*Magnify*
SPONSORED LINKS
Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2034351-The-Mechanics-of-Comfort
Printer Friendly Page Tell A Friend
No ratings.
by beetle
Rated: GC · Short Story · Relationship · #2034351
Tom Madden must console his partner after a loss.
Tom Madden is woken up at 4a.m. to the phone ringing. Emmett’s, not his own.

“God, don’t you ever put that thing on vibrate?”

“That’s what she said,” Emmett yawns, laughing sleepily.

“You’re like a comedy alarm clock,” Tom mutters, burying his face in Emmett’s sparely-padded shoulder and pulling him close. Hoping like hell against hope that for once, Emmett will just let it ring.

Fat chance of that, Tom thinks, sighing as Emmett’s low, business-like hello rumbles through them both. “Phoebe?”

At this, Tom wakes up a little more. He doesn’t know anyone named Phoebe.

“Yeah, no, it’s no problem, I was awake, anyway,” Emmett lies smoothly, managing not to sound like someone who had, in fact, been dead-asleep not thirty seconds ago. Rather, he sounds downright tense, and feels that way in Tom’s arms. “What’s up?”

Tom kisses the warm, soft nape of Emmett’s neck, sliding his hand down Emmett’s chest and abdomen. As usual, they’ve both woken up hard. Unlike usual, it’s still pitch dark out.

“A heart attack?” Emmett’s saying, shrugging off Tom’s embrace and sitting up. “What do you mean a heart attack?”

“Emmett?” Worried now, Tom sits up, and turns on his bedside lamp. Blinking in the dim, yellow light, he looks at Emmett, who seems, very suddenly, grim and older.

“No—yeah, I know what the fuck a heart attack is, Phoebe, but whaddaya mean she. . . ? No. Fatal my ass—that’s not possible.” Emmett’s hand clenches on his Blackberry and he hangs his head for a few moments. “Fucking no, it wasn’t. It can’t have been. She was healthy as a goddamn horse—she—”

Frowning, Tom puts his hand on Emmett’s back. He’s strung tight as piano wire, and flinches away from Tom’s touch like it’s fire.

“Of course,” he’s saying, all business once more, though Tom can hear him swallowing and swallowing. “No. Yeah. No, don’t start . . . don’t start planning anything. I’ll do it when I get there . . . fine, we’ll do it together. All of us. Just . . . yeah, don’t start till I get there . . . by noon, if I leave now. I should be able to find a flight. . . .”

Listening to Emmett’s half of the conversation only creates more questions than it answers. But listen he does, as Emmett reels off a brief list of names and phone numbers to Phoebe-on-the-phone.

“. . . yeah, Devante is in Tacoma, now. For the past six months . . . no, he didn’t tell me where he was, I found out for myself . . . just call it one of my life-skills and let it go, okay, Phoebs?”

Tom snorts softly. He knows better than anyone just how good Emmett is at finding people. Even when they don’t want to be found. Maybe especially when they don’t want to be found. He stretches as Emmett sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Yeah, I know. I know. She was supposed to outlive us all. We always swore she would. . . .

“Okay, yeah. Yeah. I’ll call before I leave and when I land, okay?” A bitter laugh. “An Irish one, of course. Free booze for family and friends, and everyone remembering all the good times.” Another laugh, this one softer, sadder. “Jenny’s gonna be the worst to tell. You want me to . . . yeah, I know I’m not exactly a people person, but . . . okay. Okay. I guess she was closer to you, anyway.”

Emmett’s shoulders slump, and this time when Tom puts a hand on his back, Emmett leans into him. For a moment, anyway.

“So I’ll talk to you in a few hours, okay? Alright. No—yeah. Okay. Bye.”

Emmett ends the call and carefully places the Blackberry on his night table. Then he covers his face with his hands for nearly a minute. Tom pulls him close and hugs him tight.

“Tell me,” he says gently, and Emmett shudders. But when he looks up, his face is dry and stony.

“My mother died.”

Then he’s pulling out of Tom’s arms and getting out of bed. In the low lighting, Emmett’s wiry, nude body looks small, and pale despite his café-au-lait skin . . . wraithlike.

