CANADA – YEAR 2007
He did it to me again. Again.
Did it to myself, I guess.
Can’t leave him. Don’t really want to.
But… this! To do this! The freak!
How could he force my hand like that? How could he take away my choice, any choice I might have made, like that?
Okay, so he thought he’d be gone and I could do whatever I wanted, after.
Okay, so he thought….
No, he never thought that. He must have known it would have killed me, if he’d died. Been the death of me, if he died….
Must have known. Didn’t care. Didn’t give a rat’s fuck, what happened to me, after….
* * *
Okay, so I’m angry. I started angry, when I realized he gave in too quick, too easy, when I told him Ruthie and I were getting married, leaving for Toronto. That I was leaving him.
I ended angry, half an hour later, when I sat up straight in my seat on Ruthie’s sofa, when everything clicked into place and I knew, knew in my gut, what was really going down with Fraser.
What he really thought, how he’d really taken it, that I was leaving.
When I knew beyond any hunch that he was gonna crap out on me, just like that, without a fucking by-your-leave. Put a bullet in his pea-sized brain and leave me holding the fucking bag.
Angry, like I am now.
Like I get all over again, every time I think about it.
Which is just about every moment of every day.
Think about it. About tracking his goddam footprints out of his office, into the night, into the snow, on the trail – his favorite walk – into the woods, to the spot where he lay, cold and red, his greatcoat flung open, his blood melting the icy patch of snow beside him.
Think about it. Getting help by cell. Getting blood pumping into his body again, waiting, waiting, like a fucking moron, to hear what the doctor would say.
Looking up at the doctor, into his eyes, and knowing Fraser would live.
Angrier still, then.
* * *
Don’t know what I’d have been, if he hadn’t lived.
Sure know what I feel now. In great big doses. Anger. Fury, he’d call it. Maybe, rage, he’d call it. He’d find a fancy word for it, for sure.
* * *
I don’t need fancy words. Just fancy footwork.
He doesn’t know how I feel. And I don’t want him to know.
* * *
Lots of things Fraser doesn’t know about me, Mr. Know-It-All.
Doesn’t know, for example, that I heard about his affair, the one he had while I was in Chicago, fucking burying my mother, for Christ sake!
With a man, for Christ sake!
Twelve years, he’s been holding me at arms’ length, holding himself away from me like I had some contagious disease. Then, the minute my back is turned he goes and fucks around with some guy he picks up in a bar. In plain sight of the world and everyone in it!
Like we were in Chicago or New York or someplace. Someplace big, where a guy can do something like that and nobody needs to find out about it.
But we aren’t in Chicago. Or New York. We’re in fucking This-Side-Of-A-Mountain-Small-Town-Canada, and folks see, and they tell.
Tell me, his partner, because they think I ought to know. Ought to be “made aware” of what’s going on with my best friend.
So I can fix it up for him.
They love him, the assholes, so they want to make sure he’s “all right,” so they tell me – his partner, his best friend, who else? – that the good sergeant has been fucking a man, a one-night stand who lasted a helluva lot longer than one night….
So I can make sure he’s “all right.”
* * *
Seem to think the guy dropped Fraser.
That’s a fucking laugh. A riot.
Like somebody would drop Fraser!
Nobody drops Fraser. Except maybe good old Ray Vecchio….
Water under, over, around and through the goddam bridge.
* * *
Breathe deep, Kowalski, you’re gonna need all your breath for the next act of this drama, good buddy. Undercover, again, what a joke. What a bitch life really is, when you get down to it.
Undercover with the big boys, now. Because Sergeant Benton Fraser, RCMP, is definitely a big boy, when it comes to hiding who you are, what you think, what you feel. Those laser eyes miss nothing.
Nothing that they’re looking for, that is.
But Fraser isn’t looking for what I’m hiding. He’s hot to trot for what I’m dishing out. He’s looking for good stuff like forgiveness, love, sex, more friendship than he knows what to do with. Looking to make it up to me, for scaring me.
Like I was scared.
I wasn’t scared. Not scared he’d die. Scared, maybe, that he’d live.
And I’d live.
With this anger. Which I can’t handle, no way, no how.
I didn’t let myself be angry with Stella.
I can’t let myself be angry with Fraser.
* * *
Like I’ve got a choice.
* * *
Every undercover gig has a mantra. Its own little phrase, that sums it up, makes it one thing, makes what a guy’s gotta do, to stay alive doing it, easy, simple, focused.
