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One More Time

By Shawn Lane


Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

Visit jms-books.com for more information.


Copyright 2018 Shawn Lane

ISBN 9781634867030

* * * *

Cover Design: Written Ink Designs | written-ink.com

Image(s) used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.

All rights reserved.


WARNING: This book is not transferable. It is for your own personal use. If it is sold, shared, or given away, it is an infringement of the copyright of this work and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, with the exception of brief excerpts used for the purposes of review.

This book is for ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It may contain sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which might be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

NOTE: This book was previously published by Loose Id.

* * * *

One More Time

By Shawn Lane

Chapter 1

The funeral was the worst day for me. Not that anyone loves funerals, but I had to stand there accepting everyone’s condolences for Donald’s death as though my life for the last six years hadn’t been one big lie.

Well, maybe six years was an exaggeration.

“I’m so sorry for your loss, Dane,” a neighbor, Mrs. Worth or Mirth, something like that, said as she stopped before me at the cemetery. She held my hands in a viselike grip, her skin ice-cold. I shivered. “Donald was such a sweet man. And he adored you so.”

He did, once. I didn’t know when he had stopped; he hadn’t told me, though I guessed maybe he’d planned on it.

“Thank you,” I said, numb to the words but not to the hollow feeling in my heart. She continued past me and another person took her place, saying similar words meant to comfort me for the loss of my partner.

I wanted to scream, to rage, that Donald had not loved me, not anymore, and was planning on leaving me before he inconveniently had a heart attack, but his service wasn’t the time or place. And there never would be a good time for the people here at the cemetery. They didn’t need to know.

The sky was dark and ominous with clouds, though the rain hadn’t managed to appear…yet. The news reports were all about storm watch. Rain was so dramatic in Southern California.

A colleague of Donald’s came to stand before me. They’d taught at the same university for years before Donald’s mother’s death a couple of years ago. Donald’s mother had been very wealthy, and since he had inherited everything, Donald had taken early retirement.

“You know, Dane,” Professor Arndt said, taking my hands as everyone had before, “it’s all right to cry. You don’t have to be so strong and controlled.”

I supposed that was some sort of comment on my dry eyes. I hadn’t cried during the service, hadn’t cried as I tossed a handful of dirt on Donald’s coffin. But if this guy thought my heart hadn’t been shredded, he was wrong.

“I will. Thank you for coming,” I said, like a robot.

“If there’s anything you need…”

I didn’t miss the innuendo. The offer came with a barely hidden leer. My stomach lurched.

“There’s nothing. Thank you, Professor.”

I’d met Donald at the university as a student myself, barely twenty when I entered his classroom. Expecting to take a class on criminal justice, I had instead found myself a lover and a mentor. Donald was by the book, though, and insisted I transfer out of his class before he took me to bed the first time. We’d moved fast then. Too fast, really, and just a month into our relationship, I was moving in with him. But I’d never left in the last six years. I wondered as Professor Arndt continued down the line if he and Donald had ever been lovers.

As people do after funerals, everyone made their way to our house—Donald’s house—to talk about Donald and to bring food and see if I needed anything in that big lonely house. I could barely function as people tried to engage me in conversation, some pushing glasses of brandy in my hand as though that would bring Donald back to life or make him love me again.

I missed my best friend, Marty Castle, who’d left only a couple of days before Donald’s death for a whirlwind European vacation. I didn’t figure his trip needed to be ruined by me contacting him, but just then I really felt his absence.

Friends offered to stay with me as everyone finally, mercifully left, but I turned them down, assuring them I would be fine. Alone.

I shut the door on the last well-meaning person and double-locked it.

For a few moments, I leaned against the closed door, the silent, empty house mocking me. This had been the house Donald grew up in, inherited upon his mother’s death. When I’d first moved in with Donald, he’d had a small bungalow in Burbank. This house, this mansion really, was in Hollywood Hills.

