“So what do you think?” Graham asked after showing the daycare facilities to Eddie.
“Um,” Eddie stammered trying to fill in the awkward silence that had developed between them. “I’ll have to discuss it with my husband,” he tried to smile but it felt stiff and unnatural. He turned walking towards the door.
“Eddie,” Graham’s voice was hesitant “are you happy?”
A low sad sigh whistled through his lungs “what makes you think I’m not?”
“Nothing really…it’s just,” Graham glanced away “it’s just that I thought we had something but then you…”
“Then I ruined it,” Eddie took a small step forward “I did that a lot back then.” He looked at his feet nibbling on his bottom lip “it doesn’t matter. I really did care about you Graham.”
“You had a funny way of showing it,” Graham retorted turning to look at him “why did you do it?”
“What? Flirt?” Eddie ran a hand through his short blond hair “I really don’t know. It was so out of character for me.” He fell silent moving towards the bookcase fingering the titles “I think I was afraid.”
“Afraid?” Graham’s voice was incredulous “of what? Me?”
“You. Everything,” Eddie looked up from the book covers “you had so many problems you were dealing with. Your dad. Your mom. Half the time I felt inadequate to deal with your problems than coupled with mine I think I freaked out.” He shook his head trying to figure out what he had been feeling and thinking so long ago was giving him a headache. He gave Graham an apologetic look “I had things coming up from my past that I didn’t even realize what they were.” He let out a small groan “you were right I wasn’t any good for anyone, not even myself.”
“I wish I hadn’t said that,” Graham muttered “I was hurt, confused by all the mixed signals you were giving me.”
Snorting Eddie pushed himself away from the bookshelf “you weren’t the only one hurt and confused.”
“I know that now,” Graham said softly “if I had known what you had been through I might have done and said things differently. Overall I wish I had been a better friend and tried harder to figure out was wrong.”
Shrugging Eddie closed his eyes breathing deeply. He wasn’t surprised Graham had heard about Amber. It had been in all the papers. “Well you didn’t know. So don’t worry about it. At the time I didn’t even know what was happening.”
“I’m still sorry,” Graham put a gentle hand on Eddie’s shoulder “I was too wrapped up in my own problems to notice yours and for that I’m sorry.”
“Yeah well,” Eddie sniffed a little turning red “it worked out in the end, didn’t it? You have Zane and I have Rory now.”
“Have you told Rory about us?” Graham asked putting space between them.
“Not yet but I will,” Eddie said following the other man with his eyes “Rory knows there’s something I haven’t told him. It was kind of written all over me last night when I saw you.”
Smiling at that Graham said “he seems to be attentive to your needs.”
“He is,” Eddie beamed “he’s my knight in shining armor as cliché as that sounds.” His voice deepened taking on a dreamy tone talking about his husband. With relief he felt some of his tension melt from his body as he finally put the past to rest.
“You love him don’t you?” Graham asked watching how Eddie’s deep brown eyes softened. He felt a twinge of jealousy wishing his and Zane’s relationship was as good. There were so many stresses of running a resort and the daily concerns of the dog shelter it seemed that he and Zane never spent time together anymore.
Nodding Eddie felt his face morph into a silly grin “we’ve been through so much together. We almost lost each other. Then we found our way back to each other. He’s my rock. He taught me how to trust and I taught him how to love. He’s my…everything.” His cheeks turned a deep crimson “listen to me talk, you’d think I was just married or something.”
“You’re on your honeymoon, you’re entitled” Graham assured him. At the look of confusion on Eddie’s face he continued “your husband told us that this was your honeymoon when he made the reservation.”
Looking down at his ring finger Eddie sighed happily. He felt like a lovesick fool but whenever he thought about Rory he always felt somewhat giddy. “Rory and I have been together for four years. Married for three of those. We were expecting Hannah when we got married. We postponed the honeymoon.” He looked towards the door his smile growing larger.
“I promised you then you’d get your honeymoon,” Rory’s voice seemed loud as he walked into the room and set Hannah on the floor to play. He walked up to Eddie and put his arms around him, kissing his cheek softly. He smiled at Graham asking “are you in charge of the daycare?”