Like, with the Ray Vecchio gig, the mantra was partners. Just that, partners. Everything I heard, while I was waiting for Constable Benton Fraser, RCMP, to come back off his vacation and into the precinct, told me that. From Welsh’s awkward, half-assed explanations of what I had to do to make my cover as Ray Vecchio stick, to Francesca Vecchio’s incessant chatter about “Frasier” – Frasier this, Frasier that. From the files I read, full of holes, full of Fraser, to the stupid jokes the beat cops made, about not recognizing me. Not without my “red suit.”
And I got it. I got it, easy. Partners. Easy. I could do “partners.” Easy. Standing on my head. With anybody.
Hadn’t I done “partners” with Stella, seemed like, all my life?
Yeah, sure, I could do “partners” with a Canadian guy, a mountie without a clue.
Who had so many clues, he was like the old woman who lived in a shoe, with so many clues, he didn’t know what to do.
Only, he knew what to do, with his fucking clues.
Didn’t want to do it.
I got that, first thing. Didn’t want to do it, our mountie.
Not with Vecchio, not with me.
* * *
He played me, those first years, in Chicago. I was such a sucker, he played me so easy, so smooth. No effort required. Pushed every button. Strung me out. Reeled me in. Held me off. Until I was ready to move out, until I was moving on out. Then, he pulled me back in. Again and again and again.
Yeah, took advantage.
I didn’t want to believe it, at first, that my beautiful mountie, my good buddy, my partner, was a manipulative son of a bitch who used everything he knew about me, everything he found out about Stella and me, to hang onto me – but only so close, no closer – for all he was worth.
Didn’t believe it. Not for years.
I see it now, though. Clear as a bell.
Held me at arms’ length, but first sign I was gonna take off, pulled me back in. Turned it around, over and over again, until my head was spinning, ninety-nine days out of a hundred.
And the topper, the topper was when Vecchio showed up.
Lousy bastard – not Vecchio, Fraser – expects me to just sit there and take it! Take it like a man, Kowalski!
Your mountie’s old partner shows up – you haven’t got a cause for alarm. You shouldn’t be upset, worried, frightened, insecure.
No, you shouldn’t feel anything but happy, because Fraser’s old partner is back! Isn’t that great? Greatness? Isn’t that what you should feel, shouldn’t you be happy for your partner, that his old partner is back in town, and they’re back working together again?
That shouldn’t bother you, Kowalski. You should know better than to be upset by a little thing like that.
I still don’t know how the good soldier would have handled it, if Vecchio hadn’t taken that bullet and put himself out of the running. I wonder whether Fraser was disappointed that his little three-way got screwed up.
I wonder whether he planned to keep me dangling forever, maybe keep Vecchio dangling, too. Who knows? With Fraser, who knows?
Who could possibly guess what’s going on in his pea-sized brain, behind door number one, where there be dragons.
Oh, yeah, dragons lurking there, behind door number one.
* * *
Well, we’ll never know, will we?
Because Vecchio took that bullet, put himself out of the running, fool that he was.
So Fraser got stuck with me.
He must have liked it – being stuck with me.
Because he kept me close. Closer than inside. Closer than ever. Where he could keep an eye on me, adjust the controls, keep me next to him.
Not inside. Outside. Next to him. Close.
* * *
And I was so fucking in love with him, so blind, I didn’t care. Didn’t care where I was, as long as I was with him, with Ben, with my Ben.
What a laugh! My Ben!
Like he’d let anybody inside. I got close enough, but no cigar.
* * *
For years, I made excuses for him. Cursed the fools who made him that way. Made him closed off and manipulative and tight-assed and everything that wasn’t good.
Loved the hell out of everything beautiful and good and sweet and kind and thoughtful and brave and decent about him.
Until I noticed one more thing about him that I’d never noticed before.
That he needed me.
What a fucking revelation that was!
He needed me! Not just me needing him – we weren’t about me needing him, not anymore. We were about him needing me.
Not that he knew it, or would have admitted it, had he twigged to the fact.
That’s all we were. Friends and partners.
* * *
Received, loud and clear. Over and out. Got it in one.
I can do “partners” without being lovers. Easy.
* * *
Now I find out he doesn’t want to do “partners” any more.
When and why, I don’t know.
What I’ve gotta do – that, I know.
And I’ll do it.
And the winner is….
Ray Kowalski, with his mantra for every situation, every gig.
Even for the recuperating-attempted-suicide-mountie gig.
And the mantra is…. “sweet talk.”
Yeah, sweet talk. Sweet talk that mountie right outta his mind.
