18. The Nerves to Go and Say
"Your boyfriend is a bastard."
"What?" MJ asks. He's in the kitchen nook on Tuesday morning, trying to make a crêpe breakfast for everyone (meaning himself and Ellie and Libby). It's semi-authentic—which is to say not at all. He used a Julia Childs recipe for the batter, and he's using a real crêpe pan, but he really has no idea what he's doing. It's particularly difficult to use a spatula while attempting to have a rather vexing phone conversation with his rather vexing sister. "Jess, you can't just call me and question the legitimacy of my boyfriend before I even say anything."
"Yes, I can," Jess replies coolly. "And I did."
"Well, I thought you had better manners than that."
"Since when do you care for manners?"
"Since you called me and so self-righteously informed me that my boyfriend is a bastard."
Jess laughs. "Fair enough."
There are a few seconds of silence—until MJ curses under his breath because he managed to tear the current crêpe with the spatula. Then he says, "So why did you feel the need to call me on this random morning with an observation you presumably could have shared three weeks ago?"
"Oh, dear brother." She says it with the same sort of pitying condolence she might use toward small children or the mentally handicapped. "This isn't a three-week-old observation."
MJ stares blankly at the crêpe burning in the pan. He should really take it out, but he isn't really thinking because everything Jess has just said is wrong.
"Have you put it together yet?"
"Just tell me what the hell you're playing at, Jess."
"It's nothing sinister, Mikey. I'm merely alluding to the fact that those are new observations, from my conversations with your boyfriend earlier this morning."
MJ finally removes the crêpe from the pan. He turns off the burner, knowing better than to cook given the direction this conversation is heading. "And how exactly would you have talked to Travis this morning? And for what conceivable reason?"
"Why, he came to visit Leo, of course." A beat passes, and MJ doesn't have to see Jess to know she's wearing her faux innocent smirk. "Oh, did he not tell you?"
"Tell me what happened, Jess. Tell me now."
"All right, all right, if you're really so impatient. He showed up at Harvard around three. He called Leo, who invited Travis to his apartment. Then we all had some tea."
"Put Travis on the phone," MJ demands. "Now."
"Sorry, I'm afraid I can't do that. He isn't here."
"Then where is he?"
"I don't know," Jess replies, sounding unnecessarily (and uncharacteristically) gleeful at her own lack of knowledge. "And neither does Leo."
"Then why the fuck did you call me?"
"I thought you might care.*"
MJ is staring at his phone. Again. Still. (There isn't any difference.) He hasn't taken his eyes off it, not since he got off the phone with Jess, nearly an hour ago. It's sitting on the kitchen table, just a few inches away from his plate, which remains smeared with traces of Nutella and powdered sugar. He's still sitting at the kitchen table, drumming his fingers uncomfortably against the surface because he can't stop thinking that he should call Travis. Despite the fact that they haven't talked in very nearly three weeks, it suddenly seems monumentally important. More important than it has ever been before. More important than anything. But he's stuck in this limbo, swaying back and forth through this tortuous indecision, paralyzed in the moment between the motion and the act.
"MJ," Libby drawls slowly—or as slowly as possible as it is to drawl two letters.
"What?" he snaps, looking up rapidly.
Libby and Ellie have relocated from the table to the fateful green couch, where they're sitting side by side, thighs touching. Libby rolls her eyes and explains, "If you're going to do it, do it already. Your indecision is painful to watch."
And then Ellie elbows her in the ribs. "What Libby is trying to say," she begins with a much more conciliatory tone, "is—"
"That this isn't helping anyone?"
Ellie lets out an over exaggerated sigh and raises her hands in surrender. "Fine. I give up. Just call him or text him or whatever it is, and be done with it."
MJ bites his lower lip anxiously, looking back and forth between the two of them and his phone. He doesn't know anymore.
"Fine," Ellie says, leaning forward in her seat a little as a psychologist might. "Let's try to be rational about this. Why haven't you called him, despite the fact that you clearly want to and seem to believe that you should?"
MJ shakes his head. It seems so futile to try to explain this. He can barely understand it himself. "It's been three weeks."
"So?" Ellie counters tersely.
"It's been three weeks," MJ repeats, breathing shakily even if he doesn't know why.
"And last night he went to see Leo. He'd rather talk to his ex than me."
Libby and Ellie exchange a look. Libby asks, "Permission to be brutally honest?"
"Granted," Ellie says with a sigh.
Libby then turns to MJ and informs him, "I know it's difficult, but please, for all of our sakes, get over yourself already and call him."
As MJ reluctantly reaches for his phone, he hears Libby mutter under her breath:
"God, they're both such self-absorbed idiots. They're perfect for each other."