“My God, Emmett, I—I’m sorry,” Tom says softly, watching his lover pace from one end of the bedroom to the other then back. Then Emmett twitches jerkily, a nervous sort of shrug, and keeps pacing.

“That was my foster-sister, Phoebe, calling to let me know. She says it was a heart attack, sudden and quick—the kind that kills you before you even know you’re dead. Momma Jean didn’t feel a thing.”

“Thank God for small favors,” Tom says, crossing himself more out of habit than belief. One of very few habits his own father had been around long enough to impart. “Still, I’m so sorry, Emmett.”

“It’s okay. It’s okay,” Emmett says, as if Tom’s the one who needs comforting. “Momma Jean wasn’t my birth mother, she was my foster mother. It’s not like—”

“How long did she raise you?” Tom interrupts to ask, and Emmett stops pacing to look at him. Shrugs that jerky shrug again and sighs.

“Since I was four.”

“Was she kind to you? Did she love you?”

Emmett nods without hesitation. “She loved all of her kids. Every last one of us.”

“Then she was your mother.” Tom has no experience of mothers—at least not of having one, as his own had died long before he could remember her as anything other than a vague ache that never quite goes away—but he knows that the woman who raises a child with love and kindness is more than qualified to carry the title.

Emmett drifts over to the bed and sits heavily. “The only mother I ever had, really. My birth mother never wanted me—put me into foster care as soon as I was old enough to find her stashes and flush ‘em down the john. Momma Jean’s was the first and only home I ever got put in. The only home I ever had.”

Tom reaches out, his hand hovering over Emmett’s back hesitantly. “May I touch you?”

Emmett looks at Tom, his wide, dark eyes surprised. “Of course. Always,” he answers irritably, as if Tom’s being silly. But when Tom’s hand settles on his back again, Emmett groans as if he's never been touched, and lets Tom hug him.

“I told Phoebe I’d catch a plane to Jersey and be there by noon,” he says listlessly, tiredly. “I don’t suppose. . . .”

“Try and stop me.”

Emmett smiles a little for a moment—just a moment—fluttering and brief on Tom’s neck.

“What about the kids?”

“I don’t think I can find a sitter on such short notice. They'd have to come with us.” Tom pauses. “Though I can stay home with them, if that’d be better for you.”

“No, no—they can come, too. I mean, it’s not gonna be a trip to Disney World, but there’ll be other kids there. My nieces and nephews. Most of them are about Bethany’s age.”

“Sounds like a plan, to me,” Tom says. Emmett turns a little to look up at him. His eyes are shining and deep with a mixture of grief and relief.

“You know, I always figured I’d eventually tell you about . . . my childhood. And maybe one day, if you wanted, I could’ve taken you and the kids to meet her . . . God, why didn’t I take you to meet her?”

Tom’s brow furrows. “Maybe because you weren’t ready? We’ve only been doing this . . . whatever this is for a couple months. We still have to figure out how we’re gonna tell the kids why Uncle Emmett sleeps in Daddy’s room, now, instead of the guest room.”

Emmett brushes gentle fingers down Tom’s cheek, searching his eyes. “You’re adorable, you know that? Jesus, she’d have loved you.”

“That’s good to know.” Kissing Emmett’s palm, Tom sighs. “And if ever there was one word to describe me, ‘adorable’ would be that word.”

“Indeed.” Emmett’s smile becomes genuine, and he leans up to kiss Tom. It starts out chaste, and turns into something else entirely, quickly, with Emmett straddling Tom’s legs and moaning into the kiss. He pulls Tom’s arms around him.

“Emmett—”

“I’m still slick from last night,” Emmett breathes, bearing Tom to the bed and rolling them over with calculated, precise strength. He looks up into Tom’s eyes, his own feverish and bright. “And yeah, I know I’m just displacing grief, but I really need to displace it, right now. Really need you.”

Tom kisses Emmett’s forehead. “You had me at ‘still slick from last night.’”