Right into my bed.
Fuck the rest of the world. Fuck Ruthie. Fuck Fraser. Fuck….
That’s the ticket. Fuck Ben.
I can do it.
I will do it.
Doesn’t mean I gotta like it.
Doesn’t mean I’m not angry. First, last, always.
* * *
Sweet talk. Easy. Just need to call him Ben.
He loves that nickname. Haven’t used it in years. Stuck it to him, that I wasn’t gonna use it, wasn’t gonna call him a love-name, a nickname, his special name, my special name for him. Not any more. Not ever again. Back when I stopped calling him that.
Which was right after I came back from my mum’s funeral, to find out he’d been fucking around on me. With a guy, no less!
No more “Ben” for him, for me. Right then and there.
I know he noticed. Never said anything, of course. But he noticed.
Sometimes I wonder if he ever guessed why….
But no, he never guessed. Never even guessed I knew he’d been fucking around on me. Just as well.
The less he knows, the better.
The less he knows, the less he can use, to blow my cover.
* * *
So. Ben it is.
Sweet talk, nicknames, little kisses building up to something good, to greatness. Sex.
Building up to sex.
Because the love, well, the love is gone. Gone the way of the dodo bird. Extinct.
Anger. That’s what Ben’s got from his sweet talking partner, now.
I smile when I think about it.
I’ll always smile when I think about it. Because the irony is so… beautiful.
He could have had me. I could have had him. I was a contender. So was he.
Not now. Not now. Not anymore.
* * *
When a man steals your fucking life, then tries to steal his own, you don’t wanna love him anymore. You’re angry at him, right?
That’s just what I am. Angry at him. Benton Fraser’s royal American sweet talking partner is fucking angry at him.
And he doesn’t know it.
And he’ll never know it.
A better undercover guy than Ray Kowalski never lived. Hey, ask Fraser! He’ll tell you.
* * *
“Delicious, Ben,” I murmur as I kiss my way down his body, slurping, just like he likes it, slurping my way down, to the prize. Just like he likes it. Noisy. He loves me to be noisy. No hardship. He’s got a body that doesn’t quit. No matter what he thinks. Thinks he’s old. A laugh a minute, my boy Ben.
I look up from where I’m at, my mouth sliding up and down his prick, sucking, tasting – that’s what he would call it, tasting. His eyes are closed, his voice is low, he’s in heaven.
For the millionth time, I wonder what the hell he was waiting for, all those years. I mean, he loves it. All of it, with no exceptions.
Sucking, fucking. Fucking me. Taking it up the ass. Hand jobs, blow jobs, the works. He’s good at it, too. No surprise, of course. He’s good at everything. But whatever he did in his life that I don’t know about, the little I do know about sure didn’t make me confident. That he’d know what to do. Or that he’d like doing it.
I pretty much resigned myself to needing to… I dunno… push him, most of the way, at first.
Should have known, though. Once Ben makes up his mind to anything, that’s it. Nothing moves him from what he decides, from his plan, his idea.
One day, he decides he wants to fuck me, after all. And that’s that.
First, though, he takes a detour. Shoots himself in the stomach.
Second, back on track, he’s fucking me.
Talk about mantras! He’s in a class all his own, when it comes to simple mantras. Wonder what his is, in this thing he’s got going with me.
Maybe, “while the getting is good.”
Because I scared him.
Scared him out of his mind.
When I told him I was marrying Ruthie, I scared him out of his mind.
So, when he got a second chance, he decided to get some, while the getting was good.
* * *
He comes, right then and there, because I lost my temper, thinking that. I chomped down a little too hard on his prick, and he loves that, too. Loves it all.
Made him come, that extra twist. The little twist of pain.
Probably thinks he deserves it.
* * *
“Oh, God, Ray!” he says with a sigh. Pulls me up to him, my head to his. Kisses me, closed mouth, but with a lot of feeling. You know, affection. I’m about ready to vomit.
“Liked that, Ben?” I ask him, my eyes closed, my head back against the pillow. My hands behind my head, anywhere, anywhere but on him.
I hate to touch him. It makes me angry.
But that’s not an option. He wants me, every day. Every day, he wants me. More than once a day.
He must sense something, because when I open my eyes he’s staring at me, at my face. He’s on his side next to me, staring at me. With this stupid frown on his face. Like he can’t understand why I don’t hold him after we fuck around. Can’t figure it out. But he’s trying, you know? He won’t give up.
He’ll hate it when he figures it out.
