"Are you sure you want to come to the party tonight?"
"Yeah, of course," Sabrina, Max's girlfriend, laughs.
"It's just a boring office party, the big boss will even be there. So it's no fun. You'll have more fun staying at home."
"Max, I'm coming with you."
"Are you sure?" Max asks, and Sabrina flashes a big smile as she comes up to him and wraps her arms around his neck.
"Definitely. Plus, it's a good excuse for me to show off my new dress," she says, and she gives him a kiss. "So what time do we have to leave?"
"Ah...," Sabrina says, and she looks over to the clock, her arms still wrapped around Max's neck, while he has his hands on her hips. "Well, I'd say that gives up plenty of time," she smirks.
"Well, ladies and gentlemen," the owner of the company announces, after a few hours, "I'd better be off. You enjoy yourselves some more. Not too much though," he laughs, as he starts getting his things. "Nancy, will you lock up?"
"Of course, mr. Jennings."
"Thank you sweetheart," he says, and he takes his wife's hand, who waves them all goodbye. "Goodbye," he says, and they leave. And as soon as they leave the door, the mood in the room changes. Before, they had all been sort of standing up straight, talking about the weather, about work. But now they all seem to relax.
"Now, let's get this party started," Mario laughs, and he leaves to go to the kitchen. When he re-enters, he has a few bottles of wine in his hands, and he starts filling up their glasses with it.
"So you're new here?" Sabrina asks a young, handsome man, whom she hasn't seen before.
"Not that new. I've worked here for about nine months now. But I wasn't at the last office party, so… But I'm Daniel," the young man says, and he sticks out his hand.
"Sabrina, I'm Max's girlfriend," she says, and she shakes his hand.
"Wow, you're Sabrina. Max told me you were stunning, but I had no idea you'd be this beautiful."
"Thank you," Sabrina laughs. "Wait, are you his new partner?"
"I guess I am, yes. He's great to work with, he's very charming, which is a great thing in this business."
"Yes, and a smooth talker when it comes to selling it," Sabrina laughs. "And what about you? Are you more the creative type? I mean, George, his last partner, he came up with everything, and Max sold it to the clients, so…"
"Yes, I'm the creative side of it. I can work out the client's ideas, and he makes sure they believe in me."
"So the perfect team?"
"I guess, yes," Daniel laughs. Sabrina looks over to Max again, who is talking to Nancy, who is Sabrina's best friend, and she can't help but notice that he keeps looking over to them. So she flashes him a smile, which he returns.
"So are you here all by yourself? No girlfriend?"
"No, no girlfriend," Daniel answers. "No boyfriend either," he then adds, and a blush appears on Sabrina's face.
"Sorry, I shouldn't have assumed you were straight."
"That's alright," Daniel says, flashing a reassuring smile.
"You're queer?" Kyle, one of their co-workers, asks, having overheard their conversation.
"Yes," Daniel answers, and a look of disgust forms on Kyle's face.
"And you didn't tell us?"
"Does it matter?" Daniel asks, now noticing that the room has gone awfully quiet, which can only mean one thing; they are all focusing on their conversation.
"Of course it matters."
"Why? Does it affect your life in any way, shape or form? Does it affect my work?"
"Hey Max, did you know about this? That you've been sharing a room with a queer?" Kyle asks, and they all look at Max, who slightly nods.
"What does it matter?" Sabrina then asks. "You're the one making a big deal out of it."
"Who cares if he fancies men or women? It's his fucking business. Leave the guy alone," Nancy says, and she shrugs her shoulder. "Geez, what is it with men being all macho when it comes to gay men? Ooh, he likes men, then he must fancy me? Get over yourself, mate," she adds, and she starts another conversation with Max, while Sabrina continues talking to Daniel about work.
"I'm going to miss you."
"I'm going to miss you too, but I'll be back in three days," Max says, and he gives Sabrina a long kiss.
"I know, it's only a short trip this time, but still. I always miss you."
"I love you," Sabrina says, and Max flashes a small smile.
"Love you too," he says, and he gives her another kiss, before grabbing his bag, and leaving their apartment.
"Wow, this is nice," Daniel says, as he and Max enter their hotel room. They have to travel to meet clients abroad quite often, but sometimes they end up staying in hotel rooms that are horrible. But this room is actually kind of alright for they money they paid for it. Well, the money work paid for it.