Emmett laughs, tears rolling down either side of his face. He wipes them away and wraps his legs around Tom’s sides. “C’mon, Tom. Fuck me.”

Without wasting any more words, Tom arranges Emmett—who’s ridiculously bendy, something Tom’s had a lot of fun discovering—just so, and slides home with one hard thrust. They both hiss, more tears leaking out of Emmett’s eyes. Tom kisses them away tenderly.

“Did I hurt you?”

“No, God . . . Tom.” Emmett strains up toward Tom, kissing him and clenching around him as if unwilling to let him go for long enough to pull out and thrust back in. “You feel so good . . . can we just . . . stay like this for a minute?”

“Anything,” Tom whispers, leaning his forehead against Emmett’s. “We can do anything you want.”

“Just wanna hold you.”

“Okay.” He kisses Emmett softly, and Emmett returns it just as softly. He tastes like toothpaste and tears, and can’t stop sniffling. His arms around Tom are hot and panic-tight, just like his body, and Tom groans, unable to help a small, reflexive rocking of his hips. Emmett gasps, and does some rocking of his own.

“God, Tom, how can this still feel so perfect?” he moans, his body relaxing enough for Tom to pull out just a bit. When he pushes back in, angled just so, Emmett arches up to meet him, shaking and panting.

“Because it’s us,” Tom says simply, hitching Emmett’s compact body closer to his own larger, stockier one.

Since their first time with each other, their bodies have always known how to move together, how to fit together in ways that are both startling and familiar, sinful and sweet. Now is no different, Emmett clutching desperately at Tom, and Tom murmuring in Emmett’s ear how good he feels. . . .

(It’s the kind of sex that’s only fucking because they’re both men, and too self-conscious to call it what it really is.)

They don’t last especially long, Emmett coming first with a wide-eyed, softly sighed ohhh, Tom, his body pulsing and throbbing around Tom—who comes shortly thereafter with a grunt and a whispered fuck.

Afterwards, they lay there, Tom collapsed on Emmett, Emmett stroking Tom’s hair. It’s peaceful and so damn wonderful despite . . . everything. Tom doesn’t even realize Emmett’s crying until he stops shaking but Emmett doesn’t.

“Honey?” It just slips out as Tom rolls off of Emmett. It’s what he used to call Marta in the privacy of their bedroom, whenever she was upset about something.

Emmett’s face is still stony, but tears are running down it again, leaking out of his closed eyes. His nose and cheeks are a hectic red Tom recognizes from when Bethany or Michael fight not to cry.

“I hadn’t called her in nine months, Tom—hadn’t been to visit her in two years. Not since. . . .”

“Since Marta died and I . . . went off the deep end?” Tom asks with a lightness that belies his own lingering discomfort and chagrin at the mental breakdown that’d caused him to do a runner on his grieving children, leaving them in the care of his late wife’s best friend. “Since I went looney-tunes, and ran half-way around the world from my kids and responsibilities, leaving you holding the bag? Since you had to take care of my kids, then take care of me, after dragging yourself and my kids all over Creation and back searching for me? Since all of that?”

Emmett nods reluctantly, opening his eyes. They’re as red as his cheeks, squinting and swollen. Swept away on his own feelings of guilt—at keeping Emmett emotionally chained to his side . . . at stealing more than eighteen months of the man’s life away . . . at all that he’s taken from Emmett, even if unwittingly, that he can never repay—Tom leans his head against Emmett’s again, tears springing to his own eyes. He hastily blinks them away. “I’m so sorry, honey. So, so sorry.”

“No, don’t—it’s not your fault.” Emmett cups Tom’s face in his hands and kisses the corner of his mouth. “We’ve been back States-side for, what? A year, almost? I could’ve visited her at any time. Any time. But I didn’t. And she died thinking that . . . that I didn’t even care enough to fucking pick up the phone more than twice a year.”

“No, Emmett—” Tom pulls Emmett into his arms just as Emmett breaks like a storm. Like a piece of spun glass.

