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redeemable

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“Dad, oh my God, please don’t cry.” Frances says suddenly from the passenger seat of the car.

John immediately wipes the tear away, “I’m not.” he insists.

“Dad.” Frances says, “It’s not even that big of a deal.”

“You just look very nice.” John explains, “Like a nice young lady who isn’t a child anymore and it’s just making me emotional.”

Frances sinks down in the seat a little bit, “You’re a dork.”

“I didn’t go to my prom.” John says, “And you just look very nice and you have a boyfriend and you’re going off to college in four months and I feel old.”

He glances up for a moment, since they’re at a red light, in an attempt to keep himself from shedding anymore tears. It doesn’t work.

When they get to the Hamilton’s house, Frances goes to ring the doorbell, but the door opens suddenly and Eliza is standing there, “Hi, sorry.” she says, “I was waiting for you. I just put Ellie down.” she looks at Frances properly and her face lights up, “Oh my, gosh, Frances, you look so beautiful!” she exclaims, and then she wraps Frances in a hug.

She invites them inside, “Will and I made orange juice earlier, if either of you want any?” she offers, “It’s a bit sweet, I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t.”

“I love orange juice.” Frances says conversationally, and Eliza nods.

“I’ll go tell him that you want some.” she says, and then she disappears around the corner. The scenario reminds John of something, but he’s not sure what.

As soon as Eliza is gone, Philip appears at the top of the stairs, leaning so far over the rail, it’s surprising he doesn’t fling himself over it. “Holy shit!” he says softly, “You look so good!”

“Hey.” John says sternly.

Philip notices him then, and covers his mouth, “Sorry.” he says, “I would put a coin in the swear jar if we had one.”

“Why don’t you keep a swear jar?” Frances asks, “Alex seems to swear enough to warrant one.”

“My mom wants to, but my dad hates the idea.” Philip says; he comes down the stairs two at a time, “Probably because he’d have to pay up the most. I don’t think he keeps many coins on his person.”

“If your dad is anything like how he was in college, he keeps all his coins.” John says, “You can give me the swear jar money.”

“I don’t have any coins.” Philip admits when he gets to the bottom of the stairs, “Please don’t tell my mom.”

“Don’t tell me what?” Eliza asks, frowning, as she walks back into the room, a glass of orange juice in her hands and Will on her heels.

“Pip said a bad word.” Frances says earnestly, which earns her a look from Frances.

“Oh.” Eliza says; she hands the glass to Frances, “Well, I didn’t hear you say it. Don’t ever let me.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Philip says immediately.

“Do you like my orange juice?” Will asks, hiding behind his mom.

“Oh, yes.” Frances says, then takes a sip; she’s overwhelmed for a moment by how sweet it is, but she tries not to let it show, “I love it.” she says, her voice slightly hoarse now.

Will gets very giddy at her approval; Eliza gives her a sympathetic look, then says, “Well, you know, Will, it’s bad luck to drink too much orange juice before you go to prom, so let’s have the rest of this glass ourselves.”

Frances hands the glass back to Eliza eagerly, and she takes Will back into the kitchen so she can put it in a cup he won’t be able to break.

As soon as she’s gone, Philip opens his mouth to complain about Frances trying to sell him out, but before he can start, the doorbell rings. He perks up, immediately forgetting what he was going to say, “I hope that’s my boyfriend!”

He disappears to go get the door in the same instance Eliza reappears in the doorway, looking for more frazzled, “Who just rang the doorbell?”

“One of two George’s.” Frances says, “But I don’t hear Ellie, so I think you’re okay.”

Eliza listens for Ellie for a moment longer, then disappears back into the kitchen.

Philip reappears, George behind him, “It’s not my boyfriend, it’s yours.” Philip says, somewhat bitterly.

John leaves the room to follow Eliza into the kitchen; as much as he doesn’t want to be around Eliza right now, he wants to be around his daughter and his daughter’s boyfriend getting ready to go to prom together even less.

Will is just leaving the kitchen when John walks in; Eliza catches his eye over the counter and smiles, somewhat forcefully, which is enough evidence to John that Alex must have told her. He swallows, wondering how to go about a conversation with her now that she knows he’s in love with her husband, “Hey.”

“Hi, John.” Eliza says; her voice is still as warm as it always is, “How are you and Charles?”

“Good.” John says, “Great, even. We kind of have a date after we take pictures and I head back home.”

Eliza nods; she looks like she’s thinking. Finally she says, “That should be fun. Where are you going?”

