I dreaded returning to the house, but it was surprisingly subdue as I stepped through the front door. Darla had left straight from the rehearsal dinner for her bachelorette party, an invitation I’d happily declined. Jasmine informed me via text Damien had invited her over for a nightcap and I immediately assumed I wouldn’t be seeing her until morning.
I took my shoes off my aching feet, wishing once again that Marisol hadn’t had to abandon me for a hotel room next to mom’s. But Barry was getting in late tonight and I knew she wouldn’t want to miss him. Tony and Florence were off with cousins which just left me wandering around an empty nest.
A light on in the study caught my eye, the door slightly ajar. Pushing it open tentatively, my eyes fell on my papi sitting in front of a small stack of papers but staring off into the distance all the same. I walked behind his desk and threw my arms around his neck.
“That didn’t go too bad, right?” He commented.
“It wasn’t bad at all. But I was actually thinking about mom. I still don’t get what made you invite her to the wedding and her accept the invitation” I admitted, perching myself on the edge of the desk.
“I guess, in some odd way, it was like a peace offering.” Both of my eyebrows rose and he shrugged. “She and I were in love a long time. One thing you’ll learn in time, mi hija, is that love always leaves scars.”
My eyes dropped to the floor, one arm cradling the other as though I could actually feel the wound. Forcing through the emerging lump in my throat, I grinned weakly.
“So how are you doing? No cold feet, I hope.”
For a moment he looked at me, an odd calculation of my features. “Drew, I know there something going on here; more than just Darla and I. I think now is as good a time as any to tell me.” He was slightly agitated, as though he’d been mulling over this for a while.
I tried to feign confusion “I don’t know, what do you – it’s nothing.” My inner battle roared, the words rising in my throat so that my lips had begun to quiver.
“Drew, does it have to do with Gene?” my father pressed, and by now I could tell he was thoroughly annoyed, like this had been a long time coming.
I tried to draw in a breath, to relax, but at the parting of my lips the emotion I’d been holding in suddenly made its escape. I didn’t know what had come over me; frustration I guess. All I knew was every day the burden grew heavier, my conscience the world and I was Atlas. I could feel the truth climbing its way up my throat, and there was no longer anything I could do to keep it down.
“He was the man from the train” I cried out miserably, as a look of recognition dawned on my father’s face. My vision was becoming obscured by tears. “I didn’t mean to Papi; I fell in love with him and I didn’t mean to. I’m so sorry” I cried as though my heart would break.
And it was breaking, slowly, piece by piece. I couldn’t read my father’s expression. He just rose to his feet and left the room without a word.
The slam of the front door told me my father had left the house. It rang with a sense of finality that startled me, as though something had unraveled. The great weight had disappeared from my shoulders but was replaced with ice on my heart. I left his study like something out of a dream, reality only setting in again once I found myself in Gene’s room, though it was no surprise at all, really. At this point there really was nothing to lose.
Though there certainly wasn’t anything to gain either. The lights were all off; I could only see by the light of a dancing beam emanating from the TV in his bedroom.
“Drew? Is that you?” he called as I appeared in his doorway.
I nodded, swallowing hard. “Can I stay with you tonight? Do you think anyone would notice?” My voice was small and inconsolable.
His responding tone told me he didn’t really care what anyone thought about my being there. “Come here.”
I slid under the covers with him, burying my face in the crook of his neck. “How come you’re not at the bachelor party?” I murmured into his skin.
His fingers twisted themselves in my hair familiarly. “I wasn’t particularly in the mood” he commented softly, his warm breath falling carefully across my face.
“But you’ll miss the strippers” I responded, aiming for humor but landing short at bitterness.
His hand came to rest over mine at his chest. “Don’t be silly” came his soft reply.
I brought my hand up to absentmindedly run my fingers over his forearm. My eyes shifted to the TV, where a man was staring fondly at a woman and saying “…If that planes leaves and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”
“But what about us?” the woman asked, a face full of emotion. “We’ll always have Paris…”
It was silent enough that I knew Gene had been watching the scene too. I glanced up at his face, where his lips pressed together in a thin line. At last his countenance cracked and he let out an ancient sigh.
“Your dad makes my mom laugh, you know. More than she has in years. They’ll be happy together.”
I knew I should remove myself from his arms after that comment. But wrapped in the blankets, watching the love story of Casablanca play out on the screen in black and white, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
“And you and I? Will we find happiness?” I asked in a trembling tone.
He mussed my hair with his lips before murmuring “I know you will, eventually.”
I paused from stroking his arm and twisted around to face him. “Why not you?” I asked quietly, afraid to hear the answer. More afraid that it wouldn’t be the answer I wanted to hear.
“Because I know that I can never love someone the way I love you. That’s it for me, Drew. Game over. From the very moment I saw you out on that sidewalk.”
Tears blurred my vision, and he caught the first drop with his thumb. He pressed his lips to my forehead, and held me tighter to him.
That night we didn’t sleep. We didn’t move, we didn’t talk, hardly kissed. We just stayed in our cocoon with his arms around me. In that way, time moved forward slowly, tick by tick. And yet, when the first rays of morning shined through Gene’s windows, it wasn’t nearly enough.
My phone vibrated at eight; it was Marisol, telling me to come get ready with her at the hotel. My legs were stiff and I was all too sorry to move, disturbing my love, whose eyes had only just drooped closed.
“You have to go” he stated, his voice thick with exhaustion and defeat.
“I do” I answered softly, and he gently slid his arms open to free me.
He cracked his eyes open. “I guess I’ll see you at the altar” he joked, only one side of his mouth pulling up in a grin.
I smiled back at him to make light of the situation. There were no words to say, nothing that could make this better. I choked down yet another ball of tears, studying the face I’d come to love with everything I had.
“Bye Gene” I whispered.
He held up two fingers in a wave, not moving from his bed. With a final, lingering stare, I gathered up my things, and hurried out of the house.
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