The quiet in the graveyard absorbed that cry.
"How did you meet?" Marc asked softly.
"Quite by chance actually." The young man smiled, staring at the tombstone. "You know how on tv people's packages get mixed up, and when they go to exchange them, it's love at first sight?"
"Yeah?" Marc replied, forever the romantic.
"Well they were showing a preview for one of those movies at the multiplex."
Marc let out a partial chuckle as the young man continued.
"I was on aisle patrol. Instead of watching the aisle, I was watching the screen, and somehow we collided. Lucky for us, the popcorn cushioned the collision. I waited until the end of the movie, so I could get a better look. And to my surprise, he had done the same thing, in hopes I would return." The young man paused and stared at the tombstone. "It was two years ago today," he said softly.
Marc stared silently at the young man before him. He stood about 5'8", with a swimmer's build. He had dark brown hair, almost black. And beautiful blue eyes. It was those eyes that caused Marc to follow the young man through the cemetery. It made Marc's heart ache when he thought of the pain he must still be feeling.
"Steven was 22, I was only 17," the young man continued. "People think poorly of Steven when they hear of our age difference. But it was nothing to us. We complimented each other so well. He filled the voids in my life."
"He was your first love, Jason?" Marc asked.
Jason nodded. "I was hoping he would also be my last, and only."
"What...happened?" Marc asked cautiously. "If you don't want to-"
"No, no it's alright. It was a drunk driver. Six months ago. I had to work the overnight shift at the store, and Steven didn't want me to drive myself. He said the roads weren't safe." Tears streamed down Jason's cheek. "I only wish that bastard would have struck the car before Steven dropped me off."
Marc's gaze shifted from the tombstone to Jason to the ground. Jason wiped his face, and turned to Marc.
"What happened with your Luke?"
Marc cracked a partial smile. "He wasn't mine. I honestly don't know why I came up here to him. I guess when things go wrong, we look for someone to blame. Someone that isn't yourself."
"Steven always believed that things happened for a reason. Maybe our paths were meant to cross," Jason trailed off.
Marc waited a moment for Jason to finish, but nothing more was forthcoming. He didn't know a thing about this kid, but leaving him here on such an anniversary didn't sound like a good idea to him.
"There's a donut shop on Tenth. How about we walk over there and you tell me more about him?"
"No, thanks," Jason said, slowly coming back to the present.
"I could use a good cup of coffee, and I think it would do you good as well. I'm not an animal, I promise," Marc said sincerely.
Jason bent back to the tombstone he was visiting, lightly kissing his fingers and touching Steven's name. He stood up and followed Marc from the cemetery, responding more to Marc's tone than what was actually said.
The walk to the shop was quiet. Marc tried to sort through his mental files for something to say, but nothing sounded proper. Once at the shop, they sat at a booth in the back.
"Coffee or cocoa?" Marc asked.
"Coffee please, with cream," Jason said, staring at the table.
"Glazed, powdered or chocolate?"
"Jelly?" Jason said, tilting his head up just enough to make eye contact.
Marc smiled warmly, and went to the front counter to order. Jason sat at the table, quietly drumming his fingers against it, staring blankly. He wasn't sure why he was there, but something felt right, being able to talk about Steven. Marc returned quickly and placed the request in front of Jason. Jason nodded, and played with his donut. Marc let out a half laugh, picturing Matthew doing the same thing when Rolf was in the hospital. When Jason realized he was being watched, he blushed slightly and started to nibble at it. They ate their donuts in silence. Just as the silence was becoming unbearable, Jason spoke.
"Steven Bauer was a good man. He was always there to lend a helping hand to anyone. His hand was so powerful, yet completely gentle and nurturing."
Marc puzzled at that comment, but soon heard the silence again. "You mentioned that you work in retail, what does...did Steven do?"
Jason smiled. "What didn't he do? His main job was at the garage. But he took a second one to help get me to college. He worked in the library on campus, usually at night."
"Now that gives me images of a British man in shirt and tie," Marc replied with a laugh.
"As sexy as Giles may be, he was no Giles. I assume you were referring to Buffy?"
"Yes." Marc said with a nod.
"No, Steven was about 6 foot, football player's build, but he was solid. His face was the typical American boy next door, blonde hair-blue eyes." Jason sighed, wanting to say more, but reflected on the image instead.
In the midst of the silence, Marc took a glance at his watch.
