It was such a lovely day. The sun was shining and they were standing in a field of wildflowers, just him and Patrick. They walked hand in hand toward the small cottage with a stone exterior, a red door and red shutters, just like the one they talked about. There were large, shady trees in the yard and a small garden on the side where Patrick grew vegetables. David turned to Patrick and took in his favorite, upside-down smile. He kissed Patrick, closing his eyes and letting the warmth of the sun and their love wrap around him like a blanket.
But then he knew something wasn’t right. He could feel it down to his bones. David’s eyes were still closed when he heard the shot ring out and felt Patrick collapse against him. He wanted to look, but everything was just ... dark. All David could do was shout Patrick’s name like it would somehow help.
Patrick cried out for him, “David? David!”
David bolted upright in bed, breathing heavy and heart pounding. Alexis was shaking him, “David! Oh my god, David. You were having a nightmare.”
It was still dark outside and he could just make out the form of his sister next to him.
“David, you were shouting for Patrick. It’s okay. I’m here.” She rubbed a hand in circles across his back to soothe him like he had done with her so many times before. Eventually his breathing evened out and he remembered: Alexis was here with him because their father had told him that Sebastien would have Patrick killed.
“Alexis, it’s not okay.” He turned to her, eyes red and rimmed with tears. “For the first time in a long time I thought I had something. I thought I would never have to lock myself away again for the sake of someone else. Patrick sees me in all my ridiculousness and loves me anyway. And now I have to tell that sweet man- who didn’t deserve to have any of this happen. I have to tell him that I don’t love him as much as I do and break his heart and send him away.”
The tears came fast and hard, making him hyperventilate and curl in on himself. His body shook as he leaned into his sister’s chest, her arms wrapped around him protectively. When his body was finally done betraying him he continued to let himself be held by her, settling his head in her lap. He would never tell her this, but he was grateful to have Alexis there.
“David?” Alexis’s voice seemed hesitant. “I know that, like, I’m probably not going to say the right thing here. But, um, you’ve always been there a lot for me so I just wanted to tell you something. Something I thought you needed to know.”
“Ohmygod, Alexis! Just say it already!”
“Ugh! Fine, David!” She carded her fingers through his sleep mussed hair as she spoke. “It’s just, I know you’ve always hated the way I disappeared and ran away all the time.”
“Well that’s an understatement. Do you have any idea what-” He lifted his head from her lap to glare at her but she nudged him back down.
“Shush, David! I know! Anyway, um, one of the reasons I did that is because I never knew what to do, um, before when this sort of thing would happen. I was young and it hurt so much every time you got your heart broken. So I just … ran away. And I know what you’re going to say. That it was dumb to do that and I wasn’t the one being hurt so it shouldn’t have mattered. But it did hurt. It was like you just … self-destructed over and over again. And I know it wasn’t fair because I always asked you to basically do for me what I couldn’t do for you.”
She sniffed quietly and her hand stilled in his hair.
“No, it’s okay. I’m fine. I just needed a minute. Um, I guess I just wanted to tell you that it did mean a lot to me, you know? The way you always came for me even though I know it upset you and it was, like, this huge interruption to your life. I always had other people to go to but it wasn’t the same. It was just different when it was you. Because at the end of it I knew you were the only one who actually cared what happened to me. Not just so the next adventure could happen. But, um, I’m here now. I want to be here now. I’m not going to run this time.”
David shifted to a sitting position so he could hold her close. He squeezed his eyes shut tight and bit the inside of his cheek trying not to get choked up over her confession. “Thank you, Alexis. That, um, means a lot to me. That couldn’t have been easy to say.”
Alexis sat back, holding his hand. “I just know it must be really hard for you to have to do this. I mean, you can’t even explain yourself. You just have to tell him to go for no good reason. But, hey,” she smiled and shimmied her shoulders, poking at him in that annoying way she did when she was trying to cheer him up. “Maybe, when things calm down a bit you can find him and just, like, explain what happened.”
Somehow he doubted that would be the case. Despite the care Patrick had shown him, David had years of evidence to suggest there would be no coming back from this. Patrick Brewer had been it for him. Even if by some miracle David managed to get rid of Sebastien, why would Patrick come back? Nobody ever came back to David Rose. It would hurt in the beginning, but Patrick had a whole life ahead of him. A life that wouldn't be bogged down by David and his theatrics. It brought David a small bit of comfort knowing at least Patrick would find happiness again.
“Yeah, maybe.” He shifted back down in the bed, burrowing into the covers. “I should try to get some more sleep. Big day tomorrow. Goodnight, Alexis.”
She reached into his cocoon with a pointy finger to boop his nose. “Goodnight, David.”
I was only vaguely aware that the irritating knocking sound was something I should respond to. I had fallen asleep at my desk for the second time that morning. It was no surprise because I hadn’t slept at all the night before. I had waited and waited for David to show. Or Alexis. Hell, I would have accepted Stevie popping through my door. I had alternated between pacing and sitting, staring into the darkness for what seemed like hours on end.
I couldn’t imagine what was keeping them and tried my best not to think the worst. As I came down from the adrenaline rush last night my mind was all too happy to supply me with all sorts of horrendous scenarios.
The knocking finally became impossible to ignore so I pushed through the heaviness of my fatigue to answer. David was the last person I was expecting to see. We had long given up formalities like requesting entry to each other’s space. The Elephant was the only place I would never go without David’s explicit instructions.
“May I come in?” David asked timidly. Something’s wrong.
“Of course. You know that.” I stood to the side so David could enter.
“I can’t stay long so-”
“What happened last ni-”
We spoke at the same time and I gestured for him to continue. His posture was tall and confident, but David’s tell was there all the same. He fidgeted with his rings, giving away that something was bothering him.
