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I ran, pushing myself as hard and as fast as I could, even though I was wearing my best suit. I must have been quite a sight for anyone I passed; my face red with exertion, sweat forcing my pale-brown hair to form odd clumps. Tears continuously streamed down my face.
I didn't know where I was going, but I had no intention of stopping anytime soon. Even if I hadn't been in good shape, my adrenalin level was through the roof. Combined with the stress and emotions I had been holding in, I was currently an unstoppable force.
As I ran, I allowed my mind to wander and to think back on our life together.
I was the tall one; I used to tease Steve and claim he was a shrimp at 5'9". He would respond that I was only 6'1" because I had my entire head shoved up my ass. He would retort back that if I ever could manage to extract myself, we would discover I was actually seven feet tall. We used to joke and tease each other constantly. There were very few occasions, mostly very early in our nine-year relationship, where one of us would actually offend the other. We made it our mission to try to outdo the other with the jabs we would throw back and forth. Whoever couldn't manage a reasonable comeback first was the loser. It was our favorite game, and we were quite equitably matched. The game was especially fun when we found ourselves in awkward social situations. Strangers, and even some friends, could never figure out we were just messing with each other until we finally broke down laughing.
We both kept each other in good shape. He was the best workout buddy anyone could ever ask for. Simply working out made me sexier to him, and I was very happy with the motivation. At 28, I still had the flat stomach I had worked so hard to get in college, although I had lost the six-pack over the years. My chest was reasonably well defined, I had great legs, and my arms were decent. Steve's favorite part of my gym-produced body was my firm ass, and I had to admit, it was phenomenal, but my favorite was my stomach, mostly because it had taken the most effort to achieve. And I was always happy to oblige his lecherous gazes. Obviously, the motivation went both ways. We never really knew what we were doing; we would just hop from one machine to another and continuously push each other hard.
I realized he would love to see my hair now, all clumped and matted with sweat. Steve always teased me mercilessly for the amount of time I spent putting gel in and mussing it to make it look like I'd just gotten out of bed. On many occasions, he tried to get me to go out immediately after waking up to see if anyone noticed the difference. I would never give in, because deep down, I knew he was right, but I loved my hair. Before we met, it was always too short to style. It was his suggestions that I grow it out a bit and start using some product in it.
If asked in 'polite company', Steve would always tell people his favorite part of my body was my eyes – my bright blue eyes, which he claimed had a hypnotic power over him. I kept threatening to try them out on other people and see if everyone was similarly affected. On the other hand, if the person asking was a friend, or Steve was feeling particularly horny when asked, he'd immediately tell them about my 8.5 inch dick. I always acted mortified when he told people, and would quickly respond by complaining that I didn't talk about his three-inch dick in public. It was actually a quite satisfying seven, but there was no fun in teasing him for being fairly-well endowed. For the record, Steve wasn't exaggerating when he told people about me; He was bragging.
My thoughts continued to wander as I pushed myself to run harder and faster. I began to think back over the events of the past ten days.
I had gone out to buy some groceries. Steve had given me the list, as usual. I honestly can't remember what set me off. Something on the list irritated me, and we had a brief spat before I left, with little annoyances of the last few days being aired. I don't remember what they were. I don't remember what was said. All I remember was the last words out of my mouth as I closed the door harder than intended.
"You know I love you, but sometimes you really fucking piss me off!" I swear I wasn't mad, and it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for me to say to him during one of our spats, but that's what I said. My last words to him.
When I came home about an hour later, I grabbed all the bags I could from the car to minimize trips, and stumbled to the door. It was open; something was wrong. I dropped the bags, and I vaguely heard glass jars breaking. Like a bolt of lightning, I was inside the house.
Steve was lying on his back in the middle of the living room. Blood was pooled out from under him, staining the hardwood that had been the selling point to him when we bought the house not that long before. He was coughing and sputtering, barely able to take a breath. He didn't even seem to have the strength to open his eyes.
I yelled his name and dropped down to him. He had been shot twice – once in the abdomen and once in the chest. I tried to put all of my weight on those two points, thinking maybe I could stop the blood from leaving his body. Maybe, just maybe, I could keep my husband alive.
Suddenly, his eyes opened, and he looked directly into mine.
