The text from Caleb looks innocuous at first glance, a short and neutral hey let’s get lunch this week. But Karen’s been friends with Caleb Gallo for a very long time, and she knows that he rarely feels the need to schedule time to talk unless things are seriously bad - or seriously good. The last time she’d gotten a text like this was almost a year ago, a few days after Caleb met Benicio.
She’d bet money that whatever Caleb wants to talk about is going to involve Benicio somehow.
“So, Billy,” Caleb says as soon as they sit down at Zinc Cafe. Karen kind of hates it here, but she’s been craving french toast, and she’s found that it’s much easier to order bread upon bread upon bread from people she dislikes too much to care about. Caleb is picking at a bagel and smudging a finger against the glass of the table.
“I know Billy, yes,” Karen says, and she feels herself make a face at the name.
Caleb looks down at his bagel, and sighs.
“I-“ he starts, and Karen suddenly knows exactly what she’s about to hear.
“Oh my god, you fucked him, didn’t you?”
“He fucked me!” Caleb says, but it’s more of a clarification than a protest.
“I’m guessing Benicio doesn’t know about this,” Karen says, and Caleb lets out another sigh.
“I don’t want to tell him,” Caleb admits. “Because if I tell him, then that’s just going to be the end.”
“Kinda seems like fucking Billy was the end,” Karen observes, and Caleb abandons his bagel to put his face in his hands and groan.
“I know,” he says, voice muffled against his palms, “I know, it was so fucking stupid. I just look at him and I just…I mean you know how Billy is.”
“Sure,” Karen says, because she knows very well how Billy is. He’s a stupid idiot who will flip every single one of her switches if she lets him. He’s magnetic, he’s insatiable, and he’s a guy she has pretty much stopped seeing because of all of those qualities.
“I thought you weren’t seeing Billy anymore, after the whole wedding thing.”
“I wasn’t,” Caleb groans, “We ran into each other at the gym, and I thought I could handle getting coffee with him, and then…”
Karen lets him trail off, and spends a moment considering her french toast. It’s okay. She might order regular toast after she finishes it.
“Well,” she finally says, “you have to tell Benicio. Ideally before Billy tells him, which you know he’ll probably do.”
“I know,” Caleb says, making eye contact with her for the first time since they sat down. “The second he knows I’m still with Benicio, he’ll show up to ruin it.”
Caleb is her friend, her best friend, so she kindly doesn’t mention that it takes at least two to ruin a relationship like that. A marriage, technically, legally speaking.
“You know it’s because he’s in love with you,” she says, “Billy’s a piece of shit sometimes, but he’s doing all of this because he loves you.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better? I’m supposed to be glad that Billy’s purest expression of love is continually ruining my life? Congratulations to him, I’m so happy he’s in love with me and doesn’t know how to deal with it.”
“It’s not like you know how to deal with it either,” Karen says. “I mean, you keep sleeping with the guy. You set him up with me right after telling me you were in love with him! You’re both bad at this.”
“I’m not in love with him,” Caleb says, and then shakes his head, “I don’t care if I’m in love with him. Things are so much easier with Benicio. I fuck up, and he forgives me, and we love each other. It’s so good, and yet somehow I can’t keep from doing the one thing he doesn’t want me to. What is wrong with me?”
“Nothing’s wrong with you,” Karen says, “You’re kind of an asshole, but who isn’t?”
“Benicio’s not an asshole,” Caleb says, and she realizes that his eyes are looking very wet.
“No, he’s not,” she agrees, “but doesn’t that make him an asshole in a different way? Like, who is he to be such a good person?”
Caleb laughs, a little damply, and Karen gives him a megawatt smile. It’s the kind of smile she saves for dental commercials and threatening Billy.
“Come on,” she says, “finish your bagel. We’ve gotta figure out how you’re going to end your marriage.”
Lenjamin McButtons likes to think that he’s a complex guy. Not complicated, no, but he’s got layers and details. He’s got interests, and hobbies, and goals in life. He went bi, once! He’s been Catholic! He knows how weird the world can be, and he has a pretty good grasp on how to deal with it.
He likes to think all of this, and he feels pretty sure about it - and then Caleb Gallo shows up at his door.