Pulling his thoughts away from his and Zane’s problems he couldn’t miss how vibrant Eddie had become once his husband was with him. Again a slight twinge of jealousy stabbed his heart as a stray thought went through his mind that this could have been him. “Um yeah I’m in charge or another employee when I have to man the front desk.” He smiled looking down at the two little girls happily chattering to each other “our daughters seem to have taken a liking to each other. Charity will enjoy having someone her own age to play with.”
Taking Eddie’s hand Rory asked “would you mind if we left Hannah with you now?”
Eddie shook his head “I haven’t even discussed fees, schedules or anything.”
Tugging on his hand Rory impatiently tried to get Eddie to come with him “it doesn’t matter the cost. Just add it to our bill. Come on there’s something I want you to see. You’re gonna love it.”
Catching his husband’s excitement Eddie playfully slapped his chest “you know I can’t say no to you but we don’t even know when the daycare closes.” Turning to Graham “I’m sorry for the inconvenience but I promise we’ll be more organized tomorrow.”
Laughing Graham waved them away “go enjoy yourselves. That’s what you’re here for. Hannah will be in good hands.” He forced a smiled on his handsome face attempting to hide his envy. Mostly he wished he and Zane still had that easy spontaneity in their relationship.
“Rory where are you taking me?” Eddie asked as his husband walked past the queue of taxis. Panting to keep up he realized how out of shape he had become “slow down please.”
Rory glanced over his shoulder and smiled “I’m sorry I’m just so excited to show you what I found. You’re going to love it.”
“At this pace the only thing I’m going to see is the inside of a hospital” he gasped.
“It’s not that much further,” he did slow down though giving Eddie a chance to catch his breath.
Five minutes later Rory came to a stop, spread his arms wide beaming at Eddie “do you know where you are?” he asked expectantly.
Looking around at the busy beach, the souvenir shops, towards the blue-green water of the tropics Eddie shook his head. “I haven’t got a clue,” turned to Rory he asked “why am I here?”
“Legend has it that this is the beach where mermaids sang the siren songs luring young men to their deaths,” Rory explained reciting the history of the beach they were standing on.
Eddie’s eyes took on a far away look “I never liked those siren stories.” He shaded his eyes from the bright sun searching the horizon for his favorite mythological creature.
“I know,” Rory said coming up behind him “tell me about Atargatis.”
“Atargatis was an Assyrian goddess who fell in love with a simple, poor shepherd.” Eddie scanned the horizon “are you sure you want to hear this?” he asked “you must have heard me tell Hannah stories about her a hundred times or more.”
“I have but I love hearing you tell them. Hannah loves your mermaid stories.” Rory wrapped his arms around him “isn’t there something you haven’t told her?”
“Well,” Eddie thought about his research “I’ve edited a lot out and added a few things from multiple legends and folklore. The shepherd Atargatis fell in love with was killed in a terrible accident that Atargatis caused. She was so ashamed by what she did she jumped into a lake and took the form of a fish. It was said that she was so beautiful the water couldn’t conceal her beauty. She became the first mermaid.”
“You should write a book,” Rory told him “Hannah loves the stories you tell her about Atargatis. I know other kids would too.”
“Is that why you brought me here?” Eddie asked turning to look at Rory.
“Partly,” he hesitated “you gave up so much to stay home with Hannah. You could have been a five-star chef by now.”
Tenderly stroking Rory’s stubbly cheek Eddie said “I don’t regret becoming a stay at home dad. Our daughter deserves it. I don’t need a career to feel successful.”
“I hate to see your talent go to waste,” Rory pressed on “won’t you at least consider it? I already talked to an editor and agent about your stories. He’s real interested in signing you to do a book series.”
“I can’t believe you did that without talking to me first,” Eddie turned and walked a few feet away “do you have any idea how much work goes into writing a book with a toddler under foot?”
“As a matter of fact I do,” Rory said with a little smile “I write the songs and music for the band remember?”
“I make sure Hannah is occupied so that she doesn’t disturb you too,” Eddie pointed out “we can’t both be writing.” Eddie could feel his anxiety rising as he considered the enormity of the task Rory had presented to him.
“We’ll work it out,” Rory assured him not willing to let this opportunity go “at least we can give it a try.”
Eddie could feel his resolve slipping “Fine I’ll try but you’re going to have to help.” He playfully nipped at the fingers Rory carelessly left within easy reach of Eddie’s teeth when he had caressed his husbands cheek.
“Ouch” he cried when Eddie bit down “what was that for?”