I moved away from the front hall and made my way to the kitchen. Earlier it had been a mess with glasses and paper plates everywhere from those who had visited, but some of the neighbors had cleaned it for me before they left. Tears stung my eyes, and I willed them away. I couldn’t afford to break down. I might never recover.

After I made myself a cup of tea, I walked down the long hallway to the room at the end on the right. Donald’s office. I twisted the knob and entered the dark room. Flicking on the light, I stared at the large empty leather chair behind his mahogany desk.

How often had I come in here to ask him a question or to tell him something? A million times. Or so it seemed. And he’d always looked up from whatever he was doing with his glasses perched on the end of his long, thin nose. “What is it, Dane?”

I could almost hear him.

Mechanically, I walked around the desk and sat in the oversize chair. It smelled like him. Masculine, fresh, and safe. Funny how safe had a smell, but if it did, it was Donald. I used to love this office, but now it reminded me of what I’d lost. Even before his heart attack.

Just two days before Donald’s death, I had been in here cleaning. My lover had kept lists for everything. He was very organized. He always left them sitting in the middle of the desk, face up or face down; it never mattered as long as they were within his reach. I’d read them because they amused me.

Talk to George.

E-mail Kathy.

Need paper towels and TP.

Check source for Dane.

Stuff like that. I wrote crime novels, had even gotten a couple published, and was working on another for my agent. Donald liked to help me with the research.

That day I found some old lists, but also a new one he’d recently added to the stack. I suppose it was an invasion of privacy of sorts, but I hadn’t thought we had any secrets. He might have known I read his lists—he’d never made much of an effort to hide them.

Talk with lawyer.

Drinks with George?

Contact University Review Board.

Talk to Dane about Chris and Bobby, relationship.

I had stared at the list, wondering what in God’s name the items on the list meant. As far I knew, Donald didn’t know anyone named Chris or Bobby. And the only thing I could think of that Donald would talk to his lawyer about was finances. Of course the most troubling thing on the list was Talk to Dane about Chris and Bobby, relationship.

I had tried to think what that could mean other than the obvious explanation, and I couldn’t come up with a single plausible reason he’d write that other than that Donald had been cheating on me. What did he want to talk to me about regarding our relationship, and what did it have to do with Chris and Bobby? But then I started to wonder if someone, even someone as organized as Donald, would really write breaking up with their boyfriend on their to-do list. Maybe it was something else he wanted to tell me about. Was it his relationship with me he wanted to talk about or his relationship with them?

But who were these people? Were they the hot young things Donald planned to replace me with? I was twenty-six, hardly old, but then when Donald and I met, I’d only been twenty, so maybe six years was all the difference in the world to him.

When Donald returned home from wherever he’d been that day, and of course I wondered if he’d been with these mysterious men, I waited for him to tell me. My stomach had been knotted with dread.

Donald pecked me on the lips, then pulled back and frowned. “What’s wrong? You’re pale.”

“Um.” I felt foolish, and he looked at me as though I’d lost my mind. “H-how did your day go?”

“Good.” He continued to frown. “Maybe you should sit down.”

I nodded, swallowing. Here it would come, at last, I thought. “Okay. Where do you want me to sit?”

Donald shrugged. “I guess in a dining room chair. I don’t think it really matters, Dane.”

So I sat in the high-backed wooden chair closest to the kitchen, looking expectantly at him.

“What?” he asked.

“Don’t you want to tell me something?” I ventured.

“Tell you something?”

Like, it’s over, Dane. I’ve replaced you.

“I thought that’s why you wanted me to sit down.”

He laughed. “No, Dane. I wanted you to sit because you look like you might faint. Do you want tea or something? Are you coming down with something?”

“No, I—No.” Why wouldn’t he just spit out? This waiting was killing me.

“All right, then I’m going into my office. Let me know if you need anything.” Donald kissed the top of my head and went down the hall to his office.

But he never said a word that day or the next. Doubt, horrible doubts, had filled my head for two solid days. I’d thought about bringing it up myself, but every time I went to say something to him about it, the words froze in my throat.

