Kendra lay draped across the couch, staring vacantly at the tacky drama of the talk show playing itself out across the television screen. She fidgeted with the ring on her finger; twisting it one way and then the other, sliding it off and back on again. It had become something of a habit, recently- as had the practice of staying up into the early morning hours, watching the brainless daytime programming that she recorded on her DVR.
She snorted as the test results were revealed and yet another man bounced gleefully out of his seat in the studio, whooping his way into the audience as the Overly Melodramatic Slut wailed and fled backstage. Apparently, Neighborhood Deadbeat # 4 was also NOT the father.
She vaguely wondered whether the show's producers had to pay their guests to offer themselves up for such large-scale public humiliation, or if the notoriety gained by having one's tearful shrieking or celebratory Bitch-I-TOLD-You dance broadcast to millions of homes was payment enough, for one so inclined.
The thought that 'trash likes to air itself for free' jarred her a bit from her aimless pondering. When had she become all bitter and cunty?
Her eyes drifted over the books and pamphlets strewn across the coffee table. Her gynecologist had recommended some reading material at her last appointment: Ovarian Cancer: Myths, Truths, and Your Treatment Options, Life-Foods in the Cancer Free Kitchen, Radiation Therapy and its Side Effects.
Okay, so the source of some of the bitterness was fairly obvious.
The cause of the rest of it was something that Kendra wasn't fully prepared to acknowledge, just yet. She was no sunny-eyed optimist; the truth of her situation was there- looming -manifesting in a sharp, chemical taste that lingered perpetually, just behind her molars…
But the little fool who whispered contrarily beneath her rational thoughts kept telling her that, as long as she didn't speak her fears out-loud, there might still be a chance for her to become Mrs. Fogel.
Larson sat at his drafting desk, staring at the panel he'd been "working" on for the past few hours. It was really rare that anything extraneous could occupy enough of his mind to distract him from his work, and he was annoyed at himself for letting it happen, this time.
At the fore of his thoughts: Patrick. He'd been a bit twitchy and nervous for most of the previous evening, something Larson hadn't seen since the beginning of their relationship. He'd spilled two glasses of wine before Larson had taken him to bed, and then he'd scampered out the door first thing in the morning, claiming he had to rush home for…something. It was obvious that Patrick had something on his mind that he wasn't willing to mention just yet, but getting Patrick to talk about, well, anything had never been a problem, before.
Then, there was this suspicious upcoming meeting with Senator Milquetoast. What the fuck could he possibly want with Larson? He'd rolled it around in his head over and over, and the only reasonably likely scenario he could come up with was that, perhaps, the man wanted Larson to design some campaign logos. But that wasn't really his forte, and they'd been told that this had nothing to do with the upcoming campaign…not that it would be unheard-of for a politician to be less than forthcoming.
But it was just weird.
Larson looked at his watch, then threw down his brush. It was nearly Noon, he'd started over on this panel four times already, and it still wasn't right. Clearly, he wasn't going to get this inking done, today.
He looked down to the floor at an atypically subdued Shithead. The puppy lifted his head to solemnly return his gaze. "There's nothing for it, kid; time to get day-drunk. You in?" Shithead cocked his head to the side in what Larson decided to interpret as tacit agreement.
He wondered what time that Beer & Wine Brigid had mentioned opened up during the week.
Dan sat in an overstuffed armchair in the corner that had the clearest view of the entrance to Caravan Coffee. He checked the time on his phone and frowned. Patrick was almost 12 minutes late.
He knew that outwardly, he seemed quite relaxed and composed; the only sign of the low-grade anxiety he'd been experiencing for the better part of the past week was the slight tremor of his hand as he lifted the ridiculously large coffee mug to his lips. He hadn't actually consumed any of the frothy drink- it would give him smelly coffee breath, and he really didn't need any caffeine in his system -but it was nice to have something to do with his hands that didn't look like fidgeting.
He wasn't usually one to be nervous about anything, but if he was honest with himself (something rather new for him, really,) a lot was riding on how things played out with Patrick, this afternoon.
