David plods up the driveway to the door of the cottage. His cottage. The down payment had taken all of his savings—a novel experience that he’s not entirely used to—but having a space to call his own has been worth it. It’s been a long day. Every step of his walk home was an effort, like wading through glue. Mondays are always hard. It’s Patrick’s day off and today was so hectic that he didn’t even have time for lunch. His stomach rumbles as he puts his key in the lock, a low growl that masks the clatter coming from the kitchen.
There’s someone in his kitchen.
Heart in his throat, he peeks around the doorway. A familiar head of chestnut curls is bent over the countertop. “Patrick? What are you doing?”
His business partner flashes a toothy smile that David once imagined was just for him. As always, it makes David’s heart leap even though he knows better. “Hey. I know we talked about spaghetti tonight, but I wanted to make pizza. Hope that’s okay.” Patrick steps forward, pressing a glass of wine into his hand and brushing a kiss—a kiss!—across David’s cheek. “I figured you wouldn’t object to pizza.”
“No, I like pizza.” David takes a gulp of the wine, desperately trying to figure out what’s going on. His business partner—his friend—the man he’s been pining over for the past two years after everything fell apart between them, is making dinner in his kitchen, acting like he owns the place.
“Are you okay?” Patrick frowns at him. There’s a dusting of flour on his cheek. David’s fingers twitch with the urge to wipe it away. “Was it busy today?”
“Yeah. Yes. Roland came in. Twice! Even though I told him the foot cream wouldn’t be in until the end of the week, which means he’ll be back again on Friday. And Jocelyn wanted me to organize her sister’s retirement party? Thankfully, I dodged that bullet. And then Stevie stole three bottles of wine.” This is safe ground. He can talk about the store, it will keep him from asking what is happening with this situation. Why is Patrick making dinner in his kitchen? And what was with that kiss? He brushes his fingers across his cheek. He can still feel the heat of it. It brings too many memories to the surface, too much longing for what he’d let slip away. “It was busy, and I missed you.”
“I missed you too.” Patrick smiles again, his hands quick and sure with the knife as he chops tomatoes. A flash of gold distracts David even further. Is Patrick wearing a wedding ring?
With Patrick occupied, David eases into the kitchen, reaching past Patrick to steal a piece of prosciutto from his cutting board. Patrick leans into him, angling his head for another kiss. Before he can stop himself, David pecks him on the lips, trying not to enjoy the press of Patrick’s mouth more than he should.
He shouldn’t be kissing his business partner. Even if Patrick kissed him first, it’s completely inappropriate. He shies away from the painful memory of the last time they’d kissed. If he’d known then that it would be the last time, he would have held on to it more tightly. What is Patrick doing here? “Did we have plans tonight?”
“I thought you wanted to watch the new Julia Stiles movie?” Patrick rinses his hands at the sink, stopping to refill David’s empty wine glass before sprinkling the cheese and tomatoes across the handmade crust and sliding the pizza in the oven.
“Yeah.” Did they talk about this? It’s not a leap to know he’d want to watch Julia’s latest but has Patrick just invited himself over to make dinner and watch a movie in David’s living room? And then there’s the ring and the kisses. The whole thing is entirely too domestic. Is Patrick trolling him? It had taken months for them to rediscover their back-and-forth teasing after they broke up, but this is a step too far. He needs to get to the bottom of this. “Patrick—”
“Hand me those plates?” Patrick pulls out the pizza, the heady scent of tomato and garlic fills the air. Maybe this conversation can wait until after they eat. Taking his plate from Patrick, he pulls out a chair at the kitchen table. Patrick gives him a funny look. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“It’s just that you usually like to eat pizza in front of the TV so we can get a head start on movie night.”
“Sure, yeah, right.” Trailing after Patrick, he follows him into the living room, stopping short in front of the fireplace. Instead of the Yayoi Kusama print he’d ordered on eBay last month, a full size photo has pride of place. David’s gold-ringed hand cups the back of Patrick’s head as they kiss in front of a white floral altar.
The pieces fall into place, but they don’t form a picture he’s seen before. Patrick’s ring. The photo. He glances at his own hand. The silver rings he’d placed carefully on his fingers that morning shine with gold. Either this is an elaborate stunt or he and Patrick are married.
