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the ever and ever that fiction allows

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A happy ending was imperative. I shouldn’t have bothered to write otherwise. I was determined that in fiction anyway two men should fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows, and in this sense Maurice and Alec still roam in the greenwood.  

E.M. Forster

 

As all the best things in David Rose's life do, it starts more-or-less accidentally.

He's sitting in the café one day at the counter, trying to avoid talking to people, and using a book as a shield. It's one of his favorites—The Gallery—but always worth a re-read.

"Oh, is that your first time reading that?" a familiar voice says, and Twyla grins at him from behind the counter, coffee pot in one hand. "I love that book. You should read Dreadful, too, it's a biography of the author."

He blinks. "You've read The Gallery?"

"Of course!" Twyla says, not looking affronted in the slightest. He has no idea how some of the people in this town are so happy all the time in their little lives. "I mean, it's a queer classic, isn't it?"

He raises his eyebrows before he can help it. "Um, yes, I just didn't know you were into, y'know, queer literature."

Twyla smiles, wide and toothy. "Well, you gotta know your own culture! Oh, there's Gwen, I should go see if she wants to try the pasta special."

Before he can even begin to process that, she walks away, humming to herself.

.

It takes another instance of conversation over queer literature (The Price of Salt this time) before he brings it up to her, but eventually David hints at suggesting a queer book club.

"Oh, that could be fun!" Twyla says brightly. "Just the two of us, or did you want to ask Ronnie who else would be interested? She'd probably know everyone in town who would be interested."

He blinks. Right. Ronnie and her girlfriend…Carol? "No, that would be good, for more people. But no teenagers!" he says hurriedly, remembering that harrowing conversation with Connor at the high school who managed to unmask and flagellate all his insecurities within about ten seconds.

"Yeah, I get that," she says. "My second cousin's nephew came out last year, and he had so many questions. I'm happy to help, but I did wonder if he knew about Google. Is that still a thing, with kids?"

David has got to ask Alexis for tips on how to speak Twyla. Is she ever being sarcastic, he wonders?

"What books did you have in mind?"

"Well, I liked your suggestion of Dreadful," David says, and Twyla beams. "The Elmdale library doesn't have it, though, so that could be a problem. I was thinking of sticking to classics, mostly. Orlando, Giovanni's Room, that sort of thing…"

She nods. "And what about mixing in other genres? Some nonfiction, maybe. Or poetry! I read Turtle, Swan last year."

He nods and starts gesturing in the air, sketching out ideas and already picturing a meeting (held here at the café, of course) with the attendees (David, Twyla, Ronnie, several nameless faces he assumes Ronnie can bring with her) holding copies of the book (collectible editions of Leaves of Grass). Quite frankly, it's perfect.

 

 

January: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

The first meeting attracts more people than he thought he'd get (nine) and more unacceptable ideas than he wanted (ideally, zero).

He'd decided to start out small with the first book and has them read A Single Man, a classic he has read a few times since they landed in Schitt's Creek, dreading the day when he inevitably becomes a queer elder living in the middle of bumfuck nowhere.

(The more he reads it, the more he relates to George; he's yet to experience the type of grief described, but something about books triggers his ability to confront his emotions. He can feel his heart ache at the loss of a partner without having had one; he can enjoy vitality even in loneliness without feeling it.)

It was well-received: Twyla loved it, cementing David's opinion of her as a fundamentally good person; Ronnie said it wasn't bad, which seems like high praise; one of Twyla's many cousins, Nico, said he liked being able to explore the mindset of a different generation of queer people. Ray gushed praise over it; Marta from the softball team gave a thoughtful critique; Karen, Phil, Lois, and Geoff stayed pretty quiet.

And then there was Ray's new roommate. Patrick.

Who had said he liked the book and then proceeded to eviscerate the whole thing.

"Honestly, it's the kind of book that makes you hate yourself. It's all about loss."

"Okay, but it's about life, too," David argues from across the table, trying not to throw a mozzarella stick in in this man's admittedly very nice face. "There's something life affirming about the deep of affection he has for his partner."

"Right, but it's not about love," Patrick says, and his burger must be getting cold from choosing to argue with David over something he's clearly wrong about. "It's not just loss as in the death of someone, it's also loss of identity and direction and love."

David raises his eyebrows. "So you do admit it's about love."

"No, it's about the loss of love," Patrick says more patiently than any person should hold the capacity for. If he weren't so clearly invested in this, it would be ridiculously patronizing. "And loss in general. Like when his colleague kisses him, that's a loss of self-identification."

"Um," Lois says, a few places down. "Isn't that just a case of miscommunication?"

David ignores her. "Okay, you are reading way too into that. It's not a loss, it's homophobia!"

"Is it?" Patrick presses. "Or is it the loss of a visual cue as to his sexuality?"

Twyla swings by the table; she couldn't take the evening shift off, she says, but she didn't mind only catching some of the conversation, and would sit down and join in conversation if there was a lull. "How're we all doing? Did we get around to talking about the choice of stream of consciousness yet?"

"Not yet!" Ray says rather cheerily. "Patrick and David have really been hitting it off, though!"

"Well, they're hitting on something," Ronnie mutters to her girlfriend, and David really hopes Patrick didn't hear that, although if the way his face reddens, that seems unlikely.

"Well, now that Twyla's back, let's talk about the narration," David says, and if he holds Patrick's steady gaze while he says it, that's no one else's business, thank you very much.

They all discuss for another half hour, and then they move on to structure. Meetings the third Thursday of every month — Twyla says she'll mark it in her calendar so they can set aside a couple tables — and someone says they'll set up a Facebook group with reminders and announcements for anyone who misses a meeting.

"For the book next time, I was thinking Orlando by Virginia Woolf," David says, and he sees a couple of nods. "Is everyone okay with that? And then maybe we can bring in suggestions at the next meeting so we have a pool to choose from."

He sees Patrick open his mouth out of the corner of his eye, but he closes it again. He and Ray leave together with Marta, and the moment to say anything is over.

 

 

February: Orlando by Virginia Woolf

The second meeting seems to go slightly smoother than the first. Much to his chagrin, Stevie annoys him until he shouts at her that she can come but only if she actually reads the book, thank you very much. Other than that, they lose a few people and gain a few, which feels disconcerting, but David's knowledge of book clubs is mostly founded on that moderately decent film with Emily Blunt and Hugh Dancy, so who is he to say.

