Now, Edgar Freemantle would not call himself a “whiner”. Everything in his life, he’s always worked for, and worked hard. Harder than anything, putting his blood, sweat, tears, and his whole heart and soul into it.
He did it for his business, he did it for his rehab, he even did it for his marriage, back before it all fell to pieces, and now he’s doing it for his art, so maybe, just maybe, ol’ Eddie Freemantle’s earned the right to whine a bit.
Specifically, he’s sore about the fact that Pam’s moved on, without telling him, mind you, but she never could have guessed that he would divine it from her belongings and let the muses whisper sweet nothings in his ear until he ended up with a painting of her affair in technicolor. But, he can’t really call it an affair, can he?
He’s more bothered by the fact that he’s on a spell dryer than the Sahara desert these days, and there may be plenty of fish in the sea, his sea, the one that sings him to sleep each and every night, but he can’t just paint himself a new love of his life.
Or maybe, he could.
He’s pretty sure there’s something-- pun intended, since he’s finally getting back into the swing of making jokes now that he’s living in the post-Wireman phase of his life-- fishy about his talents, considering he seems to be a couple steps above your average phone psychic when it comes to a knack for figuring things out that you really shouldn’t know.
This was supposed to be his new life, the brand new, better than ever, Edgar Freemantle, king of his own castle, living out the retirement of his dreams.
Big Pink’s always felt like his castle, his home, his heart, but that new life didn’t really begin until he met the ever wonderful, ever witty, Wireman. And that’s when his life split yet again; pre and post accident, pre and post Wireman, nice and simple, at least on paper.
He probably would’ve hated him if Wireman ever tried to come meet him in the middle, but he didn’t. No, he waited for Edgar, day after day, and he didn’t say anything about the broken, stubborn, shell of a man who came wandering down the beach, looking for anything to anchor himself on.
There’s a lot of things that could’ve shaken out differently, but they didn’t, and beyond all the exercises and mantras and coping mechanisms Kamen taught him, he’d also taught him that there was no point in focusing on the what-ifs. Keep yourself grounded, in the moment, ride out your emotions before you drown in them, but don’t bottle them up.
And that’s exactly what he’s doing, counting the steps along the beach, barefoot this time and, because he’s feeling ambitious, he hasn’t taken pain pills today.
But he’s not so ambitious he didn’t bring one along for the trek home.
(More than once, he’s debated splitting one with Wireman and sitting back to watch the sun set. Sure, he’s a little old to be pulling stunts like that, but he can’t deny there’s an appeal. It feels like he’s back in high school, under the bleachers, working his way through a joint and shotgunning smoke with some girlfriend who’s name keeps slipping through his fingers like sand. Très classy.)
(He keeps that little fantasy in his back pocket, because fifty seven some-odd years old is just about forty years too late for this kind of… introspection. Even if every single fucking thing in his life has been uprooted and twisted around into something new. This is just par for the course.)
Now he's just drifting again, but he snaps himself out of it before reaching the Eastlake estate. It's their normal song and dance, Wireman waiting for him at the end of Miss Eastlake's walkway, save for one difference and boy, what a difference it is.
Between the teeth of one Jerome Wireman, is a single yellow rose, soft veins of red at the tips of the petals.
He presents it delicately, waiting for Edgar to take it, with this soft smile, "Well, hello, mi amor. Didn't you take your own sweet time?"
"I had a late start."
"Ah, or maybe an early one? I see paint on your fingertips, muchacho, you can't fool Wireman, no way!"
"Alright, you caught me," he smiles and takes the rose, "But what's all this about?"
"You're always saying that your best girl Reba doesn't treat you right, no? Well, I have an idea of how to make you feel a little more loved," he winks, "How does spending Valentine's day with Wireman suit you?"
Edgar can't help but laugh, "In the middle of winter?"
"Yes, the middle of winter," Wireman looks more serious than would ever suit him, "What better time?"
It’s far from the strangest thing to happen on Duma Key and he would’ve laughed it off about a year ago, but right now, it sounds, well, wonderful. He just smiles, hoping that it’s enough of an answer for Wireman, and looks over the flower between his fingers.
