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    Diogenes
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About Carl - 10. The Partner Track

After the disaster that ended Carl's visit, I was tense and on edge. I knew he loved me, but now that he was depressed and maybe even suicidal, I didn't know how to help without making things worse. After two weeks of waiting to hear from him, I called him at home one evening. Lisa answered.

“Hi Lisa. It's me, Mark.”

“Oh, hi, Mark. How's it going? I haven't seen you in ages.” She seemed cheerful and upbeat; clearly, Carl was all right.

“It's going well,” I said, trying to sound pleasant. “Hey, is Carl around?”

“Actually, he's gone out for a run. He just left.”

That's good. He's running, looking after himself. He's not sitting in a locked bathroom staring at a bottle of pills.

“Do you want me to have him call you when he gets back?” she said.

“No, that’s not necessary. It's nothing important. Just tell him I called.”

“Will do. Nice to talk to you again, Mark.”

“Thanks, Lisa. Good night.” I didn't want to put Carl on the spot, forcing him to talk to me while his wife was listening. At least, I knew that he was OK. When we eventually did talk we would have to do so on his terms.

The next day, he called me at home. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I was plowing my way through a stack of student papers trying to get caught up on my marking backlog. The ringing of the phone was a welcome opportunity to avoid my unpleasant duty.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Mark. It's me, Carl.”

I felt nervous all of a sudden. “Hi, Carl.” I wasn't sure how to proceed. Finally, I said, “Are you all right?”

“Yes, I'm better.”

“Are you free to talk?” I asked.

“Yes, I'm alone at the office. I told Lisa I had to do some work on a big case that’s coming to a head next week. She's at home with Brian.”

“I'm worried about you,” I said.

“Yes, I know,” he replied.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I said.

“I guess we should,” he said.

“Carl, I was really shocked by what you said when you were here. It's not normal to fantasize about crashing your car and killing yourself. Are you really all right?”

“Yes, I'm fine. I've been to see my therapist a few times; I think she's helping. We're talking through some things.”

“What things?”

“You know: my job, Lisa – you.”

“You told her about us?”

“Yes.”

“What did she say?”

“She asked me if I was gay.”

“What did you tell her?”

There was a pause. “This is difficult to talk about.”

“I know it is,” I said. “It's not easy for me, either.”

“I told her that I didn't think I was gay; I was somewhere on the straight side of that gay-straight continuum. I told her I've only been with one man – you. Which is the truth.”

“What did your therapist tell you to do?”

“Well, she mostly just tries to get me to identify what the problem is and why I'm having trouble coping. She doesn't tell me what to do; I have to figure that out for myself.”

“Has she helped you to identify the problem?” It seemed obvious to me what it was.

“Well, our first goal is to deal with my depression. It’s going to be a long-term thing.” I was relieved that he seemed committed to continuing therapy.

There was a pause in the conversation as we both considered the elephant in the room. Finally, I broke the silence. “What did she say about us?”

“Not much; she just mostly listens and asks me questions. Obviously this thing with you and me is the main issue. She tries to get me to evaluate the consequences of the choices that I make.”

It’s more than just a choice that has to be made, like choosing chocolate over vanilla. Doesn’t he realize that? Why doesn’t he talk to me about this? I’m affected by his choices, too.

“And have you decided what you're going to do?” I was treading very carefully now, afraid to push him too hard.

“No. I have a lot to think about. I have a wife and a kid who deserves to have two parents, so it's not just about me. I don't want to throw it all away.”

Throw it all away. Just for me. I'm not worth it.

“One thing I do know for sure,” he continued, “is that I can't go on like this. I can't keep up this happy nuclear-family thing and have a secret life. I just can't do it.”

“What do you want me to do?” I asked. I dreaded the answer to that question.

“Nothing. This is on me. I have to figure this out myself.”

It's not just on you. Can't you see that?

“I'm talking to my therapist regularly,” he said. “I'm coping. Just give me some space to work this through.”

