Patrick juggles the drink tray and paper bag, shifting them both into one hand, then uses his newly-freed hand to twist the doorknob and shoulder awkwardly into the gallery.
"David?" He winces at the sound of his voice, too loud as it echoes in the half-empty space, but relaxes instantly when his boyfriend pops his head out from the curtain to the back room.
"Oh, finally." David makes grabby hands at the food Patrick is carrying.
Patrick pulls the bag back, out of David's reach. "Ithaca Bakery didn't have any rosemary salt bagels today, so I had to get your sandwich on a garlic bagel, instead." He hands the bag over and kisses David's pout in apology.
"Did they get the Gimme! Leftist Espresso back in, at least?"
Patrick passes him his coffee. "Taste and see."
David gives him a suspicious look over the lip of his cup as he takes a sip, then closes his eyes in bliss. "Yesss," he hisses; then, after a few more swallows, "Thanks, honey."
Patrick accepts another peck before opening up his own breakfast. "So how are things looking? Is she going to be ready for opening in a couple weeks?"
David rolls his eyes. "Please don't call our gallery 'she.' But, yes. I think so. I still don't know if it's a good idea to go to the game this afternoon, though."
"It's Seneca Falls' first home game of the season. You really want to miss it?"
"No," David admits.
"It’s only an hour away. We'll be home before dinner. If you really want, we can come straight here again after."
"Um, excuse me, but I believe I was promised a picnic by the lake tonight."
Patrick sucks air through his teeth. "I don't know, David. That sounds wildly irresponsible. We're supposed to be opening in two weeks."
David narrows his eyes. "Well maybe I'll go on the picnic by myself and you can come back here."
Patrick grins and puts his bagel back down on the wrapper, moving forward to wrap his arms around David's waist. "Oh, you're going to want me there."
"Am I?" David asks airily. "Because it just sounds like there would be more cheese for me."
Patrick leans up and silences David with a lush kiss, opening his lips and letting their tongues brush together lightly. David drapes his arms over Patrick's shoulders and draws him in closer, fingertips teasing the sensitive skin at the nape of Patrick's neck. Patrick shivers as goosebumps erupt across his skin and he feels a tug of arousal low in his stomach. Nearly a decade together, and David's touch still lights him up every time.
David's eyes are half-lidded and his lips are deep pink when they finally pull apart a minute later. David grins. "All right, you've convinced me. I'll share my cheese with you."
"Very generous, considering I'm the one who packed the basket." He releases David and pats his hip. "Come on, we need to get on the road in an hour and a half. What's on the to-do list for today?"
Patrick gets to work unpacking as many boxes of soaps, hair care, and something called body milk as he can, lining everything up as precisely as David taught him to on the center tables. David, meanwhile, walks slowly around the perimeter of the space, pausing periodically to gaze at the empty walls while tapping his pointer finger thoughtfully against his lips. Anyone who didn’t know David as well as Patrick does might think he was just trying to get out of helping with the heavy lifting. And in fairness, he’s not not doing that, but Patrick also sees what David is actually working on: mentally arranging and rearranging the artwork that will soon adorn the walls of their gallery-slash-local goods boutique, Rose-Brewer Gallery.
Patrick hadn’t wanted his name on the business at first, arguing that a) he was just the numbers guy, and b) “Rose” sounded a lot more upscale than “Rose-Brewer.” But David had insisted, saying that they were equal partners, and that after seeing what having a company with only his name on it had done to his father’s priorities, he would much rather share the business, share the burdens, share the successes, and share the name. It was hard for Patrick to disagree with that logic.
Now, with the sign makers having completed their work a few days ago, he gets to see their names together every day, mounted in burnished gold lettering on the black and brick facade of their building right in the center of downtown. Every time, his body is flooded with warmth and love and almost ten years of memories that stay with him for the rest of the day.
Patrick’s phone buzzes and jingles in his pocket, alerting him that their ninety minutes are up. He sets the half-empty box of massage oil on the floor and nudges it under the table to pick up where he left off tomorrow. David, meanwhile, is still lost in thought in the rear of the store. He’s put on his glasses with their thick black frames, a new addition to his aesthetic that he was reluctant to admit he needed at first. He wears them a lot more readily now, though, since the headaches he’d been getting have started to improve from not having to squint at his sketches or sit hunched over his papers quite so much. At the moment, he has his sketchbook open on the antique hutch that sits along the back wall, and he’s alternating between glancing down at it and making occasional notes, and tilting his head thoughtfully at the large swath of wall available above the hutch.