It’s a real rose, probably from Miss Eastlake’s gardens, which sure makes him feel some kind of way. When he gets home, maybe he’ll indulge himself. Maybe he’ll spend the evening running the fingers of his phantom hand over those silky smooth petals and paint Wireman in the yard, dirt crusting his nail-beds, flowers in his hair. It’d be a perfect scene, he can see it clear as day in front of him.
“You still there, muchacho?” Wireman laughs.
He tucks the rose behind his ear, doesn’t want to misplace it but needs his hand free, “Reading you loud and clear, over. What do you have in store for us? Over.”
“Ah, it’s going to take some time this time, no matter what I’ve planned.”
He knows the song and he loves their little game of association, more fun than his usual games like that, it’s going, going, -ing, -ing, King, and then, kuh, koh, kah, cah , “Carole King, 1971.”
“You always find new ways to surprise Wireman! I would’ve taken you for a Carpenters man, Edgar. But,” he taps his wrist-watch, clucking his tongue, “You know how time flies, and we are already running behind. El Palacio de Asesinos awaits us!”
He lets Wireman lead the way up to the house, even though it’s more than familiar by now. It doesn’t feel quite as much like his home as Big Pink, but nothing ever could surpass whatever hold she’s got on him.
They barely make it into the courtyard before Miss Eastlake gets a chance to scold him, too, from her wheeled throne, “Edgar, you’re late!”
“My apologies, Miss Eastlake, Elizabeth, I,” Edgar shuffles from foot to foot, more sheepish than he has any right to be after hitting fifty, “The time got away from me.”
“You won’t have any time to read to me, now.”
“Our lady of the house has an appointment,” Wireman explains, rubbing her shoulders, “Annmarie will whisk her away any minute now and we’ll have most of the night to ourselves.”
Edgar has to hand it to him, he really knows how to put something together on the sly, so he places his hand over his chest with the utmost solemnity, “I’ll read something on your behalf tonight, Wireman can hold me to it. Scout’s honor.”
“You simply must choose something wonderful, oh, and romantic , Ed--” she falters, lips pursed and brow wrinkled while Wireman works his hands through her hair in order to tie it back, “ Edgar, the evening just wouldn’t be complete without it!”
Wireman kisses the top of her head, straightening away those last few flyaway strands, escaping from her bun, “I’ll make sure he does.”
He’s always known that Wireman has a few tricks up his sleeve. You don’t end up in a place like this, or a new life like this, without having something to show for the old. But they have a neat little pact, even if it’s a silent one, where they agree to never dig deeper than the other gives up.
This wasn’t the kind of trick he was expecting, though.
“Pick a record, I’ll put it on for us,” Wireman calls from the kitchen, “Dinner is still in the works, but I can get us started off nicely, mi amor. ”
So it’s back to mi amor again, which is a change Edgar enjoys a little more than he’ll admit, if the flush creeping across his cheeks is anything to go off of. It’s not as though he’d get caught, though, since he’s thumbing through the joint Eastlake-Wireman catalogue of records and his partner for the evening is working away in the next room over.
Nothing’s really catching his eye, but he wants to look busy, so Edgar finds himself mindlessly staring down Diana Ross and the Supremes, all smiling at him like he’s not in on the fucking joke. That’s a look he’ll never get used to, no matter how often he finds himself in the line of fire.
Just to keep up the charade, he doesn’t even turn his head when Wireman slips into the room.
“ Where Did Our Love Go? 1964, good choice, muchacho,” his companion for the night leans against the record player, an ancient beast with the storage built in and fake wooden trim to top it all off, a glass of wine in hand, “Now, let’s trade.”
Edgar passes the record up to him and starts the process of getting vertical. It was stupid to even sit down on the floor in the first place, but it sounded like a good idea at the time. His right leg hardly bends anymore, and that’s on a good day, mind you, so it looks more like he’s warming up for the olympics than sitting.
But Wireman doesn’t say jack shit when he starts to push himself up, or when he realizes he got the angle wrong and has to start all over again. He just waits for Edgar to get himself upright and acclimated to the pins and needles running laps up and down his leg. Then, he hands over the glass of wine with a soft look, nothing hidden just underneath the surface.
(And for that moment, Edgar Freemantle’s pretty sure he’s never loved anyone more.)
He swirls his glass. Maybe, if you watch it long enough, it looks like the waves.
“Planning on drinking it by willpower alone, Eddie?” Wireman sets the needle down and the music crackles to life, “Go ahead, try it. Tell me if it’s worth the forty dollars the clerk assured ol’ Wireman it was.”
