Note: This story wraps around the flashback section of First Christmas Eve. I recommend having that one open in another tab to read right after Theo agrees to buy gloves in this one. And yes, I know things would be so much easier if I wrote in any sort of chronological order. ?
November 2006 — Two weeks before Thanksgiving
“Are you certain this invitation wasn’t meant to be politely declined?” Quint asked, quietly, so as not to be overheard by their young hostess, who had taken the bottle of pinot noir to the kitchen to chill. “They are your friends, and there was no need for me to come along simply because I’m staying with you.”
George sighed, hung his wool pea coat on one of the series of hooks to their right, and adjusted the ascot tucked into his sweater. The Greek letter psi danced over the neckwear in rows. As he checked the effect of his fine-tuning in the bay window’s reflection, he replied, “Quint, if Zeggy did not want you here, she wouldn’t have asked. She knows her own mind. What are you planning to do, leave five minutes after arriving?”
“I could make a polite excuse, yes,” Quint said. He had sensed nothing except warmth in Zeggy’s welcome, yet he was highly aware that being the former med-school roommate of her mentor didn’t qualify him as an acquaintance, let alone someone she might wish to invite to a dinner party, had she not felt obligated by his presence in George’s apartment.
“You could,” George said, “but you shouldn’t. I only know her husband and friend in passing, so you’ll hardly be the odd one out. And you need to do something other than work and apartment hunting. When’s the last time you had a social engagement?”
“I’ve been busy moving.”
“And before that?”
“Before that, I was job hunting.”
George tucked his small, elegant hands into his pockets. “Quint.”
Smiling, Quint admitted, “I don’t recall the last time.” His life had been centered on work for years. He avoided even dinners with colleagues, if he could, and rarely attended hospital parties.
“You’re worse than you were at Harvard,” George said, with another sigh.
Privately, Quint had to agree with him. At least he did go on steady dates during med school. For the first year.
They moved together to sit on the couch to their left just as their hostess reappeared from the hallway leading to the back of the townhouse. Her wide smile beamed at Quint. “Thank you again for the wine. Ike says it’ll be perfect with the food the caterers brought. I don’t really know about those things; they don’t give you a guidebook when you marry rich.”
He blinked a few times, unsure how to respond.
She sat in the armchair and went on, unnoticing, “I’m so glad you could both make it. You have no idea how much I need a night not centered around babies.”
“Speaking of which,” George said, “you look fantastic, truly. No one would guess you had twins two months ago.”
“Not quite two months yet,” she said. “And I’ve had a lot of help.” Then she glanced up the staircase behind her. “I should go check if that help is having trouble getting them down. We’re hoping they’ll sleep through the first course, at least. Do you guys mind waiting here? Ike’s going to bring out drinks in a minute.”
“Not at all,” said Quint.
So he was left with only George for company once again. Not that he minded, particularly when George seemed ready to drop the subject of his social life in favor of asking about his latest meetings with real estate brokers. Between both their jobs and the endless apartment viewings Quint was attending, they’d hardly had a chance to speak over the past several days, despite their temporary cohabitation.
Quint was describing a kitchen layout when a crackle of static interrupted him. Startled, they both looked around to find the source.
“Oh!” said George, pointing. “She left the baby monitor on the mantle. Must have just turned the other unit on.”
“Ah,” Quint said. “Where was I?”
Before he could regather his thoughts, though, a voice came from the monitor. A male voice, not Zeggy’s. And it was singing.
Finding a pencil,
Pizza with sausage,
Telling the time.”
George smiled. “From You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Excellent choice of lulla–”
“Shh!” said Quint. His friend stared at him, but he was quite unable to apologize for his rudeness. He had to hear more of that voice. It soared on the high notes and gently caressed the softer lines, clear even through the tinny speaker of the monitor. It wrapped its rich, melodious tones around the simple words with such deep love in every syllable. Quint felt he was listening to a hymn sung by an angel.
Learning to whistle,
Tying your shoe
For the very first time.
Happiness is playing the drum in your own school band,
And happiness is walking hand in hand.
Two kinds of ice cream,
Knowing a secret,
Climbing a tree.
Five different crayons,
Catching a firefly,
Setting him free.
Happiness is being alone every now and then
And happiness is coming home again.
Morning and evening,
Daytime and nighttime too…
And anything at all
That’s loved by you.”
It faded out much too soon. Quint watched the baby monitor, hoping for more, but only static came from it now. From the corner of his eye, he could see George watching him. Analyzing his reaction, doubtlessly.
Then footsteps descended the staircase, and they both turned to see Zeggy coming down it, followed by a man who could only be the singer. “George, I think you’ve met,” she said. “Quint, this is my best friend and unofficial nanny, Theo.”
Quint stood up with a vague idea to compliment Theo on the performance. Then he got a better look at the face beneath all that stubble. His lips parted with shock. It was the face of a teenager.
Well, perhaps not quite that young, Quint amended, if he’s Zeggy’s best friend and she’s starting a PhD.
Certainly, however, no older than twenty-five.
The young man’s mop of auburn hair moved with a life of its own as he leaned against the railing to nod at them. “Hey,” he said. His eyes sparkled.
Oh, no, Quint thought.
Only when George cleared his throat did he realize he hadn’t answered the greeting, and Theo and Zeggy were both giving him odd looks. George broke the awkward moment, saying, “We were just listening to you sing through the baby monitor.”
“Yes,” said Quint, collecting himself. “You’re extremely talented. I enjoyed it very much.” Was mesmerized by it, would be a better description, he thought. An unwise description to voice.
Surprise flashed over Theo’s face, followed by a smile that was almost bashful. “Oh.” He looked down at the steps for a split second, then descended the last one to the floor and met Quint’s gaze. “Thank you.”
Just standing there three feet in front of Quint, he emanated such vibrant energy, it made Quint’s heart beat faster the same way listening to him sing had. For heaven’s sake, get a grip on yourself!
George and Zeggy exchanged a glance, and then a tall, blond man appeared silently beside them, holding out a tray of canapés.
“Did you need help with the drinks, hon?” Zeggy asked. Without waiting for an answer, she went on, “This is my husband, Ike, by the way, and honey, this is Quint.”
They shook hands briefly under the tray Ike still held. He put it down on an end table after they let go and started to turn around, but Zeggy said, “No, stay here with those, I’ll go get the drinks and meet you all in the dining room. Sweetie, give me a hand?”
Quint was momentarily confused who she meant, if Ike was to stay behind, until Theo said, “Sure,” and popped a canapé into his mouth before following her towards the kitchen.
Theo glanced back once as he went, just to get another look at the tall, dark, and handsome stranger. In the kitchen, he swallowed the morsel of food and started taking wine glasses off the rack beneath one of the cupboards. “So who’s the preppy?”
Zeggy frowned over her shoulder as she wrestled with a corkscrew. “Preppy?”
Rolling his eyes, he said, “He’s wearing an argyle sweater vest.”
She snorted. “That hardly makes him a preppy, and he’s a friend of George’s who’s staying with him because he just moved to the city. Be nice.”
“Oh, I could be very nice to him.” He waggled his eyebrows and grinned. “Are you sure he and George are only friends?”
She gave him a second, indulgent, look. “Pretty sure, but I don’t know if he’s gay.”
Waving a hand with two wine glasses in it, he said, “Trust me, he’s gay.” Unless there was another reason the older man almost swallowed his tongue when he saw Theo, which did not seem likely. He backed through the swinging doors into the dining room and spun around to catch the stranger’s gaze once again.
He and the other two were gathered between the table and sideboard. Theo purposely maintained eye contact with him until halfway across the room, when the older man broke it off and seemed to focus on whatever George was talking about instead.
Yep, definitely interested, Theo thought.
While everyone was taking wine glasses out of his hands for Zeggy, who came up behind him, to fill, he maneuvered the two of them a step away from her, Ike, and George. “So… Quint, right?”
Quint took a large sip of wine and nodded as he swallowed.
“What do you do, Quint?” he asked, smiling. “You’re not another shrink, are you?” Not that he’d mind much for what he had planned.
“No, I’m a pediatric pulmonologist.” He didn’t smile back, but his voice was even, almost soothing, as he pronounced the tongue-twisting phrase.
Theo felt only the slightest embarrassment admitting, “You lost me after ‘pediatric.’”
“Pulmonology is the study of the lungs,” he explained. “I specialize in treating children with severe asthma.”
“And…” He tipped his wineglass towards Theo politely. “Yourself? What do you do other than being the unofficial nanny?”
Nothing nearly so impressive, Theo thought. What could he say? ‘I have a band’ would lead to questions about where he played, and he’d have to make up something, because the gigs hadn’t exactly been thick on the ground. Might as well tell the rich doctor I’m unemployed. That’ll look good. He took a sip of wine himself and stared into the glass. “Uh, this and that, nothing interesting.”
Quint’s eyebrows came together a hair. “I’d be interested,” he said, softly.
Theo looked up at that, hesitant. The older man’s face had lost a layer of reserve. His eyes glowed warmly. If Theo told him he was a musician, would they still? Or would he have the same views as Theo’s father, that music was a hobby, not a career, and not even a useful hobby like woodworking?
“Well, the kids aren’t going to sleep forever,” Zeggy said. “Shall we eat?”
Like a shot, Theo grabbed the change of subject. “Yes, I’m starving!”
“Okay, everyone take your places,” she said. “Ike and I will go get the first course.”
Quint stood where he was for several seconds after the other two sat, looking at the place next to Theo. They’d nearly be touching. The thought should not appeal to him so much.
He’s barely old enough to be drinking that wine, he admonished himself, yet when he finally sat down and their legs brushed together, it felt like a hot iron. He inched his chair further away.