That night when we went to bed, Donald had made love to me like there was nothing wrong between us, and I was more confused than ever. Even the next day, though we didn’t have sex, he didn’t tell me it was over. Didn’t mention Chris, Bobby, or his lawyer. Nothing.

The next day while having lunch with his friend George, whom he’d known all his life, Donald suddenly grabbed his chest, collapsed, and died before the paramedics arrived. George had told me about Donald’s death himself.

Tears blurred my vision as I stared at the hated list. Would I ever know what any of it meant? Maybe. Talking to his lawyer could have meant changing his will, in which case I might be out of the house soon. The lawyer would come tell me—if Donald had changed his will. I didn’t know.

Maybe I should ask George, Donald’s best friend. If anyone knew what had been going on with Donald, it would be George. How did one go about asking someone why their partner no longer loved them?

Not that Donald had ever been particularly affectionate. He had no pet names for me. It was always Dane and nothing else. He rarely spoke of his feelings directly. He just indulged me in anything I wanted or thought I wanted, and when we made love, his body convinced me he loved me. Right after Donald’s mother died, he had come out and said, “I love you, Dane.” I’d been so startled I had stared at him until he actually laughed. I managed to form words of apology and love of my own, but he brushed it off and said he supposed I knew how he felt even without the words.

I did, I had thought.

Outside, rain splattered the office windows. The storm had arrived at last, and with it a chill in the room. Too many memories in this place. Like the time I had come in to distract him from whatever he’d been doing and he’d fucked me on his desk, brushing the papers off onto the floor in a frenzy to get us both naked. I’d yelled loud enough for it to echo through the whole house as he’d pounded into me. God, I had loved that night.

I stood up and walked back around the desk, my fingers grazing the rich wood, memories flooding me with such pain I could barely breathe. Even if Donald had left the house to me, I might sell it. I couldn’t imagine living here without him.

And so for the third night since his death—at the age of forty-eight, for fuck’s sake—I went upstairs to our bedroom, collapsed on our king-size bed, and sobbed myself to sleep.

* * * *

I woke to ringing. It took me a moment to orient myself. My heart thudded hard, as happens when one is awakened by a phone, I guess. Wiping my hand across my sleep-heavy eyelids, I sat up and reached for my cell phone, which rested on the bedside chest of drawers.

“Hello,” I rasped. Then I looked to see who had called me. I didn’t get a lot of calls; I never had. Mostly from Donald. And those wouldn’t come any more.

“Dane? It’s Emily.”

My sister. We rarely talked. Of course, this was a rare occasion. I tried to figure out what time it was by looking around the room. Donald had insisted we have no clocks in our bedroom since he retired. The drapes were closed, and only a bit of light streamed in.

“Dane?”

“Yeah, I’m here.” Though completely out of it, obviously. “What time is it?”

“Ten. Did I wake you?”

“Yes. I got to bed late. Given everything.”

“I know; I’m sorry. I should have been there. I couldn’t get away.”

Emily lived across the country in Vermont with her husband and two little kiddies.

“So you said.” I winced, knowing it came out more harshly than I had intended. Sighing, I said, “It was okay. I managed.”

“But you should have had family there. I’m a terrible sister.”

“No, I…It’s all right, Em. There were lots of people at the service.” I swallowed the heavy lump in my throat and tried to ignore the sting in my eyes. No more crying, please.

“Is anyone staying with you? What about your friend Marty?” she asked. In the background I could hear her children laughing and yelling at each other over some silly game. Life goes on. Somewhere.

“I don’t need anyone, and anyway, Marty’s in Europe. He left right before.”

“Dane.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Others offered. I said no. Kind of want to be alone right now.” Maybe.

“Being alone is probably the worst thing right now. Come to Vermont for a visit.”

“Emily—”

“I’ve already spoken to Hank about it, and he thinks it’s a great idea. And I know the kids would love to have their Uncle Dane stay with us for a while. Say you will.”

“Not right now, Emily. I have to get things settled here. Go through Donald’s things.”

“I’m sure that can wait.”

