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And Then They Go and Change the Rules

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Oh, admit it. If they changed the rules you'd be psyched.

Brian had laughed when Anna said that to him, years ago. But, funnily enough, they do change the rules and he’s not psyched at all.

It comes down from Rome faster than anyone expects. Father Havel says, and Brian’s inclined to believe, that once the decision was made, no one saw any reason to delay the change. Recruitment has been down for years, decades, and celibacy really is the biggest issue most people find with the calling.

For him, it hadn’t initially been a very serious problem, but he had wrestled with it, and he thought he’d won.

Thing is, after they changed the rules, there’s still only one person Brian ever thinks about being with, ever. And Anna Riley is taken. Very taken.

The worst part is Brian thinks about taking her for himself all the time, still. Except he still can’t, ever, and he knows that.

So, he pretty much ignores the whole rule change thing. That is, until it becomes international news a few days later when the Vatican announces the change to the world.

“So, you gonna go out and find yourself a pretty girl to marry?” one of the Jewish mothers at the Inter-faith Center, asks him in true, not-at-all-stereotypical fashion.

He smiles politely and says something non-committal.

“So, are you?” Jake asks barely thirty seconds later, with a funny look in his eye.

Brian glares at him. “Not you too,” he grumbles. “And I thought you were all for taking the slow road to marriage. Or does Anna have a ring on her finger and you just didn’t bother to tell me?”

Jake raises his hands. “Forget I asked, jeez. Forgive me for being interested in your now sort of interesting love life.”

Brian can’t help but laugh at that, and he hopes it isn’t too bitterly. “Still not that interesting, Jake, okay?”

 

Three days later, Anna takes a bite of her salad and stares him down while chewing. Her job as Marketing, PR, and Interim Executive Director of their local community and adult education center allows her to schedule lunch with him once or twice a week, which is fabulous, when she’s not goading him into doing her a laundry list of favors, or hounding him about something he’s been trying to avoid.

“What?” he says, getting a little bit scared.

“Jake says your new-found single-hood is a touchy subject.”

Brian wants to smile at her famous directness, but he feels too embarrassed and weird about the entire thing to do anything but look away. “Listen, this deal, about the rule change, it’s... it’s like an opt-in thing, okay? I don’t have to do it. I’m not automatically out on the prowl for a girlfriend, or a wife. I don’t even know if I--”

“Okay, okay,” Anna interrupts, reaching across the table to take his hand.

Brian wishes he has the willpower to snatch it back, out of her grasp, but he just stares at their intertwined fingers and hates himself.

“I get it,” Anna reassures him. “It’s a big step. And not one you have to take at all. It’s cool, Brian. I’ll tell Jake not to bug you about it.” She smiles and says, releasing his hand, “You wouldn’t think from all the complaining he was doing before I showed up, but he likes to match-make as much as the rest of the old biddies in his congregation. You should hear they way they gossip.”

Anna picks her fork back up, they begin to talk about the classes she’s got lined up for the fall, and Brian loves her.

He hopes she still knows that.

 

Everyone keeps asking him about it for months. When is he going to bring a nice girl around to the center? Has he met anyone? Has he been getting around at all?

Eventually, they lay off, get onto other things, newer topics. But he notices that women look at him a little differently than they used to. He even has to turn down some propositions, informing the unaware that he still can’t have sex out of wedlock, certainly won’t have any kind of relations without love. A sin is a sin, and he still has to confess it, still has to live his life as an example.

He goes on a few dates, thinks about Anna the whole time, and eventually comes to the conclusion that it would be the worst kind of sin to ask a woman to share his life when half his heart is in the hands of someone else.

He tells Jake when they go out on their semi-annual guys’ night that he thinks dating isn’t for him. This turns out to be a mistake.

“What do you mean, not for you?” Jake cries. “You dated girls. Plenty of girls You lost your virginity before me, if memory serves. With, with--uh... Jeanine something-or-other. And I was so jealous because she looked like Carrie Fisher. Jesus, Brian.”