George smiled at him over the tabletop, a teasing spark in his dark gaze. Ignoring it, and doing his best to also ignore how Theo shifted and grazed the side of his knee, Quint said, “I didn’t finish telling you, George, about the apartment I saw yesterday.”
“No, you didn’t,” George agreed.
So as Zeggy and Ike returned with bowls of soup and they all began to eat, they fell into a discussion of real estate. It seemed everyone had an opinion to share with him on New York neighborhoods, apartment sizes, and the benefits of renting versus buying.
Or rather, George, Zeggy, and Ike did. Theo stayed quiet for much of it. The lightness and confidence in the younger man was dimmed, as if a shadow had fallen over him. Yet Quint couldn’t see why, or how he might bring back the sparkling young man who’d looked at him from the stairs. He watched him from the corner of his eye and frowned.
Theo listened to the others casually talk about New York’s most exclusive neighborhoods, suddenly very aware that if not for his best friend offering him a room, he would likely be homeless.
What would someone like him ever want with a penniless college dropout? he brooded, watching Quint sip soup with impeccable table manners. What had he been thinking, going after him like that? Sure, the doctor was hot, but he also had a seriousness that was probably bred in over generations of soft-spoken preppies with sticks up their butts. And not the fun kind.
Well, at least he’d stopped before embarrassing himself too badly.
Halfway through the main course of roasted game hens, a wail came from the baby monitor next to Zeggy’s plate. A second shortly followed, and then both twins were crying at the top of their little lungs, audible not only from the monitor but from the floor above them.
Zeggy started to get up. “Oh, I’d better–”
“Stop,” Theo said, standing himself. “It’s your night off. Yours too, Ike. I’ll handle it.”
“There’s two of them, sweetie,” Zeggy said, as though he needed reminding.
He put on a shocked expression. “You mean I haven’t been seeing double this whole time?”
Quint bit back a smile as Zeggy said, “You know what I mean. You’ll need an extra pair of hands.”
Theo glanced around the table. “I’ll have two extra pairs, if the doctors are willing.”
Quint got to his feet, saying, “Of course, I’ll be glad to help.” It was the least he could do, after their mother so generously invited him. George stood as well.
“Neither of you feel sick at all, do you?” Zeggy asked, anxious.
“No, I promise,” said Quint, in the same calming tone he used with parents of his patients. “They’ll be in safe hands.”
She finally relaxed into her chair again. “Alright.”
“Thank you,” Ike added.
Theo led the way upstairs and down the hall to a pale green nursery with two cribs set against opposite walls. “Monkeys!” he said, over the sound of crying. “It’s alright, Uncle Theo’s here.” He went to the left crib and gently lifted out a baby in an orange onesie. “There now, Lyra,” he said, cradling her and swaying back and forth. “What’s wrong?”
A louder cry came from the other crib. Quint went over and scooped up the second twin, making sure to support the tiny head and neck.
“This must be Griffin,” George said, coming to tickle the baby’s foot. “Hey there, little one.”
Bringing Lyra over to the changing table set between the cribs, Theo asked, “Is he wet? I think that’s what’s wrong with her.”
“He doesn’t feel it, but I’m not sure,” Quint said. He walked over to the table as well and set the baby down next to his sister. “Let’s check, hmm?” he said, addressing himself to the infant more than Theo, who was already taking Lyra’s diaper off.
As she continued to fuss, the younger man started singing quietly. “Two little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell off and bumped her head, mama called the doctor and the doctor said…” Both infants stared upwards. They’d stopped crying. Before the silence could stretch out too long, he nudged Quint with his elbow . “C’mon, doctor, that’s your line.”
Quint was startled for a moment. Then he laughed and bent over the twins. “No more monkeys jumping on the bed,” he said, the mock-sternness in his voice contrasting with his wide smile.
Theo blinked. Well, hell, he thought. Could it be the preppy knows how to have fun?
Quint glanced sideways at him, still with that smile. He’d been handsome before. Now he made Theo’s heart flutter madly in his chest. “Do you…” want to go out with me? But he heard the words in his head and lost his nerve again. “Uh, do you know how to change a diaper?”
Regretfully, Quint replied, “It’s been a very long time, I’m afraid.”
George spoke up behind them. “I can do it,” he said. “I babysit my sister’s kids.”
Quint stepped away to give him room, and Theo felt like he could breathe again.
They made their way back downstairs several minutes later, leaving the twins blinking sleepily in their cribs once more, and found Zeggy and Ike locked in a passionate kiss over the table. Zeggy broke it off. “Whoops! We were, um, just about to get the dessert.”
“Sure you were,” Theo said, rolling his eyes. He usually didn’t care about walking in on a scene like this, but at the moment, it only reminded him of what he’d like to be doing. He glanced at Quint again.
Fuck it. What’s the worst that can happen?
Instead of sitting down, he stepped toward the kitchen, saying, “Night off, remember? I’ll serve dessert. Quint, can you help?”
So the doctor accompanied him, not suspecting a thing.
Theo washed his hands quickly, then took the cake left by the caterers out of the fridge and retrieved a chef’s knife from a drawer. “Small plates are in that cupboard,” he said, pointing.
Obligingly, Quint got a stack of five down and set them out on the counter as Theo sliced the cake. When he was done, though, rather than transferring the slices to the plates, Theo ran his index finger down both sides of the knife blade, wiping off all the frosting.
Then he turned to face Quint, locked gazes, and began sucking it clean.
Quint’s eyes nearly crossed. He wanted… he didn’t even know what. To step forward and claim that sweet mouth, and to ask Theo to dinner the next night and the one after that, and to run all the way back to Boston.
And then Theo was walking towards him, and, out of sheer self-preservation instinct, he backed up until he hit something hard. The wall. There was nowhere else to go, and still Theo came closer, with a wicked glint dancing in his hazel eyes.
“W–what are you doing?”
Theo pulled his finger from his mouth with an obscene pop. He was so close now Quint could feel the heat of him through the air. “It’s good frosting,” he said. “You should try some.” And he pressed himself up against Quint, went on his tiptoes, and kissed him.
Oh, NO, Quint thought, just before he started kissing back.
He had no idea if he could distinguish the frosting from the flavor that was simply Theo. It all tasted like heaven, and he lost himself in it for an endless, blissful time, wrapping himself up in the younger man, both of them clinging together until they were lightheaded from the lack of oxygen.
Theo had to tear his lips away much too soon to gasp in a breath. Halfway through it, he felt a change like a switch was flipped. Quint tensed and, at the same time, loosened his hold. When Theo tried to kiss him again, he let go completely to turn his head to the side. His glasses were askew.
“What?” Theo asked, with a feeling like looking for the safety net only after you’ve jumped.
Quint straightened the frames on his nose. Still looking sideways at the closed door to the dining room, he said, “I… I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have allowed that to happen.”
“I have to go.” He touched Theo once more, but only to move him firmly to arm’s length away. There was no net.
“We haven’t eaten the cake yet,” said Theo, and hated how his voice sounded: Confused and hurt and, most of all, young.
Quint hated it more. He could hear an echo of himself, from so many years ago. God, what have I done? “I’m sorry, Theo,” he said, unable to make eye contact in his shame. “I’m so sorry.” He fled into the dining room, babbled something about a migraine to George and their hosts, and insisted he could show himself out. A minute after that, he was on the dark, cold sidewalk. Alone.
Just over a week later, Theo lay on his back across the couch, staring up at the ceiling and moodily strumming the acoustic guitar he held on his stomach.
Zeggy was in the rocking chair with a sleeping baby in one arm and a nursing one in the other. He felt her eyes on him. He tried to ignore it, but he could swear she had laser beams in them sometimes. Finally, without looking over, he asked, “What?”
“Well,” she said, “you’ve been surly since the dinner party, and I was going to wait and see if you’d tell me but apparently being your best friend only goes so far. What happened between you and Quint?”
He stopped playing and set the guitar on the floor as he rolled over. “Told you I don’t want to talk about it,” he muttered.
“Theo, c’mon, it’s me. And you’re acting like he did something horrible, in which case, I think George should know.”
No, the fewer people who knew about his humiliation, the better.
She let the silence stretch for twenty seconds, then said, “Actually, with the way he bolted out of here, maybe whatever happened was your fault and you’re just ashamed to tell me.”
“All I did was kiss him!” he said, pushing himself half up on his elbow in outrage. Only then did he see her crafty smile. Scowling, he flopped back down. Might as well tell her now. He blew out his breath and felt his ears heating up as he said, “I kissed him, and he apologized and said he shouldn’t have allowed it.”
“Oh, sweetie,” she said. He wasn’t looking at her, but she sounded sympathetic. “Did he say why? Maybe he’s seeing someone?”
A stab of jealousy hit low in his gut. She was probably right. Quint probably had a perfect, preppy, WASP boyfriend who… played polo or something. Maybe he was another doctor, or a lawyer, or a rich stockbroker guy. He could picture Quint and the faceless man at a fancy gala, drinking cocktails with their hoity-toity friends.
Zeggy sighed, bringing him back to the real world. “Okay, you need to take your mind off this. Why don’t you go practice with the band?”
He grunted. “Ethan and Mitch are both out of town for Thanksgiving, remember?”
“Well, go somewhere and do something until you’re not in such a funk,” she said, exasperated.
Lifting his head up, he narrowed his eyes at her. “‘Go somewhere and do something’? You’re going to be a great psychologist.”
“You shut up.”
Griffin started to fuss. She rocked the chair and murmured to him, “It’s okay, Uncle Theo and I are just having a little spat. You’ll learn what those are soon enough when you and Lyra get bigger. Shhh.”