“Probably, but I think it might be better to get it done before I make any long-term plans.”

“Coming for a visit is not long-term.”

Closing my eyes, I resisted sighing again. “I know. I’ll think about it in a couple of weeks. After I make sure everything’s in order here.”

Emily huffed. “All right, but I’m going to keep calling you until you agree. How are you holding up? I know it’s got to be terrible.”

She had no idea. And it would be so easy to tell her everything. The lawyer, the Talk to Dane about Chris and Bobby, relationship message. All of it. I hadn’t been able to tell anyone. Talk to anyone. Everyone around me was Donald’s friend, not mine. Rather pathetic.

But my throat clogged on the words, and all I got out was, “Yeah, I’m managing. I’ll talk to you later. I need some coffee or something.”

“Okay. Love you, Dane.”

“Love you too.” I ended the call and just stared at the cell phone in my hand for what must have been five minutes.

As much as I wanted to, lying in bed all day feeling sorry for myself would not be a healthy way of dealing with my grief, so I tossed the cell back on the bedside dresser and swung my legs out of bed.

The house was so big for just me. Really, it had been too big for just Donald and me, but now that I was alone in his family’s house, the silence and emptiness was overwhelming. Donald had hired a housekeeper who came in every Tuesday and Friday to clean and prepare meals that could be reheated by us over the entire week, but when Donald had died, I had given her the week off.

After my shower, I dressed in old jeans and a navy T-shirt and padded barefoot to the kitchen to make coffee.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that I shouldn’t be here. How could I stay in Donald’s house if he didn’t want me? It had to be wrong.

As I poured water in the reservoir for my coffeemaker—Donald didn’t drink coffee, so he’d purchased it as a gift for me—I stared out the kitchen window into the vast backyard. The house was old, built for some famous actor back in the 1930s, so it had an enormous yard, not like the houses they built nowadays. A swimming pool, a garden, even a little building with a sauna.

How was I to even keep it up? Donald liked to spend his days messing around in the garden and keeping his pool in tip-top shape, but I didn’t. I burned if I stepped outside for five minutes in the sun.

Just as I pushed Brew for my cup of coffee, cinnamon-roll flavored, the massive door chimes rang. I jumped.

Fuck.

Maybe Donald had written me out of his will and it was the sheriff’s department coming to toss me out of his house on my ass. With a frown, I walked out of the kitchen toward the big wooden double front doors with etched glass, the door chimes ringing two more times before I reached them. Whoever they were, they were impatient.

I opened the door, and standing on the doorstep was Donald’s best friend, George Crenshaw. They were lifelong friends even though Donald had been gay and George straight. George was on his third wife, I thought.

George’s once brown curly hair was now sprinkled liberally with gray, but he was tall, handsome, and muscular and prided himself on being in excellent shape. Like Donald. They’d worked out together in a nearby gym several days a week for the entire time I’d been with Donald.

“George?”

“Hello, Dane. May I come in?”

“Yes, of course.” I stepped away from the door and allowed him inside, looking past him to the driveway. What was I looking for? That he’d come with the police or Donald’s attorney?

I closed the door firmly and turned back to George. “I was just making myself coffee. Would you like some?”

“Thank you.”

George followed me into the kitchen, and as I stopped at the fridge to get cream for my coffee, I noticed he wore black jeans and a black shirt as though in mourning. I supposed he was.

“Go ahead and choose the kind you like,” I said, pointing to the display of individual flavors for the single-cup coffeemaker.

“How are you, Dane?” he asked softly, choosing what he wanted and placing it in the machine as I set out a mug for him.

“Terrible,” I admitted. There was no sense lying. I knew I looked like shit. “And you?”

“The same, pretty much. I can’t believe he’s gone.”

I nodded, feeling the sting in my eyes again. I sipped my coffee.

“I wanted to see if you needed anything,” George said, adding cream and sugar to his coffee. “Donald would have wanted me to check on you.”

“Would he?”

George frowned. “Yes. Why?”

Fidgeting with my cup, I shrugged nonchalantly.

