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Love In Absentia

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The sound of Connor’s obnoxious oven alarm shocks him out of his evening nap. He lifts a hand to swipe where the drool has gathered on his cheek and groans, uncrumpling himself from his living room couch. The one benefit he finds in living alone is that he can be as unabashedly disgusting as he wants. It doesn’t beat having a boyfriend (or even just a friend) around but it’s something. Sitting up and running his hands through his unbrushed hair, he sighs with the force of a man wronged into waking up, throws a pillow off the couch and turns off the offending siren. Oh right, he was making brownies. 

 

Today is what Connor would classify as a “not good” day. That afternoon he had received in the mail a most beautiful envelope with embossed lettering and a glittering blue wax seal.

 

Connor McKinley,

 

You are cordially invited to the wedding of Kevin Price and -

 

Connor hadn’t read further than that. He tells himself there are multiple reasons he’s upset by the invite. 1) You haven’t found anyone for yourself, so you’re obviously envious. 2) Kevin didn’t bother to invite you in person or speak to you in nearly a year. 3) There is no reason 3, just those two.

 

Connor puts on an oven mitt and extracts the scalding pan, clattering it on top of the hob. He grabs a butter knife and sticks it into the barely cooked mix to see that it is in fact, barely cooked. He figures the gooier the better on a day like this. After opening a cupboard and staring at the colourful and stylish plates for over a minute as he zones out, he decides to forgo any semblance of togetherness and picks up the entire pan with a dish towel. His slippered feet shuffle to the couch as he shovels into the feast that could easily feed 10 people but does little to cure him of this chemical feeling draining him of his once abundant energy. Kevin Price will do that to a man.

 

A year ago, almost to the day, he and his Ugandan friends had parted ways. The elders of District 9 are too entrenched in each other now to have no contact, so they tend to message each other fairly often, but this is still no substitute for his favourite elder. He sighs and puts his feet up on his coffee table where they rest next to the opened envelope. He glances out the floor length window leading to a shoddy balcony. He’s proud of his cramped apartment, that, he is certain of. His hanging plants, his photos of his time in Uganda on the walls and his selectively decorated living room makes each day easier. He has a job he likes, he has friends from work he likes, and he has a home he likes. But love? Love is nowhere to be found.

 

After everything that happened, he had hoped his purpose would become clear. He was wrong on that count, as he began finding he is about so many things. In the last year of his pseudo-mission, he and Elder Price’s friendship had blossomed. He knows that Arnold will always be Kevin’s best friend, but he can’t help but think, looking back, that he had been his closest. He shared things with Kevin that he promised himself never to share with anyone. Kevin shared things that Connor still can’t imagine having to live with. They took on each other’s burdens and, in the process, lightened the load until the struggle became manageable. They made each other’s lives easier. That’s what he thought anyway.

 

He rubs the side of his face with the corner of the dish towel, feeling where chocolate has smudged. He must look like a wreck. He glances down at the envelope at his feet and picks it up with another resigned sigh. He figures he should at least give some mind to who is worthy of marrying the former Mormon poster boy. His eyes glance over the name and he flattens.  He’s hit by the realisation that it still doesn’t give him closure. Kevin Price is marrying a woman he doesn’t know and never wants to know and it’s not helping anything. His feelings stay, his heart still hurts, and the brownie tray is still warm on his lap.

 

He discards the invite and picks up his phone, flicking through pictures he’s saved from the plethora Elder Church had taken. Here, in the solitude of his home, in the comfort of warm, sweet food and huddled in his pyjamas, he can confess to himself. He mouths the words. He pauses on a picture of himself and Kevin. Kevin’s hair is windswept and greasy, his cheeks are ruddied with sunburn and his eyes are squinted shut, but he is smiling.

 

He whispers the words.

 

Kevin’s arm hangs across Connor’s shoulder, his other hand laying on Connor’s chest in a half-hug. Connor closes his eyes and tries to recall the feeling.

 

He speaks the words out loud to the empty room.

 

“I love you.”

 

The flood is inevitable and incoming. Connor hasn’t let himself acknowledge it, almost as much as he tries not to feel it.  He feels the lump in his throat as he spoons another mouthful of brownie, and the tears prick at his eyes. Connor doesn’t do this. Connor is fine. He’s not turning it off, he’s just absolutely fine. He stands up to get a glass of water and catches himself in the mirror. He can’t help it; the laughter bubbles up and the noises coming from his mouth turn from amusement to utter devastation. He tries to will his body to stop as he’s wracked with pathetic sobs over a man he hasn’t spoken to in person for a year. A man he’s never even touched in a way that couldn’t be seen as friendly. A man he’s never kissed no matter how badly he wants to.

