“And they all lived happily ever after.” Adelina closed the book and sat it in her lap. She turned to see David, wide-eyed and attentive, nowhere near sleep which was the whole point of a bedtime story.
“How do you know if you’re in love with someone?” David asked.
“Well, usually it’s a person who you like to spend time with, who brightens your day. Sometimes if you love them a lot you even marry them.”
He scooted forward to the edge of his bed. “Oh, then I think I love Julianne. She’s always nice to me during playtime and she gave me her snack today,” he leaned in a bit further, “I don’t know if I want to marry her though.”
Adelina laughed. “That’s alright. You have plenty of time before you decide if you want to get married.”
She moved to pull the blankets back up and tuck him in. “Goodnight.”
David smiled at her. “Goodnight.”
Adelina headed to the door and turned off the light. She carefully shut the door. She hoped that whoever earned David’s love would know how precious it was.
David sat down and looked across the table at his mom and dad.
Johnny clasped his hands together. "Now, your mother and I have something we need to tell you. You aren't in any trouble but certain things have come to our attention, and, ah there's something important you need to know."
He racked his brain to think of what it might be. Did they know about the time he snuck out to visit Stevie? Or that he forgot to turn in his History paper? Oh, was it about the fight he had with Alexis over his Tamagotchis?
A loud thunk interrupted his thoughts.
He looked down at his wedding planning book. A small wave of embarrassment ran through him. He hoped his parents hadn't looked through the pages.
"We know that you're at an age where you might start developing feelings for someone.”
Oh god, David thought, please don’t let this be a sex talk.
“And you might think you’re in love.” Johnny held out his hands. “I don’t want to disparage you and say it’s just puppy love but we’ve decided that there’s something you should know before you start thinking about this.” He waved at the planning book.
“What your father is trying to say,” Moira began, “is that there is already an agreed-upon matrimony between you and another country’s heir. It simply won’t do for you to run away with a paramour.”
This wasn’t what David expected. “So you’re saying I’m in an arranged marriage? Why didn’t you tell me? Shouldn’t I get a choice?”
Johnny grimaced. “You were seven at the time. We needed more support due to the natural disasters that year and they offered. The marriage is a show of goodwill and the bond between our countries.”
David crossed his arms, the fact that his parents had almost hidden this for ten years had him seething. If he hadn’t made the book, if they hadn’t found the book, David wondered if they wouldn’t have told him until he was already down the aisle. “Is it really goodwill when you’re forcing your kids to do this?”
“It’s not for a while. Just,” Johnny paused, “try not to think about it. Okay?”
David pushed down his angry retort and instead stood up. “Fine,” he replied gruffly. He snatched up his wedding planning book and stormed out of the room.
David sat a napkin down on top of the picnic bench and sat his food on top of it. He was just about ready to eat his sandwich when someone sat across from him.
“Mind if I sit here?”
He looked at the man. He had short brown hair and wore a pale blue button-up. His expression was calm and open, almost like he wouldn’t mind either way what David said.
“I usually don’t let strangers sit with me,” David replied.
The man grinned. “Well, it’s a good thing I’m not a stranger.” He sat down and opened up his lunchbox and David had to pause for a moment, one because this stranger apparently knew David and two who still used a lunchbox instead of having carefully coordinated containers that fit in a tote?
“Who are you?” David blurted.
A blush rose on the man. “Oh, um, I’m Patrick. We met at the fundraiser last month. I guess I didn’t leave as good of an impression as I thought.”
The mention of the fundraiser jogged a small memory. He remembered a blue suit jacket, teasing over small mozzarella balls drizzled in balsamic vinegar, and an unfortunate drunken ramble. “Oh, my god, I can’t believe you still want to see me after what happened.”
Patrick smiled. “I will admit not everyone ends what I thought was a nice night rambling about how expressive my eyes are and then jumps into an Uber.”
David groaned. The fundraiser had been going well, they’d secured more donors and David had, misguidedly, decided to get a little drunk. Too drunk, since clearly, he’d forgotten about Patrick.
“I would have contacted you, but thought after your hasty exit that might not be warranted.” Patrick finished. “That and I didn’t know how to find you.”
David smiled. “I think my past self was trying to preserve my pride. Although, since you are sitting in front of me it seems like you found me.”
Patrick lifted an arm and pointed at a building across the street. “I work over there. Lucky timing is the only reason I found you today. Usually, I just have my lunch break inside but I tried to do something different today.”
He briefly thought about how Patrick’s close proximity to his own work meant that there could have been so many chances for them to meet earlier. “I do want to apologize about leaving that night. I got a little overwhelmed and really too drunk to hold a proper conversation. I think my fight or flight response kicked in so I wouldn’t make a fool out of myself in front of you.”
Patrick looked at David intently. “I don’t think I’d ever take you for a fool David.”
He didn’t know how to respond so instead David turned to eat his sandwich. Instead of leaving, Patrick set out the rest of his lunch and started eating too. They didn’t talk for the rest of the meal and normally David would feel compelled to fill the silence, but with Patrick, he didn’t. Clearly, he wanted to be around David, so David enjoyed the moment knowing it wouldn’t go anywhere past lunch. As he was putting his containers back in his tote, Patrick brushed a hand along David’s arm.
“Do you want to do this again?”
Patrick gave a bashful smile. “Yeah.”
David thought for a moment. He considered the warm feeling he got talking to Patrick and how he still wanted to be around him even after the fundraiser. “Sure, Friday alright?”
Patrick’s smile grew. “Sounds perfect.”
David hadn’t planned it that way, but soon he was having lunch with Patrick on Wednesdays and Fridays. They talked about their struggles at work, places they’d been, and the latest shows or movies they’d watched. He had curated a list of movies Patrick should see after he learned the only Julia Roberts film he’d seen was Valentine’s Day . Patrick, in kind, created his own list for David. They’d watch the film over the weekend and report back on Wednesday. This meant Wednesday chats became heated debates where snark flew and David’s hand gestures grew more and more rapid.
