I could do nothing but watch him as he carted yet another box out to his car. I fought tears. Whether they were from sadness or anger, I couldn’t tell. My heart was breaking, and he didn’t seem to care. After eighteen months together—the last nine of which we had lived together—and he was throwing it all away.
I’d wanted him the moment I saw him. Up until that point, I’d been struggling with my sexuality. But the moment I walked into American History and saw the seat open next to the most beautiful boy I had ever seen, I stopped fighting with myself. I was gay. And I wanted that boy. When I sat next to him, I’d had no idea whether or not he was into guys. The way his gaze searched my face, and then traveled the length of my body, had put those worries to rest. His name was Tyler, and he was kind and funny and hot. We decided to be study partners by the end of class. Our first study session had ended in bed. We’d be insuperable ever since. Until now, apparently.
Graduation had been three weeks ago. I’d been planning on staying here all along and getting my master’s in education at the same college I’d done my undergrad work. Tyler had been a little more unsettled, and he’d applied to several different graduate schools. He wanted to get his master’s degree in Public Policy—I was still unclear as to what exactly that meant—and he had options. All of those options had been close by, or at least within a couple of hours drive. But just last week, he’d gotten the letter. The one school that was far away, the one he thought he didn’t have a chance of getting into, had accepted him. And that was where he was going now. Without talking to me about it first, he’d accepted. And he hadn’t even asked me to go with him.
It was a phenomenal program, and there was a part of me that was bursting with pride that he’d gotten in. He couldn’t pass the chance up, and the truth was, I didn’t want him to. But Tyler hadn’t even considered that as an option. I thought we’d been starting to build a life together. I loved him. And I knew he loved me. Not enough, though. Not enough to ask me to go.
Tyler walked back into the apartment, but instead of making another trip to get bags or boxes, he crossed into the living room and stood in front of me. His blue eyes were wet as he looked down at me, and his smile was a little shaky on his face.
“I guess that’s it,” he said softly.
I nodded, not quite meeting his eyes. He reached out a hand, and I let him cup my cheek. His thumb smoothed along my skin for a moment before he titled my chin up a fraction. “I love you, Christian.”
“I know,” I whispered.
He took a shuddering breath. “But I have to go. I have to do this.”
“I know that too,” I said. Knowing it didn’t make it hurt any less, but I didn’t say that out loud.
“Keep in touch?”
“Sure,” I responded, not meaning it at all. By the look in his eyes, I knew he knew I was lying. I was glad he didn’t call me on it. I didn’t want a big fight. We’d done that two days ago.
He leaned down and kissed me. I savored it, knowing it would be our last. He released me, opened his mouth as if he were going to say something, then shut it with a shake of his head. He took a step back, and then another.
I closed my eyes. I couldn’t watch him walk out the door for the last time.
Weddings were not my favorite thing. They were loud and crowded, and everyone was overly happy. I sat in my assigned seat, nursing a beer while I people watched. I wouldn’t have come at all, but two of my closest friends had finally gotten their act together and decided to tie the knot. If I hadn’t come, I wouldn’t have ever heard the end of it. So I sat, and smiled, and waited until enough time had passed that I could finally make my exit from the reception.
I let my gaze wander, taking in the crowd. I could see the entire banquet hall from my vantage point. The bride looked radiant in her white silk sheath, her hair piled on top of her head, curls spilling around her heart-shaped face. The groom and his ushers were horsing around by the bar, the last vestiges of their youth making itself known. I smiled when I saw the mother of the bride reaching for yet another glass of champagne, then scowled as the father of the groom harried one of the wait staff. Typical wedding shenanigans. I shook my head, moving on, looking for something else to grab my attention.
Then I saw him. My heart stuttered in my chest, my lungs seizing as they fought to draw air. Tyler. Looking even better than I remembered, his hair swept back from his high forehead in a much more professional cut than he’d worn last time I had seen him. Had it really been three years?
I should have realized he’d been invited. He’d been a part of the same circle I had in college. And just because I’d purposely fallen out of touch with him didn’t mean everyone else had. But I couldn’t talk to him, couldn’t let him see me. Though I didn’t think about him all the time anymore, seeing him had brought that hurt back. I stood, ready to make an escape, and inadvertently drew attention to myself. I saw the moment he recognized me. His face lit up with that smile that had once been my undoing, and he practically raced across the room to get to me.
“Christian! Holy shit!” Tyler’s voice was loud enough that several people nearby startled and stared. He pulled me into his arms, his embrace tight, and the instant that his familiar scent washed over me, I melted. I hugged him back, my body remembering exactly how it felt to be held by him.
