For thirty-five-year-old writer Frank Hudson and his partner of fourteen years, the spark is dead, and it’s time to move on. Frank sets his sights on a sleepy town in Vermont, where he plans to start over in peace and quiet—plans that are destroyed when fireman Conner O’Malley literally blazes onto the scene. To Frank, the tattooed, redheaded twenty-three-year-old and his bright smile are a flash of light in an otherwise dreary life.
But it’s a tricky situation right from the beginning. Frank’s passionless relationship has left him doubting that anyone could ever find him attractive. Conner’s juggling a demanding job and the unexpected responsibility of playing dad to his little brother and sister. Battling their own insecurities, Conner’s demanding schedule, and small-town homophobia is hard work—but sometimes hard work pays off.
I SAT in the living room of the house I shared with my husband. We hadn’t been able to get married legally, not in our state, but he was my husband in the eyes of our loved ones and in my heart.
My armchair in the corner was flanked by two little book tables he had gotten for me for my thirtieth birthday five years ago. I loved the tables. They were beautiful wood—not antique or anything—just lovely to look at and worn from some use. There was a pile of books on one table, while the other held my cup of tea and my cell phone. I was at peace in that chair, no matter what else was going on in my life. The standard lamp let me bathe in the gentle yellow glow that I loved too. It was so much better than the bright white lights of the kitchen or the bathroom.
Maybe the comfort I felt sitting there was why I managed to open my mouth.
“Robert, honey?” I asked gently, looking at him, the love of my life, lounging on the couch.
This was typical for us, relaxing in the evening, me in my chair, he on the couch, reading whatever we fancied at the moment.
“Mhmm?” he acknowledged me, clearly finishing the page he was reading before he looked at me.
His expression was calm like usual, and I wondered how my next words would change it.
“I think… I think we need to divorce.” My voice was otherwise steady, but the D word shook a little bit.
“Oh…,” Robert said and put the book down on the coffee table. “Oh.”
I WAS twenty-one when I met Robert. I was working part time at a bookstore while trying to study creative writing at the local college. He was the absentminded guy who came into the store and never found what he wanted before he asked someone, usually me.
Robert was a few years older, working in his father’s construction company while wanting to be something completely different—a veterinarian.
He read a lot, and we bonded over some mutual favorites. It was easy. We were attracted to each other and became friends and soon lovers. By the time I was twenty-five, we were married in our own way.
Robert was handsome in the old-world movie star kind of way. I suppose he liked my boy next door looks or something, at least he wanted me like crazy, and our honeymoon period lasted well into the first few years of our marriage. Then things dwindled down. Love was still there, companionship and friendship as well. But our sex life became… not boring, exactly, just a routine. Then the routine began to fade too, and the day I sat in my armchair and told him we should divorce, it had been over a year since we had last made love.
How that happened, I still don’t know. The passion just left us gradually. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him anymore, because I did, so, so much. He loved me too. I knew that. It just seemed that when Robert finally became a vet at thirty, his time and energy were concentrated on his new goal, and he spent less time with me and our relationship, especially after he opened his own practice a few years later. I was to blame too. I was working as a writer and a part-time creative writing coach in the community, and when he pulled away, I did so too.
It was easier to ignore the fact that I was falling out of love with my husband, or that he hadn’t looked at me with true lust in his eyes for so long I had almost forgotten what it was like. I missed it, the feeling of being wanted, but after years spent behind the desk on my computer and not at the gym, I wasn’t exactly a desirable man, or so I thought.
Robert, on the other hand, walked to his practice and took time to stay in shape. Mostly, it was because his job was quite demanding physically, but I knew he liked to look good too. He’d never cheat on me, I was sure of that, but I knew he was the one who would be desirable by others, not me, if we were to go our separate ways.
I didn’t know for sure if he even wanted anyone anymore. He hadn’t shown any interest in me in a long time, not any real interest at least, so maybe he had lost the desire, the lust in life that had once made him unable to keep his hands off me. I supposed time would tell, as it would for me. My self-esteem wasn’t very good, to say the least, so it was obvious I wasn’t looking forward to hooking up with anyone anytime soon.
As easily as we had come together, we ended our marriage. Our home was in both of our names, but Robert offered to buy me out, and I took the offer. I didn’t want to be single, live the single lifestyle or anything, but I needed a fresh start. For what, I didn’t quite know yet. All I knew was that my life as it had been was over.
I took the money and moved away from the small city we lived in. My destination was clear. Having lived in New York State, we had visited the closest states quite a lot, and Vermont struck me as a place where I could start over. So that was where I headed.
Getting a nice little house in a nice little town and settling in was easier than I’d thought, and part of me wondered when the eventual crash would happen. There had to be some kind of backlash from something so huge, right? I had been with the same man for fourteen years; shouldn’t the loss of him from my daily life make me feel something more?
While I went on building my new life slowly but surely, my days began to take on a nice rhythm. From the first morning when I woke up to a house that was mostly in order, I formed a routine and stuck to it.
