“Work. That’s all you do lately.” I was sitting at the kitchen table, eating dinner alone. I talked at the cellphone, which was on speaker next to my plate. “It’s been weeks.”
“Not too much longer now, and the project will be complete.”
I was beginning to wonder if there was a project at all. Maybe he was having an affair. A while back he’d mentioned some hot new guy the company had hired for the holidays. He’d obviously been teasing me, but what the hell. I never saw him anymore.
“How late tonight?” I had to work at keeping the irritation out of my voice.
“Another hour or two. See you soon.”
No sooner had we hung up than Mom called. “Hi, Miles. Just calling to remind you we’re leaving tomorrow. Is there anything you need before we take off?”
Not only was Marc the Shadow lately when it came to being my live-in partner, but my folks had, for the first time ever, decided to go on vacation over the holidays. “I remember.” I glanced out the kitchen window. It was snowing, and I could feel how cold it was outside from the icy draft coming in at the edges. The only good thing about the third-floor apartment was Marc. He’d been living here since his last year of college a couple years ago, and it desperately needed updates the landlord apparently wasn’t willing to make, but every time I raised the topic of moving, he shot me down with lame excuses.
“Nope.” I picked at broccoli but wasn’t the least bit tempted to eat it. Christmas sucked this year. I couldn’t wait until the New Year, when hopefully things would get back to normal, meaning Marc could stop putting in long hours and spend some time with me again.
“Are you okay, honey? You don’t sound well.”
“I’m not sick, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
“Good. There’s a nasty flu going around, but I was referring to your mental state. You sound unhappy.”
Mom and I had always been close, and I’d never hidden my feelings from her. She was, in a very real sense, my best friend. “It’s Marc. He’s putting in a lot of overtime at work. I miss him.”
“It’ll probably end after the holidays. Be patient.”
“I’m trying, I really am.” A few evenings ago, driven by morbid curiosity, I’d driven past his place of employment and not seen his car in the parking lot, even though half an hour earlier, he’s told me he was at work. I put my fork down. I wasn’t hungry anymore.“What time’s your flight?”
“Nine. We’ll get to Spain in time for a late dinner.”
“You’ll have a good time.” I said that as if I knew, but I’d only been out of the US once, about four years ago with my folks. Marc and I both had jobs that paid shit, and the economy didn’t look to be improving soon under the current president, who was an idiot. We’d spoken of one day leaving the country, but talk was all it was for now.
She sounded excited. “I’ve heard wonderful things about Barcelona. We can’t wait to explore, though your father is most interested in the food. He’s limited me to visiting only one church a day.”
“We will. See you when we get back.”
After the call ended, I cleaned up the kitchen, put leftover food in the fridge, and retired to the bedroom. We’d put plastic on the windows to kill the drafts, but it was still chilly. I turned on the portable heater, slipped out of my shoes, and crawled under the covers with a book.
I was asleep when Marc came to bed.
The smell of coffee woke me the next morning. Marc was in the kitchen making breakfast. He wore a thick robe over boxers and a tee, and fake-fur slippers kept his feet warm.
He looked at me with a smile when I came in, yawning. “Hungry?”
“The alarm hasn’t even gone off yet. What are you doing up?” The kitchen table was set and glasses were already full of orange juice. “What the hell is this?” Breakfast usually consisted of toast eaten on the way out the door. The only time we lingered was on weekends.
“Today is special, that’s why.” He put half an omelet on each of our plates, then added hash browns and toast, moving with the swift, graceful economy of movement I’d always loved about him.
“It’s Wednesday. Other than it being hump day”—I leered at him comically—“what’s the big deal?”
“You’ll see.” He poured coffee into our mugs. “Let’s eat first.”
“First?” I slid into my usual chair. “What’s going on?”
He sat and dug in. “Hm, this is good. Try it.”
My heart sank as it hit me, all the weeks of worry and fear coalescing into one ugly thought. “You fell in love with that new guy at work. You want me to leave.” The food that had smelled so good a moment ago suddenly made me feel sick. “That’s why you’re never home and why you’ve been so vague about what you’re doing.”
“What?” He stared at me, shocked, then burst into laughter. “You idiot. Is that what you’ve been thinking?”
“You’re gone all the time, and when you’re here, you’re not really here, if you know what I mean. You say you’re working, but how would I know? The company switchboard shuts down at five, and there’s no way to reach you in the evening except by cellphone.” A person could say anything on a cell. How many times had I told someone I was one place when I was somewhere else entirely? I didn’t mention cruising by his parking lot the other night; I thought it would make me sound like a stalker.