“Of course. Whatever you want.”

Please, just don't cut me out of your life.

“I'm sorry about all this, Mark. We'll talk again when I sort through this.”

If you – we – ever sort through this.

“OK, I've got to run. Goodbye, Mark.”

That’s it? I’ve got to run? Can’t we talk about this? God damn it, Carl; you’re not the only one who’s hurting here.

I couldn’t tell him what was really on my mind. I had to give him the space he wanted. If I forced the issue, it would be over. “Goodbye, Carl,” I said. “I love you,” I whispered, but I’m not sure he heard.

For four weeks I didn’t hear from him. All kinds of scenarios played themselves out in my mind. Often I imagined Carl choosing to have nothing more to do with me. On really dark days, I pictured Carl’s suicide. Occasionally, I allowed myself the fantasy of Carl choosing me over his wife and there being a future for the two of us. I resisted the temptation to pick up the phone and call him; he had asked me to leave him alone, and I honoured that request.

Then one night, I got a phone call from Lisa. I was surprised to hear from her, and my stomach churned a little, expecting her to deliver bad news about Carl. “Hi, Mark,” she said cheerfully. “Is this a good time? I’ve just got a few minutes to talk while Carl is out.”

“Yes, this is a good time,” I said. I was apprehensive; why would Lisa want to talk to me without Carl hearing?

“Well, I don’t know if Carl told you, but he got good news at work the other day. He’s been offered a chance to be on the partnership track at his law firm. It means he’s being considered as a potential equity partner. It may take another five years, but it’s a big deal for a junior associate.”

“Wow, Lisa, that is good news.”

“Yes, I’m pretty proud of him. I want to throw a little surprise party to celebrate; that’s the reason I’m calling. I’m having a dinner party next month at our house. Nothing big, just a few close friends. I hope you’ll be able to come. I know it would mean a lot to him if you were there.”

My mind was racing. Carl had asked me to back off, but Lisa expected me, his best friend, at the party. She had no idea what was going on between us. Could I do this without causing suspicion? Would it cause problems for Carl?

“Can I count on you to be there?” Lisa said.

“Um, sure,” I said. I couldn’t think of a good excuse to turn her down. “Send me an email with the details.”

“Thanks, Mark. Carl will be glad to see you there, I’m sure.”

I wasn’t so sure Carl would be glad to see me, but I had been waiting for weeks to hear that he was all right, for him to give me a chance to talk to him. Going to the party would at least give me an opportunity to see for myself that he was fine. Maybe we would even have a few moments to speak privately. I couldn’t take silence from him much longer.

And so, two weeks later, I was waiting in the living room of Carl and Lisa’s house in Ottawa’s west end for Carl to come home from work. There were about a dozen people there, all friends and colleagues of Lisa and Carl. Lisa had hired a sitter to watch Carl’s young son, Brian, who toddled around the room and crawled on the furniture.

Carl arrived a few minutes later to cries of “Surprise!” from all of us. He did seem genuinely surprised. “What the hell?” he said to Lisa. “What’s all this about?”

Lisa kissed him and said, “I wanted to celebrate your promotion with your friends. We’re all so proud of you.” Brian ran up to him, hugged his knees, and said, “Daddy!”

“Hello, Brian,” Carl said affectionately. “Are we having a party?” He gathered his son in his arms and looked around the room at the people who were there to share his good fortune. “Thanks, everyone. This means a lot to me.” His eyes met mine for the first time, and a momentary look of surprise crossed his face. I looked back and smiled apologetically. People started to gather around him, shaking his hand, offering their best wishes. He set Brian down, and the babysitter took him by the hand and led him into the kitchen to be fed. Eventually I moved forward and shook his hand. “Mark,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting you to come all the way out here from Ravenbridge.”

“Lisa insisted that I come, and I didn’t want to miss the chance to congratulate you in person,” I said. I looked at him with genuine affection. He looked healthy and well, and I was relieved. He smiled back at me warmly. Before we could talk more, another guest had stepped forward and greeted him. I retreated to a corner with a glass of wine.