“Come on, Jake,” Brian glances to the ceiling and Jake rolls his eyes. “And anyway, it’s different now. I don’t know, I’m just a different person.”

“No you’re not,” Jake returns, pointing a finger at him. “You’re the same. You’re just free of a stupid, milllennia-old rule that I know you hated when it was a part of your life. What I don’t know is what’s stopping you. What’s really going on, Brian?”

“Nothing,” Brian denies, knowing he’s a terrible liar. “It’s nothing.”

Jake shuts down then, the way he does when he’s really disappointed in someone. “Fine,” he says flatly. “Don’t tell me.” He finishes his drink in three gulps, lays a twenty on the bar and walks out.

Brian fumes and gets another beer. He only ignores Anna’s call twice.

“Come over,” she orders and hangs up.

He’s half-drunk and sullen when he knocks on their door. They live in a cozy little brownstone now. Brian helped them pick out the color scheme. It’s beautiful, and tonight he hates it.

Anna has a scotch in her hand when she answers the door and her mouth is set in an unhappy frown. “I hate it when you fight,” she grumbles, closing the door behind him.

Jake is sitting on the couch, knees tucked up to his chest, back against the far armrest, and glowering.

Anna walks between them, pointing first at her boyfriend, then at Brian. “You’re talking this out. I don’t care how long it takes.” She sits down in the reading chair in the corner, where she glares at both of them.

“I’m going to need a drink,” Brian slurs, only slightly.

“Oh, I think you both have had enough for now,” she returns with an edge to her voice. “Now talk.”

Jake starts. He’s a lot quicker to follow Anna’s orders these days. “Something’s up. With the rule change thing. Something he’s not telling us.”

Brian, at his absolute limit on patience about this, throws his hands up in the air and cries, “Why is it that you think I need to tell you every little thing? The both of you,” he turns to Anna as well, waving back and forth between them. “Last I checked, I’m not a part of this relationship. You’re not dating me along with each other, for fuck’s sake.”

They both seem startled and Brian can’t tell whether it’s by all his words, or just his use of the single profane one.

Anna sets down her drink and looks at him curiously. “Brian,” she says slowly, “is that what you want?”

Brian takes an involuntary step back. “What? No. No, no, no. That’s not what I meant to--”

He cuts himself off when Jake shifts, planting his feet on the floor, looking at Brian with that same funny expression he’d had back when all this began.

“Why would you say it like that, if you hadn’t thought about it that way?” Anna asks in the same measured tone, like he’s about to bolt out the door.

“Because...” and Brian’s not even sure why he’s answering such an idiotic question. “Because it just... seems that way from time to time, that you--”

“But why would it seem that way, if that’s not how it is?” It’s Jake this time that asks and Brian’s jaw drops.

“What are you saying?”

“We’re saying that we love you, Brian,” Anna cries, standing up, as if involuntarily, and Jake follows her, but they’re both rooted to the floor. “You’ve always been a part of this relationship. We couldn’t do it the right way before, we didn’t even think about it the right way for a really long time. But now... now maybe we can. If you want to.”

Brian’s not even sure Anna’s speaking English anymore, he so thoroughly doesn’t understand her. So he just stands there, shaking his head dumbly. “I got the you love me part,” he speaks slowly, parsing it out. “I know that. Yeah, I’ve been around since the beginning but--”

Jake shakes his head and takes a step forward, he gives Anna his I-got-this face and says, “No, Brian, not just that we love you. We’re in love with you. Both of us. For like a while now.”

Brian’s heart his hammering in his chest, and he’s not sure why. He feels like he missed something, something really important, but he can’t wrap his head around it. “That’s... that’s--”

“Crazy?” Anna supplies with a goofy smile.

“Insane?” Jake asks in the next moment, lips quirking to a smirk.

“Uh, yeah.” Brian nods. “That.”

