout the week, Will has kept the blinds shut, the curtains drawn, tightly so that hardly any light shown down into the basin of the house. He did not want to chance seeing the man from across the ravine, for although he respected Will's goodbye, Will has known he would feel an urgent roiling in his gut. It has turned from simmer to boil since Frederick will not look at him, or kiss him, and certainly no sex has passed between them. Their bed in the nights as cold as the arctic. Frederick on his side, staring up at the ceiling. Will on his side, staring at Frederick.
The only thing Frederick has said to Will since Will cried in his lap that night was: Okay.
So awed was Will by this that he nearly stopped crying. Just stared in the half-dark at Frederick with a tear-soaked face, panting, eyebrows tented.
"W... What?" he asked, breathless.
Frederick looked at him. He seemed in a daze. Again, he said it. "Okay."
And Will did not hear much in the way of words from him until this evening, at the Neighborhood Association meeting. The last one they will attend. Frederick spoke to Kade briefly before most of the others arrived, and told her about their leaving. She did not much seem to notice Will's presence and asked Frederick why. He smiled at her – Will's stomach pinched in longing for one of those directed at him – and said they never stay anywhere very long.
In the night, now, the bedroom is quiet. The air conditioner whirs softly, and most of the blankets are kicked to the foot of the bed. Will and Frederick lie beneath one sheer sheet and Will cannot tell Frederick's expression in the dark. Yet he feels him awake.
Will takes count of his own breaths. Deepens them, evens them. The clock on the nightstand blinks 10:26 PM. Will reaches over and touches Frederick's arm. He does not flinch for it, and Will counts this too as positive.
He says, softly, "Ricky."
"Ricky." A thick swallow. Light fingertip touches on the man's forearm. "We can't– we can't not speak."
Will continues: "I know– I know it might take a while. But I– I don't want us to– to have another two months where we don't have sex."
Frederick says nothing and for a moment Will resolves himself to try again later. Perhaps the morning. But Frederick suddenly turns to him, just his head. And Will cannot tell his expression. He says, "Right. If we don't, you'll just have sex with someone else."
Will begins to cry. Frederick turns his back, and goes to sleep.
The weekend passes in stilted silence and nods and wide berths given in the halls. On Monday morning, when Frederick leaves the breakfast table, he goes to the door and stops himself before leaving. He can feel Will just behind him, lingering in the foyer archway like an unsure pup.
Frederick sighs and turns, and in doing so he sees the racehorse who has looked of late rather dead in the eyes. He sees nothing, for he has seen everything, and no longer cares for the sense. Frederick looks across the cavernous room and feels his skin sag on his bones.
"Will," he says. "I'm– I shouldn't have said that. The other night."
Will swallows. They had eggs and maple bacon, and the coffee was perfection. Frederick cannot get enough of it, and he looks dourly ahead to the sort that will be prepared by Bailey. Will steps onto the marble with bare pale feet.
"S'okay," he murmurs. "I understand."
No, Frederick thinks but will not say. No, you really don't.
Will takes another step forward. Hands held behind his back, and his curls riotously askew. He says, "I really want to kiss you."
Frederick inhales, holds the breath, then lets it go. He takes a hand to waist-height and beckons for Will. His footsteps are quick, almost rushed, as if Frederick is offering only for a moment. Or a second. Will's mouth on his is warm, sweet, and tastes of hazelnuts from the coffee. Frederick keeps his eyes open, and looks past Will's hair to the racehorse. He struggles to close them, and finds he cannot. At length, he breaks the kiss and presses his lips together.
He cannot parse Will's expression – it is somewhere between joy and fear. Frederick decides he does not like it, something in it makes him feel uneasy, and so he calmly tells Will he will be back in the evening. They exchange goodbyes and though Frederick thinks Will would be agreeable, clamoring even, for another kiss, he does not have it in him presently. He leaves.
"Do you blame me?" she asks.
"I don't blame you."
"It's all right if you do." Pause. "I might blame me too, were I in your position."
"You have been in my position, Bedelia. Maybe there wasn't someone who knew enough to tell you. But you felt the same things."