 

Looking at his watery, puffy eyes in the mirror he rubs at his face and mutters to himself. Christ you are pathetic, you are a sad, sad little person. Some small part of him is still resentful. That small part is the one that contemplates calling Kevin and asking him what happened. Why don’t they talk like they used to? Why did you start avoiding me? It seemed so sudden. Everything in America had been as expected for the first couple of weeks. They readjusted to their first world lives and called each other daily, until the calls stopped. Kevin started posting pictures with a girl after a month or so and from there, contact had been different. Connor messaged Kevin as regularly as he wanted and Kevin replied as regularly as he wanted, which is to say never. Connor thinks he should hate him for that. He doesn’t.

 

Giving himself one last reprimanding glare in the mirror, Connor starts stripping himself of his pyjamas and decides to take a long, miserable shower while sitting down to make the evening a real home run.

 

An hour later, Connor returns to the living room to grab his phone before heading to bed, only to find his screen bombarded with notifications.

 

Kevin Price. (6 missed calls)

 

Ice cold fear grips his body. He brings a shaky finger to the screen and scrolls down to see one other missed call from Arnold. Completely thrown, he breathes in shakily and tries to calm himself. Not today, please, whatever this is, it is not happening today. Before he can regain any composure, his phone is buzzing in his hand, a name that inspires far too many feelings flashing on his screen, accompanied by a picture of a brunette with a blinding smile. He answers and waits. The voice he’d recognise anywhere comes crackling through the speaker.  

 

“Connor? Are you there?”

 

Connor steadies himself, remembering that Kevin has no idea he’s just been having a day-long meltdown over his unrequited feelings for the man.

 

He breaths out, “I’m here, Kevin. Wow, it’s been-” He remembers the number of missed calls. “What’s going on, is everything okay?”

 

Kevin’s voice sounds even and low. He can hear the interference of a passing car through the speaker. “Not really, Connor. Look, this is kind of insane and I don’t really know what I’m doing-”

 

“Kev, it’s almost midnight where are you calling from?”

 

Kevin pauses and all Connor hears is the steady hum of traffic. He’s pretty sure he remembers Kevin mentioning his home being in a quiet suburb. Maybe he moved.

 

“Connor are you around?”

 

Connor laughs. He still can’t believe he’s hearing that voice; the disbelief comes across as he answers. “You mean am I home? Yeah, I am, still living in Brooklyn.”

 

There’s no response.

 

“Kevin? Hon-“ He cringes inwardly at the term of endearment. “You’re starting to kinda freak me out. Are you alright?”

 

“Connor, I’m in New York.”

 

Connor does his best not to scream into a pillow and replies in the steadiest voice he can muster.

 

“Oh?”

 

“This is super inappropriate- “

 

Connor interrupts in a gentle voice, letting the words linger as he leaves them in the air. “Kevin, do you- do you need a place to stay?”

 

There’s another pause. Kevin answers, muttering.

 

“Shit, I’m sorry, I dunno know what the fuck I was thinking-”

 

Connor scrambles. “If you need a place to stay, I would love to have you. You don’t sound good.”

 

Connor could charge a car battery with the pace his heart is beating as he waits through the drawn-out silence. Finally, Kevin’s voice, sounding more doubtful than Connor was ever used to, comes through the speaker.

 

“Are you sure?”

 

Connor wills himself to come across as cheerfully as Kevin seems to need. “Positive! Do you need me to come get you?” He doesn’t know why he offers.

 

“You drive?”

 

“Um, no. I don’t know why I said that.”

 

For the first time since they’ve started talking, Kevin’s voice is light as he chuckles. “It’s okay, I still have your address from when you gave it to me a while back so I can make my way over. I think I’m, uh, I think I’m nearby.” He pauses. “Maybe ten minutes?”

 

Connor hops off the couch to start clearing away any signs of a crazy sad person destroying his apartment. “Okay! Awesome, I’ll make the place, um, Price-worthy.” He hears Kevin huff. “See you then, Kev.”

 

“See you soon.”

 

“Oh, and Kev? Hold your keys between your fingers. This is New York.”

 

There’s a pause before Kevin replies, warmth seeping through his tone. “Thank you, Connor.”

 

“You’re welcome, Kevin.”

 

After hanging up, Connor gives himself a generous minute to fathom what just happened.

 

You just spoke to Kevin Price for the first time in months and he’s having some sort of crisis. This is fine. The happily engaged man you happen to be in love with is coming here in ten minutes. That’s all, no biggie.

