Their bike ride was brutal, and it was Dawson who set the pace as they rode through the gay village and down towards the waterfront. Chase was more than ready when he finally pulled into a favorite resting spot of theirs—a small patch of the green belt between two sprawling office buildings just west of Yonge Street. Tall pine trees provided much needed shade, and the weekend traffic was slow in this section of the business district.
“So, who won?” Chase asked as they stopped side by side.
“Huh? I guess I did, but we weren’t racing, were we?”
“No! The golf game. Jeez, you still not awake?”
“Oh, right. Yes, I’m awake, but after that ride I need a nap.” Dawson dropped to his knees a few feet away, gulped down some water, and then stretched out on his back.
“Well, that pace was your fault, so no naps. Talk!”
Groaning, Dawson changed position, laying on his side and facing Chase. “Okay, okay. Carter did, but I was only four shots behind. He was one over par, so he’s damn good.”
“You must be good too then.” Chase joined him on the soft grass, groaning too at the instant relief it gave to his tired muscles.
“It all came back to me after the first tee, and it wasn’t a tough course. In fact it was pretty easy.” Dawson smiled, but it faltered almost immediately.
“And… something wrong?”
“Nah… it was hard not to think of all those times I golfed with Brent, though. We used to give each other advice for practically every shot, and razz each other after.”
“Ahhh. Is that why you pushed us so hard today?”
“Too much for you?”
Chase snorted. “As if.”
Both men were silent as they worked on catching their breath. “You still love him?” Chase framed it as a question, but it wasn’t. He already knew the answer, but could tell Dawson needed to talk.
Another groan filled the air before Dawson nodded. “Yes… but it’s easier now, and Carter is a good guy. He’s great to be around, and….”
“I like him.” Dawson pulled his shirt over his head, wiping the sweat from his face and body before spreading it out on the grass as something to lay on. Chase watched with interest. Dawson was a good-looking man, and that body deserved perusal, but he was more interested in his demeanor.
“So, then, why are you looking rattled?”
“I’m not. Okay, maybe a little. It’s just that I feel guilty… and mixed up… cause like, what if Brent ever changes his mind?”
His eyes met Chase’s, and he knew Dawson well enough to see there was borderline panic in them. It shook him up a little, but he tried not to show it. “You think that will happen?”
“No, but, I don’t know… I keep hoping. I guess I have been all this time, but everything is becoming real… I mean, there’s Carter now, and I should be only be thinking of him. It’s stupid, right?”
Chase took a deep breath, and blew out a resigned sigh. “If it is, we’re both stupid. Face it, man, we’re in a limbo of our own making… it’s… it’s not good.”
“Yeah… maybe we are. I knew you’d understand.” Dawson expelled his own long breath. “I like Carter, I really do, and I want to move on, but Brent is still in my heart, and that makes me feel guilty as hell. I can see having something good with Carter, so why can’t I be like most guys and get my shit together?”
“Who says you’re not like most guys? Love isn’t something that just disappears—my dad reminded me of that—and even if you start a relationship or have sex to try to get over someone, it doesn’t mean it’ll work. If Carter’s such a good guy, then he’ll understand it can take time to get there. You said he’s been in the same boat as us, right?”
“Broken-hearted? Yeah, he’s been there. You know, since we’re talking about this, I have to say something. Don’t get mad, but… but just listen—if I were you, I would fight for Hank. You said it yourself, love doesn’t just disappear, and sleeping with Kevin, if he is, doesn’t mean he’s not still in love with you.”
“He is sleeping with Kevin, and no fair throwing my words back at me.”
“Sorry, but going on dates has made me do a lot of thinking, and I think it’s a mistake for you to give up.”
“Now you’re really sounding like my dad.”
“I like your dad. He says wise things.” His cheeky delivery made Chase grin.
“Whatever,” he said before rolling his eyes.
“Look, all I know is if Brent wasn’t in love with someone else and getting married… or already married, I would keep trying. Fuck, there are times I think I should have chased after him and not made it so easy. We had all this history and that should have counted for something, you know? You guys have a lot of history too, and you shouldn’t do what I did. You shouldn’t make it easy for him.”