"Scott," he managed to wheeze, blood filling his mouth and dripping down the side of his face, "Don't –"
His entire body went limp. I knew he was gone. I just threw myself on top of him, sobbing and rocking, hoping by doing so I could somehow bring him back.
Suddenly, I crashed into something, tearing me out of my head and forcing me to stop reliving the worst day of my life. I stumbled and fell over from the impact. As I looked up, all I could see were brilliant green eyes. They were so intriguing I almost felt like I was being drawn in. I blinked, and shook my head, hoping to somehow clear the fog filling my mind.
I realized I was in front of a coffee shop about two miles from the cemetery I had just fled from. I assumed from the rainbow flags in front of the store it was gay friendly, but it wouldn't have mattered anyway. Like most of Atlanta, this section of town was very gay-friendly and boasted a large gay population.
I was just about to start running again when my personal roadblock stuck out his hand and introduced himself.
"Hi, I'm Will Drake. Sorry for getting in your way! Where are you going in such a hurry?"
I thought about just blowing him off, but realized I was still crying. The slow flow of gentle tears gave way to deep chest-heaving sobs as I began to let out only the beginnings of the sorrow that had been consuming me.
"Do you need someone to talk to?" he asked gently, rubbing my back. "I've been told I'm a great listener."
I nodded in spite of myself. I think at that point, I just needed to get everything off my chest. I'd opened up some to Ethan and Michelle, but I'd kept most of my hurt bottled up inside. Besides, I had never met this guy before. The worst that could happen is I'd make a fool of myself and never see him again.
Will gently placed his hand on my shoulder, led me inside, and escorted me to a seat. I managed to introduce myself, but only barely. Will nodded his head as if to acknowledge he had heard me. He just stared while I worked to regain my composure. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't catch my name at first through the sobs, but he never said anything until I had calmed down some.
After about ten minutes, I had managed to nearly cry myself out. To Will's credit, he didn't look embarrassed to be seen with a blubbering mess, nor did he look down at me with pity. His green eyes just looked like deep pools of concern.
"So do you always literally knock people off their feet when you meet them? I mean, you didn't need to run into me to do that. Just seeing you in that suit is enough for me," Will finally asked. The mild flirtation overwhelmed me. I quickly stood up and started heading towards the door.
Will was on his feet just as quick, gently grabbing my arm, stopping me mid-flight.
"Sorry, I just assumed you were gay. I really didn't mean anything by it. I was just trying to ease the tension a little," he said.
I let out a deep breath. Will seemed to be genuinely interested in just being a friend. I realized I desperately needed someone to talk to. I had barely been able to talk to anyone yet. I didn't want my friends to know how deep my wounds ran. I slowly walked back to the table and sat down.
"So what are you running from? If it wasn't Monday, I'd guess a wedding, so… Oh, shit, I'm so sorry," Will rambled as he tried to make conversation light until he inadvertently stuck his foot in his mouth again, as he combined my appearance and emotional state I was in and came to the correct conclusion.
"It's Steve," I could feel the tears welling up again. You would think I wouldn't have any moisture left to cry out. "Steve… my husband… Steve di–" I just trailed off, unable to finish the sentence. Will just looked at me patiently. I noticed his eyes were wet with unshed tears by that point. "Umm, he died."
Will nodded his head sympathetically. "Can I ask how Steve died? I'm not trying to push you, but maybe talking will make you feel better."
I thought for a moment and began to speak. I told him about our little fight. How I left mad, and how I never got to apologize. I described dropping the groceries when I saw his body lying in a pool of blood, and how I held him as the life drained out of him. I couldn't tell Will about his last words or the fact he died mad at me.
I continued to tell Will about the funeral, including what was going on in my head, and what I said to the crowd of well-wishers paying their respects. While I had been hesitant to tell Will the details of his death, I spared no detail from the funeral. If the situation had been different, I'm sure the story would have caused him to chuckle.
Will was clearly deeply moved by my story. Tears streamed down his face, and he made no attempt to hide them. I then noticed I wasn't crying. For the first time in several days, my eyes were dry. I think I actually felt a little better. No, not better. That's not the right word. Or maybe it is. I really couldn't describe how I was actually feeling.