“Len, Lenny, Lenjamin,” Caleb exclaims as soon as Len opens his door. “It’s so good to see you!”
“It’s good to see you too, buddy,” Len says, “How are you? You seem a little -“
“Drunk?” Caleb suggests, and Len nods.
“I was going to say ‘loud’, but drunk explains more.”
“I’m getting a divorce,” Caleb explains, loudly, and Len’s eyes go wide.
“Why don’t you come inside,” he says, and he steadies Caleb with one hand to guide him to the couch while he texts Karen with the other.
Caleb drunk divorce? She’ll get the gist.
Billy She sends back instantly, and then, Zinc mimosas and a party hat followed by a frowny face.
Well, now he knows what he’s working with.
“Hey, Caleb, how ‘bout I grab you a bottle of water,” he suggests.
Caleb looks up at him from where he’s flopped down on the couch and gives something that’s probably a nod, but could just be Caleb re-discovering how his neck muscles work.
“It’s gonna be okay, buddy,” Len says, and he marches to the kitchen feeling better with a mission to accomplish. Caleb is drunk? Sober him up. Caleb cheated on Benicio with Billy?
Well, that one might take more than a bottle of water.
From: Lenjamin McBenjamins (hvnt, wld)
Help! Crying! Still drunk!
From: Karen (wife?)
I’m coming over
“Thank God you’re here,” Len says, as he opens the door. “I didn’t know who else to text. Benicio is obviously out, and Freckle is-“
“Hanging out with Benicio, and not great in emergencies,” Karen finishes, “Yeah, I get it, I am the solution. So, tell me what we’re working with here.”
“Well, I’ve given him some water, but he’s still uh, lost in the sauce. If you know what I mean.”
Karen tries to convey her distinct lack of impression with a brief glance, then shakes her head. They don’t have time for this.
“Listen, we have to get him sober enough to talk to Benicio about what happened with Billy,” she says, “Before Billy gets there and makes things a thousand times worse.”
“Right,” Len says, “How do we do that?”
“We get him up, we get him moving, and we start driving to Freckle’s house,” she tells him, walking inside. “The panic will probably help.”
“You’re the boss,” Len says, and she looks back at him and tosses her hair back.
“I’m gonna tell him,” Caleb slurs as his car speeds down the highway, “I’m gonna tell him that I made a mistake, and I love him, and that’s all that matters.”
“Sounds good, Caleb,” Len says from the passenger’s seat. “Sounds like a plan.”
“It is a plan,” Caleb starts to say, but he’s cut off by Karen rolling down all of the windows.
“You need the cold air,” she yells, and he rubs a hand across his face, feeling some measure of sobriety approaching painfully quickly.
“Fuck,” he says to no one in particular. “Oh fuck.”
“That’s right, buddy,” Len says supportively. “That’s right.”
Despite Caleb’s fervent wishes for 1) his car to finally give up the ghost or 2) sudden gridlock, they arrive at Freckle’s house in what seems like record time. His head feels horribly clear, although he stumbles a little getting out of the car.
Freckle is standing on the front porch.
“Hello, Caleb Gallo.”
Her face is inscrutable in a way that speaks volumes.
“Billy’s in there, isn’t he.” It’s not really a question.
“He was,” Freckle says. “I made him leave.”
“Right,” Caleb says, trying not to think of Billy literally running rogue. “Can I come in?”
“Do you really think that’s a good idea?”
“It’s my only idea,” Caleb admits, and Freckle’s expression opens a little, just enough that he knows something here is salvageable.
“Fine,” she says, stepping away from the door. “But if Benicio wants you gone -“
“Then I’ll leave,” Caleb says. “I know.”
He puts his hand on the doorknob and takes a deep breath.
“Good luck,” Karen shouts from the car.
“You’ll need it,” Freckle murmurs behind him.
He opens the door and goes inside.
Benicio is sitting on the floor with his knees against his chest, face turned towards the window. He looks over when Caleb comes in and gives him a tiny automatic smile that vanishes almost immediately.
“Hey,” he says, and Caleb sits down on the floor by him, swallowing the urge to say that he’d commit multiple crimes to have that smile back.
“Hey,” he says instead, “Freckle says Billy told you…”
“Billy told me a lot of things,” Benicio says. “I want to hear them from you.”