After we had mingled over drinks for a while, Lisa announced, “All right, everyone, it’s dinner time. Let’s all sit down.” We moved into the dining room and took our seats. Lisa and Carl sat together at one end of the long table, and I sat at the far end. Lisa had prepared a wonderful dinner with great food and lots of wine. The company was lively, and lots of good-natured humour was directed at Carl. He seemed happy.

As dinner wound down and the guests started to leave, Lisa approached me, her arm wrapped around Carl’s waist. “Mark, thank you so much for coming,” she said.

“Thanks for inviting me, Lisa. It was my pleasure.”

“You’re not driving all the way back to Ravenbridge tonight, are you?” she asked.

“I think I’ll start out, but I may stay at a motel in Carleton Place. I packed a bag just in case,” I said.

“Don’t be ridiculous. We have a guest suite here; we insist that you stay, don’t we, Carl?”

Carl looked at her and smiled. “Of course. It’ll give us some time to talk. We’ve hardly had a chance with everything else going on.”

“Well, that’s settled,” she said. “You guys get caught up. Carl, the babysitter has gone home, and Brian is asleep. I’m exhausted; I think I’ll go off to bed. Good night, Mark.”

She disappeared upstairs, and Carl and I were alone in the kitchen. “Would you like a drink?” he said.

“Yes, thanks,” I said. He poured two glasses of brandy.

“I’m glad you came. It’s nice to see you again,” he said.

“I wasn’t sure I should come, but I wanted to see that you were all right.”

“Thank you. I’m much better.”

We sipped our drinks awkwardly. “I feel like we should talk,” I said, “but I’m a little reluctant with Lisa in the house.”

“I understand. This probably isn’t a good time.”

“Promise me we’ll discuss this sometime soon?” I said.

“I promise. I’ll email you.”

“OK.” I drained my glass. “Well, I probably should go to bed.”

“Let’s go get your bag, and I’ll show you to the guest room.”

I found my jacket and car keys and went outside to my truck to get my bag. Carl followed me.

“We built a little guest suite over the garage when we bought the house,” he said. “Lisa’s parents use it when they’re visiting from BC. You can get to it from the house, but it has its own entrance so they can come and go as they please.” He led me to the garage, which was attached to the side of the house. He took out a key, opened a door and turned on the lights. “Come on up, I’ll get you settled in.”

I followed him up the single flight of stairs which opened up into a large bedroom. A bathroom was visible through an open door; another open door led to the second floor of the main house. The room was tastefully furnished, like the rest of their home, with a queen-size bed against one wall.

I set down my bag and turned to face Carl. “Thanks, Carl. I appreciate you putting me up tonight. I know this is awkward, but I’m glad I don’t have to drive home.”

Carl didn’t say anything in response. He stared at me, frowning. He turned and walked over to the door to the main house and closed it. He clicked the lock and turned to face me.

“God, Mark, I’ve missed you,” he said.

“Carl, what …” I said, but before I could continue, he strode across the room and took me in his arms, pulling me roughly to him. He tilted his head towards me and kissed me hard, his lips mashed against mine. His tongue forced my lips apart.

What the hell are you doing? We can’t do this in your house, with your wife and child just down the hall. This is insane.

I pushed him away. “Carl, please. We can’t do this here,” I said.

He stepped back and looked at me. “Fuck,” he muttered.

“I want to be with you,” I said, “but I can’t do this with Lisa in the house. What if we get caught?”

He clenched his fists. I could see the muscles in his neck working.

As much as I wanted to tear his clothes off and throw him down on the bed, I didn’t want to add to his mental turmoil. Just a few weeks ago he seemed on the edge of a breakdown.

“We need to sort this out first,” I said. “We have to talk it over and figure out what to do.”

“You’re right. This is crazy. I’m sorry; I should go.”