"Do you believe Hannibal said the same things to me as Will said to you?"
"No." A snort of laughter. "Something tells me Hannibal isn't the crying type. The begging type."
"Something tells you right."
"Do you feel sorry for me?"
A longer pause. "No."
"Are you telling me what I want to hear?"
"Did you tell Will what he wanted to hear?"
"I–" Shaking his head. "I don't know. I don't know what that night was about. It's so strange. I can remember it, in something like snapshots. Beverly talking to me, the backyard– I don't know what I was doing there. I remember my skin was itching a lot, and my head felt full of bees. And I remember Will looking at me, tugging at me. Then begging. Then shoving this–" Raises his beaded wrist. "Into my hands. I thought I might yell, like I did the first time in Boston. I thought I might scream at him– for just a second, Bedelia, I felt like I wanted to hit him. I never would. But I wanted to. To let him feel just a bit of pain for once– and caused by someone else. Someone he trusts." Lowers his wrist again. "It almost feels like nothing. Like it didn't matter."
"Like nothing. And yet you didn't come to your appointments for the rest of last week."
"I needed time. To think."
"And what have you thought about?"
"Your husband inside mine."
"Does it make you feel anything?"
"Yes. And–" Exhales.
"And no. Nothingness." Places a hand over the left side of his chest. "Where did it go?"
Slowly blinking. "Now you know."
"What it's like to be you."
"But, Bedelia–" Touches the beads. "I don't want to be you."
"No one wants to be me." She looks at him. Her eyes bright. Glossy. She whispers: "I don't even want to be me."
In mid-afternoon, Will lies, naked, on the kitchen floor.
He has kept the curtains drawn, the blinds flattened, but beneath all the windows in the house he has thrown open the sashes. And in washes summer scents, that of freshly shorn grass and lingering chlorine from Luna, and daytime shouts, high-pitched from girl children and soft bells from bikes. He has let these things in to console him, to remind him that there are others in this world and that the world still exists, it is not the end, Frederick has agreed to move with him and so there is no need to feel darkness creeping into his blood.
Yet he feels it all the same. He cannot get it out of his head– how the man looked at him in the foyer. Touching his face with such gentleness, and all the while he knew.
None but Frederick has ever touched him that way. And in the moment Will was amused by it, confused slightly and wrinkling his nose. And now his bones are rain and his blood is oil.
He lies on the floor with sweat sticking dark curls to his forehead. One hand tracing light circles into his pubic hair. The other covering his eyes, tightly, tightly covering his eyes.
How many more days?
Three, until they are gone.
He swallows down a sob and smiles something jagged. He can hold out.
This muggy week, Frederick has been coming home to overtly fantastic dinners. Strange, and a constant reminder of all Sol Terrace has changed in the two of them. Prior, and upon first arriving, Will would burn toast. Frederick thinks it was not outside of the realm of possibility for him to burn cereal, and yet now he comes home to:
Oven-roasted rosemary chicken.
Turkey Shepherd's pie.
And tonight, a porchetta carbonara is staring at Frederick from a plate and he has never felt so hungry nor so full merely at the sight of food. He doesn't know how to handle it, and he notices Will twitching from across the granite island. He keeps doing that, then looking furtively up through his bangs to see if Frederick notices. Frederick kissed him again upon returning home, and he looked still at the racehorse, the dead-eyed thing hanging in their foyer.
Frederick takes his first bite, and says, "Let's not take the painting. The horse painting."
Will looks up fully. His eyes bright under the kitchen lighting, though he looks overly pale. Frederick cannot tell if he is sickly or if this is just a learning curve: he is pale, and not red.
Something that once knocked upon Frederick's skull says to him: This, you must get used to.
"I can't," Frederick says.
Will furrows his brow. "What?"
Frederick exhales. "What?"
"You– you said you can't. You can't what?"
"Sorry. Long day."
Will blinks. Rubs the prongs of his fork into the plate, creating a grating scratching sound that is music to Frederick. He says, "Okay, well. I was just going to say we don't need to take it. Really, we don't need to take anything at all. We could leave, like, right now. Forget the new house."
"What about my job?"