They all stare at each other for what must be a solid minute. Then Anna holds up a hand and says, “Wait. You’re surprised by this? Then what was bothering you this whole time? What couldn’t you tell us?”

“I can’t date any other women because I’m still in love with you. I thought Jake would be mad.” The words fly out of Brian’s mouth before he can stop them by snapping it shut.

He’s answered by twin peals of laughter.

Brian nods sagely, raises a hand to rub at the hair at the back of his head, and watches them laugh at him. “Great, guys, this makes me feel so much better.”

Anna is able to stifle her laughter first, but she’s still grinning at him when she says, “Aww, come here.” But she’s the one who moves forward and clasps both hands on either side of his face.

He’s pretty sure he’s wearing a prize bewildered expression as she presses her forehead to his and sighs so their breath mingles, “I can’t believe anyone could be more clueless than Jake about this kind of stuff.”

Now Brian laughs. “Who do you think you’re talking to? It’s not like I’ve got a ton of practice.”

She looks up at him and smiles, her playful, coy smile and it’s like all his sexual fantasies rolled into one, better. Her hands slide down to his shoulders and his rise of their own volition to rest at her hips.

And then he remembers that Jake is there, standing behind them, watching.

Brian takes a step back and throws Jake an incredulous look. “You’re okay with this? Why? Why are you okay with this?”

Anna huffs and crosses her arms across her chest.

“Look,” Jake says, “I know it’s kind of weird.”

“Kind of?” Brian explodes. “Kind of? I’m not sure kind of is the--”

Jake snaps his fingers at him as he yells, “Brian!”

“What?”

“Shut up for one second, please? Hear me out.”

Brian mirrors Anna’s posture and clamps his mouth shut.

“Yeah, okay, so we know it’s a little weird, a little outside of the box maybe. But isn’t that what you and I have always tried to be? And yeah, maybe this is stretching that idea kind of a lot. But, we also know that you’re still in love with Anna.”

Brian twists his mouth, fighting to stop from interjecting and Jake smiles.

“Yeah, we didn’t forget about that. Neither of us did, and nobody’s mad.”

Anna bites her lip, glance at Jake, and says with an air of confession, “When everything was going on with Jake and me, in the beginning, the only thing I was concentrating on were my feelings for Jake and whether they were good or right, and if he returned them. Later, like a long time later, I sat back and thought about how I’d been treating you that whole time. I don’t blame you for your feelings, Brian, because I know I encouraged them, however unwittingly. And I’m not sorry about it. I love you too. I love you both, so much.”

Brian takes a breath, feels those words wash over him. He looks at Jake and doesn’t open his mouth.

Jake looks a lot more nervous about fessing up than Anna. “You’re my best friend, man. I know every part of you and have for a really long time. So, I know that you really haven’t thought about this at all. But I have, and I want to give it a shot, because I really do love you, like Anna does.”

They both look at him like he’s supposed to speak now and all Brian can think to say is, “Since when?”

Jake smiles ruefully and says, “Since you punched me in the synagogue over Anna’s honor. But I didn’t start to realize it until after we made up. Anna and I didn’t talk about it at all until this whole rule change thing happened. Neither of us ever thought anything would come of it.”

Brian shakes his head again and rubs his hands across his face. It was too much. “No,” he says in sort of a rush, “No, nothing’s going to come of it anyway. I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry. It’s just that... It’s not just a rule. It... to me it represents a commitment, that I almost threw away once. I wouldn’t have regretted it then, but... I won’t disregard that commitment just because now I’m allowed to. That seems...disingenuous. And,” Brian hesitates and looks at Jake with new eyes. He’d never considered the possibility before. “The rules haven’t changed regarding homosexuality.”

Jake’s expression closes off again and he turns away, pulling at his hair. “God help me,” he groans, “with you and your rules.”