 

He panics just a little bit as he chooses what to prioritise. He changes faster than he ever has, rids the kitchen of all chocolate-covered utensils, tidies the couch, hides the wedding invite, lights a candle, and makes his bed for Kevin in the span of five minutes. He considers applying for the Guinness World Records. He’s still panting when he pick up his phone to look at the time and decides to wait outside his apartment building for him. He unhooks his huge “I’m cold and lazy” brown bomber jacket from the front door, grabs his keys and walks down the building’s freezing stairwell despite being on the fifth floor. If he stays idle too long, he could start overthinking as he is wont to do, and that never ends well.

 

He unlocks the tall wooden door that exits his building. The place is old, and he thinks it’s beautiful. Though it borders on dingy and poorly maintained, it’s the kind of apartment building he had always pictured himself living in when he thought about moving to New York. Small and romantic. It suits him.

 

He crosses his arms over his chest, and he steps outside into the cold November air, which whips at his face as he leans on the stairs outside the front of the building. What in God’s name was Kevin doing out so late in the middle of Brooklyn, and in the freezing cold? He spots a figure through the mist of his own breath. There to his right, facing away from him and leaning against a streetlamp stands a six-foot-tall ex-Mormon he would recognise anywhere, even from the back of his head. He’s shivering, his hands tucked firmly into his pockets with a bag laid at his feet. Kevin Price checks his watch, as if he’s the one waiting. Connor takes a moment before making himself known. He can’t even see his face and he’s already overwhelmed.

 

“Kevin!”

 

Kevin whips around to meet Connor’s signature winsome smile. He doesn’t need to know if it’s real or not. His eyes widen, looking shocked to see him standing there and takes a step towards him. Connor makes his way over, not fully able to contain himself.

 

He jogs over and hops from foot to foot to stave off the cold. “You got here early! That was super quick.”

 

Kevin Price is, of course, as perfect as ever. His hair is out of place, he isn’t dressed for the weather and his eyes are a bit darker than they were, but to Connor, he looks as handsome as he did a year ago. He also looks nervous but smiles down at him and rushes through his words through chattering teeth. “I, uh, just got here!” He picks up the bag at his feet as they walk together into the building. Connor elects not to push him too quickly.

 

“You know I’m gonna interrogate you in a minute but let’s get you inside first, it’s fucking freezing out here.” He holds open the front door as Kevin brushes past him, chuckling to ease some of the tension. After an awkward moment of silence upon stepping into the elevator, Kevin sighs and turns to Connor.

 

“I’m sorry for calling you like that out of the blue, Connor I-“

 

“Ah-ah-ah! Nope! I’m getting you a stiff drink first, and into a warm room before we get into anything.” Connor states with as much confidence as he can muster, channelling his inner Elder McKinley. He finds himself reverting to how he used to act around Kevin before everything went wrong. Kevin used to say he was ‘aggressively kind’.

 

The shivering man nods, a small smile playing at his lips. “Of course.”

 

Before long he has Kevin Price standing awkwardly in his kitchen as he hangs up his thin jacket. He takes in his surroundings and a smile takes over his face. He calls over his shoulder. “I like your place.” He wanders into the living room and over to the old fireplace, now filled with decorative wood, and looks at the pictures hanging above it. He’s in every one of them, along with his fellow elders and villagers. Connor joins him and folds his hands behind his back, as if they were in a fine art gallery. They stand in silence for a moment, as the wooden-wick candle crackles on the coffee table. He points to a picture of Elder Thomas falling flat on his ass as Kevin sticks out a foot, tripping him over. “That’s my favourite one.”

 

Kevin laughs. “It is a masterpiece.”

 

Connor nods, holding back his amusement. “I think so.” He rubs his hands on his trousers, feeling his palms become sweaty and clears his throat. “Did you want that drink?”

 

Kevin halts, as if he’d forgotten for a moment why and how he got here. “Oh, uh, yes please. I’ll take whatever you have.”

 

Connor finds it easier to talk when he doesn’t have to look into his eyes. “I was going to go for hard liquor, but I think all I’ve got is a Merlot, that alright?”

 

“Perfect.”

 

Connor takes two spoons and sets down the brownie tray from earlier, feeling its use has not yet expired, and takes a seat at the kitchen table, pouring them each a healthy glass. Kevin thanks him and sits as Connor takes a polite sip, waiting for him to start explaining what the fuck is going on. He sighs and runs a hand down his face. His once bright brown eyes look tired, and Connor’s heart breaks a little at the sight. He wants to reach out and take his hand. Of course, he doesn’t. Instead, he does what he always does and bridges the gap.

 

“So…What happened?”

 

Kevin shakes his head and takes a sip of wine. “Nothing.” He stares at the same spot on the wooden table. “That’s the stupid thing, nothing even happened. Everything’s just the same as it’s ever been.”