“Hey, aren’t we supposed to be talking about you?”
“Says who? I think that is called avoidance.”
“No, I’m being realistic. I’ve been waiting, and I have tried, but Hank’s not interested in forgiving me.”
Dawson made a growling noise, and Chase heard his frustration as the man laid flat out on his back. “Forgiving you?” Dawson scoffed. “Maybe he’s been waiting too.”
“No, you don’t know Hank. He’s the strong one, and he knows what he wants… or doesn’t want.”
“Why do you say he’s the strong one? You even called him a coward once.”
“I said that to get a rise out of him… he’s always been strong, Dawson… stronger than me.”
“Not from what I’ve seen.” He sat back up, his posture becoming almost rigid.
“How can you say that? You don’t know him, and you’ve never seen how he took care of me, never too tired, and never making me feel bad about being useless.”
“Okay, maybe not—I can only go by what I’ve seen—and he’s been the reactive one in all this, not you.”
“I’m not following?”
“Well, he threw you out, and he’s the one who wouldn’t communicate. Christ, it was like pulling teeth for that guy to talk about what happened, and I don’t know about—”
“He has communicated, it’s just—”
“Oh my god. Stop sticking up for him—have you forgotten how he was when you tried to explain? He’s been acting like a little bitch, and you should see that. How long did it take him to get it on with Kevin? Sorry… I’m not trying to hurt you, but I don’t care how handsome and smart and great and caring he is—he’s been an ass. That was a weak move on his part, so stop putting yourself down.”
“Weak move? What are you talking about?”
“Kevin! Knee-jerk all the way. You made a mistake, but fuck… I haven’t known you as long as he has, but even I can see how loyal you are. Why the fuck doesn’t he know that? And why isn’t he the same?”
“Because of what I did.”
“Oh, fuck… I give up. Okay, all I’m saying is, don’t you throw in the towel like I did—we’re talking about the rest of your life here—and stop apologizing to the guy. From where I sit, he’s the one who’s losing.”
“Whoa… dude. I appreciate the vote of confidence, but what brought this on?” Chase watched Dawson’s rigid posture slowly relax, and then slump.
“Sorry, Chase. I don’t know… I guess I’ve had to face how final things are with Brent, but I don’t see that with you and Hank. I’d… I’d do anything for another chance.”
“But things are final.”
“Are they really? The only thing certain that I see, is they will be if you both give up.”
“Hell, Dawson, Hank’s had enough time to… to….”
“Forgive me, I guess.”
Dawson shook his head and Chase read more frustration. “Maybe you shouldn’t be looking for forgiveness. Maybe you should be looking for an explanation as to why a drunken kiss meant he could trash you and screw someone else.”
“Come on! He didn’t trash me.”
“Didn’t he? Okay, maybe that’s the wrong word, but look at how he handled the whole situation.” Dawson held his hands up in exasperation. “Okay, okay… you don’t want to hear this, I get it. All I know is I’d be pretty fucking pissed if I was you.”
“That’s because you’re my friend, and I appreciate that, but the fact is I did this to us, not Hank. And I do get angry, and I have confronted him, but—”
“It took two to get to where you are now, Chase. Maybe it’s time to confront him again, and yeah, I know you’ve stood up to him already.”
Chase’s stomach roiled at the idea. “I just want to move on… it hurts too much to see the hatred on his face.”
“Hatred? Seriously? I doubt that’s what you’re seeing. That time I met him in the park, before he knew who I was, he was so fucking jealous I thought he was going to burst. Seriously, I could tell he wanted to rip me apart… okay, okay, don’t get mad. I won’t push it anymore, but that guy needs a kick in the ass if you ask me. Just… do me a favor and think about it, okay?”
“I’m not mad, and I will… if you think about calling Brent before you get in too deep with Carter.” His words obviously caught his friend by surprise, and Chase instantly regretted being so callous when the guy was torturing himself. He could end up getting hurt all over again if he took his advice.
Dawson had definitely taken the comment to heart, though. “Don’t you think too much time has passed? He should be married by now, and….”
