“Chase! Wow. You’re calling me? Did hell freeze over?”
“Very funny. I just remembered why I don’t call you… because you’re such a smartass.”
Cindy laughed. “I’m just razzing you. So, what’s up?”
“Nothing. I, ah, was wondering… if you’d heard from Dad yet.”
“I did. It sounds like he’s doing a lot better than when he left.”
“That’s what I thought too. Did you know Mom told him to take that trip?”
“Yup. He said he was following her orders.”
“Ah… that makes sense. I can see her doing that.”
“She always knew what he needed.”
Cindy snickered. “Yeah, whether he liked it or not. Nice to hear you talking about her, Chase.”
“It’s about time, isn’t it,” he agreed. “It doesn’t hurt so much now, not the way it did.”
“Good. She’d be happy to know that.”
“Yeah, I’ve finally figured that out. Before I forget, what happened to her paintings, the ones of Dad’s?”
“I have them. Why?”
“Just asking. There’s only the sheep one at the condo.”
“That’s because Dad told me he couldn’t bear being surrounded by them after Mom died, so I’m keeping the rest of them here until he’s ready. He asked me to keep them safe for him,” she added.
“I kind of thought that might be the case. So… what did Dad say to you in his email?”
“Want me to read it to you?”
“Nah, just tell me.”
“Okay, well, he told me about the one you sent him—said he agreed with you and me about getting back to being a family, and apologized for shutting us out. Oh yeah, and he talked a little about the town he was just in… Mom and he spent four days there, years ago. He’s… he also said he’s concerned about you… said it’s a shame what happened and that he thinks the world of Hank.”
“Who doesn’t,” Chase said bitterly.
“Chase? Something wrong?”
“No… okay, yeah, I had a tough afternoon.”
“What’s going on?”
“I saw Hank today.”
“Oh… did you talk?”
“More like snarked at each other. He was pissed because I picked up my bike from the underground storage locker without calling him first.”
“That doesn’t sound like Hank. Why do you think—”
“He had Kevin with him.”
“Kevin? John’s Kevin?”
“Uh huh, but he’s not John’s Kevin anymore. He’s as single as they come now, as far as I know.”
“I knew about their breakup, and you sound jealous.”
“I am… it’s stupid, I know… but… it’s driving me insane.”
“Do you honestly think Hank would get involved with someone so soon?”
Chase heard her skepticism. “No, but eventually he’s bound to, and Kevin is the perfect guy.”
“Hank doesn’t love Kevin, he loves—”
“Don’t say it! He used to love me… past tense.”
“I don’t believe that. He proposed to you like, what, two weeks ago?”
“And he got rejected.”
“You needed to think about it… that’s all. There’s nothing wrong with taking some time, and he should understand that.”
“I said no. That’s what Hank heard. A big fat no. I told him I made a mistake, but the damage is done.”
“I was beginning to get my shit together, but this just messed me up again.”
“I’m sorry, little brother, but this isn’t high school. Hank’s an adult, and so are you… you guys will figure it out.”
Chase scoffed, feeling miserable. “Am I? An adult?”
“Don’t be stupid. Of course you are.”
“I don’t know… I’m beginning to think I’m emotionally stunted.”
“What the heck are you talking about?”
He groaned and then sighed, embarrassed at how he was feeling, but he couldn’t stop now. Cindy wouldn’t allow it. He sighed once more. “Since Mom got sick, I haven’t stood on my own two feet… Dr. Chorney… he pointed it out at our last session. Hank took care of me whenever I couldn’t handle stuff, which was pretty much all the time. I never thought about what he was going through because he was always so strong… and now I’m alone. People keep leaving me, and….” He hesitated, before letting loose a groan of pure misery. Frustration was getting the best of him. “Sorry… see what I mean. I’m fucking pathetic.”
“No, you’re not, but Mom didn’t leave you, Chase, and neither did Dad. You understand what I’m saying?”
“Yes! I get it… I do. Like I said, seeing Kevin and Hank together has me all messed up, and everything’s getting all distorted in my head.”
“Of course seeing them together would make you wonder… it would mess most people up, thinking their ex was with someone else, but you don’t know that’s what is going on, right?”
“No, I don’t… I don’t know anything, but I’ve got a bad feeling….”
“So, that’s the reason you called me?”
“I guess so… yeah.”
“Good. You’re learning, little brother. Holding things in doesn’t work, and this is a positive, but don’t be so hard on yourself. I hate hearing you like this, but you know it for what it is, and that’s important. Don’t let seeing them together cause you to spiral… you’ve been doing so well. And, you are not emotionally stunted. I get jumping to conclusions after all that’s happened, but please don’t, and for God’s sake, don’t do anything stupid.”