“Last night, when I went to my flat, Sebastien came to see me. He offered me everything I could ever ask for. His only condition is that I can’t ever see you again.”
No, this isn’t happening. This can’t be right.
“I don’t understand. Last night we agreed . We’re supposed to leave here. Together!” I could hear my voice rising and my emotions were getting the best of me. I tried to reach for his hand, but he pulled back with his whole body.
“I’m sorry, Patrick. This is over. You can leave whenever you want, but this is where I belong. I’m taking his offer and that means this has to end. I hope you understand.” He turned to leave, but I couldn’t let that happen. I grabbed for his arm to stop him. This had to still be a dream. A sick nightmare.
“David, wait! I don’t understand. You can’t leave!” My voice cracked and I was dumbfounded when he wrenched out of my grip, speaking away from me.
“I can and I am . I told you in the beginning, Pa- Mr. Brewer. I can’t afford to feel anything real. Goodbye.”
I thought I heard a quiver in his voice, but then he was gone so fast I couldn’t be sure. The sound of his footfalls racing down the steps seemed to cement everything in place. I raced to my window just in time to see David hurrying away, tucking into a side street out of view. As if on cue clouds gathered and opened up in a torrential downpour.
Initially I was frozen in place, willing him to reappear. When it became clear that he wouldn’t, I sank to the floor, my back to the wall, staring ahead. This was how Stevie found me hours later.
She was walking downstairs when she passed by my open door. David certainly hadn’t shut it and I hadn’t bothered to get it myself. In the aftermath of David’s departure I didn’t care what happened to me or my minimal belongings.
“Patrick? What’s going on?”
I stared vacantly ahead, unable to look her in the eye. “He’s gone.”
“Umm, who’s gone?”
“David. He’s gone.” It finally occurred to me that Stevie had no idea what I was talking about. It amazed me that he hadn’t gone to her first. But then he probably assumed she would have tried to talk him out of it. “Last night we were going to leave here. Leave all this. Run away from The Duke. Alexis was supposed to help him pack and we would leave from here. He never came. Until this morning. To tell me-”
I swallowed the lump in my throat before continuing. “To tell me The Duke offered him everything he ever wanted. Whatever that means. That we were done and he hoped I understood.”
Stevie slid into the spot next to me on the floor in a rare act of concern. “I don’t understand. That doesn’t sound like David at all. I mean it does, but not for someone like you. There has to be more to it.”
“I know. That’s what I thought, too. But he insisted. And, Stevie, it didn’t feel right but he just took off and wouldn’t say anything more.”
She was silent for a moment, “Have you eaten today?”
“No. Everything’s been a blur since last night.”
“I was just on my way to get something. I’ll bring you some soup and tea if you want.”
“Thank you, Stevie.”
She stood to leave, then seemed to consider something. She dipped down to kiss my head and then scurried away before she could be accused of being sympathetic. For the life of me I didn’t know that I would ever understand this cast of characters I had surrounded myself with.
In her absence I kept replaying the conversation with David. What did any of it mean? Last night he had fled the Tower like he couldn’t get away fast enough. I didn’t know the full story, but it seemed to me that things couldn’t have gone well if Alexis had gotten involved.
“I’m back.” Stevie placed our food on the small table before gathering some cups and bowls for us.
We ate mostly in silence. I vaguely hoped I wasn’t keeping her from anything but was glad for her company. When we were done eating she was the first to speak.
“Things aren’t always what they seem, you know. I don’t know if you know this, but David and I grew up together. We met when I was eight years old, my aunt was one of their housekeepers.”
“I’ll bet that was a riot to see. You two running around together.”
She nodded her head in agreement, “Oh, it was. We played dolls together and caused all kinds of trouble. I would sneak him cookies from the kitchen and he gave me books so I could learn how to read and write. He said he refused to associate with an uneducated heathen.” Her lips curled in a little half-smile. “But that’s not the point of all this. The summer before David went to university we started seeing each other. Well, sort of. We mostly just slept together and got drunk. At that point I think I was the closest person to him, the only one who knew all his secrets. I mean, sure he had friends, but they were all superficial. I knew the darkest parts of him. What set him off and what he tried to hide from the rest of the world.”
“That sounds like a big responsibility, being that intimately familiar with David Rose. He’s not for the faint of heart.”
“No, no, he is not. But before he left I think he finally realized that role I played for him. He got scared because there was no one else. He told me he was afraid of losing his one friend .”
“So, what, you wanted me to know that you two slept together and eventually made it to the other side as friends?” That’s not at all what I wanted with David. Honestly I think I’d rather be dead than have to go back to a life without him in it.
“What I’m getting to is, in all the years I’ve known David, I’ve never seen him look at anyone the way he looks at you. No matter what he says I know he’s in love with you. He’s spent years afraid of letting anyone else in, of giving his heart away. In fact, when you first showed up he was afraid of you. He knew you were different but he was scared all the same that you would just rip him open and leave like all the others.”
“Stevie, I would never-” she held her hand up to silence me.
“I know that. If you love him, fight for him. He already thinks you’re different. Prove it. Show him, because that is something nobody else has ever done for him.”
With that she stood and left the room. Like what she’d said was final and there was no use discussing it further. Or maybe the sincerity had become too much for her. Either way her words echoed in my brain. What she’d said wrestled with my own thoughts that had begun blooming and planting seeds of doubt.
I thought back to the night David and I met. I thought of everything he had said to me when he thought I was The Duke only to later admit it was all an act. All that had felt real. What’s to say the last few months hadn’t been an act, too?
David had decades of experience making other people believe what he wanted them to believe. Perhaps I was still just a naive, daydreaming farm boy that wanted to feel love where there wasn’t any.
There was only one way to find out.