"Am I keeping you from something?" Jason asked, catching the subtle motion.
"No." Marc replied, shaking his head.
"I know I am not the best company right now. But I feel very comfortable being with you. I...I don't know how to explain it."
"You have a nice smile. Very warm, much like Steven's," Jason said, studying Marc.
"Thank you," Marc replied, blushing.
"That smile is what really attracted me to Steven. He had the most luscious red lips. Full, sexy, pouty, I just couldn't ever get enough of them. I still laugh when I think about the time I put lipstick on them while we were camping. He got up and went into the bathhouse and I heard the low growl from our tent," Jason said, laughing.
"Did you camp a lot?" Marc asked, smiling in spite of himself.
"We tried to go every weekend we could. It was nice to get away.
Steven worked so hard for us, and I was always busy with school and my job. So when we had parts of two days and a night off in between, we'd go in a heartbeat. Usually not to anyplace extra nice or whatever, just a quiet stop out in the woods. My favorite place was the gorge. There were caves there to explore, the quiet river, the large rocks. We’d go off the beaten path and plop the tent down in the clearing and just stay as long as we could."
Marc saw an entirely different person sitting across from him than the young man at the cemetery. This one had bright, dancing eyes and a ready, warm, smile. He was interrupted by his phone ringing.
Marc gave an apologetic smile before opening the phone. "Hello?"
"Hi hon, it's mom."
Marc laughed. He never quite understood his mother having to identify herself.
"Hey mom, what’s up?"
"I got a call from your uncle Robert. He's passing through tonight and I thought you might like to come for dinner. Are you free?"
"Yeah, I think so. When?"
"Dinner will be at six. I can set a place for you?"
"Yes, that would be great," Marc said, calculating that he'd have to leave pretty quickly to get there in time.
"He'll love to see you. I need to get some stuff from the store, I'll see you soon," his mom said before hanging up.
Marc closed his phone.
"I guess you have to leave?" Jason said quietly, the light having left his eyes.
Marc looked closely at Jason, thinking hard. He decided quickly.
"Yes, I do. But I'd love to try catching a movie with you - in honor of Steven, if you wouldn't mind?" Marc was surprised at how hard that was to say, and how worried he was that Jason would say no and that would be that.
"A...a movie?" Jason asked almost if he were confused.
"Yes," Marc said, needing a definite time and place. "How about tomorrow, the shows? We can meet at the Cinaplex at the mall?"
"Oh. Okay," Jason said slowly. "I'd like that."
Marc wasn't too sure, but he really had to leave. "I look forward to seeing you tomorrow. Need a lift anywhere?"
"No. No, I think I'll have another donut. Thanks," Jason finished, getting up and heading to the register.
Marc wanted to say more, but didn't know exactly what, and he was running out of time. He headed for the door, and his truck.
Marc paced the front entrance of the movie theater. He looked out at the passing cars, but didn't see the face he was seeking.
"Where are you Jason, it's nearly 3?" Marc asked quietly.
"You do that a lot."
Marc spun around, coming face to face with Jason. Marc smiled softly.
"What's that?" Marc asked.
"Talk to yourself," Jason replied. "Sorry I'm late, I just..."
"Weren't sure if you should come?"
Jason looked at the ground and nodded.
"There is no shame in that. I am glad you did though."
"I'm," Jason paused, as he looked into the movie theater. "I don't feel up to this."
Marc's smile fell. "I'm sorry. I knew I was pushing by asking you here."
Marc's head jerked up.
"I mean, no. I was...Last night, I had felt a lot better. Because of you." Jason breathed in deeply. "Listen to me rambling on. You're the first person I have felt comfortable talking to in a long time."
Marc smiled again.
"If you don't have your heart set on the movie, perhaps you would just like to go and talk?" Jason asked, hopeful.
Marc reached into his pocket and grasped his prepaid ticket tightly. He removed his hand from the pocket and nodded. "Where would you like to go?"
"There's a quiet bar over at Sampson's at the mall? I'd drive, but I took the bus here," Jason said.
"That's fine. I've got my truck outside," Marc replied, opening the door for Jason. "It's right over here," Marc said, unlocking the doors with his remote. He slid into the driver's side and buckled his seatbelt, turning to Jason.
"I don't go anywhere without you belted in," Marc said gently.