Anna takes a step between them. “No, wait, Brian. We can work with this. This,” she motions to all three of them, “isn’t homosexuality. Not if I‘m here and you can be goddamn sure I will be here. This relationship is about all three of us, it always has been, Brian, you know that. Ever since I punched that creepy kid in the nose, drop-kicked the big one and we rode home together on the fucking subway. Don’t tell me you’re going to walk away from this now.”

Brian’s voice drops low as he answers, “Don’t make it harder for me, Anna.” He puts his head in his hands and groans. He feels sick and says so.

Anna calls his name. Her hands are on his back and she’s steering him in the direction of the couch. She lays him down and he finds his head in Jake’s lap. Brian looks up and frowns.

Jake half-smiles at him. “Remember when we rode all the way back from Atlantic City like this because you over-did it on my 21st birthday weekend?”

“I seem to recall you passed out twenty minutes into the ride and drooled on my face for an hour,” Brian counters and doesn’t say how much better he felt laid out in the back seat, with Jake’s lap for a pillow.

He also doesn’t say how much better he feels now. Jake always has that affect on him when he’s upset. Even if Jake is the one upsetting him.

Jake laughs and his hands fall to rest on Brian’s forehead and shoulder. “You don’t remember that, Joey told you that’s what happened. And you can’t trust that guy anyway.”

Brian thinks back. “That was... a year and a half before seminary.”

“Oooh,” Anna says, her mood changing in an instant as she crashes to the couch next to Jake, threading her arms through the crook of his and leaning in close. “Tell me tales of my young men, my drunk, college-age boys,” she demands, smiling. “Tell me things I haven’t heard yet.”

And they talk, for a long time, reminiscing wildly across the decades. They spring from one story to another, bouncing back and forth between crazy women Jake dated to girls they fought over in high school to the secrets they found out about each other, despite everyone’s best efforts.

“Yeah, I knew you were jacking it on sleepovers. You weren’t that quiet, Brian.”

Anna’s giggles ring from the ceiling. “Oh, the things a thirteen year old boy will think he’s getting away with,” she cries, flicking a tear from the corner of her eye. “What were you even jacking it to?”

Brian rolls his eyes, “Oh, maybe it was the soft-core porn Jake got his hands on and made me watch with him.”

“Hey, Nine and a Half Weeks is not just soft core porn. It’s a beautiful film,” Jake says.

Anna doesn’t stop laughing for ten minutes. Brian catches her hands in his and her laughter shakes all three of them.

Anna laces her fingers through his and Brian sees Jake smiling above him. He felt better mere minutes after laying down, most of his earlier apprehension disappearing with the heavy conversation.

This is what he loves about them, about this relationship, when they are casual, comfortable, free. He doesn’t want to mess that up.

But he also knows that this--with his head in Jake’s lap--is something other than what they’ve been doing for the past few years, which is skirting around each other, pretending there isn’t an imbalance between them.

“We don’t want to do anything you’re uncomfortable with, Brian,” Anna says suddenly.

“It doesn’t even matter if we’re not physical. We just want you to be here, with us, whenever and however you can be,” Jake adds.

“I want to be here,” Brian says, and sits up, twisting around to face them both. “I always want to be here, guys. I love you both, like crazy. You two and God, that’s my whole life. That’s it and that’s they way I always want it to be.”

Anna makes a little squeaking noise as soon as the words leave his mouth and launches herself at him, pulling him close by his t-shirt and wrapping her hand around the back of his neck as she kisses him senseless.

He pulls her up on his lap, groaning softly by the time she’s through. When their lips part she’s smiling at him and she asks softly, “Then what’s the problem?”

“I don’t know,” he mumbles fuzzily. “I know there is one, I just can’t think of it right now.”

Anna grins, slow and lovely. “I like that answer. We’ll take it, for now.”

Jake curls himself around Brian’s back and something low and hot blossoms in his belly as Jake says, pressing his lips to Brian’s temple, “We’ll take anything you can give."