"Yes, it is," Max laughs, as he puts his bag on the floor. "No bars in front of the windows, no dirty stains on the floor, no burnt walls…"
"No separate beds…"
"No… you're right…," Max says, and he looks over to his co-worker. But then a smirk appears on Daniel's face, and he comes up to him and starts kissing him. He pushes him against the wall, pinning his hands up against it. Max pulls himself free, and puts his hands on the sides of Daniel's face. They stop kissing, and they just look at each other for a moment. It is so clear how they are feeling, and no words are needed.
"Fuck, I've missed you," Daniel says, a little while later. They are in bed, Max with his head rested against Daniel's sweaty chest, Daniel with his arm around him.
"We should get more clients abroad."
"We really should," Daniel laughs, and he leans his head towards Max's face to kiss him on the forehead. "Max?" he then asks, and Max looks up at him.
"Nothing, never mind," Daniel says, but they both know what he had wanted to say. And even though it still terrifies Max, and he can't admit it to himself yet, he feels the same way about Daniel.
"How was the trip?" Sabrina asks, when Max comes home a few days later.
"It was fine."
"Did anything fun?"
"It was a business trip," Max snaps, and Sabrina looks at him with a slightly shocked look on her face.
"Okay, sorry for asking."
"Whatever, I'm going to take a shower."
"So what did you tell Sabrina you're here for?" Daniel asks, when Max and him are on the sofa in his apartment.
"Don't mention her."
"Sorry," Daniel says, and he brushes his hand through Max's hair. "I'm glad you're here though."
"Me too," Max says, looking at Daniel's face. Daniel looks back at him, down at his lips, slowly up to his eyes.
"You are so beautiful."
"I mean it, Max."
"No, I…," Max says, and all of the sudden he feels really exposed. Daniel has seen him naked so many times over the last nine months, but right now, here, he feels exposed, and really, truly naked, and it scares him.
"You are. You are so fucking beautiful to me," Daniel says, and he puts his hand on the side of Max's face. Max leans into it, and Daniel starts kissing him. Within a matter of a heartbeat, Max feels safe again.
"Where's Daniel?" Max asks. It's almost ten, and Daniel should have been at the office at nine.
"Didn't he tell you?" Nancy asks. "He handed in his resignation yesterday. He said he wasn't coming back anymore."
"What? Why?" Max asks, his heart now racing.
"I don't know. I figured you knew, with him being your partner and everything."
"Whatever, let the fag leave. We won't miss having someone like him on the team," Kyle says, and Max gets up, grabs his things, and storms out of the office. His skin is burning, his heart is racing, and it feels as though there is something about to burst inside of his head. He can't even think straight anymore. He had seen Daniel yesterday, they had discussed a new idea for work. They were going to work on it this morning. Why didn't he tell him he was leaving?
"Daniel?" Max asks, while knocking on the door of Daniel's apartment. He's been here for close to half an hour, and even though by now he knows that he isn't here, he just can't leave.
"Honey, the boy who lived here is gone," an older lady says, as she comes up to him. "He packed up his things last night and left."
"Did he tell you where he was going?"
"No, I'm sorry I can't help you there. He just said that he had to leave."
"Fuck you, Max. You've been in a shitty mood for weeks now. What is going on?" Sabrina asks, but Max just leaves the room. They have been fighting day and night, and Max can't stand being around her anymore, even though he knows they are fighting because of him. He changed.
"Just tell me, Max. Then we can work on it."
"I've been seeing someone else," Max spits out, and Sabrina feels as though she's been kicked in the stomach. "It ended a few weeks ago, but…"
"Who is it? Is it someone from work?" Sabrina asks. "It's not Nancy, is it?"
"It's not Nancy."
"Just tell me, I think I deserve the truth, don't you?"
"Daniel," Max then says, and after having kept that to himself for such a long time, it feels as though a weight has been lifted from his shoulders.
"I've been seeing Daniel, ever since he came to work with us, up until he left," Max admits, and Sabrina closes her eyes, trying to take it all in.
"Is that why you've been in such a mood lately? Because he's gone?" she eventually asks, but Max just shrugs. They are still standing in the hallway, in their pyjamas, after having just had a row about breakfast.
"Are you gay?" Sabrina asks, but Max shakes his head. "Then why? I thought we were good together. I could understand it if you're gay and confused. But if you're not gay, then we could've worked out, couldn't we?"
"We still can."
"No, we can't," Sabrina says, tears in her eyes. "What was your plan anyway? You were going to keep seeing him behind my back? Or were you going to leave me for him?"
"I never thought about it. We never even spoke about the future. It was just… I don't know."