“Are you seeing someone?”
He stared at Stevie, who sat crossed-legged on an armchair across the room absentmindedly flipping through a magazine. “What makes you think I’m seeing someone?”
Stevie shrugged. “You seem happier than usual. The last time you looked like this you were dating what’s-her-name. I’d say you had some mind-blowing sex but you don’t have that calm demeanor you usually do.”
“Okay, I don’t know what you’re insinuating about the calm demeanor. But if you must know I’m not seeing anyone.”
Stevie raised a brow. He huffed. “Seriously, I’m not.” He paused and stared at his nails. “I just might have met a new friend.”
Stevie threw the magazine to the side and sat upright. “A new friend?”
“I can make new friends,” David replied indignantly.
“Oh, I know you can, but this seems more like a new friend .”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Just someone who you want to be more than a friend.”
David fiddled with his signet ring. “I wouldn’t say no…”
“So, do I get a name?”
David smiled. “His name is Patrick.”
Stevie moved her legs and swung them back and forth. “Oooh, Paaatriickk.”
David groaned and hid his hands in his face. “Don’t do that. Nothing is going to happen.”
“Because you won’t do anything.”
David moved his hands and glared at her. “No. It’s just he’s a nice guy and I don’t seem to work for them.”
Stevie looked unamused. “Not to be rude, but I wouldn’t exactly call the men you date ‘nice.’ Just ask him out. Worse he could say is no.”
He threw a pillow at her. “I’ll remind you of that when you are consoling me.”
“ And I’ll remind you when you and Patrick have a date.”
David looked across the bench at Patrick. He’d been vibrating in his seat for almost the entirety of lunch. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
Patrick turned to David, a small look of nervousness on his way before it to cool confidence. “Uh, there was something I’ve been wanting to tell you for a while and I think I’m gonna tell you now.”
David’s mind went to the worst case. Patrick calmly explaining that while lunches were nice he wasn’t looking for a relationship, or wasn’t looking for one with him . He’d get up from the bench and David, too overcome with rejection, would watch as he walked away.
“David, did you hear me?”
He left his thoughts and looked at Patrick. He seemed slightly concerned, his lip bit worryingly between his teeth. “Uh, no?”
“Oh, okay.” Patrick took a breath. “I was asking if you wanted to go on a date?”
David’s brain turned offline. Patrick asked him out on a date? He didn’t think Patrick was that interested. Did he want to go on a date with Patrick? He told Stevie he wanted to, but it’s one thing to imagine what that would be like. It’s another to experience it. He’d been burned so much in his early twenties, was this something he wanted to go through with again? Especially with someone like Patrick, sweet, kind, and the type of person who probably was ready to get married in five years. Fuck . That was the other thing. Even if they started dating it meant at some point either David would have to break up with him when he was called to marry, or Patrick would break up with him. Objectively dating someone always had the potential to end in a breakup, but David was in a horrible position to know that there was literally no other way. But, Patrick was nice and it had been a long time since he’d dated anyone even remotely nice. Still, there was at least one thing he needed to tell him.
“I’m a prince,” he blurted out.
Patrick looked at him wide-eyed and then laughed.
David crossed his arms. “I don’t see how that’s funny.”
He slowed his laughs. “David, I already knew.”
And with that admission, a new feeling ran through David, fear and anger. He knew that most people would know who he was. Not even in a boastful way, but simply for the fact he was a part of the monarchy. Just after his twenties and the way he always seemed to be in the papers and tabloids, he’d tried to keep a lower profile. Patrick was from another country and David hadn’t had to make his usual once a year appearance at the New Year address yet, so how did Patrick know that? He didn’t want to believe that Patrick was the kind of person to want David only for his title. Maybe he was just a curious person who wanted to know more about the country he was living in.
“How did you know?” David whispered.
Patrick reached across the table and held his hand. “Because I am too.”
As soon as Patrick said it, it clicked. Patrick wasn’t just Patrick, he was Patrick of Breowan. David had had to spend one long summer memorizing all of the nearby countries and their systems of government, including the major players. Patrick being an heir certainly counted.
“Oh,” David breathed out.
“And if you don’t want to date me because of that I understand.” Patrick started. “It’s just spending time with you has shown me that I’d like to take you out on at least one date.”
David stared down at their joined hands and smiled at the way Patrick was unconsciously rubbing his thumb over David’s hand. “I think I’d like to go on a date with you. Just not somewhere too busy? I don’t think anyone would approach us or anything, it’s just I think I’m over the attention.”
“Well, if you don’t think it’s too bold. How about my place?” Patrick said.
“I would like that.”
“Would seven on Sunday work? I can text you my address.”
“That works for me.”
“Great,” Patrick squeezed David’s hand before letting it go. “I’ll see you then.” He got up from the bench with a wave and David sat there for a few moments taking it all in before collecting his things and heading back to work.
David reached Patrick’s apartment door and paused. He glanced at his watch and noticed he was five minutes early. He couldn’t remember the last time he was early to something, but between the anxious energy while he waited for the clock to reach closer to seven and wanting to give Patrick a good impression, he left his place way too early. He knew that he could knock on the door and Patrick wouldn’t mind him being early, but also as soon as Patrick opened the door the date would start and it had been so long since he’d been on a proper date, not to mention one at his date’s place, that he couldn’t tamp down his nervousness and was worried he’d do something to embarrass himself. Before he could decide what to do, the door opened to reveal Patrick.
“You can come in, you know. Personally, I think it would make a better date experience if you did.” Patrick teased.
David glanced at Patrick and smiled at what must be his date night clothes: a tight, short-sleeved button-up and just as tight jeans. “I was just taking a moment to collect my thoughts.”
Patrick smiled. “Well, I can always close the door and you can come in whenever you’re finished.”
