“Dude, I’ve been waiting all day to hear from you. What happened?”
“I got out of the car like you told me too.”
“Hey, stop fucking with me and spill!”
Dawson laughed. “Sorry, it’s been quite a day. Long story short, the douche showed up right after I got here… like five minutes after we texted.”
“Perry? You’re fucking kidding me!”
“Nope, talk about bad timing again, but it’s the truth. Totally freaked me out because he wanted to get back together with Brent, and he’s pretty slick. He kept trying and trying and trying. I swear, man, I thought I was going to pass out a couple of times, but fortunately Brent told him there was no fucking way it was going to happen.”
“Just like that? Right in front of you?”
“Yup… Brent never waffled once. He insisted I stay… it happened right in the middle of the parking lot. Awkward as hell, but I have to say I was glad I saw it. The guy is a douchebag supreme, and I’m proud to say he hates my guts.”
“Wow. So where does that leave you and Brent?”
“Right now, you could say I’m in post coital bliss.”
“You heard me. And I have to say it was the best thing ever. He told me I was worth the wait, and he definitely was… twice in a row.”
“TMI, buddy, but I’m happy for you. So it’s all good then?”
“It’s perfect. We are now partners in every sense of the word.”
“I knew it. I told you there was no way he’d let you go again.”
“Props to you, dude, for being right, and Brent wanted me to give you his thanks too.”
“Why? I didn’t do anything.”
“Yeah, you did. You told me to take my own advice. This never would have happened if you hadn’t challenged me, and we both know it.”
“If you say so. You have a lot more guts than I do. Is he there?”
“Yeah, but he’s napping, so I snuck out to the dining room to call you. Speaking of which, the house needs a ton of work, but I absolutely love it. Anyway, back to Brent. I think I wore him out. He wore me out too, but I slept for about half an hour, and now I’m energized.”
“Atta boy. I’m over the moon for you, Dawson.”
“I know. Thanks, and I’ll call again soon, I promise. There’s so much I have to tell you about this place, but I have to wake him up now. He’s showing me the ropes and I can’t wait to get started, and Chase, you have more courage than you think.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Just… you’re a lot stronger than you were when I met you, so don’t sell yourself short, okay? I’m serious.”
“Ah, sure… okay, thanks, buddy.”
“And if you want something, you go after it. You deserve to be happy, remember that. Don’t do what you think you should do… do what you want to do.”
“I will, I promise.”
“Okay, talk to you soon. Gotta go… We’re three hours behind you so it’s only three here, and we work till about eleven or twelve. Say hi to your dad. Oh, and the motel has a restaurant.”
“Really? That sounds like a lot of work.”
“I guess it will be if we go full service, but right now it’s more of a café that operates until seven. There are just so many possibilities here, and I’m excited as hell!”
“No kidding… you sound it,” Chase said with a chuckle. “Are you sure you’re not overtired?”
“No… slept a fair bit on the plane, and anyway, I’m too happy to sleep.”
“Well, congrats, Dawson, I mean that.”
“I know you do. Tavvauvutit.”
“What the fuck did you just say?”
“I said goodbye in Inuit… it’s what you say to a friend.”
“Tavutatit to you too.”
Dawson laughed. “Close enough… remember what I said, okay?”
“Will do… don’t wait too long to call me.”
“I won’t… promise.”
“Love you, buddy.”
“Love you too, Chase.”
Chase was grinning from ear to ear as he pulled back out onto the road. In minutes, he arrived at Hank’s apartment, still smiling despite being a few minutes late. Rex, waiting on the front step with Hank, reacted as soon as he saw Chase’s car. He didn’t hear the bark but he saw it.
“Sorry, Hank,” he said as he got out and walked towards him.
“No problem. I called but it went to voicemail.”
“Yeah, Dawson called, so I had to pull over into the plaza.”
“So that’s why you look so happy,” Hank said deadpan, and quickly changed the subject. “Let me know when you want to bring him back.”
“I will. Dad wants to take him to the beach tomorrow.”
“Oh, he’ll love that. Okay, see you.” Hank turned away from him abruptly, and the stiffness in his posture piqued Chase’s curiosity.
“Yeah?” He did a half turn, as if reluctant to spend any more time talking.
“I look happy because Dawson is happy.”
“That’s nice,” he said, and while someone else might, Chase didn’t miss the sarcasm.
“He’s happy because he took a leap and followed his heart.”
