“Let’s see, next on the list is a—” Ancient computer keys rattle as Stevie brings up the database. “—Patrick Brewer. Thirty years old. Moved here two weeks ago after—oh, that’s not good—after breaking up with his fiancée. Bet she’ll be sad. Ugh, and he lives with Ray, so you’ll basically be putting him out of his misery.” Stevie tilts the monitor. A grainy photograph of a guy who looks like a combination of a Little League dad and the head of the Chamber of Commerce beams back at David.
David’s eyes catch on Patrick’s smile for a second before he scowls at his best friend slash assistant. “Excuse you, I do not put people out of their misery. I help people transition gracefully to the other side.”
“Mm-hmm.” There’s another clatter of the keyboard as Stevie brings up the rest of Patrick’s file. “That’s not what you said about Carl.”
“Well, what kind of man has seen Breaking Dawn more than thirty times?” David had seen and done a lot of dark things before he’d taken this job as the Angel of Death for South-Central Ontario, Region 5, but it turns out he’d barely scratched the surface. “Give me the details about this Patrick person.”
Stevie scrolls down the page of his next assignment. “Let’s see…driving back from Elmdale and…oh, he hits a moose. How very Canadian of him.”
“Stevie. You know I don’t do wildlife.” Unkind people from David’s past would say he’s whining. But they’d be wrong. Obviously.
Stevie rolls her eyes. “The moose is fine. Scampers off into the bushes. You won’t even need to see it.”
“Fine. Text me the location.” David’s phone buzzes on the counter. “I’ve gotta go. My mom is reorganizing her wigs again.”
David can’t deny that he’d had some reservations when he’d taken this job. Yes, it pays well and yes, his wardrobe fits the aesthetic perfectly. But life in Schitt’s Creek is bleak and lonely and dealing with death all day should only make it more depressing. Instead, he’s found that he enjoys it. Extending a comforting hand as people journey on to what awaits them—okay, maybe comforting isn’t the right word. But he’s there with them, so they don’t have to be alone. And that has to count for something.
Despite the risk of ungulate encounters, he gets to the location ten minutes ahead of schedule. Opening his phone, he sees Stevie has texted Patrick’s photo—just because he took the wrong soul that one time and she’ll never let him live it down. He lingers on the image for a moment. He can’t stop looking at Patrick’s smile—it’s warm and mischievous, as if Patrick is someone who would kiss you and tease you at the same time.
Shaking his head, he swipes away the photo. This is ridiculous. He’s making up fantasies about someone who is about to die in—he checks his timer—two minutes. There’s a crash in the bushes behind him. Heart pounding, he leaps sideways as a moose the size of a small house lumbers onto the highway. Tires rumble on the pavement as a car approaches.
Turning away, David squeezes his eyes shut. He hates this part. Clearing his mind, he counts down…five Balenciaga…four Balenciaga…three…metal squeals as Patrick hits the brakes…one…a deep thud reverberates in David’s chest, silence hovers for a long moment and then the moose bursts across the highway and into the underbrush on the far side of the road. Biting his lips together, David steps out onto the highway to survey the damage.
The car rests at an angle, bisecting the yellow line. Its hood is mangled, torn and wrinkled like a sheet of paper. A spiderweb of cracks obscure the smashed windshield. David bends down as he approaches the driver’s side door, assessing the scene. Inside the car, the man from the photo slumps over the steering wheel. “Patrick.” He keeps his voice low, not wanting to startle him. He’d made that mistake on his second assignment and had ended up chasing Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s spirit through the halls of her retirement community. “My name is David.”
“What happened?” It’s always the first question. Every time, without fail.
“You hit a moose. Creature. Demon-thing.”
“Well, I hope it was a moose and not a demon-thing.” Is Patrick sassing him right now? There’s a long pause before Patrick speaks again. “Am I gonna be okay?”
There’s no good answer to this question. The only thing he can say is a lie. “You will be.” He holds out a hand. “Let’s get out of the car.”
A carbon copy of Patrick detaches itself from the body in the car. Minus the blood from the crash, he’s just as clean cut as his photo suggested. David takes his hand. Patrick’s fingers are cool and slightly insubstantial between his. This is the critical moment. If Patrick is going to panic, this is when it will happen. David tightens his grip as Patrick looks back.
“Oh, fuck.” Patrick’s eyes are round, his voice wavers as he takes in his body in the car. “I’m not gonna be okay, am I?”
“You might be. I don’t know, actually.” Patrick looks a bit wobbly, but David doesn’t think he’s going to run. He keeps hold of his hand, just in case. “I only get to do this part.”
“Oh god—my parents—” Patrick’s face crumples. “I never called them. They don’t even know where I am.”
“Shh. It’s okay.” David squeezes Patrick’s fingers in what he hopes is a reassuring manner. He tugs on Patrick’s hand, guiding him away from the car to the side of the road. Cursing Stevie and the universe in equal measure, he sits on the edge of the pavement, praying his Rick Owens pants won’t suffer too much damage. Pulling Patrick down beside him, he wraps an arm around his icy shoulders. With a sob, Patrick curls into him, his tears soaking David’s Helmut Lang hoodie.