David walked through the doorway. “Oh, I’m done now.” His eyes swept the room. It was sparsely decorated, just enough to be called minimalist, but not barren; a few prints and photos were on the wall, a couple of plants sat along the window ledge, and a loveseat, an armchair, and a coffee table were the only furniture in the living room. He smelled toasted bread and sautéed onions. The faint sound of music reached David’s ears and he hummed along.
“The food is ready if you want to eat.”
He turned and saw Patrick leaning against the doorway to presumably the kitchen, all casually cool. “I will always be ready to eat,” David replied. He walked into the kitchen and smiled at the cozy atmosphere. It was cleaner than David expected after cooking dinner. Dirty dishes were neatly stacked on the counter beside the sink, a few in the sink. “For someone who loves food, I didn’t ask what we were having.”
“Burgers and potato salad. And if you want to stay later brownies.” Patrick replied as he handed David a plate.
“I will always stay for dessert,” David said. He filled his plate up and moved back to the living room and sat on the loveseat. Patrick entered a few minutes later and sat a glass of water on the coffee table in front of David and then sat in the armchair. David took a bite of the potato salad and moaned. The potatoes were cooked just right, not enough to be mushy or undercooked, and the mayonnaise wasn’t enough to be overpowering. He looked over at Patrick who studiously was looking at his plate, a faint blush on his face. “You got this perfect.”
Patrick lifted his head and grinned. “Well, you spent one lunch talking about what was the perfect potato salad. I took some notes.” He turned to his own food and started to eat.
Taking that as a cue, David went back to eating. Eventually, they started talking in between bites and soon he felt at ease. Once it was dessert, Patrick came back with a brownie and vanilla ice cream, and David felt warmth through his belly. Patrick sat down next to him on the loveseat and then pulled up Pretty Woman to watch. When David finished eating he wrapped his arm around Patrick and couldn’t stop smiling at how Patrick cuddled up next to him. When Vivian started to laugh after Edward snapped the jewelry case at her fingers, David looked down at Patrick to see him staring back at him. Patrick gave a soft smile and leaned up to kiss David.
It was slow and soft and one of the more gentler first kisses that David has had. Patrick’s right hand pressed right above David’s knee and they exchanged a few more kisses before Patrick pulled away. “So, do you want to do this again?”
“Um, yes.” David paused. “How would you feel about dating?”
“Very onboard,” Patrick replied.
“Okay. Can we keep it just between us right now?”
Patrick turned to him with a neutral face. “Uh, sure. If you aren’t out to anyone I get it.”
David laughed and waved a hand. “Sorry, I know you’re trying to be polite and that’s serious. It’s just, I’ve been out for quite a while so that isn’t an issue. I’m just worried that if we’re really public about it there’s more pressure and I like what we have now.”
Patrick’s face turned fond and he leaned up to capture David’s lips in a kiss once more.
“Wait, if you’re a prince why are you here?” David asked as he gestured with his fork.
Patrick sat his spoon down and stared at him. “Why do you work here?” he countered.
David spluttered. “Because it’s important. As a member of the active monarchy, I had to do some kind of service. The military was never my thing and we can only get so involved in the government.” He dragged his fork through his pasta, he wanted to say more but felt like it was too personal.
“Anything else?” Patrick prompted.
He sighed. “I like working here. I actually get to see the results of my work.” David smiled. “You don’t always get to see that when you have to focus on the big picture. That doesn’t answer what a prince of a different country is doing here.”
Patrick shrugged. “My parents want me to understand the different ways each country operates and what it’s like to live there. This is my last country to visit and then I head back.”
“Oh, my parents did something similar. I finished a couple of years ago.”
Patrick’s eyes lit up. “When did you visit mine?”
“I was, uh, twenty. I worked at a museum for one summer. It wasn’t my favorite, the director was a dick.” David glanced at Patrick and winced. “Sorry.”
Patrick laughed. “There’s nothing to be sorry about. It’s a shame I was visiting the country south of ours that summer otherwise I would wonder if we met.”
“I had the most tragic hairstyle then. You would have remembered it.”
“Come on, I don’t think it could be that bad,” Patrick replied.
“It was straightened and then long enough to cover most of my face.”
Patrick burst out in peals of laughter and David appreciated that his fashion disaster could bring out such joy in him. He picked up his fork and went back to eating his pasta.
“Do you have a photo?”
David tilted his head up and quickly swallowed his food. “None that I will be showing you.”
Patrick grinned. “Oh, so they exist.”
“I didn’t say that.”
Patrick tapped his finger on the table. “But you said you wouldn’t show me. That must mean you think one does.”
David grabbed his container and turned around so his back was to Patrick. “I don’t deserve this kind of interrogation.”
“But David, I’m your boyfriend.”
David whipped his head around to look at Patrick. The mirth was still on Patrick’s face, but also a look of surprise like he hadn’t meant to say that.
David grinned. “Well, if my boyfriend wants to look at it maybe I can dig it up.”
They finished lunch with matching grins, and if David ran five minutes over his lunch break, well it was worth it.
Stevie slapped David’s shoulder. “I can’t believe you started dating Patrick!”
David rubbed at his shoulder and glared at her. “Excuse you, how did you find that out?”
“I walked past the little park near your office and saw you pawing all over him.”
He bit his lip. He’d thought that the impromptu makeout session wouldn’t be seen by anyone. His reassurance was the only reason why Patrick went along with it. “I think it was more of a tender embrace,” he replied.
“Your hand was under his sweater.”
Jesus, she’d probably managed to catch them at the worst moment. He threw his hands up in the air. “Fine, so we’re dating.”
Stevie tapped her middle finger on her knee. “And what do your parents have to say about that?”
“Nothing, because I haven’t told them and I’m keeping it that way.” He pointed a finger at her. “And you weren’t supposed to know either.”
A flash of hurt crossed Stevie’s face. “Oh, so it’s a secret.”
David clenched his hands and sighed. “Not like that! It’s just there are some circumstances that make it easier to keep things between us. That and it’s nice to not have literally everyone in my business.”