Eventually, he pulled back and stared into my eyes. “I was looking for you,” he murmured.
“You found me.” My voice was full of sarcasm. Tyler blinked, then smiled.
“Yeah, I can totally understand if you still hate me. I just…God, it’s good to see you.” His gaze roamed over my face, like he was drinking in the sight of me. I stood there and let him, my riotous emotions not letting me get a hold of myself. “Can we sit? Can we talk? Please, Chris. Just for a bit.”
I nodded dumbly, and resumed my seat. I could never say no to him. And really, what would it hurt? I’d gotten over the worst of the pain and anger years before. Yes, there was a part of me that still ached for him, a part that was still hurt over the way he left me. But the intervening years had given me a bit of perspective.
He told me about his life, and he wanted to know all about me. What was supposed to only be a few minutes turned into hours. We sat there at the table in the corner, filling each other in on every aspect of what the other had missed in the last three years. He’d always been easy to talk to—he was an exceptional listener—and that hadn’t changed. We fell into old habits, and by the time we were one of the few people left at the reception, I had my feet in his lap and he was tracing patterns on the back of my hand. It felt comfortable and natural, which is how everything had always been with us.
When I mentioned that we should leave because the party was over, a strange look passed over his face.
“I have a room here at the hotel,” he said quietly after a long moment. “Come upstairs with me?”
I knew I should say no. He’d broken my heart. He’d left me. But he’d been chasing his dreams, and we’d both been young. I couldn’t really fault him for the way he’d handled things three years ago. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to feel his body pinning me to the mattress again.
When morning came, and the sun was just starting to creep into the room, I snuck from the bed as quietly as I could. Tyler rolled over, burying his face in the pillow where I’d lain. I watched him for a moment, then slowly got dressed.
This time, I was the one to walk out.
Third Time’s the Charm…
He had to be a figment of my imagination. Because there was no way that Tyler was in my coffee shop. There was no reason for him to even be in town. Five years ago at the wedding, he had told me that he was about to start a job with some assemblyman he’d interned with during grad school. It must be the lack of caffeine that was making hallucinate.
“Christian.” The man even sounded like Tyler.
“What? How? What?”
He laughed. God he had a great laugh, always had. “You’re staring at me like you’ve seen a ghost. It’s really me, I’m really here.”
I grinned, I couldn’t help it. He looked really good. “Hey, good to see you again.” I patted his arm, and then went to move around him. I needed coffee and he was blocking my path.
Tyler wouldn’t be deterred. He stepped up beside me as I waited in line. Neither of us said anything for a long moment. And then his shoulder bumped mine. “So, here’s some news. I’ve moved back here.”
“That’s great.” I tried to sound non-committal, but my heart was pounding. I told myself I shouldn’t care.
“I finally got everything orchestrated so I could take a job here. To be where you are. So I can win you back.”
I turned fast, almost losing my balance, and stared at him like he was crazy. What the hell was he talking about? We’d been over for a long time. He couldn’t possibly think that we could just pick up where we left off. “Tyler—”
“Nope,” he cut me off with a grin. “I was an idiot for walking away from you. I should have asked you to come with me. Or not gone at all. That was a dumbshit move on my part. It just took me a long while to get everything straight in my head. For me to realize that you were the best thing that ever happened to me, and that my life is nothing without you.”
I smiled. “Go easy on the clichés there.”
He laughed. “Yes, well, clichés are cliché because they’re true. I still love you. And I want to make a life with you. I just want you to give me a chance to show you that I’ve changed, I’m committed, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to have you back in my life.”
“Just like that?” I asked quietly.
Tyler shook his head. “No, of course not. It’s going to take a lot of time before you can trust me again. I get that. I expect that. As long as you give me a chance, I’m willing to wait however long it takes.”
“Tyler,” I tried again, but he grabbed my hand and held it tight.
“Christian,” he said seriously. “Just sit with me, talk with me. If the spark’s not there anymore, then we can walk away. If you think that you can’t ever trust me again, I’ll let you go. But you have to give me a chance.”
I studied him for a long moment. I could see the sincerity in his eyes—he’d always been a shit liar—and I knew he believed it. But there was no telling if what we’d had at twenty-one would still be there eight years later. We’d been good together, complimenting each other in every way. I had never found that deep a connection with anyone else. There was a part of me that still loved him and always would, but it was possible that the men we had become were no longer compatible. Of course, there was only one way to find out.
I took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and smiled. “Let’s start with dinner.”