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in morte veritas

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Patrick takes a deep breath and taps the laptop’s enter button, squinting one eye shut as it makes a satisfying clack in the silence of his office. He stops breathing as he waits to see whether the spreadsheet formulas will calculate correctly. When they populate the linked charts and graphs the way he intends, he exhales and relaxes into the back of his chair. Thank god. It’s nearly quitting time on a Friday and he’s relieved he won’t have to spend part of his weekend struggling with this.

He studies the screen of his laptop for a few moments longer, appreciating the colorful logic and order of his work. It’s too late in the day to begin a new task, so instead he spends some time straightening his desk and jotting down a to-do list for Monday morning. He considers sneaking out a few minutes early, but he’s responsible and a hard worker and it goes against the grain. He’s been told that in every review he’s ever received. Hell, it was the cornerstone of every report card he received in school. “Patrick Brewer is responsible and a hard worker” had always appeared at the end of a neat column of As next to every subject. Even though he knows no one in the office will begrudge him the extra five or ten minutes on a Friday, he can’t bring himself to do it. They pay him to be here until five pm so he will be here until five pm.

He’s packing up his messenger bag when his boss appears, leans on the door frame, and taps on it with one knuckle. He stares at Patrick while he takes a slow sip from his coffee mug and finally speaks. “Heeey, Pat. How’s it going?”

Patrick blinks at him, eyes catching on the thick file folder he holds in one hand. He clenches his teeth against a sigh of frustration. There is only one reason his boss would be in his office at—he glances at the clock on his laptop screen—4:57 pm on a Friday. “I’m fine, Roland. How are you?”

“Good, good.” He nods and sucks his teeth. “Listen, pal, I’m gonna need you to work this weekend.”

Patrick closes his eyes and regrets not having left early. He’s supposed to work on wedding plans with Rachel this weekend, and she’s going to be upset about delaying their planning session yet again. He’s put her off too many times and for too long. He opens his eyes again and looks at his boss. “What’s going on?”

“Some rich kid thinks she’s got the next million dollar idea and her mother, who is one of our biggest clients, has asked us to turn her idea into a solid business plan. By Monday.” Roland grimaces and rolls his eyes in a way that’s meant to indicate this is a pain in both their asses, but in reality it’s only Patrick that will be inconvenienced. Roland will enjoy his weekend without another thought about the situation. As if proving his point, Roland walks into the office and drops the fat file on Patrick’s desk. “And by ‘us’ I mean you, buddy. The wife and I have big plans this weekend, if you know what I mean.” He winks and leers at Patrick awkwardly and then laughs, which makes Patrick very uncomfortable.

He thinks about telling Roland he can’t do it; that he also has important plans this weekend. But a secret part of him is relieved to have a valid excuse for delaying the wedding planning again. He quickly shoves that thought away and replaces it with a more acceptable one: prioritizing work will advance his career, which will contribute to the long-term success of their life together once they’re married. “Sure, Roland. I’ll have a plan ready by Monday.”

“I knew I could count on you, buddy!” Roland grins and gives him a salute as he backs out of the office. “See you Monday! If I’m not too wiped out from my weekend away with Lisa Merriweather—I mean, my wife.” Roland makes little finger quotes with the hand not holding the coffee cup when he says the name Lisa Merriweather. Patrick doesn’t want to know what that’s all about, but it’s far too easy to deduce from context. Once Roland leaves, he shudders, trying to rid himself of the involuntary image of Roland and his wife role playing.

He slides his laptop into his messenger bag and then jams the fat file folder in along with it in case he ends up having time to look at it tonight. He’s less annoyed about this turn of events than he should be. He wants to be married to Rachel, but he really wasn’t looking forward to wedding planning itself. This additional work makes a perfect excuse for telling Rachel to choose whatever she wants for their wedding. He’ll be fine with what she picks. He knows the wedding itself is important to her and he’s trying to be interested in all of it, but he’s just... not. He’d just as soon go to the registrar’s office and get it over with. He wants Rachel and their families to be happy, though. Whatever she wants will be fine. It will all be fine.

% % %

Once he’s in his car, Patrick hooks his phone up to the bluetooth and pulls up his favorite playlist. It’s a combination of seventies singer/songwriters, modern folk, and the occasional banger that has no business being on there at all. The music soothes him even as he navigates rush hour traffic in Toronto. After a while he taps along to the beat of a song on the steering wheel, and when Go Your Own Way comes on next, he begins humming. He’s been teaching himself to play this one on the guitar. He’s got the song down pretty well at this point and is considering performing at the next open mic night he attends, although god knows when that will be.