Jason gave an embarrassed smile. "Sorry, Steven always used to have to remind me too," he said, buckling the belt.
"Do you not drive with it?" Marc asked as he started the truck and headed down towards the mall.
"Just when I think about it," Jason said nonchalantly.
"You really should wear it at all times," Marc said. "It is the law, as well as being smart."
"I know," Jason said after an awkward silence.
"I'm sorry," Marc said. "Didn't -"
"It's okay," Jason replied quickly. "You're right, I should. I just don't think about things like that all the time, with Steven gone," Jason finished quietly.
Marc wasn't sure what to say, and the short drive was finished up with an awkward silence. They got out and walked into the bar, taking a seat in the back. Marc ordered a nonalcoholic drink, prompting Jason to do the same.
"You never did say what it is that you do?" Jason asked.
"I am a district manager for a local video chain."
"Wow, that sounds like an impressive accomplishment for someone, um, so young."
"Thanks. I guess it is. I just have the right mix of ambition and discipline."
As Marc concluded the last portion of his sentence, Jason took a sip of his drink and immediately began to choke at the word "discipline".
"Are you okay?" Marc asked.
Jason nodded. "Wrong pipe," he finished, blushing.
"How about you? What are your career ambitions?" Marc asked.
Jason shrugged and looked at the table.
"Come on, that's not an answer," Marc replied out of instinct.
Jason shifted in his seat, and looked up, not directly at Marc though. "For the immediate future, I see a life in the check out lane."
"Oh? What about school?"
"Things have been rough for me, obviously. And I haven't had much drive or focus. I should have taken the semester off, but I didn't. Now I am on the verge of flunking out, which will mean I lose the little scholarship money I DO get."
"Sounds like you have given in."
"It looks bleak."
"What classes do you have?"
"Trig, Ethics, Philosophy and photography."
"Well, I have a healthy math background. The business world gives you a bird's eye view of ethics. And I have a feeling you have a special eye for photography."
"What are you saying?" Jason asked.
"I am saying, if you want it, I am offering to help get you back on track."
"You would do that?"
"I would always help Matth...someone out with his studies." Marc's train of thought quickly derailed at the thought of Matthew's name. He feared what damage may have been done to that relationship.
"I couldn't ask you to do that," Jason replied after a moment.
"And you haven't. I am offering, and I want to do it."
"You'd really do that for me?" Jason asked quietly, too shocked to be able to accept that outright.
Marc smiled and hardly without thinking, put his hand over Jason's.
"Yes, I'd do that for you."
"What can I say, I'm a sucker for blue eyes," Marc said, trying to lighten the moment.
Jason smiled shyly and pulled his hand out from under Marc's, anxious to take a drink while he worked out what he was feeling. The help from Marc would be really nice as he didn't want to lose his scholarship, but he wasn't sure what Steven would think about it.
Marc sat and observed Jason. He could tell that he had made Jason uncomfortable. Marc sat back and rummaged through his coat pocket. He pulled out a pen and a scrap of paper. He scribbled something down, and handed the paper to Jason.
"What's this?" Jason asked as he looked at the paper with confusion.
"My phone number." Marc replied.
"I kinda figured that out, since it says Marc's number on the top. Why did you give it to me?”
Marc took a sip of his drink, and stared at it as he swirled it around.
"I can tell I am moving too quickly for you."
Jason opened his mouth to speak, but Marc cut him off.
"That is understandable. My offer stands to help tutor you. You can keep my number, you can toss it. Whatever. If you decide you need my help, or just someone to talk to." Marc stopped talking almost abruptly. He felt he said all there was to say.
Rolf sighed heavily. It seemed no matter what activity he suggested, he couldn't get Matthew to show the slightest spark of interest. He inched closer to Matthew who was sprawled on his stomach on the dock staring blankly at the lake. He gently rubbed his back.
"What's bothering you?" Rolf asked.
Matthew just shrugged.
"You have been very distracted since yesterday morning. You knew it was a possibility that Marc would have to go to work."
Matthew squirmed at the mention of Marc's name.
"Would you like to call him and see-" Rolf started speaking, but was quickly cut off by Matthew.
Rolf's eyes widened at Matthew's sharp tone.
"I meant, no. I am sure he is busy. We will talk to him when we get home. I am fine." Matthew replied, trying to sound believable.
"Come on, we don't have much time left before we have to drive home. Let's take a walk," Rolf said, standing to his feet. He stretched out his arm to help Matthew to his feet.