Edgar’s jaw drops, “You… You didn’t have to--”
“I know you’re not a cheap date, Mister Freemantle.”
It’s impossible to hide the burning flush creeping across his cheeks this time around, so he ducks his head and takes a long drink from his glass. He’d imagine the amused look on Wireman’s face, but it would just make his present situation worse, so he focuses on the music instead.
“What say you? Did I get cheated or no?”
“Hm,” he takes another sip, “I think it warrants further investigation.”
Wireman throws his head back, laughing nice and deep while the Supremes croon I’ve got this burning, burning, yearning feelin’ inside me, “ Well, I have a whole bottle waiting for us in the kitchen. If we’re lucky, there will still be some left to go with desert.”
He flashes a crooked smile, already a little more at ease thanks to the liquid courage, “Oh? You’ve got desert planned out too?”
“It wouldn’t be Valentine’s without it, mi amor,” Wireman punctuates it with a wink and gestures to the table, making it clear that he’s supposed to sit back and enjoy the night.
Which he is. More than he expected because on paper this sounds like the kind of thing a lovestruck teenager dreams up. It works, he thinks, because it’s sincere. That’s the only reason why Wireman pulling out his chair for him doesn’t make his skin crawl.
Three courses and four glasses of wine later, Wireman stands up with a start, “I think it’s high time for desert, mi amor.”
He ducks out before Edgar has a chance to say anything at all, only to reappear a minute or so later, balancing twin plates loaded up with fresh fruit and a perfect tart in the center of each. Then, he sets one down in front of Edgar with a bow.
He stares at his plate, fork in hand, while Wireman settles down across from him, “You’re spoiling me rotten! ”
“No, no, no, I’m treating you right,” Wireman nudges him under the table with his foot, “Your best girl Reba should take notes.”
“Now, don’t talk bad about my best girl,” he laughs, drunk enough to talk about her outside of shameful whispers, “She’s gotten me through some of my worst nights!”
“Mm, well, I hope this is one of your best,” Wireman smiles, voice low.
“It’s a pretty strong contender, so far,” Edgar can’t quite meet his eye anymore, so he starts cutting the tart with his fork, takes a bite, “Jesus Christ, Wireman, Miss Eastlake said you were an excellent cook, but I guess I had to see it to believe it!”
He blushes, looking shy across the table, “Trying to win Wireman over with flattery, yes?”
“God knows you deserve it!”
Edgar sets back to work at his desert, attempting to savor it, but there’s something nagging at the back of his mind. Something he forgot , but it feels important. Something to do with the night. Something to do with the house. Something to do with Miss Eastlake, Elizabeth. He made a promise.
“The poem!” He could smack himself, if he wasn’t down a hand and currently holding a fork in the one he’s got left, “I was supposed to read one!”
“I don’t think either of us are in much state to be reading right now,” Wireman holds up the all but empty bottle of wine.
“It’s still worth a try,” Edgar gets up with a start, wobbling slightly before he steadies himself.
He wanders over to the stack of books on the coffee table, all of Elizabeth’s favorites. It’s always one of those books, whenever he reads to her. Wireman laughs, that deep, shameless one he loves, while he’s trying to pick a good one.
“Come on, Wireman, come over here, sit with me! I’ll read for you!”
“If you insist, mi amor.”
Edgar eases himself onto the couch, holding the poetry book under his arm and just hoping it’s got something fitting in it. He’s thumbing through it when Wireman joins him, so close that Edgar can feel his breath on what’s left of his right arm.
He picks a page, any page, and stops there, squinting at the text but he can’t quite make it out.
“Fuck, you were right,” Edgar laughs, “I’m sloshed.”
Wireman knocks their heads together, gentle and warm, “I never could have guessed.”
That flush he’s gotten way too familiar with slinks across the bridge of his nose, over his cheeks, yet again, because he’s struck with a thought: this feels like all those nights he spent with Pam back during the honeymoon phase, when they stayed up all hours of the night and drink while he explained each step of his big damn plans on how he’d make it big, how the Freemantle company would become a household name, literally.
To make things all the more complicated, Wireman slings an arm over his shoulder. It’s loose and Edgar’s been around the block enough times to know that it’s an invitation. To what, exactly, is the million dollar question.