“And what does that make me?” Stevie asked.
“A friend who will not say a word.”
“Fine. But I do want to say that I was right about asking him out.”
“Actually, he asked me out,” David muttered.
“Well thank god for that. I want ice cream and you're paying for it.” Stevie walked toward the door.
“Okay, but we’re at least going to the one closer to my apartment. I don’t think your usual place likes me anymore.” David replied as he followed her.
“You spent twenty minutes picking out a flavor.”
“They allowed free samples, how could I not try every flavor!”
Patrick tangled his fingers through David’s and rested his head on David’s chest. “I have something to tell you and I just want you to listen before you say anything.”
David felt a squeeze in his chest before he took a breath. He knew Patrick. They’d been dating for almost four months now, he didn’t think Patrick was the kind of person to give bad news during the post-coital glow. “Alright,” he whispered into Patrick’s hair.
“I’m in an arranged marriage.”
Whatever Patrick was going to say, David never would have guessed that. He sat upright, causing Patrick to fall slightly.
Patrick held his hands out placatingly. “David, hey David. Don’t freak out. It was something my parents agreed to like a million years ago, I’m sure they’ve forgotten by now.”
“I bet they haven’t,” David responded bitterly.
“How would you know?”
David squeezed his eyes shut. He didn’t want to tell Patrick, but Patrick needed to know and clearly, this was the best moment. “Because I’m in an arranged marriage and ever since I learned I’ve tried to get out of it. My parents refuse.”
Patrick’s face softened and he moved over to hug David. “I’m sorry your parents are like that. Once they told me I just accepted it.”
They let silence envelop them for a moment. David focused on his breathing and the many points of contact between him and Patrick.
“Is that why you wanted to keep our relationship a secret? So your parents wouldn’t find out.” Patrick asked.
David shook his head dismissively. “Oh no, they don’t care about that. Honestly, as long as I show up on the day it doesn’t matter what I do in the meantime. The only time we talked about it was the first time when they told me, and they didn’t even say who it was. Basically, as long as I didn’t marry someone else it was cool.” He sighed. “It just was hard? Having these relationships with people and knowing that it would lead to nowhere. I spent so much of my teens and twenties trying to find ‘the one’ because I thought if I found them, then surely my parents would let me marry them.” He felt a tear slide down his face and really with how much time had passed he was surprised this would still get a reaction out of him. “Instead, it seemed like the world was trying to tell me that no one wanted me the way I wanted them.” David let out a shuddering breath. “I just wanted one thing where I got to decide who knew. Although, now with your admission, it’s probably a good thing we’ve kept it a secret. The papers would have a field day once they knew we were dating.”
“Thank you for telling me, David.” Patrick released them from the hug and placed a hand on David’s thigh. “I know it must have been hard to share. I want you to know that I want to be with you as long as I can, whether that’s three months or three years.”
“I’d like that,” David replied softly. He turned to move closer to Patrick and they exchanged a few slow, searching kisses until Patrick pulled back with a loud yawn. David smiled fondly and they tucked themselves under the blankets. As he fell asleep, the last thought David had was how happy he was to have Patrick in his life.
David heard the knock at his door and sat his sketchbook down. Opening the door revealed Patrick, slightly rumpled and a wane smile on his face.
“I thought you were coming over tomorrow?” David asked as he stepped to the side to let Patrick through.
Patrick walked through and laid down on the couch. “I was, but work was rough and all I wanted to do was be with you and maybe get a nap.” He paused and glanced at David before he added. “I always sleep better when you’re with me.”
David wasn’t sure how to respond; nobody had ever told him that before. Usually, a partner mentioned how he was a touch on the needy side and after a while, he just stopped asking if they could simply sleep together. So to have Patrick say he enjoyed this simple act with him, meant more than he realized. He looked down at Patrick again, the way he seemed to simply melt into the couch, completely relaxed and at ease, eyes half shut. “I love you,” he blurted out.
Patrick’s eyes shot open and he stared at David with a mix of awe and surprise. “What?” he stammered.
He now had a split second to decide. Would he tell Patrick the truth or pretend that he hadn’t said it? “I said ‘I love you’.”
Patrick grabbed David’s wrist and pulled David on top of him. He collided with Patrick and let out a small ‘oof’ but then he was staring into Patrick’s eyes, saw his small smile, and felt his heartbeat underneath his hand. “David, I love you.”
While telling Patrick ‘I love you’ might have been a spur of the moment, the self-assuredness in Patrick’s declaration had David thinking that he’d been thinking of that for a while. The idea of Patrick waiting for David to say it first, or simply waiting for the right time was a heady experience. There were only a few people he’d said ‘I love you’ to and none of them were romantic partners. They laid there for David didn’t know how long, but eventually, Patrick gently maneuvered himself off the couch. “I can order us dinner,” he said.
“I’d like that,” David said. He watched Patrick get up and walk over to the kitchen.
David still couldn’t believe that he told Patrick ‘I love you’ first. However, it just felt right in that moment, and the way Patrick lit up when he told him let him know he made the right decision.
“I’ve ordered us a pizza and breadsticks, they should be here soon,” Patrick said and sank down into the couch.
David smiled, Patrick knew him so well. “And what will we do in the meantime?”
Patrick grinned. “I have one idea. Just stay right there.”
David raised a brow but stayed put as Patrick walked over to the counter and grabbed his phone. After a few moments the first sounds of “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” filled the air and he had a strong urge to cover his hands in his face. God, he hoped Patrick wasn’t going to sing to him, or worse perform a dance routine.
Instead, Patrick grabbed David’s hands and pulled them close. In any other situation, David would argue that swaying back and forth was one, not dancing, and two, not appropriate for this song. However, he didn’t want Patrick to learn that his dancing skills only extended as far The Number every Christmas and two lessons on ballroom dancing he took as a child and then promptly forgot. As they swayed David gave a soft smile at the way Patrick sang along, just loud enough for David to hear, with a not horribly sounding falsetto on the oohs. He rested his head on Patrick’s shoulder and let them have this moment, and smiled at the idea that he did indeed have somebody who loved him to dance with.