“Just dinner.” John says, “Nothing fancy. Dates kind of just revolve around when Frances happens to be out of the house.”

Eliza hums, smiling, “I can’t remember the last time all of our kids were out of the house at the same time.”

“Philip is about to be out of the house.” John says, “I mean, not just tonight, but like… long term.”

Eliza waves him off, “Oh, God, don’t remind me.” she says, “I’m not ready to accept the fact that he’s going to be starting college soon.”

“How do you think I feel?” John asks, “At least you have six more kids to have around. Frances is my only one.”

“Do you want six more kids, John?” Eliza asks, knowingly.

“Absolutely not.” John says, “I’m just saying.”

After Georges arrives, John plans to hang around just long enough for photos and to see them safely off. However, he considers leaving just before, hovering at the backdoor as Eliza shoos the kids outside for the photos.

“Is Alex coming out?” John asks.

“Alex came out years ago.” Eliza says, then laughs; it’s a funny enough joke to make John smile despite his anxiety, “No, he’s upstairs working on something.”

John thinks that’s odd, considering Alex’s office is downstairs, but he decides not to put too much thought into it.

“Have fun.” Eliza says, donning each of the kids with a kiss on the cheek once they’re done with photos, “Make smart decisions. Don’t make me have to drug test you.”

“Hey, John?” Eliza says, after they’ve left, “I know you have your date tonight, but could you come look at something for me? You’re much more of a handyman than my husband.”

John hesitates, but considering he recently confessed his love to her husband, he figures he shouldn’t refuse, “Um, sure.”

Eliza leads him down the hallway towards Alex’s office, which makes sense enough to John. If something needs fixing in his office, that’s probably why Alex is working upstairs. Eliza opens the doors to Alex’s office and, without saying a word, grabs John’s arm and shoves him inside.

John, completely thrown off by Eliza’s sudden aggression, turns around just in time to see Eliza gripping the handles of each door. “You need to talk about this.” she says sternly, and then shuts the doors. She adds, her voice more muffled now, “You’re not leaving until you do.”

John hesitates, fearing what’s behind him, and then finally looks over his shoulder to find Alex sitting in his desk chair, turned to face him. He has his glasses on and his laptop open, the cursor still blinking, waiting for him to return. John swallows; Alex looks stupidly attractive in glasses, and he clearly hasn’t shaved in a few days. He’s hitting all of John’s weak points and he hates it.

Alex blinks at him, clearly no happier to be here than John is. After a long moment of silence, John says, “You son is going to prom and you’re sitting in your office?”

Alex scowels at him, “Eliza specifically told me this was okay.” he pauses then, obviously realizing why she told him it was okay, “… Now I see that was a trap, so she could do this.”

John turns around to face him fully, crossing his arms; he doesn’t want to be the first one to say something. Last time he was in this room, he said too much.

Alex reaches over and shuts his laptop, then he sighs and says, “We probably should talk about it.”

John still doesn’t say anything, so Alex prompts him to, “Maybe you should start?”

John narrows his eyes, “Why?”

“Well, you’re the one who’s…” Alex trails off; he clearly doesn’t want to say that John is in love with him, but they both know that’s what he’s thinking, “… You’re the one who’s been feeling like this for…”

“Twenty years.” John provides.

Alex hesitates, “… Yeesh.”

They stare at each other for a moment, then Alex asks, “How do you stay in love with someone for twenty years?”

“You still love Eliza, don’t you?” John asks.

“Of course.” Alex says, “But that’s different. We’re married, I know she loves me back. How do you do that when it’s not… mutual?”

“Painfully.” John says; he looks exhausted. Alex winces, so he decides to continue, “I’m not gonna beat around the bush about it, it fucking sucks. You’re, like, mostly the reason I’m on antidepressants.”

“Okay.” Alex says, “I’m sorry.”

“Not really something you can apologize for.” John tells him.

“So, what?” Alex asks, “You just want me to feel perpetually bad about it?”

No .” John says immediately.

“Then why tell me about it?” Alex presses.

“Because I’m stupid!” John says, “I was mad and I wasn’t thinking! If I had my way, you never would have known about it at all, but we both know I get pissed easily, and you were being a dick.”

“So you profess your love for men when you’re mad?” Alex asks angrily.

“When it’s relevant to why I’m mad!” John argues, “You’re twisting my words! Why do you even want to talk about this?!”

“I don’t!” Alex exclaims, “My wife locked us in here!”

There’s a long moment of silence.

“Why…” Alex trails off, “Why didn’t you say something?”

