The Monday after Kay's disastrous business thing, I wake up in his bed so late that the sunlight has poured into every corner of the room. The glare makes my eyes water. I turn my head away, blinking furiously, and my foggy mind makes me jolt at the sight of a man sitting next to me. Then I realize it's only Kay. His face is lit up by the buttery glow; even through my squinted eyes I can see his golden eyes, gorgeous with pinprick pupils.
"Morning." His voice sounds caffeinated. He's been up for awhile.
"Hi," I mumble back, trying not to let on how much it had freaked me out to see someone sitting next to me when I woke up. He's leaning over me, his hand on my bare arm. Even with the scare, I'm so warm and content beneath his thick down comforter I hardly want to move.
Then my stomach contracts, almost before the memory actually floods back in—again—my dad, old, swearing, sorry. A bolt of misery jabs me in the gut again, and Kay squeezes my arm simultaneously.
"Still no better, huh?" His nose crinkles with sympathy, and despite the sickness in my belly I reach up in a stupid kind of sleep daze and put my hand on his scrunched cheek. He's already shaved. Kay is good at shaving, hardly ever leaves any stubble behind. I don't know how he does it, or if I could do the same; I barely ever shave. My facial hair comes in like a girl's.
I catch my thoughts racing on this absurdly linear train and try to slow it down. Okay. He asked me a question.
"No." I take my hand off his face and roll onto my side, trying to squint at the clock Kay has across the room, but my eyes won't come into focus. "What time's it?
"11:30." Kay sits down on the edge of the bed next to me. The fuck? 11:30? He shouldn't be here. I force myself upright, glancing at him, then staring harder at the clock as if I can force my eyes to adjust. I finally manage to glare at the right angle to see that the numbers confirm it.
"Work? It's Monday. You should be at work."
"I took the morning off. You kept having—nightmares, rough dreams, I don't know." He flaps his hand, dismissing this trivial detail. Belatedly I notice what he's wearing. It's been a bit since I've seen Kay anything but extremely dressed down or in his business clothes; today he's got nice dark jeans on and a pale golden cable knit sweater from Ralph Lauren that I can immediately tell Tara bought for him. I reach out and touch its thick sleeve. I don't remember any nightmares. I must have kept him up all night.
"I'm sorry," I say, looking up at him with the sweater cuff caught between my fingers and thumb, probably with an absurd expression of gravity on my face. Kay laughs and pushes his fingers into my hair, moves it out of my face.
"Hey, I can sleep through a hurricane."
"Where's Nicky?" I ask unthinkingly. His name tastes wooden on my tongue. I'm not sure I've ever said it before, and Kay gives me a look that tells me he's noticed it too, but he doesn't comment.
"He's at school."
"Oh." I shut up, sorting out the tangled sheets at my feet with my bare toes. I'm wearing Kay's U of T shirt and my boxers, which is so domestic I don't know what to say about it. "Um. Thanks, Kay." I lean, feeling only slightly awkward, and kiss his mouth with the duvet forming a mountain between us. He wraps one of his strong arms around my shoulders and leaves it there when I break off for air. I stay.
I don't know what to do with myself. I wish I'd feel less stunned by him; it's like being the dumb, mesmerized brat I was in high school all over again. All I need for the finishing touch is to smile and nod while he cheats on me. Kay grins at me, oblivious to my thoughts. God, he's beautiful. Fucker.
"You wanna get up?" I nod and he lets me go, getting up off the bed and going over to his closet. I watch him as I stoop to pick my pants up from the floor by his bed. I wonder if his kid even knew I was here, if he ever does. It's kind of a creepy thought. I hope he didn't watch me sleep or something. I also hope Kay didn't tell him to tiptoe around this morning and not wake me. It's not my damn house.
"Is it okay if I go in this afternoon?" Kay asks me, almost conversationally, and I stop with my pants halfway up my thighs and stare at his back. Is it okay? I feel a jolt of panic at this overly marital question, but manage to quell it.
