There is a lot happening in the world that inspires, especially how, in different communities across the globe, we’ve come together to support each other during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are also things that cause us to pause and show the worst of man’s inhumanity to man, and, consequently, sends people marching into the streets to demand change. George Floyd’s death reflects the latter. Enter hope… [Read more…] about 2 Things You Can’t Take Away from Me…
Trevor, seated on the living room sofa reading, looked up from his book when the doorbell sounded. His wide camel-brown eyes sidled the clock on the mantelpiece. Twelve minutes past eleven on Saturday morning and he wasn’t expecting anyone. He kept reading until he heard the thunder of feet barreling down the staircase and shifted his focus to the front hall.
“Oh, how marvellous,” the nasal voice said. “You’re home.”
Trevor closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. Oh, dear Lord … not today, was his silent supplication. He opened his eyes, folded down the top corner of the page to mark his spot and closed the book. He shook his head when the tall brunette entered the living room, offering that goofy smile that even after four years still made him feel buttery inside. “Oliver —”
“Look who’s here,” Oliver said nervously when the silver-haired woman appeared at his side.
Trevor placed his book down on the coffee table, stood and crossed to the woman. “Always a delight, Phyllis.” He kissed her lightly on the cheek.
“You’re a terrible liar,” Phyllis said dryly, then turned to Oliver. “Could I trouble you for a cup of tea?”
“Sure,” Oliver said and bolted for the kitchen.
“You know how I like it,” she called out after him.
Trevor thrust himself back onto the sofa. “With a dash of cyanide.”
“Ha-ha.” Phyllis lowered herself onto the other matching sofa. “We should try to get along, especially if this thing between you and my son is going to go on for a while.”
“You mean we should pretend to get along.” Trevor reached for his book and flipped it open. “I’m okay with not liking each other. That’d mean we wouldn’t have to speak to each other, right?”
“I don’t understand why you don’t like me,” Phyllis snapped.
The book slipped through Trevor’s fingers and onto his lap. “You don’t understand why I don’t like you?”
“I’ve been nothing but kind —”
“Kind?” Trevor howled. “That from the woman who said to Oliver, when he first brought me home to meet you, ‘Why are you dating a black man?’”
“Well, I … it was a shock.”
“Was it still the shock when you organized a surprise party for Oliver’s thirtieth birthday and didn’t invite me?” He rolled his eyes as Phyllis just sat there, her shifty ice blue eyes roving the room. “We’d been living together for two years.”
“That’s not how I remember it,” Phyllis shot back.
Trevor sucked his teeth. “Of course not.”
“My other sons and daughters-in-law adore me.”
Trevor, trying to tamp down his urge to laugh, dropped his head.
“Just the other day Laura told me that I was her favourite mother-in-law.”
Trevor looked up, an eyebrow raised. “How many mothers-in-law has Laura had?”
“How droll.” Phyllis adjusted the silk scarf around her neck. “How come I’ve never met your parents?”
Trevor bristled. “Would you want to? I mean, they’re black like me.”
“Trevor!” Oliver cried as came into the room.
“If you’re serious about meeting them,” Trevor said, trying to suppress his smirk, “they’re in the urn on the mantelpiece.”
“Trevor…” Oliver sounded exasperated. He handed the teacup and saucer to his mother. “Just the way you like it.” He moved around to the other sofa, sat down next to Trevor and stared questioningly at his mother. “So?”
“It’s delightful,” Phyllis said after sipping her tea.
Oliver scratched his forehead. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Oh…” Phyllis blinked magnificently. “Well, sometimes, that man is impossible.”
“Ha!” Trevor slapped his hand on his thigh and couldn’t stifle his cackling laugh.
Oliver drove his elbow into Trevor’s side. “What did Dad do this time?”
“Do?” Phyllis shook her head violently. “He doesn’t do anything but sit in front of the TV. So I left. Now I need a place to stay.”
Oliver swallowed repeatedly. “You want to stay here?”
“Your other siblings…” Phyllis’s voice cracked. “They said it would be … inconvenient.”
“Ha!” Trevor leaned forward, his sides cramping and tears in his eyes.
“Stop that,” Oliver said through gritted teeth.
Phyllis set the cup and saucer on the coffee table. “It’ll probably be inconvenient for you, too.”
“Mom…” Oliver touched his hand to Trevor’s thigh. “Of course you can stay with us.”
Trevor sat up straight, his eyes wild and locked on Oliver. “Really?”
“She’s my mother,” Oliver said in a whisper. “I just can’t —”
Trevor waved him off. “I need a drink.” He stormed out of the room.
“I’ve never really liked him,” Phyllis said when she was alone with Oliver.
Oliver flicked his eyebrows. “I think the feeling’s mutual.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Trevor warned, yanking out the cork from the bottle of Lagavulin. He poured another generous amount into the crystal tumbler, jammed the cork back in and returned the bottle to the counter with a hard clank. “You’re not my favourite person at the moment.” He felt the weight of hands on his shoulders, then started to squirm as the wet tongue traced the curve of his ear.