Matthew would have preferred to continue lying lifeless on the dock, contemplating things. But he knew there would be time for that later. He accepted Rolf's hand and stood up.
Marc was at home when the phone rang at eight on Sunday night. He jumped up to answer, thinking it was going to be Jason. His hand was on the receiver, ready to pick up when he realized that Matthew and Rolf would probably be getting back into town at this hour. He dropped his hand to his side and let the answering machine pick up.
"Hey Little One. I was just checking in, we're back home. Call me."
Marc wandered back over to the couch and sat down, his stomach sinking. He still wasn't sure what he could say to Matthew or Rolf.
Marc spent the next couple of hours trying to come up with a viable plan. His hand reached for the phone several times, but never made contact. It was too much to deal with now, so Marc retired to bed just before ten.
The next morning, Marc got to work early and immediately started on some paperwork that was due at the end of the week. He decided to not chance things and kept his instant messenger turned off. Marc waited until well after 10 before picking up the phone. He dialed Rolf and Matthew's home number, and got the answering machine as suspected.
"Hey, got your message late. Just wanted to say hi. Hope you enjoyed the rest of your weekend. Working late. Talk with you soon. Lo...Bye." Marc said after the beep.
He hung up the phone and continued working on the revenue reports.
Matthew, meanwhile, sat at his computer staring cautiously at his own instant messenger. He didn't know what he would say if Marc had appeared, but it was simply too quiet without him. Matthew accessed his e-mail, thinking perhaps a message was left in Marc's absence, but his box was void of anything other than spam. He sighed heavily, wondering where things got so complicated, and wishing it could be fixed. Frustrated, he exited the internet program and began tackling work.
Rolf put his briefcase down next to the door and tripped through the cats that came to greet him, all eager to be fed. He pulled out a can of tuna and placed that in a bowl on the floor, which effectively cleared the rest of the kitchen. He saw he had two messages and pressed the play button. The first was Marc, which raised Rolf's eyebrows. Marc knew all phone numbers to reach him or Matthew at any hour of the day or night, and he couldn't figure out why Marc would call the one number that he knew wouldn't get him a live person. He was just about to try calling Marc when the second message started. It was his mother saying that his aunt was in the hospital. He immediately dialed his mom, all thoughts of Marc gone for the time being.
The evening came and went, and all remained quiet at Matthew and Rolf's. As they retired to bed, Matthew laid there staring at the ceiling, lost in thought.
"Are you feeling alright?" Rolf asked, startling Matthew.
"What?" He asked, jolted back to the bed.
"You've been quiet all night, like you usually are when a cold is coming on." Rolf replied, feeling Matthew's forehead.
Matthew squirmed away from Rolf's human thermometer. "I'm fine." He said, unconvincingly.
"If you aren't getting sick, what is it?" Rolf continued to press.
"I was....I don't know." Matthew trailed off.
"I thought Marc would call...is all." Matthew said, missing his good friend.
"Oh! I knew there was something I wanted to do."
"What?" Matthew asked.
"Marc left a message and I meant to call back."
"Here? He left a message here?"
"Yes, he must have been busy with a project and wanted to get a quick word to us."
Matthew didn't buy that, but hoped it was something that simple.
"I will call him in the morning" Rolf said, with a yawn.
Matthew took some comfort in that, and snuggled closer to Rolf, falling asleep fairly easily.
"Hi, can I speak to Mr. Diablo please?"
"May I ask who is calling?" Lisa asked.
"Please hold Mr. Monet," Lisa said putting him on hold. She rose from her desk and walked back to Marc's office. She knocked on the door and entered.
"Mr. Monet is on line one for you."
Marc inhaled sharply and shook his head. "Um, tell him I am um...I uh..."
"Are in a meeting?" Lisa assisted.
"Meeting, yes! Good. With Leslie. Take the message for me."
Marc nodded and stared at the phone. He watched as the line went from being held, to in use and finally to disconnected. His stomach turned. He knew lying was high on the list of things you never do to Rolf, but given the circumstances, he just wasn't ready to deal with anything yet. Marc let a couple hours pass before leaving a second message for them at home.