MJ grabs his coat, his beret, and his sketchbook. He can't stand the stifling, claustrophobic atmosphere of the dorm anymore. Even if it's the middle of December, he needs fresh air. He needs to breathe. He needs to know that there's a chance—even if it's small and weak—that everything can be made right again.
He exits the building and merges onto Locust Walk. He starts walking east along the brick path with no destination in mind. It's not terribly crowded, given that it's cold and morning and reading days. The sky is clear above him, the sun shining not quite overhead. He has his headphones on, and he's listening to Young the Giant. He still hasn't called Travis. He doesn't know what to say. He needs to think. And nothing's working.
He keeps trying to remind himself how patently absurd this is. He's the great MJ Davis. He doesn't freak out. He doesn't agonize. He doesn't break down. It isn't in his DNA.
Except. It is. Not only is it in his DNA, but history has shown that he has a propensity to these forms of weakness when Travis Cooper is concerned. When it comes to Travis, he doesn't waste so much energy trying to be perfect—perfectly happy, perfectly put together—the perfect picture of what the perfect 19-year-old ivy-league art student should be. When it comes to Travis, he doesn't have to try because it's so easy to feel legitimately, genuinely, disgustingly happy. When it comes to Travis, he isn't the great MJ Davis. He's just MJ Davis, and that's so much better than great or perfect.
He likes who he is around Travis. He likes who Travis is around him. He likes the people they become when they're together.
And that, he thinks as he crosses the 38th Street bridge, is worth hanging onto. It's worth fighting for. He hates to think how close he has been—how close he was—to giving it all up. And for what? Something that happened between Travis and someone else four years ago. He has been such an unequivocal fool.
MJ keeps walking, shivering a shiver that has absolutely nothing to do with the cold. He's anxious, but it isn't such a terrible thing, not anymore. He understands now, what he has to do. He pulls his phone out of his pocket, and starts to text as he walks. It's a bit of a clumsy endeavor, so he keeps it short. Travis?
And he holds his breath, waiting. He finds himself walking faster unconsciously, and he's suddenly down past the compass. (He still doesn't know where he's going.) He isn't sure how much of this he can take.
It isn't until he reaches College Green that his phone buzzes in response. MJ?
MJ stops in place, and he's pretty sure time and space have stopped with him. The campus, the world, the universe itself is frozen in place, and suddenly everything seems possible. It's all he can do to breathe, let alone type a response. There are a thousand million things he wants to say, and he doesn't know where to start. He begins typing at least ten different responses, deleting them all to start again. It's been twenty days—almost three damn weeks—and he needs to get this right. (It's monumentally important.) And as much as he wants to begin with apologies and declarations and promises (and yet another round of apologies for broken promises) he recognizes the need to start slowly. So he settles for, Where are you?
MJ doesn't breathe. He can't. Everything is stopped. All he can do is wait.
I'm on a train.
A train? He echoes, without even planning to type the question. He saw this coming, more or less, from Jess's comment, but that doesn't make this any less surprising.
From Boston. I went to see Leo.
The space between texts is longer now, as Travis thinks through what to say. It's complicated. I can't explain it easily. Look, do you have time to talk?
I can call you right now.
There's another gap, and MJ struggles to hold onto the hope gnawing at his insides. Then:
MJ breathes again, rapidly, hardly able to contain his excitement. He has relocated a few paces over by the library. He's sitting on a bench just behind the Button, trying to keep his racing heartbeat in check. Everything is quiet all around him. (Everything is possible again.) He has Travis's contact info open on his phone; all he has to do is call the number. He knows Travis is waiting, and he's trying to be brave, but he can't quite quell that horrible apprehension in the pit of his stomach.
It's time to end this misery once and for all.
So he dials the numbers and waits half a heartbeat before Travis picks up. "Travis?"
"Hey," Travis says in a quiet, shaky voice that betrays his own anxieties.
"God, Travis," MJ's smiling and laughing (and maybe even crying a little) all at once, "it's so good to hear your voice."
"I thought—" and then he stops himself. "I didn't know what to think."
"Neither did I."
They're both silent for a moment because they still don't know what to think.
Finally, MJ gets up his courage and asks the question that has been nagging at him ever since Jess called. "Travis," he tries, "why did you go to Boston?"
Travis stays quiet for another handful of seconds, gathering his thoughts. "I needed to talk to Leo. I needed to know—how it felt—because of the art show."
"The art show?" MJ echoes. "You saw it?"
"Not exactly," Travis concedes after a moment. "I heard about it from my mother."