"Forget that too."
"What are you asking, exactly?"
Will presses his lips together, and smiles. He makes his eyes big, as he does when he is begging from Frederick, though it has an off effect, as Frederick now remembers those eyes in the aftermath of Matthew and now Hannibal. Will reaches across the table and rubs his smooth fingertips over Frederick's knuckles. "I just mean we could use a vacation, couldn't we? We could go off for a bit, then come back to Baltimore, and live in an apartment or something. Like when we first got married."
Frederick looks down at their golden rings. "You really must hate this place," he says.
Frederick moves his gaze lower along his wrist to the haphazard beads he wears. "Sometimes. Though we've learned a lot here."
Will's hand is shaking. "I don't think so."
"I do," Frederick says and continues to eat.
The next day is just the same, only something is happening behind Will's right eye. It is burning, feels as if it is bulging with headache, so bad he almost cries, though that is not very different from usual lately. He runs into the bathroom, nearly tripping on packed boxes in the master bedroom. Finds a small kit of pills, and takes two Advil, washes them down with tap water from the leftmost sink.
He is heated all over, and he runs the tap on cold over his head. Keeps his head in the sink for a long few minutes, shoulder angled back and arched to reach the handle. When he is minutely cooled, and the headache throbs with less intensity, he raises his dripping head and looks into the mirror.
You are gorgeous, says the sleeping thing in him, which has risen like a lazy dog to tell him this fact. Snoozing in the corner of his mind. Perhaps behind Will's right eye.
"Yeah," Will says, lightly panting. "I know."
The thing says, All the world wants you.
"Mmhmm," he says and, trembling, touches the glass.
"Every morning now, when I'm about to get into my car and head to work, I see Beverly. Do you ever notice her? She likes to sit on that stump in her yard with coffee, in her pajamas. It's never blazing that early, and the birds are singing in the hollies, and the shadows of leaves from Brian's yard pass over her face. She looks like she's thinking of something else. I don't know. The way she stares off into nothing with her chin in her hand. She looks– strange, beautiful, like some kind of woodland nymph. When I see her like that, and when I see you go to your car beside me, and when I see Jack in his uniform, I think about the neighborhood and what I like about it. I like these things. I wouldn't mind living there, if that's all it was."
"If those things existed stuck out of time," Bedelia says. She is bouncing one crossed foot over the other, the red stiletto catching the sunlight through the window. Her eyes calm on Frederick across the room. "But we are fixed in time, and time is all we have."
Frederick's mouth twitches. "I can't pick and choose what's in a neighborhood."
"And you cannot pick and choose what is in a person."
"Your husband," she says.
She shakes her head. "I have never tried to pick and choose what Hannibal is, or has been. He has shown himself to me, and I said exactly what you said, Frederick. I said okay."
Frederick is nodding. He was nodding before she quite finished speaking. "How long ago was that, Bedelia?"
He smiles, looking at the toe of her shoe. "I'd like to commend you. I'd like to say I'm envious of you, for being able to uphold your marriage. There was a time– there was a time when that was all I wanted. To be able to say I'd made it ten years with Will. Then fifteen, and twenty."
"That is the goal. Death do us part."
"But you made a mistake ten years ago, Bedelia. Saying okay to that. It was a mistake."
She swallows. A shadow follows the bob of her throat. "Because we have done the same thing, are you now in a position to judge, Frederick? I am still your therapist."
Frederick snorts, and leans back against the leather. "Nothing about this," he says, raising a hand to the office dismissively, "has been above board. I've paid you, and you've sat here and watched me cry and all the while you knew what your husband was doing to mine."
"You said you did not blame me."
"I don't," Frederick says, voice waterlogged. "But I am–" He heaves a sigh, and his eyes are tired and red. "I am just a man. I say these things– I don't blame you, and okay, and I can get over it... and am I not allowed to change my mind? Am I not permitted something as human as that? What if, in retrospect, I realize I do blame you? Or I'm not okay, and I can't get over it?"