“Sorry,” Theo said. He sat up and grabbed his guitar. “You’re right, I need to shake this mood. I think I’ll go busking. Will you be okay with them if I leave?”
“Ike’ll be home with the groceries any minute,” she said. “We can manage until then.”
So he stood, gave her a kiss on the cheek in apology, and went to get his coat and guitar case.
On the way to Washington Square, he passed Ike’s car. The other man waved to him from behind the wheel. Theo returned it and went on his way.
He found the park pretty quiet. Not many other street performers wanted to brave the nippy November weather, it seemed. That meant Theo got the prime spot in front of the arch, which made tolerating a bit of chill worth it. He set up his case with some ‘seed money’ to encourage tips, quickly tuned his guitar, and started playing.
Most people stayed for just one song, if that. He made sure to give them each eye contact and a smile as he sang, though, and they almost all dropped a few coins or a dollar into the case before moving on to somewhere warmer. One little boy donated a LEGO minifigure. Theo laughed and stopped singing to ask him if he was sure he wanted to give his toy away. The boy hid behind his father’s leg and nodded shyly.
“Thanks, then,” Theo said. “I love it.”
The boy and his father left. Inspired by them, Theo sang a song he was working on for the twins next. He only had the chorus down, so he improvised the rest of it, playing with chord progressions and lyrics before returning to the refrain.
“If you tire as you wander,
I will carry you back home.
You may fall, you may stumble,
But you’ll never be alone.
Wrap your arms around me,
I will never let you go.
This I swear:
I’ll be there
It drew his biggest crowd yet, mostly women, who gathered in a semicircle in front of him. But as he wrapped it up with a final, drawn-out “Evermoooore,” he saw a certain tall, dark, handsome doctor approaching.
His fingers fumbled on the guitar strings. One of the benefits to playing original songs, though, it took a practiced ear to tell he’d messed up. None of his audience seemed to notice, least of all Quint. The two of them stared at each other across a yard of space. He looked almost as disbelieving as Theo felt.
Dozens of questions raced through Theo’s head. What was he doing here? George lived all the way uptown. Had he gotten his location from Zeggy? But then, why would he act surprised? And how was Theo supposed to act? Just seeing him again set his heart pounding. His ears stayed mercifully cool, though. Having them shine like two stoplights would completely blow his chances with the older man, he was sure.
Wait a second. His chances? Was he seriously going to put himself out there to be rejected again?
But Quint was standing watching him, not running away like last week.
Worth a try, Theo thought.
He ended the song and started a new one with barely a split-second’s consideration. It was the first thing that came into his head. As he played the opening, he winked at Quint.
“Well, he walked up to me
And he asked me if I wanted to dance
He looked kinda nice
And so I said, ‘I might take a chance’
When he danced, he held me tight
And when he walked me home that night
All the stars were shinin’ bright
And then he kissed me.”
The audience had noticed Theo was singing to one person only. Some were turning to look at Quint. He shifted and glanced around uncomfortably, then took a step backward.
Shit, Theo thought. Fucked it up again, you idiot. He stopped the song right where he was. “Sorry, ladies and gentlemen. I’ve gotta take my bows for the day. Hope you all have a good afternoon.”
They dispersed, some dropping money into his case as they passed it. He heard one woman say to her friend, “Dammit, should’ve guessed he was gay,” as she left. All of them blocked his view of Quint, which was probably a good thing. It meant he wouldn’t be able to see him walking away again.
With disappointment heavy in his chest, he crouched next to the case to gather his take and put it in his wallet. The little LEGO person, he stuck in his pocket instead. Then he laid his guitar inside the case and snapped the clasps closed before grabbing the handle and straightening up.
Quint was still there.
Theo beamed like a dope. “You didn’t run off.”
“No,” Quint agreed. The younger man’s smile went right into his chest and warmed him from the inside out. It greatly fortified his nerves. Clearing his throat, he gestured behind himself towards the east side of the park. “I’ve signed a lease for an apartment nearby. I was walking around, getting a feel for the neighborhood, and I, uh, heard you.”
He’d thought he was imagining it at first, or transposing the voice that had haunted his dreams for the past week over that of some other singer, but he’d had to follow it, to be sure. And he turned a corner and found it wasn’t a dream afterall.
“Anyway,” he went on, tucking his hands into his pockets. “I wanted to take the opportunity to apologize for how I… left the party early. It was inexcusably rude of me.”
“Oh,” said Theo, his face falling. “Is that all?”
No. “Yes.” Firmly, he stopped himself from saying anything else, like, I wanted to hear you sing again. It would only give false hope.
Theo frowned. “Why’d you do it, then? Leave early?” He jutted his chin out and raised an eyebrow in challenge. “I thought it was a pretty good kiss. Incredible, actually.”
“It was,” Quint admitted in a low voice, with a glance around to be sure no one was standing close enough to hear. “However, a relationship between the two of us would be inappropriate.”
“…Right.” His eyebrows went down into a glower. “Well, I can’t argue with that, can I?”
Quint hated the anger, and even more, the hurt in that question. How could he fix it, though? Should he even try? He’d said what he meant to, so really, he should walk away now, and yet his feet refused to move. After several seconds of silence, he nodded to the guitar case and took a weak stab at changing the subject. “Do you do this often?”
“What, busk?” Theo asked, his dark look not fading at all.
“Street performing,” he said—nearly spat. “It’s called busking.”
“Oh. Then, yes. Busk.”
Theo jerked one shoulder. “Yeah, I do it a lot. It’s my main source of income, actually, at the moment, so you’ve proved your point. Clearly, you’re a class above me, and I was a moron to think you’d consider slumming. I get it. I’ll go now.”
He started to turn away as Quint’s jaw dropped open. The barbed attack stole his wits for a second, but when he recovered them, his own words carried a much more civilized and gentle sharpness. “Excuse me. Just a moment, please.”
The younger man froze mid-step. Quint moved around to face him once more, and Theo’s hazel eyes darted up for only an instant before he stared fixedly at Quint’s chest.
“I have never in my life,” Quint said, quiet, but clear enough to be heard, “considered myself a class above anyone who shows themselves to be kind and considerate, as you did last week, volunteering to care for the babies so your friend could enjoy her evening. I do not appreciate this insinuation about my character, or, for that matter, your description of someone dating you as ‘slumming’ and calling yourself a moron.”
Theo looked up again, with faint surprise flashing over his features. That hurt Quint more than his accusations. Had no one ever told him not to put himself down?
“I’m at a loss to understand where you got these impressions, but I assure you that you could not be more wrong,” he concluded.
Frowning in bafflement, Theo asked, “Why else would you react how you did when I kissed you, and then tell me it’s inappropriate just now? Are you seeing someone else?”
“No, I–” Quint sighed and closed his eyes. “How old are you?”
Christ, only a year older than I was, Quint thought. He made himself meet his gaze steadily. “I’m forty.”
Theo shrugged his shoulder again. “So?”
“So?” Quint echoed, taken aback. “Theo, that’s a seventeen-year age gap. I could be your father!”
With an eyeroll, he asked, “Did you go around fucking loads of good Catholic housewives when you were sixteen? Because unless you did, I don’t think so.”
He was using vulgarity as a weapon, Quint realized. With an effort, he ignored it, took a deep breath, and calmly said, “I meant figuratively, as you well know. I understand this is hard. It is for me as well, but it’s not appropriate for me to pursue a relationship with you. Not of that nature. I know how damaging they can be. I’m trying to protect you. Please, let’s not make this more difficult.”
Theo stuck his chin out again. “You’re the one doing that.” Even after Quint set his misconceptions straight—making him feel about two feet tall in the process—he thought his real reason sounded like a load of nonsense. Who cared if they weren’t the same age? People with much wider age gaps got together all the time.
And this talk about ‘protecting’ him. From what? Mind-melting kisses? Quint hardly seemed the type to hurt anyone. He’d only gotten more polite when he was provoked.
Okay, that was kind of scary, Theo admitted privately. But not scary like a fear of physical danger, just the way a few simple words made his very bones shiver. He was glad it had passed.
Now, though, Quint looked both harmless and… sad. “I know I hurt you,” he said. “Will you let me take you for a cup of coffee, as a friend, to apologize?”
Theo considered. So the good doctor wanted to be just friends, did he?
They’d see about that.
He smiled. “Sure.”
They went to a little coffee shop just off the Square that Theo knew from his days at NYU. He ordered a cappuccino and tried not to mind too much when Quint insisted on paying for it along with his own Americano. He had said the coffee was an apology, after all.
A table freed up by the window as the barista handed over their mugs. They carried them to it, Theo setting his guitar case behind the chair where it’d be out of the way, and sat down. As Quint settled across from him, he used his finger to scoop up foam from the top of his cappuccino and slowly licked it off.
He wasn’t disappointed by Quint’s reaction. The doctor shifted in his chair, flushed, and quickly transferred his gaze out the window. “Stop that.”
“What?” Theo asked, all innocence. “I’m simply enjoying my cappuccino.”
“You know very well what you are doing,” Quint told him, glancing sideways just as Theo sensually swiped his tongue over his lower lip on the pretense of removing any remaining froth. He blushed brighter.
Theo grinned. “You have a dirty mind. Been awhile since you’ve gotten any action, huh?”
Quint turned back with an eyebrow raised. “That is not an appropriate question.”
He was willing to bet that meant ‘yes’. The idea pleased him. Not only was there no current boyfriend to worry about, there weren’t any recent exes either. He took a sip of cappuccino from the mug, regarding Quint over the rim, and set it back down. “There’s a lot of things that aren’t appropriate in your world.”
“No, it’s simply not something I care to discuss in public,” Quint replied, with a subtle nod at the NYU student sitting at the table beside them. She had earbuds in and didn’t even notice the gesture.