He ignores the pessimistic thought and starts singing the song in full voice. Something about it is cathartic. He enjoys performing so much. He feels freer somehow when he’s expressing someone else’s emotions and saying someone else’s words. It’s safer than giving voice to his own. It’s better to sink into the writer’s feelings and lose himself in them for a brief time. He’d love to make open mic nights a regular part of his life again, but there rarely seems to be time for it these days. It’s all he can do to make time for hockey practice, and the obligation to his teammates weighs on him more and more. He’s been thinking this might have to be his last season playing. He’ll miss it. When did he get so busy? When did everything get so complicated?

He arrives home to find Rachel puttering around his kitchen. She must have let herself in. He sighs and immediately feels bad for having that reaction, but her presence means he will not get any time to himself before their evening gets underway. He’d been looking forward to having a bit of solitude. He stops just inside the entrance to toe off his shoes and empty his pockets on the table by the door. Then he stands there for a moment more, breathing and trying to tamp down the uncomfortable restlessness that has bubbled up in him again. He recites his list: He has a good job that pays well. He has a nice place to live. Food on his table. Family and friends that care for him. There’s a beautiful girl who loves him in his kitchen right now. His life is good. He should be grateful. Happy. He continues hovering there on the threshold, breathing and shoving his actual feelings of sadness and exhaustion down, and waiting, always waiting, for the feelings to go away.

Rachel’s voice drifts out across the apartment, waking him from his unintentional meditation by the front door. “Patrick? Is that you?”

He straightens his shoulders and goes to the kitchen. “It’s me. Hi.” He presses a quick kiss to her cheek, but before he can pull back she slides a small, cool hand around his neck and adjusts the tilt of his head so she can kiss his mouth.

She smiles at him before kissing him again quickly. “Hi. I thought you might appreciate some help getting dinner ready for tonight. How was your day?”

He leans against the counter next to her. “It was okay. How was yours?”

“Oh, fine. Nothing exciting.” She goes back to examining the Chef Didier recipe Patrick left laying out on the counter the night before. “This looks like a lot of work. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather relax for a bit and I’ll just make my marinara and some pasta?”

Over the last year, Patrick had discovered a deep love for cooking. He’d spent most of the day looking forward to coming home, cracking open a beer, putting on some good music, and immersing himself in making Chef Didier’s Lasagna Bolognese for his parents and Rachel. In his imagination, he’d had the apartment to himself and was enjoying creating something impressive and delicious from scratch, the kitchen warm and full of wonderful smells; he was singing while he measured and scooped and sautéed. Alone. It won’t be the same now. Rachel will want to help. She’ll hang out in the kitchen, talking to him and asking questions. It’s easier to just go along with her idea and let her do the cooking. He tells himself she’s right. He’ll feel better if he relaxes instead.

“Sure. That would probably be simpler. Thank you for offering.”

“Of course.” She smiles brightly. “Happy to do it.”

Patrick nods and stands quietly, working up the energy to have the conversation he needs to have with her about the weekend. He should probably wait until after dinner and his parents leave, until they’ve both had a glass or two of wine, but he just wants to get it over with so he can stop thinking about it.

“My boss asked me to work this weekend.” The words come out all at once in a rush.

Rachel stops what she’s doing and he can see her shoulders go tense before she turns to face him. He rushes to continue before she can speak. “I know we’re supposed to work on the wedding this weekend, but it’s for a big client and I couldn’t say no, Rach.”

She opens her mouth and then snaps it shut again. He can see the anger crackling in her eyes, but she controls it. “Patrick, I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve had to postpone the wedding planning because you’ve had something come up. Are you sure—” she pauses mid-sentence, then huffs out a breath and shakes her head instead.

He thinks maybe she was going to say are you sure you actually want to get married, and he wonders what he would have said in response. His stomach flips, as if he’s accidentally walked too close to the edge of a steep drop-off while hiking. She didn’t say it, though. So he doesn’t have to respond, and relief flows through him, settling his stomach again. He lets the difficult moment go by like so many others before it.

“I’m sorry. Maybe… maybe you could do some planning with our mothers? I’m sure they’d both love to be included more, and I’d be okay with whatever you decide, Rachel. I know you’ll make great choices.”

“I don’t want to plan our wedding with our mothers. Patrick! I want to plan it with you!” She turns back to the stove and takes a deep breath before saying, “Are you still planning to go to hockey practice tomorrow?”

He blinks, thrown off by the question, and stumbles through a response. “I mean, yes. Rachel. I have to. We’re in the play-offs. Practice is mandatory.”

She smacks the wooden spoon down on the counter and steps back from the stove, running her hands through her long, auburn hair before yanking it all together into a tail and pulling it over one shoulder. Then she yanks on it again, irritably. Taking her frustration out on her hair is something Rachel has done for as long as Patrick can remember. Part of him feels fond as all the overlapping Rachels at different ages in his memory yank on their hair in the same way, but the feeling is short-lived.