"How did it even happen? Didn't I give you enough?"
"You did, I just…," Max tries, but he can't find the words. "I loved you so much, but when I met Daniel, there was just something. And I tried to ignore it, but we both felt it, and it just happened."
"On our first business trip. I promise you that I never intentionally went out to have an affair. I never did this to hurt you. It just happened."
"Stop saying that!" Sabrina snaps. "It didn't just fucking happen, Max! You don't just end up having sex with him. You don't just end up sticking it into him. Or did he stick it into you? Is that why you liked him?"
"Don't," Max says, and Sabrina immediately covers her mouth, feeling horrible about what she has just said. "I swear to you that I didn't to this to hurt you. I didn't think about it. I just acted upon my feeling, upon attraction. But I really am sorry for hurting you."
"But you're not sorry for sleeping with him."
"It wasn't a question."
"I know," Max says, and Sabrina takes a deep breath.
"Do you love him?" she then asks.
"It doesn't matter, because he's gone. And I haven't seen or heard from him since he left. We can work this out, without him around."
"Max, you're in love with Daniel. I deserve better than someone like you. I deserve someone who loves me, and who will be there for me. Who will choose me, no matter what. I don't deserve this," Sabrina says, tears now falling from her eyes.
"You're right. You do," Max says, and he goes up to her, and gives her a big hug. But she ends up pushing him away. And without saying another word, she walks away.
"So, Max, where is Sabrina? Did she have to work?" Caroline, Max's sister, asks. They're having family dinner at their parents' house. Caroline is there with her husband, Roger. Their parents had invited them, no reason. It is simply what their mother likes to do every once in a while.
"Ehm, no. Sabrina and I have split up," Max announces, and they all stop eating, and all eyes are now focused on him.
"Oh, but I thought you two were… I don't know, I always imagined you getting married next," Caroline admits.
"What happened?" their father asks, and Max takes a deep breath. He could lie, but what is the point.
"I had an affair with someone from work. I told her about it, and obviously she broke up with me."
"Oh, Max…" Caroline says, in a disappointed voice.
"Who is she? It's not that god-awful Nancy girl, is it? She is so tacky," their mother says, rolling her eyes.
"No, it wasn't Nancy."
"Or that red-haired girl, you know, the one with the lips? What's her name? Kelly? Kerry?" their mother continues, and Max sighs.
"It was with my work-partner Daniel, actually," he says, and it is as if the world has stopped. Not a sound can be heard, apart from the clock ticking, and no one is moving.
"A man?" their mother eventually asks.
"Yes, mum. I had an affair with a man."
"No," she says, and she lets out a small chuckle. "You're not gay, Max."
"It was one of those experiments. Most boys do it when they are teenagers, but you're just a little late," their mother says, and she looks up at Roger, as if to explain it. But he is just awkwardly looking down at his plate of food.
"It wasn't an experiment, mum," Max says, feeling both insulted and hurt. "I had an affair with him because I had feelings for him."
"So you're gay now?" his mother asks, and he sighs.
"He just said he wasn't," his father says.
"Well, he better not be. He should just forget about this and get back with Sabrina. She is such a lovely girl. So pretty."
"She is beautiful, I know that. And I loved her very much," Max says. "But I can't help it if I have feelings for someone else."
"So what, you're now going to be with this Daniel?" his mother asks, and he shakes his head. "Well, I'm glad. It won't work out. You're better off without something like that."
"It only ended because he left. It didn't end because I wanted it to. If it were up to me, we'd be together," Max admits, finally saying out loud how he actually has been feeling for almost a year now.
"Are you in love with him?" Caroline asks, and Max looks at her and sees that she isn't like their mother. She isn't judging him.
"No, no you're not. My son isn't gay," their mother then spits out, and she gets up.
"I am not gay."
"Then what are you?"
"I don't know. Does it matter? I just know how I feel."
"This is sick," their mother says, and she storms out of the room.
"I think it's probably for the best if you leave, son."
"I am not judging you. It is your business. But your mother is very upset right now."
"Okay, sure," Max says, and he gets up, grabs his things and leaves without saying another word. But just before he reaches the car, he hears someone coming up to him. He turns around and sees his sister.
"What happened? Why did he leave?"
"I don't know. One day he was just gone."
"I really hope he'll come back one day. Because if you love him, and he loves you back, then you should be together. No matter what mum thinks," Caroline says, and Max can't help but smile. "I love you."
"I love you too."