"Oh, shit." MJ understands, quite suddenly, the fatal flaw in his original plan. "Shit, Travis. I didn't even think." So he tries to think now. "I'll call her. I'll tell her that I—I don't know—whatever you want me to tell her, I will. She doesn't have to know—"
"No, it's fine," Travis cuts in. "Well, it wasn't fine at the time, but it is now. The whole incident was just a poorly timed reminder that these illusions we live don't help anyone." He laughs. "I've been hiding myself for so long that I don't even know what I'm hiding from anymore. I realized that there's no reason to hide. And I don't want to, not when it's finally starting to feel like there's nothing to be a afraid of." He pauses for a moment. "So I told her."
"You told her?" MJ echoes. His thoughts are fuzzy. It's difficult to focus.
"She asked me if you're gay, and I told her that I am."
"Travis, you didn't have to—"
"Yes, I did. It's been a long time in coming, and it was the right thing to do."
"I don't know what to say." MJ waits a moment, shivering once more in the cold December air. "But I do want to apologize."
"Everything," MJ whispers. It's all he can do to get the words out. "I'm sorry about the art showcase—not asking your permission, not thinking—it was unethical and inconsiderate. And I'm sorry I didn't call you or stalk you during the last three weeks. I'm sorry I let you leave that park without me. And I'm sorry Libby had to bring you your suitcase because I was too busy being such a massive ass-hat."
Travis laughs, involuntarily, at the diction before immediately sobering up. "You don't have to apologize for any of that. If we'd been talking the art showcase wouldn't have been such a surprise. And as for not talking—that was as much my fault as yours. And Baltimore—" his voice breaks. "That was entirely my fault. I shouldn't have run away, like I always do. What can I say? Force of habit. I'm the one who should be apologizing."
"But I don't blame you," MJ says softly. "You'd been confronted by something traumatic. You weren't thinking clearly."
"That's no excuse for idiocy."
Travis laughs again, bright and clear. "God, why do we sound like two lovesick saps?"
"Because we are two lovesick saps?" MJ barely dares to breathe. His heart is pounding. He knows he can't escape the confession he's due to make. And he doesn't want to, not anymore. "At least, I am."
"So am I." More laughter, both brighter and clearer. "God, is this what it's like?"
MJ frowns in spite of himself. "Is this what what's like?"
"The love that dare not speak its name,**" Travis replies, the laughter shining in his voice, "because it isn't supposed to exist. Silly high school romances. Fairytale loves. The days that make you want to talk about soul mates and forever and never apart. Is it real? Is this what it's like?"
"Yeah," MJ nods, smiling softly, "I think it is."
Travis: My train just got in. Where are you?
MJ: Where we first met.
Travis: By the Button?
Travis: Don't move.
MJ stands by the Button, looking back and forth, waiting anxiously. He has been waiting for twenty days, and each minute may as well be an eternity. He stands there, hands in his pockets, waiting, waiting, waiting.
Then he sees Travis coming up Locust Walk.
(The campus is empty, the air is freezing, and the sun is shining—but none of it matters.)
Travis freezes in place at the sight of him, and then they're both stuck, thirty feet apart, smiling at each other like idiots. Time stops, once and for all.
This time, no one runs away.
*If you read this as a bit of a Jess-redemption, that is what I meant it as. Although Jess is a total bitch, she is rather clever and does legitimately care about MJ's wellbeing. She just can't show it because she has tried so hard to cultivate the bitch aura.
**Phrase borrowed from Lord Alfred Douglas. Context purposely abused. I literally spent 20 minutes discussing this with a friend who disagreed with my choice of this allusion. I like it, though. In general, I've tried to use this novel to establish a dialectic conversation with other works of gay culture (ie, Weekend). I would have liked to do more on this level, but I do realize that FictionPress isn't really the platform for it. (I don't think most readers of slash really want to wade through heavy queer theory discussions. Though please correct me if I'm wrong, because I'd love to do more with this in the future.)
I think this is the first time I've ever written a romance where no character ever says "I love you" to another character. Which seems funny to me. Although they talk a lot about love, they're never direct. Which was not entirely intentional on my part. (Though I am hyper-aware of the overuse of the phrase.)
So, we've reached the end. God, I don't even know what to say. I guess, just this:
I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has stuck with me this long. (And it's been a long time, I know, riddled with long bouts of radio silence on my part.) I really don't think I would have finished this story if I hadn't known that people were reading and (hopefully) enjoying it. And… I'm really glad I finished it, as I think it's provided a bit of personal closure for me. I think I've mentioned before that some aspects of Travis's relationship with Leo were based (very, very loosely) on my own personal experiences. And writing this story has been really therapeutic for me. So thank you. Thank you all. For reviewing and favoriting and alerting and reading.
And, now that I feel like a completely hopeless and overly sentimental sap, I'm off to go start something new. I'll be back with said new project within a few days, I'm sure. ;)