“Alright, fine,” Theo said, rolling his eyes. “We can talk about something else. You leased an apartment near here? Guess we’ll be bumping into each other a lot, then, with me living at Zeg’s.”
Ignoring his innuendo-laden tone, Quint latched onto the change of topic. “Oh, I didn’t realize you live with them.”
“Yeah, I lived with Zeg since before she got married,” said Theo. “Tried finding a place of my own after, but–” He cut himself off and dropped his gaze to the table. Not the thing to talk about with the guy who just signed a lease on an apartment probably worth more than you’ll ever make in your life, idiot.
Quint frowned. One moment, the younger man brazenly flirted, the next he pulled into himself like he was intimidated and cowed. The dichotomy made Quint wonder which side which more true. Of if they both were, equally.
He reached across the table without thinking and let his hand brush over Theo’s for the barest fraction of a second. Just that was enough to send his pulse pounding into his fingers. Wrapping them firmly back around his mug, he asked, “But?”
Theo made a movement that was half headshake and half shrug. “I’m not good at, uh, traditional jobs,” he said as his ears turned adorably pink. “A week after I moved into my new place, I got fired by my temp agency, so I fell behind on the rent and wound up being evicted and sleeping in a van parked in my bandmate’s driveway in Queens. When Zeggy found out, she and Ike both insisted I come live with them.”
“That must’ve been terrible,” Quint said softly. “I’m glad you had friends willing to help.”
“Yeah,” said Theo, swallowing. He looked over to the woman next to them, self-conscious.
Graciously, Quint moved past the sensitive area with the question, “You have a band?”
Theo straightened in his chair a little and met his eyes again. “Yep, The Upstart Crows. We play Celtic alt-rock.”
Quint smiled. “I believe one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries insulted him by calling him an upstart crow.”
He nodded. “Not trying to say we’re as talented as the Bard, though. We just liked the phrase.”
“Well, I can’t speak for your bandmates,” Quint said, “but you are extremely talented.”
The younger man took another sip of his cappuccino, though there was no hiding his pleased, soft smile. “You said that before.”
“I meant it. Both times.” Perhaps it was unwise to keep complimenting him if Quint wanted to avoid leading him on, but it was true, and he deserved the admiration. Sadly, he still looked as though he didn’t quite believe it.
“The city music scene hasn’t been throwing its doors open for us,” he said. “That’s why we got the van, so we could try our luck somewhere less competitive and hostile to new acts, like Jersey, but the damn thing never ran. Until we can fix it, I’ll be earning my pennies in the park.”
“Then I’ll keep an ear out for you when I’m passing through,” said Quint, silently adding to himself, and I absolutely will not make up excuses to be passing through.
The sparkle came back to Theo’s eyes. “Maybe next time I’ll buy your coffee,” he said. “As, y’know, your platonic friend.”
With the corners of his lips twitching, Quint shook his head. “We can each buy our own.”
“Sure thing, friend.”
He was incorrigible. How Quint had ever thought of him as an angel was beyond comprehension.
Theo spent a lot more time busking in Washington Square than usual over the next several weeks. He quickly sussed out that he was more likely to run into Quint in evenings—which made sense—and also seemingly random weekdays—which didn’t until he asked the doctor why and got a crash course in hospital scheduling. After that, he was able to plan their “accidental” encounters better. If Quint was suspicious about it, he didn’t ask.
On average, the meetings came once every three or four days. It wasn’t nearly enough for Theo. He spent all his time in between thinking of Quint and planning what he’d do to convince him to give dating a try. But the doctor was insistent.
“Yeah, I know,” Theo said, thoroughly fed up one day after Quint blocked him from coming closer with a hand on his chest and then took a step back. Theo’s skin tingled, which only made him more annoyed. “You’re too old, I’m too young, it’s not appropriate. Fuck appropriateness. Better yet, fuck me.”
A few people surrounding them in the park turned to stare. Quint did not look at all pleased as he walked away and sat down on a bench. When Theo caught up, though, he was surprised by a guilty glance from the older man.
“I shouldn’t be seeing you like this,” he said quietly when Theo sat beside him. “I keep telling myself it’s hurting you, and that proved me right.”
“No!” said Theo. Fear clawed at his throat. “I was just being a… a brat. I was annoyed about not getting my way, but my feelings aren’t hurt, I promise.” He looked down at his knees in shame. “Maybe you’re right and I am too immature.”
“I’ve never said you were immature.”
Tentatively, he met the older man’s blue-gray eyes. They smiled at him.
Then, nodding to his coat, Quint asked, “Aren’t you cold? That jacket feels paper-thin. I always assumed it was lined with something warmer.”
“It’s good enough as it is.” He didn’t want to admit he had no money for a new one.
Quint sighed. “You should wear gloves, at least, so your hands don’t freeze while you play.”
“I don’t have any,” Theo said. An idea struck him. Grinning, he suggested, “What if I buy gloves if you agree we can still be friends? I mean, otherwise, how would you know whether I do?”
The doctor considered him a long moment, then said, “Alright.”
He half-forgot to buy them, though, and wound up spending the money on a new guitar strap when his old one finally frayed through. Quint noticed the lack the next time they saw each other, on Christmas Eve. He gave Theo the most perfect pair that night, yet left him aching for so much more. And then he vanished for almost a week.
December 2006 — New Year’s Eve
The knock on his door surprised Quint. No one had buzzed his intercom, nor has the front desk called up to ask if he was expecting a visitor.
When he answered it, George stood in the hallway holding a large gift bag. That explained. One of the lobby attendants knew George through his gym. It was how Quint had learned an apartment was opening up in the building.
“Merry Christmas,” George said, offering him the bag. Quint took it with a smile and stepped back to let him enter. “Or should I say happy new year’s eve?” he continued as he came in. “Sorry it’s so late. I just flew back into town this morning.”
“I understand,” said Quint. “I think yours was delivered after you left, so it wasn’t timely either. Did you get it?”
“Yes, thank you. It was a lovely scarf,” he said, going into the living room and looking around.
Quint put the gift bag on the peninsula. It was not only large but heavy. He reached through the tissue paper inside and pulled out a wok.
“I took a chance that you didn’t have one,” George said.
“I didn’t,” Quint confirmed. He turned the pan over in his hand, struck by memories of George coming back from visiting his mother with quart-sized containers full of her homemade beef chow fun and dumpling noodle soups. They’d reheat them and live on them for days after his trips. “I love it. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. The place looks great! When I saw it before, it was hard to picture what it would be like with everything unpacked.” He peeked through the open door to Quint’s bedroom and turned back with a smile. “Definitely big enough for two people.”
Sighing, Quint set the wok on the counter. “Don’t start that again. I am not looking for a relationship.”
George came to stand opposite him, between the barstools. “Then why have I been hearing from Zeggy about coffee dates you’ve been having with her friend Theo?”
“They are not dates. Theo knows that,” Quint said, with a nauseous feeling in his stomach. Did he know? He still seemed so hopeful when they last met, on Christmas Eve. Up until they nearly kissed and Quint left him, bereft, on that bench. “We’re friends.” His tone came out unsure, and he bent down to find a place for his new wok in the cupboards.
“You forget,” George said, leaning over the counter, “I was there at Harvard with you. I’ve seen you like this before.”
“Like what?” Quint asked, rearranging two pots to make room.
George raised his voice above the clanging. “The clinical term is ‘lovesick,’ and you have a very severe case, in my professional opinion.”
Quint stopped and raised an eyebrow at him. “Cute.”
“No, chronic,” he said, amused.
Putting the wok in the cupboard and closing it, Quint stood up. He gripped the edge of the counter in both hands. “If you remember how I was before,” he said, looking George dead-on, “then you remember what came after. I cannot—” He closed his eyes and took a breath. “I will not do that to Theo.”
“Of course you won’t,” George said more seriously, his soft fingers resting over Quint’s. “You aren’t him. You don’t treat people so carelessly. And Theo isn’t you. Try to remember that.”
Quint tried, but the nausea came back and drowned out the thoughts. He parted his eyelids, looking down at the counter between them.
“Also in my professional opinion,” said George, gentle, “it’s long past time for you to lay that relationship to rest. I can recommend someone if you’d like to talk in a therapeutic setting.”
The idea of talking about it with anyone else—with a stranger—made him swallow. Yet he so wished he could envision a future where he wasn’t alone. It almost came into focus with Theo, before the fog of fear obscured it again. “Thank you,” he said. “I’ll consider it.”
George patted his hand twice. “Good. I wish I could stay longer, but I have a party to attend. Do you have plans for tonight?”
“Yes,” Quint said, smiling wryly. “I’m planning to stay home and watch the ball drop on CNN.”
“Well, don’t get wild,” George said. “I’ll see you next year.”
Quint showed him out and then turned and looked at his empty apartment. Until George had made that observation, he’d thought it was perfect for one person. Now it seemed far too large. He took his keys off the hook. Suddenly, he had a craving for Chinese. Takeout would be a far cry from George’s mother’s authentic, traditional recipes, but comfort food was comfort food.
He told himself he’d gotten lost when his footsteps took him to the border of Washington Square Park. But the Chinese restaurant he’d seen a few weeks ago was blocks away from it. What are you expecting to find? he asked himself as he walked along the dark street. The park’s gates were all locked shut. Theo, like every other person on the planet, probably had somewhere to be tonight.
Then he heard that sweet voice, floating in a lazy melody through the night air.
“Maybe it’s much too early in the game,
Aah, but I thought I’d ask you just the same:
What are you doing New Year’s,
New Year’s Eve?
Wonder whose arms will hold you good and tight
When it’s exactly twelve o’clock tonight,
Welcoming in the New Year,
New Year’s Eve.”