The discussion of Orlando is great. They get in a lot of discussion of how gender perception has changed and the terminology they should use to discuss the titular character, and what was intended with the satirical allegory. He loves this conversation, the kind of unpretentious intellectualism he pretended to hate in college just like everybody else. But it makes him feel alive in a way he hasn't for a long time, talking about things he enjoys and knows something about, and not having to put on more masks than he already finds himself displaying.

Plus, Patrick doesn't seem to have anything infuriatingly incorrect to say this time. Well, until the discussion of their next book comes up.

"Did anyone bring any suggestions?" he says, and a few people did bring some. Ronnie suggests Giovanni's Room (tried-and-true, but sure); Ray suggests The Importance of Being Ernest (it falls to Patrick to explain that while yes, Oscar Wilde was queer, the play mostly isn't); and Twyla suggests Passing by Nella Larson (an excellent choice, which David scribbles down with something skirting towards glee).

"Huh," Patrick says quietly from across the table, and it is taking everything David has not to throw this man out of the café. From next to him, Stevie is grinning. He hates her.

"What?" he snaps.

"Well, it's just that most of these books are classics," he says slowly, "and there's nothing wrong with that, if you like that sort of thing—"

"If?" He's not sure if the screeching was aloud or only in his head.

"—but most queer literature is more contemporary, right? By limiting it, you're excluding a lot of good writing."

"Okay, but nothing good was written before 1980," David snipes, and internally winces the moment the words fall out of his mouth. He is absolutely going to regret that.

"Interesting," Stevie says slowly. He's not sure if she'll be rifling through the library books on his nightstand to check the copyright year on them, or if she'll get Alexis to do her dirty work, but either way, he's doomed.

"Nothing?" Patrick raises an eyebrow. Fuck, he has really nice eyes. Focus. "Not The Color Purple? Or The Normal Heart?"

"Okay, well those are clearly exceptions—"

"Clearly? What about Middlesex, or Tipping the Velvet, or Tell the Wolves I'm Home? Hell, even Fun Home—"

"Fun Home?" Well, now David is definitely screeching. "A graphic novel is not a classic!"

"That one is!" Patrick says, and he looks mad, and hot, and fuck. Nope. No, no, no. "I mean, they made it into a goddamn Broadway musical, pretty sure they haven't done that for Gerard Manley Hopkins!"

"This is fun," Stevie says in a rather loud whisper to the rest of the table. "I like this."

"Should've brought popcorn this time," Ronnie mumbles.

David barely has time to be impressed that Patrick has read Poems and Prose before Twyla smiles sunnily from the far end of the table. "I like Patrick's idea," she says, and he could kill her, she was on his side, she helped start this whole book club, for fuck's sake. "I'm more of a classics person myself, but it's good to branch out in reading!"

A few of the others nod.

"What about The Color Purple?" she says. "It's a little more contemporary, but it's a pretty well-cemented classic."

"That's been on my to-read list!" Ray says. David could strangle him with his bare hands. As much as he likes Alice Walker, this is officially out of (his) control.

Across the table, Patrick raises an eyebrow. "Early 80s too modern for you?"

That should not be as attractive as it is. None of this should be. "That's fine."

The table seems to breathe a sigh of relief, and this time when Patrick leaves with a few of the others, David very discreetly checks out Patrick's ass. Damn.

"Um, what was that?" Stevie says as they pay their tabs.

"What was what?"

"You, checking out New Guy's ass," Stevie says. Okay, so not as subtle as he thought, and he is very tempted to pull out his phone and Google if it's still a felony to murder your best friend when they are deliberately provoking you to violence.

"I was not!" he hisses. "And be fucking quiet, will you!"

"Mm, I don't think I will, nope." She looks far too pleased with herself. "You and New Guy, huh."

"His name is Patrick," David says. Stevie's responding grin is fucking feral.

 

 

March: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Naturally, Patrick shows up to the next meeting with weapons, like the overachiever he probably is.

"You made a list," David says, a little dumbfounded.

"You insulted my taste in books," he volleys back.

"Okay, I didn't insult you," David says, a little put out. Whatever some of the people he regularly socializes with think of him (his sister, Alexis, most of the people in this town) think of him, he's not mean. He's just… picky.

"You insulted something I like," Patrick says a little too calmly for someone who truly believes that. "Why wouldn't I come prepared for battle?"

He blinks. "I'm sorry, when did this become fucking World War III?"

Patrick doesn't say anything, just stretches out his hand with the list in it. He takes it before he can think more about this dynamic they've developed, the fact that the other day he said something snarky and proceeded to have an entire back-and-forth with the Patrick in his head before Stevie called him out for daydreaming.

A Compromise, his list is titled.

David looks up. "Um. What is this?"

There's a dumb little smile pricking up the corners of Patrick's mouth. "Did you read the title?"

"Of course I did," he says, and Patrick's smile splits into a full-blown grin. "A compromise? What are we, twelve?"

"Compromise is essential in all parts of life," Patrick says mildly, and with that, he sits down and starts chatting with Ronnie's girlfriend about something sports-related.

A Compromise

The Color Purple – Alice Walker (1982)
Annie on My Mind – Nancy Garden (1982)
Zami – Audre Lorde (1982)
Sister Outsider – Audre Lorde (1984)
The Normal Heart – Larry Kramer (1985)
And the Band Played On – Randy Shilts (19857)

He looks up. "Um. Did you just Google '1980s queer literature'?"

Patrick gives his strange little smile that would look like a frown if the way joy radiates from his face didn't give it away. "Yes."

.

They manage to make it through almost the rest of the meeting before he and Patrick have any more significant interactions, and David finds he kind of misses it. He likes having someone at the same intellectual level as him, even if their brains seem to work in completely different ways. He has Stevie, but she's been reading her weird indie horror books again recently, and sometimes Alexis is an… acceptable… conversational companion, but this is different. This feels electric in a way he hasn't felt in a long time. Perhaps ever.

Lock it up, Rose, he tells himself rather sternly, before the next book selection.

"David?"

He jerks his head. "Huh?"

"What do you think?" Twyla's looking at him eagerly, and he thinks she needs a better source of self-esteem in her life than Alexis, of all people, is likely to give her.

"I'm sorry, I got distracted, what were we talking about?"

Ronnie snorts. "You and Mr. Argumentative here."

("Huh," Patrick says softly. "Would we really call me the argumentative one?"

She ignores him.)

