I WAS working late, which had been happening a lot lately, but there was always some pressing employee problem that turned into a fire drill if it didn’t get handled quickly without missing any steps in the process. Being as I was at the bottom of the human resources department food chain, a generalist not a manager, my desk was the first stop for everything, without fail.
Of course, the one night when I had somewhere else to be was when it took even longer than usual to send out all my e-mails and return voice messages. I was still done earlier than I thought I would be, and even though it was Friday and the traffic would be nuts, I was hoping I could still make the gallery opening. When I was finally ready to go, I was startled to look up from my laptop screen to find Eric Donovan standing in my doorway.
“Shit, Eric.” I caught my breath. “You scared the crap outta me.”
“Sorry. I asked at the front desk and they said you were still here.”
I squinted at him. “Why are you here?”
“’Cause I wanted to talk to you.”
“Why not call?”
He cleared his throat, raking his fingers through his thick brown hair. “Because I can never say what I want to on the phone.”
“Okay.” I nodded. It was strange but I let it go. “So what do you need?”
“Can you look at me?”
“Yep,” I answered even though it took me a minute. I made sure my laptop powered down and then lowered the cover before I gave him my attention.
“It’s so good to see you.”
He crossed the room, and as he moved, I noticed the smile he was giving me was more leer than anything else. I hated it.
“I always love seeing you in a tie.” He smiled at me. “Very hot.”
I was annoyed but forced myself to smile. “What do you want, Eric?”
“Why are you mad?”
“I’m not mad,” I told him. “I’m just trying to get out of here, so if you could just tell me what you want, that’d be great.”
He cleared his throat. “So I saw you out the other night with a guy. Who—who was that?”
“You saw me when?”
He scoffed. “Can’t you keep track of all the guys you go out with?”
“I have friends and family, Eric,” I snapped at him, irritated by his presumption that I was sleeping around. “And if it was last Tuesday, I was out with my cousin Roger and—”
“The guy I saw you with has long blond hair.”
“That’s Leith.” I smiled. “My boyfriend.”
“What kind of name is Leith?”
“What’s your question about him?”
“I just wanted to know who he was.”
I squinted at him. “Which I just told you.”
“Simon, I just—who is he?”
“My boyfriend,” I repeated.
“Yeah, but I mean, is it, is he—”
“I live with him, it’s serious… anything else?”
“It’s only been six months since we broke up, and you’re already living with somebody? How the hell is that supposed to make me feel?”
“Are you listening to yourself?” I asked. “C’mon, Eric, people move on. It’s how things go when you break up with somebody. You both get on with your lives.”
“But how do you think you’re making me feel?”
“I don’t really care,” I told him. “We’re not together anymore; I don’t have to care how you feel.”
“That wasn’t my choice.”
“But it was the one we mutually made,” I reminded him.
“I didn’t want to.”
“But you did.” I drove home the point because I wanted him to hear it.
“C’mon.” I cut him off, grabbing my messenger bag, flipping off the light on my desk as I herded him out of the room and locked the door behind me. “I’ll walk you out.”
“Wait,” he almost whined, hand on my shoulder to stop me from moving away from him. “Just—Simon, please let me see you.” His voice was soft, pleading.
I shook my head but didn’t meet his gaze. I just wanted to be done with it.
He put a hand under my chin, turning my eyes to his. “Simon, please, I just wanna talk to you. You’re killing me here. I mean, I can’t do anything, you know? I can’t eat; I can’t sleep; I’m anxious all the time; I pace everywhere, at home, at work… please. I need to see you. I need to talk to you just for a little while, alright? Please… please.”
I lifted my chin out of his hand and stepped back. “Eric, it’s not a good idea. We have nothing to talk about. Don’t—”
“Don’t what? Don’t think about you anymore?”
“Like if I could do that, I wouldn’t. I really don’t want to be thinking about you, Simon; I want to be in love with Rita.”
“No, not good, because I’m not. I want you. When I’m in bed with her, all I can think about is when I was in bed with you.”
I turned around to walk away. His hand on my arm was tight and strong as he yanked hard to get me to stop. “Aww, man, c’mon, Eric,” I groaned.
“No, Simon—shit! I’m out at dinner the other night and I see you with this guy! Did you even see me?”
I shook my head.
“’Cause you were all laughing and having a good time, and… he’s got his hands all over you, and it’s obvious from how he is, how comfortable he is, that… he’s sleeping with you, and thinking about that is making me fuckin’ nuts.”
“Don’t just dismiss me,” he said irritably.
“Sorry, wasn’t trying to do that.”