Quint sped up, and caught sight of him just as a uniformed police officer approached the younger man from his other side.
“Move it along,” the cop said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. “Park closed hours ago.”
Theo looked behind himself at the fence around the edge of the square. “I’m not in the park.”
“You’re impeding the flow of foot traffic,” said the cop. “Don’t you have a kegger or something to be at? Go join the other NYU kids.”
“I don’t go to NYU,” Theo said, and then he saw Quint a few feet away and the annoyance dropped out of his voice in an instant. “Hey!”
“Hello,” said Quint.
“Are you going to leave or not?” asked the cop, ignoring Quint.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m going,” Theo said. He took his guitar strap off and bent to scoop the money out of his case. There wasn’t much of it, Quint saw. He also noticed Theo was wearing the gloves. They looked good on him. The cop waited until the guitar was shut in the case and then strode off. “Asshole,” Theo muttered after him.
Quint grimaced, but resisted asking him not to swear at people. It appeared the officer hadn’t heard, in any case.
When Theo turned back, he was all smiles. “I haven’t seen you since Christmas Eve!”
“I’ve been working a lot,” said Quint, which was true. He’d volunteered to cover more shifts to give himself something to focus on other than the ache he felt whenever he pictured Theo wishing him the saddest Merry Christmas ever just before Quint had left. It surprised him to find the younger man so cheerful now.
“Well, I didn’t get a chance to give you your present,” Theo said. “Do you want it tonight?”
Frowning, Quint said, “I told you, there was no need to buy me anything.”
Theo’s smile faltered and fell. “It’s nothing much,” he said, shaking his head. “You probably won’t even like it.”
“No, I’m sure I will,” said Quint, in a rush to reassure him. He could’ve kicked himself. “If you have it with you, I’d love to open it tonight, but you don’t have to go out of your way to get it, okay?”
“Actually…” He glanced up and down the sidewalk. “It’s, um, better given in private.”
Quint felt a blush starting. “Oh.”
Smirking, Theo said, “Not like that. Get your brain out of the gutter, Dr. Hanniford.”
It usually is, Quint thought. You drag it there. Aloud, he said, “Alright. I was going to get Chinese takeout. Would you like accompany me there and back to my apartment so you can give me the gift and then…” Stay. “Leave for whatever New Year’s Eve events you have planned?”
Theo took a step closer. Mere inches separated them. He looked up at Quint, and his eyes sparkled, and he whispered, “I don’t have anything planned.”
“Oh,” said Quint again. Then he heard himself ask, “Would you like to eat dinner with me?”
Theo beamed. “I’d love to.”
Quint stepped back, before that huge grin made him lose his head completely, and began to lead the way towards the restaurant. Theo jogged a few feet to catch up beside him. Several seconds later, Quint cleared his throat. “Just to be clear,” he said, “this is a platonic dinner.”
“Yeah,” said Theo. “Of course.”
Theo’s nerves grew the closer they got to Quint’s apartment. His building was as fancy as Theo had predicted. It even had a… well, he didn’t know if ‘doorman’ was the right word, since Quint opened the door himself, but there was a guy sitting behind a big front desk in the lobby, wearing a suit. He’d looked up when they came in and said, “Hello, Dr. Hanniford.”
“Hello,” Quint had replied. “Happy New Year.”
Theo wondered what the guy thought of the doctor coming home with a man wearing a shabby coat and ragged jeans and carrying a beat-up guitar case. But then they’d stepped onto the elevator—the only elevator building Theo had ever lived in was the dorm at NYU—and he forgot the guy and spent the ride up wishing he had a better present for Quint.
Oh, well. Nothing he could do about it now.
They entered the apartment into a kitchen with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. It had a peninsula with two barstools set on the other side, and beyond that, a large room with both a dining table and a living room seating arrangement on large area rugs. Everything was in neutral colors except the burgundy couch and armchair.
After hanging up his coat, Quint took his shoes off, so Theo slid out of his as well. He was glad his socks didn’t smell or have holes in them.
“Would you like a drink?” Quint asked, setting the plastic bag full of takeout containers on the peninsula. It was the first time he’d spoken to Theo since the walk from the restaurant. “I have water, iced tea, and orange juice.”
“Iced tea, please.”
He took it out of the fridge in a big pitcher and poured it into a glass while Theo went around the peninsula to sit on a bar stool and watched the older man pour a second glass without once glancing in his direction. Was he regretting bringing him here? Or just nervous, too? Theo’s knee jiggled under the counter.
“Please excuse me a moment ,” Quint said, setting one glass in front of Theo. “I should wash my hands before we eat. You can use the kitchen sink, I’ll use the bathroom.”
Theo spun the stool sideways as Quint went into a little alcove off the main room. He heard a door close. Rather than get up to wash his own hands, he took a sip of the tea and looked around the room again.
A desk and a bookshelf sat against the wall opposite the TV. Intrigued, he slid off the stool and went to scan the books.
A lot had titles like Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings, and The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, and there was what appeared to be a whole box set of Sherlock Holmes. The second shelf was slightly more surprising. The Martian Chronicles, The War of the Worlds, Dune, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Who’d’ve guessed he’s such a nerd? Theo thought with a smile. A very tidy nerd, he added, looking at the desk. The computer cables were all neatly bundled together, and even the pile of papers in the letter tray had squared edges.
Then the name on the top envelope caught his eye. “Rafferty Leopold Hanniford?” he asked, incredulous.
“You shouldn’t snoop through other people’s mail.”
Theo jumped. Quint was standing in the bathroom doorway, watching him while drying his hands on a towel.
Recovering, he grinned and said, “It was in plain sight. Cops don’t even need a warrant for that. Anyway, how else was I gonna find out you aren’t who you say you are?”
“I’m exactly who I say I am.” He set the towel down somewhere behind him and came to stand by Theo. “‘Quint’ is a nickname.”
“I figured, but I thought it was short for Quinten,” Theo said. He held the envelope up pointedly. “How the hell do you get ‘Quint’ out of ‘Rafferty Leopold Hanniford?’”
Quint took it from him and tapped on something Theo hadn’t paid attention to: a V following the name. “The fifth.”
“Five generations of parents named their kid that?” Theo demanded.
“Yes,” Quint said, the corners of his mouth twitching.
Rich people, Theo thought. He said, “Okay, but I still don’t get where ‘Quint’ comes in.”
“It’s an old preparatory school tradition,” the doctor explained. “Male pupils often have suffixes to their names, whether it’s ‘Junior’ or a roman numeral, and they get nicknamed based on it. So-and-so-the-second is often called ‘Chip,’ for ‘chip off the old block,’ thirds are ‘Trey’ or ‘Trip,’ for ‘triple’–”
“Ohhh,” said Theo. “So ‘Quint’ for ‘quintuple.’”
He thought a moment. “What about fourths? ‘Quad’ seems wrong.”
“‘Court’ for ‘quarter.’ Occasionally ‘Ivey’ or ‘Ivan.’”
Theo made a face. “I’m glad you’re a fifth.”
Laughing, Quint said, “So am I.”
“And here I thought preppies actually named their kids ‘Trip.’”
Quint shook his head, still smiling, and dropped the envelope back in the tray. “Did you wash your hands?”
“Not yet?” Theo said. He didn’t really see the point. They’d be using silverware, wouldn’t they?
But the doctor said, “Go on. I’ll set the table,” so he humored him and went into the bathroom.
Quint took plates and forks out, calmer than he had been since Theo stepped through his door. Having him there, in his space, had made him clammy with nerves. He’d had to retreat to the bathroom to pull himself together. Guests almost never came to his apartment in Boston. Too intimate. Even his infrequent sexual encounters over the years more often took place at his partners’ homes.
Don’t start thinking about sex, he told himself sternly. Theo is not a sexual partner.
Then the younger man emerged, wiping his hands on his jeans, and smirked. It was a dangerous smirk. “Need help, Rafferty?”
“‘Quint,’” he corrected, “and no, I can dish up everything.”
“I’ll take whatever you dish up,” Theo said, sauntering over to the dining table.
Quint tried to ignore that and divided the food between the plates.
Theo sat, interlocked his fingers, and rested his chin on the points of his knuckles. “I’m learning all sorts of secrets about you tonight,” he said.
Quint frowned. He wasn’t sure he liked the direction of this conversation. “Such as?”
“Besides your real name?” His hazel eyes followed the plates as Quint carried them to the table and set one in front of him. The other, Quint put at the place setting on Theo’s right. “You eat Chinese takeout.”
“Doesn’t everyone?” asked Quint, sinking into his chair.
“Yeah, but you don’t seem like ‘everyone,’” he said, whatever that meant. Then he unclasped his hands to point over his shoulder at the bookcase. “You read science fiction novels. That was an adorable surprise.” He grinned.
Clearing his throat, Quint grabbed his iced tea and took a sip. “What about you?” he asked, trying to deflect the attention. “What sorts of books do you like?”
“I’ve never really been big on reading,” Theo said with a shrug. It looked casual, except for the way his gaze dropped as he picked up his fork. “I get distracted easily. Prefer music.”
There it is again. Why did that vulnerability make him want to kiss the younger man even more than his brash flirting? He should be ashamed of himself. Stabbing into a scallion pancake, he asked, “Have you tried audiobooks?”
Theo shook his head.
“You should,” said Quint. “You might find you enjoy them better.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Theo said, as though he was giving it real thought.
“What about your surprise?” he asked. When the younger man gave him a blank look, he clarified, “The gift. We have privacy now.”
“Oh!” He glanced not at his coat on the hook by the door, where Quint was assuming he’d left it, but at his guitar case, which he’d propped against a bar stool. “Um. Let’s eat first, okay?”
