A therapeutic relationship is voluntary. It means that the client cannot be forced to or tricked into opening up and volunteering information. But that’s exactly what I was trying to do with Emmett and it didn’t seem to be getting me anywhere. Sure, he occasionally told me about his family or his team but the moment it got tough, he switched off. In any other situation, I would have given him time and space, and he would have come around eventually. But our time together was running out as the sand slipped further down in the hourglass. I had to find a way to make him stay.
I had been trying since three months to make him open up to me but the farthest we’d ever gotten was him telling me how he regretted getting enrolled in the army at a very young age because he never got a chance to be close to Stuart, who was still 12 when he went away.
So that night, I decided to push him a little. We were lazing around in the living room after multiple rounds of awesome sex. Yes, we were basically like two horny teenagers. And frankly, I was a little surprised by how easy it was to be with him, how loving him was a graceful fall. If it wasn’t for the limited tag on our relationship, he would have been my fairytale, my happily ever after. Because lying there on the couch, watching a random movie with him was something I wanted to do everyday for the rest of my life.
“Why do you always wear this locket?” I murmured, fingering the black string from which the pendant hung.
As I expected, he froze, his body literally going into lockdown mode. I was used to it by now after poking around the periphery of the black hole enough times. He would stiffen up, mumble something incoherent and then randomly become his usual cheery self like nothing happened. This time as well, I did not get what he mumbled.
“Who did this belong to?” I asked. Obviously it had some emotional value if he wore it so religiously. He never donned another accessory, except this one locket which he didn’t remove even while sleeping.
He took a deep breath, his muscles relaxing progressively. “Stuart.” He pressed the gemstone and it popped open but instead of finding photographs inside, there were pieces of paper folded up. He took one of them out and handed it to me.
“What’s this?” I said and got up from on top of him to unfold it.
“Both of us were involved in some pretty tough things. We could get murdered at any moment so we kept a locket with a letter hidden inside it so that the other person could get to know who was behind it,” he said. Instead of the usual hollowness his voice echoed, this time it was just weary.
“That’s a very innovative idea,” I said. Morbid as it was, I had to admit it was impressive too. “Is this the one Ginger gave to you?”
“Yeah.” He cleared his throat like he was preparing to say something tough. “Ajax, tell me something.”
“You knew Stuart had just gotten out of prison. Why did you hire him? How could you trust a drug dealer with little kids?”
“I saw potential in him,” I shrugged. “You cannot be completely defined by your actions in the past. We humans are a little more complicated than that. And when he came to interview, I could see he had a lot of good in him. Plus, it was obvious how much he adored kids, and I wanted dedication, not credentials.”
He groaned and got up, walked a few feet away and stopped, his shoulders drooping down, his chin falling on his chest.
“Did I say something wrong?”
“You’re gonna be so pissed,” he groaned, rubbing a palm over his face.
“What is it?” I asked slowly.
“You might recall you had a boyfriend?”
“He got cornered in an alley in broad daylight, coincidentally the same day my brother came looking for a job to you.”
I did remember that. Reid was spooked out of his mind. He never told me the full story and I knew he was keeping something from me but I never got to know what. I never thought these two incidents had a connection.
“I’m starting to think you shouldn’t know the end of this.” He bit his lower lip between his teeth in anticipated dread.
I tipped his chin up so he could meet my eyes and cupped his face between my hands gently. “It doesn’t matter what it is. It’s in the past. I don’t care.” He kept worrying his lip so I had to pull it out physically and do it for him instead. I nibbled on his lip until he clutched my biceps and melted into me. “Tell me,” I whispered.
“You remember Hunter, don’t you?” I nodded. “I had paid him up to stalk Stuart after I got him out of jail to ensure he didn’t get into the whole deal again. I had to set him straight but I was working in a unit in Palestine and the most I could do was pay someone else to do the dirty work for me. A part of setting him straight was getting him a job and people kept rejecting him because of his rap sheet. I had to step in. So Hunter cornered your boyfriend because we planned to blackmail you into giving him that job. It turns out we didn’t need him so he was left unharmed.”
“Hunter used to stalk him.” I clicked my fingers as realization dawned on me. “That’s why he seemed so familiar. I’d seen him snooping around.”
“Yeah, he’s a sloppy joe.” He rolled his eyes in exasperation. “So, are you mad at me? Any urges to throw me out? Curse me? God forbid, hit me?”