John hesitates, “I thought… you knew.”

“I didn’t.” Alex says.

“Obviously, jackass.” John snaps.

Alex frowns, “You know, all the problems we have stem from your refusal to tell me things.”

“Really?” John asks, raising his voice, “I thought they came from your tendency to be a dick!”

“I wouldn’t do half the things you classify as dick moves if you told me things!” Alex argues.

John starts to say something, then catches himself, trying to calm himself down, “Okay, you know what, I want to yell at you, but Eliza just put your daughter down for a nap, so screaming at each other probably isn’t a good idea.”

Alex grunts, relaxing back into his desk chair. There’s another long moment of silence.

“So…” Alex avoids his eye, “Are you… still? In love with me?”

John hesitates, “If I answer this, and you get all cocky about it, I’m actually going to kick your ass.”

“Noted.” Alex says.

John looks away, “Yeah. I am.”

“Then why date Charles?” Alex asks.

“Because I like him, dude.” John says, looking back at him, “What the fuck is so hard to understand about that?”

“How can you love more than one person at a time?” Alex asks.

“It’s surprisingly easy, when you know you can never have one of them.” John snaps.

Alex looks away, obviously shocked by the severity of John’s response.

Finally, he says, “So… what?” he asks; he still won’t look at him, “Do you just, like, wish we had stayed together in college? We weren’t even dating. Do you wish we had gotten married, or something?”

John looks down, “No.”

Alex snaps his attention back to him, clearly taken aback, “No?”

“If we had gotten married,” John says, “Yeah, I wouldn’t be, like, sad all the time, or chronically heartbroken, or whatever. But… I wouldn’t have Frances. And that’s not something I’d ever be willing to trade in.”

John looks back up at him, “I’m sure you feel the same way about your kids?”

There’s a soft look in Alex’s eyes, “Of course.”

“And plus, like,” John pauses, unsure of how to phrase his thoughts, “I… like Charles. It’s nice to have an actual boyfriend who does actual romantic things with me.”

“We were never actually dating.” Alex says immediately, defensively, “We weren’t boyfriends. I do romantic things as a boyfriend. I don’t do romantic things for my friends with benefits.”

“Alex?” John says, “You’re being a dick.”

Alex purses his lips, clearly trying not to smile, “I forgot about that system.” he says, then frowns, “You fell in love with me after you punched me in the face?”

“You do a lot of endearing things.” John admits, “And, actually, want to hear something funny? I punched Charles in the face, too.”

“What?” Alex says, sitting up, “When? Why?”

“In high school.” John says, “He punched me back and broke my nose.”

Alex grins at him, which makes John’s heart flutter, and John can’t stop himself from saying, “I love you.”

Alex hesitates, “You wouldn’t want me to say it back if I didn’t mean it.”

“You love me some type of way.” John insists, “Don’t you?”

“Of course.” Alex says, “But… I don’t want to call you my best friend, out of fear of making you sad.”

“You’ve been doing it for years, don’t worry about it.” John says, “Just say it how you mean it and let me dream?”

Alex smiles sadly, “I love you, John.”

John looks down at the floor, then after a brief moment of making sure he’s not going to cry, he looks back up and says, “I do actually have somewhere to be. Nights I can get laid correspond directly with nights Frances is out of the house.”

Alex hesitates, “Um, you can leave whenever you want, if Eliza will let you out.”

Eliza speaks up through the door, then, startling them both, “Kiss and make up or it doesn’t open!”

“Jesus Christ.” John says, jumping.

Alex stands up out of his desk chair, “Is that you giving me actual permission to kiss John?”

“It’s an expression.” John says flatly.

Eliza hesitates, then says, “Sure. One.”

“If you kiss me, I will be required to tell Charles.” John warns, “And he will kill you.”

“Charles doesn’t have to know.” Alex says.

John raises his eyebrows, “That’s a dangerous mentality.”

“What, you don’t want to kiss me?” Alex asks.

“I wish you had asked me that a year ago.” John says, “You can kiss me on the cheek.”

In reality, the desire to kiss Alex is almost overwhelming, but John knows as soon as he does it he’s going to be drowned in guilt, and he’ll never be able to look Eliza in the eyes again. So he opts instead for a long hug and a kiss on the cheek that Alex makes far more sensual than it needs to be.

“Thanks.” John says, “Now I’m going to go get into an argument with Charles because I have to tell him you did that.”

“Well, if you break up, you can redeem that one free kiss.” Alex tells him, “Have fun getting laid?”

“Thanks! You’re ruining it.”