If they waited until after dinner, it would keep Theo in the apartment longer. “Alright,” Quint said. He took another bite of food and swallowed. “You haven’t told me how your Christmas went.”
It had the effect he’d hoped for. Smiling and animated again, Theo told him about Zeggy and Ike’s family all coming to visit, the first time some of them had seen the twins in person, and how everyone loved the ornaments he’d bought on Christmas Eve. “I just hope the monkeys love them too, when they’ve grown up.”
“I’m sure they will,” Quint said. “They’re a gift from a special person, which makes them even more special.”
Theo ducked his head a little, a pleased look on his face. Then he said, “Now tell me about your Christmas.”
“You already know I was working,” replied Quint, confused.
“Yeah, but, Christmas in a children’s hospital has to be… bittersweet isn’t really the word I want, but you know what I mean?”
Quint did. It wasn’t his first year working on Christmas. He always found it emotional in more ways than one. Wanting to keep the mood light, though, he focused on the better parts of it: how the hospital arranged activities for patients well enough to be out of their rooms, and the Angel on a Leash therapy dog/handler teams who visited those confined to bed.
“That must be such a cool job,” Theo said.
“They’re volunteers, actually,” said Quint. “They do wonderful work.”
He talked about it some more, until both their plates were empty. Then he collected the dishes, took them to the sink to rinse, and loaded them into the dishwasher. Behind him, Theo was picking up his guitar case and laying it sideways on the bar stool.
“About your gift,” he said, glancing at Quint through his eyelashes. “I, um, wrote you a song.”
Quint’s lips parted. He didn’t know what to say.
Theo must’ve interpreted his silence wrong, because he went on in a rush, “I know it’s a lame present when you spent money on mine, and some people find it really awkward to be serenaded, so if you don’t want to hear it, you can just say so.”
“Theo,” Quint said, around the choking feeling in his esophagus, “that isn’t lame. Just the idea of you even considering writing a song for me… I’m honored. Of course I want to hear it.”
The younger man blew out a breath. “Okay, don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he half-muttered. Then he took the guitar out and gestured to the couch. “Can we sit?”
Nodding, Quint came into the living room again and sat on one side of the couch.
Theo took the other, angled so their knees almost touched. “It’s really not meant to be played with just an acoustic guitar,” he said, adjusting the strings of his instrument. “You’ve gotta imagine an electric one, and keyboards, drums, and a fiddle. And backup vocals.”
Quint shook his head. “You’re enough for me.”
“Wait until you hear it, okay? You probably won’t like it.” He strummed all the strings together twice, then nodded as if he was steeling himself. “Right. Here goes.”
It started with only the guitar, in chords that formed a strong, steady rhythm like a battle march. Quint watched his hands pressing and plucking at the instrument and felt the music seem to match his pulse. Then Theo sang.
“Remember the words I gave to you
just the other day?
Was it too soon for me to say?
Well, maybe I should know.
I wanted to climb into your bed,
But most of all,
I wanted to reach inside your head.
Will you answer the call?
Go, go, go in the water,
Jump, jump, jump in the sea,
Don’t be afraid by the size of the wave,
Get over your fright and hold on tight to me.”
If he’d been expecting something sweet, he would’ve been disappointed. It was forceful, aggressive, demanding. And behind it, a plea echoed in the drawn-out notes and seized Quint by his soul. God, he thought, trying to catch his breath, how did he know? How could he spot it so easily?
Theo’s eyes were down on his hands as they brought the song out of the guitar. He didn’t want to see Quint’s face. Would it be frozen in a polite smile? Disapproving? Angry? None of the possibilities were good. What had he been thinking? But he was only a third through. The show must go on. Licking his lips, he launched into the next verse.
“Now that I’ve opened all my doors
To the other side,
Well, isn’t it time that you stopped by?
I’ll throw you a line.
Go, go, go in the water,
Jump, jump, jump in the sea,
Don’t be afraid by the size of the wave,
Get over your fright and hold on tight to me.
Hold on to me.
You say you’re feeling tired,
Oh, but I don’t buy it.
Get up, ‘cause I will have my way
You had to fall, natural,
So c’mon, it’s in my blood.
Go, go, go in the water,
Jump, jump, jump in the sea,
Don’t be afraid by the size of the wave,
Get over your fright and hold on tight,
Go, go, go in the water,
Jump, jump, jump in the sea,
Don’t be afraid by the size of the wave,
Get over your fright and hold on tight to me.
Hold on to me.
Jump in the water,
The last chord died, and silence fell in the apartment. He forced his gaze up to Quint’s.
The older man was utterly motionless, staring at him as if he couldn’t quite believe his eyes.
“See, I knew you wouldn’t like it,” Theo said, looking away again. He was such an idiot.
“No!” Quint said. His hand landed on Theo’s knee, squeezing it.
Christ, if he tries to be kind about this, I’m going to cry.
Quint, though, didn’t sound kind when he spoke again. Or unkind. He sounded winded. “It… it was powerful. I just need a, a moment.”
The moment stretched into two, and three, and he dared to hope.
But then the doctor said, “Theo, we need to talk.”
“Oh-kaaay,” Theo said, trepidation filling him. He felt foolish still holding his guitar, so he took off the strap and set it on the floor, propped up against the coffee table. Then he looked at Quint and prepared to be gently turned down. Again.
The older man regarded him through his glasses. He took his hand back from Theo’s knee and rubbed his palms together in his lap. He didn’t look like he had the last time he told Theo they couldn’t be together. Finally, he said, “When I was twenty-two, in my first year at Harvard Med, I was studying in the library one day, and I ran into a professor. He wasn’t one of my professors, but I had taken notice of him before around campus, because I found him attractive.”
Theo blinked. This wasn’t at all what he’d expected. He thought about teasing Quint for having the hots for a teacher, except he was being so serious. He waited to see where it was going.
After a moment, Quint continued, “We started talking about the topic I was studying, and he recommended a few books to me, and then before he left, he asked me to have lunch with him later that week.”
“You dated a professor?!” Theo blurted, unable to stop himself.
“Yes,” Quint said on a sigh. “I considered not going, but I was flattered by his attention. I had very little experience with dating. I wasn’t much of a catch–”
Theo pictured a 22-year-old Quint, without the touch of gray in his hair and slightly more muscular than he was now, because he’d mentioned being on the rowing team as an undergrad. He snorted.
“–and yet he was interested enough in me to break the rules and ask me out. Keeping it a secret only made it more exciting. I’m normally a rule-follower, but something about him tempted me.
“So, we went to lunch—at a restaurant well away from where anyone would recognize us—and then a movie, and very soon we were in… well, I considered it a relationship, although after the first date we hardly ever went anywhere in public together.”
“Where did you go?” Theo asked.
Quint’s cheeks took on a tint of pink as he looked away. “To his apartment, after dark so no one would see me, and I would leave before sunrise. I did that willingly. I saw it as protecting our love for each other.”
Love? Theo thought. Even more than the image of Quint sneaking off to spend clandestine nights having sex with this professor—because what else would they be doing?— the word put a green flame of resentment in his stomach. He looked away himself, frowning. Did that mean these feelings he had for Quint were love? Or just that he didn’t want him to be in love with someone else? “Did… he say he loved you?” he asked.
“No. I didn’t say it either,” Quint said. “I think I was afraid to. I knew loving someone is dangerous. And I was proved right, as it turned out.”
His voice sounded rough, suddenly. Theo brought his eyes back to the older man’s face and saw it was pale, now, and drained like he’d been up for two days straight. The jealousy morphed into protectiveness. He moved closer and softly asked, “What did he do to you?”
Quint cleared his throat a few times. “I had been trying to convince him to go on a vacation with me when the semester ended. The summer after your first year of medical school is the only longer break you get, and I already had an externship arranged for the second half of it, but I’d left the first half free for him. Whenever I brought it up, he changed the subject or distracted me somehow.”
Theo imagined what the “somehow” could be and scowled. Quint wasn’t looking at him, though, so he didn’t notice. He went on, “Finally, on the last day of classes, I went to his office, which I obviously never did, ready to demand an answer. I walked in and I found him…” A deep sigh moved his broad shoulders up and down. “I found him packing. I asked why, and that was when he told me he’d accepted a position at a university in England.”
“Oh,” Theo said. His chest twinged sharply in sympathy.
“Yes,” said Quint, head hanging. “I thought he was joking at first, but when I realized he meant it, that’s exactly what I said. Then I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me sooner? I’ll apply for a transfer so we can stay together,’ and he said–”
He broke off and swallowed. Theo was pretty sure he was on the edge of crying. He yearned to hug him.
After a long moment, he continued, even hoarser, “He said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous. We were never that serious.’”
“What a bastard.”
“So, I left,” Quint said, like he hadn’t spoken. “I went back to my apartment, crawled into bed, and basically stayed there for three weeks. Thankfully, George was around, or I probably wouldn’t have eaten. He was a good friend to me during that time.”
“Did he know about you and the professor?” Theo asked.
“He’d known I was seeing someone, not who,” Quint said. He swallowed loudly. “After it ended, I didn’t see the point of keeping it a secret anymore, but it was too painful to talk about. It took him days to get it out of me.” With a sort of grimly amused twist in his voice, he added, “He says now it was great training in psychiatry.”
Theo couldn’t hold back anymore. He flung his arms around him and squeezed hard. Quint went still for a second, but then he returned the hug, though not quite as tight. “Thank you,” he said into Theo’s ear, patting his back.
“Thank you for telling me,” Theo said, because he knew that had been hard. Then he loosened his hold and looked up at him. “I’m glad you did. That was a really, really, incredibly shitty thing to have done to you. But… why are you telling me now? If your argument for not giving us a shot is that you’ll hurt me like he hurt you, I don’t think that’s possible. You aren’t a bastard.”