 

Connor is taken aback by his attitude. Kevin Price was a lot of things, not all of them good, but pessimistic was never one of them. “What do you mean?”

 

He sighs and steadies himself, looking down at his hands resting on the stem of his wineglass. “I’m getting married in two months.” He looks up into Connor’s eyes. The intensity of his gaze, this close. Connor’s breath hitches as Kevin continues. “Did you get your invitation? I made sure to send you one.”

 

Connor nods and swallows down the creeping heartache at the reminder. “Yeah, I did. I actually got it this morning.” He protests any bitterness he feels and pushes through it with a smile. “I guess congratulations are in order.” He lifts his glass and brings it towards the other’s but is met with the saddest look he’s ever seen. “Oh. I guess not?”

 

Kevin nods.

 

Oh.

 

If you had told him hours earlier that Kevin was apparently unhappily engaged, he may have been a tiny bit pleased, but now seeing the once joyful man sat in front of him in utter misery, he wishes he were anything but.

 

Kevin takes a hefty swig of his drink and starts gesturing around with his hands, like he does when he gets frustrated. “Look, she’s great. Really, she is, she’s so great.” Connor senses a ‘but’ on the way. “It’s just, everything around us is so much all the time, y’know? My parents and hers are close, so they go to shitty church together and play stupid golf together and everything about me is so wrapped up in her life that it’s all we ever talk about! I don’t think I even know her. And that’s not even the worst of it.”

 

Connor blanches as a realisation hits him, “Wait her family go to- Kevin Price you are not telling me after two years of acting like the representative of blasphemers on earth, that you went and got engaged to a Mormon girl?”

 

His silence speaks for him.

 

“Oh my god.”

 

Kevin pours himself another glass. “I know.”

 

Connor can’t believe what he’s hearing. After everything they moved past together, getting ex-communicated and unlearning years of dogma, Kevin had walked right back into it. Connor thanks him as he tops up his glass and sits in that information for a moment. Suddenly he covers his mouth with his hand and tries to stifle the giggle that escapes.

 

Kevin looks at him, completely offended, but not without a hint of amusement. “Connor! Are you seriously laughing right now?”

 

His laughter bubbles further. “I’m sorry, I am so sorry. It’s just-“ He wheezes as Kevin’s own begrudging smile spreads across his face at his own expense. “I am so, so sorry, I just- her name. Her name on the invite, is fucking Eden. How did I not think she was Mormon!” He wipes a tear from the corner of his eye. Kevin places his head in his hands and his shoulders shake with laughter, releasing everything he’s had to bottle up for months. The wine has definitely helped.

 

“I’m such an idiot.” He sighs as his laughter dies down. Connor tilts his head and smiles as he looks at the man in front of him, if he can even call him that. It hits him that Kevin is only twenty-one years old and engaged. He wouldn’t know how to handle it either. He rests a hand on Kevin’s arm, feeling more confident after drinking faster than usual. He only feels more buzzed at the contact.

 

“You’re not an idiot, Kevin.” Connor supplies gently. Their eyes meet. That fondness they had for each other is rearing its head again so quickly and he knows that not only has he missed this, but he needed this.

 

Kevin’s holds his gaze. He looks hopeless. “I don’t know what to do.”

 

Connor nods and squeezes his arm in comfort as Kevin grows sombre again. “What do you want to do?” Kevin hesitates and averts his gaze, avoiding Connor’s.

 

“I, um. I don’t know.”

 

Connor drops his hand with a sigh. “You do, Kevin.” He takes another sip. “If you could be anywhere, with anyone? Would you choose where you are right now?”

 

Kevin blinks. “Yes”

 

Connor tilts his head. “Really?”

 

Realisation dawns on Kevin. “Oh, where I am in my life! Then, no. No, I guess not.”

 

Connor gestures, perhaps too excitedly. “Well, there you are, Kev! You’re only twenty-one for God’s sake, why waste your life with someone you don’t want to be with, and live in a place you hate?” Kevin nods as his eyes go blank. Connor recognises that look.

 

“Kev, you’ve got that “cannot compute” look going on, you alright?” Connor picks up the brownie tray and decides its time has come. He can’t quite wrap his head around how they’re having a conversation about Kevin’s troubles like there was never a schism between them. The question of why still walks around in his mind. He spoons some of the gooier sections out into bowls and sticks them in the microwave as he awaits Kevin’s response.

 

“I’d have to call off the wedding.” Kevin offers, testing the words as they come out. There’s not much Connor can do to lessen the damage Kevin will have to cause.