This can’t be real. He must be dreaming. Or someone cast a spell on him. Even if a miracle had happened and he and Patrick had stayed together there aren’t enough alternate universes for there to be one where he and Patrick got married. It’s simply not possible. There’s no way anyone would want to marry him, especially not someone as steady and kind as Patrick.
Gingerly, he sits on the edge of the sofa and finishes his pizza as Patrick queues up the movie. Setting his empty plate on the coffee table, Patrick arranges himself in the corner of the couch, opening his arms in an obvious invitation to snuggle. Hating himself for how badly he wants something that isn’t real, David curls up in Patrick’s arms, resting his head on Patrick’s chest.
He should be freaking out. But it’s hard to feel anxious when Patrick is holding him so carefully. Sliding his hand beneath Patrick’s shoulder, he cuddles closer. Patrick hums contentedly in his ear. This isn’t his life. It’s too good to be his life. It must belong to someone else, which means, eventually, he’ll have to give it back. He shoves the thought away, listening to the steady thump of Patrick’s heart beneath his ear.
At least the movie prevents conversation. Whatever reality he’s stumbled into, this Patrick seems to understand that talking, especially during a Julia Stiles movie, is incorrect. A firm hand cards through his hair. After he and Patrick had broken up, he’d locked up the box with all his feelings for Patrick, putting all of his energy into salvaging their friendship and partnership. And mostly it’s worked. During the day, at least. No one needs to know about the long hours he’s spent staring at the ceiling above his bed, wondering about what might have been. And now he has the answer. It hurts more than he ever imagined.
He’s not giving Julia the attention she deserves, but the lack of conversation gives him a minute to take in the details of the room. The baseball on the shelf beside the TV. The guitar on a stand beside the fireplace. Each thing is just one more piece of evidence of what he’s lost.
Maybe this is his life now. He nuzzles into Patrick’s shoulder, breathing in the citrus and mint scent of Patrick’s shampoo. Patrick’s hand stops moving in his hair and he presses a soft kiss to David’s hairline. He wants this. He aches for it. But he doesn’t feel like he’s earned it. What if this is his life now? He can’t conceive of the idea of holding a relationship together long enough to get married. How can he be married? Surely his opinions about closet space and optimal refrigerator organization and his seven-step laundry regimen would force anyone desperate enough to marry him to end things out of a sense of self-preservation? He’s repeated these justifications for why his relationship with Patrick failed over and over for two years. They’ve never made him feel better and they’re not working now, not with Patrick’s arm tight around his shoulder and his breath warm against David’s forehead. The credits roll on the movie and Patrick’s hand scratches at the back of his neck. “Let’s go to bed, baby.”
Patrick’s voice is low and rough. It tugs at David’s belly. Oh. Patrick wants to have sex. Which isn’t exactly a hardship. From the beginning, sex with Patrick was a revelation. No one has ever treated him with the same wonder and care as Patrick. He longs for Patrick every day. Ever since the ill-fated barbeque broke their nascent relationship into pieces, he’s gotten himself off to thoughts of his business partner many more times than is appropriate. Keeping his attraction to Patrick under control is a constant challenge. But it still feels wrong to take advantage of this situation, whatever it might be. Patrick’s hand slides under the hem of his sweater, David flinches as he finds bare skin, Patrick’s hand burns against his back.
Raising his head, Patrick’s eyes are hot as they flicker to David’s mouth. He swallows roughly as a firm hand at the back of his neck guides their lips together.
He’s dreamed of the moment when Patrick would kiss him again. Fantasized about it in the shower and in the darkness of this bedroom, but he never thought a kiss could feel as familiar and right as it does in this moment. Patrick kisses him like he wants to take him apart, and David can’t help the low moan that trickles from his lips. He might never get this chance again. “Yeah. Let’s go to bed.”
He follows Patrick up the stairs, evidence of their life together filling the space. A picture of Patrick’s parents hangs in the stairwell. An open door leads to an office that can only belong to Patrick, judging by the framed Blue Jays poster hanging over the desk. On the surface, the house is the same as the one he’s called his own for the past six months. In reality, there’s a warmth and comfort here that David wants to hold tight with both hands and never let go.