"We think we've found a good solution for book selection," Twyla says eagerly. "We switch off! So alternating between older classic literature and more contemporary picks, and stuff in the middle. That way we all get a little of what we want, and get to explore new things."

"And we won't run out of choices before the year's out," Ray says, cheerful as ever. "I've quite enjoyed these little get-togethers, David!"

"It's a good compromise," Stevie says far too innocently from next to him.

He glares at her. See if he buys her any wine for the foreseeable future. "Is it?"

"Oh, I think so," she says, and suddenly he knows that although she hasn't said anything to him since their meeting last night, she managed to see the 1998 copyright date on his copy of Autobiography of Red and this is payback.

"It sounds good to me, actually," Patrick says, and there is nothing in the world that could ever compel David to admit that it's his hopeful little face that gets him to say,

"Fine. Sure."

.

It's a week later before he empties the pockets of the jeans and sees the additional note scribbled on the back of Patrick's compromise list:

I think we could have some good discussions on these.

 

 

April: Dog Years by Mark Doty

For the club's first contemporary book (David will not be thinking of it as Patrick's choice, thank you very much, although the list he presented last time makes it very clear that it was his choice to split their reading choices like this), they pick a ten-year-old book about dogs.

"Dogs," David mutters to Stevie as they walk into the café. "Fucking dogs."

"Oh my god," she says, exasperated. "You don't have to be near it or anything, it's not going to kill you."

"No, but this discussion might," he says.

The energy at this meeting is good, and if David had known that picking a contemporary book was all it would take for people to get more engaged, well, he probably still would have put up a fight but might have rested a little easier with the knowledge. A surprising amount of people seem to be pro-dog (a decidedly erroneous opinion), and pretty soon Nico's telling stories about his brother's spaniel and Karen goes on some story about her parents' German shepherd and grief and therapy dogs.

David sighs a little.

"Bored?" Patrick says, leaning across the table. He's been surprisingly subdued all evening, with a few wan smiles and occasionally paging through his copy of the book to contribute a relevant quote.

"A little," David admits. They're at one end of their long table, and the discussion seems to have settled around the other end. "Not much of a dog person, you know?"

"Ah," Patrick says, with the tone of someone who decidedly does not know. "I mean, I guess I thought this was more about grief than dogs."

"Well, you're not wrong, it's just a lot more about dogs than I'd like."

Patrick stifles a laugh. "What did you think the book was about?"

"I don't know! I thought dog years was a metaphor! Like dog days of summer, or something."

"There's an illustration with two dogs on the cover," Patrick points out. Why does he have to be so logical?

"Mm," David says, and the two of them share a smile that for once doesn't seem mean or pointed or arch, and he can feel his face heating up so turns back to the conversation, diving in on how queerness intersects with displays of grief.

.

Three days later, David is going to meet the rest of the family for dinner when he nearly runs into Patrick, who is attempting to coax a small dog with floppy ears and sad eyes to keep walking.

"Um, hi."

"Oh, hi, David," Patrick says, and how the fuck does he always look so goddamn composed? Does the man never get flustered? "Café again?"

"Café always," he says. There's no point in grumbling anymore — he's resigned to eating at the café for nearly every meal — but he'll complain anyway, for the hell of it. "I didn't know you had a dog."

"Oh, Daisy's not mine," Patrick says with that easy smile. "She belongs to a friend of Ray's, she broke her leg so she can't get Daisy out for walks right now. I offered to do it for a while."

"How very Boy Scout of you."

"Yeah, well, I like dogs," Patrick says with a smile.

"I figured," David says. "I mean, your book club selection."

"Oh," Patrick says, and Jesus, he looks like that cartoon cat voiced by Antonio Banderas. "No, um. I mean, yeah, I like dogs. But I chose that because my parents put down their dog a few months ago. It — it sounds silly, but it spoke to me."

"Oh," David says, and then for lack of anything better to say, "That's, um, that sucks."

"Yeah, he was pretty old, though; sixteen," Patrick says, and at David's slightly blank look, "that's old, for a dog. Especially for a Lab. We got him when I was in Grade 9, and he was… he'd just always been there, you know? Kind of like a constant."

David does know. That's how he'd felt about Adelina, bless her. A constant, right up until his mother had rather abruptly let her go shortly before he went off to university, because Alexis is fourteen now, dear, that's a little old to need a nanny and they'd been in a temporary period of "cutting costs," which hadn't applied to his mother's wig acquisitions but had included the loss of the only stable parental figure in his life.

"I get it," is all he says. "Um. I'm sorry about your dog."

Patrick gives him a funny look, and he realizes that after the discussion a few days ago, he may have come off a little harsher on pets than he had intended. "Thanks. Didn't think you were a dog person."

"Oh, I'm not," David reassures him, and Patrick's mouth does that funny little frowny-smile. "But I'm not, uh, heartless."

"Didn't say you were," Patrick says, and smiles. "Uh, I'd better get Daisy back to Mrs. Gallagher, we've been a little while." From its place on the sidewalk, the dog sighs.

"Yeah, of course," David says, and if he feels some kind of emotion as they say goodbye and he studiously does not look at Patrick's ass walking away, he decides to ignore it until the next book club meeting.

 

 

May: Maurice by E.M. Forster

"It's happy," Patrick insists.

David throws up his hands, and he's aware that he's being dramatic and seems like something out of a movie, but this moment calls for theatrics because Patrick is wrong. "It's not! It's sad! It's a goddamn tragedy!"

"They're together in the end, that's what matters."

"Um, it was nineteen-fucking-fourteen, the world was about to launch into one of the biggest and deadliest wars in history and everyone fucking saw it coming, and oh yeah, it was still illegal to so much as kiss a man!"

"But they're together," Patrick says. "They got to have their happiness, even if it's under less than ideal circumstances. They get a future together."

"Life," David pronounces with the wisdom of someone far older or much younger, "doesn't always get a happily-ever-after."

Patrick flinches, and it stabs at David, just a little.

There's a flurry from the door and he can hear Stevie rushing in, late from whatever inane thing his father's put her up to, and she slides into a chair, gasping, "What'd I miss?" to Ronnie.

"The Brewer and Rose show," she says grumpily.

"Dammit."

"It's still going."

"It's not still going," Patrick says sharply, cutting off this little side conversation. "I'm sorry to have taken up so much discussion time. Marta, do you have any thoughts, on Forster's intent for the ending?"