“You love me,” that gravelly voice said. “Don’t fight it.”
That voice … it was what had hooked him, had his manhood stirring with the simple, “Hello,” that Oliver greeted him with on their first date. Now wasn’t the time to be nostalgic.
Trevor twisted out of Oliver’s grasp and shot off the stool. He looked in Oliver’s direction but not right at him. This was his time to be strong, to stand his ground. He wouldn’t cower to Oliver’s dreamy, sapphire blue eyes. Not this time. “She can’t stay here.”
“I can’t throw her out tonight,” Oliver said, taking a step forward.
Trevor took a matching step backwards. “I can.”
“Trevor…” Oliver rushed Trevor, who didn’t have time to react, and held him close. “She’s my mother … what do you expect me to do?”
Trevor tried to break free, twisting and turning, but Oliver held on.
“Stop fighting and just listen,” Oliver said, almost shouting.
Trevor struggled for another twenty seconds, then stood there absolutely still. When he felt Oliver’s grip relax, he pushed away violently. “I’m your partner. That should count for something.”
Oliver, after making an unsuccessful play for Trevor’s hand, folded his arms. “You’re not making this easy.”
“I’m not making this easy?” Trevor massaged his temple. “You do understand why your mother and I can’t be under the same roof, don’t you?”
“No, no,” Trevor said, waving his hand in disagreement. “She doesn’t get a free pass for what happened last week. Maybe you need a reminding…”
Trevor felt his chest tightening as he recounted the events of last Sunday. It was their turn to host the monthly family dinner that had long been a tradition in Oliver’s family. More of a cook than Oliver, Trevor spent the day before preparing for the meal and the mob set invade their home. And just before their first guest arrived Oliver, sporting that goofy smile that always made Trevor swoon, told him everything was perfect.
While Oliver showed off his new R1 motorcycle to his brothers, Trevor was alone in the kitchen cleaning up. He didn’t want any help. He wanted to be on his own, have a little peace. When he was almost done, he went to return the oversized turkey platter to the sideboard in the dining room. He heard the hushed voices and stopped outside the sliding doors, which he’d left slightly ajar. He immediately recognized that nasal voice. Phyllis! He discreetly looked into the room to see his ‘mother-in-law’ who, standing by the patio doors and with her back to him, had Oliver’s younger sister Andrea cornered.
“I’ve always thought Oliver could do better,” Phyllis said. “He seems happy—”
“Oliver is happy,” Andrea said firmly. “God, don’t you see the way he and Trevor look at each other? It’s like they’re the only ones in the room. Theo and I stopped looking at each other that way after two years.”
“I don’t understand…” Phyllis cut herself off, her exasperation gaining dominion. “I raised him better than that. If only the South had won that war things would definitely be different. Especially here in Halifax.”
Trevor pushed one of the sliding doors open so hard that when it bounced in the frame the entire house fell silent.
Phyllis spun around, her face twisting in shock. “Oh, Trevor, I was just telling Andrea —”
“‘If only the South had won that war,’” he said slowly, a way to tamp down the anger flowing through his veins.
Phyllis let out a forced laugh. “Oh, it’s just a manner of speaking.”
“‘A manner of speaking,’” Trevor repeated caustically.
Phyllis, unsure what to do with her hands, clasped them behind her back. “Well, back then … it was just the natural order of things. It made things simpler.”
“Mom, I think we should go,” Andrea said, panicked. She tried to nudge her mother out of the room.
Oliver appeared and, when he saw the disbelief raging in Trevor’s face, slumped against the door. “Mom, what did you do now?”
The phone rang, and Trevor rolled his eyes as Oliver sprinted to answer it. God, some days he’s such a momma’s boy. He crossed to the island counter, picked up his scotch and drained it. Oliver was back and before he could say anything, Trevor threw him a warning look. “Who was that?”
“Dad,” Oliver said, tapping his foot. “He said he … had the locks changed.”
“That’s it!” Trevor started for the door. “This isn’t a one-night thing. And I’m not going to be miserable in my own home. She can go to a hotel.”
Oliver grabbed Trevor by the arm. “Trevor —”
“I’ll make it simple…” Trevor jerked his arm away. “It’s either her or me.”
Oliver slammed the door and marched into the living room. “We need to talk.”
Phyllis, seated on the sofa reading Maclean’s, looked up and smiled. “I’m so glad you’re home. It’s been horrible having no one to talk to.” She tossed the magazine onto the coffee table. “Tell me all about your day.”
“Mom, I’m not seven years old,” Oliver said brutishly. “I don’t want to talk about my goddamn day.” He lowered himself onto the sofa, clasped his hands together on his lap and locked his gaze on his mother. “Don’t you realize what you’re doing?”
Phyllis bristled. “All I did was ask my son about his day and he bit my head off. I didn’t raise him to speak to me like that.”
