"Rejoice, dammit!" — I could hear my husband Thom's voice as clearly as when he was alive, telling me that four years were enough. That this year, I needed to stop avoiding the joys of the season, and get my solitary, colorless life out of its rut. But it took seeing Colin standing in an ice storm, waiting for a bus that wasn't coming, to convince me to take a chance on opening my life, and maybe my heart, a second time around.
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Publisher: Independently Published
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 46-65
Protagonist 2 Age: 46-65
Tropes: Hurt / Comfort, Second Chances, Families/Raising Kids
Word Count: 34000
Setting: Washington State
Languages Available: English
Some nights, I have this dream…
I’m out walking, on a damp, heavy evening. I wander into the park, and sit on our old bench. When I look to my right, there you are, one knee crossed over the other, your long arm draped along the back.
“Hey, Derrick,” you say.
Your hair curls like it always did. Your glasses slip down your nose. That familiar smile tilts up the right corner of your mouth.
“Surprised to see me?”READ MORE
It’s been three years, three months, two days. Yes, I’m still counting. But in this dream, it’s only right that you’re there.
“Just glad.” I sigh at that truth. “It’s cool that you’re better…” I wave up and down your lean, fit body, relieved that somehow, in this afterlife, you’re not the sallow stick-figure that cancer left you. Then I blush, because that’s dumb. I’d have taken that stick-figure in a heartbeat, to have one more word with you.
You laugh, and stretch, like you always do when I’m looking at your abs, or your chest. “I’m good. You, on the other hand—”
“What?” A trickle of anger surprises me. I was never a match for you. Three years of age and grief haven’t improved me. My hair’s thinner, my belly sags, and my muscles have gone stringy without you coaxing me out to run. I suck in my gut.
“No! D-man, I didn’t mean that.” You touch my cheek, fingers warm, strong, real. “You’re still so alone. Not letting go.”
“Still wallowing, you mean?”
“No, dumbo.” Your smile’s gentle. “Grief’s become a habit. Are you planning to be alone the rest of your life?”
I lean away from your touch, though I want it like an addict wants heroin. “So? I’m pushing fifty, Thom. I’m grouchy and flabby, and I barely take care of myself. I’d be an awful boyfriend now.” Or ever, for anyone but you.
You shake your head. “Don’t sell yourself short. Your heart shines so brightly, I can follow it here from heaven.”
“I’m tired,” I say.
As if in response, the skies open up, and the rain falls. I’m enough of a Seattle native not to leap up at the first drops. Then I notice that the rain to my left is different. It falls in ribbons, in streaks, rainbow colors bright against the dim, gray park.
“What the hell?” I watch it approaching. Swirls of color begin to run across the wet ground, pooling at our feet, as wild as the shirts you used to wear when we were young. As brilliant as you are. Were. A damp wind blows, and I shiver.
“Here, I’ve got this.”
When I turn back to you, you’re holding an umbrella, conjured out of nowhere. The space under it is brighter, as if you trapped sunshine in its fabric. You slide off the bench and kneel, the light sparkling off your damp curls and outlining the width of your shoulders.
I’m not limber, and the ground’s soaked, but for you I’d still go anywhere. I ease to one knee in front of you.
And you kiss me.
I taste your mouth, familiar from thousands of days and nights, from a hundred thousand kisses.
The streamers of color reach us and fall in sheets, turning our world to rainbows, parting around that shelter you hold. I reach for the handle of the umbrella to steady myself. For a moment I have it all, as your wrists brush mine, your lips part, your breath and mine mingle.
Then you ease back and say, “It’s time. You know it. Let go.”
You melt away. The metal pole in my hand turns to mist. Your smile’s wistful, but not sad. You tilt your head and wink at me, behind the rain flecks on your glasses. Then you’re gone.
I’m kneeling, chilled, water dripping down my neck, and soaking my knee. The colors have faded to a simple, sepia dusk, and the rain is still falling.
In the dream, another umbrella suddenly appears over me. It’s not full of magical light, or draped in rainbows. Just an umbrella, dark fabric, metal ribs, a bit bent. But it’s real and it shields me. A soft, deep voice says, “Hey, man. Are you okay? Let me give you a hand.” Strong, roughened fingers grip my elbow, to ease me to my feet. I turn…
I never see his face.
Lying in the dark, my cheeks wet, I mutter, “Not subtle, Thom.” You were always such a nag, when it came to my well-being. I ruffle the new pillow you never used, in this room you never knew. I’m taking little steps, day by day. “All right. I hear you.”
You’d probably chuckle “Keep it up.” If you were here, it’d be a bad pun, and you’d pat my dick. You’re not here. I will try to move on. Tomorrow. Tonight, just one more time, I’ll remember how much I loved you, and how you brought color, and shelter, to my world.
I wouldn’t have stopped, if the rain hadn’t begun turning to sleet.
He wasn’t one of the many homeless who gravitate to Olympia. You see guys like that a lot here, hanging out on the fringes, in the approaches to shopping malls and along the downtown sidewalks, clad in ratty coats, with battered backpacks, and unkempt beards. This man wore what looked like a new L.L. Bean parka, and one of the two bags at his feet was a leather laptop case. Normally I’d have figured he’d be fine on his own.
But he was waiting at the stop for a bus that didn’t run this late. The mix of thin rain and little pellets of ice dripped from his hunched shoulders and frosted the top of that leather case. And he just stood there. His head was bowed, so the edge of the hood protected his face, but there was something so resigned in his posture I had visions of him not moving, as the dark hours turned to long night and the ice coated him to a frozen statue.
Yeah, right, D-man. You always did have a vivid imagination.
I ignored Thom’s voice in my head and pulled to the side of the road, rolling down the passenger window an inch. “Hey, man, you do know that bus is done for the day, right?”
The guy jolted, as if coming back from a long way off. He blinked at me, his face blank, as if the words had to work their way in slowly. Then he said succinctly, “Crap.”COLLAPSE