"Yeah," is all I say, my voice quiet. I do up my fly while Kay picks out a suit from a line of them. "I'm gonna go home for awhile, okay?" God, I'm doing it too. I can't help but picture what Dan would say, what he'd do, if he saw me asking Kay for permission to go home. He'd probably sing Gaga at me for hours. God, I miss Dan.
"Sure," Kay says, reminding me simultaneously that I'm not a strong female and that Dan's not here. My stomach aches slightly. He turns, his suit jacket in his hands, and finds me more or less dressed; my fashion standards have certainly been slipping lately, but he smiles at the sight of me anyway and my heart gives an unexpected thud. "You look great." I'm still wearing his shirt.
"You shut up." He tosses his jacket onto the bed and crooks his fingers at me. "C'mon. I'll walk you down."
He put me in a cab. Literally put me in a cab, like a proper gentleman would, and when I was still reeling from the kiss he took before closing the door after me, he bent down to the driver's window and gave him money to take me home. For some stupid reason, this stunned me. Like everything Kay has done from the moment he pried me off Tara's fucking towel rack. I can't find my footing.
"Nice couple," the cab driver said to me, and I thought at first that he was being an asshole, but he really meant it. For the rest of the ride he told me about his gay brother and his husband. I can't imagine Jack or Johnny doing this.
I've had a good morning, or what other people would consider a good morning, but at home I'm too restless to sit still. I should sit down and write, or answer the messages multiplying on my machine, or try to track down Dan's whereabouts on Facebook. Instead my mind keeps touching on the subject of seeing my dad—seeing how old he looked—and then leaping away like a scalded cat. I can't do anything productive.
I try small steps. I shower and fix my hair and get dressed in something that doesn't belong to Kay, and I look like me again, the me that goes out and parties with Dan, and not the me that skulked around in the shadows wearing my ex-boyfriend's sweatpants and shrinking from the phone when it rang. Except that my roots are showing. They're conspicuously blonde against the black; the contrast almost makes it look gray. I could go get it dyed.
I met Christian's receptionists on Friday night, some of the only ones who I was introduced to that night as being with Kay. The junior ones wave me right on through, and when I get to the head assistant she assumes I'm there to visit Kay and directs me straight down the hall to his office. She doesn't even bother to escort me, a security breach she'll probably hear about later.
Kay's told me enough about the office and his father's access to him. When the hallway forks I should go right, but instead I veer left and find the massive mahogany door with Christian's name on it.
I don't even know if he's in. Well, if I have to I'll leave a letter. I help myself inside without knocking, but when the room registers in my mind, I stop short just inside the doorway.
Suddenly I realize why Kay had walked away from our trial without a scratch; it wasn't because of me, like I'd always naively assumed—it wasn't the red herring I'd offered up to throw things off-track. It was because his dad was the kind of lawyer who could afford this office. In a dumbstruck daze I survey the room, with its highly polished travertine floors and sweeping panorama of light-filtering windows. To my right there's a huge seating area with buttery soft-looking leather couches and a bar neatly tucked into an alcove. In front of me is an intimidatingly huge desk on a podium. And to my left…
He's here. Through a slightly cracked door I can just see the outline of a man standing in front of the glint of a mirror, and before I chicken out I cross the room with a determined stride and push open the door.
"What the devil?" Christian pulls a razor away from his face and looks at me, thunderstruck. A thin red line on his cheek wells up with blood. I made him cut himself. And he's… wearing a towel.
I feel my face go as red as high school as I fight to pull my eyes away from his bare chest. I've never seen Christian in anything less than a perfectly tailored suit. I've never even seen him without the jacket on. Without clothes he looks more like Kay than ever, which is such a fucked up thought it makes me blink repeatedly as my mouth goes dry.
"I'm, I'm sorry," I stumble helplessly, completely losing my nerve. Christian crosses his arms over his surprisingly broad chest. He's still holding the razor.
"Kindly look me in the face, Joshua," he says in a chillingly cold voice. My face flares even hotter. I finally manage to wrench my eyes back up to his.
"I'm so sorry," I say again.