Bedelia, it seems, cannot answer this, and a plane goes by in the sky and Frederick twitches at the faraway sounds that linger in his ears. He sees Beverly's lips moving, and that brunette girl laying in the grass. He tells Bedelia he must be going, and she quietly shows him out. Her face a mask as ever. But beneath the calm tide lies something, and Frederick feels a great lump of pity for both of them.
"We shouldn't have done it," he says at the door. He leaves her side and watches a couple shuffle up over the carpet and show themselves into her office. He can feel her gaze upon him as he leaves. Goes down the building's concrete stairs, too agitated to wait for an elevator. And on the sizzling asphalt of the parking lot sits his Escalade. In the driver's seat, he is sweating, and near tears, and twitching, and he watches his own fingers reach for the glove compartment, where he pulls from it a thick manila envelope. It's warm, textured. He makes a strange gurgling sound, and places it back inside.
Something, from far away:
A kind of deep bass, rhythmic and undulating, deep inside Will's head. The core of a star, or the nucleus of an atom. Pulsating there to all outer extremities. It shocked Will in such total abandon that he fell to his knees in the back corner room, and the vase he has never liked shattered into a million glittering pieces and he fell amongst them.
He stares at the plastered ceiling, and the small bubbles there look to mimic him on the floor: his arms splayed out, his legs, his exposed throat, his heaving chest. He has been seeing himself everywhere lately. He is everywhere lately. The house has cracked open and spilled the world like egg yolk, dribbling down a fractured shell. Will in the sky, Will in the sea. Will in one pupil blown wide.
Will screams, piercing, even to his own ears: "Two more days! Two more days!"
The sky is afire. The lampposts begin to flicker and Frederick and Bedelia arrive at just the same time, into their twin drives. She exits her car a fraction of a second sooner, and it is as if Frederick does not exist to her. No, they are on opposite sides of a watery veil which stands at the ravine. And Frederick strolls up the sandcrete stones as she does, her heels clicking. The door opens for her, and Frederick sees it: the strong, sure forearm, the veined hand, only these things and nothing more. And he knows that this man has been on top of and inside Will. And he knows he has touched Will, and made him come, and he has heard Will's sweet voice as it is in the moments just after orgasm– tired, and giddy. Kissed his mouth, and touched his hair. Seen the deep arch Will can make in his back, that which Frederick will always consider the highest art form. And for just an instant, Frederick's mind goes blank and he stands at his own doorstep, keys in hand, eyes so swampy green they might be black. And the sun goes down. When the door opens for him, Will stands looking confused, and he is pale and pure.
Frederick's hoarse voice: "Hey, Will."
The night is perilous and Will navigates it with the utmost caution, though he does not understand the rules to this game. Is he permitted to touch his husband? Even a light, minute, loving caress of his skin?
Will looks at Frederick's outline: just visible in the blue line of light from between the curtains. He watches the ceiling as he has come to do, and the room smells of cardboard and no longer of their soft home's detergent. The boxes make darkened moors on the sides and corners of the room. Rolls of tape seated on full boxes cast shadows.
Will is sure of this: there exists some sentence, some formation of words, which would help him mend the rift that has cleaved their bed once more. Something he could say. Something that might persuade Frederick to come over to him. And were Will equipped enough, he might be able to say them. Or to keep talking until they haphazardly fell from his mouth. And in doing so, Frederick would turn from the ceiling to Will and embrace him and kiss him, and tell him he is loved.
He feels it now, something bubbling in his chest, and thinks perhaps it is the exact phrase he needs. He doesn't know what it is, or where it has come from, or what it will sound like once exposed, but he swallows and opens his mouth to release it. It can hardly do damage. And perhaps it will work. Perhaps it will–
But Frederick's eyes are closed, and his breathing is even. And he is asleep, and Will cannot follow him there.
"Hmm. All right. Which one?"
"Any one you want." Frederick is laughing, lightly. Cannot help it. "But make sure it's good."