"What the hell is this?" Max asks, after he has turned on his work computer, and has seen the background.
"Isn't that what you're into now?" Kyle laughs, but Max can't laugh about it. There are two naked man on the background of his work computer.
"Or do you prefer it in real life? Should your new partner be worried?"
"Fuck you. Fuck all of you," Max snaps, and he grabs his things, and storms out of the building. Nancy follows him and grabs his arm.
"They're just teasing you, stop being so snappy with them."
"Snappy? I am trying to do my job here and be professional. What I do in my private life is none of their business."
"It was just a joke."
"It isn't funny. And how do they even know about Daniel and me?" he asks, but then he sees the guilty look on Nancy's face, and he shakes his head. "Why would you tell them? How is it any of their business?"
"You have no idea how upset Sabrina was. I was the one who comforted her. And then you kicked her out."
"I didn't kick her out, Nancy. I was going to move out, but then she could be transferred to London, so she wanted to leave instead. I would never have made her leave."
"Oh… I thought she only took the job because you kicked her out."
"I didn't," Max says. "And I never intended to hurt her. I know I fucked up with her, but I do not deserve this."
"They'll eventually forget about it."
"No, they won't," Max sighs. "I'll call Mr. Jennings later today to tell him I quit. Goodbye Nancy."
Max is at work, and he is focussed on trying to work out a new idea. But then he hears a familiar voice, and it is as if his brain has frozen. His skin is now burning, and his heart is racing.
He turns his chair around, and sees Daniel standing there, a few years older, but even more handsome than he had already been.
"What are you doing here?"
"I had a meeting with Jason. But then I thought I recognised you… Wow… Do you now work here?" Daniel asks.
"I do. It's a long story."
"Ah… do you maybe want to have lunch, so we can catch up?"
"I have a lunch meeting, so…," Max says, and Daniel nods, looking disappointed.
"But maybe we can grab a bite to eat, later?" Max quickly suggests, and right away a smile appears on Daniel's face.
"I'd like that. Do you want me to come and pick you up after work?"
"So, how are you?" Daniel asks, as they sit down in the booth of a café. They had been silent on their way here, mostly because neither of them knew where to begin.
"I'm alright. How about you?"
"The same… How is Sabrina?"
"I'm not sure. The last I heard, she is engaged, and pregnant," Max says, and Daniel raises an eyebrow.
"You're not together anymore?"
"No, a few weeks after you left, I told her about us. She wasn't too pleased," Max says, while looking down at the menu in his hands. He is trying to act cool, but his heart is beating out of his chest. He didn't think he'd ever see Daniel again.
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Yes. I know how much you loved her," Daniel says, and Max sighs and looks up at him.
"I don't want to be rude, but…"
"Why did I leave?"
"Because I didn't want to get in between you and Sabrina. And I could feel, or at least I thought I could feel, that you were starting to have real feelings for me. And I didn't want it to cause any problems. I didn't want you to feel like you had to choose. So I thought that if I'd leave, you could go back to being happy with Sabrina," Daniel explains, and Max does understand, but still he is hurt.
"And you didn't ever think to ask me how I felt? Or what I wanted?"
"I guess I tried to protect you, and maybe I messed up, but at the time I did what I thought was right."
"But…," Max begins, but then someone comes up to them to take their order. Once she has left, Max continues. "Didn't you want to stay?"
"Of course I did. Max, my feelings for you were so strong, they were like nothing I had ever felt for anyone before. But I just didn't want you to get hurt."
"And you didn't think that leaving without saying goodbye would hurt me?" Max asks, and Daniel nods. "Because it really fucking did."
"I know. And I'm sorry. I messed up," Daniel says, and a long silence follows.
"I really missed you," Max eventually says, and Daniel flashes a small smile.
"I really missed you too."
"So why did you leave your job?" Daniel asks, a few hours later, when they are walking along the water, towards Max's apartment.
"I was pretty much bullied away. Nancy told the guys about you and me, and well, you know what they are like. I didn't feel like taking it, so I quit. I needed a fresh start."
"I'm so sorry."
"I never meant to cause so much trouble," Daniel says, and Max can't help but smile.
"What, when you snogged me for the first time? Do you remember that?"
"I can't believe it's been almost five years," Max says, a small smile on his face. "I had never been attracted to a man before, but when you came into the office…"
"You wanted to jump me?" Daniel laughs.
"No, nothing like that. I just… It was just a feeling, you know?" Max asks, and Daniel nods.