 

“Yeah, hon.” He offers a sympathetic smile.

 

His doe eyes start to well up and Connor is once again reminded that he would do anything for the man sitting here on the verge of tears in his kitchen. “My family Connor, they’re- they’re gonna kill me.” He rushes to his side and rests a hand on his shoulder.

 

“Hey, hey, hey. Oh shit, don’t cry Kev.” He grabs the bowls out of the microwave slightly burning his fingers in the process, sticks a couple of spoons in them and offers one to Kevin. Kevin spoons the scalding brownie into his mouth as he continues.

 

“They’re my family, y’know but Jesus Christ.” He speaks through a sticky mouthful and the words come out muffled. “They fucking suck sometimes.”

 

Connor barks out a laugh, finding himself completely at ease with a tipsy, miserable Kevin Price sitting opposite him at his kitchen table as it approaches one o’clock in the morning. He could get used to this.

 

“Yeah, families suck, Kev.” He meets his eyes with all the sincerity as he has. He must look completely obvious, but if Kevin could never tell in Uganda, he isn’t going to start reading into his feelings now. Kevin puts down his spoon and clears his throat with another sip of wine. He looks to the wall in the living room where Connor’s pictures hang.

 

“Not all families.”

 

Connor follows his gaze to their group photos. A warmth spreads through him. He supposes that’s love. He thinks about it a lot, that if he could, he would go back to Elder McKinley in Uganda and tell him to savour every moment spent with those people. That it doesn’t get better than that. He turns back to see Kevin’s eyes fixed on him. This time there is something strong there, something resolute.

 

“Connor, I-“ He pauses as he tries to find the words that could express everything. “I am so sorry.”

 

Connor nods, his eyes go wide, and he feels that lump rise again in his throat. “I know.”

 

Kevin’s candour on full display, he persists. “What I did- I don’t expect you to forgive me. Honestly, I was surprised you even answered my call, let alone offered to let me stay, but I guess of the two of us you were always the better half.” Connor stares down at his hands, feeling the confusion and sorrow he felt in those months left unanswered.

 

Connor speaks quietly, almost through a whisper. “I just don’t get it, Kevin, we were so close. Weren’t we? I mean – “

 

Kevin’s eyes plead, heartbroken at the thought of minimising what they were. “Of course, we were! This year has been the worst of my life Connor and it’s literally no one’s fault but mine.” Connor can’t help but feel like that isn’t entirely true.

 

“But Kevin what happened? Surely you didn’t just decide to stop talking to me on a whim?” Connor is desperate now to understand why he had been miserable for the past year of his life.

Kevin huffs, disappointed, likely in himself. “It wasn’t just one thing, but there were a couple of times-” He mutters something under his breath as he worries at his lip. “I’m sorry this is just- I didn’t think I was gonna do this tonight.” He stands up from his seat at the table and puts away his spoon and glass, eager for some sort of physical distraction. Connor catches on quickly to Kevin’s mounting panic and stands with him. He gingerly reaches out a hand to touch Kevin’s shoulder.

 

“You can leave those Kev. Do you want to come sit on the couch?” Kevin nods, eyes still wide and moves into the living room to sit down. Connor gets a glass of water, leaving it on the coffee table for him. He decides to prompt Kevin a bit, something he used to do when he was in the throws of a panic attack, though it’s much less severe now.

 

“You said that there were a couple of times? A couple of time that what, Kev?” He gives him a gentle smile and the look Kevin gives him in return almost knocks the wind out of him it’s so fond. Kevin sighs.

 

“Okay. God, I can’t believe I’m saying this.” He gathers himself, but avoids eye contact, instead staring at the burning candle. “A week or so after our parents set up me and Edie, the two of us started hanging out, and we pretty much did every day after that.” He rolls his eyes. Connor chooses not to comment on his fiancé’s nickname. “Mom and Dad don’t understand the whole ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ idea, so Edie’s family had pretty much been over every day. They would sometimes read prayers and shit and make me participate, even when I told them I didn’t want to.” He furrows his brow, getting retroactively annoyed. “I mean, you know Mormons, what they’re like, you were one.”

 

Connor nods sagely and huffs out a small laugh at how ridiculous he acted. He urges Kevin to continue.

 

“Yeah anyway, they never told me no in so many words as much as they and the whole community back home started treating me as if nothing had changed. I was still the Super-Mormon to them. Me deciding to leave never happened.” He shakes his head. “The point is they hover.“ He pauses to look at Connor. “There were a couple of times where I found Edie listening in on our calls.” He takes a sip of water, readying himself. “So, Edie starts, getting sort of curious, like, a lot. About Uganda and who I met there. But it’s not just her, it’s her family too. They all ask about my troubled friends.