"Pressure." Bedelia leans back into the leather and she is wearing a smile too, or something close to it. Brighter than the tight-lipped sketchings of amusement she normally gives. Yet it is, as ever, touched by unrest. She fidgets– Frederick has not seen her at this before. With the hem of her red dress, the thin stem of her wine glass. Frederick holds one as well. This is not so much a therapy session as a goodbye, and Frederick has told her what he holds in his glove compartment and he has asked for her forgiveness for his judgment the day prior. She has said she forgives him. But in this, as in all things, Frederick thinks one could change one's mind. He takes a deep drink from the glass of red wine and what is left glitters in the noonday sun.
Frederick watches as she stands from the leather chair, her glass in hand. He says, "I'd prefer something embarrassing. God knows he's embarrassed me fifty times over. I want to hear something of the like about him."
"Afraid you'll have to be disappointed," she says. Her back to him, the curves of her shoulder blades shadowed. "I don't have any of those."
"Not in ten years?"
"Not in ten years."
"That's a lie." Frederick crosses one ankle over his other knee. "You're holding onto loyalties."
"Aren't I supposed to?"
Frederick eyes his ring.
She turns around, the dress flowing at her knees. "All right. I've thought of something."
"Please, share with the class."
"Second anniversary. We went to Florence, Italy. Lovely place. I'd never been before, but he had." She takes a sip, long and slow. As she speaks, she keeps the rim of the glass pressed to her lower lip. "He said I just had to come with him. That I would love it, endlessly. He'd set the entire thing up. Very romantic. The Portrait Firenze. The trip was to last a week, and by the fifth day we'd spent so much time in the hotel that I was becoming restless. I wanted to see all of this ancient city, just like he promised me. Yet when I asked him to come sight-seeing with me, he said he wasn't feeling well. He stayed in the hotel, while I went out in the early morning. It was lovely." Her eyes grow wide, dark, and she looks at Frederick, and then through him, as if she sees the city behind his leather loveseat. "It was everything he'd described. I was gone hours, and only returned so soon for the low battery in my camera. Mm. So. I opened the door to our suite, and found my beloved husband in our bed with the chambermaid."
Frederick knocks back the rest of his wine. He sits the drained glass on the small end table beside the armrest, and leans forward with one elbow upon his knee. "Let me guess," he says. "You screamed, you threw your camera at them."
"I would have," she says, and drains her own. "But she began to scream first. All in Italian, I only caught a quarter of it. She was young, a tiny birdlike thing. She was crying and ran out of the room barely half-clothed. It took everything in me..." She shudders and smiles, in such a way that she has to lower her gaze for shame of terrible mirth. "It took everything in me not to laugh myself sick."
Frederick snorts– it sets off some sort of chain reaction. From him to her, their hand-in-front-of-mouth smiles morph into chuckling, then breathless laughter, and surely this is inappropriate; the crying clients out in the waiting room, those who suffer day in and day out and come crawling to Bedelia for comfort, for guidance. They surely must hear the two in the office. Frederick thinks this, only fleetingly, because he in truth does not care. He laughs until he is bent over double, Bedelia laughs until she has to stagger back to her seat, and they gasp for breath at last, both tired with joy.
The dark of their bedroom in the night. Will's eyes forever on his husband's outline, and the soft rise and fall of his chest. The room is full of boxes, no longer knolls and hills but rocky mountain ranges. This place is no longer home.
Has it ever been?
I've made it, Will thinks, and something in him heaves in its sleep, then resettles. He is smiling in the dark, and touches Frederick's warm arm.
"I'm sorry," they both say.
Will blinks, startled by the echo in his words. He finds Frederick turning to him, facing him now on his side, and Will says, "What?"
"I'm sorry," Frederick repeats, exhaling. He moves his hand along Will, and the anklet he uses as a bracelet drags against their skin. "I've barely spoken to you. I haven't been kind and–"
Will finds this insanely funny, and to keep himself from laughing, he digs his left big toenail into his right foot. The pain sobers him, and he says, "Ricky. Don't. Don't ever apologize about that, about anything."
"I can't control it," Frederick says. His voice is soft, wondering. "I think I will always be mad at you, Will."
"Ricky, it's all right–"
"Don't interrupt." His swallow audible. "Maybe– Maybe I won't always be mad. But I'll always feel something. And every now and again it will come out of me and I will snap at you, or be unkind, or make you unhappy, and I will be unable to live with myself. You're not my punching bag."