There was a commotion by the front door, and Dan looked up to see a woman with a stripe of whipped cream and coffee-colored slush running down the front of her blouse, and Patrick standing in the doorway, looking apologetically discombobulated. Dan considered his perfectly tailored Italian suit for a moment, and began to search for someplace to rest his cup, other than the small table that sat between the only two chairs in his corner of the shop. He settled for the window sill, then stood to greet Patrick, who had spotted him and was making his way over.
"Hi, Dan. Sorry, sorry! I'm late, I know." He was slightly out of breath as he clasped Dan's extended hand and allowed himself to be pulled into a one-armed hug. "I decided to ride my bike over; there was a small accident…"
"You're not hurt, are you?"
"Oh, no! Not at all, don't worry. It's just that I was rushing, and then there was a bus that came out of nowhere, and I totally didn't see that construction cone until it was almost too late…" Patrick peeled off his coat and then sank into one of the chairs.
Dan took a moment to admire the form-fitting shirt and jeans he had on underneath, before returning to his seat. "Did you want to order something to drink? Have you had lunch? They do decent sandwiches, here…" He waved to one of the servers milling around.
"Hmm…maybe some tea?" Patrick smiled up at the girl who came to stand over them, pad in hand. "Do you have lapsang souchong?"
As the server scooted away to fill his order, Patrick settled a bit more into his chair, his smile becoming slightly nervous as he turned to Dan. "So, um…"
"I'm glad you were able to make it, Patrick. I wasn't sure that you were going to come; if the situation had been reversed, I probably wouldn't have."
"Ah, w-well…I wasn't really too upset about what happened- you actually sort of did me a big favor, and you said you wanted to talk to me. The least I can do is hear you out…"
Dan tilted his head, puzzled. Favor? "Yes, well, as I said when we spoke the other day, I truly felt terrible about the way I handled things. I felt a real connection with you, and I couldn't stomach the thought that you might think that everything I said to you was a lie in order to get you into bed." He paused to take a deep breath. "However, I do have to tell you that I was not completely honest with you about some things.
"I guess I really need to back up a bit, and start from the beginning. Up until fairly recently, I never considered the possibility that I might be anything other than completely heterosexual."
Patrick was looking at him with a mixture of confusion and earnest concern, and Dan found it difficult to maintain eye contact.
"About a year ago, an old college friend of mine had a bachelor party, and I guess one of his friends thought it would be funny to hire a male stripper, as a gag..."
Dan stopped and just stared at his hands as the server returned with Patrick's tea. He looked up when Patrick cleared his throat.
"So, what happened? You got turned on by the stripper, right?"
"Yes. Everyone else was sort of laughing and elbowing each other and it was this big joke…but I got an erection. I convinced myself that it was just one of those things, that it was a coincidence, but after that, I found myself thinking about it, often. I started looking for porn on the internet with shemales-"
Patrick winced noticeably.
"Sorry…trannies? Transsexuals? I'm still trying to wrap my head around all of this.."
"No, it's okay. Go ahead."
"Well, anyway, it wasn't long before I was using solely gay material when…pleasuring myself, and I had to acknowledge that it wasn't just a one-time, coincidental thing. I thought maybe it was a phase, that I had developed a weird sort of temporary fixation, but I wasn't sure what to do about it.
"I eventually got it into my head that ignoring things would only make the problem linger. So, I started looking through online personals ads and made profiles on a couple of gay pick-up sites. I figured I'd find someone discreet for some anonymous fun, since what I needed to do was just indulge the urge and get it totally out of my system. In retrospect, I think there was a part of me, even then, that sort of knew that I was just trying to justify my actions."
Patrick's voice was soft as he interjected. "You don't have to justify being attracted to men, Dan…"
Dan sighed. If only it were that simple.
"Unfortunately, I do have to…because this doesn't just affect me. I have a fiancee."
Patrick gasped and jerked back in his seat, sloshing tea over his fingers and onto the rug. "A fiancee? You said 'have.' You're still…but Dan, you and I- Oh shit, does she know?"