At first it’s just shaking, so violent, Tom’s afraid Emmett’s having a seizure. But then the sobbing starts, raw, hoarse, unlovely. Emmett’s wet, hot face is pressed to Tom’s right shoulder, one hand clenched on Tom’s left like a drowning man’s.

“Shh.” Tom rocks Emmett just like he would one of his kids. “I won’t lie and tell you everything’s gonna be okay. The truth is, it may not ever be. What you feel now is gonna lessen and lighten over time, but it’ll never completely go away. The feeling that maybe if you’d loved harder or better. . . .”

“She might still b-be here,” Emmett finishes, fresh sobs shaking him. Tom nods, kissing his lover’s tightly-curled hair, his forehead, any part of Emmett he can reach. “I j-just . . . I never lost anyone b-before. I didn’t know it’d hurt so b-bad!”

Emmett says something else, but Tom can’t make it out for the sobbing. So he simply holds Emmett, and lets him shake and weep as he will. He murmurs whatever comforting noises would soothe his children when their hearts were broken.

The things he didn’t get to murmur to them after their mother died.

False dawn is briefly lighting the sky before Emmett’s sobs become hitches, become silence.

“I gotta . . . fuck, I gotta find us a flight to Jersey,” Emmett husks suddenly, still sniffling. “I told Phoebe I’d be there by noon—”

“I can find a flight for us,” Tom says gently. “Hell, if anyone can find a quick flight out of town, it’s me, right?”

“You and Orbitz.” Emmett laughs a little.

Neither of them move for a while, however. Tom thinks Emmett may have fallen asleep until Emmett stirs then sits up, wiping his face and glancing at Tom. He looks young and cried-out, his face a red, wet wreck, his eyes painfully swollen and red-looking.

“Okay. You book the flight.”

“Alright.” Tom scoots to the front of the bed and stands up, pulling Emmett to his feet as well, and into his arms. Emmett tries to smile, but his face does that crumpling-thing at the last second, and he’s crying again, not resisting when Tom pulls him close and hugs him tight.

“I knew I shouldn’t have started,” Emmett breathes, tear-logged laughs mixing with sobs. “This is why I never cry. Once I start, I can’t seem to stop.”

“Who says you have to?”

I do.” Emmett pulls away a little, shaking his head. His face is still wet, and his chest heaving, but he’s stopped sobbing. “I can’t be a basketcase now. Maybe later, after we’ve planned the funeral, and the wake, but right now . . . I’ve gotta hold it together. Help me hold it together, Tom. Please?”

Emmett’s eyes are begging for something. For instructions, for something to do to take his mind off his grief. So Tom pulls on the mantle he’d thought to have taken off forever. The mantle of Tom Madden, the selfish, manipulative bastard who’d taken and taken from Emmett since the day they met and who’d never, ever given anything back.

It’s least he can do and be, for now. For Emmett.

“You’re gonna take a quick shower, and I’m gonna get started on finding us a flight to Newark Airport. Okay?”

Emmett nods wiping at his nose impatiently. “And then?”

“And then you can get us packed, and I’ll get the kids packed.”

“Alright, Tom.” Emmett sighs, putting his hands on Tom’s chest and leaning in to kiss his cheek. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

When Emmett smiles this time, his face doesn’t crumple, but the smile is mirthless. “You don’t have to say that just because I did. Or just because . . . you feel bad for me.”

Tom brushes away the last of Emmett’s tears. “I’m not. I love you, Emmett Fisher. You don’t have to believe it right away, but I want you to know.” He pulls Emmett close for another kiss. He still tastes like tears and toothpaste. “Now hit the shower before I ravish you again.”

Emmett snorts. “So that means I’ve got—what, another hour, hour and a half?”

“Ha-ha.” Tom smacks Emmett’s ass lightly. “Go on.”

The smile Tom gets before Emmett goes into the bathroom is trembling, but genuine. And when the bathroom door shuts between them, Tom sits heavily on the bed for a few minutes, face buried in his hands, listening to the shower run.

END
© Copyright 2015 beetle (beetle at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
Writing.Com, its affiliates and syndicates have been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work.
Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2034351-The-Mechanics-of-Comfort