(Well, he’s pretty sure he’s picking up everything loud and clear, but he’s not sure he can give an answer in return.)
But he feels good right now. In fact, he feels better than he’s felt in, oh, say, just about a year. He never thought he’d feel this comfortable and safe and happy again and he’s so grateful he could kiss Wireman.
“You could, if you wanted to,” he runs his fingers over Edgar’s left shoulder, as casual as someone talking about the weather, “I wouldn’t mind.”
It’s fitting, isn’t it? He can divine the fucking truth by way of paint and Wireman can read his fucking mind.
But he’s just drunk enough that he might accept. God knows he wants to, since the day they first met and he made Edgar laugh harder than he had in months. Maybe he even wants more than that.
Edgar sets the book aside and decides, fuck it, this is my new life and I’m going to make the most of it. Then, he sits up straight as a board with a start and grabs Wireman’s shoulder to steady himself while he tries his damnedest to do something in the vein of straddling him.
It doesn’t work that well and his right leg will hate him for it later, but it feels right, especially when his partner for the evening rests a hand at the small of his back and barely breathes out, “Oh gosh, Mister Freemantle…”
He snakes his hand up from Wireman’s shoulder to the back of his neck, and hopes it works well enough for what he’s trying to do. It’s not as if he’s had much of a chance to practice the fine art of kissing with only one hand while also wine drunk.
But, Edgar leans in and kisses him softly, ignoring the twinge in his leg. It all but melts away, somewhere far at the back of his mind, when Wireman smiles against his lips. He’d like it to last forever, but he pulls back ever so slightly to catch his breath. He’s sure not as young as he used to be.
For all his skill and smarts, the great Edgar Freemantle might be an idiot. Ever since day one, Wireman has always waited for Edgar to come to him with open arms, and, apparently , open, eager, lips, too.
“You are not, ” he whispers, breath warm against Edgar’s ear, “No, not at all, mi amor.”
“I would’ve done this sooner if I wasn’t. ”
“You just needed time,” Wireman dips down and kisses the edge of his jaw.
Edgar laughs when Wireman makes it to his neck, “I think we’re a little old for hickies, don’t you?”
He pulls away and snorts, head thrown back. It’s another perfect chance for Edgar to catch him while he’s smiling, lips slightly chapped from days spent out in the wind blowing in off the coast.
It might be moving too fast, but he’s not sure he’ll still have the guts to do this on a different day. So, he reaches for Wireman’s belt, just hoping that he won’t lose his balance and kill the mood. He’s got a pretty good handle on the situation, braced against Wireman’s lap.
The real problem is trying to undo the belt, a task which he’s fumbling through without any semblance of grace.
“Need some help?” Wireman raises a brow with a smile.
“No, no, I can do this.”
He counts it as a win that his dear old friend anger never manages to worm its way into his words.
His missing arm is starting to itch like the world’s worst sunburn and he’s starting to get frustrated which is just a short walk to pissed. But he can do this. He just needs to feel a bit steadier. He reaches out, curling his fingers in Wireman’s hair so he can stop feeling so unstable.
“Please, please,” he’s made it as far as pulling the end through the belt loop and all he has to do is just get the buckle undone and he’s not going to get angry , “I can do this!”
“ Edgar, ” Wireman says, firmer this time, “Your hand.”
He freezes. There’s one hand on Wireman’s belt buckle and one pins and needles-y, television static-y hand twisted in Wireman’s mess of hair, nothing more than empty air but he can feel it there.
And then it isn’t.
Edgar folds forward, burying his forehead in the crook of Wireman’s neck. He squeezes his eyes shut and works his flesh and blood hand through his friend’s hair, trying to chase down that ghost of a sensation.
“No worries, muchacho,” he rubs Edgar’s back, “It happens to the best of us.”
It’s exactly what he needed because he laughs; when you put it like that, it sounds like he just couldn’t get it up instead of whatever the fuck just happened.
He’s still laughing when he rolls off of Wireman and stretches out his leg into a more comfortable position. They’re still leaning against each other, but there’s none of the usual Failed Attempt At Coitus awkwardness. It still feels right.
“Can I take a rain check or is this a one time only offer?”
“Any time at all, Edgar,” Wireman presses a kiss to his temple, “Whenever you’re ready. Just say the word.”