“Sorry, buddy. That wasn’t fair. I didn’t mean to challenge you like that. I wish I could fix everything for you, but yeah, he’s married and—”
“No… no… maybe you’re right. I should… I’m going to think about checking in with him. I can’t be giving out all this great advice and not use it for myself.”
Chase felt even more guilty at the sheepish, almost frightened expression he saw on the man’s face. “But… you’re finally getting somewhere. Do you think it makes sense to put yourself through that again?What if you don’t hear what you want?”
“Nothing about love makes sense… not for me and Brent, anyway, and from where I sit, not for you guys either. Love doesn’t just disappear, remember? Brent told me he loved me, yet I did nothing—I watched him walk away without a fight.”
“And you think that’s what I’ve been doing.”
“No, you fought, but do you think you fought hard enough?”
“I thought so… but now, I honestly don’t know.”
“Don’t feel bad. I’m going through all kinds of hell right now. Like, why am I thinking about Brent when I can see a possible future with Carter? I mean, am I forcing it with Carter? Fuck!”
“Sorry, Dawson. I shouldn’t have brought him up just now. You were just trying to help me, and I appreciate it.”
“No apology necessary. I’m glad we had this talk… it’s what friends do, right?”
“Absolutely. I got your back.”
“And I got yours. Now get your lazy ass up because we have about twenty-five kilometers to bike yet.”
Chase thought a lot about the conversation with Dawson over the next few days, but neither one brought up the subject again in their daily talks. He could tell, though, that Dawson had something on his mind, and suspected Brent was probably it. No matter what, Chase wasn’t going to challenge him again, so he left it alone.
Weighing everything that had happened between him and Hank had not made him the least bit optimistic there was anything left to rescue, no matter that he still loved the man as much as he always had, but he had promised Dawson he would think about it, so he did.
Hank’s love for him had turned off that first night, after the proposal and his subsequent, stupid indiscretion, and he could honestly say he hadn’t seen a glimmer of it since. The hope he’d briefly had the night Hank had taken care of him had been extinguished in no uncertain terms, and his offer of friendship hadn’t been genuine. He didn’t blame him for that… not any longer.
Dr. Chorney had said on a couple of occasions that when relationships end, the only way some could handle it was through clean breaks. Occasionally, people went overboard in their attempt to distance themselves from the person who hurt them, and Chase felt that was what Hank was doing. It was the same thing he’d done with his mother, turning away her every attempt to reach out to her son. The man could hold a grudge, even as a boy.
Maybe Dawson had a point about him and Hank giving up too soon, but each time he’d tried to reach out to his ex, it’d only resulted in pain, and enough was enough. Hank was happy with Kevin, and Chase would accept it… eventually. He really saw no choice, not when Hank wanted nothing to do with him, other than sharing custody of their dog.
Which was why he was taken by complete surprise when he arrived home on Wednesday evening after a tough day at work. An unexpected Rex greeting him at the door was not such a big deal, but stepping forward and seeing Hank, sitting with his broadly-smiling father at the dining room table, was.
“What’s going on? Is something wrong?” He felt himself blush at asking such a stupid question.
“Chase, hi! Good timing… the pizza just got here, and no, nothing’s wrong. I invited Hank over to join us. Come, sit.”
“Oh, okay, I will… I just….” He nodded to his ex, and his stomach leapt as those blue eyes met his. Why did the man have to look so damn good... in shorts, sandals, and an open-necked shirt that drew his attention like a magnet? Even his groin reacted to being in close proximity, or maybe it was to the familiar and coveted hint of cologne the man wore. Man, he really needed to get laid.
“How’s it going?” was not asked in the strongest voice, and Chase used Rex’s attention to cover his awkwardness.
“Hi, Chase. It’s going all right, I guess. Your dad asked me to come for a talk… and the food was another surprise.”
It sounded apologetic to Chase, as if Hank felt he shouldn’t be there, and that fed into what Chase had been thinking about since Saturday. “That’s Dad for you—he never clues me in either, like arriving back home in the middle of the night with no warning.” He smiled, but shot his father a questioning look.
“I actually wanted to talk to both of you, and a man’s got to eat. I got two half-and-halfs, so pick your poison.”
