Frank gets a call on Friday, way out of his working schedule, when he's finally enjoying some alone time on his couch, trying to tune out the voices of all the passengers he drove during the week. The day has been particularly bad, closing the evening with a conspiracy guy, then a screaming woman with her three screaming children. His head hurts so he puts on some music and stares at the wall.
He feels a weird fascination with his walls, everything they keep and hide down endless coats of new colors. When he arrived, they were a sickly yellow. A week later, light blue surrounded him. He now feels at sea without moving from his living room.
His apartment is well into its twentieth year of existence and it shows. There are little dents and hardly concealed spots protruding under the paint, places where the brush didn't quite reach. The owner comes by every fifth of the month; an old, quiet lady. Frank thinks she would understand if he ever had issues to pay. He's grateful he doesn't, makes enough to afford his rent and groceries.
It's a good life. Sarah might tell him, actually tells him, that spending a Friday night alone sitting on his couch while staring at the wall says otherwise. He respectfully disagrees. She shouldn't judge considering she's an antisocial teenager who spends the majority of her free time in front of her phone. At least, since he has to deal with people every day for a living, he has a valid excuse for seeking out every calm moment whenever it's possible.
Frank doesn't have many friends. There are a few guys from his job, whom he's grown close to more by scheduling convenience than actual liking. Three old classmates he meets once a month unless the compromise can be avoided. It's a direct consequence of devoting his youth to Nate, their friendship, and what briefly came after, but Frank doesn't resent it; wouldn't change any of it except maybe Nate leaving like that. Some days, when he's dwelling hard into self-pity, he shoves the specific circumstances that made it so devastating and hates the sole idea of Nate leaving. It's not a healthy thought, so he brushes it off, buries it deep inside him where he can't reach.
He considers ignoring the call, picks up when he sees the name written across the screen. He could never bring himself to erase Gemma's number from his phone. Sometimes, she requires his services and calls him with the pretense of needing a ride to someplace her driver won't be able to get her, a silly excuse just to see him. He's thought about telling her it isn't necessary to lie, that he likes to see her as well, but the idea of fooling him makes her feel so satisfied that he lets it slide.
Gemma's voice sounds different this time, worried. There's no trace of the professionalism she pretends that marks their usual interactions, the barely hidden fondness in her voice when she asks him to take her to a new library or an old friend's house. This time, she takes a while to say what she means to say, carefully enunciating every word.
After nine years of avoidance, he hears Nate's name out loud again along with "coming back", "Monday" and "would you wait for him." Frank wants to point out they have a driver who could perfectly do that, but he knows Gemma will tell him 'he truly wants to see you' or something along the lines because that's what she always suggests in that particular way of implying things without actually saying them of hers. He doesn't want to hear it, not now.
In all the time they've been seeing each other, Gemma has tiptoed around the topic, not quite explicitly, seeming afraid of saying the wrong thing and driving Frank away. Her fear hadn't been unfounded, because even after such a long period, he felt like ending the phonecall and changing his number at the prospect of talking about Nate.
Frank excuses himself and stupidly nods when Gemma asks him to consider it, his voice trembling as he swears he'll think about it.
They didn't end things on a good note, that's an understatement. In a way, they didn't exactly end things, unless learning your best friend and recently turned boyfriend has left to a foreign country out of the blue could be considered some kind of weird closure.
The worst thing about it is that Frank would've understood, really, he always knew Nate's dad had big plans for him. What he couldn't accept was how Nate hid them and planned a whole new life for himself while Frank foolishly thought they had all the time in the world together. The way he didn't give him time to prepare because one day they were watching a bad movie together and the next Nate didn't answer his texts because he was flying to another continent.
Frank hates how much of a soap opera plot it sounds, a period filled with drama in his otherwise uneventful life. Sarah thinks he hasn't gone through the mourning process yet and that he'll always feel sorry for himself unless he does. It scares him, how much a sixteen-year-old seems to know about that sort of thing when a grown man like him feels completely helpless.
Until now, and although she doesn't say a word about it, his mother looks at him with pity. The emotion feels so out of place to the usual demeanor of the woman who raised him that he recoils every time her eyes meet with his.
His father does talk about it, tells him he shouldn't have expected anything else, insists he had seen it coming. The thing is Frank still remembers the way his arms felt around him while he held him as he cried the day he learned about Nate's departure. He's almost sure he heard his dad crying too, his shoulders shaking almost imperceptibly.