 

Connor chuckles, “That’s me!”

 

Kevin doesn’t meet his eyes as he continues. “Ha, yeah. They, uh started asking to see my texts on a weekly sort of basis.”

 

Connor recoils at this. “Are you serious?”

 

“I wish I weren’t. That’s kinda when I first started texting you less. I didn’t want my family reading anything we said to each other. Sure, we were being blasphemous and crude or whatever, but I didn’t really care about that.” He stops to look at Connor once more, nerves evident in his face. “It was like, the one part of my life that they hadn’t touched. I didn’t want them to get their hands on you.”

 

Connor’s chest flutters a little at the words. “That’s why you stopped texting?”

 

Kevin nods. “At first. We were still calling by then but soon after that my parents sat me down and had this whole talk.” He starts to pick at one of nails as his voice gets shaky “Apparently they’d been talking to the bishop about me and all of you guys. They went through all of their history.” He swallows. “Including yours.”

 

Connor freezes. “What did they say?”

 

Kevin is reluctant to divulge the details. “Connor…”

 

“Kevin.” Connor doesn’t budge.

 

He looks at Connor, eyes soft with sympathy. “They said that you talked to your leaders about your issues. Well, what they called issues.” He pauses, hesitant to continue. “They didn’t have anything nice to say.” Connor lets him away with leaving out the details. He seems troubled recalling them, and it’s not like it was anything he didn’t already know. “They didn’t want me having any contact with you anymore. With people that were sinful.” He huffs. “Like I wasn’t sinful already. I’m lucky I live so close to Arnold, or I would have lost touch with everyone. And it feels so obvious when I say it now, but when it was happening it was like, I didn’t have a choice. It was my family and relationship or you guys, people I hadn’t seen in months. Her parents even handed me the ring, I- I didn’t really see a way out of it, it was all a slow inception of the idea that I couldn’t leave.” His eyes start to water. “I feel so trapped, Connor.”

 

Connor wants to be angry, wants to be resentful but he knows that world all too well. How people that are meant to be trusted can withhold love and stability for the sake of obedience. He nods, taking in this information and releases a shaky breath. He shuffles closer to Kevin on the couch, resting a hand on his back as he rubs his thumb back and forth. Kevin puts his head in his hands, overwhelmed by the tender touch and the knowledge that Connor still cares.

 

Connor whispers, pity evident in his voice. “You don’t have to be trapped.” He brings one of Kevin’s hands away from his face and holds it. Maybe he’s brave from the alcohol or just desperate to have a chance to bring him back into his life. Connor can’t interpret the look Kevin gives him, it’s too raw and makes him feel too much.

 

Kevin matches Connor’s volume and looks down at where the other’s hand rests atop his own. “I’m engaged.”

 

“You are.”

 

“We sent out the invites.”

 

“People can cancel. And they won’t have to spend money on the registry.”

 

Kevin chuckles then sniffles. “My family.”

 

Connor pauses and sighs. “Yeah.” He considers everything for a moment. What’s the appropriate thing to say, what’s the District Leader thing to say? In the end he thinks, if it were him, he would want his friend’s honest opinion. “You have to do what’s best for you, Kev.” He meets his eyes, squeezing his hand. “I want you to be happy.”

 

Kevin’s sitting so close to him, his knee bumping against his own as he moves. “I wish I had you with me.” Kevin shakes his head in disbelief, like he can’t believe the man sitting in front of him, holding his hand and rubbing his fingertips along his wrist. He chuckles through a runny nose and teary eyes. “All those months, I wish I took you home from Uganda. You’re small, I could have packed you in my suitcase.”

 

Connor beams and laughs. He takes in the face in front of him. His skin is paler, but no less smooth. His hair is unkempt but looks as soft as it ever did. His dark brown eyes are open and vulnerable. Inviting. Connor feels his heart pick up. Connor feels like he might do something stupid.

 

Kevin senses the shift. “Um.” He begins to slowly turn his hand to face his palm to Connor’s. “Connor, I-“

 

From his back pocket, Connor feels his phone buzzing before its painfully disruptive ringtone blares through the once quiet apartment.

 

Hasa Diga Eebowai

 

He curses Heavenly Father for his poor timing. He drops Kevin’s hand, careful not to look into his eyes as he does so and takes his phone out of his pocket, seeing Arnold’s name and unfortunate picture displayed.

 

He gasps and whispers, “Oh shit, I totally forgot Arnold called.” He answers the phone quickly holding it to his ear.