“Smells great. One of those halfs have Italian sausage?”
“And tomato and green olive, yeah, of course.”
“Awesome. Excuse me… I’ll just wash up.”
He closed the door of the bathroom, patting a following Rex before he did, and then actually shivered. He gripped the granite vanity top as he took in deep breaths. Seeing Hank sitting there with his dad, just like in the old days, had definitely shook him up, not to mention the effect it had on him physically. The pair had always been close, and that closeness was still evident. Chase had screwed that up for them, but maybe there was still a chance they could hold onto their father/son relationship.
While washing his hands, he thought about his conversation with Dawson again. Was it possible Hank being here meant he was thawing? He immediately quashed that idea—of course he would come if Charles Leeman asked him to. All Chase could do was keep an open mind and a lid on his hope. Opening the door, he heard laughter from both men and it helped him relax as he walked up the hallway.
The feeling didn’t last long as he neared the table. Taking a seat at the end closest to him, he looked from his left to his right as his father told Hank about how impressive the Coliseum was. Hank made eye contact and smiled, and Chase’s stomach reacted again, but he did manage to smile back. His father pushed one of the pizza cartons towards him as he talked, and Chase busied himself with selecting a slice. As he chewed, he noticed a box sitting to his father’s left. It was one of the Christmas card boxes that used to get delivered every year… he remembered the card illustrated on the lid. He was curious as to why it was sitting on the dining room table in the middle of summer.
They used to go through the cards together—him, Cindy, and their mom—as soon as they arrived, each picking their favorites. It was a good memory. Sometimes there were as many as ten different scenes in a box of fifty. Even though they’d eventually began sending out ones with their own family portrait on them, his mother had continued to order the boxed sets. Everyone from the postman to the dry cleaner to volunteers at the animal rescue center got a Christmas card from the Leemans.
There was a lull in the conversation between his dad and Hank, and he felt calm enough to speak. “This is really good pizza.”
“Yeah, it is. I haven’t had Tony’s Pizza in ages,” Hank said.
“I had it last week, but—”
“You did?” his father asked.
“Uh huh,” he answered around a cheesy mouthful. “I had it at Dawson’s. He likes it too.” Silence followed his words, and he looked over at Hank, who’d dropped his slice back onto his plate.
His smile looked forced. “I’m stuffed already.”
He took a sip of his water as Chase watched him curiously and chewed.
“So… how is Dawson?”
Chase hesitated, sensing an unpleasant undercurrent to the way Hank had asked the question, but he could have been wrong, so he kept his expression neutral. “He’s good. We’ve been biking quite a bit… have been all summer.”
Hank bit on his lower lip, a sure sign of irritation. No doubt about it. The atmosphere had definitely changed.
Chase glanced at his dad, who was pretending not to watch the two of them. “So… how is Kevin?” he asked with the same emphasis Hank had used.
The question seemed to surprise his ex, and his expression became almost a grimace. “He’s, a… he’s okay, I guess.”
“You guess?” Chase couldn’t stop the snort that followed, and silently cursed himself for it.
Hank shifted in his chair, his back becoming straighter. “He’s pissed at me if you want to know the truth.”
“Lover’s quarrel?” Chase winced… what the fuck was he doing? Even he heard the bitter edge to his voice.
“We’re not lovers.” Now Hank was glaring at him, as if he had no right to suggest such a thing.
“Are you saying you and him haven’t been?”
Hank actually sputtered, his face turning a noticeable shade of red beneath his tanned skin as he answered. “I don’t have to… that’s not….”
Hank sighed loudly. “What are you doing, Chase? Do I ask you about your personal life?”
“You mean my sex life? Go ahead. I have nothing to hide.”
“I don’t either, and your sex life is none of my business,” Hank said sharply.
“Yeah, you’ve made that clear as hell.” Chase dropped his half-eaten slice onto his plate just like Hank had done, his anger building. “But, just for the record, I haven’t had sex with anyone but you. I didn’t have sex with that guy at the bar, nor with anyone else since the night you threw me out. I didn’t feel the need you so obviously did.”