The moment was broken when the song ended and changed to a song David didn’t know. “So, what I’m getting from that is you love me.”
Patrick’s face turned to his soft, fond expression that could literally melt a marshmallow. “I don’t know if I can ever put into words how much I love you.”
David shimmied. It was like Patrick always knew what to say. He guided Patrick to the couch and they lazily made out until their food arrived. When they went to bed that night, cuddled close to one another, Patrick snoring softly, David let himself look at Patrick and think this is the love of my life .
They sat down on the cleanest park bench and David looked out toward the garden as he ate his ice cream.
“I think we should elope.”
David looked to Patrick, who casually took another lick of his ice cream cone. He looked too calm for a person who just admitted that he wanted to marry David.
“And what brought this about?”
Patrick shrugged. “We both are in arranged marriages we’d rather not have with parents who don’t seem to listen. If we’re already married they can’t really stop us.”
He felt ice cream drip onto his hand and quickly licked it up. “Is that considered treason? I love you, but not enough to go to prison. I highly doubt they’ll let us share a cell.”
Patrick grinned. “Think positively, they might let us have adjoining.” He finished eating his cone and folded the napkin until it was a small square. “I don’t think it’s treasonous? At most, we broke some treaties, which when you think about it if they had to wait until we were in our thirties I don’t think they’re that important.”
David crunched his cone and tasted the sweet chocolate at the bottom. It was like a little prize after eating a cone that always tasted like cardboard. “We can elope, but I have some conditions.”
“Okay, David,” Patrick replied, his small upside-down smile and fond eyes making it impossible for David to look away.
"One, we're still dressing up. You look good in your jeans but I can't contemplate telling our wedding story and saying you wore," David scrunched up his face, " jeans . Two, we need a witness. I'd prefer it was someone we knew and not some stranger we pulled off the street. I was thinking Stevie, she's the only one I know who can keep a secret."
Patrick's smile stretched further. "I mean Alexis has had so many adventures who knows how many secrets she has."
David rolled his eyes. "What she deems a secret sometimes vastly differs from everyone elses. And me getting married? Definitely something she won't keep a secret." He looked down and swung his foot back and forth, kicking at the grass. "The only thing that I think I'll miss is that engagement period. You know when you're planning the wedding and just basking in the well-wishes from your peers. Having strangers stop you and ask about the engagement when they see the ring even though you hate nosy strangers."
"Well, I'm not a nosy stranger but," Patrick got off the bench and knelt on one knee. David let out a shaky breath. God was Patrick really going to propose? "loving you and getting to know you has been such a privilege and something I want to do for the rest of my life." Patrick took off his signet ring. "If I had more time I would pick something better but I can't wait another second to ask. David Rose, will you marry me?"
David tilted his head back and squeezed his eyes shut. He didn’t want to cry and he shouldn’t cry it isn’t like they literally just discussed getting married. Still, a few tears escaped. “Yes, of course, yes,” he replied, voice thick with emotion. He pulled Patrick up and into a kiss, his hands cradled Patrick’s head. When they pulled back David slid off his own signet ring and slid it over Patrick’s left pinkie. Patrick slid his ring on David’s left pinkie and lifted up to kiss it. David couldn’t help himself and had them take a few photos to commemorate the moment. They walked back to Patrick’s apartment and David let himself bask in the euphoria of feeling happy with the person he loves and the dream of marriage.
There were a few things David and Patrick needed to do before they could elope and, while David usually wasn't one for paperwork, he thought this was one he would do for Patrick. He knew that Patrick was busy at work this week and as he walked up the stairs to Patrick's apartment he hoped Patrick wouldn't mind that he invited himself over for supper. It was the best way to catch him and hopefully iron out the elopement details before he told Stevie. As he reached Patrick's floor he stopped in his tracks.
There at the end of the hallway near Patrick's apartment stood Patrick and some woman. They were hugging and David knew that there was nothing necessarily insidious by the action but dread filled his stomach. He watched as Patrick pressed a kiss to her forehead, a small smile on his face, and look of adoration that David had only seen when they were alone. The woman turned around and he noticed it was Rachel.
Rachel, from the neighboring country to the south. Rachel, who he spent one summer with at his parent’s vacation home. Rachel, who was sweet and kind but had a stubborn streak a mile wide. Rachel, who happened to also be an heir. Fuck . He turned around before Rachel or Patrick would notice he’d been there. Of course, that’s who Patrick was supposed to marry. Seeing them together, it made perfect sense and David cursed at himself for not noticing sooner. He took a deep, gulping breath of air once he made it back outside. How long had those two been together? Was David just someone to spend his time with before Patrick got married? He walked as quickly as he could to the nearest park and sat down on the bench without even looking to see if it was clean.
Maybe it was a misunderstanding, after all, Patrick did propose to him. He pulled out his phone and noticed that Patrick had sent a text asking if he could see him, he had important news to tell him. David took a shaky breath. That was it then. Patrick wanted to meet up so he could tell David that the proposal and elopement was a mistake and actually he was in love with Rachel. With shaky fingers, he typed out a reply and told him he couldn’t meet that night. He sat on the bench long enough for the sun to start sinking. David got an Uber and as he reached closer to his apartment he decided it was high time he visited his parents.
It had been a week since he last saw Patrick and David wondered if the aching feeling in his chest would ever go away. That night he had packed the essentials in his suitcase and left the apartment for his parent’s place. They had been surprised to see him, but welcomed him with open arms. He hadn’t told them why he was there and thankfully they weren’t the kind of parents to pry. Patrick was a different story. He had texted multiple times and even called a handful of times. It took all of David’s strength not to listen to the voicemails or read the texts before he deleted them. He blocked Patrick’s number as an extra precaution. He probably didn’t deserve to be ghosted, but David was more focused on his own self-preservation at the moment.