“Dane?” George touched my arm. “Is there something you aren’t telling me?”

Instead of answering directly, I asked, “George, who are Chris and Bobby?”

“Chris?” He blinked, but he had a lost a little bit of color. George obviously did know the answer. It was written all over his face. “I don’t know, Dane.”

I sighed. “Don’t lie, George. I can see you do. Did he…did Donald meet someone else?”

“What? You mean like a lover?”

I winced but nodded. I couldn’t get any words out, but my chest felt like maybe it would explode.

George laughed. It was a startled laugh, but a laugh nevertheless. “No. You were his only lover.”

I wanted to believe that. I had believed it until recently. But I looked away, unable to meet George’s gaze.

“Dane, I’m not lying about that,” he said gently. “Donald worshipped you. You meant the world to him.”

I whispered, “Then who are they?”

George’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “I’m not the one who was supposed to tell you.”

“Who was?”

“Donald. He was going to tell you about them.”

“Well, he’s…he’s not here to tell me about them or anything, is he?”

“No. I’m sorry, Dane.”

“I know. Who. Are. They?”

“Bobby is Donald’s son, not his lover.”

I stared at George, wondering if he would sprout a second head. “His son? Donald doesn’t have a son.”

George sighed and looked toward the large formal dining table. “Maybe we’d better sit down for this.”

I never liked it when someone told me to sit down, because of course it was never something I wanted to hear. I was reeling. Donald had a son? And who was Chris then? I was so confused. It occurred to me as I lowered myself into one of the chairs at the table that this was where I’d sat when Donald thought I needed to sit down just before his death.

How could he leave me? It was almost too much to bear.

George sat in the chair next to me and glanced quickly at the coffee cup I clenched tightly in my hands. “Do you need more?”

I shook my head. The coffee hadn’t settled well, and I could feel the heartburn beginning in my esophagus. “Just get to it, George. How could Donald have a son? I…I thought he’d been gay his whole life.”

“Actually, no. Donald was bisexual.”

“What? Since when?”

George sighed. “All his life. Before he met you, Donald had a wife. In fact, when he met you, he had a wife.”

If I thought I might be sick before, it was nothing compared to the queasy feeling in my stomach now. “A wife?”

“Chris. Well, Christine. The marriage had been in trouble for a while, and Donald had filed divorce papers. Then Chris found out she was going to have Bobby, and she wanted to try to make their marriage work. And then Donald met you.”

I had nothing to say to that. My mind was spinning a million miles an hour. All I could think was that our relationship had been built on lies.

“At first,” George continued, “I think Donald thought you’d just be a fling, and he’d get it out of his system, but you became so much more than that to him. He really fell in love with you.”

“I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t he tell me any of this?”

George shook his head. “I’m not sure. Like I said, I think he didn’t think being with you would turn so serious, so why tell you? And then, once it was, he was afraid he’d lose you if he told you everything.”

I continued to clutch my coffee mug as though it could give me some kind of weird comfort. “Okay, but why didn’t he ever tell me about this? We’ve been together six years. For fuck’s sake, George, Donald had a wife, and he never told me this whole time.”

“It had nothing to do with you, with his relationship with you, which he was completely committed to.”

I wanted to believe that, and I wondered if George said it enough times, if it would have been true.

“Nothing to do with me? He kept this whole other life secret from me.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t answer all your questions, Dane. Once he realized his feelings for you were becoming deeper, he told Chris that he’d pay child support for Bobby, but that it was over between them. I think she figured ultimately, Donald would go back to her and their son. It made sense to her that he’d choose his wife over his gay lover. When the divorce went through, she and the boy moved out of state to be closer to her parents.” George finished his own coffee, then drummed his fingers on the dining room table. “She kept wanting more money for Bobby. And alimony for her. Especially after Donald inherited his mother’s estate.”

I rested my head in my hand, feeling the beginnings of a bitch of a headache. “Okay, so then why now? If he thought he could keep all this from me forever, why decide to tell me now after all this time?”