“Right. Says you. It sure looks to me like you and Dawson are a couple, and it does to everyone else who’s seen you guys around, and frankly I’m sick and tired of hearing about it. You two have been joined at the hip all summer.”
“Well, you and everyone else are wrong! But, then again, you’ve been wrong about a lot of things.”
“You’re turning this all on me again? That’s rich!”
“Come on, Hank, grow the fuck up. Yes, I got drunk and kissed someone, and yes, I kissed Dawson a couple of times after you told me you were going away with Kevin, but you were the one who cheated, not me.” He said the last part softly, mostly because it hurt to say it.
“I didn’t cheat… I’ve never cheated in my life.”
“That’s your perspective.”
“And it’s the right one,” Hank snapped, but he didn’t look as sure as he sounded.
“How long did you wait before you slept with Kevin? You are sleeping with him, right?”
The glare intensified, but he didn’t answer. Chase half expected him to get up and storm out, but he continued to push anyway.
“Thought you had nothing to hide?”
“I don’t!” he snapped. “Yes, alright… yes… I did sleep with him, but not anymore.”
“I rest my case,” Chase said, but he felt no satisfaction. “I never gave up on us, Hank, but you… you did. You’ve treated me the same way you do your mother, but—”
“Don’t bring her into this! I’ve told you… what happened to us had nothing to do with her.”
“Doesn’t it? Saying it doesn’t make it true.”
“No… don’t do that. This is about you, and what you did, and what I saw! And, you kissed Dawson! A couple of times… you said it yourself, and….”
“And what? I don’t care anymore if you don’t believe me about the guy in the bar or that you didn’t have an ounce of faith in me, but no way I’m going to let you sit in judgement of me… not anymore. And kissing Dawson was because I was hurting, but even trying it twice in a row, there was nothing there because I still loved you. You can’t equate that with you fucking Kevin… that is just so wrong… on so many levels. I’ll say this one more time. Dawson is my friend… my best friend, and he’s even been pushing me to….”
Hank’s downcast eyes rose up, and this time they appeared clear of the previous anger. “Pushing you to what?”
“To… to… look, he’s an encouraging guy, but it doesn’t matter anymore—because it’s pretty obvious you and I are done like dinner.” Feeling defeated, he turned his attention to his father. “What did you want to talk to us about?”
The question caught an engrossed Charles by surprise, and he hesitated, his left hand now closer to that old box. “Ah… well… I’m not sure if—”
“Maybe this isn’t the time anyway… I should go,” Hank said, the rigidity having returned to his posture.
“Dad, wait a sec.” Chase, feeling sudden nausea, took a deep breath to steady himself. “Look, Hank, I’m sorry… I wasn’t trying to bust your balls, and I had no business bringing up your mother. Our relationship has been over for months, but obviously some stuff is still raw between us.” He waited for the man’s eyes to meet his. “Anyway, we should try to be civil to each other, and I wasn’t just now. Dr. Chorney has helped me a lot, and I want to get past this stuff… if you do. I promise I won’t bring Kevin or your sex life up again… that wasn’t right.”
Hank’s gaze traveled from Chase to Charles, and it took a good thirty seconds for his shoulders to drop a few degrees. “I don’t know if—”
“You don’t know? You don’t want to get past all this sniping at one another?”
“No… that’s not what I meant. I was actually talking about what you said about my mom. Maybe it’s… maybe there’s some truth to what you said. I’ve been thinking about it, and….”
Chase was stunned at the admission, but he kept his expression neutral as he waited for the man to continue, but there was no more to come. “Okay, so you’ll stick around and hear Dad out. He’ll just pester you if you don’t.” His smile was met with a mouth twitch from his ex, and the tension dropped a few more degrees.
“It’s a father’s prerogative to pester, and you are both my boys… that’s not going to change on my end.”
“Sorry, Dad.” Picking up his pizza again, Chase bit into it, trying to hide his embarrassment at getting angry. He had no right, especially since Hank was his father’s invited guest.
“No need to apologize. There’s still a lot of passion between you two, any fool can see that, and despite where you’re at now, I still consider us family.”