Will cleared his throat and tried his best to smile for me to let me know everything was going to be okay. I knew it was a lie. Nothing could ever be okay again. All that was left of my life was pain and despair.
"I want you to do something for me," Will said softly.
"First, promise me you will just try, and you won't get mad and leave. Please promise me."
I had no clue where he was going with it. I didn't like it, but he'd been so kind listening to my story. Apprehensively, I gave him my word, I would try.
"The entire time you talked, you never said Steve's name whenever you talked about his death. I want you to say 'Steve died'."
I was angry for a moment, but his eyes only showed he wanted to see if I could. I decided it was the least I could do, despite the pain. Will had been so patient. If I had been thinking more rationally, I might have been a little taken aback that a complete stranger was being so kind and understanding.
"St-St-Steve… um… Steve… um… Ste-Steve d–" was all I could stutter out. I couldn't say it. The words were just stuck in my throat. My cheeks were wet again. The tears had returned.
"Look, my mind isn't fully functional right now. I know he's dead, at least most of me does. I just can't say it. It's too, I don't know…" I was struggling to find the rights words to convey my meaning, "final." At this point, I dropped my head into my hands, and started to cry. This time, my tears were soft, not the painful sobs from earlier.
"Hey, don't beat yourself up over this. You tried. You're hurting worse than I can imagine right now, and yet you still allowed yourself to try to push yourself to say the one thing you don't want to admit has happened. I'm proud of you!" he said, reaching across the table and gently rubbing my shoulder.
As he said that, I did feel better, and I mean actually better. It was by a miniscule amount, but it was progress. I realized what he was trying to do; he was just trying to help. I hoped we could become friends. If he could make me feel better, even by just a tiny fraction, in only an hour, I couldn't begin to imagine how much he could help me repair my mind and heart if he became a friend. For a moment, I briefly fantasized about being back to my old self, but I abandoned that pipedream immediately.
Will and I continued to talk for another hour or so. It was all idle small talk. He didn't talk about himself at all, and I had already talked way too much about myself. We talked about the weather, movies, and even sports, which was laughable in hindsight, since neither one of us cared about sports in the slightest. Still, we both did our best to convey knowledge about the local teams.
I actually smiled a little when we started talking basketball. We were doing our best to talk about a sport neither of us had ever watched, let alone played. Neither of us even knew the name of Atlanta's team until Will noticed a bus driving by with an advertisement for Hawks tickets on the side.
Will was great at leading the conversation. He carefully stayed away from anything that might be a painful subject for me. Whenever he sensed he was venturing into one, such as a movie Steve liked, he quickly changed topics and started talking about something completely different. I really appreciated it.
Suddenly, I became aware of just how long we had been sitting there.
"Shit!" I exclaimed, louder than I intended, "I have to get back. My family is probably still waiting for me. They're probably pretty worried."
"Hand me your phone," Will said. "I'll program my number. Just call me if you ever need to talk again. You look like you're doing better right now, but I'm sure things are going to get worse again. Just know I'm here if you ever need a friendly ear."
"Do you want me to give you my number?" I was hesitant. That was a step I wasn't sure I was ready to take. It felt too much like I was pushing Steve out of my life, even if it was just to make room for a new friend.
"Nope, right now, my only concern is your wellbeing. Besides, I'll get it whenever you decide to call me. By the way, did you know you have 74 missed calls? Like, no shit, 74; they seem to be mostly from either an 'Ethan Hudgins', or a 'Tom O'Neil'."
"That would be my brother and Steve's brother. Tom must be really worried if he's calling. I haven't even been able to look at him since he showed up. They are… were identical twins."
"Fuck, I'm not sure I would be able to look at him either. I think it would almost feel like you were looking at a mirage."
The fact Will was able to connect to my feelings made me feel a bit better about the attitude I held towards Tom. My attitude may have been poor, but maybe my treatment of him was actually understandable considering the circumstances. Maybe one day, we'd even get the chance opportunity to reconcile.
Just before Will handed me back the phone, it vibrated with another incoming call.
"It's Tom calling again. Do you want to answer it? If you'd prefer, I can talk to him instead." He was looking after me like a brother. His caring was genuine, and I was glad there had been no trace of unwanted interest in me after the initial comment.