"I love you."
Will smiles, though he knows Frederick cannot see it. He closes the distance between them in a mad rush and throws his arms around the man's neck, and buries his face into a warm, lightly haired chest. "I love you," he says, the words badly slurred. "Jesus, Ricky." He lowers one hand, down the man's stomach, to snake into his boxers, and ignores the grunt of surprise he receives. "You're not my punching bag. You're the only one who would ever say that to me." He grips Frederick and coaxes him quickly to life under the band of the shorts. Frederick's breath hitches, and Will is in tremors. His watery words: "No one else cares."
Frederick is quiet. He does not seem to refute Will, and soon begins to reciprocate, as he moves Will's own boxers down his slim hips. Will swallows, again and again. Steadies himself, paces himself. Does not move too fast– like stalking woodland animals. Tentative and soft footsteps. He feels his heart in the start of his throat and has trouble breathing over it. Pressing kisses under Frederick's chin, his collarbone, his chest. Will is soaking warm, pulsating heat, and he thinks of what he must look like to Frederick: a bright star settled in beside him, clawing at him, demon-eyed and mewling.
Will lies on his back. Frederick sighs as he slides in, and Will settles his legs around the man's waist.
For just a second, Will's eyes shut. His head craned back in the curve of the pillow, throat open, body open. Fingertips shaking along Frederick's shoulders, biceps. And Will remembers glass shattering this week, and the cuts on his hands, and laying sweaty on the hard floor. Frederick moves in him and each tightening in Will's gut throbs elation and security and he grips and cries out, kisses, and knows tonight he will be dreamless.
"H-Hey. Am I. R-Ricky, ah. Am I– am I still red?"
"God, Will. Will."
"You're not– fuck, you're not red."
"Wh– mm– what am I?"
"You're just beautiful. Will."
Something. Something rouses him. Will touches wakefulness, just caresses it, then leaves it be for a moment longer. Flinches, and feels it again, and this time wanders into its open arms. His eyes open on the ceiling. Swallows thickly. He smells of sex and Frederick and he shifts, moving his hand into the coolness of the sheet beside him. He expected warmth, and his husband's skin, and shifts further. Turns, to find himself alone in bed.
Will struggles to sit up, and tents his eyebrows. He looks around, curls touching his cheeks. The room is silent, save the soft whir of the air conditioner. The boxes where they were left, and Frederick's empty space in the bed barely visible in the darkened lighting. The nightstand clock has been packed away, but it is not yet morning. Some medium hour of yawning darkness, something purple outside and misted with stars. Will clears his throat, cranes his neck. The bathroom is empty.
"Ricky?" he says. His voice hoarse.
He listens, tries to hear for downstairs. Nothing. He sighs and takes his feet to the cool flooring, and pulls on his boxers that were rustled between sheets.
He stands in the darkened upper hallway, his hand on the wall. The texture strange beneath his fingers. The flattened palm of his hand. And the shadows on the stairs, almost moving, almost dreamlike. Though he knows he isn't dreaming. He moves downstairs a step at a time, touching along the walls, the corners. The first floor is now chasmal with the lack of appliances, the bare counters, the high ceilings. That first day when Will walked these floors cutting open boxes.
Will the Merciful, Will the Merciful.
Will walks to the granite island in the middle of the kitchen. Where he and Frederick have eaten burnt toast slathered with jam. A manila folder sits alone, Will's name marked on it. Will squints in the half-light, shadows, moving through the wide windows. He peels it open, and the tangle of beads he made comes tumbling out, along with a sheaf of papers. Will hears thrumming in his ears, drums being pounded, and he sees Frederick's signature along these papers, and an empty line for his own besides.
"Nn." Will makes this sound, and his eyes nearly roll back in his head for just an instant. His legs lacking bones but he moves them, gripping a few sheets of the papers in hand. Towards the window. "Nn." He leans on the sink, and nausea overtakes him, and he doubles over into the basin, releasing a thin bile into the drain. He heaves, makes the sound again: "Nn." Then: "No."