“You don’t think you deserve it?” he asked, unable to check his surprise.
“I most certainly do not.” Phyllis stood and went to leave the room.
“Sit down, Mom,” Oliver said, almost shouting.
Phyllis spun around. “I won’t stand here and let you talk to me like I’m … a two-bit hussy.”
Oliver bounced off the sofa and charged across the room, grabbing his mother by the arm as she started again for the door. “I’m not talking to you like a ‘two-bit hussy.’ I’m talking to you like a…” He censored himself before he could say the word that would have taken them to a point of no return. He shepherded her back to the sofa and forced her to sit. He drew in a deep breath, held on to it a few seconds, then pushed it out violently through his nose. “You’re my mother, and I love you. I don’t know if you’re being like this because of what’s going between you and Dad, or —”
“Being like what?” Phyllis interrupted.
“Insufferable!” Oliver said with emphasis. “You’re being mean, and the things you say … I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but you keep hurting me.”
“Hurting you?” Phyllis’s voice pitched high with disbelief. “How am I hurting you?”
“Really?” Oliver ran his hand down the side of his face. “Are you going to sit there and play dumb?” There was a silence. “I love Trevor. He’s my light. When I’m sick, he makes me homemade soup. He makes me laugh by hogging the blankets when we climb into bed because I steal them in the night. Or so he tells me. When I lost my job two years ago because of cutbacks, he said, ‘Don’t worry … I’ve got this.’ That let me take the time I needed to find the next right thing. He’s been … he’s good to me. I thought you of all people would appreciate that.”
“I don’t know…” Phyllis, dodging Oliver’s gaze, reached for the Maclean’s magazine. “I don’t know how you ever got mixed up with those people.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” Oliver barked and snatched the magazine away. “All you see is the colour of his skin. I see who he is.” He dropped his head and bit down on his lip. “This isn’t just my home. It’s Trevor’s, too. That’s why … you can’t stay here.”
“Where am I supposed to go?” Phyllis asked, indignant.
Oliver rose. “I don’t know and, frankly, I don’t care. But you being here … you’re tearing my home and my world apart. It has to stop.”
“Oliver, I’m —”
Oliver raised a hand. “Please just pack your things and go.” He strode out of the room and down the hall to Trevor’s office. He stood in the doorway and waited to hear the clickety-clack of his mother’s high heels against the hardwood floor. He’d finally stood up to her — stood up for his life and his worth.
As his gaze fell on Trevor’s desk where the laptop used to be, he felt the tears pooling in his eyes. He could still hear the savageness in Trevor’s alto voice. “I’ll make it simple … it’s either her or me.” Oliver had said nothing, watching as the rage in Trevor’s camel-brown eyes turned to disappointment. And he remained silent when Trevor sprinted up the stairs. He thought it was a bluff until Trevor appeared at the front door with his suitcase and satchel. He knew Trevor waited for him to say something, but he just stood there with his mouth agape. Then Trevor slipped out of the house, and the life he’d imagined was in pieces.
A loud bang made Oliver jump, and he looked up at the ceiling. “What’s she up to now?” He pulled out his phone and dialled Trevor’s cell number. After the fourth ring, it cut away to voicemail. He hung up without leaving a message.
Then came the thud of the front door closing. He raced into the living room and stood in front of the window. He watched as his mother got into her silver Volvo and felt, for the first time in almost a week, relief. He pulled up Trevor’s number again on his phone and dialled. Still no answer. But this time, when prompted to leave a message, he said the only two words that mattered, “She’s gone.”
Was it enough to convince Trevor to come home?
God, he hoped so.
And when his phone rang five minutes later — Trevor’s name lighting up the screen — he was about to find out.
Trevor went to jam his key in the lock when the front door swung open. He did not — could not — move as those dreamy, sapphire-blue eyes bore into him. Something was different. It wasn’t Oliver’s usual intent look of desire that could have them devouring each other before they made it to the bedroom. No, it was something worse. Disappointment.
Oliver stepped forward and reached for Trevor’s suitcase, dragging it into the house. He set it by the foot of the staircase, then slipped his hands in his pockets. “Are you going to come in?”
Trevor stepped into the house and closed the door. The dominant silence that followed, broken only by the tick-tock of the wall clock, had his chest tightening. It was like, all of a sudden, they didn’t know how to speak to each other or how to act.
“So what happens next?” Oliver asked with an edge.
“I’m not sure,” Trevor said quietly, his gaze held to the floor.
“Do you want to stay?”
Trevor looked up. “What?”
“Do you want to stay?” Oliver repeated brutishly. “Or do you just want to … end this. I mean, you won’t look at me so maybe you didn’t want to come back here after all.”
Trevor levelled his gaze at Oliver. “I didn’t know what I was coming back to.”
“I told you when I called that my mother was gone.”
“It took you four days to get her out of this house,” Trevor said, almost shouting, “out of our house.”