"No, she doesn't know. My thinking was that she didn't need to know, because the situation wasn't permanent. I thought I'd meet with some guy, have sex- or not; there was still the possibility that I didn't really want to have sex with a man, or so I thought -and be done with a very short chapter of my life. Kendra never needed to know. I never expected to…I never expected you, Patrick."
"Well, I spent quite a while just scanning through profile after profile, and there were a few that caught my attention briefly…but I could never bring myself to make that initial contact, or respond to anyone's messages. And then, among all the sucked-in guts and dick pics, was your face. You looked so sweet, smiling and holding a rabbit, and I thought 'this guy doesn't belong here.' I was curious what someone like you was doing on a site for guys trolling for cock, so I clicked on your profile, and well…you know what happened."
Patrick didn't know what to say, and so gulped down his tea in the awkward silence. He'd had closeted guys approach him, before, whispering that stupid word- discreet -in his ear at bars and clubs, but he always turned them away. He understood that for some guys, keeping half their life a secret was the name of the game; but he'd never lived like that, and he'd never wanted to have to tiptoe around for anyone else, either.
Especially not someone who had a clueless wife or girlfriend at home, thinking her man was at some sports bar watching The Game, or away on business.
Dan shifted in his chair to lean closer to Patrick. "You have to believe that everything you and I talked about in our emails and instant messages, all of that was real, Patrick, I swear. I really felt…there were real feelings involved. Truly. But there was still a part of me that hadn't connected all the pieces, yet.
"I had acknowledged that I found men's bodies attractive, that the idea of having sex with a man turned me on…but it still hadn't really occurred to me that I might be interested in having a relationship with another man. That would be gay, and I didn't think I was gay, then. When we finally agreed to meet, I was mostly expecting to have a good time hanging out, but that there wouldn't be any sexual attraction.
"Then, I met you, and you were just as sweet as you'd seemed online, but you were also sexy as hell. I really wasn't prepared for that, and when you invited me back to your place after we'd had a few drinks, I couldn't bring myself to say no."
Patrick was beginning to understand, but he kind of wished that he didn't. How was he supposed to handle something like this? What did Dan want from him? "Dan, I think I see now what happened…"
"Patrick, I panicked. I didn't know what to do. I like you, and we had such a good time together; I had the best sex I've ever had in my life…I knew that if I kept in touch with you after that night, I wouldn't want to just remain friends. But that would mean that I was gay, and I didn't know how to accept that. Hell, I still don't know what I'm going to do…but I just couldn't get you out of my mind. I tried to go back to my old life and pretend that nothing happened, but it was no good, and I eventually had to face the truth. I can admit, now, that I'm definitely not 100% heterosexual, and that I definitely want to see you. Romantically."
Patrick's stomach dropped. This was not good, at all. "Dan. I really think that you need to talk with your fiancee and maybe figure out some more about who you are, before you get into a relationship with someone."
"Well, I'm going to talk to Kendra, of course. But I don't think I can do this without someone to support me. I don't know exactly how she'll react, but it will probably be very ugly. Not to mention her family- my family. I don't think I'd be able to do it alone. I need you."
Patrick realized that he had his tea cup in a strangle hold. He put it down on the table. "I guess I can maybe support you as a friend, to help you through…I mean, I don't really have much experience with coming out, especially not in such a, umm…delicate situation. I've always just been out with my family and friends, so I don't have much in the way of useful advice, but I can try to help where I can…"
"I understand. You want to hold off on the sex until I've settled things with Kendra, which is totally fair-"
"No, Dan." Patrick felt completely awful, but reminded himself that they wouldn't be in this situation if Dan had just been honest, from the beginning. "We can't have a romantic relationship because I'm with someone. It sounds difficult to believe, but the phone number you gave me- the fake one -it turned out to belong to this guy, Lars, who is a really great guy, and we have a lot in common, and we're together, now. Like I said, you kind of did me a favor; I'm pretty serious about Larson, and I don't want to mess things up with him, so you and I can only be friends."