He spent most of the first two days in his closet and while he didn’t like the occasional reminder that he was turning more into his mother, he appreciated the seclusion and the big ‘fuck off’ energy it gave hiding in there. Because that’s what he was doing, hiding. Hiding from his parents, hiding from his friends, and hiding from another failed relationship. He thought Patrick would be different, he thought they were on the same page. David’s mind flashed back to the joy on Patrick’s face as he looked at Rachel. His lip curled and new tears formed in his eyes, apparently, they had been in two completely different notebooks. He pressed a hand to his face and thought about when the best time to sneak out and get food and some gel patches for his eyes. The sound of the door handle jiggling and muttered curses had him lift his head up. A beam of light appeared before he could investigate and he held a hand up to block the rays. Stevie and Alexis stood in the doorway.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
Stevie stepped inside the closet. “You haven’t been answering your phone. Alexis tracked it here and I had her picklock the door.”
“Yeah, David we’re gonna have to have a talk about how to properly hide. It’s like you didn’t even try,” Alexis said.
David groaned. “I wasn’t trying to hide, I just didn’t want to be around anyone.”
Stevie raised a brow. “That sounds like hiding to me.” She sat down next to David. “Come on what’s the matter? Patrick keeps asking me where you are. Did something happen?”
David gave an undignified snort. “I went to Patrick’s and found him basically making doe eyes at Rachel. It’s obvious that’s who his parents have him marrying and,” David felt the tears back in the corner of his eyes and he hated how just talking about Patrick did this, “it seemed like Patrick wouldn’t mind that.”
Alexis knelt down next to David and pulled out a tissue from the box at David’s feet. “You mean Rachel the cutie over in the next country?”
David glared at Alexis, grabbed the tissue, and started to tear it into tiny pieces. “Yes, that Rachel,” he seethed.
“I’m sure there’s an explanation,” Stevie started, “and if it turns out he’s been seeing Rachel behind your back, then fuck him. You’re better off without him.”
David leaned his head on Stevie’s shoulder and tried not to think about the damage the scratchy fabric would have on his skin. “I thought he was different .”
It took another thirty minutes and the promise of going to a spa before David left the closet. Stevie ran him a bath and Alexis shoved soft, comfy clothes in his hand with strict instructions to soak in the tub for at least twenty minutes. He wouldn’t tell them, but the bath did help calm some of his nerves, and as he let the warm water and scent of lavender wash over him he tried to let go of his thoughts and focus on what he should eat when he got out of the bath. After he finished the bath and his skincare and changed into the comfier clothes he exited the bathroom to see Stevie and Alexis in his room. Bridget Jones’s Diary was queued up and there were bottles of wine and two pizza boxes.
“We couldn’t get any mall pretzels but I think this should work for now,” Stevie said from her perch on the arm of the chair, a slice of pizza dangling from her hand.
David walked over, flipped open a box, and was hit with the smell of grease and cheese. “Most people would wait until everyone was here before they started to eat.”
“I’m not most people,” Stevie shouted back.
Alexis wordlessly started the movie and David sank down into his bed. After five slices of pizza and two glasses of wine, he felt his eyes droop and soon he lost the fight to keep his eyes open and fell asleep.
He opened his eyes and was greeted with darkness. He blinked a few times as his eyes adjusted and soon he saw Stevie curled up on the armchair and Alexis asleep to his left. He’d be mad that she was sleeping in his bed, but he remembered the last time she had a break up she’d crawled into his bed. David softly smiled at the thought that she was trying to comfort him.
David ate as quickly as he could. He used to enjoy family dinners, it was one of the few times he was guaranteed to see his family and during Alexis’s more adventurous years anytime she graced them with her presence he let out a sigh of relief. Now, having returned after he cut off things with Patrick most meals felt tense.
“So, David, your mother and I are actually glad that you’ve come back because we have some exciting news.”
“Mmm,” David replied.
“David, your father is trying to relay important information. It’s pertinent you pay attention,” Moira said.
He looked to his father, who seemed positively beaming. “What,” David said tiredly.
“Well, remember when we discussed the treaty.”
“Oh, you mean the one where I get married to someone without any input?” David snarked.
Johnny wilted slightly, his expression turned neutral. “Y-Yes, I guess that’s the one. It’s just that the marriage part of it is coming up soon.”
“And how soon would that be?” David said through slightly gritted teeth.
Johnny cringed. “A month.”
David felt the fight leave his body. “Fine.”
Johnny blinked a few times. “Are you okay?”
David sighed. “I mean this is probably the best I’ll do.”
“Son, I’m sure there’s someone out there.”
David gripped the tablecloth and took a few deep breaths. He glanced over at Alexis who seemed intent staring only at their father. What silent conversation they were having, David had no idea. There was no reason for him to make this a bigger deal by shouting at his dad. “There might have been but it’s over. Besides, it’s hard to find someone when your parents so conveniently use marriage as a political tool.”
“David, your father and I simply want to make this as streamlined an effort as possible. Your cooperation is essential. It is supposed to be a joyous celebration after all,” Moria said.
David didn’t know what to do with that statement at all , and decided to turn his attention back to his father. Johnny looked abashed and David felt it was the least he could be. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but we were in dire trouble and it seemed like the best way to establish goodwill between the two countries.”
David stood up. “Goodwill is building a statue or visiting each other’s countries once a year, not forcing your kids together because you messed up.” David turned and strode out the room. He heard the faint sound of his father questioning Alexis what he did wrong.
He felt his hands shake as the adrenaline left him. He turned another corner and sank down the floor and rested his head on his knees. Things would have been so much easier if he hadn’t gone to Patrick’s that day. Well, no, he knows that isn’t true, but he wished it was. Once he felt more composed and confident he could stand without falling he carefully wiped the tears from his eyes and headed back to his room. He knew Alexis would probably be there, wanting to know how he was feeling, but really he was still processing it.