“Ah…is this going somewhere, Chase, because I have a project I need to finish up?”
“I’m talking about him flying… well, moving to the Yukon to reunite with his first and only love. He didn’t know how it was going to go, but it went great—better than great—so that’s why I’m happy.”
“Oh.” Hank’s blank expression morphed into a confused one. “You’re happy about that? Really? I thought you—”
“Yes, Hank, I know what you thought, and I am happy for him. In fact, he and his partner thanked me for challenging Dawson to make the call to Brent… that’s the guy’s name. I lost my new best friend, but it’s okay because he’s happy. Are you?” He could see Hank was completely flummoxed, and he couldn’t help but smile again.
“Am I what?”
“What the fuck are you asking me that for?”
“Because a lot of time has passed… and you used to be my best friend once. Sorry, I shouldn’t have pried.”
Hank shook his head and blew out a long breath. “No, don’t be. I shouldn’t be so frigging touchy.” Another sigh followed. “My answer is… not yet.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Are you? Happy, I mean?”
“I am today. But… I guess my answer is the same as yours… not yet. I’m getting closer, though.”
Hank didn’t respond, but his gaze never left Chase’s. Finally, he nodded. “Well, I’m sorry you lost your best friend.” He turned away slowly with his head down, as if he was considering saying something else.
“I’m getting used to losing friends,” Chase said, causing the man to hesitate with his hand on the door handle of the front entry. “Hank?”
Pulling the door partway open, his gaze returned to Chase, and his eyebrows rose in question.
“Do you see a liar when you look at me?”
“What? What kind of question is that?”
“A fair one. You’ve stopped taking me at my word ever since that night. I told you there was nothing between me and Dawson—I made that as clear as I could a couple of times—but you didn’t believe me, did you? No matter what I said, you did not believe me.”
“I don’t… I had my doubts, yeah,” he admitted, and Chase was pretty sure he saw a flicker of shame in the face he knew so well.
“Good question,” he answered, making a scoffing sound as he looked downward. “But I don’t have a good answer—I thought I did, but—I’ve got my own issues to figure out. I don’t see you as a liar, not… not anymore, and I don’t know why I ever did. I’m sorry.” The door swung shut behind him, and he disappeared from view.
Chase stood there staring at the door, half expecting him to appear again. Motionless, he tried to digest what had just happened, until a bark from Rex demanded he move. He closed the gate on his SUV and got in, still pondering their short exchange.
Why had he pushed the man? Why had he asked that question? He had no idea, nor did he have any idea what Hank’s last words had meant. Whatever answer he might have expected, it wasn’t the one he got. Well, whoopee, he finally believed him about Dawson. Sighing, he put the car in gear, thankful they hadn’t ended up at each other’s throats over a touchy subject. Touchy. ‘I shouldn’t be so friggingtouchy.’ Did Hank really mean that?
Not yet? Yeah, that part he could understand. But by the time he reached his dad’s condo, he still hadn’t decided whether their talk had been good for either of them, or if it had just caused more distance. Had he pushed Hank because of Dawson’s advice to go after what he wanted? By the time he got off the elevator with Rex, he concluded it didn’t matter. Yes, he loved the man—Hank still made his heart race like a freight train every time he saw him—and yes, he would like nothing more than to have another chance, but the distance was already too great to bridge. Even if the worlds aligned, and they tried again, could it ever be as good as it once was? “Come on, Rex. Let’s get your ball and go play.”
He arrived at Stacy’s the following Tuesday, and she met him at the door with a glass of wine in both hands, standing back as he walked in. “Good, you didn’t drive,” she said as his Uber backed out of the driveway. “Here you go, the merlot you like.”
“I’d rather have a hug first. Damn, I’ve missed you.”
“Oh, me too, sweetie. Let’s not do this again, okay?” She set the glasses on the console table before hugging him so hard his emotions got the best of him.
“Now, let me look at you.” Her eyes traveled up and down before settling on his face, more specifically, his eyes… eyes that were slightly wet. “You look older.”
“Hey! You should know better than to tell a gay man he looks older,” he joked, comfortable with her scrutiny.
“But you do. You look as handsome as ever, but you’ve changed. You’re… hell, you’re hotter.”
“Hotter? Really?” he asked with a smirk. “What would Don think about you saying that?”
“Oh, who cares about him? Besides, he’d probably agree if he were here.”