“You – you make me so happy, Ray. I can’t believe how happy I am. Thank you.”
What a fucking bastard he is. “I’m glad. You make me happy, Frase. Two-way street, you know.” I force myself to move one hand, push the sweaty hair off his forehead. Force myself to smile at him. Goddam fucker.
“I hope so,” he tells me, all serious. I can sweet talk him all I want, and he’s never gonna be satisfied, not Fraser. Never.
“I love you, freak,” I lie. I don’t. Not any more. But he doesn’t need to know that. I’ll decide when the time is right, for him to find out. To know how angry at him I am, and that I don’t give a shit for him, not anymore. I’ll decide.
Manipulative son of a bitch.
He smiles, satisfied. It’s a last ditch effort, to throw him off, when I call him “freak” like in the old days. He loves that.
He’s so easy, now that I’ve got his number, I nearly feel guilty, fooling him like this. Who would have thought that the great Benton Fraser was a sucker for a blow job and a nickname?
Should have known. Twelve years ago. Should have known.
Would have saved a lot of time.
Would have saved my love for him.
* * *
I take a deep breath.
I miss that, miss loving him.
I admit it to myself. Loving him was great. It made my life easy. I didn’t need to think, figure anything out, decide. I just asked myself, what do I have to do to stay close to Ben, and I had all my answers, every day. For twelve years.
Now, life is a strain. When the question changed to, what do I have to do to keep fooling Fraser, life became a strain. Worse. Life became a thing not worth living.
I heard him say, once, that an unexamined life is not worth living.
An examined life is not worth living. I know. I’ve done both.
Unexamined is better.
Loving is better.
Even loving a freak who doesn’t want you, is better.
I should know. I’ve had it both ways.
Unexamined is better.
* * *
“What do you wanna do tonight, Ben?” I ask.
We’re dressing after a shower, after a good Sunday afternoon fuck. Who would have known he’d rather spend all weekend in bed, sleeping and fucking, than do anything at all? Active, he always was, before. Out there. Camping, he liked camping. Horseback riding. I learned to ride a horse for him. Just so I could be close to him….
Basketball. Hockey. Boxing, even, once he got the hang of it, that it could be fun, that it wasn’t like really hitting me, if he knocked me out when we boxed in the ring.
Active. Until he was injured.
Then, after he got better, he “turned over a new leaf” – that’s how he put it. “I’m turning over a new leaf, Ray. I might not be able to do sports any longer, at least, not those I used to do, not with the skill I’m accustomed to. But that’s no reason for me to give up on living.”
So he started to do other things, to keep active. He swam. Still does, every day, for an hour, in the lake. Summer, spring, fall, winter, Fraser swims.
“I certainly can do other sports, non-competitive sports where I pace myself, Ray,” he told me. “As well as exercises.” So he found some old guy who teaches yoga. And some young guy who teaches some weird form of Okinawan karate that’s not all kicking. That’s mostly about forms, dance routines, is what it amounts to. Three sessions a week, each of those, karate and yoga.
Plus the walking, more than ever. Even after we lost Dief, he kept up the Dief-runs, only slower, shorter. Whatever he could manage with his injury. Which slowed him down.
* * *
I remember how it hurt me, when he couldn’t keep up any more. Because it nearly killed him.
Put him behind a desk. Almost killed him.
I take a deep breath, just remembering those days. Godawful, it was, for him. For me, too. I watched him like a hawk, because he came as close to eating his gun then as I’d ever seen a cop get.
Scared the living shit outta me, when I saw that.
But Fraser got through it, got through it all.
With a little help from his friend….
For which he said no thank you’s, that I heard. You hear anything like a thank you from him? No? Me, neither.
That’s when I figured it out, that he needed me, now.
Made me really happy, to know that.
Like a miracle, it looked to me. Fraser needing me.
He never let on, but I don’t think it was a miracle, for him. I think it was the worst thing he could think of happening, that he needed me.
At least, he shut me out even worse than before. Closed himself off. Kept me close, but closed himself right off.
Then, I went to Chicago because my mum got sick. Stayed for a long time. First time Frase and I’d been separated since we met. Nearly two months.
Came back, after mum died, to find out he’d been fucking around on me.
Twisted me all up, inside, when I heard about that.
I could have killed him, but I couldn’t say anything. Not to him. Not to anybody.
I still loved him, though. But I knew what I had to do. I had to get away from him.
That’s when I made up my mind to find somebody – not just anybody, of course. Somebody nice. But… somebody. And get the hell away from him.