"Hey Rolf, sorry I missed you earlier. Meeting ran long, on my way...to store nine. Check in with you soon. Bye. Hi Matt. Bye." Marc said, stumbling throughout. He hung up the phone and stared at his computer. He wondered if Matthew was connected, waiting for a sign of life. Marc's finger circled the instant messenger button. Just as he was ready to push it, Lisa interrupted him with a call.
Rolf stared at the answering machine. Marc was now two for two at leaving messages at a number he knew no one would be at. And Rolf's blood was pumping. He picked up the phone and dialed Marc's cell, and hung up. He redialed, this time entering his home number. Rolf waited impatiently for his machine to beep.
"Marc, it's Rolf. I am not sure exactly what is going on, but I do NOT like it. You have contacted us twice at home when you KNEW we wouldn't be here. You can make sure your schedule is clear for dinner tomorrow night at our house. That is not a request, it is a DEMAND. Unless you want to see me get thoroughly upset, be HERE. Matthew and I both send our love," Rolf said, ending the call.
"Who do we send our love to?" Matthew asked, having just entered the house.
"Oh? He called? You talked to him?" Matthew asked hopefully.
"He left a message and I did the same."
"Oh," Matthew replied, clearly disappointed.
"I invited him to dinner tomorrow night."
"Think he'll be able to make it?" Matthew asked, borderline sarcasm.
Rolf nodded, then walked over to Matthew and gave his welcome home kiss. "He'll be here."
Marc got home and checked his messages. The first was a reminder to schedule a dental visit. The second was Rolf, and made him cringe. He realized that his time had run out whether he was ready or not.
The following day passed too quickly for Marc. He left IM off, still not sure what he'd say to Matthew, and as he was seeing them that night, decided to just wait. He finished up at work right at five, then settled back for some personal surfing time. He wanted to wait until
Matthew was sitting in the living room, not sure whether he was missing Marc, or was more pissed at being ignored, or was more confused with Marc's behavior. It was leaving him very short tempered, and at odds with Rolf. He was only in the living room because Rolf had sent him there to keep from strangling him while fixing dinner.
Rolf was more certain than ever that something had happened between the two young men, but he was unable to pinpoint anything in particular. All he knew was that he'd had enough and things were going to be discussed tonight, if not fixed once and for all.
Matthew jumped off the couch when the knock came at . He opened the door and stepped back.
"Hi fruitloop," Marc said, walking in.
"Hey," Matthew said, walking away from the door and letting Marc close it behind himself.
Marc was about to say something when Rolf walked in.
"Hi sweetheart. How are you?" Rolf asked, walking over for a hug.
"Okay," Marc said, hugging the taller man back.
Matthew watched from across the room, making mental notes of everything from grip to hand placement. Marc caught a brief glimpse of Matthew's piercing eyes, and ended the hug.
"Guess work has really been keeping you hopping, huh?" Rolf asked.
"Yeah, you know, no rest for the wicked," Marc replied, chuckling.
Rolf chuckled in reply too. "Let me check on the roast," Rolf said, heading for the kitchen.
Marc joined Matthew on the couch and stared blankly at the television screen. Matthew inched over towards the couch arm, burying himself in the corner. Marc's mouth opened to comment, but nothing appropriate came out. Instead he slid over to the far end of the couch and stared out the window. Rolf re-entered the room and stared at them both.
"Dinner is done. We can discuss what this is all about at the table," he said firmly.
"What what's about?" Matthew asked gruffly.
"Whatever this problem is between you and Marc."
"I have no problem." Matthew said, rising and heading for the table.
Marc also got up from the couch. His gaze fixed on the door as he contemplated excusing himself. But between Rolf's watchful eye, and the sheer need to fix this, he followed Matthew's lead to the table. Marc took his seat across from Matthew, who made certain he was staring at his plate and not Marc. Rolf followed and dished out the servings. He took his seat at the end of the table, and volleyed his head from boy to boy.
"What's seems to be the problem? Things haven't been right since the weekend." Rolf said, jumping in.
Marc probed the food on his plate, knowing it was him who had to reply, since he HELD the answers.
"I asked a question." Rolf spoke again.
Marc put his fork down and sat back in his chair. He looked at Matthew, whose gaze was glued to his plate. Marc turned to Rolf, but couldn't hold eye contact, and turned back to his plate.
"I didn't mean for it to happen." Marc said quietly.
Matthew's head rose for the first time.
"Mean for WHAT to happen?" Rolf asked impatiently.