“She’s my mother,” Oliver countered. “She was upset. What was I supposed to do?”
“Stand up for me. Stand up for us.” Trevor folded his arms. “She has ridiculed me since you took me to meet her. All she’s done is make me feel like I’m second-rate because I’m black. And it’s always been clear that she’d rather you be with anyone but me. And you’ve never stood up to her, always telling me, ‘She grew up in a different time. Things were different then.’ Fuck, Oliver, it’s 2016. Maybe … maybe you’re ashamed to be with me.”
Oliver’s eyes went wide. “I can’t believe you just said that.”
“Then maybe I shouldn’t be here after all.” Trevor adjusted the strap of his satchel on his shoulder. “There you go again, not saying anything. You’re still defending her.”
“I kicked my mother out of the house two days ago,” Oliver spat, moving to intercept Trevor. “I told her to leave because she kept hurting me, hurting you in our home … and that it had to stop. Two days, I called you, told you she was gone. Why…” He blinked rapidly to force back the tears banking in his eyes. “Why didn’t you come home then? Why did you wait so long?”
Trevor looked down. He’d waited because he needed time to think. When Oliver had invited Phyllis to stay, without them discussing it, Trevor was no longer sure where he belonged. After he left, he wasn’t sure if this house could ever be home again. He felt the warm hand envelope his and raised his head. Was it the touch, or Oliver’s dreamy eyes? Trevor didn’t know, but he felt his lips curling into a smile. “Your nostrils flare when you’re angry. I never noticed that before.”
“That’s because this is the first time I’ve ever been mad at you,” Oliver said, smirking.
Trevor, chuckling, matched Oliver’s pressure. They’d never really argued, never let things stick to them. Four years after their first date, they were like newlyweds who couldn’t get enough of each other. Life was perfect. Absolutely perfect. At least until his mother-in-law’s last visit.
“Your mother’s a battle-axe.” Trevor pulled his hands out of Oliver’s loosening grasp, then set his satchel on the floor. “Maybe I should have come back sooner. Maybe I shouldn’t have left at all, but your mother … she’s —”
“Impossible,” Oliver broke in, making a play for Trevor’s hand. “It took me a while to see that.”
“‘Impossible’ isn’t exactly the word I was going to use.”
“I know.” Oliver winked, wrapped his arm around Trevor’s waist and led him into the living room. They sat down on the sofa, their legs touching. Oliver placed his hand on Trevor’s knee. “I am not ashamed of you,” he said with emphasis. “I hope you know that.”
Trevor shook his head. “I know. I’m sorry I said that.”
“You’re the man I love.” Oliver leaned in and pressed his lips to Trevor’s, held them there briefly, then pulled back. “And no matter how angry my mother makes you, or if I do something that pisses you off … please don’t ever leave like that again. I was sick every night not knowing if you were going to come back.”
“Then let’s make a deal,” Trevor said.
Oliver brushed his dark wavy hair out of his face. “A deal?”
“I won’t leave again, if you don’t ever invite your mother to stay the night without discussing it with me first.”
Oliver held out his hand. “Deal.”
Trevor, accepting the handshake, found himself being pulled forward. The next thing he felt was Oliver’s mouth on his. As their tongues danced, he wrapped his arms around Oliver and drew him tight. Their bodies shifted and, working to stretch out on the sofa, they fell onto the floor and started laughing.
Oliver climbed on top of Trevor. “We’re good?”
“We’re good.” Trevor touched his hand to the side of Oliver’s stubbly face. “I love you.”
“I’m glad because…” Oliver leaned forward and whispered into Trevor’s ear, “Mom’s coming over for dinner.”
Trevor shoved Oliver off him and shot up off the floor. He charged into the foyer and stabbed his feet into his shoes.
“Trevor…” Oliver rushed to Trevor and pinned him against the wall. “God, I was kidding.”
Trevor raised an eyebrow. “You think that’s funny?”
“Kind of,” Oliver said, smirking.
Oliver smiled. “That’s why you love me so.”
“Who are you?” Ryan asked with an edge.
“I’m Toby,” the olive-skinned man said, holding out his hand.
Ryan shoved his hands in his pockets. “And how did you say you knew Mitch?”
“He was…” Toby clasped his hands behind his back. “We were friends.”
“He never mentioned you.” Ryan, drawing in a deep breath, tried to tamp down the frustration rumbling in his contralto voice.
“No, he wouldn’t,” Toby said quickly. “That would have complicated things.”
Ryan bristled. “It would have complicated what?”
“Well…” Toby gave a nervous laugh. “The truth is … Mitch and I were more than friends.”
It was the last thing he expected to do, but it felt like he had no control as his fist flew through the air and struck the side of Toby’s Romanesque nose. Ryan could feel all eyes on him as a hush fell over the room. He flexed his right hand, which was starting to throb, as he watched Toby pick himself up off the floor.
“Man, you’ve got a good right hook,” Toby said cheekily. It was somewhat muffled as his hand covered his mouth as he pinched his nose to stop the bleeding.
