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One Last Gift

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Damien found out Sam and Mark were engaged from a post on Chloe’s Instagram. Chloe’s was the only one that was public, and she usually shared her sculptures and occasionally paintings she did with Frank. Damien didn’t give a shit about any of it, and it wasn’t like he was following her or anything. He didn’t use social media. The thought of his face on the internet made him break out in hives. But he checked her profile occasionally to see if there were any updates about them, back in Boston. Anything he couldn’t get from Rose because they had a don’t ask don’t tell policy. It was a condition of being her friend, and he was even grateful for it sometimes.

Except now he was looking at a photo dated a week ago, Chloe grinning madly at the camera over the heads of Sam and Mark, who were looking at each other like they were the only two people in the universe, a ring sparkling on Sam’s finger. The caption was something sappy like how her favorite people had found each other across time and space and how they were proof that love was real and knew no bounds. Damien wanted to break his phone clean in two. Instead, he got into his truck, drove to the closest liquor store, bought a bottle of bourbon for old times sake and drove out to his favorite abandoned dirt road at the edge of town. He sat stretched out in the bed of his truck and popped open the bourbon. The air was muggy, despite it being the middle of the night, and he sweated and drank, slowly and deliberately.

When more than half the bottle was gone, Damien did what he'd sworn he would never do, even as he had sneaked the number from Rose’s phone when she left it unattended to go the bathroom the last time she came to visit. He scrolled down his contacts until he came to MB and hit the call button.

It rang for a long time but Damien was in it now, and he couldn’t turn back.

“‘Lo?” Mark answered groggily. Damien thought of him in the mornings, sleep-mussed and grumpy to have been woken up, trying to hide under the blankets to get five minutes more. His hair wild and fluffy, rubbing his eyes as he reached blindly for the coffee Damien had gotten for him.

Damien gripped his phone tighter. “Mark,” he said, voice cracking.

There was a rustle of sheets. Mark didn’t say anything.

“Mark,” Damien repeated, confused, thoughts a jumbled mess. “It’s -” He shook his head. “Mark, you can’t marry her,” he said in a rush, “you can’t.”

Mark was still silent and Damien didn’t know what to say, how to make him see that he couldn’t do this. “I love you,” he blurted. Mark’s breath hitched and Damien went on, the words pouring out of him now, “please. I mean it. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You have no idea.” He could feel his eyes welling up. “I love you.”

There was nothing on the other line but the steady sound of Mark breathing. In. Out. Damien waited for him to say something. Anything. He didn’t know how much time had passed when he heard a clunk, more sheets rustling and then another voice, distant and muzzy. “Who are you talking to?” Sam.

“Nobody,” Mark said, “come here.”

Damien imagined Mark reaching for Sam, gathering her up in his arms. Mark had always reached for things, like he was starved for contact. Even in the car he’d sat with his hoodie bundled up in his lap. He'd slept with an extra pillow hugged close to his chest. When the nightmares were bad, he would grab Damien and make him sit beside Mark until he fell back asleep and his grip grew slack on Damien’s forearm. Damien could have made him stop, easily, but he hadn’t. He’d sat and watched Mark, just to make sure.

“I love you,” Mark murmured now.

There was a soft sigh. A lingering kiss. “I love you, too,” Sam whispered back, her voice impossibly warm, “go back to sleep.”

Slowly, their breathing evened out. Damien sat with the phone pressed to his ear and watched the stars in the sky. He wondered if Mark knew he hadn’t hung up properly, or if he'd even recognized Damien’s voice. After a long while, he let the familiar sound of Mark’s snores lull him to sleep.