Chapter One

 

Sinfully Soft Scrambled Eggs

 

(Serves 2)

• 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter

• 6 eggs

• Splash of half-and-half or, if you’re feeling really decadent, cream

• 4 scallions, sliced thin, very top of the green reserved for garnish

• 1/2 to 3/4 cup shredded Beecher’s Flagship or other mild, flavorful cheese

• 1/4 pound pancetta, cubed

 

Melt butter with olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Whisk eggs and half-and-half together. When the butter’s froth just begins to dissipate, add the pancetta and cook until lightly browned. Pour off some of the fat, return pan to stove and lower heat. Add scallions and sauté until just fragrant. Add beaten eggs and give a quick stir to distribute scallions. Add about half of the shredded cheese. Now, let the eggs cook on low heat. It may seem like nothing is happening, but after ten minutes or so, gently push the eggs with a spoon. Soft curds should begin to form. This is what you want—gentle curds. Continue to gently push the eggs, forming more and more curds. When the eggs are still a bit wet, but mostly curds, add the rest of the cheese, turn off the heat, and cover. Let sit for 2-3 minutes. Serve.

 

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OLLIE D’ANGELO woke up thinking about breakfast. He was pondering the day’s earliest, and most important, meal for two reasons. One, it was morning, and often the first question on Ollie’s mind in any given situation was “what shall we eat?” Two, today was his anniversary with Walker. The pair of them would celebrate their first blissful year together.

He looked over at Walker, still asleep. Even though Walker was, in every sense of the word, a man, right now he looked like a child. Turned on his side, his mouth was open and a thin line of drool dribbled down to the pale blue pillowcase below, forming a dark stain. The fact that Ollie could see this as charming rather than repugnant was evidence of his love. Never mind that beneath the navy blue duvet lay one of the hottest, most muscular, and hairiest bodies Ollie had ever had the pleasure of lying next to; Ollie was simply happy that this winter morning, with rain tapping softly on the window outside, he was home with Walker.

They were a family.

Ollie reached out, letting his hand hover above Walker’s porcelain skin and blond hair, feeling the heat radiating off of them. He wanted so much to touch him, to wake him with a kiss (and maybe more), but the kitchen was calling out to him, and he told himself that after he surprised Walker with breakfast, there would be plenty of time to touch, to kiss, to nibble, to suck, to… well, to do everything.

Twice.

Ollie slipped silently from beneath the covers, rubbing the goose pimples that rose immediately on his arms. He reached for his robe, lying at the foot of the bed, and his shearling-lined slippers beneath it and hurried out of the room, not making a sound.

He wanted Walker to wake not to Ollie’s tread, but to a symphony of mouth-watering aromas wafting in from the kitchen.

They had been living in Walker’s small Craftsman-style bungalow in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood for the past nine months. Sure, even Ollie had thought moving into Walker’s house three months after they had met via the online dating site OpenHeartOpenMind was fast, but love was love. What were you going to do about it?

From the moment Ollie had spied Walker, he had been helpless. They had agreed to meet for the first time, after a week of exchanging e-mails, at a little Korean fusion restaurant called Revel in the Fremont neighborhood. Walker had already been seated when Ollie arrived, and Ollie’s first glimpse of the man who would be his soul mate, his one true love, had told him everything he needed to know.

For one, Walker was gorgeous. His pale brown/blond hair, dark eyes, and his strong form immediately put Ollie in mind of a young Brad Pitt. There was something tough about him, a bit of the bad boy, but that was undercut, or maybe the better word was highlighted, by a sense of vulnerability he kept almost, but not quite, hidden.

Ollie had immediately wanted to kiss him and, even more, to take care of him.

When he sat down and saw that Walker had already ordered a carrot and lemon pancake with currants and crème fraiche on top for them, the deal was sealed.

The man knew his food.

Now, as Walker switched the lights on in their farmhouse-like kitchen, with its bright yellow walls and checked curtains at a window over the sink, he smiled at the thought of how much Walker would enjoy this meal.

First, he pulled the bag of coffee beans he had bought just for this morning from the freezer—Godiva chocolate with a hint of hazelnut—and ground them, hoping the whirring noise would not prematurely wake his man. He set the coffee to brewing and turned back to the refrigerator.

He pulled from its stainless confines a dozen eggs, a carton of half-and-half, a wedge of Seattle’s own Beecher’s Flagship cheese, a bunch of organic scallions, and a thick slice of pancetta, which he would chop into chunks. From a drawer, he pulled a loaf of freshly baked sourdough he had picked up on his way home from work last night.