"The nights can be cold and lonely when you are sleeping in a bed alone. You can see a person day in and day out, but never REALLY see them for who they are, or what they might be. Then one day, things seem clearer. But it's not real. You know?" Marc asked rhetorically.
"What?" Rolf asked, thoroughly confused.
Matthew remained silent and studied Marc hard.
"Do you remember a few weeks back, that night Matthew and I were attacked at the river?"
"Yes, the river I asked you to stay away from," Rolf replied.
"You roasted my behind but good, as you had done on many previous occasions."
"And will do on future ones, if required," Rolf added pointedly. Marc didn't react.
"When I went home that night, I was looking at a picture of us on my table. And I had an epiphany. I saw 'clearly' for the first time."
Matthew continued to watch Marc, trying to gage his sincerity, but squirming in his seat at his prior confusion.
"I have had a few failed attempts at dating, and several have been all too recent. But something about the picture seemed right. It was something that I wanted to be a part of."
Rolf's eyes widened as he finally got it. It now made sense in explaining everything.
"I knew something was different with you, but I couldn't place it. How do you feel now?"
"Well, I still very much love you, both," Marc said sincerely.
Matthew's eyes enlarged, thoroughly uneasy about the idea. Rolf's mouth opened, searching for words.
"As friends," Marc finished with a smirk.
A mixture of relief and distaste over the joke came across Matthew and Rolf's faces. "So, what changed?" Matthew asked, speaking for the first time in a while.
Marc blushed and stared at his plate.
"Things haven't changed, have they?" Matthew said, just shy of accusingly.
"Shortly after I retired for bed on Friday night, you both did the same." Marc said still unable to raise his head for eye contact. "I heard the tone in your voices, I knew it was my opportunity. Either love me or leave me."
Matthew and Rolf stared at Marc, both eager and horrified to hear the rest.
"I went to the...I mean when you entered you didn't...um, the door...it didn't latch. I...I saw you two, you know, and I found myself...um...enjoying the show. I was ready to, join you, when you both suddenly stopped and proclaimed your love for each other. That was a powerful moment for me. One that broke the 'spell' I was under. That's when I took off. I had to get away. It's been a long couple of days thinking about how foolish I had acted."
"You spied on us?" Matthew asked quietly.
"I didn't....I just -"
"You spied on us!" Matthew spat. "You stood out in the hall and SPIED on us! We invite you to the cabin and you do that?" Matthew said, standing up from the table, his eyes flashing. "You get your jollies trying to break us up? Well you can forget it! I don't care - It's not - I HATE YOU!" Matthew said, his voice cracking as he tore from the table and ran up the stairs, the bedroom door slamming.
Marc got up to follow.
"No, Marc, leave him be. Leave him." Rolf said again, when Marc hesitated. "Even if he was getting signals from you that you were headed in that direction, he did just get a bombshell confirmation and he's going to need some time."
Now that his fears of Matthew’s reaction were coming true, the calm of before snapped. "I didn't mean it to happen. I didn't mean...." Marc sank down in his chair, his elbows on the table and his head in his hands, sobbing. Rolf stood up and walked around the table to Marc, pulling him up. He hugged him hard for a moment, then guided him to the couch, pulling him down and against him, cradling his head as Marc's sobs moved to strong tears. He wished he could be in two places at once as he knew well that Matthew was upstairs doing the same thing.
Marc fought hard and regained control of himself. When he could speak again, he pulled away from Rolf, and rose to his feet. He walked towards the center of the room, and looked at the stairwell.
"This isn't how it was supposed to happen. You know I cherish what we have," Marc said, clearing the lump in his throat a couple of times.
"I know. And Matthew knows that as well." Rolf replied. He rose to his feet and walked to Marc, placing his hand on his shoulder. "You can't always control your heart. Our relationship walks a very fine line of intimacy. I can see how it would be easy to lose yourself, and give in to those feelings."
"But Matthew thinks I am some kind of home wrecker."
"No, no he doesn't. He is just trying to deal with what HIS heart is telling him. Would you mind clearing the table while I check on him?"
Marc didn't respond, he just walked back to the eating area and began gathering the dinnerware.
Rolf headed upstairs to the bedroom, and found Matthew on the bed, his knees up tight under his chin.
"Did he leave?" Matthew asked quietly.
Rolf sat on the bed and gently rubbed his leg, shaking his head 'no'.