He exhales, drags in a breath, and braces himself along the sink's edge. When he looks out onto their front lawn, lit by lampposts and nighttime sky, he sees his Mercedes alone.
"No. No, no," he mutters, and moves as if through water: through the kitchen, the foyer, and struggling with the door. His vision blurring terribly, and he bursts out of the house as he once burst into the world, thirty years ago, and he cries now as he cried then: with such total abandon, for he has not known trauma like this. Being known to oneself and being born alone.
He is screaming Frederick's name, piercing all the night. Taking addled steps to the driveway, over grass wet with night dew, and falling to his knees on the pavement, the burning of them skidding into the ground. The papers falling in front of him.
Somewhere, in the back and corner of his mind, he is aware that he will wake everyone up, that his cries of fervor and terror will call all from their homes, and it does, it does just that, and doors along Sol Terrace open, and curtains part and if Will were to look to his right, he would see the houses open to the night, faces lit slowly by porch lights.
But he looks to the empty spot before him where once an Escalade sat and he continues to scream as if this would bring it back; calling it, demanding of it. He hears another door open, and this so close that he cannot help but look to his left, his eyes wide and shivering in pale moonlight. At the house to the left, just beyond the sandcrete doorstep, is Hannibal in sleek dark pajama pants and a thin shirt. His hair blowing softly in perfumed wind. And he holds in his hand a sheaf of papers, not so unlike those littered from Will's kitchen to his driveway and all around him like a spring bed of white roses.
Then, so suddenly. Hannibal turns from the empty spot in his own driveway where once an Audi sat. And he looks across the grassy ravine to find Will kneeling and sodden-faced. The look he wears is foreign and strange: waters from another land washing against new shores. For an instant, he does not look to know where he is, or indeed who he is. And when his gaze falls upon Will, his eyes focus, as if this is one thing he recognizes.
Will feels horror in the pit of his stomach. And it releases in wet warmth across his lap, the fear in him so wide-spread that he cannot help it. He feels it dripping down his thighs and pooling around him, the scents of urine and sweat mixing, and he jerks his head again for the road and the stop sign at the end of the lane. Crying, calling, "You can't! You can't leave me with him please Ricky don't do this don't leave me with him please–" and devolving into choked babble and he cannot stop himself, not for his neighbors watching with silent stares nor for the stars looking down with only a passing interest.
Just barely morning. The sun is half-awake, and the sky is stirred with gold and rose. Frederick squints, pulling at the visor. He has been driving and every red light has been an obstacle, nigh insurmountable in its challenge, for at each he has thought to go back. Every second that passes, he thinks, Will must be awake now.
And every second that passes, something in him says, Go back. You've taught him a lesson he will not ever forget. Go back, and rescue him from himself.
Frederick could run himself off of the road with how he jerks the wheel at this. The impulse is as breathing. Necessity, and habit. Though he manages to make it to Baltimore Beach, pulling off the main road to park in gravel adjacent to vast and empty volleyball courts. The Escalade slides under yawning morning light to sidle beside a silver Audi. Frederick unbuckles himself, pauses here, exhales, and exits the car to be met with Bedelia walking towards him, her eyes both watery and hard in the oncoming day. The wind tosses her yellow skirt, and there are goosebumps lining her arms, though it is beginning now to warm into familiar July heat.
They stand before each other, and Frederick realizes he has never seen her this way before. Not in the wide open, beyond her office or Sol Terrace, nor the unknown look she wears, as if she has sailed to a strange land. Her ship in ruins behind her. Thoughts and dreams of home all she bears.
"I did it," she says. Her voice is high, breathless. "I."
Frederick finds himself nodding. "Me too."
"It's all right."
The hardness in her eyes diminishes. And now there is only water. And Frederick holds his hands up, tremoring, to calm her.
"Don't cry," he says. "If you cry, you'll go back." He thinks: If you cry, I'll go back.
She exhales all at once, and through wet eyes, she says, "I'm not crying."
The tone in her voice – slight indignation – reminds Frederick of Will and his bones jelly. He has hooks still in his flesh. And Will pulls from afar. He yanks back. Straightens, and says, "I won't be able to help you, if you have regrets. I won't be able to talk you out of going back."