He set to work whisking eggs and half-and-half together. He shredded an impressive mound of the cheese—to hell with fat and calories this morning! They could burn it off later. He sliced four scallions with hand-blurring speed.

He diced the pancetta and threw it into his All-Clad pan, which he had already preheated on the stove. In the pan were just a touch of olive oil and a pat of butter, which had now turned to foam. He tossed the ham to coat it and let it simmer and render its juices. Normally, he’d pour off some of the grease, but today was all about decadence. Then he threw in the green onions, listening to their sizzle and sniffing the air for the almost immediate aroma they imparted. Finally, he turned the heat to very low, almost off, and added the egg and cream mixture. He added about half the cheese, stirred, and then left the eggs to very slowly, and very perfectly, form gentle curds. The eggs would be soft, silky, and packed with flavor.

The aroma of coffee started to permeate the kitchen. While the eggs were transforming into something magical, Ollie went to the window and looked out; it was another gray, rainy day for Seattle, typical for January. The drops on the windowpane obscured the view, but it was still there: Lake Union, and beyond its steel gray waters, the downtown skyline rising up, the iconic Space Needle to the right. If it had been a summer day, Ollie thought, he would have served breakfast outside on the back deck, with a salad of peaches and blueberries, garnished with a little fresh basil.

The coffee finished brewing, and he grabbed a mug from the cupboard and moved toward the pot, stopping first to give the eggs some gentle nudging with a wooden spoon. They would be ready soon, and he hoped the smells of the pancetta and coffee would rouse Walker from sleep and lure him irresistibly into the kitchen.

Ollie poured a cup of coffee, added some of the half-and-half he had left out for the eggs, and added three teaspoons of sugar to his cup and stirred. He knew he should cut down, but it just tasted so damn good, sweet and creamy. He listened to the rain pattering on the roof and thought that, at age thirty-three, he had finally found his way to a kind of happiness, a sense of fulfillment.

He turned to look at the eggs and saw they were almost done. He threw the rest of the cheese on top, covered the pan with a lid, and removed it from the heat. If Walker didn’t get up soon, the eggs would no longer be at their peak.

And Ollie wasn’t about to let that moment of perfection pass. He found his phone on the kitchen counter, behind a stack of Cooks Illustrated magazines, and tapped his Pandora app to bring up the Etta James station. He set it in the dock, and in moments, Miss James was warbling her heartrending version of her classic, signature song, “At Last.”

Perfect.

Beneath the velvet of Etta James’s voice, Ollie paused, coffee mug lifted to his mouth, and closed his eyes almost rapturously at another sound: Walker stirring in the bedroom.

He listened as Walker made his way through the short hallway and the living room. At last, he stood framed in the kitchen doorway, wearing only a pair of boxers. He looked so amazing, mussed hair and all, that Ollie almost wanted to say the hell with the eggs and guide Walker right back from whence he came.

Walker grinned, but Ollie guessed it was his sleepiness that made him also look weary and a little sad.

“What’s all this?” he asked.

Ollie continued to smile. “Don’t you remember?”

Walker bit his lip and shook his head.

“Today’s a special day.” Ollie turned to push the bread down in the toaster and then to pour a mug of coffee for Walker, who preferred it black. “What happened one year ago today?”

Walker set his mug down on the counter without taking a sip. He frowned. “Is it our anniversary or something?”

Ollie nodded, neared him, and took him in his arms. He tried to kiss Walker, but Walker pulled away, mumbling, “Morning mouth.”

Ollie heard the toaster click, signaling the slices were ready for their butter, and he turned to attend to them. “I thought we should start the day off with a celebration. It was, after all, exactly one year ago when we first laid eyes on each other.” Ollie winked. “And I first laid you.” He laughed. “I made us your favorite scrambled eggs with a ton of cheese. It will be decadent. And so will what will come later.”

He turned back to Walker and was stunned to see Walker wasn’t smiling. In fact, the best word to describe his features would be crestfallen.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m not hungry.” Walker pulled out a chair and sat at the kitchen table.

Ollie thought that if that was all that was bothering Walker, it was disappointing, but there were other ways to celebrate, especially when the sheets were still warm.

“That’s okay.”

“No, no, it’s not okay. You’ve gone to all this trouble.”

“Walker, they’re just scrambled eggs. Really.”