In another time David would be more involved in his wedding planning. Bring out his old wedding planning book from his youth; he and his partner would pour over it and laugh at the outdated fashion and outlandish table settings. Now, it’s with a resigned sigh and constant prodding by Moira and Alexis that he even picked anything out. He still chose what he wanted, but not with the breadth and fervor that he imagined he would. He knew there were some things he just flat out wouldn’t choose and after spending one afternoon explaining this to Alexis she stormed out of the room and explained if he wouldn’t do it she’d find someone else. His only hope was that whoever she chose at least had some taste.
“If you liked Patrick so much why didn’t you elope with him?”
David looked over his sunglasses and stared at Stevie. “We actually had plans for that,” he said quietly. “It’s why I was going to his apartment that final time. I wanted to start making the few plans we had.”
Stevie grimaced. “Didn’t mean to bring up that.”
David shrugged and flipped the page in his book. “How were you supposed to know? We hadn’t told anyone yet. I was going to ask you to be our witness.”
It was quiet for a moment and then Stevie talked again. “Would you still do it?”
David tucked his bookmark in his book and then fully turned to look at Stevie. “I’m getting married in a week. Who would I even elope with? It’s not like I’ve met someone.”
Stevie dipped her head down and muttered something. “Care to share with the class?” David asked.
She lifted up her head and intensely stared back. “What about Patrick?”
David huffed. “I thought I just told you that ship sailed like three weeks ago.”
“Okay, but you never gave Patrick a chance to explain himself.”
David felt the burn of tears start to sting his eyes and the burn of rage in his chest. “What, so he could tell me he had fun but I wasn’t marriage material? That it was a game and a way to mess around until he settled down? I’ve heard that enough. For fuck’s sake, we agreed to a secret relationship. I thought we were on the same page for the reason why.” David sniffed. Unfortunately, he’d always been a messy crier and he knew if he stayed any longer Stevie would see the snot running down his nose. “I’d like my last memory of Patrick to be sad, but not crippling and devastatingly so.” He got up from the lounge chair and raced to his room, all the while ignoring Stevie’s shouts.
He couldn’t understand everyone’s obsession with Patrick. Stevie made sense, she’d know about their relationship for most of it, but his family? Alexis probably knew a little more because she’s a snoop, but his parents had never cared about his relationships before. Not when he spent a majority of his teenage years upset when someone broke up with him or the disaffected and morose twenties when he pretended to be aloof when really all he wanted was to be loved. As he buried himself under the covers he let out a laugh. Years ago he would have appreciated that everyone wanted him to chase the person he loved, now it felt like a punishment.
Harsh sunlight woke David up.
"Fuck off, Stevie," he mumbled into the pillow.
"Not, Stevie," Alexis cheerfully replied.
"Then, fuck off Alexis."
She pulled off his sheets and ignored his shouts. “But you’re getting married today, David!”
David sat up and tried to wrap himself around a blanket that had fallen off to the side. “I’m pretty sure it’s just Mom and Dad sending me off to my doom.”
Alexis opened the curtains and the light shone through. It was a shame it wasn’t raining to fit his mood. “It’s not your doom. That’s only like that one time I got stuck on that teeny, tiny island with Nicole Ritchie and we had to use this abandoned ski boat and flare until we found a cruise ship. I wouldn’t wish a cruise ship on anyone. There’s so many people, David.”
David grumbled as he got up and headed toward the dresser where Alexis, although more likely Stevie, placed a breakfast tray. He took a sip of coffee and enjoyed the warm feeling curling up in his stomach. Better to feel the deep warmth than nauseous. He ate two bagels as he watched Alexis flit around the room, grabbing his wedding outfit and hair products and a few other odds and ends. “So the ceremony is at two. We have to be there by one. There’s going to be a room for you to get ready in and when it’s about five til I’ll guide you to the altar. Mom and Dad thought it was best so you wouldn’t run away.”
David scoffed. “As if I would run away. That’s more in your wheelhouse.”
“I’ve never run away. You all just never noticed when I left,” Alexis replied airly as he reached over and grabbed the last bagel.
David gave a half-hearted effort to steal the bagel back. He knew Alexis was right, their family wasn’t the best at being a family. Still, it hurt that she implied he never noticed. He always noticed, it just seemed like she didn’t want to be around them.
Alexis got up and grabbed the tray. “You have two hours before I have to come back and get you. Be ready by then.” She left before he could reply. He got up and headed to his closet and pulled a few clothes out to wear. A small thump had him move his attention to the floor.
There on the floor was Patrick’s signet ring. After he threw it in here he’d forgotten about it. He bent down and picked it up. David looked at the way it dully reflected the light and thought that it really needed to be polished. David slipped it on his right pinkie before he grabbed his clothes and exited his closet.
Nerves gnawed at David and the only thing stopping him from throwing up was the fact that the wedding would begin in five minutes and he really didn't want to kiss someone after that. Alexis adjusted his boutonniere and then placed her hands on his shoulders. “If at any point you don’t want to go through with this, just let me know and I’ll get you out. Admittedly now would be the best time, but I’m always good at causing a distraction.”
“It’s not going to do me any good Alexis. I think all of this,” David gestured to the room and himself, “is a sign that this is the best I can get. I made a mistake with Patrick and honestly I’m tired and the sooner we get through this the better.”
Alexis gave him a calculating look and glanced down at his right hand before her eyes softened. “Okay.” She booped his nose and David felt a rush of affection. They walked out of his getting ready room and down the hallway. He heard the soft sound of music, and oh god it seemed like his mother won on getting the harpist. They entered the hall and David felt his nerves lessen as he saw some of his friends and family. Alexis lightly squeezed his hand and he returned the favor.