“No,” I said simply, surprising him, He was all braced up for my anger. “I kinda figured that’s what you would say.”
“How?” he exclaimed.
“I don’t assume the two separate stories you told me could’ve ended like- So, yeah, Stuart and Reid had a doughnut from the same shop that day.”
“So is it safe to assume that you don’t hate me yet?” he said carefully.
“Yeah. I just don’t get why you had to go to such lengths. The guy was smart. Despite his criminal record, I’m sure he would’ve gotten a job without you having to send thugs to extort one out of someone.”
“I didn’t doubt his capabilities. We were desperate. I spent all my money in trying to get him out of jail. We didn’t even have enough to get my mom her medicines, and she was bipolar, Ajax. There were so many times when she...when we came very close to losing her. I didn’t want to but...” He trailed off, running his hands through his hair.
The truth was, I was mad but hearing what he had been going through, I softened. I knew about the financial conditions of his home. I wanted to help on so many occasions but Stuart wouldn’t let me. He wouldn’t take anything unless he’d earned it. Also, that was the first time Emmett had opened up that much to me. I couldn’t possibly be mad.
“I’m not pissed at you. I’m pissed at Reid. Well, kinda. If he was cornered, he must have been told why. Yet he never thought it important enough to inform me.”
“That’s not the only thing he didn’t tell you,” he muttered in such a low volume that I almost missed it.
He quickly changed the topic. “Reid who?”
“That boyfriend you mentioned?” I raised my eyebrows pointedly.
“Don’t take that whore’s name in front of me,” he growled.
I couldn’t help but grin at seeing his playful side come out again. Teasing him was more fun that a rollercoaster ride, so I decided to push his buttons a little. “He’s not a whore.”
“Have you slept with him?”
“Then he’s a whore to me.”
I burst out laughing at that. “Dress up,” I said, throwing a T-shirt at his face that slid down to the floor because he was too busy staring at me impassively for such a kiddish act. “As much as I like that shirt on the floor rather than on you, we do have to go out now and you’ll freeze in the New York chill like that.”
“I’m sure you can find ways to warm me up,” he said suggestively but wore it nonetheless, much to my chagrin.
We were going to Smoke, one of the biggest nightclubs in New York, where we were meeting up with my friends. It was another big step in our- whatever was going on with us- to meet some of the few people I adored most in the world. No pressure though. When we were already in the car and had traveled half the distance, then I remember checking up on him for the last time. “Are you sure you wanna meet them? You’re not just doing this because of me?”
“Now you’re asking me? We’re literally ten minutes away.” He pointed vaguely to the road in front of me to prove his point.
“We can turn back, go somewhere else. I’ll cancel on them if you don’t want to. It’s no big deal. Tonight is not compulsory.”
“I think I can handle a couple of human beings,” he said while he tried to tame down his hair that were flying wildly from the wind, falling in his eyes as he tried to drive. Even his increasingly disheveled state looked so natural on him, like he had stepped out of a an advertisement for sports gear.
“They’re usually very nice people. Mostly. But considering I’ll be introducing you to them, they might become a little...meddlesome. And not in the cute sense,” I rambled. I was actually nervous about this. I wanted them to like him so badly and I wanted him to like them so badly. I was hoping against all hopes that nothing goes wrong.
We pulled up in front of the chic looking girl that boasted the city’s best nightclub. The music was so loud that I could actually feel the beats all the way down to the car. Bright lights shine through the glass windows visible from where we were parked, illuminating the boring concrete lot in a mysteriously electrifying light.
“What should I introduce you as?” I asked.
After a lot of hard thought, he said, “Delcour. Emmett Delcour. 007.”
I smacked his head playfully. “You know what I mean.”
“Is this your subtle way of initiating The Talk?”
“Not so subtle if you figured it out, is it?” I chuckled.
He tucked a leg underneath him and turned to me completely. “I don’t know,” he answered my earlier question. “I really like you. A lot.”
“So do I.”
“Why do we need goddamn labels to define a relationship?”
“Because I can’t introduce you like- Hey guys, this Emmett. My...you know.” I pressed my lips together and shrugged for dramatic effect.
“I like the idea of being your ‘you know’,” he grinned adorably. “Look, I’m just saying that labels bring complications. Why can’t what we have be untitled? It won’t make it any less.”
“You’re right,” I said and I meant it which is why when we reached my friends. I introduced him exactly like he had asked me to.