“I want you, but not like this,” I said. I stepped towards him and kissed him gently on the lips. He looked at me sadly.

“Good night, Carl,” I said.

“Good night.” He opened the door to the house and walked down the hallway. I closed the door behind him and locked it.

Turning Carl away was a very hard thing to do. I flopped down on the bed, thinking of him, remembering his kiss, his smell, the taste of his mouth. I reached down and undid my pants, reaching in to release my hard cock. I began to stroke myself, imagining being in bed with Carl, his hand on my cock, his cock in my mouth. In a few seconds I came, shooting over my shirt, grunting loudly.

I lay on the bed, panting. I thought about the situation I was in, lying in Carl’s house covered in cum, having just kissed him, fantasizing about him, while he was in bed with his wife just a few yards away. This really was crazy.

I got up, went into the bathroom, and cleaned myself up with tissues. I pulled off my shirt and stuffed it into my bag, stripped off the rest of my clothes and crawled into bed. I drifted off to sleep.

The next morning I could hear activity downstairs and smell coffee brewing. I got up and brushed my teeth, changed into fresh clothes, and headed down to the kitchen. When I walked in, Brian looked up at me from his high-chair, where he was eating Cheerios. He stopped eating and stared at me.

“Brian,” said Lisa. “This is Daddy’s friend Mark.” Brian looked at her and then went back to his Cheerios. Lisa handed me a mug of coffee. “Can I get you some breakfast?”

“Toast is fine,” I said. “I need to hit the road; I’ve got a long drive ahead of me.”

Carl walked in dressed in sweatpants and a T-shirt. I could see his chest muscles stretching the shirt and his big dick outlined behind the fabric of his pants. I concentrated on my coffee.

Carl walked over to his wife and kissed her affectionately. She wrapped her arm around him and said, “Good morning, sweetie. Did you two stay up late talking?”

“Not too late,” he said. “I came up shortly after you went to bed.”

“I was zonked out,” she said. She turned to me and said, “I’m a pretty sound sleeper. Once I’m out, a freight train going by wouldn’t wake me.”

“Are you staying for breakfast?” Carl said to me.

“I’m just going to grab some toast and head out. It’s a long drive.” I was feeling like an intruder in their little domestic routine. I needed to get away from Carl, his wife and kid – and his god-damned sexy body.

I finished my toast and gulped down my coffee. “Well, I’d better get going. Thanks for everything, Lisa.”

“Thanks for coming, Mark,” she said. “It was nice to see you again.”

I picked up my bag and headed for the door. “I’ll walk you out,” Carl said.

I went outside and put my bag in the back of my truck. I turned to face Carl. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I probably shouldn’t have come.”

“No, I’m glad you did,” he said. “I wanted to see you.”

“We need to talk this out. Please call me and let me know when we can do that.”

“I will. Please be patient with me.” He looked at me with sadness – and longing – in his eyes.

“Goodbye, Carl.”

“Goodbye.”

I made the long trip back to Ravenbridge, thinking about me and Carl, Lisa and Brian, and the whole fucked-up situation. I couldn’t think of a way out. I didn’t know what to do. I would just have to wait for Carl to figure it out. He had the most to lose.

I went back to my routine and tried to distract myself with schoolwork. I started to strip paint off the baseboards in the front hallway of my house so I would have something to do besides check my email and wait for the phone to ring. It didn’t get easier as the days went by.

About a month after Carl’s party, I had an unexpected reconciliation with Kim. We were both attending a conference in Toronto, and, as it turned out, we were staying at the same hotel. I was having dinner alone in the hotel restaurant one evening when a familiar voice said, “Mind if I join you?”

“Kim,” I said, with surprise and a little embarrassment. “No, of course not. Please sit.”

After we'd each ordered a glass of wine, I said, “I wasn't sure you'd ever talk to me again.”

“Oh, don't be ridiculous,” she said. “You must know me better than that. I was pretty angry at you for a while, but I had a good cry, drank half a bottle of Bailey's, and moved on.”