 

Kevin’s eyes are blown wide as he rushes through his words “Connor, you can hang up! I’ll just call him instead he’s probably just-“

 

Connor holds up a finger, silencing Kevin as a smile spreads across his face. “Arnold?”

 

Elder McKinley! Bud!He holds the phone away from his ear, wincing at the volume and puts it on loudspeaker. Kevin looks positively distraught as he makes vague frantic gestures for Connor to hang up.

 

Connor swats his hand away and stands up from the couch to reply and smiles down at Kevin’s stricken face for a moment. “Hi Arnold, sorry I forgot to call back I was-“

 

Arnold’s voice comes speeding through the speaker. “It’s fine! Have you heard anything from my best friend Kevin?”

 

Connor places a hand on his hip and chuckles. “I know who Kevin is, Arn, and-“

 

Arnold jabbers before Connor can get a word in. “It’s just he left me this voicemail and I’m freaking out! He said he’s flying out to New York to see you and tell you everything and he hasn’t answered any of my calls since then and that was like hours ago and he used to be impulsive and stupid and I like that about him, but I’m worried something happened so if he calls you, please, please, please tell him his best friend is calling and freaking out.” Arnold gasps for air.

 

Connor’s face falls through the course of Arnold’s hurried speech. He looks at where Kevin sits on his couch, eyes pleading with him to hang up before Arnold can cause any more damage. He pauses before trying to find his words, his eyes not leaving Kevin’s.

 

“He’s, um, here with me Arn. He’s okay.”

 

Arnold’s panic deflates, replaced by ecstatic relief. “Really?! Well why didn’t you say so! Hey buddy!” He shouts over the loudspeaker.

 

Kevin’s voice comes out deadpan as he sits crumpled in shame. “Hi, pal.”

 

“Glad you’re safe, bud!” Arnold’s excitability vibrates through the speaker. “Did you break it off with Eden?”

 

Kevin covers his face. “Nope.”

 

“Well, you should probably do that before-“

 

Kevin shoots up and raises his voice over Arnold’s. “Ok, bye Arnold, bye-bye now!”

 

“Ok, bye Kev!” Arnold lowers his voice to his version of normal. “Thanks for taking him in McKinley. He’s in good hands. Wink, wink” He says the words ‘wink, wink’.

 

Connor flushes and tries to find two words to string together. “Uh, bye.” He find one and a half. He hangs up the phone and cuts off Arnold’s giggling, leaving him and the man he loves, the man who flew all the way out to New York just to see him, alone together in silence. Connor tries not to get his hopes up over what he just heard.

 

He’s stood in the middle of the living room, placing his phone back in his pocket, his eyes wide. Kevin stands with his hands on his hips, his eyes shut and facing the ground. Connor has to know. He takes a step towards him, leaving a safe distance. He hesitates on the words, trying and failing to keep the hope out of his voice.

 

 “You… flew all the way out here just to see me?”

 

Kevin takes a deep breath and steadies himself, wiping at his nose, the tears now gone from his face. He nods, defeated and with nowhere to hide, Kevin looks him in the eye, offering himself over with the truth of his words. “I knew it had to be in person. Then I got here, and I didn’t want you to think I had lost my mind, because let’s be honest, that is something a crazy person would do.” He lets out a dry laugh at his own expense. “But I just had to, I needed to see you.”

 

Connor swallows, digesting Kevin’s words. “Kevin, what are you saying?”

 

Kevin’s eyes turn soft, his voice quiet. “Connor, every day for the past year, I haven’t stopped thinking about you.” Connor’s heart races as his breaths come out in quick succession. “It took so much longer than it should have for me to realise. Maybe because I’m an idiot or because I didn’t want to, I don’t know.” He takes a step towards him. “When my parents said that my friends, that you, would make me ‘sinful’, that scared me. That scared me so much, Con because- because it’s true.”

 

Connor stares in disbelief. Kevin Price, the incredible, beautiful man in front of him, is just like him. He breathes out, “It’s not sinful, Kevin.”

 

Kevin shakes his head, his eyes not leaving Connor’s. “No. No, It’s not. I’m not. I know that now, I didn’t know it then, God, I wish I did.” Connor moves closer to him as he continues. “We were writing the wedding invitations last week and it was there, when I was writing your name, that I realised.” Kevin reaches out and gently dances his fingers across Connor’s hand, bringing it up and barely holding it in his own. His eyes swim with every feeling he has for the man in front of him. “I was more excited to see you than I was to get married.”

 

Connor doesn’t realise he whispers Kevin’s name until it hangs in the air.

 

Kevin holds his hand firmly, as if it will disappear if he lets it go. Connor’s skin burns where their fingers meet. “I guess it’s kind of obvious by now, but the way I feel about you, it’s so much more than what I told myself it was.” Kevin takes a shaky breath as he tries to steady himself, finding the right words.