Marta looks very relieved as she launches into her thoughts on the unpublished epilogue, and if Forster intended for it to be included versus what the publisher thought after his death, and David looks sideways at Patrick. Right until Patrick cut him off, he thought they had a good thing going. Debate fosters intellect, after all, or so he informed nearly every professor he's ever had. And he'd thought Patrick agreed with him on that principle, but maybe not.

They wrap up their discussion and select next month's book, and as everyone settles their tab and files out, David finds that Stevie has pulled Ray out the door with her, talking loudly about property values and cosmetic improvements.

She's an absolutely fiendish bitch, he hates her, and thank god. He kind of wants to continue this conversation.

"Hey, uh, what happened back there?" David says, oh-so-casually glancing up from his phone. "You seemed to get a little pissy or something."

There's a pause, and then Patrick says, "Do you really think that there's no such thing as a happy ending?"

David smirks. "Well, there's one happy ending I have yet to experience but think would be utterly delightful."

To his satisfaction, Patrick's face flushes. "Yeah, wasn't talking about that, surprisingly. The fairy tale ending kind."

"Mm." David really wants to tease Patrick about happy endings some more, but there's something about the set of his jaw that calls for less teasing and more forceful exchange of opinions. "Yeah, I don't believe in those."

"Really." He crosses his arms. "You don't believe in any kind of long-term happiness."

David shrugs. "I mean, not really? Not like I've ever seen any."

"Um, your parents are still married, aren't they? And quite happily. That seems like a good example of long-lasting happiness."

"Yeah, not exactly the kind of picturesque joy you're imagining."

Patrick rolls his eyes, and really, that's David's move, what on earth is going on here? "Yeah, I'm not talking about the whole prince and princess, Disney fairy tale, Cinderella and the prince lived happily ever after, here. I'm talking about a long-term relationship that find both people still in love, even when their circumstances are wanting."

"Talk about wanting circumstances," David mutters, because does he ever know something about that, but the look on Patrick's face darkens even further. "Look, I'm just saying I don't believe in that—"

"So you're saying it's not possible," Patrick says flatly. "That Forster's fiction isn't grounded in realism."

And that's it, David's done, he's not responsible for what he says next, which is: "No, it's not fucking possible, so maybe you should stop waiting for your happily-ever-after prince and move on with your life!"

He wants to take it back as soon as he says it, watches as Patrick's face goes from a scowl to blank with a momentary flash of unbelievable hurt. He's hurt people before. Lots. And plenty of people have hurt him. Mostly he doesn't care when he insults people, because generally he doesn't care about them and their small-minded opinions. But somehow Patrick has slipped into the small circle of people whose feelings he cares about.

"Yeah," Patrick says quietly. "I'll do that."

And fuck, he messed this up. He really, really messed this up.

 

 

June: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

After their rather heated argument last month, David has made a point of avoiding Patrick around town. They never did cross paths that much, but there's only one restaurant and one grocery store and really, one of everything, so you see people.

Which is why he's both very surprised and not surprised at all to walk into the café just before their meeting time to see that Patrick is not here.

Neither of them has missed a meeting, so far, but it was about time. They're six months in to this, now; people come and go and usually come back again, and it’s all fine. But somehow they’ve made it to June, and Patrick and David are the only two who have showed up at every meeting.

Until today.

“Happy Pride!” Twyla says as he makes his way to their usual pushed-together tables. She’s got two smears of rainbow glitter across her cheekbones like the sports people wear, and her nails are painted alternating shades of blue, pink, and purple. “I’m assuming you don’t want any glitter, but a sticker? We’ve got pronouns and most of the different flags.”

“Mmm, no, no glitter,” he says, suppressing a shudder of horror. There is no way his pores or his Balenciaga sweater could handle that. “And maybe later, for the stickers.”

“Okay! Chicken club with extra fries?”

He nods, and then looks around.

No Patrick.

There's Ronnie, very reluctantly sporting a rainbow sticker, and Twyla's cousin's cousin, or something like that, has yellow and purple glitter all over their face. (He sits very far away.) Characteristically, Ray is waving a miniature ace flag, and even Stevie is looking at the sticker selection with some interest.

They move into their discussion seamlessly; the book this month is the most contemporary selection so far, but even David has to admit that Sarah Waters is a genius who can use getting away with violent crimes as an elaborate metaphor for the covert nature of queer women in interwar England. They pick apart the details of the homophobia in the book and how female relationships reflect the loss of a generation of men. Ronnie makes some blunt comments about feminism's level of intersection with the lesbian community; as always, Marta's thoughts are eloquent, and she and Ray get into an intense comparison of Frances and Lillian with historical counterparts in the Bloomsbury group.

Still, it all feels wrong without Patrick here.

The thought barely slips into his head when, forty minutes into their discussion, Patrick hurries into the café, face red and sweating. He looks exhausted in a way that implies more than just a lack of quality sleep.

"Hi, so sorry I'm late, personal stuff," he says, slipping into the empty chair next to Ray at the other end of the table, where David can't see his face unless he's looking intentionally towards that end.

"No worries," Twyla says cheerfully, and gets up from her place across from David. "Iced tea and BLT?"

"Yes, please, thank you so much," he says, and just like that, he's back and they pick up their conversation about social class and acceptability of queerness.

.

As everyone else leaves the café, Stevie comes up and pinches the back of David's neck.

"The fuck?" he yelps. "What the fuck was that for?"

"Stop being an asshole," Stevie says, and why does he tell her anything? She jerks her head towards Patrick, who's finishing up the last of his sandwich, and before he can protest or catch up to her without looking like a stumbling baby giraffe, she's out the door.

"You don't have to stick around," Patrick says, and he turns to see him still sitting at the end of the table. "I'm fine eating alone."

"Um. I don't mind."

"No, really," Patrick says, and the defiant look in his eyes only makes David want to go and sit down across from him. "It's fine."

David can feel his face pinch up and knows he's making a ridiculous expression that says he's not used to this, but it's the truth. He's not used to apologizing, or being expected to take responsibility for his actions. It's not like his parents ever have held him or themselves to that kind of standard; with Alexis and Stevie, he mostly tells them to fuck off and eventually it's fine.

"I'm sorry," he finally forces out. "I, um, I took it too far last month."

"Yeah," Patrick says, but it's not judgmental or mean, just even and agreeable. "You did. Thanks for apologizing."

"You're welcome." The words sound foreign in his mouth. "Are — are you okay? You seem kind of…"

"Tense?" Patrick offers with a strained laughter.