"May I ask you something?"
"How do you see yourself?"
"What do you mean?" Max asks.
"Do you see yourself as gay? Or are you bi? Or…?"
"I don't know," Max answers, and he sighs. "I've only ever been with girls. And then I fancied you. And since then I haven't fancied anyone. I just don't know."
"It doesn't matter. I was just curious," Daniel says. "So there is no mrs. or mr. Max right now?"
"Definitely not," Max laughs. "And is there a mr. Daniel?"
"Are you scared to see them again?" Daniel asks, while Max is putting on his shoes.
"A little bit. I mean, we didn't part ways in the nicest way possible. But mr. Jennings called me personally to invite me, so…"
"So then we'll have to go."
"But we don't have to leave just yet, do we?" Daniel asks, looking at the clock, a cheeky smirk on his face.
"I've just gotten dressed."
"I know," Daniel laughs, and he grabs Max's hand and starts pulling him into the bedroom. They start kissing, and within seconds, their clothes are on the floor. It is messy, and quick, and within a matter of minutes, they are on the bed, both sweating and panting. Max moves to rest his head on Daniel's chest, and Daniel puts his arm around him, pulling him closer.
"Yes?" he asks, looking down at Max.
"I love you." Those words had been floating in the air for such a long time, even years ago. But they had never actually been spoken. But now that they have, it is as if a spell has been broken. They have been freed from something.
"I love you too."
"Ah, Max!" Mr. Jennings says, sticking out his hand. "And Daniel, what a surprise to see you here as well."
"Happy birthday mr. Jennings," Max says, as he shakes his hand. "And also my belated condolences," he adds. Mr. Jennings' wife had passed away a few months ago, after being ill for years.
"Thank you, son. But she is in a better place now. And Daniel, what brings you here? I thought you had left?" Mr. Jennings asks, as he shakes his hand.
"Daniel is my partner," Max says, and Daniel can't help but smile at how open Max is about them now. It means the world to him.
"Oh, what company do you work at?"
"No, I'm his life partner," Daniel says, and Mr. Jennings can't help but laugh.
"Oh, I am sorry, boys. I have been in the business for so long, that when I hear the word partner, I immediately think about work. Well, congratulations."
"Thank you, sir."
"The old team is over there, by the way," the old man says, "And thank you for coming," he adds, and he leaves to greet new guests. Daniel flashes Max a smile, which Max immediately returns.
"Hi," they hear, and they turn around. Sabrina is standing there, very pregnant, very beautiful, and she flashes a smile.
"Hi," Max says, and to show that there are no hard feelings, Sabrina immediately gives him a big hug.
"I ehm…," Daniel begins, but Sabrina interrupts him.
"What happened, it's all in the past. I have nothing against you. We're all good."
"I am sorry."
"It's fine," Sabrina says. "So have you two been together ever since I left?"
"No, we've only been together for a few months," Max says. "We ran into each other at work, and…well…"
"You were still in love," Sabrina says, and Max nods. "I'm glad. You look happy, both of you."
"So do you. How far along are you?" Max asks, and Sabrina puts her hand on her belly.
"Only two more weeks to go, hopefully. And I'm engaged," she says, and she sticks out her hand. "To Gregg. But he had to work tonight, so…"
"Congratulations," Daniel says, flashing a smile.
"I'm really happy for you," Max says, and Sabrina grabs his hand.
"I know that we said some things we didn't mean, but I always wanted you to be happy. And I am so glad that you are. And Daniel, if you hurt him, I will find you," she says, and both men can't help but laugh.
"I love you," Max says, and he wraps his arms around his ex.
"I love you too."
"So, why was Sabrina at the party?" Daniel asks, when they are getting ready for bed that night.
"As if," he laughs. "Just curious."
"She used to work at the office, it's where we met. But then she got a better job, and she left."
"Do you ever wish you were still with her? That you had never told her about us?" Daniel asks, and Max looks at him from the other side of the room.
"Never. I love her, but as a friend, as someone special who has a piece of my heart. But not as someone I'm in love with. I'm in love with you," he says, and he goes up to Daniel. "And I have been in love with you for years."
"I've been in love with you for years as well," Daniel says, a shy smile on his face.
"You better," Max laughs, and he gives him a kiss, while putting his arms around his neck. "So… do you remember that night in Paris, where we had to go to meet that guy from Japan?"
"Of course," Daniel laughs, pulling Max closer.
"How about we try and repeat that?"
"I thought you'd never ask."