Patrick slowly walks towards him and slides a gentle palm between David’s shoulder blades, not wanting to startle him. He doesn’t entirely succeed, since David’s muscles jump just a little at the touch, but Patrick receives a warm smile rather than a playful scolding, so he’ll take that as a win.
“How’s it going over here?” Patrick asks.
David hums and drapes one arm over Patrick’s shoulder, and Patrick curls one of his around David’s waist, tugging him just a little closer into his side. “It’s good. I have most of the space planned, I think. I like the idea of hanging those stained glass pieces above this cabinet here so that they’re the first thing people see when they walk in.”
“Those stained glass things that look like—”
“Yes, those. I really want to use our space to promote unapologetically queer artists like Kai. Their art matches the tone I want to set for the entire space, you know? Gorgeous and also a little bit subversive.”
Patrick presses a soft kiss to David’s stubbled cheek. “I love that.”
David smiles and turns his head, leaning in to kiss Patrick’s lips instead. “I love you.”
“I love you, too. So much.”
It’s as familiar as breathing now, telling David he loves him. He’s said it casually, when they’re just about to fall asleep; gratefully, when Patrick has taken on too much and needs David to help him through his inevitable crash; breathlessly, in the afterglow of great sex and spectacular orgasms; and quietly, in the early mornings when neither of them is ready to get out of bed just yet. On days like today, though, when the weather is exactly right and the feeling of baseball is in the air, he’s catapulted back to that first time, in the middle of Central Park, on their four month anniversary in mid-June.
They hadn’t seen each other since they’d said goodbye the morning after the Athlete Awards Banquet, and after almost a month of texts, phone calls, and Facetime, Patrick was more than ready to see David in person again. They’d spent the week together in the city, eating dollar slices of pizza and outrageously expensive ice cream sundaes; speaking in hushed voices as they wandered around world-class museums and shouting expletive-laced trash talk as they watched the Yankees lose; and just walking around exploring, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine and of each other. They were on the wide lawn in Central Park that David had told him was called the Sheep Meadow, relaxing on a blanket, listening to the chatter of nearby conversations and the hum of the traffic beyond the trees. In the distance, Patrick could just make out the carousel’s tinny calliope music and the occasional crack of a bat from the rec leagues playing on the baseball fields on the other side of the road that cut across the park.
David had looked gorgeous in his big white sunglasses, black denim skirt, and an extremely weather-inappropriate neoprene sweatshirt, leaning back on his hands while Patrick rested his head on David’s thigh. Patrick had scratched lightly at David’s bare shin, and even now, Patrick remembers the look of absolute serenity on David’s face when he’d gazed down at Patrick. In that moment, Patrick didn’t want to hold back anymore, and before he could talk himself out of it, he finally said the words that had been singing in him for months.
“Hey, I love you.”
David was startled for a moment, until his gentle smile broke into a blinding grin. “I love you,” David said, bending down to kiss him, and Patrick was floating on air.
Years later, that feeling has never gone away.
Patrick gives David one more quick kiss. “We should go, or we’ll be late. And I’m sure you want to get a pretzel and an ice cream before the game starts.”
“Ah, so you do know me.”
“Yup!” Patrick says lightly, then gives David a swat on the ass. “Now come on.”
The drive from Ithaca to Seneca Falls is one of their well-worn routes, so Patrick doesn’t even have to put the stadium into his phone to navigate there. They have many playlists by now, both shared and individual, but they almost always listen to the same one when they drive this road: the one David created for them all those years ago. They’ve added to it and removed from it over the years, and it’s now nearly a fifty-fifty split of David’s and Patrick’s music. The car is different, too, of course, since Patrick’s parents bought him his silver Toyota in his senior year of college and they stopped having to beg Stevie to borrow hers. Pretty soon it will be changed again, if David has anything to say about it. He’s been trying to get Patrick to sell it for at least a year at this point, but Marcy and Clint always taught him to drive a car until it wouldn’t drive anymore, and he intends to follow through with that life lesson regardless of how much David complains.
“Want to play a game?” Patrick asks, as turning down the volume on the stereo a bit.