Her hair twirls in ringlets across her shoulders. She shakes her head. "I suppose I'll have to get a new therapist."
Frederick nods. "Me too."
She moves back first. Her stance, her gait, these things positioned in such a way that Frederick cannot parse. He cannot tell if she is going back, or going forward. And just now, he cannot find it in him to wonder much over it, or rightly care. He has all of him tied up in holding himself, pulling himself back step by step to the Escalade. He opens the door, slides into the leather seat, and rolls down the tinted window. Bedelia, framed in her own open window, hangs her long white arm over the top, and tosses a gold ring into the gravel. She swallows, looks lightly bewildered and peels off, leaving marks against the ground and screeching sound in her wake. Frederick looks down at the ring and, tenderly, drops his own on top of it.
He drives away too. And the road is long, and the morning comes at him ceaselessly, rising until it is day. Heated and open. Frederick continues to drive into it, tapping his fingers along the steering wheel and switching the radio on and off. And never does that voice stop, that which tells him to go back, go back.
Pick him off the floor.
Glue him together again.
Kiss the hairline fractures.
It takes all of Frederick, every ounce, to resist. So much strength and power that there is no weak sliver left to cry.
Seven years ago.
From the coffee shop to the car; from the car to the high-rise building's lobby; from the lobby to the ease and bright lighting of Frederick's apartment. Will had complained in something resembling a long string of moans: the customers that day, the argument he'd had with a roommate the night before, and the penalty of equipment washing for losing yet another apron. Will had had it built up in him all day, counting down the minutes until Frederick would come in his car and take him away from the Common, take him back to his solitude and quietude, listen to Will without interrupting.
Until, yes, the interruption, which Will himself initiated. Barely in through the front door and laughing, shucking Frederick of his grey pinstriped suit jacket, his hundred-dollar tie. Will loved using them as blindfolds but held himself far too beautiful this evening for anyone to be denied sight of him. He kept Frederick accountable for all of his senses.
At some point, though Will was unsure when, they slinked in cat-tussling fashion from the floors to the cumulus bed. The covers in mass disarray, and the duvet tossed to the floor. Just a ghost-white sheet tangled around their legs. Their sweat mingling and drenching the fitted sheet beneath.
Will's hair limp, half in his eyes. Stomach-down, he panted faint and low and grinned into Frederick's exhausted expression. He said, "Hey, don't look so worn out. I've still got at least two more in me."
Frederick raised an eyebrow, gave Will that mock-chastising look. "Refractory period, Will. Have you heard of that?"
"Nope. What is it?"
Will snorted, pulling him in. Began gnawing on his ear, mumbling, "Don't use therapist talk on me."
"I-It's not– ow! It's not therapist talk," he said, and settled a bit as Will's gnaws matured to light sucks and kisses. Frederick sighed into it. "God. I could do this for the rest of my life, you know."
Will paused, minutely. Then took himself away entirely, and looked into Frederick's dark green eyes. "Uh huh," he said, ruminating. "So. Is this– you proposing?"
He watched and tried not to laugh: the expressions crossing Frederick's face terribly hilarious. Things Will could only describe as shock, consideration, iffiness, then some sort of resolution. His voice as unsure, as hopeful, as it was that night a year ago, when he wandered up to the counter and asked if Will was free sometime that week. He said: "Yes. Yes, it is." Tone dipping lower: "Will you marry me?"
Will looked at him. Then flopped onto his back, arms folded against his chest. "This is unbelievable! Where's my ring? How completely unromantic. I'm surprised at you, Ricky."
"I-I-I, wait, I just– I mean, I've– That's not–"
Will could not keep it up for more than a second. The floundering going on beside him too much. He collapsed into raucous laughter, feet kicking up in the sheet, arms encircling Frederick's neck. Frederick scarlet and still muttering about there being a ring, of course there was a ring, somewhere, but Will's cries overtook anything else Frederick had to say.
Will continued, rubbing his face into Frederick's cheek, shouting, "Yes, you fucking dork! Yes, yes, yes!"