"Tired," David corrects. "Like you've got a lot going on, or something. I've been told I'm a very good listener. When I, you know, actually stop talking."

"I think you're a good listener even when you are talking," Patrick says, and he's not sure what the scientific term for it is (a neuro-whatsit misfiring?) but his brain whites out for a split second. "But, uh. I'm good, I think."

"Okay." David doesn't say anything, just takes the last of Stevie's fries and gives him a small quirk of a smile. "Um. See you next month?"

Patrick nods. "Wouldn't miss it."

And somehow, David believes him.

 

 

July: The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer

"Twyla, are you sure it's all right?"

David jumps when he hears the voice; he thought he was the last one left of the book club, other than Twyla, who's been bustling between George in the kitchen and carrying on their discussion of allied activism in the café. But Patrick's standing at the end of the table, pulling a laptop out of a backpack. "Jesus, I didn't know you were still here."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Patrick says, and honestly, the fact that he's genuinely contrite about it is both endearing and infuriating. He jerks one thumb behind him. "Bathroom."

"Of course, it's totally fine!" Twyla calls over one shoulder as she goes into the kitchen. "I'll just be another half hour—hey, George, did Mrs. Lindgren at table 12 get extra fries? She paid for them but I don't have it written down."

"You're…staying?" David asks, watching as Patrick plugs in his computer charger and extracts a legal pad from the aforementioned backpack.

"Yeah, I'm teaching Twyla how to use Guava," Patrick says. "It's this restaurant software, so the café can keep track of ordering food better."

"Oh," David says, and he feels a little awkward lingering by the table, but he could really use—

Patrick looks up at him. "Did you want to talk about the book more? I have some time to kill, I guess, Twyla needs to close up and everything."

"Sure," he says, although that wasn't what he intended. "I mean. If you don't mind."

"Go ahead," Patrick says, and gestures at the seat across from him, which David takes a little too quickly. "Good discussion tonight."

"Yeah," he says, and then, because he'd been meaning to ask, "Have you seen the play before?"

Patrick shakes his head. "No. I know it was in Toronto a few years back, but, uh, I wasn't out then."

"Okay, going to a play about one of the world's worst infectious disease crises doesn't make you queer—"

"No," Patrick says, and David thinks he's going to say I know that, but instead he says, "I wasn't out to myself, yet. I thought I was straight."

He blinks. "Oh. Um. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have assumed."

Patrick barks a laugh. "No, it's fine. Um, I wasn't out to myself until last year. And then other people earlier this year. It's kind of ridiculous, a thirty-year-old man not knowing some pretty crucial information about himself. You're fine to assume."

"It's not ridiculous," David says, quietly.

Patrick looks down at his hands, resting on the edge of the table. "That's nice of you to say. But I mean, isn't it, though?"

"It's not. At all."

He smiles. "Thank you, David."

David gives a little smile back, and tries to think of how to get out of this awkward moment. "Um. Have you read And the Band Played On? That's another good one, to follow this."

Patrick shrugs a little. "Eh, I read Mayor of Castro Street and wasn't a big fan."

"This is better," David reassures him. "It's seminal, really. And there are better biographies of Harvey Milk, if you want them."

"Okay."

They fall into silence again, and he wonders how he can bring it up. It's awkward, especially since they seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot, but if he can just figure out some way to bring it up…

"What's on your mind?" Patrick says, and when David looks at him, he's got his head tilted thoughtfully, and it's inviting.

"I want to start a business," he says, before he can even stop the words from falling out. "Or, I think I might be. I put in a business proposal to town council last week, but then Christmas World got the store, but then they backed out or something? And I guess the storefront is mine now. So. I'm opening it."

"Wow." Patrick looks impressed. "What's the store?"

David fumbles his way through an explanation, and Patrick isn't really even holding back laughter by the end, and he wants to be offended (and maybe he is, just a little) but he knows Patrick well enough by now to know that he's just a troll. Like Stevie.

"Well, you've got a little bit before you have the keys and everything," Patrick says, a little too sensibly. "Time to iron out the details."

"Mhm. Iron out, yup." What the fuck does that even mean. "It's just, uh, I don't really know anything about… the business side of things? Like, um, accounting. Or paperwork."

"Paperwork," Patrick repeats, clearly amused, the fucker. "Well, if you want, I could give you some recommendations for software to use. Or walk you through some. I have QuickBooks on my computer, it may not be the best option for you but it could help you figure out what your best option actually is."

He sighs in relief. "That would be amazing. Thank you."

"Yeah, no problem," Patrick says, and genuinely smiles, not a smirk to be found.

It's at that moment that Twyla rushes out from the kitchen, babbling on about George and misplaced tabs and something about a shortage of penne, he's not really sure. Patrick promptly moves over to make room for Twyla and David senses his cue, grabs his copy of the play and makes his way towards the door.

But at the last second, he turns towards back and says, "Oh, Patrick?"

Patrick turns away from his computer screen, and how is it July and David had never actually noticed that this man isn't just hot, but stunningly, honest-to-god beautiful?

"There's a movie version of the play," he says. "You should see if the library has it. I think you'd like it."

 

 

August: The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, Volume II by Anne Lister

August is a hot and soupy, the air outside pressing down like a physical barrier. Everyone is saying there hasn't been a heat wave like this in Schitt's Creek since meteorological record-keeping started, and David can believe it: it's not simply his clothes that feels oppressive, but his very skin, his muscles and bones and blood clawing to be released from this constantly overheated prison of flesh.

The book selection for this month feels the same way.

He's not entirely sure what possessed him to pick someone's diaries, of all things, as a selection. He doesn't like diaries. Sure, he's kept journals for years, but he doesn't even like reading back his own entries, much less someone else's.

("Why do you even keep a diary, then?" Alexis had asked once while putting her mascara on.

"Choke on a pinecone," he'd said, and had taken some satisfaction when her hand slipped.)

Thankfully, he actually read the diaries previously, for a class on women's social history, so he reads what he can stomach and skims much of the rest. The only good thing going on right now, it seems, is the store. It's empty now, the keys are his, and it's gorgeous.

He has no fucking idea what he's doing.

David spends most of his days networking with vendors in the area (who knew that in Elm Glen alone there were two different women named Lillian who sold merino wool crocheted blankets?) and frantically googling things like "vendor contracts for consignment" and "difference between sole proprietorship and corporation." It's challenging but it's exciting; he feels like he's learning in a way he hasn't done; certainly since school, possibly ever. But he is constantly tired and starting to worry that even his favorite Radiant Beauty Under-Eye Serum isn't going to disguise the shadows on his face.

