“I love it here,” Shane said, swinging his legs that dangled over the edge of the wharf.
Damien smiled. “Me, too.”
Six months after his suicide attempt, Shane was getting his life back on track. He and Damien had sold their homes and together bought a house in Muskoka Lakes. A talented abstract painter often compared to Jackson Pollock and Piet Mondrian, he was painting again and preparing for an exhibit in the fall. He’d never expected to fall in love, to find someone who’d love him just as he was. But Damien appeared and, most of all, stayed. His best friend. His rock. His protector.
Shane’s gaze locked onto those deep-set azure blue eyes that made him forget about the past and begin to imagine living a truly happy life. God, why did he stay? He reached for Damien’s hand. “Thank you.”
Damien shook his head. “Stop thanking me.”
“You saved my life,” Shane said with emphasis. “You saved me.”
That was true. Shane knew he wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for Damien. And while he felt better, it felt like he was always being tested. Especially on the nights he couldn’t sleep. Or the days he didn’t feel like talking to anyone, not even Damien. Or when he cried without really knowing why. But every day he took his meds, determined to conquer the dark knight of misery vying for his soul.
That dark knight had almost won. Shane didn’t remember much about the day he’d overdosed, but he could still hear the doctor’s flat voice explaining how his heart had stopped. The paramedic’s vigorous CPR revived him … and broke a few of his ribs. He’d been unconscious, too, for three days. But when he opened his eyes, Damien was there.
“Hasn’t left your side,” the nurse had said with admiration. “Not even to take a shower, despite our encouragement.” She chuckled. “He’s a keeper.”
“I’m … I’m sorry,” Shane said, his voice hoarse and unsteady. “I’m sorry.” Then, when he felt Damien’s strong arms around him, tears streaked down his face. He cried for his long-dead mother, cried for this love he didn’t understand, cried for a life he was constantly trying to escape.
“Don’t be sorry,” Damien said. “You’re here. You’re all right. That’s all that matters.”
Shane felt the pressure on his hand, and Damien’s tanned aristocratic face came back into focus.
“You okay?” Damien asked.
Shane nodded. “I am. I was just, you know, thinking about that day … at the hospital.” He matched Damien’s pressure. “You smelled awful.”
“Thanks a lot!”
Shane gently pulled his hand away, then shifted his body to face Damien, leaving only his left leg hanging off the wharf. “You’re sure about this, right? I’m taking my meds. I’m committed to staying healthy. And, God, I love you, Damien Miller. But —”
“There’s no but, Shane.” Damien slid his body closer and took Shane’s face in his hands. “I’m exactly where I want to be.” He leaned in, pressed his lips to Shane’s and held them there for about ten seconds. “For me, nothing’s changed.”
“It could happen again,” Shane said, his voice dipping low. “And it if does … that could be the time I get it right.”
“If you’re trying to scare me away, it’s not working.”
“You could be living a normal life with someone who’s not —”
“Stop.” Damien swept up both of Shane’s hands in his. “Do you remember our second date?”
Shane felt the heat burn in his cheeks and looked down. He’d been such a prick the night they met at Mikey’s, yet he agreed — like Damien had suggested — to them having dinner together. His treat for how he’d acted. They’d gone to Station Bel-Air, a French bistro on Front Street West. Even though they talked at Mikey’s, conversation didn’t come easy for them. And at dinner, the dominating silence had Shane second-guessing his choices. They didn’t look at each other, their eyes shifting to the door every time it opened. They only spoke when their server came to take their drink order and when she returned to see if they’d made any decisions on food. What the fuck am I doing here? he’d wondered, checking the time at regular five-minute intervals.
“Want to just call it a night?” Shane asked, gulping the last mouthful of his wine.
“Maybe that’s not a bad idea,” Damien said.
“I mean, really, you don’t want to date a crazy person.”
Damien’s eyes went wide. “Well, that explains everything.”
Shane bristled. “Go to hell!”
There was a silence, then they both broke out laughing.
“Are you…” Damien stared at the open menu. “Are you really crazy?”
“They call it bipolar disorder these days,” Shane said, matter-of-fact. He saw the surprise in Damien’s eyes and beyond it something more. Was it … compassion? “Look, now’s the time to get up and walk away. I wouldn’t blame you.”
Damien reached across the table and placed his hand on Shane’s. “I’m told I’m a great listener.”
Shane tried to pull his hand away, but Damien held on. “It’s not something I really talk about.”
“You can with me.”
Shane, his gaze locked on Damien, drew in several deep breaths. Something in those eyes inspired confidence and trust. “I was nine when my father killed my mother…”
The sound of a speedboat zooming across the lake made Shane raise his head. “You should have walked away that night.”
“That was the moment I fell in love with you,” Damien said.
“Out of pity?”
“Respect. That you survived. That, despite everything, you’ve built the life you imagined.”
That was, at least, partly true … when his mind wasn’t broken. Now he had people waiting almost two years for a commissioned work.
“Come on.” Damien stood and held out his hand. “Let’s grab something to eat.”
Shane grasped the large hand and rose. “Stay with me?”
Damien pulled him in close. “Always.”