Rolling his eyes Eddie snorted “as if you don’t know.” He walked a short distance away, drawn to the water “that’s for pushing me into a corner.”
Following him Rory put an arm around Eddie drawing him close “it’s just I have so much confidence in you and you need to be pushed sometimes…”
“Pushed” Eddie growled as he stepped away from Rory’s embrace. it was true that he was slow to change, slow to try new things. He didn’t need Rory telling him what do.
Rory stood back following Eddie with his eyes. The breeze from the ocean blowing his hair around his face. Maybe he had gone a little too far, pushed a little too hard. He waited until Eddie stopped staring blankly at the ocean before approaching him again “I’m sorry” he said “I should have asked you first,” he walked around in front of the man he loved most in the world. Eddie was the one who showed him how to love. That it didn’t make him less of a man to admit he loved someone. He felt like he could move mountains when Eddie looked to him for help.
“Yes you should have asked,” Eddie snapped. He hated being maneuvered into things. He had never dreamed about sharing his mermaid stories with anyone other than Hannah. It was something he made up for her. If he put it all down in a book it wouldn’t be special anymore. The magic would be gone.
“Aw honey don’t be mad at me,” Rory smirked at him, positive he could get Eddie to agree to this new venture.
An inarticulate scream bubbled to the surface as Eddie passed his boiling point. He raised his hands pushing Rory backwards. He watched in fascinated satisfaction as Rory flailed his arms, falling backwards into the water.
Rory came up spluttering as he gagged on the salty seawater he had swallowed. His own anger flared as he called after his retreating husband. “You better run,” he mumbled as he let Eddie go. He’d see him back at the resort. Right now they both needed to calm down.
Reaching the sidewalk Eddie glanced both ways trying to decide which direction the resort was. He hadn’t paid attention to where Rory was taking him confident that they would be returning together. He knew they hadn’t crossed the street so that meant he could go either to the left or the right. As he dithered a large tour group got off a bus in front of him. The jostling of several people at once disoriented him even more than he already was. He found himself being dragged along with the tide as people pressed in around him forcing him to go along with them.
By the time he was able to extricate himself from the tour group he had no clue where he was. He had no idea the name of the resort he was staying as Rory had made the reservations. When they had arrived he was too tired to notice the name. He wasn’t ready to face Rory or he’d just call him to come get him. He couldn’t call Graham either as he didn’t have his number or the name of the resort. Was his number listed in the phone book? He doubted it as it would give his parents easy access to contacting him.
He just needed a place to think, to calm down. There was a small bar on the other side of the street. He decided that was as good a place as any to sit and think what he should do. He walked in and ordered a drink. He stared at it wishing he could drink it since he was dying of thirst but old phobias were hard to overcome. He glanced at his phone as his display lit up. Rory.
A waitress appeared at his table distracting him from answering his phone. She gave him a come hither look as she leaned in close and whispered seductively in his ear. Squirming as she invaded his personal space he raised his hand waving his wedding ring in her face. “I’m married” he stammered hoping she’d go away.
“That’s alright sweetie so am I,” she winked at him “Georgie over there is my husband. He’s taken quite fancy to you.”
Eddie followed her glance towards a greasy looking middle-aged man at the bar. He averted his gaze when the man winked at him. “I’m not interested,” he said as forcefully as he could. He grabbed his phone from the table and squeezed past the woman. His phone rang as he neared the door. Without hesitation he answered “Rory” his voice cracked saying his husband’s name.
“Eddie are you alright?” Rory asked hearing the stress in Eddie’s voice “I thought you’d come back to the resort. Where are you baby?”
“I’m sorry,” Eddie squeaked as his throat tightened “I don’t know where I am. I got turned around and I’m lost.”
“Are there any signs around you? Buildings?” Rory gently prompted him “I’ll come get you if you can tell me anything about where you are.”
“I’m at…” he glanced up at the bar’s name above the door he just exited “Georgie’s Bar.”
“I’m on my way,” Rory assured him.
“Please hurry,” Eddie gulped as someone tried to grope him.
“What’s wrong?” Rory yelled into the phone sensing Eddie was in trouble. He could hear the anxiety in Eddie’s voice something at a level he hadn’t reached since the whole Amber fiasco.