“I’m sorry.” He repeats it because he doesn’t know what else to say. He shoves his hands into his pockets and stares at the floor.

“I’m going for a walk.” Her voice is clipped and frustrated.

Patrick nods and doesn’t make eye contact. He stands there and listens to her put on her shoes. The thud of the door shutting behind her follows a few seconds later. He huffs out a frustrated breath and scrubs his hands over his face before quickly throwing together all the usual ingredients for Rachel’s simple marinara and setting the pot on the stove to simmer. He quickly chops a few cloves of garlic and tears up some basil and adds it to the pot as well, along with a bay leaf. Rachel relies on the “Italian seasoning included” that the can of tomato sauce advertises, but he always thinks the sauce could use a boost.

By the time Rachel returns, he’s tossed a salad and set the table. The sauce is simmering and filling the apartment with a homey smell. He’s retreated to the sofa with his guitar and is experimenting with an arrangement of Ray LaMontagne’s Empty, which fits his mood perhaps a little too perfectly. His eyes are closed as he sings, and he doesn’t stop when he hears her come in. She sits down on the sofa next to him and listens quietly.

After the last note finishes reverberating through the instrument, he opens his eyes and looks down at his fingers on the frets. “I miss the open mic nights.”

“I know you do. Maybe after the wedding there will be time for it again.” She pats him on the knee and stands up. “So after dinner we’ll figure out a schedule for fitting in some wedding planning around your work and hockey practice, yeah?”

She’s walked off her anger, and he’s too tired to make her understand how important the open mic thing is to him right now. Between work and the wedding and the near-fight, it’s one thing too many. He goes along with her topic change. “Yeah. We’ll figure it out.”

There’s a knock on the door and Patrick goes to welcome his parents, already counting the minutes until he can be alone again.

Dinner with his parents is fine. They’re happy to see him, to see them. Happy to be all together around a table, sharing a meal. Patrick tries very hard to be present and enjoy this time and mostly he’s successful. His dad asks him about work and before he can say much of anything Rachel tells them about Patrick having to work Saturday and Sunday. Then his father tells him he has to stand up to his boss and set boundaries that create a healthy work-life balance. And his mother tells him he’s got to take care of himself and not burn the candle at both ends.

Rachel nods along with them. “It’s going to be difficult to work in the wedding planning we wanted to do over the weekend.”

His mother claps her hands together. “Does this mean we have a date for the wedding?”

Rachel smiles. “Not quite. Hopefully, we’ll narrow down the venues we like and then we’ll be able to choose a date.”

“Well, just know that I’m happy to help in whatever way I can.” His mom is practically vibrating with excitement, eyes sparkling.

Patrick looks at Rachel then, but she shakes her head imperceptibly and he looks back down at his plate. He pushes his food around and an awkward silence settles over the table.

His mother finally breaks it. “Dinner is very good, but I thought you said you were making lasagna for us tonight, honey.”

“Oh, uh, yeah. I was going to, but the day kind of got away from me and this seemed easier.”

“Well, maybe you can make it for us next time. It sounded delicious.”

Patrick recognizes a conversational ball he’s willing to carry, so he runs with it. “I’d like that, Mom. To make it for you sometime, I mean. It’s a Chef Didier recipe. He does really interesting things with the palate profiles he chooses. Everything needs to come together just so. A lot of times when I look at one of his recipes I think it’s a misprint or that the Chef has lost his mind, but if I follow the recipe exactly, magic happens. He’s a genius.” He spends the next several minutes talking about the ingredients and the specific preparation that goes into the dish he was going to make.

Everyone is smiling at him, albeit in a sort of glazed over way, so he shifts away from talking about the details of the recipe and into something more general. “I saw in Food and Wine magazine that the Chef is in residence at the Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary right now, in the Czech Republic. Can you imagine getting to go there and getting to eat the meals he’s planned and prepared himself? And to get the chance to talk with him! It would be amazing”

Rachel smiles at him and reaches over to take his hand. “Patrick’s a really big fan of Chef Didier’s.”

“I see that.” His mother gives him a smile very similar to the one Rachel is giving him.

Something about their response makes him feel silly about his enthusiasm for the Chef. The excitement he felt a minute ago dims. “I mean, there are other reasons to go to Karlovy Vary, too. It’s got some of the best skiing you can find and there are all sorts of winter sports and there’s hiking and a casino… oh, and a huge spa, I guess? It sounds pretty great.”

Rachel lets go of his hand and picks up her fork again. “Maybe we can go there someday.”