“Thanks, Charles. I think you know how I feel. You and Christine were always welcoming and supportive… I hadn’t had that since my dad died, and….”
“I do know, Hank, I do, and you don’t have to say anything more. Now… I’ve had this tough decision to make about something Christine asked of me, and while I’ve had my doubts, I’m determined to see it through, despite the fact you aren’t together anymore.”
Chase looked at the box again. “This is about Mom?”
“Yes and no, son. It’s more about you two.” He was tapping his fingers on the table, and his head turned to look out the balcony windows. “This isn’t easy for me, and it’s been keeping me up at night.”
“Just spit it out, Dad. What did she ask you to do?”
“Something so Christine, it makes me smile… or it did, but the problem is things have changed, and unfortunately she’s not here to give me advice.”
Hank glanced Chase’s way before speaking. “Did our discussion just now make things harder?”
Charles Leeman sighed. “In a way, yes. I don’t want to interfere, or, god forbid, make anything worse… but would you boys mind if I told you a little story?”
Hank shook his head, and Chase said, “Not at all.” If he’d felt contrite before, it was nothing compared to how he was feeling now. His father looked distressed as he shifted in his chair.
“Do you know why I bought Christine diamonds for every anniversary?”
Chase frowned at the unexpected question. “Ah, I just assumed it was your thing.”
His father chuckled, and then visibly relaxed. “No… not that I ever minded, but it was your mother’s thing. She told me I had too.”
“Really? That doesn’t sound like her.”
“No, not normally, but she had good reason for it. I screwed up not long after you were born, and she gave me an easy out.”
“For going to a company party, getting drunk, and then kissing someone.” His gaze went from Chase to Hank, where it settled.
Hank’s eyebrows rose, and Chase’s followed suit. “You kissed someone?”
“Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?” Now his father was grinning, albeit sheepishly. “I didn’t even want to go to the damn party, but it was Christmas, and your mother insisted. She wouldn’t go because you were fussy, and she was worried you might colic again… you were colicky for about a year.”
“I know, Dad.”
“Of course you do. Anyway, she said it was my duty as upper management and a major stockholder, and she had a good point.”
Hank stayed silent but he was listening, and Chase could tell he was becoming uncomfortable at where this seemed to be going.
“So… you went.”
“I did. You know how your mother is… was. Anyway, we had this woman who was a management trainee at the time. She worked on the floor below and she was new, so I spent some time talking to her and making her feel welcome. She was tall… really tall, and she was—how do I say this? Well, she was built like Jayne Mansfield—”
“Who?” Chase and Hank asked at the same time.
Charles rolled his eyes. “Never mind… not important. Anyway, I’d been nominated to put on a red hat and hand out gifts to the staff, and she offered to be my elf, so we went to get the Santa sacks from my office. Next thing I know, she was holding mistletoe over my head, and I was backed up to my desk. I won’t bore you with the details, but like I said, she was a tall woman—possibly even drunker than I was—and those torpedoes of hers had me pinned flat on my back with a stapler digging into me. It took a lot of effort to disengage myself, and it’s bloody difficult when your feet aren’t on the floor.”
“Google Jayne Mansfield and you’ll see what I mean. It all happened so fast my head was spinning, but for those few seconds, I guess you could say I kissed her back.”
“Wow,” Chase said, glancing at a frowning Hank.
“Yeah… I think she mistook my friendliness for something more—I was mortified, and it sobered me up pretty quick. And of course the first thing I did when I got home was tell your mother.”
“Yikes. What did she say?”
“Not much. Told me to get out of our room and sleep in the den. Didn’t say a word to me for three days—not one—until she told me she wanted diamonds for every anniversary so I wouldn’t forget what I did. And that was it. She forgave me… called me an idiot, and never brought it up again.” His eyes were on Hank when he finished.
Chase waited while Hank cleared his throat. “I know what you’re doing, Charles… I get your point, but that was different.”
Chase nodded. “Thanks for trying, Dad, but Hank’s right. It was different.”
Hank gave him a curious look before he frowned, but didn’t say anything further.