“Sure,” David says brightly. “Um, I spy with my little eye, something brown.”
“Is it trees?” Patrick asks dryly.
“Oh my god, how did you guess?” David says, positively glowing with sarcasm and self-satisfaction. “Your turn.”
Patrick rolls his eyes. “How about this. Never have I ever, um...been to the Czech Republic.”
David scoffs. “Well that’s not fair. Obviously I’ve been to Prague.”
“You’ve been to Prague? How did I not know this?”
David waves a hand dismissively. “It was one of those supposed family vacations before Dad shut down Rose Video. Alexis and Adelina and I went to the playground and got ice cream every day while Mom and Dad slept, and then they went out to parties and clubs at night while we slept. A shining example of family togetherness.”
David shares things like this every so often, things from his old life that would be sensational or heartbreaking to anyone else. But Patrick knows that they aren’t really that for David; they just...are. They’re facts, they happened, they made him who he is, and they’re in the past now. They don’t need to be discussed and unpacked every time. So Patrick treats this as such, giving David’s knee a squeeze to know that he’s been heard, and asks, “What kind of ice cream?”
“Chocolate, obviously,” David scoffs.
“Obviously.” He taps David’s knee. “Your turn.”
“Okay, um, never have I ever been to an orgy.”
Patrick glances over at him, and David is already looking back, a smirk playing across his lips. “Excuse me, David, you know that’s not true.”
“What? Of course I haven’t been to an orgy. I’ve been with you since I was twenty.”
“Right, and that one time at Jake’s…”
“No. No, no, no. Accidentally stumbling into an orgy that you think is going to be an exclusive, three-person event is not the same thing as ‘going to an orgy.’”
“Hm. Fair. Would...would you want to go to an orgy?” Patrick isn’t sure that he does, but if it’s something David is interested in, he’d consider it. “Jake has his whiskey nights every month, so the option is there.”
“Nah, not really my thing.” David slides a hand up and down Patrick’s thigh. “Too many limbs. I’m happy with just you.”
“Me, and occasionally Jake,” Patrick says playfully.
“Well, sure. But that’s fun mostly because you’re there, too.”
Patrick picks up David’s hand from his thigh to press a kiss to his knuckles. “I agree.” He rests their joined hands on his thigh, and takes his turn. “Never have I ever loved anyone more than I love you.”
“Cheesy,” David groans, but Patrick feels David’s hand tighten in his own.
“True,” Patrick counters.
“How about this, then. Never will I ever love anyone more than I love you.”
Patrick sighs performatively, but his heart flutters in his chest. “Such a hopeless romantic.”
“You love it.”
Today’s starting pitcher, Connor Eisen, is a senior who David and Patrick have been watching play since he was a freshman. He was just an occasional relief pitcher back then, but they’ve seen him come into his own over the years, increasing his stamina and accuracy on the mound as well as his reliability as a hitter. A new development today, though, is the fact that he seems to be in a relationship with Gabe Davies, a junior shortstop, if their lingering shoulder touches and the quick kiss Gabe presses to the top of Connor’s head as they sit down in the dugout are any indication. Patrick nudges David and nods at the two of them, sitting close together on the bench, their teammates on either side of them, and David gives him a fond smile.
After making their relationship public—and Ted and Miguel, and Ken and Derek, did the same—the following seasons had been even better. New players hardly batted an eye at intra-team couples, whether they began, ended, or endured, and they followed the lead of the more seasoned players who had automatically and immediately adopted a “no teasing comments during official team time” rule. Practices, games, workouts, and bus rides were all business and focus. Dinners, movies, and parties were another story, but with the boundaries clearly drawn, it made it easy to just have fun with their friends, who also happened to be their teammates, and give back as good as they got.
The home opener is great. Seneca Falls wins, sure, but it’s most fun because the team is evenly matched against Rochester, so every hit and out is exciting. Going back to Seneca Falls a few times a year has become a tradition for them, starting the year after David graduated, when Patrick was a senior and David had moved to Ithaca to work for the Handwerker Gallery at Ithaca College. Patrick had followed him a year later, after being hired as a business analyst for a small firm in town. It had taken years of frugal living, sharing a tiny one-bedroom apartment with not nearly enough closet space for David’s wardrobe, but they’d finally managed to save enough money—along with some additional grant funding—to be able to start up the gallery that had been David’s dream since before Patrick met him.