He's been putting off doing the paperwork for the store, but in the end it's his mother who badgers him into it. ("David, we of the council simply insist that you fill out the requisite documentation before you become derelict of your provincial obligations!") So off he goes, a few hours before the book club meeting, to meet his doom in the form of an appointment with Ray.

Except that he's forgotten about Patrick, who works for Ray.

"So you did buy the general store, huh?" Patrick says as they sit down at his desk, which is in the middle of Ray's living room? He's trying not to ask.

"Leased," he says. "Not bought."

It goes downhill from there.

.

By the time the meeting rolls around, David is all kind of emotions. Tired beyond belief, gross from this heat, and more than anything else, humiliated about his meeting with Patrick for the incorporation papers. Sure, Patrick was trolling him, but… this time it's different. They're not on equal footing.

He slips into the café with uncharacteristic silence, sitting in what has now become his normal seat, and waits for the others to arrive. Waits for Patrick to arrive.

He does, coming in with Stevie and laughing. Are they laughing about him? They probably aren't, but god, does it feel like it. It feels like the world is laughing at him. David Rose owning a store, they say, what a ridiculous prospect.

They laugh, and the world laughs, and David scrubs his hand across his eyes before he can remember the under-eye serum and the moisturizer or any of the other things that would normally cross his mind. Is this what his life is going to be, from now on? Stressed and exhausted, never giving a care for any of his old priorities?

"Hey, are you all right?" Patrick says, sitting across from him.

David barely glances up from where he's writing notes on profit margins for the skincare line. "Mhm."

"Oh." He can see Patrick slowly nod to himself out of the corner of his eye. "So the generally anxious ambiance this end of the table has isn't radiating from you?"

"Okay, fine, it is!" David snaps, throwing up his hands. "I can't do this! I have no clue what I'm doing, no one thinks I can actually do this, you laughed at me during our whole meeting today, and even Stevie thinks I suck at this!"

His voice rises on the last part, and Stevie turns her head from where she's sitting a few people down. "Don't know what you're talking about, but I definitely do!"

David flips her off.

"Okay," Patrick says, and he's doing that slow nod thing again, like he's thinking something out and needs to move his head in order to process it. "That's a lot. I get it. This is really difficult stuff to figure out."

He inclines his head graciously. "Thank you."

"But I also want to say — David, I wasn't laughing at you. I mean, I was laughing a little, because you generally make me laugh and I, um, I like teasing you, but your business idea is great. Honestly. I wouldn't lie about that."

So Patrick likes to tease him. About stuff. To make him laugh. Christ, he thinks, is he an eight-year-old with a crush on the girl with pigtails? And then he remembers that in this situation he would be the girl in pigtails on whom the aforementioned crush was had, and pushes that thought far, far away.

"So… you actually like it?"

"Yes," Patrick says, and he's so sure that David nearly cries. "It's a solid idea, really sound. You just… you’re really stressed, right?”

David wants to be snarky, but. No energy. He nods.

“This is kind of a silly comparison, but this month’s book — Anne has this estate she needs to manage, and she’s not a robot. None of us are. So she gets help. I know it’s not talked about much in the book, but to manage land that large and with so many employees, you need a lot of people helping you out and giving you advice.”

He thinks to his dad, who built an empire but maybe took advice a little too easily; of his sister, who thinks part of a high school business class qualifies her to give all kinds of advice. “I don’t know if I have anyone I can trust.”

“Well, can you trust me?”

He nods, because he does. Patrick is more trustworthy than nearly anyone he’s ever known.

“I can give you advice. Look, why don’t you come back tomorrow — actually, why don’t you meet me for lunch here tomorrow? We’ll go over the paperwork, you can walk me through your ideas. Maybe talking to someone impartial will help.”

“Um.” He doesn’t want to tell Patrick that this is one of the nicest things someone’s ever offered, meeting him on neutral ground because he wasn’t comfortable previously, and without even being asked. But it is nice, and he likes it. He wants more of it. “Yeah, that would be great.”

“Okay,” Patrick says with an easy smile, and turns back towards the table as they segue into their discussion of the most boring diaries David’s ever read in his life.

Later on, when he and Stevie are walking back to the motel, they barely make it a block before she says, "So, he likes teasing you, huh?"

"Oh my god, shut up."

.

But when Patrick comes into the store the next week to give him his business license, and offers to help him with the small business grants for more money, he barely hesitates before saying yes.

 

 

September: Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

David has not finished the book.

Alexis is extremely passive-aggressive and tells him that she's very proud of him for making it this far without messing up, and he promptly tells her to go fuck herself, for which he gets into a surprising amount of trouble with his father for being thirty-three years of age. But he's an adult now, or so the world tells him, so he reaches for the absolute last piece of energy he has left and goes to the meeting anyway.

He figures that, at worst, he can get an extra-large side of onion rings to go and leave the others to their meeting.

"I'm surprised you made it this long," Patrick says when David woefully informs the table of his neglect in reading habits for the past month.

"What, didn't think I could hack it?" David snipes before he thinks better of it. But that hurt; he thought they were friends now, that Patrick knew him better than to assume the worst of him.

Patrick looks surprised. "No, just that you've been so busy with the store, and getting ready for opening. I was sure you weren't going to finish Anne Lister."

"I may have read that one already," David admits with only a small grimace, and the whole table burst into laughs and mostly stories about how they've all cheated their way through book clubs and required reading in school, and a million other things. It makes him feel good: like through this strange collection of books about people like them, he's formed a community.

"How are you?" Patrick says. It's been a few days since they've seen each other, while Patrick wraps up some of his bigger projects for Ray and David sweet-talks vendors into signing exclusivity contracts.

He sighs. "Tired. But I got Debbie Stewart outside of Thornbridge to give us some stock of her hand-sewn notebooks while she works on the greeting cards."

"Hey, not bad," Patrick says, and reaches his hand across the table to lay on David's. It's the most contact they've had other than maybe a handshake, and it makes the hair on his arms stand up. "Just take it slow, okay? Rome wasn't built in a day."

"Well, clearly some things are being overlooked," he says, gesturing at Patrick's copy of Sister Outsider. "I was looking forward to this one, too. I've never gotten around to reading anything of Lorde's."