"Well." He turns back to the mirror and presses his fingers to his bleeding cheek, making a soft tsking sound with his tongue before he lifts a little scrap of white cotton off the counter in front of him and replaces his fingers with it. He starts shaving again while I stand awkwardly in the doorway. "I wasn't expecting you."
"I know. I uh, I snuck in," I admit. I can't help watching him. I still remember listening, as a kid, to all my friends talking about watching their dads shave, the absurd jealousy I'd felt when they'd described how he'd let them put shaving cream on themselves. I still have no idea if my father shaves or has a total lack of facial hair like mine.
"Did you? I'll have to fire the reception team."
"Oh, shit, no. I mean, no. They thought I was here for Kay." Christian eyeballs me in the mirror.
"And you aren't."
"No. I'm here for you." I fidget a little, pulling the sleeves of my sweater down over my fisted hands. "I wanted to talk to you."
"About your father being at Friday's event?" Christian sounds completely unsurprised, making smooth, sweeping strokes along his cheek with the razor. I wonder if he's the one who taught Kay his perfect shaving technique. Fourteen year old Kay and his dad holed up in a bathroom, learning to shave; what a fucking peculiar image. "Kayton has already read me the riot act."
"Oh." I wait a beat, but he doesn't comment further. "I'm sorry. I didn't ask him to."
"Yet judging from the way you barged in here, you were planning to read it to me yourself." Christian turns slightly and raises an eyebrow at me, looking illogically unapproachable for someone with thick white foam still covering a quarter of his face. I frown at him. "I can assure you, Joshua, your father's presence was as much a surprise to me as it was to you."
"You didn't plan it? Tell Kay to ask me on purpose?"
"Why would I do that? I know how you feel about the man." He scrapes the last of the foam from his face and lifts a cloth to wash away the traces, reaching past me for a towel to dry off with afterward. "Apparently, he's part of a team I represent. This is the first I've heard of it."
"Oh," I say again. I feel kind of guilty for being so ready to believe he'd done it deliberately; Christian's never really done anything but help me. He gestures and I hand him the shirt hanging on a hook behind me, watching thoughtlessly as he slips into it and starts doing the buttons up. It somehow strikes me that he might understand my dad better than Kay. "He looked… older."
"Yes." Christian spares me a brief glance and then shoos me out of the bathroom while he finishes getting dressed, which is probably for the best. No doubt I'd stare helplessly at his cock if he gave me the chance. Instead I stand with my back to the cracked door, looking absently at the beautiful lighting sconce on the wall before me as I keep talking.
"He said he was sorry. He said he was wrong."
"Did that make you happy?" Christian's voice carries through the door like it wasn't there at all. I vaguely remember Kay asking me the same thing, or something similar. Should it have made me happy?
"No. Not really."
"People make mistakes." The door opens behind me and I turn around to see Christian, back in one of his perfectly pressed suits. We're on more familiar ground now, at least until he puts his hand on my shoulder and gives it a surprisingly paternal squeeze. I watch his face in surprise. "I'm pleased to hear your father has realized his."
"You think he's dying or something?" I blurt inelegantly, and twitch in shame as Christian gives me a disapproving look.
"One doesn't have to be terminal to repent. We all get older, want to be around our offspring." He's silent for a minute, giving my outfit a critical little onceover. I'm glad I changed out of Kay's clothes. "You're a lovely boy, there's no reason he shouldn't want you in his life."
What? As his words register I feel a dull flush hit my face again. A lovelyboy? That's what Christian thinks of me? I haven't been lovely at all, between the tantrums I'd thrown when he'd visited me at Kat's over the years, and the havoc I've been causing on Kay's life this year. I start shaking my head, and Christian gives my shoulder a hard squeeze that makes it ache once he lets go.
"There's no reason," he repeats firmly.
"Thanks," I say uncertainly. My shoulder throbs mildly and I raise a hand to rub distractedly at it, turning after him as he moves towards the desk podium. I notice in bemusement that ambient light comes out of nowhere as he steps up onto it. He seriously has automatic lighting for his desk?
"You're welcome," Christian says lightly. God, I don't get him.