“Well, thanks, and you look great as always… younger.”
“Now, see? That right there… that’s why I missed you. Grab your wine, sweetie.”
Chase, chuckling, did as ordered, and followed her down the hallway, through the kitchen, and out to the covered back patio. Dusk was underway, and Chase’s eyes went to the white, twinkling lights on the ceiling before darting sideways. He was startled to see Trey and Carlos sitting on the bench against the far planter wall. Both men rose at the same time.
“Hi, Chase.” It was Carlos who spoke after taking a step forward, and Chase could sense his nervousness in those two words. “I hope you don’t mind us crashing your girls’ night.”
Chase, tense initially, immediately relaxed, and then smiled. “Two more girls makes for more fun.”
Trey, standing a little behind Carlos, squealed and ran up to Chase with arms open and his soft afro bouncing. “I’ve missed you, sugar.”
Chase welcomed the hug as he kept eye contact with Trey’s partner. He knew it was really Carlos who’d turned away from him when he and Hank had broken up. “Missed you too, Trey-Trey.”
When Trey pulled away, Carlos took another step closer. “I’m really sorry, Chase.”
Chase held out his arms and Carlos moved quickly to grab hold of him, squeezing tightly. “No need to apologize. I understand.”
“Do you?” Carlos peered intently at his face in the diminished light.
“As long as you guys are okay, I’m okay, okay?”
Chase got another hug from the man before they separated. Everyone began talking at once, just like in the old days. Glancing at Stacy, he saw a Cheshire cat grin, and returned it with a joyful one of his own. It was better that she hadn’t told him they would be here tonight. As she poured more wine for Trey and Carlos, they began catching up, with a lot of friendly barbs thrown in that only good friends can exchange.
It turned out he had missed a lot. Once they settled down, each with wine glass in hand, the conversation got more serious. Trey’s sister was in rehab again, having overdosed for the third time, and he and Carlos, at her request, were looking after her six year old son. Social services were involved, and they were approved because of having cared for Joey in the past… once for three months, and the last time for five.
“This time should be a lot longer, because my sister has proven again and again she can’t stay clean. She loves Joey, but she loves her drugs more.” Trey said, the pain evident in his voice.
“Is this what you guys want? For him to be with you long term?” he asked, pretty sure what the answer would be.
Surprisingly, it was Carlos who answered, because Trey was normally the more talkative of the two. “Absolutely. He has no one else but us and Trey’s mum. It was awful when he left the last time, for him and us—”
“I remember… you guys came over to our place that night.”
“That’s right, so you know. You and Hank cried right along with us.” Carlos nodded as Trey put his arm around him. “We’d be happy to have him stay with us for good. Shawna, God bless her, is too old to handle him full-time, but she can still be a part of Joey’s life.”
“Yeah, Mum’s at our place now, watching him, so we can’t stay too late,” Trey added.
“Well, if you ever need any help, Dad and I are around pretty much every evening, and Joey’s a cool little dude.”
“Thanks, Chase.” Carlos hesitated for a few seconds. “I’m so glad we put all that stuff behind us. We missed your support—your friendship—and I had no right to judge you like I did.”
Trey nodded his agreement. “Hank was the one who set us straight.”
“Hank? He did? What does that mean exactly?”
Carlos took over again. “He said you made some mistakes… stupid, drunken ones… but so did he in how he handled things, and he realized he was an idiot for thinking you would ever actually cheat.”
“Yeah,” Trey agreed. “He said he was wrong about the cheating, and while he may not have liked what you did, he should have believed you would never go that far, so nobody should be freezing you out. Said he never wanted that.” His gaze went to his boyfriend, who was nodding while looking embarrassed, probably remembering the time at the restaurant when he wouldn’t even say hello.
Chase’s mind sifted through what he just been told. Wrong about the cheating? Did Hank actually believe him now, after their talk about Dawson last week? Did he finally remember the person Chase was? “Wow. I wonder why he changed his tune. We talk a little, but he’s not all that friendly with me.”
“Well, something’s changed, because getting anything out of him before was like pulling teeth—he was so moody and closed off. Maybe he’s not hurting as much anymore, but he was very serious when he stopped by for coffee a couple of days ago, and it was the first thing he brought up.”
“He told me the same thing, Chase,” Stacy said. “And, he said he felt bad for you because Dawson was moving away, and how everyone was wrong about you guys being a couple—that you were just good friends.”