“You can just do that?” I said. “I’m surprised.”

“Well,” she said. “I came to the realization that it wasn’t my fault, really. There are things about you that would have made it impossible for us to be together as a couple. It’s not something I can control or change, so why beat myself up over it? You know, I missed you as a friend. I hope we can get back to that somehow. When I saw you here by yourself, I thought maybe this would be a good time to see if it was at least possible. I’d like to try.”

“I’d like that, too,” I said. “I feel terrible about what happened. And embarrassed as hell. I wasn’t sure I could ever face you again.”

“Don't feel bad. It was a good thing in the long run, I figure. Plus, how often do I get to live a tabloid newspaper story: I caught my boyfriend in the arms of another man.”

If we were in a TV sitcom, this would have been the moment when I spit my wine across the table, but I just sat there, blushing.

“Oh, lighten up,” she said. “No hard feelings; life's too short to hold a grudge. Let's order dinner.”

We had a very pleasant meal. I remembered why we had been friends before we were lovers. I was glad to be reconnecting with her. Over dessert, she said to me, “By the way, the Kelso Players are doing another play in the spring. It's a murder mystery. I'm going to audition for the role of the femme fatale.

“Are they going to dress you like Jessica Rabbit? You'll need a better bra,” I said.

“Very funny. Anyway, as usual, they're going to need male actors. I think you should audition for the part of the cuckolded husband. I think we could have fun with it. We were good together in The Tomorrow Box.”

“That was a lot of fun. I kind of miss it. I'll think about it,” I said.

“You know I'm going to nag you until you say yes,” she said.

“I can see that,” I said. We ordered coffee and continued to chat. I was enjoying the company. Kim had, for a few moments, pulled me out of my own head and made me forget about my problems with Carl.

Later, when we finished our coffee and paid the bill, she said, “Come on, let's go to the bar. I'll buy you a drink. It's too early to call it a night.”

I followed her through the hotel lobby to the bar. We took a table in the far corner and ordered drinks. “All right, enough small talk,” she said when the waiter had left. “Tell me about him.”

“Who?” I said nervously.

“Who?” she said. “The Prince of Wales. Carl, you idiot. I assume that's who had you in a lip-lock that day I walked in on you unannounced.”

“I ... uh ... well ...”

She leaned across the table and took my hand. “It's OK,” she said. “I told you, I'm over it. And don't worry about me spreading gossip around town. It's nobody's business but your own, and I would never betray a confidence. But you look like you need to talk to someone about it. You can trust me. You know, we used to be close. I hope you still consider me a friend.”

“Yes. That was Carl,” I said.

“How do you know each other?”

“We went to the same high school, and we became good friends when we were both in university. We worked together one summer.”

“Were you seeing him while we were dating?” she asked.

“No.”

“But you have a history with him?”

“Yes, sort of. When you saw us, it wasn't the first time.”

“Is he gay?”

“I don't know; I think so. He's always dated women. He says he's only been with one guy: me.”

“And you?”

“What?”

“You,” she repeated. “Are you gay, bisexual, or what? You did a pretty good job convincing me you were straight when we were together.”

I waited a long time before I answered. I felt like I was poised on the edge of a cliff. If I took this step, it would no longer be just my secret, and there would be no going back. Once I articulated it to another person, it became real. “I’ve only ever been with one man: Carl,” I said quietly. “But yes, I guess I am … gay.” I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. I was trembling.

Kim reached over and held my hand. “It’s OK, Mark.” She looked at me tenderly for a moment, and then she was back to business. “So, now that that’s out of the way, maybe you should pursue things with this Carl guy and see where it leads.”

“I can't. It's complicated.”

“Complicated how?”

I paused for a few moments and fidgeted with the label on my beer bottle. “He's married. He has a two-year-old son.” I stared at the table, feeling miserable.

“Oh God, Mark, I'm so sorry.”