"You're so nice to me," I blurt, dismissing the fading ache in my shoulder. "You always have been. Even when I was getting Kay in trouble, you were good to me. Why? What the hell?"
"Cursing at me is a poor way to express your sentiment," Christian returns dryly. As I watch him warily, he looks up from the neatly stacked papers on his desk and gives me a surprisingly wicked grin. My heart literally skips a beat; this is all Kay, the precise image of what he'll be at his dad's age. Their resemblance is insane. "Well, Joshua. I'm rather lovely myself."
I crack up helplessly. This is the last thing I would have expected him to say.
"Now," he says abruptly, all business again as if the comment had never crossed his lips. I stop laughing with a start. "Time for you to go."
"Oh, right," I agree inanely, like I'd expected this or have an appointment I'd mentioned. I ease my phone out of my pocket and glance at it. Only 4 pm.
I might as well go wait for Kay, since I have no other life these days.
As soon as I step off the elevator on Kay's floor I can hear some kind of screechy uproar. God, he should move. I'm surprised his dad even lets him live in such a run-of-the-mill building, considering that the cabinetry in his office alone probably cost more than this entire complex. It's like Kay thinks a doorman makes it inhabitable.
Then I get closer to his unit and of course it becomes clear that it's coming from inside. I hesitate at the door. It could be burglars or something, but it could also be Tara and Jack for some reason, maybe having a violent catfight where their stuck-up neighbors can't hear them. I raise a fist and bang reluctantly on the door.
It swings open almost immediately, revealing Kay's kid with heavy tear-tracks down his face. He blinks up at me, his long wispy eyelashes stuck into wet little clumps. Then his face lightens with relief.
"Josh," he says urgently, grabbing me by the hand before I can pull away and giving me a surprisingly hard tug into the apartment. I stumble a step. "Come help, Mrs. Rojas is hurt bad."
On the floor by the couch I spot an older woman, half-sprawled. Her face is white and locked into a grimace, and she tries to get up at the sight of me but fails miserably. Nicky lets go of me and runs over to her side.
"She hurt her ankle and her hip really bad!" He practically shouts at me, his hazel eyes alight with fear and what I think is almost excitement. Kay would have a drama queen kid, not that I should really talk. I tentatively cross the room and kneel down in front of the woman, whose face goes red. I pretend not to notice her fixing her skirt while I look at her swelling ankle.
"Are you okay?" I ask. It's pointless, she's clearly not, but I don't know how else to approach the situation. "I'm Josh," I add.
"He's Daddy's friend," Nicky chimes in.
"Oh." Her brow clears somewhat, but she tries to move a little and the color blanches back out of her face. This time she looks vaguely green. I don't know how to check for broken bones; I don't really want to touch her when it's obvious that the slightest shift is painful for her. "I slipped on my way to sit down, I'm so clumsy," she says, her smile patently meant for Nicky.
"You never fall," the kid chimes in earnestly. I notice belatedly that he's holding her hand; it's kind of sweet. I start fishing out my cell phone.
"I'll call an ambulance."
"Oh, no, that's silly. It's not so bad." I see her try to get upright again, and then her smile wilts. Nicky burrows into her side like a leech and starts patting her on the back.
"You'd get to go fast and have the lights flashing, it'd be cool," he encourages her. I lose track of the rest of their conversation while I'm getting the operator to connect me, but once I hang up she looks a little less worried.
"They'll be here soon," I say. She smiles wanly. I wonder who she is. A family friend? Just a babysitter? I don't think Kay has grandparents.
"Are they gonna break the door down?" Nicky asks excitedly, distracting me. I can't help giving him a weird look.
"We're here to open it for them."
"Oh. Yeah." He looks disappointed. "I'm glad you came by now, Josh. Maybe Mrs. Rojas could have died." I flinch from the tactlessness of this comment, but the woman only smiles again.
"Yes. Lucky us," she agrees. "We didn't know what we were going to do."
"Glad I could help," I say lamely. I'd clearly walked in right at the start of the panic; within a few minutes they would have calmed down and she would have directed Nicky to the phone. Everything would have been fine without me.