I stood and marched from the room, fear having turned to anger. I was pissed. In the bedroom, I opened the cramped closet and pulled a soft-sided bag off the top shelf. I’d make it easy for him. I’d go stay at my folks’ place while they were out of town—they wouldn’t mind—then consider my next move.
Marc lounged in the doorway, arms crossed, looking calmer than I expected under the circumstances. He watched me throw underwear and socks in the bag. “Don’t forget your bathroom stuff.”
I straightened and inhaled sharply. “You could at least sound a little sad about our breakup.”
“Anyone ever tell you that your tendency to jump to conclusions is annoying as fuck?”
“Yeah. You have.” I yanked shirts off hangers and added them to the bag. Marc was right. I tended to imagine the worst. But he wasn’t keeping in mind all the long, lonely hours I’d spent alone while he was off doing whatever. It wasn’t hard coming up with mind-shattering scenarios that explained his absence. Having an affair was at the top of the list.
If we’d agreed to an open relationship, fine. He could fuck whomever he wanted. But we’d chosen monogamy. It had been a tough choice, but until recently, I’d thought he was all right with it.
I sat on the edge of the bed. “If you wanted to change things, you should have said something.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You wanting to see other men.”
He shook his head. “You are so far off the beam, I don’t think you’re even in the same universe as me.” Shoving my bag aside, he sat beside me. “I’m not sneaking around behind your back. I was working.” He pursed his lips. “I just wasn’t doing it at the day job.”
“No overtime was available, so I picked up a second job.”
“I wanted more money.”
“I’ll be right back.” He vanished into the kitchen, then returned. He handed envelopes to me. “Tickets to Barcelona. We leave tomorrow evening.”
I looked at the boarding passes with my mouth open.
Sitting beside me again, he gave me a nudge. “Breathe, Miles.”
“Barcelona in Spain? That Barcelona? I’ve always wanted to go there.” I faced him. “My parents are there right now.”
“I know. We’re meeting them. It’s our first official vacation together. We’re celebrating Christmas in Spain, baby.”
I wanted to punch him for lying to me. Then I wanted to cry, touched by the unexpected gesture. In the end, I hugged him fiercely. Then we got into bed and made up energetically, celebrating hump day in the best way possible.
We never did get around to breakfast.
Marc had arranged to get the rest of the week off, and he’d talked to my employer and done the same thing. for me. We flew out of freezing, snowy Minneapolis at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday and arrived in Barcelona twelve hours later. The temp at home when we’d left was around zero. In Barcelona, it was fifty-five and sunny, and there was no snow anywhere. My parents met us in a rental car. There was a lot of laughter and tears, and I was so thrilled, I could hardly sit still.
“It was a secret,” Mom said from the front seat. Dad was driving and doing his usual competent job of it. Our eyes met in the rearview from time to time, but he mostly let Mom do the talking. “Marc came up with the idea in October and discussed it with us. It’s been hell keeping this from you so long.”
I leaned against Marc. “You’ve been saving for these tickets all this time?”
He put an arm around me. “You’re worth it.”
How had I ever gotten so lucky? Marc had put up with a lot of shit from me over the years, truth be told, but he’d remained faithful and committed. I fell in love with him all over again.
Traffic was light this time of morning, and we zipped along, heading to our hotel, I figured. I was enthralled with the architecture, and then I spotted blue on the horizon. “Ocean!”
“The Mediterranean,” Dad said. “A few lunatics actually swim this time of year, but mostly, people lie on the beach and soak up the sun.”
“Your father and I are driving to the Pyrenees tomorrow,” Mom said. “It’s only two hours away. Lots of wineries on the way.” She grinned at Dad. “I do love wine.”
“But it’s Christmas eve tomorrow,” I protested. “You don’t want to spend it with us?”
“We’ll be back in time for a fabulous dinner.” She faced front. “Don’t you two want to be alone?”
“Yes,” Marc said at the same time I said, “Not necessarily.”
We looked at each other, and I gladly relented. “Yes.”
My parents laughed.
We negotiated narrow streets, Dad parked the car, and we got out. It felt good to stretch. I couldn’t see the water anymore, but I knew it was there, and my heart sang. Minnesota had lots of beautiful lakes, some of them huge, but there was something enticing about an endless body of water like an ocean.
I couldn’t believe I was in Spain with Marc and my parents. A few days ago, I’d been sure he was cheating on me or, at the very least, spending time at work to avoid me. I’d never been so happy to find out how terribly wrong I’d been.
I looked around. “Where’s the hotel?”
Marc’s eyes twinkled. “No hotel.”
“Where are we staying then?”
“You’ll see. We’re near the Gothic Quarter. Only taxis and service vehicles are allowed in the Quarter.”
“And that is…?”