When I first opened my eyes, the clock on my bedside table showed ten fifteen. I stretched in my comfortable new bed and smiled lazily. Maybe it should’ve felt different, without Robert there to share it with me, but for the first time in ages, I felt like some stress was completely gone, like there was a completely new day stretching in front of me for a change.
I was standing in the kitchen, leaning on the counter and drinking my good coffee, when my mother called.
“Good morning, dear.” She started as she always did, despite having been up from a suitable-for-an-old-lady time of five thirty.
“Morning, Mother.” I smiled.
“Having your coffee?” she inquired, and I could hear her return my smile.
“The good kind, yes. It seems like a good morning here. How about yours and Maggie’s?”
“Oh, she had some aches and pains last night, but we’re all right now. How is your house; describe it to me again,” she told me. I knew she didn’t want to make a fuss over the fact that she didn’t remember things from the first time anymore. This would be my second time describing every detail to her.
For the next twenty minutes, I walked around the house, telling her what I could see from every window and how I thought she’d like the yard. She wished she could visit, but because Maggie wasn’t up for even a day trip, it was unlikely.
“Mom, now that I’m settled, could we agree on something?” I asked when I finally made my way back to the kitchen and my precious caffeine.
“You want me to call less frequently, don’t you?” she asked in her gentle tone that reminded me of having had this conversation with her before.
When I first moved out to live with Robert, she’d called us every other day until I’d snapped at her, making both of us terribly upset.
“Yes, I think it would be good for me. And you will, of course, call me if there’s some news and such….” I didn’t need to spell out that she would call me immediately in case Maggie took a turn to the worse or something like that.
“All right, dear.” She sighed, but I knew it was theatrics. She knew I would be fine.
We said our bye-for-nows, and I promised I’d expect a call next week.
Grabbing another mug of coffee—third one that morning and the amount I allowed myself before dinnertime on other mornings after that as well—I went to my desk and started to look into my writing.
It was nice, being able to make my own schedule in complete peace. When I felt like taking a break, I grabbed a sandwich and a glass of juice before returning to my task at hand.
In the late afternoon, I walked to the back of my lot to explore. There was a small path that was almost overgrown, and I remembered the real estate agent telling me something about a fishing spot at the river about a mile from the back of my yard. I assumed this path would lead me there and took off along it, just to have a goal in mind. For some reason I disliked walking without a destination in mind, I always had. I didn’t know how people did jogging around the same park every day.
Just as I emerged from the forest into a small meadow where I could hear the river somewhere not far away, my cell phone vibrated. My best friend Rita.
She had moved to NYC a few weeks before I decided to speak up about the divorce to Robert, so anytime she called me or I called her, we were discussing our new lives and the changes we were going through.
Rita was a big city girl, and she didn’t get why I’d want to go and live in a tiny town when I left a small city near Albany, but in her words: “a newly divorced boy’s gotta do what a newly divorced boy’s gotta do.”
I meandered through the woods, keeping an eye on where I was going to not get lost on my way back. Talking to Rita always grounded me, and by the time we said bye, I was back at the house, hoping that this feeling I had was the new trend in my life.
Cooking dinner just for myself was slightly depressing. I had always liked to cook, but the realities of a single lifestyle hit me a little bit when I sat down to eat my steak dinner.
WHEN I went to bed alone that night, after watching some movie I would have never watched with Robert in my old life, I decided to concentrate on things other than being single and alone, even though that was sort of the idea behind all of this.
I worried about my mom sometimes. She lived in a retirement home in Albany, and she had moved in when her older sister got Alzheimer’s, a few years ago. My mother was still going strong, but she used her sister as an excuse to move into the home and not have to be alone. She said Aunt Maggie wasn’t going to like being without her, and I accepted it, and the hefty sum of money I donated to the Lilac Valley made the home accept her too.
Those two strong ladies were the foundation of my life, always supporting me in my decisions, taking care of me when I was little, and making sure I had everything I needed even after my dad passed away suddenly when I was four years old.
It was much like having two mothers, really. I never needed a male role model; I had the whole neighborhood of Arbor Hill to look after me. If I wanted to talk to a man, there was always someone like Mr. Figgs, the neighbor who tried to court my aunt for the better part of twenty years without success, or Old Jonas, who ran the garage with his sons.
My life wasn’t sheltered; I was just taken care of by the “Mom and Maggie duo.” When I realized I was gay, they told me they’d always known and to be safe and find myself a good man. Basically it meant “don’t live the promiscuous lifestyle, settle down early if you find someone worthy, and use condoms.”
Maybe it was something innate, but I never wanted to do the whole scene-thing. The idea of going clubbing or something was totally foreign to me, just like hookups were. When I met Robert, I had only kissed a guy and fumbled a bit; I was still a virgin. When I was with Robert, we were totally monogamous, both being hardwired that way, I suppose.
SURPRISINGLY, the divorce didn’t rock anyone that much. My unconventional parental unit and Robert’s mother and father, who lived in Florida, were all supportive and didn’t make a fuss. It took me a while to realize they had all seen it coming, seen that even though we loved each other, we weren’t in love anymore, and it wouldn’t work for us like it did for some couples. Love was enough for some, even when the passion faded, but it wasn’t for us.
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