“He said that?!”
“He did, and that you needed to know you still had us. I got the feeling he was worried about you. I told him you were coming over here tonight, and he seemed relieved. He was the one who suggested I invite Trey and Carlos.”
Chase took a sip of wine to cover his confusion. Feeling the intense scrutiny of those around him, he smiled. “Well, you could knock me over with a feather right now… but… maybe it means we can let go and move on now, Hank and me.” The boys smiled back at him, but Stacy didn’t. She’d tilted her head slightly, as if pondering his statement. He knew her well enough to know she had something to say, and he didn’t have long to wait.
“Or, it could mean he’s sorry.”
“Sorry? Really? For what?”
“I’m not sure, Chase, I just know he was concerned for you. Could be he’s sorry for overreacting.”
“Nah, I don’t think so. I was the one who fucked up. Do you think he overreacted?”
“It doesn’t matter what I think, but I’ll tell you anyway. We all overreact to some degree when we get hurt. Some of us rage, some of us push everyone away, and others… they hide away in bed for days on end.”
Carlos chimed in, and Chase was reminded of what he went through before he met Trey. “I know I have. Hell, I’ve done all three, and don’t forget drinking. I did that too. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it?”
Trey put down his wine and gave Carlos a hug. “You got me now, baby. Damian never deserved you in the first place. And, for what it’s worth, I think Hank is feeling regret, no doubt about it… it was written all over that man’s face. I heard what Stacy said when you arrived, and she’s right. You have gotten hotter.”
Chase laughed. “Okay, guys, enough with trying to make me feel good, but Hank and I are finished, and we both know it.”
Trey shook his head emphatically. “No, no. I’m serious. You carry yourself different. It’s the first thing I noticed when you walked out here.”
“My boyfriend’s right, Chase. You always seemed, like, younger than the rest of us, but, baby, I see all man now.”
His wiggling eyebrows got him a slap and a giggle from Trey. “Enough of that,” he warned teasingly. “I don’t know if you guys are finished or not but I know Hank, and something’s changed. So how about you, Chase? You really weren’t involved with this Dawson guy?”
The question was unexpected. Of course, no matter what Hank might have said, there would be some doubts. “No, we were… are… just friends… really great friends. He helped me get through a really tough time, and now he’s living in the Yukon with the guy he’s loved since he was a teenager.”
“We saw you guys biking through the village a bunch of times, and I got to say he is one good-looking man. So, you weren’t even tempted?” Carlos asked, grinning.
“Oh, I tried, but it just wasn’t there. We kissed once, twice actually, after Hank and I had an argument, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was too conflicted.”
“Meaning you were still in love with Hank?”
“I was just angry, and frustrated, and… yeah… it felt like I was cheating on him, which was really stupid.”
“Oh, sweetie”—Trey reached over and patted his hand—“it wasn’t stupid. The heart wants what the heart wants.”
“Don’t worry, guys. I’m fine. It was all part of the process, but now I’m ready to get on with my life.”
Stacy, having stayed quiet, finally interjected. “Are you sure about that?”
He gave her a sheepish smile. “Sometimes… more often lately. Besides, what choice do I have?”
Chase left Stacy’s house slightly tipsy, but feeling great. On the short Uber ride home, he leaned his head back against the seat and smiled. Seeing Trey and Carlos—and Stacy—made him feel better than he had all summer.
For months he’d told himself losing his friends was part of the breakup, collateral damage that he had to accept. The fact was, though, it had continued to hurt. Yeah, Dawson had made it easier, but he was gone from his everyday life now.
His smile grew broader as he thought about the boys’ invitation to dinner the weekend after next. They intended to invite Ray and Frank as well, friends he hadn’t seen since before that fateful night. And, he would get to see little Joey again. He and Hank had babysat him once, and enjoyed every minute of it. Despite his rocky road, he was a happy kid who laughed easily. He hoped that hadn’t changed.
Hank. Why had he come around, insisting his friends take him back in the fold? Was he truly ready to be friends now? Was their last conversation some kind of turning point? Time would tell, Chase supposed. In truth, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to handle just being friends… not close ones anyway.
So, we're back to Chase and Hank after spending some time with Dawson and Brent. What did you think of these new developments? Please share your thoughts if you can, and thanks for reading and supporting this story. Thanks also to my editor, Timothy M. for all he does. Cheers! I hope you enjoy "Girls' Night." .