"I know you're feeling a rush of emotions. But-"
"I am feeling VIOLATED! And so should YOU!" Matthew snapped.
"That's not fair. Marc opened-"
"The door and WATCHED US MAKING LOVE!" Matthew interrupted again.
"How about you let me finish a sentence here?" Rolf asked firmly. "I know you feel betrayed, and hurt. But so does Marc. He opened himself up to us, exposed..." he paused and held up a hand to silence a remark from Matthew. "He exposed his most inner thoughts to us. Matthew, you have known Marc for how many years? You know he isn't a home wrecker. And you know his feelings of love are purely platonic. I don't expect you to understand all of this immediately, but I do expect you to try. You owe that much to Marc, and to yourself."
Rolf sat quietly, looking at Matthew, waiting for a response. But Matthew never achieved one. Rolf rubbed Matthew's leg where his hand rested. "If you don't wish to discuss this further, I expect you to at least come down and say goodnight,"
Matthew didn't answer.
Rolf left him on the bed and headed downstairs to finish cleaning up with Marc. As Marc heard the approaching footsteps, he turned around quickly, wide eyed. His face showed obvious disappointment when he saw that Rolf was alone.
"Why don't you go sit down, I can finish up." Rolf said nodding.
Marc returned to the couch and stared blankly at the floor. He lost himself deep in thought, and didn't hear Matthew come downstairs.
"Rolf told me to come down and say goodnight. Goodnight." Matthew said, before turning towards the stairs.
"What?" Matthew asked, not turning around. Marc swallowed.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this."
"Sorry to have ruined your perfect plan!" Matthew replied bitterly.
Marc shook his head, desperate to try to make him understand. "Matthew! I didn't mean it like THAT! You know I wouldn't do anything to hurt you, to hurt us. You know it's been a rough couple of months for me. It seemed like whenever there was a bridge for me to cross, you and Rolf were there to help me to the other side. My heart saw something more there. Unfortunately it took the brain a while to catch up and realize you two weren't the answer."
Matthew walked up the stairs without a word. He knew it was a rotten thing to do, but he couldn't help himself, even though he sort of knew what Marc was talking about. He stopped at the top, out of sight, and sat down with his back against the wall, head on his knees. He didn't trust Marc alone with Rolf, even though he couldn't stay downstairs with them.
Marc swallowed hard, trying not to cry. He'd never meant any of this to hurt Matthew, nor Rolf.
Rolf came out of the kitchen, having heard the tail end of the conversation and Matthew's departure. He put his hand on Marc's shoulder, intending to pull him in for a hug.
Marc ducked from under the hand, feeling extremely uncomfortable and upset. "Thanks for dinner. Very nice. Sorry, I have to go."
He zipped out the door almost blindly, needing to get away.
Rolf let him go, his only option left to yell, and that wouldn't help matters right now. He'd call a bit later to make sure Marc had made it home. For right now, he needed to get upstairs and check on Matthew.
He found him in the hallway and bent down.
"Thanks for coming and saying goodnight."
Matthew shrugged, not looking up. Rolf held out a hand.
"There's hockey on tonight, I just checked. Want to catch the Penguins?"
"I guess," Matthew said, letting Rolf pull him to his feet.
Rolf settled them in bed and they watched the first period quietly, Matthew not managing to get into the game like he usually did. When the first period break arrived, Rolf got up.
"Where'you going?" Matthew mumbled as his warm pillow moved.
"I need to call Marc and make sure he got home alright, and lock up downstairs," Rolf said, heading out of the room.
Matthew only stayed put for a few minutes, needing to overhear the conversation with Marc. He stepped down about five stairs until he could hear Rolf's voice. From the sounds of it, Marc had made it home and Rolf didn't keep him on the phone long. He stepped back upstairs and brushed his teeth, sliding into his sleeping shorts and under the covers, waiting for Rolf to return to bed.
Matthew slept fitfully. His dreams were jumbled and scary, and his waking moments were filled with doubts about his relationship with Rolf and Marc. He finally got up at four in the morning and left the warmth of his bed, not wanting to disturb Rolf. He took the blanket off the end of the bed and padded downstairs to the large armchair in the living room. He curled up in that, trying to get warm under the blanket and stared listlessly at the door. Even a cat trying to find a lap did nothing to distract him.