A tall brunette appeared with a handful of tissues, handing them to Toby while his acorn-brown eyes were locked on Ryan. “What’s going on?”
“Get him out of here, Sam,” Ryan said through gritted teeth.
“He only stayed with you because he was sick,” Toby spat. “Had he lived —”
Ryan raised his balled fist, but when Sam put himself between the two men, he let his arm drop to his side.
Sam turned to the guy. “I don’t know who you are or why you’re here, but I’d go if I were you.”
Toby, still applying pressure to his nose, stared a moment longer at Ryan before slinking away.
Slowly, a low chatter began to rise in the room as people resumed their earlier conversations.
Sam took a step forward and grabbed Ryan by the arm. “What was that all about?”
Ryan, blinking magnificently, didn’t say a word. He jerked his arm free and then made a beeline for the exit. Outside, he made his way around to the side of the funeral home and sat down on a stone bench. It didn’t make sense. None of it. He and Mitch had been together since they met, during the first semester of their graduate studies. They told each other everything — who had hurt them, what they feared the most, how they hoped to change the world. They were best friends, confidants … the only thing that broke down the chaos of their worlds and made them feel alive. They’d been happy together. At least that was what he now needed to believe. The hand pressing down on his shoulder made him lift his head.
“Here,” Sam said, holding out a bag of ice. “That hand looks like it’s swelling.” He sat down beside Ryan. “Where did you learn to throw a punch like that?”
Sam wrapped his arm around Ryan’s shoulders. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Talk about what,” Ryan said dryly. “The fact that Mitch might have been cheating on me, and I just met his lover at his funeral?”
“Whoa!” Sam removed his arm, then straddled the bench so he could study his friend. “That guy said he was Mitch’s lover?”
“And you know what the worst part is?” Ryan turned to look at Sam. “I believe him.”
“I like to tell myself that Mitch and I had the perfect relationship.” Ryan gave a nervous laugh. “A year before his diagnosis, something happened. I don’t really know what, but we were always at each other’s throats. We didn’t really talk, didn’t have sex … didn’t do much together. And I think we were both afraid to admit that we’d fallen out of love. We were together yet absent to each other. And maybe he was prepared to call it quits until he found out he had cancer. That scared him. It scared me. Maybe that made staying easier.”
“I’m sorry,” Sam said, cupping his hand to Ryan’s shoulder. “I didn’t know.”
“You weren’t supposed to know. We wanted everyone to believe that everything was perfect. I didn’t want to admit that our relationship of fifteen years had fallen apart.” Tears banked in his eyes. “And you know, despite everything, Mitch is the only man I ever really loved.”
Sam stood. “Come on. I think we should get that hand of yours looked at.”
Ryan, slow to stand, levelled his gaze at Sam. “Why do you keep doing this?”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “Keep doing what?”
“Saving the day,” Ryan said. “I mean, fifteen years ago I picked Mitch over you. I’ve never felt like I’ve deserved your friendship, yet you’ve been a rock all these years.”
Sam chuckled. “And yet you still haven’t figured it out.”
They walked in silence towards the silver Passat parked in front of the funeral home entrance. Ryan pulled his keys out of his pocket and tossed them at Sam. “I think it’s broken.”
“Are you talking about your hand or you?” Sam didn’t wait for an answer and climbed into the car.
The ride to the hospital was quiet, Ryan staring absently out the window the entire time. He’s right, he thought when Sam shifted the car into park. I’m broken. Maybe I’ve always been broken. He’d barely unbuckled his seatbelt when the passenger side door swung open. Sam helped him out of the car and they stood there, their gazes locked, looking at each other in a way they’d never done before. For the first time in years, Ryan felt something stir inside of him. No, he’s not still…
Ryan stepped out of the way to let Sam close the door, eying the man who’d always seemed to be there for him when it mattered. They headed for the emergency entrance, but just before going inside Ryan cut in front of Sam and blocked his path. “You mean … all these years —”
“Today’s not the day to talk about this,” Sam said.
“But I —”
“You’ve only ever seen what you’ve wanted to see. And that’s okay.” Sam smiled and tapped Ryan on the arm. “Let’s get your hand looked at.”
Ryan followed Sam through the sliding glass doors. Maybe it was the pain, becoming more intense, that had him questioning everything he thought he knew. He wanted to believe that he had truly loved Mitch and what they’d lived was real. Now he wasn’t sure about anything.
All he knew was that when the time was right, and if he got a second chance at love, he wouldn’t be the same fool twice.
This was it. The moment he’d been preparing for his entire life. The end of introspection and self-flagellation. Yet it felt … surreal. He still didn’t believe it was happening, despite the evidence around him. The boxes stacked around the room. The walls stripped bare, dotted with holes where the IKEA print of New York taxi cabs, and framed photos of Toni Morrison and his other celebrity friends used to hang.