Walker laughed. “Nothing is ever just anything with you.”

Silence fell upon the kitchen. The music had shifted to some other bluesy gal belting out a jazzy, upbeat “You Can’t Take that Away from Me.” The music suddenly seemed weird and inappropriate, what with the unspoken tension hanging in the air, mingling with the aromas of coffee, onions, and pancetta. Ollie pressed pause on his phone’s screen, and now the only sound in the kitchen was the rain pattering on the roof above them.

Walker stared at the table.

This was not going at all as Ollie had expected. He joined Walker at the table, reaching out to cover Walker’s hands with his own. “Tell me. What’s bothering you?”

“I forgot today was our anniversary.”

Ollie laughed, relieved. “Oh, is that all? No big deal. I’m just a sucker for special occasions.” It was sweet, Ollie thought, that Walker was so broken up over forgetting. It bode well for their future. He not only had a hot man, he also had a sensitive one.

Walker lifted his head to meet Ollie’s gaze. “That’s not all,” he said softly. Ollie could see Walker’s eyes were kind of shiny. Were those tears?

Oh shit….

“Oh?” Ollie said, his heart suddenly beating faster. He found it hard to gather enough saliva to swallow.

“I don’t know how to say this.” The sentence hung in the air like a sword about to fall. His statement was ominous, ranking right up there with “We need to talk.” Ollie wanted to scoot his chair back and run from the room. Maybe what he was anticipating was not it at all. You’re jumping to conclusions. Perhaps he lost his job or something like that. Yet somehow, he knew the dread he felt deep in his bones was spot on, and something told him he knew precisely what this about. Today—on their anniversary, of all times. He whispered, “Say it.”

When Walker said nothing, Ollie prompted, “It’s not me, it’s you?” He scratched the top of his head. “I think we should see other people?” Ollie shifted in his chair. “You’ve decided you’re straight?”

“What?” Walked asked.

“Standard lines. You’re breaking up with me, right?”

Walker shook his head, a glimmer of a smile crossing his features. “No, no, of course not,” he said nervously, a hiccup of laughter escaping his lips. Then he swallowed hard, looked right at Ollie, and said, “Yes.”

Even though Ollie was braced for it, even though he fully expected it, the words hit him like an anvil being dropped on his chest, knocking the wind out of him. How could this be? He had seen not one sign of dissatisfaction from Walker. Hell, they had even had burn-up-the-sheets sex last night. Two times. If Ollie had been to a psychic the day before and she’d told him he was about to be dumped, he would have laughed—the idea was absurd, inconceivable.

Yet here it was, staring him in the face, an unwelcome presence filling up the kitchen.

Ollie got up from the table and lifted the lid off the eggs. They looked perfect, yellow with a satiny sheen, the bits of scallion and pancetta a mouth-watering contrast. Ollie could have snapped a photo of them and posted them to his Facebook page and gotten a dozen comments, maybe fifty likes. Now they merely turned his stomach and, oddly, made him feel like a fool.

He lifted the pan off the stove and scraped the eggs into the garbage disposal, turned the water on, and set the appliance to whirring. He hoped the disposal enjoyed them. He followed the eggs with his cup of coffee, now gone cold, much like his emotions.

He was numb as he sat back down with Walker. He thought he should shed some tears, holler with rage, something, but all he felt was… nothing. Empty. He swallowed, then forced himself to look at Walker who, Ollie had to admit, now appeared scared, nervous. You should be. Ollie summoned up some air to force behind the one word that was on his mind. “Why?”

Walker rubbed his arms up and down, shivered. “Chilly.” He got up and left the room. Ollie heard the creak of the closet door in their bedroom, followed by a drawer opening and then slamming shut. When he returned, Walker had slid into a long-sleeved T-shirt and a pair of gray sweats. He gnawed at his lower lip, drew in a breath, and then said, “There’s someone else.”

Ollie guffawed. “What? When would you have time?” He and Walker hardly ever spent an evening apart.

“I work with him.”

Walker was a financial planner with a firm in Bellevue.

“Office romance?” Ollie said. “How scandalous. What? Did you hook up in the supplies closet? Xerox your junk for each other? Have naughty lunches at fleabag motels?” Ollie stared down at the table, finding suddenly he could no longer look at Walker. He yipped out a short laugh that contained not one whit of humor.

“I didn’t mean for it to happen.”