And then I met Ruthie.
The rest is history.
* * *
“Ray? Ray. Ray. RAY!”
“What is it, Fraser!” I shout at him, a natural reaction to his shouting my name.
“You’re a million miles away, Ray. You asked me what I wanted to do tonight, and I said, whatever you like.”
“Nothing. I don’t want to do anything, Fraser,” I tell him, zipping up my half-boots and standing. Damn it, I don’t. I don’t want to spend another minute with the fucker. Bastard.
“Why, Ray? What’s wrong?” That voice, sweet and soft, that used to send chills up and down my spine. He’s using that voice on me, and I could kill him.
“Nothing. Nothing’s wrong. Just – leave me alone. I gotta be alone for a while.”
I know I’ve lost it. Because this is it. No more sweet talk. I can’t. I just can’t. Six weeks of sweet talk and sex talk and sex, and I can’t hang on any more. I can’t stand to look at his ugly puss and see his traitor’s eyes and know, know inside me, with everything I am, that he might have died, wanted to die, rather than tell me the truth.
That he needed me. That he loved me.
That he wanted me. Wanted me to stay.
He wanted to be dead, just so he didn’t have to tell me that.
I hate him.
* * *
He grabs my arm when I reach to get my coat off the hook by the door. We’re in his flat. We usually fuck here, because he bought this huge bed, when he got out of the hospital. For us.
“Let me go, Fraser,” I spit out. My anger spilling out in my voice. My cover blown.
“What is it, Ray? What’s the matter? Tell me.”
Begging for an answer. An answer that he can deal with.
I don’t have an answer he can deal with. Nothing he can fix or straighten out or help me with. Nothing easy. Nothing he wants to hear.
“You can’t fix it, Fraser, so back off.”
He looks at me funny, a funny look in his eyes, and drops his hand from my arm. I grab my jacket and put it on real quick, open the door.
He stops me, moves as quick as I’ve seen him move in years, to close the door again, and stays there with his back up against it.
Up against it, that’s what he is. What I am.
I’m breathing heavy, looking daggers at him, like he was a bad guy.
No poet at all, that’s me.
He asks, like he’s afraid it’s true, and afraid not to ask, all at the same time, “Is it Ruth? Do you miss her, Ray? Do you… regret your decision to stay with me? To be with me?”
“It’s not Ruth,” I grunt out. Is he nuts? Does he really think I could go back to Ruthie after all this time, like nothing happened? Like I hadn’t been with him?
“What is it, then?” he asks, and I know he figures that as long as it isn’t Ruth, it’s nothing he can’t fix.
“It’s you, Frase.”
“Me? What have I done, Ray? Please tell me.” When I don’t answer him he goes on, babbles on, typical. “I meant no harm. I – I thought you wanted this. For us to be together, this way. You seemed to want it. I know I did. I know I do. These last weeks have been wonderful, for me. Beyond anything I could have hoped for, dreamed….” He shuts up, finally, when I don’t interrupt, when I don’t say anything at all, no sweet talk. Doesn’t know what to make of it.
“You don’t want to know, Fraser.”
“I do want to know, Ray. If I don’t know what’s wrong, what I’ve done to upset you –“
“I’m not upset. I’m fucking angry.”
“Very well. If I don’t know how I made you angry, I can’t change –“
“You’ll never change, Fraser. It’s me. I’ve changed. I don’t –“ I can’t say it, but I will say it, if he pushes. And Fraser being Fraser, he’ll push.
“You don’t what? What is it, Ray?” Then, after a minute, while he waits for me to say something, but I don’t, he tells me, “We don’t need to do this, if you don’t want it. We did very well without it, for so long…. I hoped…. I hoped it wasn’t a mistake to start all this, but perhaps I was wrong. Tell me what you’re thinking. How you feel, Ray, please.”
I take a deep breath.
“It’s not the sex, Fraser. It’s the other stuff. I don’t love you any more.”
There, I said it.
He looks at me as if I’d grown a third eye in the middle of my forehead.
Then he smiles. The fucker smiles!
“I see,” he says. “Well, that would explain it.” He moves away from the door, as if it was all over. I’m waiting for a fight, and he just strolls away from the door, just… letting me go, just like that.
“So, can I go now? Or should I frisk you for weapons, first?” I ask him, turning around. He’d been standing behind me, watching my back. Now he’s got his eyes glued to my face.
“Oh, no, Ray, you need not concern yourself about that. I promised, after all, didn’t I, not to try to do away with myself again. I won’t. Please don’t worry. You may go.”