I had four people I called friends. Two of them, Neil and Brittany, had stuck with me through med school and the other two, Layla and Tiff, were people we had picked through the way. Layla used to be Brittany’s roommate and Tiff was a friend of Neil’s ex girlfriend. Ultimately, we were better and the so mentioned ex girlfriend ran away, leaving Tiff alone, so she stuck with us. All these wonderful people had chosen a booth hidden away in Narnia, making us grit our teeth before we found it.
“Hello there, fairies. Couldn’t risk being too visible, could you?” I said impassively.
“Hell no. I don’t want the paparazzi on my sweet hiney again,” said Brittany as she stood up to give me a hug. “It’s been too long since we had a proper chat.”
“I was avoiding your sweet hiney.” I shot her a saccharine smile. “Forgive my manners. This is Emmett.” I pointed to Emmett who was standing weirdly comfortably beside me, quite amusedly curious at our little exchange. “My...You Know.”
All four of them raised their eyebrows at the secret smile we shared. I guess they didn’t expect it. I had, after all, been on the whole I’m-so-done-with-guys train, only to bring an adoring one to our rendezvous.
“Nice to meet you, man. We’ve been hearing a lot about you,” said Neil, extending his hand.
“You have?” Emmett raised his eyebrows.
“No, they haven’t,” I said.
“It’s okay. Nothing scares me after talking to your sister,” said Emmett.
“Then yes, they have. They definitely have.”
“You’ve talked to his sister?” gasped Tiff, always the one for a dramatic flair.
“Your sister got to talk to him before we did?” gasped Neil, always the one who won the award in the melodrama department.
“She got five seconds. You guys get a whole night with me. Who’s the lucky one now?” said Emmett.
He effectively broke the ice and the conversation was pretty smooth from there. I was relieved to see they were mixing well with him. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. The guy was a natural charmer. He could saunter in with a lopsided smile and a lather jacket and you know you don’t stand a chance. Tiff was sharing her playlist with Emmett, something she was very excited about because she finally found someone who shared her music taste when they came across a song that caused even more excitement than Alessia Cara.
“It’s that song. The one we danced on. Ajax, you’ve got to listen to this,” said Emmett. He took the earphone out of his ear, the one that he and Tiff had been sharing to put it in mine.
Electropop music blared in my ears at an unreasonably loud volume. When I got inoculated enough to the sheer loudness, the music started to get through my ears and my face lit up in recognition. “Yes, this is it. Which song is it?” I asked. It was the one we had danced on that night we went out for our second date, the one the roadside band was playing.
“Wild by Troye Sivan,” replied Tiff, obviously proud at having provided the information. “Why, does this mean something to you?”
We recounted the whole story to her, catching attention of Brittany and Neil in the meantime too, all of whom uttered enthusiastic “aww’s” at appropriate intervals. They eagerly lapped up a story which sounded even cuter when said out loud. I guess you never really know how memorable some moments are until you reminisce.
I went to get all of us another round of shots, my cheeks already hurting from smiling for so long. I was so glad he was getting along with my friends. It meant more to me than I thought he would, considering I was telling myself over and over again that I shouldn’t be an idiot as there was an expiration date involved. It didn’t stop me from being an idiot though.
At the bar, I was greeted with a surprise, not an entirely pleasant one but I was so happy that I couldn’t care less. “Mrs. Saunders?” I said, surprised. She was Elena’s sister-in-law. I’d met her during the preparation of the funeral and unlike her husband who walked around like he wanted to punch and kick everything in his vicinity, she was perfectly sweet and charming. She more than made up for her husband’s bad temper that I was forced to endure.
She made a big show of glancing around, then leaned forward and pretend-whispered, “Just call me Rayne. Married ladies don’t get a lot of tips.”
I widened my eyes. “Oops,” I mouthed.
“What can I get you, handsome?” she winked.
“Five tequila shots,” I said. “I didn’t expect to find you here.”
“A girl can’t have a humble career if she’s married to Richie Rich?” she said but not in an offended way. I don’t think the woman had it in her to get offended.
“That’s not what I was referring to. I’m pretty sure I saw you on the cover of Street Sweep,” I said.
Street Sweep was a local New York fashion magazine that Brittany religiously followed. I was browsing through it one day when I saw a photoshoot of a clothesline from a new designer featuring her. A few issues later, she was also on the cover. That’s when Brittany told me that Rayne Saunders was a frequently occurring model.
“Yes,” said Rayne. “Finally some recognition.”