Normally, David doesn’t encourage his clients to cry all over him, but his desire to comfort Patrick is stronger than his desire to protect his sweater. Which is saying something. Without thinking, he pulls Patrick closer, stroking the back of his head as Patrick weeps into his shoulder. It might be five minutes or five hours before Patrick’s tears fade away. His eyes are red as he lifts his head. It’s all David can do not to pull him back into his arms.
“Why are you here?”
Most people don’t ask. Most people are so wrapped up in confronting their own mortality that they’re grateful to have anyone—even someone like David—by their side. But Patrick, he’s rapidly discovering, is different. “I’m here to be your guide. And to ask you a question.”
Patrick’s eyes gleam with mischief, the same way they had in his photo. “Is there a skill-testing question to get into the afterlife? Should I have brushed up on my algebra?”
“You’re awfully snippy for someone in this situation.” David likes it. If they’d met under other circumstances and Patrick hadn’t been, well—dead—he would have called it flirting. Just his luck to meet someone he likes as they’re en route to the afterlife.
“What’s the question, David?” Patrick leans into him and despite the stains that he probably has on his pants and the gravel that’s digging into his ass, David wants to stay on the side of the highway forever. Or at least as long as Patrick needs him.
There’s no easy way to do this. In the beginning, he’d tried to soften the blow, but it only made things worse. Bracing himself for the answer, he asks the question. “Any regrets?”
Patrick barks out a laugh. “I regret that I’m dead, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“No. That’s not it. Any regrets about your life? Things left undone?” Given the way Patrick had sobbed into his shoulder, David expects to hear more about Patrick’s mom and dad. Instead, Patrick bites his lip, staring at the trees on the side of the road.
“There is one thing.” Patrick hesitates before turning to face David. “I regret that I never kissed a guy.” Patrick’s eyes flick to David’s lips.
“Oh.” Most people regret leaving their families or missing trips they never got to take. He’s never had someone look at him the way Patrick is looking at him now. It fizzes in his stomach. He doesn’t care if their time together is measured in minutes. “I might be able to help you with that.”
It’s just one kiss. If that’s what it takes to give Patrick what he wants, then David would gladly do that and more. And he wants it. More than he dares admit. Wrapping a hand around the back of Patrick’s neck, he leans in.
Patrick’s lips heat up as David kisses him. A soft sigh seeps from him as his hand grasps David’s bicep. Holding David close, he deepens the kiss, his mouth hot and eager as it opens to David. David’s had a thousand first kisses, but none of them set off fireworks behind his eyelids like this one. Patrick’s sigh turns into a moan, his body sturdy and substantial as he presses against David. Winding his arms around Patrick’s shoulders, David pulls Patrick closer, practically tugging him into his lap. If this is the only kiss Patrick ever gets from a guy, David wants to make it count.
Panting, Patrick pulls away, resting his forehead against David’s. “Wow. That was—” A smile flickers at the corners of his mouth as he lifts his head. “Wait—Is that supposed to happen?”
“Is what supposed to happen?” Following Patrick’s gaze, he takes in the damaged car. The door hangs open, but instead of seeing Patrick’s body collapsed in the front seat, there’s nothing.
Struggling to his feet, David looks back and forth between the empty car and the man standing beside him. Pink tinges Patrick’s cheeks, David longs to chase it with his tongue. Instead, moving cautiously, as if he’s afraid of spooking a small animal, he reaches out a hand to pet Patrick’s face. It’s solid and warm beneath his fingers. “I—This has never happened before.” He takes a step towards the car, as though Patrick’s body might be hiding in the backseat.
“David? What’s going on?” Patrick’s voice is scratchy with anxiety, but there’s a note that might be hope underneath it.
“I—I don’t know. But I think that maybe—you’re not dead anymore?” He pats at Patrick’s jaw again, his skin is even warmer than before. Hope that he hadn’t known he was holding onto blooms as a fantasy that he hadn’t dared dream builds inside him. Beside him, Patrick’s laugh echoes down the quiet road, filling up the crevices of David’s soul that he’d thought had atrophied years before. Taking two quick strides, Patrick grabs him around the waist, pulling David off his feet as he swings him in a circle in the middle of the highway. David scrabbles at Patrick’s shoulders as he winds his legs around Patrick’s waist. “Patrick. Put me down! Patrick!”
Patrick staggers to a halt, gently lowering David to the ground, giving him a look that nearly brings David to his knees. “Thank you, David.”
“For what?” He’s being a brat, but he needs to hear Patrick say it.
Patrick smirks at him as though he knows exactly what David is doing. “For giving me my life back. And for this.” Patrick’s kiss is soft and curious, nothing like the wild kiss they’d shared earlier. And deep inside, in a place he’s kept hidden, David feels a part of himself come to life for the first time.