“Stupid? You mean like call him?”
“If that’s what you’ve been considering, then yeah, especially that. As much as I think you guys need to talk, if he acted that way over you picking up your bike, then I think you should give it time. It sounds like he’s not in the right frame of mind, and neither are you. It’s just my opinion, but wait and see if he calls you.”
“That isn’t going to happen.”
“Maybe not right away, and maybe not in the way you want, but you told me Dr. Chorney cautioned against trying to force something.”
“So, I shouldn’t call and apologize for just showing up?”
“Do you really believe you did something wrong?”
“God, you sound like Dr. Chorney.”
“Consider me your backup therapist. Now answer the question… do you think Hank was right to act the way he did?”
“No. I don’t know. No, definitely not.”
“Okay, so why would you apologize?”
“You’re right. Hank was a dick. I did email him that I was coming to pick up my bike, and he was the one who hid in the park when I picked up my stuff last night.”
“He what?! He hid? What the heck are you talking about?”
Chase put his head in his hands and shook his head at the slip he’d just made, but knew he needed to explain, because he’d promised. So, he told her about the previous evening, and when he finished, Cindy said three words.
“Don’t call him.”
Monday morning, he arrived at work early. He’d been up for hours, and even fit in a bike ride through his old neighborhood. He’d stopped in front of the only house he’d ever lived in while growing up. Other than different curtains in the window, and different cars in the driveway, it stilled looked the same. It was surreal, but only hurt a little.
He was going over intern submissions for print ads, and one stood above the rest. Dawson’s. Speak of the devil, he was walking past his office when Chase looked up.
“Hey! Dawson, come in here.”
“Morning, boss… er, Mr. Leeman.”
“Chase. No need to be formal.”
“Sorry… I was preoccupied. How was your weekend?”
The question was one he wasn’t prepared for. “It was… an ordeal, actually, but I got through it”—he smiled weakly—“how was yours?”
“Quiet. I ran on Saturday, biked on Sunday, and read a lot.”
“Some here… except for the reading. I finally wiped the cobwebs off my Schwinn.”
“Oh, I have a Schwinn too. I’ve never let it get cobwebs, though.”
“I never used to, but after my mom got sick, we stopped going for rides as a family, and, other than a ride here and there, I never really got back to it until this past weekend. My ex… he always preferred running. Anyway, it felt good.”
“Oh, sorry about your mom. Is she better?”
“No, she’s… she passed away six… ah… seven months ago.”
“Oh, man, sorry. My mom… I don’t know what I would do without her. Sorry… I shouldn’t be talking about her when you—”
“Of course you should. I was close to my mother too. It’s taken some time, but I’m finally accepting she’s gone. She was sick for years. Anyway, I wanted to tell you this is some good work”—he held up the ad—“and you outshone the other two, so this is the one I’ll recommend we use.”
“Oh, sweet! I was hoping it was usable.”
“Definitely shows your creativity. Just one suggestion, though. I think if you soften the green a half-shade, the banner will have a better overall impact.”
“Oh, now that you point it out, I see what you mean.”
“Good. Make the change and I’ll submit it to Allan.”
“Cool. I’ll get right on it.” A huge smile accompanied his words, and it was hard to ignore how handsome he was.
Chase smiled back as the man retreated to the hallway and disappeared. He was still smiling when Dawson appeared at his door again. “What’s up?”
“Um… I’m biking tonight if you want to join me. I usually do about thirty kilometers… I could meet you at your building?”
“My building? You know where I live?”
“Oh God, that sounds creepy, doesn’t it? Look, I’m not a stalker or anything—I rent the top two floors of one of those skinny townhouses across the street from your building, and I’ve seen you a couple of times lately. You ran right by my place on Saturday.”
“Oh, I see… had me worried there,” Chase said with a grin.
“I understand if you don’t want to, but it would be nice to have some company. I used to bike everywhere with my best friend, but he’s not… it was a long time ago. Anyway, think about it.”
“I definitely will.”
“Okay, I better go get this done.” He disappeared quicker this time, leaving Chase a little confused. Nothing had changed since Friday… well… it had, but not how he felt about getting involved with someone. Still, like Cindy had said, he could use a friend. Maybe….
Dawson was waiting when Chase wheeled his bike out into the strong late afternoon sunlight. “Right on time,” he said as he straddled it.
“Hey, nice bike. A hybrid?”
“Yeah, it is. I like the thinner tires, but the front and rear suspension can still handle trails. My dad bought me this one when I was sixteen, after I bent the forks on my old one.”