He took a breath. “I can’t believe you just ended it like it was nothing.”
“It wasn’t nothing, but it wasn’t enough,” I said, starting down the hall toward the elevator.
“Wait,” he groaned, rushing around in front of me, giving me no recourse but to stop or plow into him. “For fuck’s sake, Simon, do you care at all?”
“Yeah, about me.”
“Like I said before,” I sighed heavily, “if you wanna be friends, we can—”
He cut me off. “Something happened.”
“What’s that?” I asked, more exasperated than concerned.
His eyes flicked to mine. “I figured something out.”
“I’m not gay,” he said in a whisper, stepping closer to me.
I did not want to debate it with him.
He stared into my eyes. “I don’t have to be anything I don’t want to be. I can choose.”
“That’s right,” I agreed.
“’Cause it wasn’t any good.”
“What wasn’t any good?”
“I tried with another guy….” He trailed off.
But he wasn’t gay. Christ.
“Did you hear me?”
“I did,” I said instead of “go to hell.” I so didn’t want to be his therapist, but I’d been through this a lot in my life. It came with my job. “What happened?”
“It was awful.”
I looked into his face, and the way his eyes were a little dead, the tone of his voice, the tense shoulders—I couldn’t take it. I leaned forward and hugged him. He was stiff in my arms for only seconds before he grabbed me tight. I felt him shaking and heard his breath catch as he buried his face in my shoulder. “Aww, man, I’m sorry.”
“I didn’t know how patient you were with me… all those times I thought—I mean, I figured it would be the same with anybody… feel the same.”
I sighed heavily. What a mess. “Everybody’s different. You should try and—”
“You always went so slow, made sure I was ready and—”
“It’s okay.” I didn’t want to get into what I had or hadn’t done.
“It didn’t hurt.”
“The way you do it, it’s not fucking. Why didn’t you tell me it wasn’t gonna be like that?”
I gave him a final squeeze and tried to pull back. He held on.
“It was so different when we—with us.”
“Eric, it’s okay.” I patted his back, hugged him as tight as I could. “What are you going to do?”
He eased back to look at my face. “I’m gonna marry Rita.”
“Good.” I nodded.
“But can I see you?”
“When?” Now I was confused.
He just looked into my eyes and then started to lean. I got it.
I smiled gently, easing him away. “No, man, that ain’t gonna work.”
“’Cause I need more than that. I’ll never be something you do on the side.”
“I need more.”
“How much more?”
“Just the same as everybody else. I won’t share.”
“So what—you’re gonna get married?”
“I might.” I smiled because he just didn’t get it. “Someday.”
He let out an exasperated breath, rubbed his forehead, and cracked his knuckles one by one. It would have been funny at any other time. “Simon, c’mon, don’t—just, can’t you just—”
“I gotta go. I have somewhere to be.”
“You gotta go meet your guy,” he said, his voice hard and flat.
“Yes, I do.”
“But I need you, and this new guy, whatever the fuck his name is, can’t possibly want you more than I do.”
I wasn’t listening. Instead, I stepped around him to walk down the hall toward the elevator.
I kept walking, and again he was suddenly in front of me, barring my path.
“You need to listen to me.”
“No,” I sighed deeply. “You need to listen to me. All the reasons we broke up are still there, and if you think about it a second, think about it logically, then you’ll get it.”
“He’s trash, Simon!” he yelled at me, grabbing my arm, holding on tight. “I’m the—”
“You don’t know him.” I ripped my arm free of his grasp. “And you’re not allowed to have an opinion, anyway.”
I never got mad, it took so much energy, but he couldn’t talk about Leith Haas. No one who didn’t love the man got to talk crap about him. I would not allow that.
Wanting to burn off the anger and frustration, I decided to take the stairs instead of the elevator. Ten flights would work off some tension.
“Go to hell, Eric,” I yelled, starting down.
“Can’t,” I called out to him, ready to take the second flight down.
“Simon, stop and look at me.”
When I looked up at him, I realized he had a gun, and it was pointed straight at me. “Oh, Eric, what the hell?”
He closed the distance between us fast. “I want you to just stop and listen to me.”
I was silent, waiting.
He took a settling breath, holding the gun on me as he advanced. “Okay. Here’s what I want. You go home and tell your new guy, whatever the hell his name is, that you don’t wanna see him anymore, and then tonight after I drop Rita off, I’ll come by and see you.”
“And it’ll be just like it was before you broke up with me.”
“Sure, Eric,” I said, trying to remember everything I had ever seen on TV about living through someone holding a gun on you.
