Matt walks in on Christopher and an old flame . . . and promptly walks back out.
|Matt stormed into his apartment, his mind and body a maelstrom of hurt and anger.
He slammed the creaking door shut behind him and stalked down the brief hall to the kitchen. Once there, he flung open the Amana and grabbed the orange juice, taking a long drink.
His mind was a buzzing hive of so many thoughts—his heart a clangor of so many emotions, all of them painful—that he could barely breathe. And he couldn’t even begin to sort them out. So he stood there, carton of orange juice in hand, staring into space, unaware of the tears running down his face.
I’m a fool, was all he could manage to wrestle from the maelstrom. A goddamn fool.
Then all was chaos and despair again, and he groaned, sitting at the kitchen table heavily, putting the carton of orange juice down without closing it—something he never did. Then, elbows on the table, something else he never did, he buried his face in his hands, needing the comfort of darkness to soothe him.
And he was almost soothed, almost comforted by the slowing din in his aching heart and mind, when the knocking started.
“Matt? Sweetie?” A voice called, rendered nearly inflectionless by the thick barrier of the front door. Nearly inflectionless but for the worry and yearning that came across clearly, and likely would through any six doors. “It’s . . . me. . . .”
“Go away, Christopher,” Matt whispered into his hands, not even bothering to look up. “Go the fuck to Hell.”
But Christopher, contrary as ever, did not go to Hell. Instead, he kept knocking on Matt’s door and occasionally calling Matt’s name.
Matt ignored it, or tried to. But the maelstrom was back, what tiny measure of comfort he’d achieved gone. And gone farther with each knock, each endearment, each worried call of his name.
Until knocking and calling both stopped.
In the sudden silence, Matt heard the creak of the front door opening slowly . . . the front door he’d apparently forgotten to lock. Yet another thing he never did.
Today, it would seem, was just a bang-up day for firsts and surprises.
“Matthew,” Christopher said softly a few seconds later, from behind Matt, who still didn’t look up.
“Get out,” he said, just as softly as Christopher had spoken.
“Not until you let me explain—”
“What’s to explain, Christopher?” Now Matt looked up and around. There stood his boyfriend—ex-boyfriend, Matt supposed—looking utterly wrecked and disheveled. His normally trendy, dark hair was total mess, sticking up every which way as if he’d been running his hands through it repeatedly. His face was unshaven, dark stubble just coming in as a gentle shadow on his jaw and above his lip. His clothes—were the same ones he’d been wearing yesterday, when they’d parted ways: pajama bottoms and a Sunny D-Lite t-shirt, no doubt worn ironically. Over it, he wore an open navy peacoat. “You slept with someone else. Or did I completely misread what I saw when I got off that elevator?”
Christopher sighed, shaking his head. His smile was pleading and dyspeptic-looking. “It just so happens ya did, Matt. I didn’t sleep with him.”
Matt turned away to contemplate the orange juice carton. He noticed it was still open and closed it. “So, what—you were just making out with him on your doorstep for shits and giggles?”
“No,” Christopher said, stepping into the kitchen, glancing around absently. (He’d of course, been to Matt’s place before, but not often. Usually they ended up at Christopher’s place because it was bigger and had a much fancier bathroom.) He sat in the chair across from Matt, scraping it back from the table to do so. When he was seated, he folded his elegant hands on the table and watched Matt with deep concern for a minute before continuing. “What you saw . . . was a good-bye kiss.”
“Obviously.” Matt looked away, at the wall over Christopher’s shoulder.
“But not as an epilogue to me sleeping with him, Matt, I swear to God.”
“Gee, let me move out striking range, for when the lightning hits. . . .”
“His name is Randal Charles, and he and I are—were—friends-with-benefits. Had been for years before I met you. Rand has this habit of bouncing in and out of my life at will. When he’s even in New York, he usually stays with me for a few weeks before bouncing off again.” Christopher sighed and Matt unwillingly met his gaze again. The other’s eyes had never been so somber, so scared. Not in Matt’s experience. “When you and I met last year, Rand had just bounced out of my life for the umpteenth time and I was . . . at loose ends. But all that changed a few months after I’d met you. I haven’t been with anyone else in eight months. Not even Rand, who I haven’t seen in over a year, now. When he showed up this time, I told him I couldn’t do the friends-with-bennies-thing anymore—nor did I want to. I told him that I was with someone I didn’t want to lose and that I was . . . happy. What you saw was Rand, in his inimitable fashion, kissing me good-bye. That was all.”
“Then why were you kissing him back, Christopher?” Matt asked in a voice that shook and cracked in a way it hadn’t since he was fourteen. Inside him, the maelstrom spun and raged, forcing more tears from his eyes. But this time he felt them, and wiped them away with frustrated impatience. “I saw you. You were kissing him back and you weren’t fighting to get away!”
Christopher now looked down at his hands. “I won’t lie and say I didn’t kiss him back, Matt. I did. I wanted to—”
“Oh, God,” Matt buried his face in his hands again to hide tears that were falling too fast to catch.