“The last couple of months at home, I started picturing what it would be like- “ He rubs his thumb across Connor’s knuckles. “If it was your hand I was holding instead of hers. If it was-“ A blush colours his cheeks as he looks down. “If it was you with me at night- I just had to let you know before throwing away the rest of my life, because Connor, if there is even the smallest chance that you feel the same way-“

 

Kevin doesn’t get to finish his thought as Connor’s lips rush to meet his own in a kiss made up of two and a half years of longing. Kevin gasps and he moves to catch it, not for a moment wanting to lose the feeling of those velvet lips upon his own. Kevin’s other hand moves to his cheek, cupping along his jaw as he gently guides Connor towards him, the shorter man’s hand finding its way to the nape of his neck, holding him there. To think that hours earlier, Connor had given up hope that he would ever find anyone, but here is the man who taught him to want, meeting his tongue with his own like his life depends on it. Connor wraps an arm around his waist, leaning up into the kiss as he curls his hand into Kevin’s hair and tugs. Kevin’s moan causes them to break away. They stare for moment, lips barely an inch apart as they catch their breaths. Connor is the first to laugh.

 

“You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that.”

 

Kevin breaks too. He beams down at Connor, cheeks flushed as his thumb strokes the other’s cheek. “I didn’t even know pulling hair was a thing for me.” Connor laughs as Kevin leans towards him, resting his cheek against the other’s and planting a slow, delicate kiss there. Connor’s eyes flutter shut, and he tries to commit the moment to memory. Kevin pulls back, taking both of Connor’s hands in his own.

 

He looks into Connor’s eyes, determined. “I don’t want you to feel pressured, Con. I get I’m putting you in an awkward position here, and if this is really something you wanna do then it could be kinda messy for a while.”

 

Connor nods, willing himself not to let the amazing moment blur his sense of reality. “I’m fine with messy, Kevin, if it’s you.” He squeezes his hands, blinking back a couple of tears and thinks of how long it’s taken. “I’ve been on board since Uganda, so don’t think you’re getting rid of me this time.”

 

Kevin looks forlorn as he takes a hand and brings it to his lips, leaving a kiss on Connor’s knuckles. “Let me make it up to you. If you’ll let me.”

 

Connor tries to hide a small sniffle as he chuckles. “Okay, you twisted my arm.”

 

Kevin grins again as Connor leads him to the couch, bringing him into an embrace and burying his face in crook of his neck. Connor sighs, content for the first time in a long time. He mumbles against Kevin’s skin. “When are you going home?”

 

“Sick of me already?”

 

“Yeah, get lost.”

 

Connor feels Kevin’s chuckle vibrate through him and tightens his grip, never wanting to lose the feeling now he has it. His eyes begin to droop. It must be nearly two in the morning.

 

Kevin plants a kiss below his ear and mutters, “I don’t know. If you couldn’t tell, I didn’t exactly think this trip through.” Connor squeezes his arms and draws back to look him in the eye.

 

“Stay. For a little while.”

 

Kevin hesitates and glances down, placing a hand on Connor’s knee and rubs his thumb back and forth. “I want to. I want that more than anything, but I have to go home and deal with this.”

 

Connor leans into him, laying a chaste kiss on his lips as Kevin’s eyes flutter shut and mumbles, “For the weekend then.” He draws back and yawns, exhausted from the wine, the emotions and the long bad day which turned out to be a long incredible day. Not letting Kevin argue, he takes his hand and stands. “The bed’s made, I was gonna sleep on the couch but seeing as – “ he lifts their joined hands and smiles down at the stunning man looking back at him, “I guess we can share.”

 

Kevin looks at him, wary. Connor smirks down and assures him. “Not like that. Mind out of the gutter Price, you’re affianced.”

 

Kevin huffs out a laugh, hesitating as he looks down at the couch. They both simmer in silence, taking in the implications of what Kevin has to do when he gets home, the hearts he’ll have to break for a stab at his own happiness.

 

Connor eases his grip on the hand in his own, worry marring his contentment. “You don’t have to, it was just that I’m tired, and you’re here and- “ Kevin tightens his grip and stands with him, silencing him with a quick but searing kiss.

 

“I just want to lay next to you.”

 

Connor’s heart just about bursts, but he nods, turns off the lights and blows out the candle. They stumble through the dark but their grip on each other stays strong. As they lay down to sleep, their hands never stray. The warmth of a brilliant realisation floods Connor as he drifts off, that the possibility of a future spent with his favourite person is not just within his grasp, but is grasping him back.