“I may go? Just like that?” I can’t believe my ears.
“Just like that.” He smiles again. He’s demented, I’m convinced of it now, unhinged. Totally. “We made a mistake, Ray. We asked too much of each other. I suspected that might be true, but I wished…. I – I cared for you so much, I gave in. I wanted to try.” He touches my face and I don’t even have the strength to bat his hand away. “I’m sorry if I hurt you. I hope we can still be… friends. Partners.”
“I didn’t mean to force your hand, truly I didn’t. I hope that you will be able to forgive me, Ray. If not now, some day.”
He looks like he did that first day. No, not that day. That day he was confused, worried, nuts.
No, he looks like he did the day he gave me the dreamcatcher. Just like that.
Like he knows everything, and loves it all.
Good, bad, and every stinking piece of shit in between. Knows it all, loves it all.
A rock. He looks like a fucking mountain that can’t be moved, that you can count on never to disappear on you, never to break your heart.
He looks – all there. He is – all there.
He is the guy I fell in love with.
Only I don’t love him any more.
* * *
I know I’ve been standing there for a long time, just standing there. Not even seeing him, even though I’m looking right at him.
“Are you all right?”
“Yeah, sure, I’m fine.” Well, I am, aren’t I? I told him. Gave him a shock. He isn’t showing it. Wouldn’t be Fraser, if he showed it. Closest he came…. Well, that was a long time ago. Hasn’t let me in that far, not since.
So, I did it, and I’m fine. Don’t love him, don’t need him. Fact is, it’s all turned around. He needs me. He loves me.
And he can’t have me.
“I think you should sit down for a few moments, Ray. Your face is white. You look… ill.” He reaches out his hand but doesn’t touch. Doesn’t dare touch! Oh, boy, score one for the Chicago runt! “I’ll bring you a glass of water, if you’ll stay for a little while, until you feel better.”
“I said I was fine. I don’t need any water.”
“Then, then, a drink, perhaps? I have the bottle of scotch left over from my birthday party -”
He turns pale, looks like he’ll faint, when he remembers his birthday, and what he did, tried to do, back then.
But he doesn’t let that stop him from taking care of me, poor white-faced me. He’s still waiting for me to say yes to the whiskey.
“Okay, I could use a drink,” I give in. Where am I gonna go tonight, anyway? I don’t have any friends in this town. Some customers, I got those. Some people I know well enough to say hello to, pass the time of day, in the coffee shop, the market, like that. But no friends.
Only ever made girl type friends, anyway. And Fraser.
He comes back with a glass and the bottle, and hands me the glass. Opens the bottle, pours me a ridiculous amount – guy never drinks, has no idea that I’ll pass out if I drink a full glass of whiskey. Idiot.
No. Not an idiot. A manipulative son of a bitch.
He’s pulling the innocent act on me. Dumb know-nothing mountie, doesn’t even know how much liquor to pour into the glass! Right.
I feel like vomiting again. I pull my hand away from him, when he has the nerve to grab it, try to pull me to the sofa, so he can sit me down.
“Don’t do that,” I say.
“Don’t do what, Ray?”
“Don’t touch me.”
“I’m sorry. But I think you should sit down. Drink some of that, and rest for a while.”
I can’t help it, I’ve gotta ask him. “It doesn’t bother you, that I don’t love you any more?”
“I am sure it will, when I’ve had time to reflect on it. Later, when you’ve left.” I wait, and sure enough, he’s got more to say. “I’m more concerned that you are so angry with me. I know I haven’t been a good friend to you, forcing you to stay, to be with me. But I did believe you cared. That you wanted it as much as I did.” He’s sitting on the sofa, looking at my hands.
“What you thinking now, Fraser?” I ask on spec, on a hunch. That maybe he’ll tell me. Tell me the truth, let me inside, for once.
“I’m thinking that you are a fine liar, a wonderful undercover agent, down to your fingertips,” he says softly, and I know it’s the truth. That was what he was thinking. That I fooled him in bed.
“Yeah, well, you weren’t suspicious. If you were suspicious, I probably couldn’t have pulled it off.”
“Ray, you gave me your life, from the day we met. How could I be suspicious of you? You trusted me with your life….” He looks into my eyes and I see it, finally, the pain.
“Right there, was when I made my mistake, the first day we met. I trusted you. I gave you my life.”
“I know it was never perfect, never all that you wanted it to be, Ray, but was it so bad? We had some good times, good years….”
“Yeah, that was before I knew. Before you betrayed me.”