"Go ahead, if you want. I still can't stand to hear his voice; it's just too similar to Steve's."
I had never had any problem telling the two of them apart. Somehow, I was even able to tell them apart in their baby pictures. I think it's because Steve and I dated for almost six months before I even met his brother. By that point, I was so familiar with everything about Steve; to me they looked and sounded very different. But right now, they were just too similar.
"Hello, this is Scott's phone," Will said. I could only hear the one side of the conversation, but I had a pretty good sense of the conversation.
"No, he's fine. He is sitting across from me at a coffee shop in Virginia Highlands. He ran into me as I was stopping for a quick cup of coffee. He looked like he needed someone to talk to, so we went inside and I got him to open up some."
"Actually, he was just about to leave."
"Ok, he'll be there soon." With that, Will hung up and handed my phone back.
"C'mon," he said as he stood up from the table, "I'll drive you back. I'm not sure you're ready to be alone with your thoughts right now."
I knew he was right, so I just followed him to his car without a word.
As we neared the cemetery, my entire body began to tense. Will noticed and gently laid his hand on top of mine. Such a small gesture of support coming from someone that had been a complete stranger earlier in the day really helped to make me feel it was somehow possible everything might just be okay some day.
We pulled up at the cemetery, and Will stopped the car. As I looked toward the grave, I saw Dick and Lydia were still there.
"Can you walk up with me? I don't think I can face his parents alone," I asked quietly.
"I understand if you have other things you need to do. You've already spent a lot of time today listening to a complete stranger exposing his soul," I quickly added. I then realized this was the first time I'd actually taken someone else's feelings into account since his death. It felt… well I'm not exactly sure how it felt… maybe good?
"You're right about me spending a lot of time with you today, but you needed it. That's more important than running a few errands. Besides, it won't take the rest of the day. I can spare a few more minutes," Will said, as he turned off the car and started to get out, undermining any chance I had at checking to see if he was sure.
"Thank you," was all I was able to offer in response, "for everything, really."
Will followed a few feet behind me as I walked back to his grave. Mom and Dad, Emma and Ethan, and Michelle and Dustin were talking with Tom, while Lydia and Dick were standing next to his grave. Everyone else had already left. Not that I was surprised. I had been gone for two hours, and the funeral had been over for a while.
As soon as Richard saw me approaching, he stormed over to me. Dad and Ethan saw this and came running in case things became violent.
"Listen to me, you little shit, I don't know where in the hell you get off making a mockery of my son's funeral. I am his father, and that means more than just a silly little piece of paper. It means I have my son's best interests at heart, and I'm not going to allow for second-guessing by some faggot!"
I staggered as if I had been slapped. Actually, it felt more like I had just been hit in the face with a brick. I looked over and noticed Dustin, Emma, and Michelle trying to restrain my dad and Ethan, who wanted nothing more than to tear Dick limb from limb.
"I actually thought you had feelings for my son," Dick continued in his rant, "instead, you cause a scene, leave his funeral and come back with some new trick you've probably been fucking since the moment you left the cemetery."
Thankfully, with that, Dick stormed off, grabbing Lydia as they left the cemetery. As the tension slowly lifted, everyone slowly began to talk quietly. Everyone seemed to be avoiding me, but I guessed they were just trying to give me some space. Will stood awkwardly about ten feet from me, very unsure what to do.
Just as Tom started to walk over to me, I saw Michelle and Emma walk over and start to engage Will in conversation.
"Hey," Tom said, obviously unsure what to say to me.
"Hey," I responded. It was the first word I had managed to say to Steve's twin after his death. Tom realized that, and it seemed to break some of the tension between the two of us.
"I hope you know he doesn't mean any of that, right?" Tom asked. "He never acted like this before Steve… well, you know."
"Yeah, despite all of our differences in the past, he's never really seemed hateful. I just wish he would realize how badly I'm hurting."
"I think there's a lot of that going around. I'm not sure anyone is really paying attention to how much other people are hurting at the moment," Tom added showing off some of the insight that had helped us grow so close over the years.
"Whatever," I responded. I wasn't in the mood to think about how other people were feeling, let alone care.