He spends an awful weekend, stuck on his couch and desperately trying to forget, throwing away all the progress he's made so far in regards to avoiding thinking about Nate and what they once shared. His therapist would tell him repressing his pain isn't considered progress, but it does help him keep going, so he begs to differ.
When Monday morning arrives, with the promise of a sunny and warm day ahead, the decision has already been made after a slow, sleepless night.
The ride to the airport feels like he's walking right into a trap, all of his own accord. He's been here before, of course, but always stays outside, waiting for the passengers to come to him. People come and go, rushing for a flight that's leaving or laughing together, completely unaware of his inner turmoil. As he enters, he doesn't have much time to look around the wide variety of stores or to lose himself in the crowd because Nate is already there.
He looks bad. Nate had never been a buff guy, but the weight loss seems extreme due to his tall frame; he's all cheekbones and bony elbows as he brings a cigarette to his lips to take a drag. That's a new development. Frank doesn't know if things are different abroad, if the time he's spent away somehow made him forget it's in bad taste to smoke in closed areas or if Nate is simply ignoring the signs that forbid it, placed all around, in plain sight. A few other passengers are looking terribly mad at him, but he doesn't seem to notice at all. Maybe that's just his thing, overlooking people and their obvious, unmistakable feelings that are close to him.
Nate doesn't see him at first because his attention is directed at his phone, holding it to his ear while wildly gesticulating with the hand that grabs the cigarette. He looks miserable, and while Frank imagines it's a normal thing after traveling for that many hours, it feels like there's something else, something to do with that call he's doing. Frank wonders if he's talking to Gemma, telling her he's chickening out and doesn't actually want to see him; if he's asking her to let him know, as he did when he first left.
Frank doesn't know what could have possibly changed, for Nate to want to see him all of a sudden because it isn't the first time Nate has come visiting in the past nine years. He's seen some pictures, unable to stop himself from scrolling through his social media on some nights when the longing became unbearable. His almost yearly posts boil down to two categories: Nate with his parents and Nate in some work shit. In all of them, he's wearing some sort of formal clothing as if he doesn't quite separate his work life from his daily life and he looks as uncomfortable in both environments.
Frank is wondering if he should turn around and leave while he's unnoticed when Nate meets his eyes. His whole body stiffens as he approaches him.
As he gets closer, Nate doesn't appear to know how to proceed so he settles for a nod, like he knew Frank would literally flee if he dared to touch him. He could be right. Frank is feeling so overwhelmed by his presence that he doesn't quite know what his reaction would be; but because he isn't interested in finding out and embarrassing himself in front of a shitload of people, he takes a few steps back.
Up close, Nate looks even worse, his face pale and his dark circles painfully pronounced. If Frank didn't feel so conflicted about him leaving and completely disregarding his feelings, then pretending Frank didn't exist for years, he would allow himself to worry.
"Norway treated you well, I see," Frank says instead. Nate lets out a humorless laugh, a bitter sound that's nothing like him, doesn't say anything else.
Frank tells himself he shouldn't compare the boy he knew in his youth to the man who's standing in front of him now, since so much has passed that he might as well be a completely different person. They may have spent so much time together once, but every little detail Frank had stored in his head about Nate was no longer a basis for who he currently is.
Nate doesn't speak but he stares. A little guarded while they're in the airport, openly once they're inside the car. He doesn't accept Frank's help, so he carries his suitcase and then puts it in the back seat where he also positions himself.
Frank doesn't have to check the rear-view mirror to know he's looking at him because he feels it. His neck warms due to the intensity of Nate's scrutiny, the color uncontrollably spreading over his whole body.
They have a long due conversation and Frank knows he should seize this very moment because with Nate he isn't sure what to expect next, he probably won't see him until another shit-on of years has passed. The adult thing would be to talk about what happened, to acknowledge the pain Nate caused him, to ask him what made him suddenly break his silent treatment. He has never felt more like a child, though, lost and unsure of what to do.
It's not like he'd rehearsed what he would say in case they met each other again. To cope with it, he took for granted that they would never be in this kind of situation. To keep going he kept attempting to shove all the memories and hurt he felt basically most of the time.
"You cut your hair," Nate points out. The stupidity of the statement tells Frank he's as lost for words as himself.
"Well, yeah. I wasn't planning on going around looking like goddamn Tarzan my whole life," he answers, enjoying the way Nate winces at his swearing.
"You looked good. And– I think you look well now, too," Nate admits quietly, with none of the sarcasm that filled Frank's comment before.
"Of course you fucking do, Nate," Frank sneers.
*Putting on clown make up*
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