Ollie smiled. He turned in his chair to peer out the window, studying the raindrops as though they were something new and novel. “That’s a good one. They never mean for it to happen. Remind me again which soap opera you pulled that line from.”

“Don’t, Ollie. You’re not mean. This isn’t you.”

Ollie blew out a breath. “What do you want from me, Walker? My best wishes? For me to say I understand?”

“No, no, of course not. But bitter just isn’t you.”

“Well, maybe you should allow me a bit of bitterness. Maybe I’m entitled.” And now, Ollie could feel something: a slow-burning rage that was gradually heating up and threatening to burst into flame.

“I don’t understand, Walker. I think it’s bullshit.” He sneered. “You didn’t mean for it to happen. Hah! If you didn’t mean for it to happen, it wouldn’t have.”

“You don’t understand—”

“Shut up!” Ollie snapped, surprising even himself. He was always such a nice guy. He looked over at Walker, whose mouth hung open. “I need to say this and you will sit there and listen.” Ollie swallowed, feeling a wave of acidic bile rising up from his gut and splashing the back of his throat. With sheer force of will, he held the nausea at bay. He would be damned if he would let Walker see him cry, let alone vomit.

“People who say they didn’t mean for something, especially something like this, to happen are deluding only themselves. You just don’t want to take responsibility.” He shrugged. “Much as it hurts me to say it, there must have been something lacking here. Although God knows what, since I couldn’t have been happier.” And now his emotions shifted, and he wanted to burst into tears. He drew in a great breath, forcing the sadness and despair away—for now.

“You were open to it, Walker. God knows why. If it were just sex, I could understand it. But the fact you’re telling me it’s over between us tells me this is something more than sex.” Ollie couldn’t go on for several moments. “And that hurts. Deep.” He shut his eyes, stayed mum for a full minute or two. “Guys have sex. I’ve known lots of guys with wandering hands, wandering cocks, wandering libidos. I can almost accept that. But it’s more than that, isn’t it?” He forced himself to meet Walker’s gaze and was surprised to see the tears standing in his eyes. “You love this guy?”

Walker nodded. A tear slipped down his cheek. “I hate hurting you,” he said softly.

And Ollie—damn him—had a sudden urge to comfort Walker. Wasn’t that ridiculous? He shook it off, cursing his damn need to nurture, even when he was being betrayed. “Sure you do.”

“Sure I do. I know it’s hard for you to believe, but I was committed to this relationship. I was happy. Then Paul started at the firm last summer and—” Walker’s gaze moved to a distance only he could see. Ollie didn’t want to imagine just what his former lover might be envisioning.

Paul?

“What do we do?” Ollie wondered, his voice barely above a whisper. He had settled into this little house, had imagined that, in the spring, he would paint the living room a pale blue and maybe the bedroom a similar shade. He had wanted to talk to Walker about pulling up the carpet to see if there was hardwood beneath.

This was home. He had pictured his future here.

How could it just fall apart in a few seconds? He stared at Walker, the man with whom he had planned to spend the rest of his days, and wondered if he had ever really known him. Who was this man? How could Ollie have felt so secure when his very foundation was crumbling beneath him?

“So what happens now?” Ollie wondered. “What are our next steps?” He gazed around the kitchen, its false yellow brightness, and suddenly felt excluded. He had sold most of his belongings when he moved in here a few months ago and had donated the rest. At the time, he wondered why they would need two couches, a bedroom set with no room for it, two desks, a third TV. The list could go on and on.

Walker had it all now. A home. A new love. Stuff.

Walker got up from the table and looked briefly out the window. He turned back to him. “I know you gave up everything when you moved in here.”

It was as though Walker was reading his mind. “And why wouldn’t I? I thought this was a forever thing.”

“I did too,” Walker said softly.

“Don’t you dare repeat that you didn’t mean for it to happen. Is this thing with this Paul person a forever moment too?” Bitterly, he asked, “For how long? Until the next guy comes along?”

“That’s not fair.”

“It is fair, Walker. Why wouldn’t it be?” He didn’t give Walker a chance to respond. “So, what? You want me out of here?” The prospect was not as daunting as Ollie would have imagined. This home was no longer that; it was merely a house now, a shell that wasn’t his. No wonder they had never gotten around to putting Ollie’s name on the mortgage. Had Walker ever been as committed as he? Or had he simply been doing a “wait and see” kind of thing?

“You can take your time. How about a month? Two? Would that be enough to give you time to find yourself a new place? And I can appreciate you got rid of all your furniture and stuff.” Walker drew in a breath. “I could give you some money toward new furniture and whatever you need to set yourself up again. That would be fair.”