“Right,” Caleb says, “That’s fair. Okay. So I went to the gym on Friday morning, and Billy was there. We got coffee after we worked out, and that turned into lunch back at his place. And then I - we - well, we had sex.”
“He said he fucked you,” Benicio sounds distant, remote, an astronaut reporting back from the moon.
“Yes,” Caleb says.
“You’re not usually into that,” Benicio says.
Caleb looks down at Freckle’s floor. There’s an improbably large dust-bunny right under her bed.
“I wanted him,” he admits to the dust-bunny. “I wanted him, and it was a way to get him.”
The dust-bunny doesn’t respond, but Benicio does.
“I know,” he says, “that was obvious as soon as he told me. I wish I’d heard it from you.”
“I wish you had, too,” Caleb tells him, and he does, he really does.
“Freckle says I’m too good for you,” Benicio says, and Caleb smiles grimly.
“I wanted us to be good for each other,” Benicio admits. “I thought - it was naive, but I thought maybe I would be enough. As your husband. That we could be enough for each other.”
“I wanted you to be,” Caleb says quietly. “You know I’d keep trying if you let me.”
“I know you would. But I think…”
Benicio trails off, and Caleb looks at his beautiful face and his pink nail polish that never seems to chip, and he knows what Benicio would rather leave unsaid.
He wonders what Benicio sees when he looks at him. The limitations of human experience suddenly feel suffocating; his inability to truly know Benicio cuts him to the quick. He wants to know what exact words or gestures would fix this. He wants to be able to do everything that Benicio wants him to do. He wants to stop wanting Billy, to stop loving him in that obsessive, consuming way. He thought he loved Billy and Benicio in the same way, but a few months of marriage have taught him how wrong he was. Benicio is a steady love, a love that builds and can be built on.
Billy is something else entirely. He understands Billy far too well for that kind of constancy. He knows how to push Billy’s buttons, and it’s a devastating knowledge to have.
“I’m not going to fuck up your green card,” Caleb says, trying to move away from Billy mentally. “I’ll do whatever you want to keep Immigration from getting suspicious.”
“Thanks,” Benicio says, even though it’s just common decency, “I’m thinking about moving back to Vancouver, maybe. I’m not sure. I’m going to stay with Freckle, for now.”
“Right,” Caleb says. “Well. I’ll help move your stuff, or - whatever. Just let me know.”
“I will,” Benicio says, and then he looks back towards the window again.
Caleb pushes himself off of the floor, and bites back all the words he wants to say. Benicio’s heard them all before.
Len and Karen drop him off at his apartment, ignoring his offer to drive them back to their places.
“We’ll get an uber,” Karen says, and Len looks pleased.
“Thanks,” Caleb tells them, “Sorry about this whole - thing.”
“That’s what friends are for,” Len says. “That and shirtless dance parties.”
“For sure,” Caleb says, as exhaustion and grief hit him like a ton of bricks.
“Go inside, get some rest,” Karen says gently, “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
He wanders to his door, surprised to find that his key still turns in the lock, that the coffee mug Benicio left on the counter that morning is still sitting in the same place. After the events of the day, it feels like nothing should be in the right place. And yet there it all is: mug on the counter, jacket flung over a chair, and Billy, sitting on the couch like he belongs there.
“I wasn’t sure if you’d want to see me,” Billy says, full of hesitancy that’s at least 45% bullshit.
“I don’t,” Caleb says shortly. “But you’re here.”
“I’m here,” Billy agrees.
Caleb takes a long look at him, and imagines a world where he and Billy went to different gyms, or even just had some modicum of self-control. It’s difficult to picture.
“Well, we made our bed,” Billy quips, getting up just to put a hand on Caleb’s shoulder. “Let’s lie in it.”
Caleb turns to rest his head against Billy, who wraps an arm around him immediately.
“I’m kinda worried you hate me,” he says into Caleb’s hair.
“I do,” Caleb murmurs, “but I don’t think it matters.”
“Okay,” Billy says, “I can live with that.”
Caleb closes his eyes, and feels the solidity of the floor and the warmth of Billy’s body. It’s not a foundation.
For an instant, it’s enough.