His father appeared even more perplexed than Hank, before his features smoothed. “All right. Story’s over, and I won’t say another word about your… decisions. So, here’s my dilemma. Christine gave me something to give to you two, once you became engaged, and I—”
“She thought we would get engaged?”
“She was certain of it.”
Hank shifted in his chair, drawing Chase’s attention for a second. “Why? Why would she be certain of something like that?”
“Doesn’t matter, Chase, she just was.” He opened the Christmas card box and took out a small, white velvet bag. Tipping and shaking it, a ring fell into his hand. The afternoon sunlight caught the facets, and it came alive.
He recognized it instantly and gasped. A similar noise came from his ex.
“This is what she wanted you two to have.”
“What? That’s crazy. I thought Cindy had all her jewelry?”
“All but this. This one’s for you boys. I gave her this on our twenty-fifth anniversary.”
“The last diamonds you gave her,” Chase added as he took it from his father. It was beautiful, with two perfectly square diamonds set point to point, and six smaller round ones arranged around them. The effect was stunning, and Chase knew it’d been her favorite ring.
“She didn’t want anymore… she knew… we all knew by then,” he said matter-of-factly, but Chase felt the pain behind those words. “So, that was the end of my penance, I guess.” His sudden smile was wistful, and disappeared as quickly as it had come.
“She couldn’t even wear this one for very long—her fingers got so skinny. She was the one who put it in the box. Anyway, she asked me to give it to you both in hope you would use the diamonds in your own bands. She thought the square emerald cut would look masculine on larger bands.”
“They would, for sure. This is worth a lot of money, Dad.”
“Your Mom was worth way more than every diamond I ever gave her. Anyway, she said it would be as if she was there with you, and that was priceless to her and me both. But, she didn’t want you to feel obligated. I was just supposed to make the offer and leave it up to you two, but she did ask that if you didn’t use it, to put it in your pocket on your wedding day.”
“Wow… I don’t know what to say. She put a lot of thought into this.” He looked up from the ring and over at Hank. “You’re awfully quiet.”
“I… I don’t know what to say either. It was such a nice thing to do, but….”
“Yeah, it’s a big but. There is no engagement, and there will be no wedding. So… so why are you making the gesture now, Dad?”
“Because I told her I would. I promised, Chase.”
“But, she had no way of knowing Hank would propose, so—”
Hank reached over and placed his hand over his, a shocking gesture. “Yes, she did. I told her I was going to.”
Chase stared at the hand before he looked up into a concerned face. “You did? Why? When did you tell her that?”
“We had a talk one day, and it just came up. Weddings did, and I told her I planned to propose. I thought it would make her happy to know that, and it did.”
Chase absorbed his words, and with no warning, his eyes filled with tears. “Why didn’t you then, while she was still alive? She could have been there. If you knew, then we could have given her that. We should have given her that!” His voice rose at the end, and he jerked his hand away from Hank’s.
The man looked stung. “I… I offered, Chase. She didn’t want that.”
“What do you mean? She loved weddings… of course she would want that. You should have insisted!”
“Chase! Calm down. Hank’s right. He did offer, and your mother said she would not be the center of attention at your wedding. She was bedridden by then, and in constant pain, and she didn’t want your focus on her on such a special day. She never would have gone along with it, and to be brutally honest, she didn’t have the energy… you know that.”
“You… you knew about this at the time, Dad?”
“Of course I did. Christine always told me everything, and even when she wasn’t able to talk, we could still communicate. Hank did try to insist… he’s not lying, but your mother was adamant. She was just happy to know Hank was going to propose, and that’s why the offer of the ring meant so much to her.”
“We could have done it at her bedside.” Chase said stubbornly, but he knew what his father was going to say.
“Come on… you know she would never have wanted that. She loved everything about weddings, and she always said the bigger the better.”
“She did always say that,” he conceded, wiping away the few tears that had fallen.
“And that’s why, even though there isn’t going to be one, I had to tell you about it. You needed to know how happy she was at the time. It made the rest of her time so much better… and… I was thankful for that.”
“I wish she could have seen one of us get married.”
His father nodded, but then he smiled. “She told me she was going to be there, on your wedding day—Cindy’s too—and that she wanted to see everyone happy. I believe she’ll be there for both your weddings when the time comes. She also told me to remind you that you should wear a blue suit.”