“This thing with me is causing all kinds of problems. He's depressed and seeing a therapist. He’s unhappy in his marriage. He told me a few weeks ago that he's drinking heavily and even thought about suicide.”

“Oh, Mark,” she said, squeezing my hand. “It's not your fault.”

“Yes, it is. He's off limits. Other people are going to be hurt. I put him in this situation.”

“It takes two people to create a 'situation',” she said. “Mark, let me ask you something.”

“OK.”

“Are you in love with him?”

“Yes,” I whispered.

“And is he in love with you?”

I didn't know how to answer that question. “I don't know,” I said. “He shows up in my life every once in a while, we end up together, and then he hates himself for it and can't wait to get away from me. I used to think he loved me, but now I'm not so sure.”

“Maybe you owe it to yourself to find out,” she said. “Have you talked to him about it?”

“I've tried, but he doesn't want to have that conversation. He keeps telling me he needs time to figure things out. You know, it’s such a mess, I'm afraid to push him. He asked me to give him some space. He's in therapy, and he says it's helping. I'm just waiting for him to reach out, I guess.”

“Mark, I'm so sorry,” she said. “I wish I could give you some advice, but I don't know what you should do, either. Just remember that I'm here to support you if you need it.”

I looked at her with gratitude. “Thank you, Kim. You know, before being a couple screwed everything up, we were good friends. I've missed that.”

“I've missed that, too. Now come here and let me give you a hug.” She leaned across the table and hugged me. She pulled away and said, “It's going to be all right. Just wait and see.”

“I wish I could believe that,” I said.

I decided I had to do something more to take my mind off Carl, so a few weeks later I auditioned for a part in the Kelso Players new play and was cast as the jealous husband opposite Kim's cheating wife. It had been over a month since Carl’s party, and I still hadn’t heard from him. I went to the first rehearsal on a Thursday, but I was morose and irritable. Kim was determined to lift my spirits; on Friday after work, she showed up at my house with a bottle of wine.

“OK, look,” she said, after she had poured us each a glass and relaxed on my sofa. “Here's the thing. You're clearly depressed. We have to do something about this.”

“We?” I said.

“Yes, we. It bothers me to see you like this, moping around all the time. How long has it been since you've seen or talked to Carl?”

“Oh, about eight weeks, I guess.”

“You need to talk to him.”

“I know I do. I just can't bring myself to do it. I don't want to force the issue with him.”

“If you don't talk to him, this is going to go on forever. You need to know one way or the other whether you have any future with him. You need to get on with your life.”

“I know that, but it isn't that easy. There are other people involved.”

“Just talk to him. Why don't you go to Ottawa, meet him for lunch and find out what's going on with him at least? You deserve to know.”

“You're right. I just don't know how to do it.”

“Go fire up your computer right now and send him an email,” she said.

“Right now?” I said nervously.

“Yes, right now. Go ahead.”

“Do you think so?”

“Yes, definitely. Come on, I’ll help you.”

I sighed wearily and stood up. I headed into the room I used as an office and turned on the computer. Kim was looking over my shoulder. I opened my email account and typed in Carl's work address.

“I don't know what to write,” I said.

“Just keep it simple and neutral, no drama. Tell him you're coming to Ottawa next weekend, and you would like to talk to him.”

“Next weekend?” I said. “So soon?”

“Why wait any longer?”

“I guess so,” I said. I started typing.

Carl:

I'm going to be in Ottawa next weekend. I wonder if we could meet for lunch on Saturday or Sunday? I would really like to talk to you.

Mark

“Perfect,” Kim said. “Now press send.”

“I don't know about this,” I said, but I pressed the return key, and off it went. “I hope I'm doing the right thing.”

“I think you are,” she said. “You can't go on like this. You deserve some sort of resolution one way or the other.”

“I hope you're right.” I had my doubts.

On the following Monday there was a response waiting in my inbox from Carl.