“The oldest part of Barcelona, in the Ciutat Vella district.”
“That means nothing to me, but these buildings are incredible.” The sense of age given off by the structures took my breath away. There was nothing like it in the States. I breathed in history and grinned.
“Come with me,” Marc said and took my hand. With Mom and Dad trailing us closely, he led us through a labyrinthine web of streets, with the aid of the GPS on his phone, until we reached a building four stories high. Pushing through the entrance, he took me up stone stairs until we reached the top floor.
Stopping in front of a green-painted wood door at the end of the corridor, he took a key out of his pocket and slid it into the lock. “We’re home.”
“Home?” I echoed, confused.
He shoved me through the open door. “Go look.”
I was in a tastefully decorated living room, with a couch, chairs, tables and lamps. A flat-screen television was on one wall and bookcases were on another. Large windows flooded the place with warmth. On the left was a small kitchen, and on the right, an archway led to a short hall, off which was a bedroom and bathroom.
“You rented an apartment for our vacation?” I was pleased. This would be so much better than a hotel room.
Marc shared looks with my parents, who’d crossed the living room to the windows. “Not quite.” He bit his lip. “I rented it for as long as we want to stay.”
“We’re moving to Barcelona,” he blurted.
“It’s not a vacation,” Mom said, dancing a little jig. “You’ve said forever you wanted to move overseas, and considering the recent changes in America, Marc thought this was the time, and we agreed.” She pulled me into a tight hug. “Your father and I want you both to be happy, and the US is being less than generous to LGBT people right now. So move to Spain. Live in Barcelona and explore Europe.”
My jaw dropped. What they’d said sank in, and I screamed.
“Quick! Are you happy or pissed?” Marc asked.
“Are you kidding?” I grabbed him and kissed him heartily. “Elated. Ecstatic. Way, way beyond happy.”
The four of us waltzed around the room until we were breathless, then flopped on the furniture.
“But can we afford it?” I wondered aloud.
“Housing in Barcelona is more expensive than in the US, but almost everything else is cheaper, and we don’t need a car. All in all, it breaks about even. We’ll manage just fine,” Marc said. “Especially after we find jobs. I sent out feelers from Minneapolis. I have a couple interviews set up after the holidays.”
“I get to work in Spain? Hot-fucking-dog!” I looked at the apartment through the eyes of a renter and loved what I saw. Inside, it was as modern as anything in the US. Outside was the charm of ancient stone and brick and narrow cobblestone streets. The ocean was a few blocks away, and all of Europe was nearby via rail.
I was in heaven.
“If I’m dreaming, don’t wake me up!” I declared. What an incredible Christmas Eve. I showered Marc with kisses. “Thank you, thank you.”
My parents returned to their hotel, where we would meet them later for dinner, and Marc and I wandered the streets of the Gothic Quarter, then returned to our apartment to christen a couple of rooms.
Afterward, lying in our new bed, sheets tangled around our legs, he said, “Did you know Spain was voted best LGBT country in the world?”
“They passed marriage equality in 2005. Discrimination against us was outlawed in 1996. We can adopt children if we want. We are safer here than we ever will be in America.”
“What about our jobs? What about our stuff?”
“Your parents will pack up and send us anything we can’t live without, and as for our jobs”–he laughed–“Fancy quitting long distance?”
“Oh yeah.” I chuckled, picturing the face my boss would make when he got my email from Spain.
He leaned over, grabbed his jeans off the hardwood floor, and pulled something out of one pocket. “Marry me?”
I looked at the matching gold rings and choked up. “I can be such an asshole. I mean, I suspected you of having an affair. Are you sure?”
“Circumstances, baby. I probably would have wondered the same thing if the situation had been reversed. I’m sorry I was so secretive, but I wanted this to be a surprise.” He brushed the hair out of my eyes. “I love you. I’m sure.”
I leaped on him. “Let’s do it then.”
We married in a five-hundred-year-old church a few days later. Dinner at a nearby restaurant sealed the deal, after which my parents gifted us with cash in the form of a check. “Spend it wisely,” Dad said.
My mother countered, “Or don’t.”
“How about we travel a little?” Marc suggested. “You okay with that?”
“Anything you like, as long as you’re happy,” they said.
They returned to the US, and we settled into our new life in Barcelona. Marc opened a bottle of red wine the night they left, filled our glasses, and handed me one. “To leaping without a net.”
We clinked glasses and gazed out the window. We were high enough to see the ocean from our living room.
I reached for his hand. “Better than leaping to conclusions.”
Laughing, we drank, kissed, then I dragged him to the bedroom.
Word count: 2868
Tomorrow, the next chapter of White Collar appears. The story concludes with Chapter Seven on Monday.