Quint shook his head, and his eyes looked bluer than usual, with moisture at their corners. “I’m afraid I’ll hurt you somehow just the same,” he said, “but… what your song made me confront is, I’m just as much afraid I’ll be hurt again. Perhaps more so, awful as it sounds.”
“That’s not awful,” Theo said. He could understand the fear. He bit his lip. “Look, I know I can’t promise you’ll never be hurt if you date me, but I’m not planning to move to England, and we’ve had nothing other than public encounters until tonight, except for, y’know, Zeg’s kitchen. Doesn’t that count for something?”
“I don’t think you would intentionally or carelessly hurt me,” Quint said. “Not like that. I recognize this fear is somewhat irrational.” He sat back towards the arm of the couch and rubbed his hands down his thighs. “George was over here earlier tonight. He suggested I should see a therapist to help me move past that relationship. I think it may be a good idea. In the meantime, though, I’m– I’m not sure I can begin something with you.”
“So it’s still no,” Theo said, trying not to sound crushed.
“It’s… not now,” Quint said, and a tear escaped when he blinked. He brushed it away. “I’m sorry, Theo.”
Well, I asked him for a reason not to do with our ages, Theo thought, and ‘not now’ is a better place than we were. He took an unsteady breath. “It’s okay. If you need some time to figure it out, take it. I’m sticking around while I wait. Were you gonna watch the ball drop?”
Quint watched him lean forward and pick up the remote, thinking, You want to stay even knowing it won’t lead anywhere tonight? Part of him had dared to hope that would be so, but the majority had expected Theo to say, ‘well, sorry for taking up your time,’ and be out the door as fast as he could put his guitar back in its case.
Theo stopped with the remote in his hand, looking over his shoulder at him, unsure, and Quint realized the younger man was waiting for his invitation.
“Yes, I usually watch it on CNN,” he said, with a smile that felt shaky on his face.
Grinning back with relief, Theo clicked the TV on. “Anderson Cooper, good choice.”
“He’s not alone this year,” Quint said. “They got Kathy Griffin from My Life on the D-List to co-host.”
“Oh, that should be fun,” Theo said, flipping through channels until he found CNN. “Do you have snacks?”
Quint blinked. “We just ate.”
Rolling his eyes with exasperation, Theo said, “It’s New Year’s Eve. You’re supposed to pig out. I’ll go buy some if you want.”
“No, I think I have popcorn,” Quint said, and went to look in his cupboards. He didn’t want Theo leaving, even for a few minutes.
As he put the popcorn bag in the microwave, Theo was laughing at something on the TV. “Quint,” he said, “come back. You have to see this. She’s trying to make him die of embarrassment, I’m pretty sure, and he keeps giggling.”
Quint left the microwave to come lean on the back of the couch. He watched the duo on the screen for a minute, then said, off-hand, “I rowed against him once in college.”
Theo looked up at him with his jaw hanging open, completely adorable. “You met Anderson Cooper in college?” he asked.
“Not really ‘met,’” Quint admitted. “More ‘saw.’ He was on the Yale rowing crew, but he wasn’t famous then, so I wouldn’t have paid attention if one of my teammates hadn’t pointed him out and said he was Gloria Vanderbilt’s son.”
“Wow,” Theo said. “Who won the race?”
Quint smiled. “Harvard.”
“I am so attracted to you right now,” said Theo. “I’m still giving you your time, no pressure. I just want you to know that.”
“I’ll keep it in mind,” Quint said, and the microwave beeped, so he went to put the popcorn in a bowl.
They ate with the bowl resting half on Theo’s lap and half on Quint’s, their hands occasionally brushing as they went back for more, and Quint felt the heat of being near Theo under his skin, but it was… calmer. A controlled burn, without the fear of being engulfed.
Other than the comment about being attracted to him, Theo didn’t make a single innuendo or come-on. He simply watched the TV and laughed at Anderson’s giggles and Kathy’s jokes, occasionally glancing towards Quint like he was checking to see if Quint was enjoying it, too. And he was. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d spent New Year’s Eve with anyone. It felt surprisingly comfortable.
Talking about his past hadn’t been as painful as he’d expected, either. With Theo so vibrant and real and right in front of him, it was impossible to get lost in the memories. He’d felt safe telling him.
On the television, the countdown of the final minute to midnight began. The bowl of popcorn was empty apart from a few kernels. He put it on the coffee table, taking the opportunity to stretch out his back, and then settled next to Theo again. “Ready to welcome 2007?” he asked.
“Mm,” Theo said, sounding distracted. When Quint looked at him, he was biting his lip, watching the seconds elapse on the screen. Quint did, too. As they reached fifteen, he heard, “Quint?”
“Yes?” Quint asked, turning to Theo again.
He was closer somehow, his hazel eyes darting all over Quint’s face. “This doesn’t have to mean anything if you don’t want it to,” he said, quiet, and his gaze landed on Quint’s mouth. “It’s just because it’s midnight on New Year’s Eve, okay?”
Quint parted his lips, and he didn’t know if he was preparing to say ‘no,’ or say ‘okay,’ or just preparing, and the crowd being broadcast from Times Square chanted, “Five! Four!”
Theo leaned into him, breath hot, but still holding back. Waiting for him.
Quint gave the barest nod.
He closed his eyes as Theo kissed him.
He tasted sweet like before, and salty from the popcorn, and Quint’s heart pounded, but not in panic. A vision swam into his head, clear as a videotape, of them doing this, exactly this, next year, and the year after that, and on into the future. A string of midnight kisses on New Year’s Eves for as long as he could see.
Theo broke away and breathed against Quint’s cheek for a second before he pulled back and met Quint’s eyes, with that uncertain, vulnerable side peeking out.
“I want it to mean something,” Quint said, and kissed him again.
This time, Theo returned it voraciously, all his energy unleashed into his mouth and his hands as they roamed over Quint’s shoulders and back, sparking across his nerve endings. Quint groaned and bit Theo’s lower lip, wanting more of him, and Theo crawled into his lap, his legs straddling Quint’s and his weight pressing Quint deeper into the couch. Then he pivoted his hips and ground downward.
Quint’s eyes rolled back as he gasped. Digging his fingers into Theo’s waist just above the ridges of his pelvis, he lifted him and flipped them to the right so Theo was underneath him on his back, his legs cradling Quint as he half-lay and half-knelt over him. He lost Theo’s mouth in the process, but found his shoulder and bit into it over the neckline of his t-shirt, a growl rising from low in his solar plexus.
“Oh, fuck me,” Theo said.
Yes, Quint thought, and bit down harder so Theo arched up into him. Then he thought, Wait, now?
He let go with his teeth and tried to harness the very little blood remaining in his head for reasoning. They hadn’t even had a proper date yet. Was it wise to sleep together so soon?
But then, their first kiss had been over six weeks ago. Earlier tonight, he’d told him something he hadn’t told anyone since George. The wait was so long already. Nearly half his life.
He pushed himself up on his hands, putting an inch of space between his chest and Theo’s, and those beautiful hazel eyes narrowed.
“Quint,” Theo said, “I swear to God, if you stop now…”
“I’m too old–”
“No, you’re not!”
“Shh,” Quint said, laying his index finger over Theo’s lips, and the younger man sagged into the cushions with a huff of breath. “As I was saying,” Quint went on, amused, “I’m too old to do this on a couch.”
“Oh.” His eyes widened again. Then he smiled and tipped his head back so Quint’s fingertip slid right between his teeth. Around it, his mouth formed the words, “I’m assuming you have a bed?” and his tongue flicked over the sensitive skin.
Quint wanted him. He swallowed and said, “I– I do have a bed. Would you, um, like to see it?”
Theo nodded, which made Quint’s finger slip even further into his soft, hot mouth, and Quint removed it before he forgot about going to the bedroom and just took him here.
He stood up, with Theo scrambling after him like he couldn’t bear to be more than a few inches away. Grabbing Quint by the back of his neck, he kissed him breathless again as they stumbled toward the bedroom, knocking into the arm of the couch and then the end table, sending the lamp wobbling, and it could fall over and break for all Quint cared. He pushed Theo backwards, stealing kisses as he went. Then they were pressed up against his bedroom door, and he groped for the handle while Theo groped him.
Finally, he managed to remember how doorknobs work. Theo backed right into the room, dragging Quint with him by the front of his shirt, and sat down hard on the edge of the mattress. “Nice bed,” he said, not looking at it at all. His eyes were fixed on Quint’s as he got his knees under him, bouncing a little. “Doesn’t creak. That’s good.”
Letting go of his fistful of Quint’s shirt, he smoothed the wrinkles out of the fabric as he ran his palm right down to the hemline. Quint felt his fingers underneath, against bare skin right there, and he–
“What?” Theo asked, freezing. “Am I going too fast?”
Quint closed his eyes. “I just realized I don’t have any condoms,” he said, before quickly adding, “Not that I was necessarily expecting to do anything that requires protection. I was going to ask you what you’d like.” But he’d been hoping… He swallowed and considered how fast he could find a 24-hour drugstore.
Theo’s lips brushed from his jawline up to his earlobe, and Quint thought he was trying to be consoling, until he whispered, “There’s two of them in my inside jacket pocket. Along with some lube samples.”
His eyelids parted in surprise. Then he frowned. “Do you always carry those around?”
He felt Theo’s smile against his cheek as he asked, “Why? Does that make you jealous?”
“Theo,” he said.
The younger man sat back on his heels on the bed and studied his face, smirking. “It dooooesss. You’re jealous.”
Quint raised an eyebrow to distract from his flush. “Theo,” he repeated in a deeper voice.