He remembered every moment that had played out here. He remembered the laughter. He remembered collapsing onto the chocolate-brown leather sofa as he read, and reread, the letter confirming his first novel had been accepted for publication. He remembered the sweaty, breathless sex on the sofa, the floor, in the shower. Rarely the bed. A past he’d carry close and into the future.
Yes, this was it. The moment when he felt, finally, like he’d become a man.
The commotion outside broke his reverie. Malachi Bishop bounced off the sofa, crossed the room and pushed open the balcony doors. The thumping music, the shouting and the skunky smell of burnt leaves rushed at him. Proof that it was Friday night and all bets were off. He couldn’t wait to be free from it all.
Jenna, Malachi’s silver-haired neighbour, leaned over her railing. “I’m tired of you druggies acting like you’re the only ones who live here,” she barked. “You need to learn the meaning of respect.”
“Respect this!” a guy with blue hair shouted back from the balcony below and flipped her the bird.
“Oh, no you didn’t…” Jenna stood up straight. “I’m done with you hoodlums. I’m calling the police.” She turned to go inside but froze when she spotted Malachi. “Do you believe those two?”
Malachi, watching the scene unfold below, stepped back from his balcony’s railing and raised his hands defensively. His message was clear: leave me out of it.
“This is a good, family-oriented neighbourhood,” she lamented. “Or at least it was until those jackals moved in.”
“We’re on our balcony,” the blue-haired guy spat. “We can do as we fucking please.”
“And the language,” she said, indignant.
His fellow ‘jackal’ turned around slowly, blew out a large cloud of smoke and looked up. “Hey, Malachi! You wanna come down for a drink?”
Malachi bristled. They’d never been introduced, so how did the guy know his name? With the tattoos covering the man’s arms and his multiple piercings, he didn’t come across as someone who’d have read Malachi’s work. Not really knowing what to say, Malachi swallowed hard. When he caught the woman’s accusatory look, as if he were in collusion with the hoodlums, he grimaced. “No. No, thanks. I’ve got some work to do.” He raced back inside, sliding the balcony doors closed with an unintentional bang.
He returned to the sofa and chuckled. He could still hear his disgruntled neighbour repeating her threat to call the police, that was until the music was cranked up even louder. He tried to block it out as he packed up the DVDs piled on the coffee table. Just then the phone rang and he jumped. He raised himself up slightly and reached for the phone wedged between the DVDs and a stack of literary journals. “Hello,” he said, falling back into the sofa.
“I’m running late,” Taylor Blanchard said.
“Where are you?” Malachi asked.
“Still at the office. I started reading your book after my last class and I haven’t been able to put it down. God, Damien is a freakin’ prick. I don’t understand why Ryan hasn’t left his sorry ass.”
“Hurry,” Malachi said.
“I will. I’m almost done this chapter. I should be home in about twenty minutes. But is everything all right?”
“Yes. I just can’t wait to see you.” Even after three years of dating, they still acted like new lovers who couldn’t get enough of each other. That first kiss when Taylor arrived home from work set off an atomic explosion of passion that had them naked almost instantly. They talked with an intimacy that, in many ways, scared them because neither of them had felt so connected to anyone else before.
“I’ll hurry,” Taylor said.
That made Malachi laugh. Ever since their first date, Taylor was always running late. It turned out to be a good thing. Malachi learned to practice patience.
“Should I pick something up for dinner?” Taylor asked.
“No. Well, maybe.” Malachi paused. “It depends…”
“Depends on what?” Taylor sounded concerned.
“Your mother called,” Malachi said quickly, as if expelling some evil force.
“What’s the crisis this time?”
“No crisis. She’s invited us over for dinner.”
“Tonight?” Taylor sighed. “I’ll call her. I’ll say we already have plans.”
“That’s what you told her last week,” Malachi said, curbing his urge to laugh.
“You want to have dinner with my mother? Fine. But we’re not saying anything about the house.”
“You and your mother have too many secrets.”
“You’ve met the woman, right? I didn’t imagine that.” There was a brief silence. “You know what she’s like, and I’m not in the mood for the great inquisition. ‘A house? How can you afford a house? What bank would give you a mortgage? I still don’t know how you afford the car…’ Christ, my ears are already ringing.”
Malachi felt himself grinning. “She might surprise you.”
“God, you’re cute.” Taylor chuckled. “And I love you.”
“Now you’re changing the subject,” Malachi said coolly.
“Yes, I am. I’ll be home soon. We can talk about it then.”
“Yes, we will.”
“See you soon, beautiful man.” Taylor hung up.
Malachi tossed the phone back onto the coffee table. It was a week after the publication of his second novel, and they were excited about their recent home purchase. It took them five months to find the perfect house. Some were too small, most were too expensive, and the rest were too far from the city. And then they struck gold — a three-bedroom house on Regent Street in the section of town known as the Glebe. Immediately they saw themselves laughing and sharing Malachi’s famous veal scaloppini and sweet potato gnocchi with their friends in the cosy dining room. It’d be so easy for them to manoeuvre about the airy kitchen as they cooked together. Then every evening wrapped up in each other on the sofa in the spacious living room. They’d each have their own office, and everything else they’d need — banks, coffee shops, grocery stores — were just minutes away on foot. Perfect. It was just perfect.