In the bedroom, Patrick gently pulls off David’s sweater, folding it carefully before nudging David backwards onto the bed with a low laugh. Overwhelmed, he blinks back tears as Patrick’s body covers his own. When Patrick pushes inside him, the tears escape even as his body rises to meet Patrick’s.
“David. Are you okay?” Patrick hovers above him, wiping away David’s tears with his thumb.
“Yes. Yeah. I just—I never thought I’d get to have this, you know?”
A smile washes across Patrick’s face, bright and sure. “I know.”
Pulling Patrick into a messy kiss, he pants in his ear. “Move, I need you to move.”
Losing himself in the thrust of Patrick’s body, the way his own body tightens as heat builds inside him, he pushes away thoughts about what will happen when he has to face his Patrick again. If nothing else, he’ll have this moment—when Patrick wanted and cherished him again—to look back on as what might have been.
The bed is cold and empty when he wakes up in the morning. Tuesdays are David’s day off, so there’s no reason to expect Patrick to be in his bed at nine in the morning, but David misses him all the same.
It’s alarming how easily he’s adjusted to the idea of sharing not just the store but his life with Patrick. He wanders through the house on the way to the kitchen, taking in all the little details of their life together. Photos in the hallway of the two of them, arms around each other. A book about baseball sits on the hall table. In the kitchen, a yellow sticky note graces the front of the espresso machine.
Miss you already.
It’s cheesy and sweet, and it takes his breath away. How had this David gotten it so right when he’d gotten it so wrong? What was the moment, the turning point where they’d put things back together? Whatever it had been, David had missed it.
Taking his coffee into the living room, he curls up on the couch. Two days ago, the cottage had been his sanctuary. Now it feels empty without Patrick.
What if he could have this? For the first time, he lets himself imagine it.
Two hours later, David hurries down Main Street. It had taken far longer than he wanted to pick an outfit for this morning, but he settled on his Givenchy leather sweater. It’s too heavy for the summer weather but it will give him courage for what he’s about to do.
Pushing open the door of the Apothecary, a quick glance at Patrick’s left hand tells him everything he needs to know. Patrick is stacking jars of moisturizer onto the table in front of the cash register. “David? What are you doing here? Is everything ok—?”
Patrick’s eyes widen as David cups his face in his hands, pouring everything he has into the kiss. For a second that seems like an eternity, Patrick stands frozen in his arms and then hands clutch at David’s waist and Patrick is kissing him back. If kissing Patrick last night had been a reminder of what he’d lost, this kiss is the start of something new. It’s coming home and going on an adventure, all rolled into one. David pulls away, only to have Patrick grip the back of his neck and bring him back for more as the kiss changes to something more frantic.
“I made a mistake.” David gasps out the words, resting his forehead against Patrick’s. “I made a mistake, and I thought that being your friend was the best I could hope for, that it was all I deserved, but I was wrong and maybe it’s too late, but I couldn’t—I had to—” He breaks off, not knowing how to end that sentence without ripping out his heart and handing it to Patrick. Except that Patrick has had it all along.
“David.” Patrick’s hands stroke along his shoulders, grounding him. “What are you saying?”
“Can we just pretend that the past two years never happened?” All he wants is a chance to capture even a tiny piece of the future he’d seen last night.
“No.” His heart sinks as Patrick shakes his head. “I don’t want to forget.”
“Oh.” David drops his hands from Patrick’s shoulders. Of course it can’t be this easy. The fantasy he’d built this morning spins into a cruel joke. But why should this be any different from anything else in his life? “I’m sorry. For kissing you. And ruining everything. We can just be coworkers if that’s what you want.” He struggles in Patrick’s arms, but Patrick holds him tight. “I’m gonna go. Leave you to do—stuff.”
Patrick’s hands tighten on his upper arms. “David. I don’t want to forget. But I do want to start over. If that’s something you’re interested in.”
The smile sneaks across his face before he can control it. He’s wanted this every day for the past two years but he hasn’t known how to get here. “In that case, yes, I am open to entertaining that possibility.”
“Good.” Patrick kisses him again, confident and determined. “Because I’m tired of pretending to be your coworker. I liked it better when we were something more than that.”
“Me too.” Closing his eyes, David tucks his face into the crook of Patrick’s neck, citrus and mint washing over him, bringing him home. “Me too.”