“Yeah, you could say that. Had an argument with a tree.”
“Been there,” Dawson said, grinning. “I’ve had mine since I was seventeen. I always had mountain bikes before, but I fell in love with this street bike… it was used, but in perfect condition, and I got it cheap.”
“Looks sharp. I like the silver paint.”
“Thanks, I’ve touched it up a few times over the years. Ready to go?” Dawson asked, and Chase sensed a nervous energy in the man.
“Ready. I’ll follow you. This was a good idea.”
“Absolutely. I know I wasn’t all that enthusiastic at first, but I need to get out of the headspace I’ve been in.”
“That was the goal. Try to keep up,” he called out in challenge.
Chase laughed, feeling lighter than he had the entire weekend. Maybe this week would be different. “Don’t worry about me,” he returned as he picked up speed.
Chase was breathing heavily as he followed Dawson into the park. It was Hank’s park… Rex’s park, and he immediately felt uneasy. Why, of all places, did the man have to choose this spot to stop for a rest? He had to admit he’d had trouble keeping up with the silver street bike, so he really needed the breather. He looked around as he glided to a stop, but saw no sign of anyone he knew. Dawson was already sitting on the picnic bench, chugging water. Chase soon did the same.
“You’re in great shape there, speedy,” he said after taking in enough water.
Dawson grinned. “Thanks… you kept up pretty good.”
“That’s because you slowed down for me.”
“No, I slowed down for me… couldn’t keep up the pace.”
“Yeah, right,” Chase said, rolling his eyes.
“Okay, maybe I gave you a break,” he responded with a grin. “I really like this spot.”
“So does my dog. That used to be my building,” he said, nonchalantly pointing it out.
“Really? Oh shit, my bad… is it okay to stop here?”
“That didn’t sound convincing. Do you want to get going?”
“Nah, I need a few more minutes to recuperate. So… tell me about yourself. What did you mean about being an expert on bad timing?”
“Oh… that… ah, just… ah… you don’t want to hear my sad story.”
“It would be better than thinking about my own.” His eyes flicked to his old balcony before he turned his attention back to the man. “It’s okay if you don’t want to tell me. We can talk about something else.”
Dawson was studying his hands, but he turned his head and met Chase’s gaze. “Really not much to tell. It’s the typical gay cliché about being in love with my best friend and carrying the torch for years.”
“I get that. Hank was my best friend.”
“What, since childhood?”
“No, not that long. So, what happened?”
“Brent and I, we went all the way back to third grade. Anyway, he moved away, and I never came clean. I wasn’t out, and I was too scared to tell him I was gay or how I felt. We… we were on the same sports teams, and you know all the faggot talk that happens when the coaches aren’t around… it intimidated me back then.”
Chase nodded, understanding exactly what he was talking about. It was like walking a tightrope, until you finally got up the courage to say fuck it.
“Yeah, so anyway, I went off to college in one city, and he went off to college in another, and after a couple of years I stopped thinking about him so much. I even had a steady boyfriend for about a year, but it never felt quite right… he wasn’t the serious type.”
“He was just in it for the fun… the sex. He would never talk about the future.”
“Ah… and you were the serious type.”
“I wanted more from him, so yeah.”
“I get it. So, did you and Brent keep in touch?”
“At first we did, but it was too hard. I needed to move on. I was the one who stopped responding,” he said bitterly.
“Moving on… yeah, I’m beginning to hate that phrase. Easier said than done, though, eh?”
“That’s for sure. Are you certain you want to hear this?”
“Okay, well, there’s not much left to tell. I ran into him, right on Yonge Street during rush hour—he was waiting for the light straight across from me—not long after I graduated, and all those old feelings came back, stronger than ever.”
“After we got over the shock, we went to dinner, had some drinks, and went to the hotel he was staying at. We talked… and talked… and talked… about everything other than what I wanted to. Finally, I got up the nerve and told him I was gay, and how I’d felt all those years, and how I much I still thought of him.”
“How did that go over?”
“He kissed me.”
“Whoa! Really? He’s gay?”
Dawson nodded. “Yes, it turns out he is, and he’d been as afraid to tell me as I’d been to tell him. And, get this—he was in love with me too.”
“Wow. That sounds like a dream come true. So, keep going… what happened?”
Dawson chuckled, but it wasn’t a happy sound. “After he kissed me, he told me how he’d felt, past tense, and then he really opened up. He told me he’d fallen in love with this amazing, exciting, driven man he’d met six months earlier, and they were going to get married. I was pretty shook up, but so was he.”
“Yeah, fuck. It was awful to realize….”