“So if you’re a model, why are you bartending?”
“Bartending is my prime job. Sure, I have tie-ups with a few magazines and designers but that’s seasonal work. I can’t be a full time model. So this is what keeps me going,” she explained.
That was the moment Emmett chose to make an appearance, throwing his arms around my waist and pressing a sweet kiss to my cheek. When he saw Rayne on the other end of the bar, he said, “Aw hell no,” and proceeded to go.
I caught his arm before he could leave and pulled him back. “I’m sorry about that. This is Emmett. Baby, this sweet lady is Rayne. Say hello to her.”
I needed training in talking to adults more. One of these days, someone was going to punch me through my teeth and right then, it looked like Emmett might be that someone. “Hello, Rayne,” he said in a surly voice.
“I’m sorry about the way my husband behaved that day. Losing family is hard. You know that better than anyone, right?” she said.
I was glad she moved away to serve another customer because the way Emmett was glaring at her, I reckoned she had reserved a golden spot on his To Punch list.
“Anyway, I have to leave. My best friend is having a baby.” She clapped in glee. “Garry here will take care of you,” she said, giving me a fist bump before she happily skipped away, oblivious to the anger practically radiating from Emmett like she had personally wronged him by existing a metal slab away.
“Why the animosity towards her?” I asked Emmett as we walked back to our booth, armed with our shots.
“She put Stuart in jail. She was supposed to be his friend and she ratted him out just because she wanted to get into the detective’s pants who was supervising the case,” he furiously replied.
When we reached my friends, it was my turn to say, “Aw hell no,” and turn back to leave before I was seen but Emmett returned the favor of grabbing my arm and dragging me back.
“What is he doing here?” I managed to speak through gritted teeth.
“Don’t be a baby, Ajax. It’s been ages. He’s a part of our group too. It’s high time you guys got over your stupid ignorance phase,” chided Tiff.
“The ‘he’ is standing right here. You could perhaps talk to him instead,” the dreaded voice spoke.
I took a deep breath and turned to him, cursing my fate for throwing this shit on me now of all days. “Hi, Reid.”
“Hello, Ajax. It’s been long,” Reid replied. He still looked exactly as I remembered; blonde, tall, handsome, dressed up impeccably even in a casual attire, every last detail precisely perfected before he stepped out of the house. He still looked as attractive as ever, even though he dressed up like an uptight douche, a fact that I could now admit because I wasn’t blindly in love with him anymore.
“There’s a reason,” I muttered under my breath.
“Look. I know we should’ve given you both a fair warning. But the truth is, we’re all tired of taking sides and tiptoeing around you both. I don’t even remember the last time we all had a drink together,” said Brittany.
“And sincere talk? We told you guys not to date. It’s never a good idea to initiate a relationship between two good friends. But did you listen? Fuck no. So this is your punishment,” Neil said firmly.
I rolled my eyes. “Whatever.”
I used to feel a pang of nostalgia and wistfulness whenever I thought about him. I had successfully managed to steer away from ever seeing him again all this time. But of course, it had to happen when I was out with Emmett.
That’s when I realized I had Emmett with me. My game was already one up.
“I literally have zero clue what’s going on,” said Emmett.
“My bad.” I gave a tight smile but I guess it looked more like a grimace. “This is Reid.”
Emmett’s lips formed an “O”, the rest of his face carefully nonchalant.
“Reid, meet Emmett, my boyfriend,” I said.
A hush fell over the table as everyone waited to see how Reid would react. He was positively glaring at me, a cold glint in his usually sunny eyes that wanted to freeze me for giving him the metaphorical in-your-face-bitch. But he didn’t say anything. Another small victory for me.
“That’s a nice way to have The Talk,” Emmett murmured in my ear when we slid into our seats.
I placed my hand on his neck, rubbing my thumb in slow circles on his cheek. He instinctively leaned into my touch. “Emmett, will you be my boyfriend?” I whispered, my lips hardly moving.
“Yeah,” he breathed. His eyes fluttered close when I leaned in and pressed my lips softly against his, my hand dragging up on his warm skin until it tangled in his hair. He clutched my collar, the room spinning around me in a dizzying vertigo the more I felt him.
“It’s probably inappropriate to be making out in front of your ex,” he said, his breath way faster than normal.
“I guess it is,” I agreed.
“Good. We should do it more.” He grinned mischievously, the ends of his lips pooling into smile lines that made me ache to run my tongue along them.