Patrick holds David’s hand on the walk back to the car, his fingers slightly sticky from ice cream residue. David offers to drive home since Patrick drove there, and Patrick happily accepts. The music plays quietly through the car speakers as he watches the trees zip by, leading them towards home. They’re back before Patrick knows it, and David eases the car into a spot in Stewart Park’s nearly-empty parking lot. They have their choice of picnic location along the grassy shore: apparently a Tuesday evening in February, unseasonably warm or not, isn’t exactly prime time for lake goers.
David heads to the restrooms to use the toilet and wash his hands while Patrick lays out the blanket, cheese, fruit, and crackers. He keeps the champagne tucked away for later. The spot he picks under a willow tree isn’t nearly as picturesque as it would have been in the summer, with leaves on the drooping branches, but on the other hand, the lack of shade allows the sun to shine through and warm the breezy air just enough to make the temperature comfortable with a light jacket and a knit cap. Everything is ready by the time David returns, and they settle in to eat, talking and laughing and enjoying the quiet peace together.
“Want to play some catch?” Patrick asks, as casually as he can muster, once the food is gone.
David twists to look up at him. “You brought our gloves?”
“Yeah, I thought it might be fun. We haven’t played catch in awhile.”
David smiles softly. “Sure.”
They grab their gloves and a ball and spread out, years of muscle memory leading them to instinctually find ninety feet, the distance between two bases.
David lobs the ball first, as hard as he can, like he always does, and it lands in Patrick’s glove with a satisfying thwack. They play together in a rec league during the summers, but David’s throw certainly isn’t as strong as it used to be, back when they lived and breathed baseball. A little less muscle on their bodies and a little less speed on the ball is a small price to pay, though, in exchange for nights out with friends, pizza on the couch, and planning a new business; in exchange for building a life together.
Patrick returns the ball as hard as he can, and from the soft smile on David’s face when he catches it, Patrick can tell that he’s thinking the same thing. They spend a few minutes silently tossing it between them, nice and easy, falling into the familiar rhythm.
“When did you first know for sure that you liked me?” Patrick asks as he throws the ball, the question as worn and comfortable as the gloves they’re wearing.
David smiles. “Winter break, when we were texting all the time. I couldn't stop thinking about you.”
“But I admitted to myself how hot I thought you were when we spotted for each other at the gym that first time.”
Thwack. David rolls his eyes. “You know this already.” Throw.
“I know. Humor me.”
“Looking back, I liked you right from the start.” Thwack. Throw. “When I threw the ball as hard as I could, and you just caught it, like it was nothing.”
Thwack. Patrick catches it easily this time, too, and winks at David. “When did you fall in love with me?” Throw.
Thwack. “When we came to Ithaca that first time,” David says. “I told you more about my past then than I’d ever told anyone before, and I just felt...seen. Taken care of.” Throw. “You made me feel safe.”
Thwack. “I don’t think you ever told me that.” Patrick takes a few steps towards David and tosses him a grounder. “You’ve always told me it was when I sang for you on my birthday that first year.”
David bends to scoop it up and throws Patrick a popup in return. “I knew I was in love with you then.” Thwack. “But I was already so far gone on you, even a month and a half in.”
Patrick tosses David a popup and takes another few steps closer. “I knew I was in love with you when I was helping you study for your Modern Art History class in my dorm room.” Thwack. “You were talking so passionately about that painting with the primary colors and the fire. What is it called, again?”
“Fate of the Animals,” David says, throwing the ball back.
Thwack. Patrick catches the ball, and then snaps his fingers. “That’s it. I was so in awe of you and your incredible mind. But I think I was already a little bit in love with you by that party before fall break. You left with Stevie, and I was devastated.” Throw.
Thwack. “I know.” David grimaces, and sends Patrick a grounder. “I wish I’d known then.”
Patrick lunges to the side to trap the ball, and throws another popup to David before narrowing the distance between them by five more steps. “I think everything worked out the way it was supposed to.”
David’s glove closes around the ball, and he looks back at Patrick, a soft, fond look in his eyes. “I suppose so.” They gaze at each other for a beat, all of their unspoken history swirling between them, until David breaks eye contact and tosses the ball back.