"There will be other chances."

"I know, but… I really like the discussions we have," David admits, and then quickly adds, "All of us, I mean, the whole group."

"Yeah, me too." Patrick smiles, and David wonders if he also means just the two of them, because he's starting to realize that's what he looks forward to with these meetings most of all.

And now they're going to be working together all the time? He's fucked.

"I could re-read it," Patrick is saying, and David looks up. "After the store opens, when things settle a bit more and you have time to read again. And you and I could have a discussion. I mean, I know it's not the same, but you'll get a little bit of the book club that way."

"You'd do that?"

"It's not a big deal," Patrick says, ducking his head.

David doesn't know how to tell him that it is a big deal, not just offering to do something nice, but this thing they're building together — partnership, business, friendship, flirtation — is one of the few things in his life he's afraid will fall apart. So he says nothing and lets it be.

.

"You have to do something," Stevie says.

They're walking home, and she is harassing him. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Um, yes you do. The amount of unresolved sexual tension between the two of you could easily kill someone."

"You're full of shit."

"You are full of shit, for not making a move on him!"

"He's a baby gay!" David hisses. "He only came out this year, I can't, like, ruin his whole queer experience!"

"And who says you'll ruin it?" Stevie says, and then she goes for the jugular: "It's not like you're bad at kissing. Or sex."

"Okay, nope, we are not going there again," he hisses. "I mean like emotionally! I'm not exactly dateable, bring-him-home-to-your-parents material!"

"You're fucked up," Stevie says, far too simply for his liking. "But, like, I bet he is, too. Just make out with him before you kill all of us with the fucking tension."

Best friends are the worst.

 

 

October: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller  

David reads this month's book in just under twenty-four hours.

Rose Apothecary has now been open for one week, from the moment he starts the book, and of course they're not as busy as the first few days, but there's still a steady stream of customers in and out, Greater Elms residents who have heard from friends in Schitt's Creek that there's something new to see. Despite this, David keeps his copy of the book with him, reading every spare second he can get.

"You look like a kid caught with a comic book inside their textbook," Patrick jokes as he brings back lunch for them.

"Pretty sure they all have iPhones these days," David shoots back, but he looks down before Patrick can acknowledge the truth of what he says. Working together and having the world's most embarrassing Grade 8-level crush on this man is proving extremely difficult.

"Just remember to help customers!" Patrick calls as he goes into the stockroom to eat his lunch.

He does, but he reads. And reads while restocking inventory, and rushes through closing to read walking home, through dinner with his parents at the café ("David, please disregard your monograph for but a moment!" "Son, can you try to participate in this conversation?"), and every moment until he finishes the damn thing at one o'clock in the morning.

Patrick rolls his eyes when David shows up very late at the store the next morning, but even he has to admit on a re-read that it's an exceptionally good book.

.

Ten minutes into the meeting, they're practically at each other's throats.

"It's about love," Patrick says, and he sounds so sensible that throttling him seems like the best answer. "It's a love story at its core."

"Okay, but it's a tragic love story, and that's the most important part of it! Not the love part of it."

"Of course there's tragedy to it," Patrick says, as reasonable as ever. David has reached the point where he wants to both strangle Patrick and kiss him senseless in every passing moment, and he's honestly not sure how much longer he's going to be able to hold out. "From the very beginning, with Patroclus's exile."

"Finally, he gets it," David mutters. Stevie jabs him with her bony little elbow.

"But it's not the most important part of the story, is what I'm saying."

"Um, no, it definitely is. What part of death isn't tragic? It's like you've never read Greek mythology before; the gods always bring tragedy!"

Patrick raises an eyebrow. "They always bring tragedy? What about Demeter, or Hera?"

"Okay, well, putting aside that Hera tried to kill all of the children from her husband's extramarital affairs." He takes a breath. "Take this quote. 'Dear gods, I think, let him not hate me. I should have known better than to call upon the gods.' I think that speaks to the level of tragedy that all the Greek gods carried with them."

Patrick smiles that sweet little upside-down smile. The pause in conversation lets the others at the table start a new one, but he leans forward, towards David.

"That reminds me of a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's memoir," he says. "He talks to a commissar about the enemy, who they're calling out to. They ask questions, and the commissar says that sometimes they answer, sometimes they don't, all depends on what mood they're in. And Saint-Exupéry says 'Just like the gods.'"

"That doesn't imply tragedy," David says, his eyebrows furrowed.

Patrick smiles. "No, not really, that was my whole point."

"Hermes!" David accuses, and Patrick laughs. "You tricked me!"

"I did," Patrick agrees, and like that the flashbacks of January, when they argued so bitterly and David thought that this man was going to ruin the first good thing he'd truly done on his own, dissipate. He smiles.

"Why?"

"Why, what?"

"Why did you trick me?"

Patrick shrugs, an easy, loose thing. "It made you smile, didn't it?"

Towards the end of the meeting, Twyla suggests they go around and say their favorite line from the book. It's full of beautiful prose, she says, and she collects quotes; she wants to hear what everyone marked as their favorite. David's never been one for marking up his books — even his childhood copy of The Paper Bag Princess had always been immaculate — but Patrick's books are always highlighted and underlined and dog-eared within their lives, and he finds the passage easily.

"'He smiled,'" Patrick quotes, "'and his face was like the sun.'"

He holds eye contact with David while he says it.

 

 

November: Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

They're all a little tired, when it comes down to it. The holidays are creeping up, the cold weather has truly set in. The store saw a little dip the past week ("just the excitement dying down a little," Patrick had said, and David finds himself trusting that) but sales are picking back up again, and the days both stretch impossibly long and fly by too fast.

Someone — David thinks it might be Ronnie — has suggested that they all name the gayest part of Leaves of Grass.

There's a lot of laughter as everyone pages through their copy, highlighting and annotating and Stevie saying, "Jesus, he was so thirsty" as everyone laughs some more.

"Got one!" Marta crows. She's a quiet one, but her little grin has turned absolutely wicked. "'His nostrils dilate as my heels embrace him, / His well-built limbs tremble with pleasure as we race around and return.'"

Karen high-fives her.

David has been looking for a particularly innuendo-laden passage he'd noted, but he stops before that on another passage, a little more tender, that had given him pause. "Found one."

"Go for it," Ronnie says.

He takes a breath. "'His blue shirt exposes his ample neck and breast and loosens over his hip-band, / His glance is calm and commanding, he tosses the slouch of his had away from his forehead.'"