“The two of you had been talking about getting domestic partnership papers. Making it official.”

I nodded. That much was true. I had brought it up, but Donald had seemed to think it was a good idea. It would offer us some protections as a couple.

“He knew if you were going to take such a big step, he should come clean about Chris and Bobby,” George said. “Donald knew you’d be hurt by the whole thing, and I think he wanted to wait until the two you had everything legal between the two of you.”

Thinking about all Donald kept from me, I remembered once, a few years earlier, when Donald and I had been on a trip to the wine country, the subject of children had somehow come up between us. Donald had asked me if I thought I’d ever want a child.

“A child? God, no. I can’t imagine ever having to raise one of those snotty-nosed little brats,” I’d said with a dramatic shudder.

As I swallowed the heavy lump in my throat, my headache got worse and the stinging in my eyes nearly unbearable. No wonder he hadn’t wanted to tell me he had a child. I’d been twenty-two or twenty-three at the time and hadn’t given it a lot of thought other than to voice my distaste over the idea. But still…to keep so much from me seemed so hurtful.

“Dane?”

“Thanks, George, for telling me this. Finally.” It was so much to process, I could barely take it all in.

George reached over and gave my arm an awkward pat. “I need to be going. I’ve got some appointments to take care of today. I just wanted to make sure you’re all right.” He rose from his chair, and I got up too.

I followed him to the front doors, my mind racing with unanswered questions and memories of my life with Donald.

George opened the front doors and then turned to me. “Dane, Donald loved you. You have to believe that, in spite of everything else.”

I let out a heavy breath. “Okay. Thanks, George.”

He hovered on the step for a few seconds more, looking like he wanted to say something else, but wasn’t sure if he should.

“Donald’s gone now. Don’t dwell on his past with Chris and let it ruin the love you guys had, all right?”

He was right, I guessed. I couldn’t know why Donald couldn’t trust me enough to tell me the truth about his entire life. I had never imagined in a million years that Donald had been anything but gay and completely committed to me. Now, I felt like I didn’t know much of anything.

I’d already thanked George, so I nodded, and then to my surprise he came back and gave me a tight bear hug. A tear slid down my cheek, but my throat was too clogged to say anything else.

George released me and then without another word, walked down the driveway to his car. I closed the front doors and sagged against them.

I was alone again in this big, empty house.

* * * *

Chapter 2

It was kind of amazing how much stuff people accumulate over time. Donald and I hadn’t lived in the big house more than a couple of years since his mother had died, yet he’d managed to buy a lot of stuff he hadn’t had in his bungalow.

I spent the next several days going through his older and newer things. Donald being much larger and more muscular than my slighter, shorter frame, I packed away his clothes to be given to charity. When the time came. I wasn’t sure I was really ready to part with his stuff just yet. Even the freshly laundered clothes still carried his scent, and I couldn’t help sleeping with a few of my favorite items of his clothing.

The dreaded eviction from the house never came. A few days after Donald’s funeral, I received a call from his attorney advising me that Donald had changed his will before his death. It made me wonder if Donald hadn’t had some sort of premonition of his heart attack. I wasn’t particularly spiritual, but it was a little strange.

Perhaps Donald had even had some chest pains he’d ignored before that horrible day.

Anyway, Donald’s attorney had advised me that Donald’s ex-wife and son would be getting twenty-five percent of his estate, but I remained his beneficiary of the rest, including his financial accounts, house, and life insurance of several hundred thousand dollars. I literally wouldn’t need to work again. Ever.

I supposed I’d have to find a financial manager to handle everything, or use the one Donald had, and the attorney had already offered to remain my legal advisor.

And Emily, of course, hadn’t given up her pursuit of me to come to Vermont.

I’d actually grown up in Vermont. All of our family had. I was the youngest of four children, Emily being the next one up from me. I’d spent my first sixteen years in Northfield, Vermont, and Em still lived there with her family. I’d moved with our mother after her divorce from our father. She wanted to move to California, and I, her only minor child, went with her.