He smiled as he thought about Taylor and how he’d let himself be swept off his feet. He loved the way Taylor searched him out when he came home, taking him into his arms in a crushing embrace. His protector. His strength. His refuge. Malachi loved the way Taylor looked at him as though he was the only person in the world who mattered. He loved the tenderness of Taylor’s touch, his spirit of generosity, his patience.
When it came to Evelyn Blanchard, Malachi thought Taylor needed to engage some of that patience. He’d lost his own mother even before she died. He let go of her without making any attempt at reconciliation. Taylor, if he were open to it, had the chance to be better than him, to not let silly misunderstandings separate him and his mother. Then again, perhaps Malachi would have been just as annoyed if his mother had dotted over him the way Evelyn did Taylor. What would it be like to be the sole, and beloved, prodigal son? Malachi cringed.
His eyes roamed the books, stacked on the floor next to the coffee table, which he’d yet to pack. Sometimes it felt like a dream, but he knew this was real. He’d been caught up in his studies when Taylor came into his life and turned his world upside-down. Living in Ottawa, Malachi did what everyone else did. He joined the civil service and tried to shape a career he wasn’t sure he wanted. All the while he kept writing, and Taylor championed his work. As he searched for meaning in a world filled with competing priorities, Taylor let him know what was truly important. When he was paralysed by long periods of self-doubt, Taylor reminded him of his worth. He needed that gentle handling now, especially after reading Jason Miller’s harsh review of his novel in the local paper: Bishop’s rushed follow-up to his greatly overrated one-hit wonder, All I Do Not Know is True, is little more than a pretentious, predictable money grab. Clearly, Bishop is more concerned with proving how smart he is than in telling a good story. He longed for Taylor to walk through the door and take him into his arms, hold him safe … and maybe even track down Jason Miller and slash his tires.
This apartment … it was where his adult life began on that humid August day when they’d moved in and built a home together. Sweaty and exhausted from hauling furniture up three flights of stairs, they sat on the sofa eating a Domino’s pizza and sharing a bottle of Black Tower riesling. They were nervous, like on their first date, and uncertain as to what the future would bring.
“I love you very much,” Taylor had said and reached for Malachi’s hand.
The declaration stunned Malachi into silence — not because he didn’t believe it, but because it was the first time another man had said he loved him. “I love you, too,” he said, the words coming easily. From that moment came a simple truth: Taylor was his life. All that mattered was making Taylor happy. He didn’t care if that meant always doing the laundry or getting up at four in the morning to write so they could spend as much time as possible together.
Malachi realized that the blaring music had stopped. He sat up straight and glanced at his watch. It was quarter to seven, and Taylor should have been home by now. He picked up the phone and dialled Taylor’s office number at the university. No answer. Then he called Taylor’s cell. Again, no answer. He moved off the sofa and crossed to the window. He looked down into the street and saw a police cruiser pulling up to the curb. He smirked. Jenna finally had the nerve to call them. He watched the officers get out of their vehicle and enter the building. He looked up and down the street. It was empty. Where was Taylor?
He jumped at the knock on the door. Had Taylor forgotten his keys again? He rushed to the door and opened it. “I was beginning to worry…” He froze. Two grim-looking men — the police officers who he’d seen just moments before — gave their names and asked to enter the apartment.
Inside, the shorter man spoke first. “How are you acquainted with…” He paused to look at his black notebook. “Taylor Blanchard?”
“He’s my fiancé,” Malachi said with a slight edge. They’d talked about getting married, but neither of them had proposed.
“There’s no easy way to do this,” the officer continued. “There’s been an accident…”
Malachi heard the words but they instantly fell away. Something about Elgin Street, a car and two pedestrians. Investigators were still on the scene. Taylor had been hit first and succumbed to his injuries on the way to the hospital.
“I don’t understand,” Malachi said, feeling himself trembling. “I just talked to him … not even an hour ago. He was on his way home…” Tears filled his eyes and raced down his cheeks.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” the other officer said.
“He lost consciousness almost immediately,” the first officer said. “The pain … he wouldn’t have suffered long.”
“You’re mistaken. I mean…” Malachi could feel his legs about to give out on him, and before he could move to the sofa he collapsed to the floor. When he woke up, one officer was kneeling over him, the other radioing for an ambulance.
“Don’t move. Help’s on the way.”
He couldn’t move, paralysed by the grief. They’d talked about hosting Taylor’s family at Christmas in their new home, and visiting Paris the following summer. Suddenly, the man who was his saving force — a champion of his writing, his confidant, his best friend — had been plucked from his grasp.
How was he supposed to live without the man who’d taught him what love was all about?