Still, the kid looks pretty impressed by me. I guess that's not the worst thing.
We sit on the floor with Mrs. Rojas till the paramedics come, which takes longer than I really think is appropriate. Once they do, though, they get her immobilized on a stiff stretcher thing and out of the building with an impressive efficacy. Nicky looks up at me expectantly after the flurry of activity has died down. Fuck. I hadn't even thought to call Kay.
"Uhhh," is what I think to say. We're back inside the apartment, which seems oppressively claustrophobic now that I'm alone in it with a kid.
"Is she going to be okay?" He asks me. "I was scared, I thought she'd die like on CSI."
"Your dad lets you watch CSI?" I blurt, distracted. Nicky shrugs. "Uh. I'm sure she'll be okay. It was probably, maybe, broken bones? They're not that big a deal. I mean, it's bad, but. She won't die or anything." The kid sounds more articulate than I do. I take a deep breath and move into Kay's kitchen, robotically setting about making myself a cup of coffee. Nicky has followed me in and I glance down at him awkwardly. "You want some, I don't know, milk or something? Hot chocolate?" I don't know what kids fucking drink. "Apple juice?"
"Sure," the kid says. I stifle an overly annoyed breath and force myself to smile.
"Huh? Oh. Umm. Hot chocolate, please." He climbs up onto a stool at the counter and watches me while I stifle down my aggrieved feeling. Jesus, he's just a kid. I need to get over this. Except at any given second I can look over at him and see Claudia's nose.
I grab the hot cup of milk out of the microwave and promptly burn myself.
"What time does your dad come home?" I ask him, in as neutral a voice as possible.
"Mostly at dinnertime. Like when Diego is on." He pauses. I have no idea what Diego is. I just keep stirring his hot chocolate endlessly. The powder won't fucking mix in. "I don't watch that anymore though."
"Okay." Kay's Keurig finishes with my coffee. I pick it up and take a sip. "We should probably call him."
"It's okay 'cause you're here with me."
"You don't think he wants to know who's with his kid? Here. Sorry about the weird chocolate clumps, I don't know what's with this mix." I put the cup in front of him, pausing. I filled it really full and I probably shouldn't have. "Um, it's hot."
"Thank you," Nicky says politely. He bends over it and starts blowing on the top; after a minute he slurps some up from the rim. Johnny used to do the same thing, so the part of me that is rigid with horror at being in the room with this kid actually relaxes slightly. I lean on the other side of the counter with my coffee.
"I knew your mom, you know," I surprise myself by saying. I'm watching Nicky for a reaction, but there barely is one; his eyes flick up from the surface of his drink for a second, but his attention reabsorbs into the cup pretty quickly.
"Really?" He doesn't even sound interested. "Did you like her?"
"Not particularly," I say automatically, and then realize that was probably shitty. I don't think you're actually supposed to admit unpleasant shit to kids, though I don't totally get why. It's not like I remember ever being oblivious to the fuckery going on in my household. "Well…"
"I don't either," Nicky says over top of me, matter of factly. He picks out one of the tiny marshmallows with his fingers and puts it in his mouth. "She comed to visit me when I was five and she was weird. And she made my dad mad all the time."
"Came," I correct absently. Kay hasn't mentioned that he'd seen Claudia again. I wonder what she does now. Besides football teams. "Why did she make him mad?"
"She always walked around after him and said dumb stuff, plus once I tripped over her foot and she got really mad and pulled my arm. My dad told her never to even come back," he reports cheerfully. "She was so weird. She had a dog in her purse."
That about fits my image of adult Claudia. I can't help smirking at the image of Kay throwing her out of his life again, which is probably immature.
"That is weird."
"Yup. I bet it pooped in there." He slurps more from his cup. "My dad said I can see her again if I wanna, but I don't, so I hope she doesn't come back."