"Not bad," Ronnie says, making a 'so-so' gesture with her hands, when David steals a glance at Patrick in his blue button-down. He's looking back.

"I think I've got mine," Patrick says, not breaking his gaze until his eyes flicker down to the book in his hands. "'I might tell how I like you, but cannot, / And might tell what it is in me and what it is in you, but cannot, / And might tell that pining I have, that pulse of my nights and days. / Behold, I do not give lectures or a little charity, / When I give I give myself.'"

And before he even thinks about it, David gets up, walks around the table, and he kisses Patrick.

It's lips pressed together messily, but holy shit if it's not the best kiss of his life. Patrick's lips move against his and David's mind blanks out. He can feel the skin on the back of Patrick's neck, warm even under the cool press of his rings, the way their lips break apart and Patrick lets out a tiny exhale, and they both crash back into each other, hands brands along each other's arms and waists and shoulders.

When they finally pull apart, David looks at him, pupils blown wide, pink spread across his cheeks, the way his mouth stays open just a little to catch his breath.

"I didn't mean to do that here," David says, well aware that everyone is watching them.

That seems like an okay thing to say. It's true; he didn't. He hadn't meant to kiss Patrick at all, at least not tonight, although he's deluding himself if he says he hasn't been thinking about kissing him for the last six months. In the back of his mind, he had thought it would be a little more romantic. Alone, for one; not in the middle of the café, for another. Somewhere private and quiet and dimly lit, the kind of atmosphere where you can exchange secrets without fear of judgement or pain.

But maybe it's the wrong thing to say, because Patrick lets go of his arm — he hadn't even realized they'd still been touching — and walks away, shoulders hunched, across the room and outside.

Stevie punches his shoulder.

"Ow! You little bitch!" he yelps.

"The fuck was that for?" she nearly growls at him. "You've been wanting to make out with him for months, why the fuck would you say you didn't mean to kiss him?"

"Here!" David says, still rubbing his arm. "I didn't mean to kiss him here!"

"Well, none of us heard that and I don't think he did either!"

He stares at her. "Oh, fuck."

When he stumbles outside, he hurries around the corner and finds Patrick, standing with his back against the ivy covering the side of the building. There's a streetlight across the way; he can see Patrick's eyes are closed.

"Hi," he says. It sounds ridiculous to his ears.

"David, you don't have to humor me," Patrick says. Fuck, he looks wrecked.

"I'm not humoring you!"

"Funny way to say it," Patrick says, and suddenly he's way too far away. David walks closer. "Look, I thought you were sending signals too, but I guess—"

This time, kissing him is just the easiest way to get him to shut up, and definitely the easiest way to get any ridiculous notions about David not wanting him, of all things, out of his head.

"Okay, you're giving mixed signals," Patrick pants when they finally break apart.

"I said I didn't mean to kiss you here," David says, and if he's making sure he's enunciating clearly, who can blame him? "I didn't really mean to kiss you in front of everyone. Kind of meant to do that somewhere a little more private."

Patrick smiles, and it lights up his whole face. "And how long, exactly, have you been thinking of kissing me?"

"Since March," he says without thinking about it.

There's another kiss, and if this man doesn't kill him first, he thinks he could get used to this kind of passion mixed with joy.

"David," Patrick says, "I've been wanting to kiss you since I met you in January."

They never do make it back to the meeting.

 

 

December: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

"You liked it."

"I did, unfortunately," David sighs, and sits down in his usual seat across from Patrick. Sure, he'd be able to rest one hand on his knee while they have their discussion, but David uses his hands a lot while he talks. And this way he gets to further document the many and varied expressions of Patrick Brewer while playing footsie with him under the table like a pre-teen. But that's his own business, thank you very much. "You know, this month was supposed to be my choice, for a semi-contemporary classic."

"I'm very persuasive," Patrick says, and he looks so smug that David is beginning to regret the decision not to sit next to him and wipe that self-satisfied look off his face with a possibly inappropriate kiss.

"You use underhanded methods of persuasion."

"Would we call it underhanded?"

Stevie plops down next to him and takes off her toque, promptly getting melting snow all over the sleeve of David's Christopher Kane sweater. "Are you two talking about using sex to negotiate book choice?"

"No," Patrick says.

"Yes," David says, and at Patrick's kick under the table, which was not how he had intended footsie to go, "What? It's not like she doesn’t know we're together, might as well be honest."

"Also, Patrick enjoys trolling you almost as much as I do," Stevie says, and then begrudgingly to Patrick, "I literally never want to hear anything about your sex life again, but good job."

"Yeah, this conversation never happened," Patrick says, and promptly turns to say hello to Marta.

Stevie turns back to David. "So. That's going well."

"Um, you got me high and forced me to talk about my relationship three days ago, I think you know exactly how it's going," he says, but he fails to conceal his smile.

Truthfully, things with Patrick are great. All the unresolved sexual tension Stevie harassed him about has translated into undeniable chemistry: stolen kisses, steamy make-out sessions, electricity from mere fingertips. And the sex — it has to be the honeymoon phase, because if it isn't, David's definitely not going to survive.

"Um, you weren't forced to talk about anything, you did that entirely of your own will."

"I did no such thing, you asked!"

"Yeah, I said, 'How's Patrick?' and you talked about his arms for at least an hour."

"Lies! All lies!"

Patrick nudges him from under the table. When he looks up, that little smile is playing around the corners of his mouth; the smile that says hey and you're amazing and I want to kiss you so much right now.

"Disgusting," Stevie says, and grabs her book. "I don't know why I ever encouraged this, I'm going to sit away from you two lovebirds."

"Fuck you," David says, but he can't stop smiling at Patrick.

The rest of the book club members trickle in. He likes that they all have their usual spots now, that there's a routine to this, that he has a little queer community in a place that had at first seemed so painfully straight. He's learning that there's strength in community, perhaps more than individuality.

"A graphic novel?" Ronnie grumbles, thumping her copy against the table. "I thought I could trust you on at least this!"

"It's actually good," David says, and he can hardly believe he's defending a graphic novel, but it was written by the inventor of the Bechdel test, and who is he to judge creators of tests for feminism?

"This is Brewer's doing, isn't it," she says, narrowing her eyes at poor Patrick.

David thinks, but doesn't say, that's what love will do to you.

It's too soon, so instead he just looks at Patrick and smiles, brighter than he ever has before.

"Let's discuss," he says.