Rolf woke up a short time later, instantly realizing that Matthew wasn’t in bed. A quick look at the bathroom confirmed his love wasn’t there either. His heart heavy, he checked the other beds, then headed downstairs. Seeing a huddled form in the armchair, he walked over. Matthew was curled up in the seat of the chair, his head resting in the corner of the arm and the back, his feet resting against the other arm. There was a cat that was basically sitting against Matthew’s feet, and stretched the length of his lower leg, his head hanging off over his knees, a paw nearly touching Matthew’s chin. Rolf couldn’t help but smile as he lifted the cat up.
“Sorry, sweetie, but I need him upstairs,” Rolf said to the purring cat as he put her down on the floor. He slid his hands gently under Matthew’s knees and against his back, pulling him up from the chair.
Matthew woke up from the movement. “No, put me down. I can’t sleeeeeeeeep,” he whined.
“Shush. You were sleeping just fine in the chair, and if you’d continued, you’d be crippled for the rest of the day,” Rolf said gently as he carried his young lover up the stairs and into their bedroom.
Matthew rolled over and snuggled up to Rolf when Rolf got into bed, trying to get warm. Matthew thought about telling Rolf what he was thinking, but within a few minutes of Rolf starting a gentle massage on Matthew’s back, he was fast asleep.
Marc finally got tired of lying in bed and looking at the dark ceiling. His eyes wouldn’t close because every time they did he saw Matthew’s accusing face, and heard the words “I hate you!” over and over. He was going to be useless at work, but that couldn’t be helped. He headed in for a shower, hoping that the hot spray and the lights would chase away the images and sounds from the night before.
“Damnit!” Marc yelled, throwing the razor hard at the mirror. He grabbed a tissue and wet it, trying to sop up the blood from a third cut from shaving. The cut itself wasn’t bad, but on top of a sleepless night, it was the catalyst that allowed the tears to start. Marc let himself slide slowly down the door, landing in a soft pile on the floor. He pulled his knees up and rested his head on them, giving in to the pain in his heart. He had no idea how things were ever going to be made better, or if they even could. At this point he’d vow to remain single the rest of his life if things could be put right with his two best friends.
Across the hall in his room he heard the shrill of the phone ring twice, three times, then the bleep as the machine cut in. And Jason's voice spoke, hesitant and soft.
"Hi- Marc? It's uh Jason…. I was calling to say I thought about things and I'd um- I'd like to talk to you?"
Marc stared into the darkness, forehead on his knees.
"Marc?" Jason's voice said again. "Marc, are you there?"
“Matthew, you need to eat something,” Rolf coaxed.
Matthew shook his head, burying himself deeper into his mug of hot chocolate.
“Come here,” Rolf said gently, pushing himself away from the table and holding his arms out.
Matthew couldn’t resist, and two steps later found himself crushed by the warm hug. He settled on Rolf’s legs and wound his arms around the larger man’s neck.
“Why were you downstairs last night? You said you couldn’t sleep.”
“I couldn’t,” Matthew said simply. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Sweetheart, if something’s on your mind, you know you can talk to me. If a few minutes in the middle of the night will help you sleep, I’ll gladly give them up.”
Matthew nodded, still not wanting to talk about what he was feeling. He hated that Marc had fucked everything up between them. He hated it even more that Rolf was sort of in the middle, that maybe Rolf still liked him, and how odd that would make things in the future.
When Rolf didn’t get an answer, he pressed further. “This is about yesterday, and what Marc said, isn’t it?” The tightening of Matthew’s muscles, along with all the other unmistakable clues, said he was dead on. He peeled Matthew’s arms from around his neck so he could get a good look at his face.
Matthew resisted for only a moment, before allowing Rolf to situate him. He kept his eyes down though.
“Matthew, we’ve got to talk about this.”
Matthew shook his head no, his lip slipping out without a thought.
“Yes, we do. Marc’s no doubt, feeling –“
Rolf caught his wrist, holding on gently but firmly enough to stop him.
"We can't just ignore this, love. We're going to have to do something to make this better. Why don't you take the morning off, I'll ring in too, and we'll ask Marc over here and see if we can talk this out-"
Matthew twisted his hand free of Rolf's with a yank that made it very clear that the suggestion had in no way helped.
"NO way. Marc is NEVER setting foot in this house again!"
Rolf opened his mouth, somewhat shaken by the decisiveness of that comment. And shut it again as Matthew slammed the door shut behind him.