A/N: Maybe the beginning of a longer story, I haven't decided. Just thought I wouldshare because it's been way too long since I last posted something.
"Two medium coffees, one black with sugar and one double-double."
A second later the cups crossed the grimy countertop, and I dropped a handful of change into the cashier's outstretched palm. It was three in the morning; I was too tired to be buying coffee in this shithole of a diner. Mine was the one with only sugar, and I gulped the first mouthful quickly, scalding my throat a little.
I passed him his cup as I slid across the ripped cushion of the booth opposite him. He nodded in thanks, closing red, swollen eyes as he rubbed his hands across them.
"How are you?" My voice came out tired and disinterested. In truth, I did care, but I was afraid of the answer.
He looked down at the blond liquid swirling in front of him. "Been better."
I smiled in spite of myself. "Sorry, what was your name again?"
He didn't ask mine; I assumed he had remembered. We stared at each other in silence for a while longer. It was not a tense moment, just an empty one, neither of us knowing how to fill up the gap.
"So," he finally said, looking up at me for the first time. His blue eyes were almost dead-looking.
"How's your coffee?"
"Oh, it's fine. I wasn't expecting much." I tried to smile at him again, but failed as I saw the look of complete brokenness etched on his handsome face.
"Look," he said, "I just want to know one thing. Where did you..."
I immediately felt as though the temperature in the room must have spiked about a hundred degrees. I didn't need him to finish the sentence. "In a bar," I said.
He made a little 'tsk' noise and looked at the tabletop as though he expected some kind of answer to appear there. "Must have been working late."
I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing. My heart felt carbonated and my hands would not stop fiddling with a rip in the booth. For a while we drank our coffees in relative silence. Police cars flashed by the window, their sirens crying out into the night; other customers dinged the bell at the door as they came and went; but we could find nothing to say to each other. After what seemed like years of agonizing silence – but was probably only a few minutes – I managed to force a hollow sentiment from my dry throat.
"He always loved you."
The look on his face was bitter, but not angry. He just looked weary, as though he had heard those same words too many times before. "Maybe at first. Then he got bored."
"No," I said quickly. I wished he would just get angry and blame me so I could leave; his defeated countenance was making me nervous. "It was my fault."
"No, it wasn't. He lied to you."
I sighed. "Yeah, but-"
"Then it wasn't your fault, okay?" He gave me a watery smile and took another sip of his now ice-cold coffee; or at least it must have been if mine was anything to go by.
"I still feel bad," I said lamely. I had already stated this in as many combinations of words as I could possibly think of, and I knew it must have been boring him.
"What did you have to do with anything? You didn't force him…" His voice faltered a little, and he cleared his throat before speaking again. "Did he ever tell you that he loved you?"
At that moment I would have given anything in the world not to be sitting in that cramped, dirty booth. I would have felt lucky if an earthquake had suddenly opened up the floor in the middle of the diner, or if a tornado had swept through and levelled it. Anything but staring into those injured blue eyes, trying to make sense of this.
I bit my lip so hard I tasted blood. "Sometimes."
I felt like reaching over to grab his hand, but at the same time I didn't want to have anything to do with him. "Look," I said helplessly, "He seemed really upset back there."
"That's because he got caught," he sighed. "Not because he felt bad for hurting me. No, it was over a long, long time before tonight. I just never saw it."
I wanted to tell him to shut up, that he was killing me, that I already felt guilty enough. But I knew he wasn't doing it on purpose. He was kind, patient, gentle, all the requirements filled. And yet the man I had loved for almost a year had been seeing me behind his back. I didn't know there had been someone else. I never knew about Alan until an hour before the diner, until he had walked into their apartment and seen my lips and my hands in places he thought only his ever touched. He had been there first, and I had trespassed on his territory. I knew, deep down, that I could not blame myself. After all, Seth hadn't said anything about Alan's five years of presence in his life. He'd played both of us with unprecedented skill and now here we were, two fools, the jilted lover and the other man, staring at each other over terrible cups of coffee and wondering where to go from here.
He broke into my thoughts with quiet sympathy in his voice. "I know he hurt you, too."
"Don't," I said. I couldn't take him being kind; I would rather have been slapped and screamed at all night than endure that. I still remembered the look on his face as he had turned the bedroom light on. Rather than wild fury or rage, it was an expression of muted grief, as though he had just received a long-expected piece of bad news.
"Well, it's true, isn't it? You didn't know about me. I didn't know about you. Neither of us got the good end of things."
I laughed bitterly. "He didn't, either."
I was surprised to hear him joining me, although his laugh sounded strangely like a hiccup. "He should have realized he would get caught. I can't believe he fucked you in our bed."
For some reason, that statement sobered me back up, and I gave a dry cough to break the silence when I couldn't find the words to do it.
"It was just a joke," he said. "Don't get all serious on me."
"Um," I replied. It was the most intelligent thing I could think of at the moment.
Our brief moment of camaraderie having been thoroughly killed and its body dragged a few metres for good measure, we settled back into silence. I didn't know whether to make another joke or say something serious – truly, all I wanted was to get up and run away.
"Your accent doesn't sound very local," he said. "Where are you from?"
I was taken aback. "Um, Texas."
"Really? Wow. It's hot there, isn't it?"
It was as though he had just met me at a party and we were marking small talk. I wondered what kind of twisted game he was trying to play, and then I realized there wasn't one. He wanted to pretend that things were normal. He wanted to forget. If he could talk to me like a regular person it would be easier to make believe this night had just been a dream, he hadn't lost Seth, he wasn't stuck here in a decidedly unwelcoming all-night restaurant with the man the love of his life had been cheating with. I understood his reasoning and I played along gamely.
"Well, in the summer it gets pretty hot. I haven't been back home for a while, though, so I've managed to miss out on that."
He nodded sagely and looked out the window at the melting snow and darkened street. "It's late," he observed.
I checked my watch; it was almost four now. "Yeah."
He looked back at me, and for the first time his eyes registered brutally raw emotion. "I don't know where to go," he said, clearly fighting tears.
"Hey…" My hand strayed close to his arm, sprawled on the table, but I drew back before touching him. I didn't know if he would appreciate it.
"Jesus," he whispered. "Fucking… he…why? Why did he do it?" He shut his eyes and squeezed the bridge of his nose between two slender fingers. When he opened them again, his composure was tentatively regained.
A curt nod was all he needed and I understood. He was not okay, but he would be. I was the same.
"You could sleep at my place," I offered. "I mean, I don't know if you'd want to, but there's a pullout couch."
A smile tugged the corner of his mouth. "You're really something. Okay, sure, why not."
We stood up and left our empty cups on the table. The bell at the door dinged for us as we stepped out into the bitingly cold air – two fools striking out on our own, damaged but not done in just yet.