Chase waited, but no more words came. “So that was it?” he asked softly.
“Uh huh. His fiancé was in northern Canada at the time, and I do mean northern, and Brent was leaving the next day to join him. The guy’s a pilot, and had plans to buy some little airport they’re going to run together. Brent has a business degree, and he’s always wanted to be his own boss. He was expected to go into his dad’s successful business, but that was never his idea.”
“He a pilot too?”
“He wasn’t at the time, but he was taking lessons, so he could be by now. I don’t know how that works exactly. Anyway, that was the plan—they have their life together figured out—and I was too fucking late. So now do you understand why I’m an expert at bad timing? We had one kiss—one amazing kiss—and then it all ended. If I’d only had the guts to tell him sooner.”
“Or he’d had the guts to tell you.”
“Yeah. It was hard for Brent too.”
“Have you heard from him?”
“No, we agreed… what’s the point? He’s moved on, and I’m trying to. We hugged goodbye, and that was the last time I saw him. I wasn’t the only one leaking tears when I left.”
“I’m sorry, Dawson.”
“It is what it is. I’m in a much better place than I was, and I am glad he’s happy.”
“Still… it sucks.”
“Uh huh, it sure does. I still love him, and guess I always will. He’s that one guy, you know?”
Chase immediately thought of Hank. “Yeah, I know. Believe me, I know.”
He turned his head, looking up to his old balcony. It was empty, but when he lowered his eyes, he witnessed the unmistakable figure of his ex, walking Rex through the outdoor parking lot. Shit. It was the last thing he needed so soon after Saturday’s fiasco. He knew he was courting disaster when Dawson had turned his bike into this park, and now it was headed his way.
He was tempted to try an escape across to the other side, but just as the thought crossed his mind, Rex began straining at the leash. He’d obviously seen him, and now Hank was looking his way. “Shit.” This time he said it out loud.
“Hey, what’s wrong?”
“See that dog over there?”
“That’s my dog.”
“Oh… and that guy is…?”
“Yup. Hank. My ex… who hates me.”
“Cripes! He’s hot!”
“Yeah. He is that.”
Chase kept appreciative eyes on the slowly advancing man. He was an avid runner, and looked damn good in his black running shorts and a sky blue tank top. He still couldn’t believe he had ever taken a man like Hank for granted.
Their picnic table was directly in his path, and once he reached the grass he let a rambunctious Rex loose and stopped. Chase responded by walking towards the running dog, his gaze flicking from one to the other until Rex reached him. At least his dog still loved him, but it wasn’t long before his canine curiosity drew him to Dawson.
He watched the friendly interaction before turning his attention back to Hank. Tentatively taking a few more steps, he called out. “Hey, how are you?”
There wasn’t a response until he was a couple of body lengths away. “We were just out biking and—”
“How could you bring him here?” Hank asked, his voice a low hiss.
The venom in his tone startled Chase. “Who? Dawson? He’s a guy from—”
“I know who he is, and I can’t believe you would do such a thing? Sonofabitch… I expected more from you. It’s only been a couple of weeks and—”
“Hold on, Hank. I didn’t know he was going to pull in here. I was following him and—”
Hank returned the favor and cut him off. “So you decided it was okay to rub him in my face?”
Chase didn’t know what was going on, but his anger surged. “Rub him in your face? What the fuck… isn’t that what you did with Kevin in the underground?”
“I never fucked Kevin! He’s my friend.”
“Your friend… right. Well, Dawson is mine… wait… Hank? Why do you think we fucked… who the hell do you think he is?”
“What… you think I wouldn’t recognize him?”
“Recognize him? From what? How do you know Dawson?”
“I saw him, remember, with his tongue down your throat and his hands owning your ass? You fucking disgust me.”
“Whoa! Jesus, that’s not”—he turned to look at his new friend—“that’s not him. He’s one of the new paid interns from my work, and I just met him. Why would you think he was… that guy?”
Hank suddenly looked unsure. “He… he sure looks like him. He’s tall like him, with that same wavy hair and the scruff….”
“Seriously?” Chase asked incredulously. “You just described half the men in any bar. I don’t exactly remember what that guy looked like, but I sure as hell know he didn’t look like Dawson.”
He watched the man’s face turn sickly before he spoke. “Okay… okay, maybe I’m wrong, but I would have sworn—”
“Hey, it’s fine… but it’s not him, I swear. I would never do something like that to you. And I’m sorry we stopped here. This is your park now, not mine, but he was so far ahead he couldn’t hear me. He doesn’t know… our story… and he didn’t know I used to live here when he picked this spot. To be honest, my cardio sucks, and I needed the break.”