It had been a good move for both of us. She wanted to get away from my father and the nosy people there, so she said, and I wanted to get away…well, from other things. I wasn’t entirely sure I was ready to go back there, even ten years later. Even for only a visit. I never had in the ten years since I’d left. Emily and her family came out once to visit, and one of my brothers stopped by to see me for an hour on his way to Hawaii.

But I didn’t exactly want to stay here with my memories of Donald either. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.

Three weeks after Donald’s death, I was going through the computer he kept in his office, looking at the digital photos he’d stored there. My cheeks were wet with the tears I couldn’t seem to stop as I went through photo after photo. One of the projects Donald had been working on was scanning his family’s old slides, so many of the pictures I was browsing through were from when Donald had been a child, a teenager, and a young adult.

And then my cell phone chirped to life, literally playing the sounds of sparrows singing madly. I decided I needed to change my ringtone back to its original one as I looked to see who was calling.

“Hey, Emily.”

“How are you doing, sweetie?” All our calls lately started this way. I knew why she asked, of course, but it had gotten mildly annoying.

“I’m fine. How are you?”

“You don’t sound fine.”

Well, of course I didn’t. I’d just been crying.

“What’s up?” I asked instead of answering her.

“I’m calling about you coming to Vermont.”

“That again?”

She sniffed. “You said you’d think about it.”

I sighed and leaned back into Donald’s chair, letting it envelope me like his arms used to do. “I have. Sort of.”

“I’m not asking you to move back to Northfield. Just come for a long visit.”

“How long?”

“Open-ended.”

Glancing out the window to the backyard, I frowned. “Oh, I’m sure Hank would love that.”

“He doesn’t have a problem with it. You can’t use Hank as your excuse.” She paused, and I heard the clatter of pots and pans in the background. “The time away will do you some good. Clear your head.”

“I don’t need to clear my head of memories of Donald, Em.” I hadn’t told her about Donald being married and having a son. I wasn’t sure I was going to tell her. Maybe I needed her to believe that Donald was the perfect partner. Or maybe I needed to believe that.

“That’s not what I meant, Dane. I wouldn’t ask you to forget Donald. I know you loved him.”

I closed my eyes as my throat tightened, and I nodded, though she couldn’t see me.

“Sweetie, all you can think about is missing him. All you’re focused on is constant pain and grief. That’s all. You told me yourself Marty is still in Europe. You should be surrounded by family and love right now. “

She was right about that, I guessed.

Before I could say anything, she continued, “We can buy you the ticket.”

I snorted. “Em, the last thing I need is for you or anyone to buy me a ticket. I have plenty of money.”

“I just meant if it’s too stressful for you right now.”

“It’s not.” I straightened and stood and went to the window to lean my forehead on the glass, staring out at the Donald’s now somewhat neglected garden. I should hire someone to tend it. “Okay, I’ll come next week. But it’s not going to be open-ended. I’ll pick a return date. I need to decide what to do about this house.”

“Okay, sweetie, whatever you want,” Emily said. “Call me with the details, and we’ll come pick you up from the airport.”

“Yeah. Bye, Em.”

* * * *

Burlington Airport was some thirty miles from Northfield, Vermont, but it was the closest airport to my former hometown. I arrived just before one o’clock a week later.

I decided, as I stepped off the plane and down the long passenger ramp leading into the airport, that agreeing to return to Vermont had been a mistake.

You can’t go home again.

Or you shouldn’t anyway. I shouldn’t. My stomach had turned queasy, and I was pretty sure I might throw up. Although maybe I was overreacting. Chances that the same people I’d known in Northfield as a boy still lived there had to be pretty small. And one particular resident probably even less of a chance. Or that’s what I told myself.

Still, I eyed the garbage cans in the airport as I followed the BAGGAGE CLAIM signs. And then I had a moment where I just froze as I was about to get on the escalator down to the baggage area.

Just go back.

I didn’t belong in Vermont. I lived in California now, and that was where I wanted to be with Donald. Only that future had been taken from me.


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