“But only because it was closure—Matt, baby—” Christopher’s fingers brushed the backs of Matt’s hands and he shuddered away. “Before I met you, I thought I’d never even come close to falling in love with anyone. But seeing Rand again made me realize that I did have feelings for him, once upon a time. And every time he walked out of my life, it was without saying good-bye. He’d just picked up and leave. But this time . . . this time, he exited my life on my terms. We had our catching-up and reminiscences. We said our good-byes, and yes, we kissed. But it was only a stand-in for the dozens of good-byes I never got from him before. It was . . . catharsis. The end of an era. That’s all.”
“<i>Catharsis</i>? Is that what the kids are calling it, these days?” Matt wiped his face and stood up suddenly, striding out of the kitchen, toward the living room, Christopher hot on his heels, the echo of the scraped-back chair ringing in the air.
“Stop following me and get out,” Matt said, skirting the couch and flopping down. He grabbed the remote control before Christopher would have sat down on it, and turned on the television. The game was still on.
Matt turned up the volume on the television and determinedly tried to focus on the match-up. But Christopher kept talking.
“. . . don’t love him or anyone else. Don’t want anyone else. I just want you. I need you. I love you.”
Matt blinked away more tears and scowled at the television screen. “I don’t trust you, Christopher. I don’t believe anything you say. Actions speak louder than words.”
And to that, it would seem, Christopher had no response. For several minutes, Matt tried and failed to focus on the game while Christopher sat despondently next to him, occasionally sneaking glances at him.
Finally, Christopher sighed again. “Well, I guess if that’s how you feel, then there’s nothing I can say to change your mind.”
The backs of Matt’s eyes began to sting once more. “No, there’s not.”
“I didn’t think so,” Christopher said heavily, digging in the pocket of his pajama pants. “But I came prepared. Of course, I didn’t want to have to do this now . . . over a nice steak dinner and a bottle of red would’ve been more preferable. But I doubt you’ll give me a chance as good as this one again. Literally.”
“What are you talking about?” Matt demanded, looking over just as Christopher got to one knee and held out to Christopher a small, blue box with a white ribbon. When Matt blinked, this time in confusion, Christopher smiled a little and undid the small ribbon and opened the box. Inside was. . . .
A set of keys on a Kermit the Frog keyring.
“What—” Matt began, meeting Christopher’s hopeful, shining eyes.
“You’re already such an integral part of my life, I . . . I want to invite you in, all the way.” And with that, Christopher took the keys out of the box and, after prying the remote out of Matt’s hand, replaced it with the keys.
It took Matt nearly a minute of staring at the keys sitting in his palm to realize what they were. When he did, he laughed ruefully, tempted to fling them back at Chris. “Great. Keys to your place, right? So now, I can come over whenever I want and catch you making out with old booty-calls?”
“No.” Christopher’s eyes still shone with hope, and now, a little amusement. “So now, you can come over whenever you want and maybe . . . you know . . . stay. With me. For keeps.”
Matt’s mouth dropped open and the keys fell out of his suddenly lax hand. But Christopher picked them up and placed them back in Matt’s hand, closing it and holding it closed with both of his own.
“What happened today will never happen again, because there’s no one else out there I ever came even close to having feelings for. And what I felt for Rand—very much the past tense—pales in comparison to what I feel for you and when I’m with you. You make me so happy, I can’t even imagine living without you. And I want you more firmly in my life, too. So will you come live with me, and be my love, Matthew Gerdes?”
Matt’s mouth worked for several surprised seconds before he could get anything out. “I—”
Christopher kissed Matt’s hand lingeringly. “Say yes, baby. I promise, you won’t regret it.”
“I. . . .”
“Yes?” Christopher stood up, talking Matt’s hands and pulling him up, as well. Matt, as flabbergasted as he’d ever been, went into Christopher’s arms as always, his own arms settling around Christopher’s neck, the keys still clutched in his left hand.
Dark eyes stared into his own and Christopher leaned in and kissed him softly, tenderly. He tasted medicinal, as if a Listerine-bomb had gone off in his mouth.
He’d gargled—and maybe even brushed—since kissing that Rand-person.
Matt felt, against all odds, a rush of affection for the man holding him so tight and still looking at him with a mixture of hope and wariness. So powerful was this feeling, he found himself saying: “Never again. Promise me, Christopher.”
“Never again.” Christopher was the one to blink this time, his eyes still shining, but with more than just hope. “Please say I haven’t lost you, babe? ‘Cause I love you more than anyone I’ve ever known, and if you stopped loving me, that’d break me. Just . . . break me.”
Matt searched Christopher’s eyes for long moments before nodding, his gaze shifting to the keys in his hand. They looked so new and shiny. As did Kermit. “Okay.”
“Okay, I haven’t lost you?”
“And you’ll at least think about coming to live with me?”
Christopher let out a laugh that sounded like a sob and hugged Matt tight. “I love you!” he whispered against Matt’s shoulder, and Matt smiled a little, wiping his eyes.
“I love you, too, Christopher.” Closing his eyes, Matt inhaled deeply, smelling Christopher’s clean-skin-and-girly-shampoo scent. In Matt’s left hand, the keys to Christopher’s home—to his life—sat like a promise waiting to be kept. . . .