“No, I started carrying them after Thanksgiving,” Theo said, casual. “In case this happened.” He gestured between the two of them.
“Oh,” Quint said, feeling foolish and, yes, an echo of possessiveness.
Theo pressed a quick peck to his cheek—the kind of easy kiss you gave a boyfriend or partner—and said, “I’ll go get them. Just give me a couple minutes, ‘kay? Stay here. Don’t change your mind.”
“I won’t,” promised Quint.
Theo dug the supplies out of his jacket pocket where it hung by the door, never more grateful that he’d taken the trouble of preparing for sex. He slipped into the bathroom on his way back to attend to the final details, then rejoined Quint in the bedroom.
The older man was sitting on the corner of the bed facing him. He’d turned on a lamp and drawn the blinds over the window while he waited, and his eyes went directly to Theo’s fly, which Theo hadn’t bothered to zip or button again. “Come here,” he said.
His heartbeat quickening, Theo went to stand in front of him, holding out the condoms and lube as he came. Quint ignored them in favor of his shirt, lifting the hem and leaning forward at the same time to kiss across Theo’s lowest ribs and make his abs twitch involuntarily. He groaned.
Quint seemed to be in no hurry now. He lavished attention on every square inch of Theo’s stomach and up over his fluttering breastbone, drawing him closer and pushing fabric out of the way as he went, and Theo looked down at him and thought, This cannot be real. Sure, he’d been hoping and pushing for an outcome like this, but when did he ever succeed at anything? He must be dreaming.
Well, better enjoy it while it lasted, then. He closed his eyes as Quint nipped at his right pectoral and let himself be immersed in the sensations for awhile.
That growl Quint had made earlier penetrated the fog of pleasure. It sounded half-savage, and he realized Quint was trying to pry his fist open and get the condoms and lube.
“Sorry,” he said, letting go of them.
Quint said nothing. He took the supplies in one hand and the waistband of Theo’s jeans in the other, and yanked so hard that Theo fell onto his side on the bed with a surprised “Oof.”
Before he could catch his breath, Quint was on top of him. And then it was all firm hands roughly undressing him, and Quint’s biceps bulging as he practically tossed Theo around the mattress, getting him into position with bruising holds that made Theo lose what little air he had all over again.
Holy shit, he thought, more shocked and turned on than he had ever been in his life.
Quint had gotten the lube open somewhere in there. He pushed two fingers into Theo so quickly that he tensed up for a second despite how he’d already stretched himself in the bathroom, and the older man’s teeth scraped over his inner thigh until he relaxed.
Again, he didn’t answer, but when he crooked his fingers inside Theo, he hit everything good, and Theo whined. Then he watched Quint lift his head and rip the condom open with his mouth, staring down at Theo with sweaty locks of dark hair hanging over his forehead.
God, he’s so fucking hot. It’s a wonder his glasses don’t fog up, Theo thought. The next second, he felt the fingers leave and something much bigger pressing against him while Quint held his legs wide open. “Yes… do it… come on… do it,” he panted.
Quint leaned down and claimed Theo’s mouth, cutting off his pleas as he pushed all the way in.
It wasn’t a dream. He would’ve woken up from the overload of pleasure coursing through him, but he didn’t. Couldn’t. Even when Quint pinned him to the bed, his full weight on Theo, pressing him into the covers and simply, thoroughly taking him as Theo whimpered and moaned.
And he definitely would’ve woken when Quint sunk his teeth into his shoulder and bit down hard—the pain a bright flash that only built the fire between them—while he found Theo’s cock with one of those forceful hands, stroking it as he groaned out his own release, and Theo fell over the edge after him.
He wasn’t sure which of them was shaking harder with aftershocks. “Fuck,” he croaked, “Who the hell knew that was hiding under all those sweater vests and polo shirts?”
“Are… you… alright?” Quint asked between gasps, not moving an inch from where he’d collapsed.
“Alright?” Theo asked. “I just came my brains out. That professor was the world’s biggest idiot, in addition to being a bastard.” Although perhaps now wasn’t the best time to mention an old lover, he reflected, a millisecond too late.
“Wasn’t like that with him.”
“No?” Theo asked, pleased and proud beyond all reasoning.
Quint shook his head and panted for a few more seconds. Then he slipped out of Theo—who moaned at the empty feeling—and rolled away to get rid of the condom.
When he settled onto the bed again, it was next to Theo, on his back. By summoning all his energy, Theo managed to flop over so he could press up to his side. Quint wrapped an arm around him, and he closed his eyes and fell into a real dream.
Quint watched the younger man sleep. Did he really just… ravage him like that?
Yes. As proof, there was a circular bruise forming on his shoulder with imprints of Quint’s teeth ringing it.
And Theo had enjoyed himself just as much as Quint. The proof there took the form of slightly uncomfortable stickiness spreading between them where Theo’s stomach was touching him. He was going to need to change the sheets before they went to bed. Or back to bed, rather.
But for now, he could ignore it and be content simply holding him. He was so gorgeous.
Ten minutes later, Theo stirred and stretched, and something poked Quint’s hip. Ah, the joys of being twenty-three, he thought wryly.
“You know,” Theo said at the same moment, thoughtfully drawn-out, “we have another condom.”
Quint tried not to laugh. “I am flattered by your opinion of my stamina. However, when you get to be forty, you have to deal with certain realities.”
“Oh,” said Theo. Quint couldn’t tell if he sounded disappointed.
“ …Unless you meant you’d like to top,” he said, hesitant.
“God, no! Um… I mean, if you want, I could?” His nose wrinkled even as he said it.
With a smile, Quint assured him, “I have no interest in bottoming.”
“Oh, good, that simplifies things!” he said, cheerful. “I’ll just, uh, be patient.” Snuggling closer, he fell silent again.
Quint stroked his hand gently across the bite mark and then down over the smooth skin of his back. “No feathers,” he murmured.
“Nothing. I thought I might find wings,” Quint said, feeling silly. He hadn’t seriously expected a supernatural being. It was just… the series of events that had to happen for him to meet Theo was almost enough to make him believe in destiny. “A tattoo,” he clarified, to excuse the flight of fantasy.
Theo shuddered slightly. “No way. I hate needles.” He propped his chin on Quint’s chest and frowned at him in confusion. “Why’d you think I had one?”
“Just my imagination,” said Quint. He looked up to the ceiling as he felt his cheeks heat. “I… When I first heard you singing through the baby monitor, I thought you sounded like an angel in a heavenly choir.”
There was silence from Theo for a few seconds. Then he asked, bashfully, “You really think I’m that good?”
“It was only a lullaby,” he said. “Maybe the baby monitor made it sound better.”
“No,” said Quint, taking his gaze off the ceiling so Theo could see his seriousness. “I’ve continued to think it each time I hear you sing. You need to stop putting yourself down.”
“Sorry,” Theo said with a one-shouldered shrug and an uncomfortable glance away. “Habit.”
“Well, you should work on breaking it,” Quint told him.
“Yeah, maybe.” He said nothing else for awhile, and then Quint heard, soft and mellow, “Happineessss is morning and evening, daytime and nighttime toooooo, for happinesssss is anyoooone and anythiiiiiiiiing at allll that’s looooooved byyy youuuuuuu.”
The words meant more to him now then they could possibly have before. He swallowed and said, “I love you, angel.”
Then he froze, thinking, What are you doing?! It’s too soon. You can’t be in love!
But he was. He couldn’t deny it.
Theo had gone still, too, and Quint had an awful moment of waiting for him to say ‘we’re not that serious,’ except then he pushed up on his elbow and stared at Quint in delighted disbelief. “Really? You do?”
Pulling him tighter, Quint whispered, “Yes, really.”
The younger man’s sparkling smile stretched from ear to ear. “And you called me ‘angel.’”
“Do you like it?”
“I love it.” He kissed as far up as he could reach, which was Quint’s jaw. “I love you, too.”
Sliding down in the bed, Quint met his mouth and kissed him properly, feeling happier than he’d ever been, and when their lips drifted apart for air, Theo gestured down towards Quint’s waist.
“So, how long does it usually take for–?”
Quint rolled him onto his back and nipped at the bite mark, and Theo gasped. “Why don’t we get started and I’ll catch up?” he suggested.
“Yeah, that works,” Theo said, grinning.
December 2016 — New Year’s Eve
Theo almost snorted soda out his nose. He clapped a hand over his mouth and blinked rapidly, trying to get rid of the stinging of bubbles in his sinuses. When would he learn not to drink while Kathy and Anderson were on?
“Are you alright, angel?” Quint asked, taking his seat beside him on the couch with a fresh bowl of popcorn.
“Yeah,” Theo said, and he only coughed a little. He put the glass down on his coaster so he wouldn’t forget and drink it again, and then curled up into Quint. “Can you believe it’s been ten years?”
“Ten years for them,” he asked, nodding to the TV, “or ten years for us?”
“Both,” Theo said. “Oh, by the way, is now a good time to tell you that I only kissed you that night because you beat Anderson Cooper in rowing?”
Quint’s lips twitched. “Do not lie to me, young man. Unless you’d like your mouth washed out.”
“You’re going to put soap in my mouth when we have our midnight kiss in like,” —he glanced at the time on the screen— “seven minutes?”
“No, I’ll wait until after,” Quint said.
“Before we have sex?” Theo asked, even more dubious.
“After that, too.”
“Oh, well then I’m not worried,” said Theo, grinning. “You’ll forgive me.”
Quint considered it. “You’re right,” he said. “I probably will.”
“Definitely will,” said Theo, and he took a handful of popcorn.
They watched the last minutes of 2016 come to an end, wrapped in each other’s arms, and when the crowd counted down to the final second, their lips met as they welcomed in a new year together.