"Me too." From the other room I hear the lock click, and then there's movement in the front hall. Nicky bolts down from his stool and goes running, abandoning our conversation without a hint of regret. From here I can hear a tangled jumble of his voice and Kay's. I hear my name, and Mrs. Rojas', and then Kay sticks his head into the kitchen with his glowing kid attached to his side. I wonder what it's like to have someone so plainly love you best of all like that.
"Hi," he says. He looks worried, but he smiles at me.
"Hi. I think she'll be fine," I say in answer to his silent but completely obvious answer. "Probably a broken hip or ankle or both, though."
"Shoot." He winces and then reaches down to give the side of Nicky's head a kind of hug with his hand, shuffling further into the kitchen with him still attached. He kisses me over his kid's head, which makes me feel weird, but I try not to mind. "What happened?"
"She said she slipped sitting down."
"God. That's awful." He looks down at Nicky. "We'll take her flowers later. Thanks so much, Josh, I don't know what they would have done if you weren't here."
"I'm sure it would have worked out anyway," I say awkwardly.
"No way," Nicky puts in. Kay has picked up my coffee cup and taken a sip, and as usual I'm a little surprised to find I don't mind. He puts it back down in front of me and gently pries Nicky off of him.
"You want to stay for dinner, Josh?" I can't help being grateful for the subject change. I even almost manage to smile unawkwardly at him.
Nicky's climbed back up onto the stool and started slurping his hot chocolate. Kay maneuvers around me to reach into a cupboard, and it's obvious I'm going to be in the way; after a hesitation, I slowly slide into the seat next to Nicky. My coffee cup warms my fingertips, which calms down my jolting nervous system.
"You could sleep over," the kid says. Kay is hiding a smile by the stove.
"You could," he agrees gravely. I shoot a glare at him. This is so inappropriate.
"It's okay. It's fine," I say, almost but not quite managing a tight smile at Nicky. Well, in his general direction. "I have a speech thing at a high school tomorrow. Public speaking in front of judgmental teenagers, my favorite thing."
"What's that for?" Kay dumps something into a pan, making it sizzle and produce some gloriously garlicky smell. Wow. He really has gotten better at cooking. Beside me, Nicky has dragged a backpack up onto the stool with him and starts unpacking homework onto the counter, which seems a lot more self-sufficient than I would expect from a little kid. I'm so engrossed in watching him sort out his papers and take his pencils out of a Pixar-patterned holder that I almost forget to answer Kay.
"Um, career path lecture or something. My agent said it's basically some special school for kids with no parents or shitty home lives or whatever." Fuck, I swore in front of the kid, but no one seems to react. I scratch my head uncomfortably. Kay goes on sautéing the food without batting an eyelash in my direction. "One of the student advisors asked that I come in and pretend I'm not a hypocrite talking about overcoming my crap and succeeding anyway." Is crap a bad word? I don't remember.
"You're not a hypocrite," Kay says automatically. He looks up from the pan and smiles over at me. "That sounds great."
"Well, maybe some kid will actually buy it and be inspired," I concede lamely. Kay smirks at me.
"Is this right?" Nicky asks suddenly, and when I register the paper he's shoving in front of me, I realize he's talking to me. It's a math worksheet. I squint down at where his pencil-smudged finger is pressed to the page. 7+8=15.
"Yes," I say. He grins back at me with the most impossibly open and carefree smile, considering the afternoon's events, showing me every one of his little white baby teeth and the three gaps where he's started losing them. He is kind of cute, once looking past Claudia's nose. Then he goes back to his work. Automatically I find myself skimming the rest of his answers, checking them over.
When I look up, Kay is watching us with a rather self-satisfied smile. He flips the contents of his pan with a spatula, not looking, and gives me a little wink.
Well, I sat on this chapter for about a hundred years, and tried relentlessly to make it into something I liked, but I kept failing until I got too annoyed to try anymore and just quickly sat down and finished it off. LION annoys me in general because I think I've gotten somewhere, and then I realize there is SO MUCH WRONG WITH IT and it just needs to be rehauled endlessly so I am always tired about it. :( Oh well. I hope you enjoy it more than I do, and that you are all having a LOVELY December. I am! Happy holidays if you celebrate!