“This isn’t a good place,” Eddie said trying to keep his breathing even despite his racing heart “I’m scared.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Rory told him putting everything he had to sound confident and reassuring. He left their room thankful he had left Hannah at daycare to play with her new friend. He thought about requesting the resorts vehicle reserved for guests for short errands but vetoed that idea upon the hostile glare he received from the guy at the front desk. If this was his place he’d get rid of that guy. His sour looks would drive away business. Unless it was just him but how could it? He didn’t even know the guy.
He ran out the lobby doors to the queue of waiting taxi’s. Getting into one he told the driver the name of the bar. The man hesitated before putting the vehicle into gear and merging with traffic. Curious Rory asked “what’s wrong with this place? I was told it was a good local bar” he lied to see what the guys reaction would be.
The driver looked at him through the rear view mirror “it’s a bad place,” was all the man would tell him. Sitting back in his seat alone with his thoughts he could feel his stomach churning. If it weren’t for him Eddie would never have run off on his own. “Please hurry” he told the driver as he watched the passing scenery.
Eddie had been reluctant to disconnect his call with Rory but knew it was inevitable. He was relieved that his husband was on his way to him. He didn’t know how long it would take Rory to get there but there was no way he was going back inside that bar. He shivered imagining the bartender and the waitress watching him. The argument seemed so stupid and childish now.
The bar door opened and the middle-aged waitress who had accosted him earlier walked out. “Are you alright sweetie?”
He eyed her unsure of her intentions nodding in response. He inched away from her
“Don’t worry sweetie I’m not going to hurt you,” she glanced into the bar “did you drink any of that beverage Georgie poured you?”
Eddie’s eyes grew large as he gulped shaking his head “I just wanted something so I could sit down. Thankful for the first time for his phobia that was usually a social detriment.
“Good” she winked at him “Georgie isn’t a bad man but he likes his play things docile. So whatever you do don’t go back inside and don’t still be standing here when the bar closes.”
“My husband is coming to get me,” Eddie told her seeing the concern in her eyes “he should be here any minute.”
“Good,” she smiled at him going back inside the bar as a taxi pulled to the curb.
Rory hurried from the taxi and threw his arms around Eddie “I was so worried about you.”
“I’m ok now that your here,” Eddie squeezed him tight before taking his husband’s hand and hurried towards the taxi before the man drove off “I just want to go back to the resort.”
Rory paid the driver than followed Eddie into the resort. He found him staring blankly in the middle of the lobby. The guy at the front desk was frowning at him displeased. Rory had the feeling there was something he was missing but he didn’t have time to investigate it. His husband needed him. He put a gentle arm around Eddie’s shoulder and guided him towards the elevator doors.
By the time they reached their room Eddie was shivering and crying “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have run off like that.”
Kissing him softly Rory helped him undress “it’s alright Eddie, I shouldn’t have pushed you so hard to do something you didn’t want to do. I should have told that agent I’d talk to you first instead of saying you’d do it. This is my fault not yours.” He helped Eddie to the bed and crawled in beside him. Holding him tight.
“Aren’t you going to get undressed,” Eddie asked tugging on his shirt.
“Do you want me to undress?” Rory asked letting Eddie dictate how things would go.
“I want to feel you next to me ,” he pulled Rory’s shirt over his head and tossed it to the floor. Rory helped him remove the rest of his clothes.
Leaning into him Eddie closed his eyes “I’m sorry for ruining our honeymoon.”
“You didn’t ruin anything,” Rory squeezed his husband tight “this wasn’t your fault.”
“I should have just agreed to write the book.”
“Eddie you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. I was excited over the prospect. I went overboard. I’m sorry,” Rory felt Eddie turn in his arms and look up at him.
“There’s something I need to tell you,” he looked down concentrating on his fingernails.
“Does it have to do with Graham and his husband?” Rory asked.
Eddie nodded “we knew each other several years ago. I” he sighed looking up meeting Rory’s eyes “I could have fallen in love with Graham except I messed everything up.” He went on to tell Rory everything that had happened between him and Graham including the trip to France and his flirting spree. “I’ll always remember how Graham said I wasn’t good for him, well actually for myself but what I heard was I wasn’t good for him. He was right though. I’m not good enough for him or you or….”
Rory’s mouth over his effectively silenced his self-deprecating speech. “You’re all I’ll ever want or need. It doesn’t matter what Graham said We both have people in our pasts. That’s ok. You don’t have to pretend they’re not there. What matters is I have you now and I’m never letting you go.”