Thwack. Patrick throws a grounder, and waits for David to get it in his glove before he asks the next question. “When did you know you were going to marry me?”
David’s arm freezes mid-throw. It’s only for a split-second; he recovers quickly. But Patrick saw. Patrick catches the ball.
“I don’t know. I just...do.”
Patrick smirks and takes another few steps closer before throwing back. “I haven’t asked you yet, though.”
David raises an eyebrow playfully as he picks up the ball, then throws Patrick another grounder. “Well, maybe you should get on that, then.”
Patrick grins and lets the ball roll past him in favor of closing the last distance between them, and then slips his glove off and lowers himself to one knee. “Okay.”
David’s jaw drops in genuine shock. “Wait, what? I didn’t mean...not now.”
“No? Not now?” Patrick asks, still smiling, as he unzips his jacket and reaches into the breast pocket to pull out the long velvet box he’d tucked there when David was distracted with getting his glove on.
“Oh my god. Oh my god. Patrick. What are you doing?”
“Well, I’m trying to propose, if you’d let me.”
David hiccups a sob, nodding, but says nothing.
“David, I met you at a time when I was just starting to figure out what I wanted my life to look like. I didn’t really have a distinct picture; it was all just vague ideas of a house and a job and being happy. But then you came along, and every day, the fog cleared a little bit more, so gradually that I barely noticed it. And then all of a sudden, I looked around and realized that all of the haze was gone, and I knew exactly what I wanted. You. Always you. The rest...the rest is just details. As long as you’re by my side, and I’m by yours, I know that I’ll always have everything I need.” Patrick opens the box and turns it towards David so that he can see the four gold rings nestled inside. “David Rose, will you be my teammate for life?”
David’s face twists in horror, and he pulls off his glove, throwing it to the ground to allow his hands full range of motion to flail with exasperation. “Oh my god, NO.”
Patrick’s heart stutters. “NO? Are you serious?”
“No! I mean, yes! I mean, not no! Just, I can’t believe I’m going to marry someone who proposed with such a ridiculous line!”
Patrick’s cheeks ache with the grin that immediately spreads across his face. “So you’re going to marry me, then?”
“Of course I will, you asshole. Get up here and kiss me already.”
Patrick surges up to meet his lips, his arms wrapping around David’s waist as David’s arms fall to Patrick’s shoulders, just as they’ve always fit together. Patrick is about to deepen the kiss when David abruptly pulls back, raising an authoritative pointer finger between them. “We are not telling anyone that you asked me to be your ‘teammate for life,’” he says seriously.
Patrick laughs, happiness bubbling up inside him at the fact that he gets to spend the rest of his life with this ridiculous, beautiful man. “Whatever you say, Captain.”
“I still think you’d look good in the hat.”
“We could get you an eye patch.”
“You could tie me up and make me walk the plank.”
David’s expression melts from annoyance to sheer, gooey joy, and he delivers his stern rebuke through a bitten-back smile. “First of all, I’m never wearing the hat, and I refuse to have this argument for the rest of my life. Move on.”
Patrick squeezes him a little tighter, not bothering to fight his own smile at David’s choice of words. The rest of his life. “Very well.”
“Second of all, yes, we can absolutely revisit that little tying you up scenario in our bedroom tonight.” He raises an eyebrow and smirks at Patrick.
“Okay,” Patrick says, suddenly a little breathless.
“Third of all, I’m noticing a distinct lack of gold rings on this hand,” David says, pulling his left hand from behind Patrick and wiggling it in front of his face.
Patrick chuckles. “You seem to be correct.”
They take a step away from each other, and David slides the silver rings off of his right hand, placing them in his pocket. Patrick still has the ring box clutched tightly in his hand, and once David’s fingers are all bare, he slides the gold bands onto David’s left hand in the way Patrick first envisioned David wearing them when Patrick decided which rings to purchase: one on his pointer, one on his middle finger, two on his ring finger. Patrick snaps the box closed and slides it back into his breast pocket, and then picks up David’s hand, pressing a kiss to each ring, and finally one to David’s lips.
Patrick keeps holding onto David, and David keeps holding onto Patrick. The breeze picks up around them, colder now that the sun is approaching the horizon, making the bare willow branches rustle in quiet percussion. But nothing matters besides the press of each other’s lips, the warmth of each other’s bodies, and the love between them that Patrick knows will last a lifetime.