“I don’t want your money.” Ollie had plenty of his own. His job as a creative director at an advertising agency in Pioneer Square paid him well. His parents back in Chicago were, as Walker had once said, “loaded,” so he also had that safety net. Walker had never allowed him to pay anything toward the monthly mortgage; his savings were healthy.

“Are you sure?” Walker asked. “No. Let me give you a few thousand. It’s only fair.”

Ollie shook his head. “Keep it. I don’t want to complicate things any further. I want you to begin your new life with Mr. Paul unfettered.” He smiled, but could imagine how bitter the expression looked on his face. “Footloose and fancy free.”

Walker came over to him and began massaging his shoulders. Ollie shrugged his hands away. “Don’t,” he whispered.

Walker stepped back, and Ollie felt a prickle at the back of his neck with Walker standing behind him. Like Greta Garbo, he wanted to be alone.

Walker said, “Well, if you change your mind about the money, let me know. My offer will always stand. And do take your time looking for a place; you have a home here.”

Oh God, that is rich! What Ollie precisely did not have was a home. Home was defined not by bricks and mortar, but by the people who lived under a common roof—and that was gone like a wisp of smoke. So easy. Ollie stood and moved toward the kitchen archway. His fight or flight instinct had kicked in, and suddenly all he wanted to do was flee. Being here was like having something hot inserted beneath his skin, burning and painful.

He paused in the doorway to the kitchen and turned back to Walker. “I’ll be out by this afternoon or this evening.”

“There’s no need. Paul and I aren’t moving in together or anything.”

“No. It’ll be better this way.”

“I’m really sorry, honey.”

“No! No. You no longer have the right to call me honey.” He laughed. Ollie moved quickly away, heading toward the bedroom, where he thought the best thing to do right now was to begin emptying his drawers and hiding the gorgeous white-gold ring he’d wanted to give Walker later that day as an anniversary present—and as testimony to their enduring love. To think, he had once thought the ring could one day be converted to a wedding band.

What a fool he was! How blind! Didn’t someone once sing some song about being the “Queen of Denial”? That was him. There had to have been signs, he thought, opening drawers, I just didn’t want to see them.

He expected Walker to come into the room, to try again to make amends, but all he heard as he removed his clothes from the drawers and closet was the sound of Walker putting on his running shoes and softly closing the front door as he left Ollie alone.

The fucker’s probably relieved. I made it easy for him. Big of me.

Ollie slumped down on the bed, staring at the bottle of lube still on the nightstand from last night, and finally allowed himself to cry.

He stayed curled in a ball on the bed for a long time, thinking Walker would return. He even imagined that he would come back and spy Ollie there on the bed, in a fetal state, with his face puffy, red, and wet from all the tears, and would relent. He would slide next to him on the bed, gather him up in his strong arms, and whisper, “What was I thinking? I could never live without you. I’m sorry. Let’s just forget this morning ever happened.”

How pathetic was that? After a while, Ollie forced himself to sit up. He went into the bathroom, peed, blew his nose, and splashed cold water on his face.

He peered at himself in the medicine cabinet mirror above the sink. He was surprised to see that, other than the hint of puffiness around his eyes, he looked the same. He almost expected some startling transformation, as though the shock of being dumped would have aged him ten years or his hair would have turned white or something. But the same Ollie looked back at him—the same olive skin, dark brown eyes, beard, and a mien that people almost invariably got around to referring to as “kind.”

He went back into the bedroom and thought maybe it was time to stop being so “kind.” Look where it had gotten him! Alone and now homeless.

Kindness was overrated.

He began stuffing clothes into the bags he had pulled from beneath the bed, finally stopping when he realized he was flinging in the garments furiously, without regard for how they would look when he took them back out.

He wondered why it was taking Walker so long to go for a simple run. He glanced at the iPhone dock and alarm on Walker’s nightstand and saw it was now going on eleven. Walker had been gone for almost two hours.

The realization hit like a powerful punch to the gut. Of course. He was with this Paul person; the two of them were probably celebrating. The coast was now clear for their young love.

How fucking sweet.

Ollie decided a break was in order, unless he was going to let the bitterness he felt eat him alive.

He wandered back into the kitchen, where all the ingredients for that morning’s “celebratory” breakfast were still aligned on the counter. He got busy making scrambled eggs and toast—for one.