“How did I betray you, Ray?”
“When I went back to Chicago.” I don’t need to say anything more. I can see in his eyes he knows exactly what I’m talking about.
“I – I had no idea you knew about that, none at all.”
“I didn’t guess. Never would have crossed my mind. I was told. How about that? How’d you like to come home from your mum’s funeral and be stopped on the street and told that your best friend, who wouldn’t sleep with you on a bet, needs a lot of support right now, because the guy he was fucking up and left him? A real show stopper, that was.”
“What are you sorry about? That you slept with the guy, or that I found out about it?”
“That you were hurt by it. I never meant for you to know, to find out.”
“Why? What got into you, that you picked just that time, when I was away, to screw around?”
“I wanted to let you go. I tried to find someone, to make a connection, as you did. So that I could bear to let you go.”
“I don’t get it. Why couldn’t it be me? Us? Why did it have to be somebody else?” He looks down at his hands, away from my eyes, so I know I’m never gonna get an answer. I’m gonna live and die without an answer to why he made me wait twelve years, until there wasn’t anything left anymore, of what I felt for him when we began.
He surprises me. He tells me. “I couldn’t let myself need you, Ray. It was bad enough that you needed me. But turning it around, letting it be about my need, my desires, my love – that hurt too much.”
“It was all right for me to need you, but not for you to need me?”
“You’re fucked up, Benton Fraser.”
“So, how you gonna make it now? Without me?”
“Will I be without you, Ray?” he asks me, looking at me again.
“I don’t know. Right now, I just don’t know.”
“You did promise never to leave me.”
“You said it yourself, I’m a fine liar… down to my hands.”
“Fingertips,” he corrects, on autopilot.
“Fingertips,” I agree. Maybe I grin, maybe I don’t. I don’t know what I’m feeling.
Not angry. Not now. Not this minute. Maybe never again. Who knows? I don’t.
“May I tell you something?”
“Do you remember when we met? That day?”
“What kinda question is that, Fraser? Best day of my life. I thought so then. I kept on thinking it, for years.”
“Yes, well, I know you thought that, felt that. Immediately. I knew that.”
“Is that what you wanted to tell me – that I fell in love with you the minute we met? It’s not exactly news to me.”
“Not that. Something else.”
“All right, already, tell me!” I’m pissed with myself for even letting him get me all hot under the collar. Just like he always did. I been past that, for a long time. Especially, these last few weeks, since we started fucking.
“It was a very difficult day, for me. First, I was happy. I was coming home. Then, I was surprised at myself, for thinking of Chicago as my home. I didn’t understand it, how that could have happened. How I could be happy, when I was forced to leave the most beautiful place in the world and come back to a dirty, ugly, crime-ridden, uncaring city.”
“It was because of Vecchio, right?”
“That’s right. It was because of Ray Vecchio. Because of his friendship, and the other friends I’d made in Chicago, that I was happy to be going back there. That I felt as though I was coming home.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Then, I got back to my street and saw that a fire had destroyed my home. Only, it hadn’t. Nothing could destroy my home, because my home wasn’t an apartment, it was a person. It was Ray.”
My heart jumps into my throat when I hear that. I always believed that – that he loved Ray Vecchio. But he never admitted it, not once, in all those years. Never.
“Bad day in black rock, huh, Fraser? When you saw me instead of him?”
“No, it wasn’t. I couldn’t believe it, at first. I couldn’t believe… you. How I felt about you. How you made me feel. It was… so different. So different. How I felt about Ray was so different from how you made me feel.”
“You got some kind of a point, here, Fraser?” I ask him, because I can feel my cheeks burning, I’m so embarrassed.
“I feel as if my life started the day I met you, Ray. As if I was born again, that moment, when you looked at me and smiled and hugged me.”
“I got two words for you, Fraser. Twelve years.”
“I couldn’t risk it, Ray. Even the little we shared was a risk, for me. I almost lost you, more than once, when I let you feel even a little of the love I felt for you.”
“Bull shit.” I tell him that, because it’s true. He’s looking back with twenty-twenty hindsight. It wasn’t like that. “It wasn’t like that.”
“It was, if you remember. The closer we got, the more you pulled away. The more I opened up, the more frightened you became. I don’t even want to consider what might have happened to us, had not Ray Vecchio returned. If his return hadn’t forced you to admit to yourself that you didn’t want to lose what we shared.”
“You would have gone back to him, if he didn’t take that bullet. I’d have been left out in the cold. Or would you have tried to hang on to me, too?”