“’Cause here’s what I think,” he said, close enough now to reach out and put his hand on my cheek. “If you could just stop moving, stop talking, just sit and be still—I think you’d realize that there’s no one that can take better care of you than me. I mean, I see you and I look at you and I just want you back. Sometimes when I’m screwing Rita, I have to think about your skin so I can come.”
I just looked at him.
“It’s so hard, ’cause usually you break up with someone, or they break up with you, and it hurts or whatever, but you get over it, ya know?” He raked his fingers through his hair. “But with you, I can’t seem to get my head clear.”
“Huh,” I breathed, and then I grabbed his wrist, slamming it as hard as I could against the railing.
“Simon!” he screamed.
I slammed it again, and the gun dropped out of his hand. I didn’t let go fast enough, and he caught me in the face with his elbow and then his fist. There was blood everywhere. I kicked him in the knee as hard as I could, and when he fell forward, I swept his feet out from under him and he bounced down the flight of stairs. I took the steps in threes to get to him. I was terrified that the fall had killed him. But he got up so fast, I didn’t even have time to stop before he grabbed me and threw me up against the wall.
I thought he was going to break my arm, but he punched me in the kidney instead. All I had free was my head, so I hit him with the back of it as hard as I could. I felt him let go and fall against me. I dropped my shoulder, and he went down hard against the floor, the fall knocking him out cold. I walked backward until I was sitting on the steps. I put my head forward and pinched my nose to stop the bleeding. It was over so fast, taking only seconds, and with my adrenaline pumping, I still couldn’t feel anything. When my heart stopped pounding in my ears, I flipped open my phone and called Eric’s sister, Chloe. I had met her and the rest of her family through Eric. He had introduced me as a friend, and no one had suspected anything different. Before she could start talking, asking me questions, I interrupted and asked for her father. It was all I could think of to do.
Twenty minutes later, Mr. Donovan threw open the door and joined me and his unconscious son in the stairwell. He reached Eric fast. He was still sprawled out on the landing.
“Oh my God!” he gasped, checking his son for signs of life.
“He’s fine,” I told him, having checked to make sure he was breathing. His pulse was strong and steady; I had just knocked him out cold.
He looked at me holding the sleeve of my dress shirt against my nose. “What happened?”
I held up the gun for him, which I had retrieved from the bottom floor, holding it with my other sleeve, making sure to put no prints on it.
“What’s going on?” he asked, walking over to me, taking the gun carefully. “Why is my gun here?” He checked it. “It’s loaded.”
I shrugged. “I have no doubt it’s loaded,” I said, sounding nasally since my nose was filled with blood.
He took a seat beside me on the stairs. “What’s going on, Simon?”
“I have no idea.”
Mr. Donovan turned and looked at me. “You want to try again?”
I sighed. “No, sir.”
“Tell me the truth.”
“It’s not my place to tell you the truth,” I said, dabbing at my nose, testing for wet blood.
He looked at me, and I knew the moment he understood. His eyes got wide, and then the most defeated look I had ever seen came over him. My dad had never looked like that. The night I told him I was gay, he had listened a long time before he went for a long drive alone. When he returned, he came into my room and hugged me and told me it was fine. He wanted to know what my life was going to be like, wanted me to be careful in and out of bed, and told me that if I decided it was just a phase that he’d understand that too. Mr. Donovan was devastated; I wanted to kiss my father at that moment. A traditional Korean man, who had emigrated from Seoul when he was a boy, understood that family came first no matter what, and this rich, educated man had missed that lesson completely. I got up and went to the stairs, stepping over Eric on the way.
“Simon, I appreciate you not calling the police. You could have embarrassed my family, but you chose not to. I won’t forget that. What can I do for you?”
“Just take him home and keep him away from me, so I don’t have to get a restraining order, Mr. Donovan,” I told him coolly, staring him down. “I don’t want to see him anymore.”
He looked away, unable to hold my gaze. I heard Eric moving, asking his father where he was, as I descended the stairs down to the next level and reentered the building. I couldn’t take the stairs; I needed to leave fast. I was on the elevator minutes later.
Outside, I ran around the side of the building and threw up in the alley. Not one of my finer moments, but with the adrenaline gone, I was suddenly terrified. I debated long and hard whether to call Leith, but he was at the gallery opening of his latest show. I wanted him to enjoy his night, not leave to come and see me bleed.
When I could, I jogged down the street to a drug store and grabbed a bottle of water before using their bathroom to wash my face. I looked a little better when I came out but would not pass undetected under my boyfriend’s careful scrutiny when I showed up at the gallery opening of his latest show. I needed to figure something out.