“So, guys,” interrupted Brittany way too cheerfully, having us pull apart from each other. “Who wants to-” She swallowed hard like she didn’t know what to say but couldn’t stop herself. “-do something?”
“Do what?” came a simultaneous response from everyone present.
She practically rushed through her words. “Anything that’s not sitting around awkwardly, pretending to admire the table?”
“Chill, Brittany. We’re okay,” said Reid and turned his cold gaze on me. “Aren’t we?”
I reciprocated his sentiment with a smile of the exact same temperature as his expression. “Totally.”
This proclamation did not in any way make the rest of the night any less awkward. I could literally feel the frost settling in as Emmett and Reid shot each other glares occasionally. It only served in irritating me. So when I couldn’t bear the suffocating environment any longer, I excused myself to go to the bathroom.
I was hoping it would give me a reprieve. I was so wrong. When I came out, I ‘accidently’ bumped into Reid. “Excuse me,” I muttered and started to leave but he caught me.
“Can I talk to you for a second?” he said.
I sighed. Like I had any other option. “Okay. Speak.”
“About everything that happened all that time ago, I’m sorry. I don’t think I ever got around to apologizing,” he said.
I nodded. “No, you didn’t.”
“I really mean it. I’m sorry. If I could go back in time and change it, I would.”
“Noted.” I started to walk past him again when he put a hand on my chest to halt me.
“I’m trying to apologize here and you don’t even have the decency to accept my apology?” he hissed.
As I took in a breath and let it out, I told myself that I was a patient man. I had dealt with way worse in the past. I could handle an ex boyfriend who I would’ve given my right arm not to meet ever again. “Apology accepted,” I said in as civil a manner as was humanly possible of me and started to leave his presence for the third damn time.
“Now what, you’re gonna go back to your “boyfriend”-” He made quotation marks in the air. -“and pretend to ignore my existence?”
I whirled around, my saintly patience wearing thin. “You expect me to be your best friend and get you roses after you dumped my ass in cold air on a random day like you’re telling me the breakfast menu?”
“It was a mistake, Ajax, probably the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life. I never stopped loving you.”
If he had said those words to me a few months ago, it may have had some effect on me. I was pleased that my heart didn’t even skip half a beat as I looked into his eyes, at his blonde hair neatly gelled back from his square face, at the lips I’d kissed so many times I couldn’t even count. No sudden pang of pain. No memories floating up in the corner, making me go soft towards him. Nothing.
“And when precisely did you realize that it was a mistake?”
“A few days after I actually made it.”
I punched wall beside me, a feat as shocking to him as it was to me. “Then where were you all these months?” I screamed.
“I didn’t have the guts. I did something horrible, Ajax. I was so ashamed. I didn’t have the balls to face you again.”
“Yes, what you did was horrible but there is nothing that can’t be forgiven in due time. Well, guess what? Too late now.”
“No, not that. You don’t know the real reason why I broke up with you-”
I felt Emmett’s hand on my shoulder before my mind register his voice. “Let’s go home,” he said gently.
I tried to smile at him, grateful that he rescued me from this conversation. “Yeah.” To Reid, I said, “I don’t wanna know the real reason anymore. As I said, too late.”
For the fourth fucking time, I turned to leave the club, the suffocation, the conversation, when I was frozen on my tracks again. “Ajax, I cheated-”
Reid was cut off by a very angry Emmett. “Shut up. Shut your fucking trap.”
“What were you saying?” I said slowly.
“He was saying nothing. Let’s go,” Emmett insisted.
“No!” Emmett shouted on him. “Did I not just tell you to shut the fuck up?”
“Who are you to tell me anything?” Reid demanded.
“I’m the person who’s gonna rip off your sorry excuse for a dick and shove it up your ass if you ever hurt my man again. Was once not enough?”
“How do you know that what I say is going to hurt him?”
Emmett leaned in and lowered his voice so he could hear him loud and clear. “Hunter is my bitch. I know you better than you do. I know everything you’ve done. And I’ll be damned if I ever let you hurt Ajax again.”
I had been watching this whole exchange like a table tennis match that I couldn’t quite keep up with. But when Hunter was mentioned and Reid fell into a shocked silence, I got a chance to gather my wits and speak up. “I want to know.”
“No, you don’t. Trust me, you don’t,” said Emmett desperately.
“I do. Complete your sentence, Reid.”
Despite Emmett’s protests, he managed to say, “I cheated on you.”