“You still believe that? That I was in love with Ray?”
“I know it.”
He stands. I can see that he’s angry. “If you think that, I don’t blame you for not loving me. It makes perfect sense.”
“How? How does it make sense? It was a million years ago!” I stand, too. “You risked what we had every day, by holding back, not letting me inside!”
“Not as much as letting you inside would have been a risk!” Then, his voice dropping so I can hardly hear him, he mutters, “As you see.”
“You think that’s it – that’s what letting me inside is about? Fucking? Sex?”
“For me, yes. For you, evidently not.”
“I don’t get it.”
“What don’t you understand, Ray? That I am standing here, still alive, still breathing, because of you? That I have been happy, truly happy, for the first time in my life, since I met you? That my feet haven’t touched the ground, since we started to make love? Which part of that is obscure? Tell me what I must say, to make you understand, because I don’t know what else to say!”
“Shut up, Fraser!”
“I’ll shut up, Ray. You don’t want to know, that’s clear enough. You’ve never wanted to know the details. The small details. That I needed you, that I couldn’t live apart from you. It was too hard for you to admit that. It was much easier when you needed me, much less complicated. I don’t blame you. My life has been quite uncomplicated, since I met you. I had one goal – to keep you close. When you said you were leaving, my life was over. A simple thing, after all.”
“Don’t what? Don’t love you? Forgive me, but that’s not possible. You might have stopped loving me, but I will never stop loving you.”
* * *
I put my hands up to my head, squeeze my forehead. I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it, I don’t want to hear it, I don’t need to hear this!
He’s fighting for me. For us. Not like in the hospital. Not little mouse squeaks. Big long sentences. Big. The whole thing, big. Everything pouring out of him like a river, like a waterfall, like fucking Niagara Falls. So big. And the whole thing covered with that icy fury, that I’m forcing him to show me, to show me all of it, how he feels.
I don’t want to hear it. He doesn’t want me to hear it, didn’t want me to know it, for twelve years! Pushed me away, held me off, pulled me close, kept himself closed, all that time, so he wouldn’t need to say this, so I wouldn’t need to know it, any of it. Wouldn’t have to know how much he needs me.
Against now. That’s why. So I’d never have a reason to say what I just said to him, that I don’t love him.
If he didn’t tell me he loved me, I wouldn’t tell him I don’t love him.
I wouldn’t have to say it. He wouldn’t have to hear it. We wouldn’t need to live it, go through it, like now.
* * *
“I’m sorry, Ray. I knew it would be too much. For anyone. It was enough, that you accepted as much of me as you did. I should never have put you in the position of seeing more. Forgive me.”
“I forgive you, Fraser,” I tell him. I do. I can afford to. He won’t forgive himself, so I can afford to forgive him.
He was right. Right all along. I was never up for it. Up for him. For him to let me inside. Not when we met, not any time along the way. Just the little I got a look at had me running off with a woman, to Toronto. The way he is in bed, shit, even imagining it, before we started, scared me silly. Got me angry. The whole package was just too much.
Too fucking much.
I was walking before we even touched.
He knew it would be that way, from day one.
Knew himself. Knew me. Knew everything.
* * *
“Are you all right, Ray?” he asks, with no agenda. A real Fraser question. All for me, nothing for him.
“Yeah, I’m good.” I smile. “I’m tired.”
“That’s scarcely surprising,” he agrees, and he smiles, too.
“I’m gonna go back to my place. Get some sleep.”
“It’s still early, Ray. You should eat something.”
“We both should. But I can’t and you probably can’t either.”
“See you tomorrow?” If I get through tonight, that is, I think. And if he does. “You won’t -?”
“No, Ray, I won’t. I’ll honor my promise.” Not a hint that he remembers my promise. That I wouldn’t leave him….
His smile is so bright and so sad.
“Yeah, me, too, thank you.”
It’s been a long life, we’ve had together, Ben and me. It may be over but it’ll never be over, if you get my meaning. We’ll keep up the outside, the closeness, on the outside, even if we never get back to the inside, to what we were to each other, before we fucked. Before we fucked up.
He was bright and shiny, like something off a Christmas tree, when I saw him for the first time.
He still looks good, with that ugly puss and those traitor’s eyes, to me.
Me? Well, me, I feel old. Like, really old. I know what he means, Fraser, when he says that. Cause I feel it, tonight, for the first time.
It doesn’t surprise me. You lose a love like I felt for Fraser, you really are old.
* * * * * * * * * *