He stepped up to where the officiant was and nodded his head in acknowledgment to her. She nodded in return and gestured for David to turn and face the crowd. The music changed to “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”. David’s heart flipped. There was no way for anyone to know that was his and Patrick’s song and to have it playing here now was almost cruel. It also wasn’t really something suited for a wedding processional. The reception? Yes, but David would also cry if they had it at this reception where he was marrying someone not Patrick. If this wasn’t a national event with him as one of the guests of honor he would bolt. He focused his attention on the entryway and where his soon-to-be spouse was to emerge. And then a miracle happened. Standing in the entryway resplendent in a black tux was Patrick.
Patrick slowly walked down the aisle, arm in arm with Stevie, a bouquet in hand and his eyes only on David. David felt frozen to the ground and his palms sweat. When Patrick made it to David and the officiant, the music stopped and Patrick handed his bouquet to Stevie. He then turned his powerful gaze to David and the fondness that radiated from his expression was enough to melt David.
“Hi,” Patrick whispered softly.
“Hi,” David replied brokenly.
They stared at each other for a beat longer and then David turned to the officiant. “Can we have five minutes alone please?”
The officiant looked at Patrick and then at Alexis. She looked back at them and leaned closer to them. “Alright, but five minutes is all I can give.”
David grabbed Patrick’s wrist and dragged him to the room he had just left. Alexis’s voice drifted through the hallway as she distracted the guests with a story about her latest adventure. David shut the door and turned to Patrick. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
Patrick’s smile dropped slightly and turned to a more resolute line. “So, funny story you know how I mentioned I was also in an arranged marriage?”
“Yes, but I don’t see how that has anything to do with this. Patrick, I love you but there’s no way you managed to convince your parents and mine that we could get married. Trust me, I tried for years to drop the agreement.”
Patrick raised a faint eyebrow.
“No,” David started a small smile already forming on his face, “You aren’t who I was supposed to marry right? There’s no way.”
Patrick gestured along his body. “Tada.”
David grabbed Patrick’s head and pulled him into a kiss. A wave of relief coursed through David as their lips met. He thought he would never have this again, the way it felt to hold Patrick, wrap his senses around him, and dive right in. They pulled back, slightly breathless, and David ran his hands along Patrick’s lapels. “I know we need to talk, but right now two governments kind of hang in the balance, and I just really want to marry you.”
Patrick wrapped his arms around David and pulled him in. “Are they really? I mean earlier we said we would elope so they would have had to figure out something then.”
David tilted his head back. “But actually we are supposed to get married so if we eloped technically we would have still followed the plan.”
“So kind of like destiny,” Patrick replied with soft, fond eyes.
David held back a smile. “That’s enough out of you. I’m pretty sure our five minutes are up and no one wants to hear that many of Alexis’s stories.”
They left the room hand in hand. The ceremony went smoothly, both of them teary-eyed as they gave their vows, and as they walked down the aisle to the processional music David spotted his parents. They both had tears in their eyes and smiles on their faces and as David looked back on the last month he realized that all of the signs were right there. They just said it in their own way, albeit misguided.
Later, after their reception that was filled with dancing, cake, and more happiness than David had experienced in a long time they head to David’s parents’ cottage on the shore of one of the lakes. It isn’t where they’ll spend their honeymoon, but for tonight it’s a respite from living in the palace with his parents and the surprising lack of privacy it brought. A hand snaked its way along David’s chest. He turned to see Patrick had changed into pajamas and crawled into bed. He rested his head on David’s chest and sighed. “I think we need to talk about the last month.”
David moved to stroke the short hairs at the nape of Patrick’s neck. “You sure we can’t spend the rest of the night in marital bliss?”
“I would love to, but it wouldn’t be fair to you. I don’t want to start our marriage with something this big over our heads. Alexis and Stevie told me a few things, but I’d rather hear it all from you.”
David stilled his hand and instead took reassurance from Patrick’s steady pulse. “I saw you with Rachel and jumped to conclusions. I thought she was who you were supposed to be marrying. I didn’t want you to confirm it, you looked so happy with her. I just thought it would be easier for me to leave the picture.”
Patrick reached up to grip David’s hand. “Oh, David,” he started softly, “Rachel’s my friend. We met in college and while we aren’t as close as we used to I had asked for a favor. She’d stopped by to drop it off.” Patrick let his other hand trail along David’s belly. “I wish I would have tried harder to reach you.”
“I’m pretty sure you tried your best. Me running away to my parents didn’t really help.”
Patrick laughed. “I’m not much better. After you stopped responding I went back to my parents and I ended up telling them everything, us choosing to date in secret, the elopement. It was then that they told me you were who I was supposed to be marrying. Alexis and Stevie helped the best they could. When you told them you didn’t want to see me and didn’t want to elope they thought it best to just, I don’t know, do a big grand gesture at the wedding. That the fact it was me , would change everything.”
“Well, I mean they are right. Seeing that it was you, it was like a weight off my shoulders. I didn’t have to worry about missing you and trying to get along with my new spouse.” David looked at Patrick. “So what was the favor you had Rachel do?”
A faint blush rose to Patrick’s face. “I don’t know how you would feel about it now. But,” he stood up and rummaged through his duffel and pulled out a slim black box. He came back to the bed and sidled up next to David. He opened the box to reveal four golden rings. “I told you during the proposal that I wanted to get you a ring you deserved. I thought for our wedding I would follow through. After our fallout, I decided it was best to wait and give them to you in a private setting.”
David leaned over and kissed Patrick, pouring as much love and admiration as he could. “Thank you,” he replied breathlessly. “Can I put them on now?”
“Of course.” Patrick carefully took each one out of the box and placed them on the fingers of David’s right hand. He took off his signet ring on David’s pinkie and gently set it down as he replaced it with a gold band.
David cleared his throat. “I, uh, wore it today for the first time in a month. When I cut things off I was so mad and upset at myself that I just took it off because I didn’t want the reminder of you. Except for today. I thought if I wasn’t marrying you I at least wanted something to remember you by.”
Patrick’s face softened. “Well, you have me, from now until death parts us.”
“Yes, I do,” David said before he captured Patrick’s lips into another kiss.