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“I don’t know why I came,” Ian said, glancing at his watch. “It’s been a goddamn waste of time.”
“Will you mind your language,” Karen said through gritted teeth. “You’re in church, not on Third Street turning a trick.”
Ian’s eyes went wide. “That was uncalled for. I haven’t turned a trick in years. And for the record, we’re in the refectory.”
Karen’s mouth dropped open.
“God, you’re gullible.” Ian rolled his eyes.
“You know…” Karen pursed her lips, but that couldn’t stifle her groan. She locked onto those beautiful but rather deceitful copper blue eyes. “This is an important day and I’d like to get through it without any drama. So, try to behave … and watch your language.”
“Bite me, Karen,” Ian spat. He surveyed the room, not knowing anyone. When he saw the woman wearing an obnoxious wide brim black hat coming towards them, he threw his sister a knowing look.
“Don’t start,” Karen warned. “You know she means well.” Then she stepped forward to accept the hug being offered. “Thanks for being here, Aunt Geraldine.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Geraldine said as the two women pushed apart.
Ian held up his arms in an ‘X’ when his aunt went to embrace him. “I’m good, thanks.”
Karen swatted at her brother. “Ian…”
“What a lovely service,” Geraldine said, lifting her pudgy arms to adjust her hat.
“Why do people say that?” Ian sucked his teeth. “‘What a lovely service.’ Jesus Henry Fucking Christ … it’s not the Fourth of July.”
Karen’s eyes were on fire. “I know you’re upset, but your language is —”
“I’m not upset,” Ian interrupted. “Fuck, I barely knew the man.”
Today mimicked that rainy and humid August day when Ian was six years old. He stood on the covered porch of their three-bedroom bungalow on Marlon Avenue and waved as his father backed the beat-up maroon Oldsmobile out of the driveway. Then that evening, at six thirty, the rest of the family sat down for dinner without his father, who was usually home by six. That night the front door never opened.
He could still see his mother — her eyes red and filled with tears, the Marlboro cigarette pinched between her chapped lips — seated at the kitchen table and calling the local hospitals. He could still hear her sobs as she phoned all their family and friends, and his father’s work colleagues … the ones she could remember. No one knew anything. He sat with his mother at the table, holding her hand, as she kept up that routine for ten days until she realized that Reginald Fairfield wasn’t coming home and didn’t want to be found.
Then, twenty-eight years later, he picked up a message from Karen on his voicemail. “Dad called and wants to meet us,” was all she’d said. After some hedging, Ian agreed to the meet. He and Karen drove to Leaside Memorial Hospital in Melville, a city just fifty miles from Junction where they’d grown up. They were directed to the cancer ward. When Ian walked into Room 114, his body went rigid as his gaze latched onto the copper blue eyes of the frail man seated in the corner chair. A metallic taste swirled in his mouth and he could feel himself trembling.
“Thanks for coming,” Reginald Fairfield said and coughed.
“Do you know what she did?” Ian asked, his voice rising.
Karen touched her hand to Ian’s arm. “Ian —”
Ian jerked his arm away. “Do you know what our mother did when you didn’t come home?”
“Don’t do this,” Karen pleaded.
“She searched and prayed,” Ian said, tears banking in his eyes. “Then she gave up. She … was … broken. And one day, just like you, she went to work and never came back. The only difference was that she got on a bus to Niagara and jumped into the falls. They never found her body.”
“I’m sorry,” Reginald said in a whisper.
“Sorry…” Ian wiped the tears from his eyes. “Are you dying? Is that why you want to see us now?”
Reginald nodded. “I made mistakes and —”
“Just because you’re dying doesn’t mean you get a free pass,” Ian cut in.
“I know I hurt you when I left,” Reginald said soberly. “It was complicated and —”
Ian raised a hand in the air. “Stop. I’m not interested in your excuses. It doesn’t matter why you left. You abandoned us. You don’t know what it’s been like…” He bit down on his lip. “To me, you’ll always be a coward. And, God help me, but I hope you suffer.”
Karen gasped. “Ian!”
“You can’t talk to me like that,” Reginald said, raising his shaking hand in the air and pointing at Ian. “I’m still your father.”
“You’re not my father,” Ian said with control. “He’s been dead to me for twenty-eight years.” He spun around and walked out of the room.
The tightening grip on his arm drew Ian out of the past and back to the present. He shrugged off the questioning looks the two women threw at him. “What? The bastard walked out on us. Don’t expect me to be sad that he’s dead.”
“He was your father,” Geraldine said with emphasis.
“He was never a father to me.” Ian checked the time. “And you know what? I’m done.”
Ian stepped between Karen and his aunt, not looking at either of them, and strutted towards the exit. Why did I even bother? he wondered as he emerged outside, the rain finally beginning to taper off.
He came because he thought it would make a difference, offer some type of closure. But how could it? He knew his heart wasn’t open to forgiveness and wasn’t sure it ever would be.