Hi Mark:

Sure, let's meet for lunch on Saturday. There's a place on Sparks Street at Elgin, across from the War Memorial, called D'arcy McGee's. I can be there at 1:00. Does that work?

Carl

I read and reread Carl's message, looking for subtext, trying to read between the lines. There was nothing there but a harmless invitation to have lunch. I sent off a reply.

Carl:

Sure, 1:00 is fine. See you then.

Mark

The whole exchange seemed so harmless, but for me every word was freighted with emotion. It was what was left unsaid that was so ominous.

On Saturday, I set off for the three-hour drive to Ottawa. I made arrangements with Kim to come up to the house to look after my dog.

I walked through the front door of D'arcy McGee’s a few minutes after 1:00. It was one of those ersatz British pubs: dark-oak paneling, brass rails, and beer memorabilia. It was close to Parliament Hill and was apparently popular with civil servants, but by 1:00 the lunch crowd had thinned out considerably. After my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I spotted Carl at a table in the far corner. He had a pint of beer in front of him.

He saw me and stood up. “Hi, Mark,” he said. He held out his hand, and I shook it. No hugs this time.

The waiter came to take my order. “I'll have a pint of whatever he's drinking,” I said. We sat in silence until the waiter returned. Carl fidgeted nervously.

I broke the silence. “How are you, Carl?”

“I'm fine. Thanks.”

I decided to be direct. “I'm sorry to intrude on you like this; I wanted to give you your space like you asked. But we need to talk about us. I wanted to do it face to face. I hope it doesn't seem like I'm pressuring you, but the longer we ignore this, the worse it gets.”

“I know. I'm sorry. I've been trying to work things out.”

“Have you … worked things out?”

“I'm sorry,” he said. “You're not going to like what I have to say.” I sat there in silence. I felt queasy. “Mark, there's no future in this, in us. It's too fucked up.” He sat there, staring at his hands. “Lisa’s pregnant.”

Fuck.

After a long silence, I finally responded. “What, exactly, are you saying?”

We sat, not looking at each other. My head was pounding.

“I can't see you anymore,” he said. “I'm married. I have one kid and another on the way. I have a family to think about. My kids need a father. I took a vow. Cheating on my wife makes me feel like the worst piece of shit.”

He paused. I stared at him in disbelief. After a few seconds, he continued, “It's worse that it's with you; can you imagine what would happen to me if it got out that I was having an affair with another man, the best man at my wedding? What would happen back home, to our families? What would our parents say? It would be all over town.” He paused, staring at the table. “Not to mention what would happen here. Lisa’s got a prestigious job in a world-renowned cardiology hospital. What would a sex scandal do to her career? And what about my career? I’m on the partner track now. The senior partners obsess about what clothes I wear and what car I drive; how would they take it if I was involved in a gay, extra-marital affair?”

I didn't say anything. I couldn't talk. My worst fears about how this conversation would turn out had been realized.

“And there are my kids to think about,” he continued. “They deserve to have a mother and a father. If Lisa found out, she'd leave me and sue for full custody. Brian would grow up being the kid whose queer father left his mother for another man.”

I was stunned to hear him say that being with me would be the worst possible thing that could happen to him. After all we had been through over the years, he could just throw it all away? We were best friends – more than best friends; we loved each other. And yet he blamed me for everything, for all the problems in his life.

“Carl ... ,” I croaked. I couldn't finish the sentence. I was on the verge of tears.

“I'm so sorry, Mark,” he said. “I know I've hurt you. But I've made a commitment to my family, and it has to be this way. I can't be around you anymore.”

I wiped my eyes with my shirt sleeve. I tried to compose myself. “All right,” I said. “I get the message. There's no point in dragging this out.” I stood up and put my jacket on. I had to get out of there, away from him. “Goodbye, Carl. I hope it works out for you. You deserve to be happy.”

“Mark ...” he said.

“Don’t say anything more. I have to leave.” I fished a five-dollar bill out of my pocket and, with a trembling hand, put it on the table and walked out.