“Well, it sounds like a dream place to vacation for sure, honey.” His mother twirls her fork in her pasta. “The sauce is especially good tonight, Rachel.”

The flash of exuberance drains out of Patrick as he realizes they’re right. This isn’t a trip he’ll be able to take soon, if ever. He’s got a job and a wedding to plan. Soon he’ll have a wife, a wife who may not be interested in traveling to a foreign, frozen mountain village thousands of miles from home for something like this. He looks down at his plate and pushes some pasta around while he half listens to the conversation going on around him. Maybe someday.

Once his parents have gone and they’ve cleaned up the dinner dishes, Rachel comes to him. She winds her arms around his neck and presses against him. “Do you want me to stay?” She uses a low voice that gives additional meaning to her question. Patrick’s stomach twists. He’s still really looking forward to being alone. He doesn’t want her to stay, but he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings. Apparently he’s quiet long enough that the silence does the talking for him. Rachel takes a small step back so she can see him better. “You tired, babe?”

Patrick nods, grateful for the out she’s giving him. “Yeah. It’s been a long week. I should get some work done tonight, and I have to get up early to go back to the office tomorrow.”

“Sure. You should get some rest.” Rachel steps out of his arms.

He tries not to think about the flash of hurt in her eyes and pulls her back for a hug. “Thanks for understanding.”

She gathers her things and then hesitates by the door, looking back at him. “I love you.”

“Love you, too, Rach.” He doesn’t meet her eyes when he says it.

After the door closes behind her, he sinks onto the sofa and exhales forcefully. He tips his head back, closes his eyes, and lets the silence settle around him.

% % %

Patrick drags himself into the office the next morning, clutching a cup of coffee and yawning. He unpacks his bag and gets set up for the day. Once everything is arranged, he slumps into the chair and opens the file his boss gave him yesterday. He sighs at the mess of information in it, then gets to work categorizing and organizing. Before long he’s lost in the cells of his spreadsheet; in the pleasure of bringing order to chaos; in the satisfaction of creating formulas. He stays lost in the work for hours and startles when his phone alarm goes off, letting him know that it’s time for him to leave for hockey practice. Shit. He’s forgotten to eat anything, and that’s a problem. His body needs fuel for hockey practice and he hasn’t left himself time to get food. He pulls a half-crushed protein bar out of his bag and grimaces at it. It will have to do.

He rushes to get to the rink and even though he enjoys time on the ice, enjoys moving his body and feeling the cold air whip past him, he’s not in the mood today. His weekend feels like a series of obligations instead of like, well, a weekend.

By the time he’s changed into his gear and laced up his skates, he’s feeling better. Maybe the calories in the protein bar have hit his system. Or maybe it’s just that he’s doing a good job psyching himself up to the energy levels he’ll need to have for practice.

When he hits the ice, his teammates raise their hands and shout greetings.

“Hey, Pat!”

“Brewer!”

“Hey, man.”

He waves at the group, but instead of heading toward them he takes off to skate a few quick laps around the perimeter of the rink. He’s still trying to work himself into the right mood for this. Come on, he thinks. Fake it until you make it. He closes his eyes briefly, feeling the wind from his momentum fan against his cheeks and flap his jersey, losing himself in the glide of his skates on the ice. After one more lap, he pastes a smile on his face and comes to a quick halt, showering snow on his teammates. “Are we ready to do this?”

Everyone automatically breaks into their usual practice teams and takes their starting positions. Someone drops the puck and they begin their familiar patterns, weaving in and out, zipping back and forth. Before long, he’s sweating and fully focused on the game. He gets the puck in front of the net twice and takes the shots, but their goalie successfully defends each time. Then for a long time he doesn’t get near the puck. He’s just racing back and forth, jockeying for a position that never seems to work out the way he intends. Frustration builds in him.

When he finally gets control of the puck again, he takes off down the ice on a hard drive for the other team’s goal. The petty aggravations of the last two days spiral higher—all the things he wishes he’d said and the tight feeling in his chest that he doesn’t understand. Suddenly he wants to hit the puck as hard as he can. He wants the satisfaction of hearing his stick slam into it. Without thinking about what he’s doing, he winds up to deliver a slap shot. The goalie sees what he’s about to do and skates out of the net with a look of disbelief. They don’t typically come at one another this hard during practice, and he’s not going to risk getting injured. Patrick slaps his stick down hard, bending it to get the required force, and fires the puck toward the net as hard as he can with a growling shout of effort that rings out across the ice and bounces off the empty bleachers and up to the ceiling rafters. Something happens as his swing reaches the end of its arc. His frustration makes him careless, and he overextends, losing his balance. His skates tangle and he spins, falling backwards. His head hits the ice hard, and his unconscious body slides to a stop next to the goal.