"So what's up with that guy, anyway? I know you, so I know Dad was completely wrong, but I don't think I've ever met him before. Besides, if I had, he would've already been here."
I proceeded to tell him about running into Will, literally, and finding solace in a stranger.
"Maybe it's the fact he doesn't know me, doesn't know Steve, or anyone else I know. It just felt good to talk. We were just about to leave when you called. I never expected him to offer me a ride back. When I saw Dick, I couldn't bring myself to walk up here alone."
"Scott, please remember Steve would want you to move on. If this Will guy is that person, then go for it."
I could tell Tom was trying to be helpful, but I just wasn't having anything to do with any part of that statement.
"First off, how can you tell me Steve would want me to forget about the last nine years of my life? Second, the only feelings I have for Will are akin to the same feelings I have for Ethan, or you. Any feelings I have for him are entirely platonic."
Before Tom had the chance to respond, our conversation was interrupted by a loud slap behind me. I spun around in time to see Will recoil as Dustin grabbed Michelle and pull her away.
"How dare you?!?!" Michelle screeched. I hadn't heard that tone since she and I had walked in on her then-boyfriend having sex with her roommate my sophomore year of college. "Don't you have any sense of decency? He just buried his husband!"
With those last words, I felt the all too familiar tears begin to flow. It was somewhat comforting to cry. Even though I wasn't entirely sure I was still able to feel any emotions anymore, it was reassuring that I was apparently having them. More than anything, I was confused as to what set Michelle off like that. She was always the calm in the center of the storm.
"This fucker just told me he thinks you're hot. The nerve! You bastard!" Michelle informed me as she tried to once again lunge at a terrified Will.
Ethan and Emma were quick to jump between Will and Michelle just in case she managed to break free from her husband.
"Stop it!" Emma yelled.
Michelle froze mid-lunge. Dustin loosened his grip a little, and she almost fell before he helped her find her balance.
"I really didn't mean anything by it; that's not even what I said! I just mentioned that Scott was a good-looking guy, and I hated seeing him in pain. Yes, I'll admit I find him attractive, but that's hardly something to fault me with, is it? I wasn't about to throw myself at him or anything. It's not my fault I find him attractive. I can't even imagine what he's going through right now. All I know is he's hurting and he opened up to me. Why me? I don't know, but I do know I'm going to be there for him if he ever needs someone to be there for him. I'll listen, and I promise I won't act on my attraction unless Scott makes it clear he feels the same way."
Michelle thought for a second before deciding Will was telling the truth. Slowly she relaxed. Dustin noticed this and released his grip on her.
Ethan turned to Will and said, "Dude, everyone here has gone through something terribly tragic today. I want to apologize to you for all of our actions, even that bastard Richard. None of us have yet to figure out how to cope with our loss, and unfortunately you are getting the brunt of it right now. You seem like a pretty chill guy, but please leave. No offense, but we just need time to deal with everything."
"I get it. I knew that by getting out of the car, I would end up potentially walking in front of the firing squad. Scott, are you okay if I head out?"
I just nodded.
"Good. You have my phone number if you ever need to talk."
With that, Will turned and left the cemetery.
My parents came up to the group.
"We were hoping to spend some more time with you before we left, Scott," my dad said. "But as it stands, we really have to hurry to make our flight. I have to fly to Tokyo for a meeting tomorrow morning. I'll have my phone on me if you need to talk. Don't worry about the time, just call."
"Honey, promise me you're going to be okay," Mom said, hugging me goodbye. "I know you are hurting worse than you ever thought was possible, but trust me, it will get better. I really hate we have to leave while you are hurting, but unfortunately life goes on."
"Not for him it won't," I moaned.
"Promise me," she repeated in my ear, rubbing my back.
As she pulled away, I managed to nod my head slightly. She saw it, and I think she even believed my lie.
Just as my parents were walking away, Tom came up.
"I just wanted you to know I'm here for you, even if you aren't ready yet. I'm going to head back to the hotel, but call me if you need anything."
Silently, I walked back to Ethan's car with Ethan and Emma following right behind me. Dustin called out that he'd see us back at the house as he and Michelle walked back to theirs.
Even after everything that happened so far, I still did not want it to end. I was not ready to go back home. I knew as soon as I got there, more memories would surface.
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