Chase snorted in amusement, not the least bit surprised at that reminder from his mother. He searched his father’s face, and saw the belief he held. It was enough for him. “So… what do we do with the ring?”
“You boys have to decide that. I did my part.”
“It’s your ring, Chase.”
“Hold on, that’s not what she wanted,” Charles interrupted. “You could still have rings made for yourselves… I have no objection to that.”
“But we’re not engaged,” Hank said.
“No, but you’re family, and they don’t have to be wedding bands. Christine considered you a son, and so do I. All I ask is, whatever you guys decide, you don’t sell it. It stays in the family.”
“Then Cindy should have it.”
“I agree,” Chase said. “I don’t think Mom meant for the diamonds to be separated, so it should go to Cindy.”
“I’m not sure about that. Cindy has all of your mother’s jewelry except for this, and I think Christine would be happier if you each had something of hers.”
Chase and Hank exchanged glances. “I don’t know….”
“Me neither, and I already have a couple of her paintings.”
“We all have some of her paintings, Hank. Think about it, okay? You don’t have to decide right away.”
Chase watched his father put the ring back in the box. “Wait, Dad. Why do you have it in that big of a box?”
“Oh. Yeah, well, there is something else your mom did for your wedding, but....” he trailed off, looking uneasy.
“I didn’t want to upset anyone again.” His expression slowly changed to one of resignation before reaching into the box. He gave both men one more look as he removed some tissue paper and pulled out a small painting, on what appeared to be heavy paper, and handed it to Chase.
He knew instantly his mother had painted it. It was done in watercolor, a medium she seldom used, and it had a dream-like quality to it. Hank and Chase were sitting on a bench in front of a tree that had been in their old backyard. It wasn’t a close up, rather more of a beautiful summer scene, but there was no denying it was them. She had captured them perfectly, in an intimate moment, in that wonderful way she had as an artist.
“She worked so hard to get it just right… did it in oil first, but wasn’t satisfied. Her hands didn’t work like they used to, but I think she did a great job, and she was happy with how this one—the last one—turned out. Her hope was you might want to get it printed and use it for the first page of wedding invitations if….” His voice, shaking just a little, trailed off once more.
The tears slammed back, and when Chase passed it to Hank, he saw tears had formed in his eyes as well. It was all so beautiful, and so damn sad. Had it all worked out, his mother would have played a big part in his wedding. She had ensured he would have felt her there, from the planning to the ceremony. Standing up quickly, he wiped his eyes and cleared his throat. “I’m going for a walk.”
Hank stood too. “I’ll walk out with you.”
“What? No… stay here, please, and keep Dad company. There’s lots of pizza left and you guys haven’t seen each other in ages.”
“Ah, okay. Are you all right?”
“Yeah, fine. Just a little emotional. I apologize for earlier, Hank, for all of it. Thanks for… for giving Mom something that made her happy in her last days—I’m done being bitter. I want you to be happy, whether with Kevin or someone else… and I want to be happy too. Thanks for doing this, Dad. You did the right thing, and I apologize for my behavior. We were really lucky to have her, weren’t we?”
His father nodded, and his eyes had the same sheen Hank’s did. “You have nothing to apologize for. Are you sure you’re okay?”
He looked over at his ex while he answered his father. “Yes, I’m positive. It’s time to let go of the past. Mom won’t know the wedding didn’t take place—at least, I hope she doesn’t. Anyway, I’ll be back later… don’t worry about me, okay? I’m not that guy anymore.” Hanks eyes widened just slightly before he broke eye contact.
Giving Rex a pat on the head, he told him to stay, and with one last glance at the two men, he left the condo. Taking the empty stairwell just to the right of the door, he began the long walk downward.
Here was the double chapter as promised. So, how did you like it? Just for your information, if you're finding the story worthwhile, we have a new feature where you can recommend Endings to others on the front story page. Feel free... it's pretty simple, and I love getting new readers. Thanks to my editor, Timothy M., and to all the readers who take the time to share their thoughts. Cheers! Gary.