“No… I overreacted. I never thought you would ever cheat on me, and it’s been goddam tough to deal with… and now… now you’ve already found someone else.”
“Hey, I haven’t found anyone. Dawson is just a friend who asked me if I wanted to go biking. I don’t have many of those left after what I did. And yes, I fucked up when I kissed that guy, but I never cheated on you. I would never do that.”
Hank’s sudden expression change showed he had serious doubts.
“You believe me, don’t you? Now that you’ve had time to think about it?”
Hank’s first response was to call Rex. “How can I? Maybe if you’d come home earlier, but you didn’t.”
“I was trying to figure out—”
“It was five hours, Chase, and believe me, I’ve tried to believe there was a good reason that didn’t involve you screwing that guy, but….”
Hank shook his head. “I went back. You weren’t there, and neither was that prick who’d had his hands all over you… and I don’t buy that was a coincidence. And yes, I do remember what he was wearing… that red plaid shirt. I looked everywhere, and both of you were gone.”
“You went back? To the bar?” Chase was stunned. “Why?”
“Good question,” he answered bitterly. “I guess I needed another kick in the teeth.”
“I’m so sorry… I was at our coffee shop, I swear.”
“The whole time? Come on, Chase… give me a little credit.”
“Not the whole time, but for quite a while… I don’t know exactly because I was pretty messed up… you know I can’t handle my booze. I remember taking a cab… and then I walked, and I sat in this park and stared up at the balcony for ages. I was afraid, Hank, but I did not leave with that guy, nor did I fuck him or anyone else.”
Chase barely acknowledged Rex’s sudden presence other than to put his hand on his head and let him nuzzle his fingers. He must have had his pee because Hank leaned down and clipped the leash back on, while he stood there frozen. His ex had his mind made up, and Chase was at a loss for how to convince him. “Hank?”
“Look, it doesn’t matter whether you fucked him or not, or whether I believe you or not… which, quite frankly, I don’t. You seem to have a pretty selective memory, but I saw what I saw and I can’t forget it. It… it didn’t look the way you describe it.” Hurt flashed briefly across his handsome visage, and Chase watched him swallow before he continued with a steel edge to his voice.
“And, this is not my park. You have every right to be here. Say hi to your friend for me… sorry, but I don’t feel like meeting your newintern at the moment, but now I see why you wanted your bike so bad.”
Sarcasm coated every syllable, and Chase quailed at it as he watched him turn and walk away, tugging on a reluctant Rex to keep him moving forward. His parting words were so off the mark, but what could he do? He didn’t want to argue anymore. “Hank?”
The man hesitated before slowly turning around. “What?”
“Are you ever going to want to talk? I’d like to explain why I acted the way I did.”
He stared at Chase for a few seconds before shaking his head. “I don’t want to hear anything you have to say.”Turning away, he strode off, quicker this time. Chase had been dismissed, presumed guilty of something he hadn’t done.
The unfairness hit him hard, just like when he’d picked up his bike. “Say hi to yourfriend Kevin for me,” he called out, unable to stop himself. Why wouldn’t the man let him explain? Why couldn’t he give him that? He watched Hank’s stride falter before he continued on through the parking lot. Turning, he walked back to the picnic table.
“Wow! That was intense.”
“Some of it… actually, a lot of it. I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have picked this place to stop.”
He shook his head. “No… no… you didn’t know, and I think I needed this to happen. As much as I know it’s over, I’ve still been hoping.”
“You’re preaching to the choir, man. I kept waiting for a phone call from Brent.”
Chase realized he was shaking, and attempted to conceal his anguish. The sympathetic expression on Dawson’s face told him he wasn’t succeeding. “You… you finally got past it?”
“It’s a process, and I’m still in it, so every time my phone rings, yeah, I hold my breath for a second,” he admitted, sounding as vulnerable as those big eyes looked. “You can’t make someone chose you.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that loud and clear, from everybody.”
“So… do you want to tell me about who he thought I was?”
“Oh… uh… yeah, but not here.”
“Feeling pretty raw?” Dawson asked softly, his compassion evident.
“That’s putting it mildly.”
“Okay, let’s get the heck out of here. I wouldn’t mind an iced coffee from Timmy’s, or, we could just head home if you want?”
Chase swallowed down a big lump in his throat. As much as he wanted to hide away and lick his wounds, he had to make an effort for his new friend’s sake. “Timmy’s works.”
Thanks to my editor, Timothy M., and thanks to all those who read and share their thoughts. Please leave a like on the story page under the story description if you are enjoying the journey. Cheers!