I stepped out into the bright April sunshine and walked across the street to the War Memorial. I needed to calm down, to pull myself together. I walked along the bank of the canal that bisects downtown Ottawa, down to the bustling Byward Market district with its restaurants and cafés. I stepped into a coffee shop, ordered a coffee, and retreated to a booth far away from the entrance.

As I nursed my coffee, I replayed the conversation with Carl in my mind. He didn't see me as a friend anymore, let alone a lover. I was the guy who had messed up his life. He blamed me for everything. What was the matter with me? Every relationship in my life had ended badly: Ian, Kim, and now Carl, of all people. I had the reverse Midas touch: everything I contacted turned to crap. I felt worthless.

I looked up and saw a pay phone in the entrance to the shop. I got up and called Kim. When she answered, I said, “I'm on my way home.”

“So soon?” she said. “You must have just got there.”

“Yes, so soon. There's no point in hanging around.”

“What happened?” she said.

“It's over,” I said. My voice was flat and drained of emotion. I felt tired. “He hates me. He doesn't want to be around me anymore.”

“Oh, Mark. I'm sorry. Are you OK to drive home? Do you want me to come up there?”

“No, I'm fine. I'm just going to go get the truck and head back to Ravenbridge. I should be there around 5:00.”

“I'll be here when you get home.”

“Thanks. I'll see you soon.”

When I pulled into my driveway, the front door opened, and Blanche came bounding out, excited to see me. She jumped up on me, barking and licking my hands. Her happiness put a little smile on my face. I looked up and saw Kim on the porch. I walked up the steps, and she gave me a warm, heartfelt embrace. I started to cry.

“Thanks for being here, Kim. I don't deserve it after what I put you through.” I sniffed and wiped my eyes.

“Don't be ridiculous. Come on inside. I made hot chocolate.”

“Thanks, Mom,” I said.

She laughed. “Come and tell mama all about it,” she said, and we went inside.

Thanks to my editor, rec, for all the help and advice. Thanks also to Parker Owens for beta reading.

Copyright © 2016 Diogenes; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments

You know what the worst part is? I can totally see Carl's point of view and all his arguments make sense, but I hate him for what he's doing to Mark Carl. No, I hate a world, a society, which makes him unable to be with the man he loves. :pissed:

Edited by Timothy M.
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@Timothy: I think you mixed up Mark and Carl :)
I have a few mixed feelings about laying all the blame simply on society. Like Kim said: It takes two to make a 'situation'. And the scene after the party isn't the first time Carl can't keep his hands to himself and and 'drops' the responsibilty solely on Mark to not let it go to far. Still he has the audacity to lay all the blame on Mark later in the confession at the pub. I can understand his argumentation but all this reasoning makes it pretty clear that Mark probably got away (for the time being) before it gets even worse.
Funny how the perception of a person can dramatically change when this person isn't able to acknowledge their own responsibility. Carl, you suck (at least for now).

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On 11/22/2015 05:48 AM, shamayne said:

@Timothy: I think you mixed up Mark and Carl :)

I have a few mixed feelings about laying all the blame simply on society. Like Kim said: It takes two to make a 'situation'. And the scene after the party isn't the first time Carl can't keep his hands to himself and and 'drops' the responsibilty solely on Mark to not let it go to far. Still he has the audacity to lay all the blame on Mark later in the confession at the pub. I can understand his argumentation but all this reasoning makes it pretty clear that Mark probably got away (for the time being) before it gets even worse.

Funny how the perception of a person can dramatically change when this person isn't able to acknowledge their own responsibility. Carl, you suck (at least for now).

Thanks for your insight, shamayne. I agree with you that "society" is only partly to blame for the situation Mark and Carl are in, but Carl has to accept a lot of the responsibility. He could have committed to being with Mark before his marriage, but wouldn't take that step. After his marriage, he wants to have his cake and eat it too, so to speak.

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