Just Tell Me You Love Me

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Chapter Four

EMILY

“Emily please wait!” she heard Austin call from behind her. “I really need to talk to you.”

“Yeah, well I really need to put my kids to bed,” she replied.

“Emily we aren’t here for your mother, or even ourselves.”

“Really?” Emily asked incredulously.

“Emily, Sasha sent us.”

That made Emily stop in her tracks, “Sasha?”

“Please Emily, just talk to us.”

Emily turns, “I’ll talk to you, but I just… can’t talk to Payson.”

“Fine,” Austin replies.

“I really do need to get the boys home though. Can you meet me there tonight, or tomorrow?”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can, just tell me where I’m going.”

Emily hesitated but told Austin her address and that she would see him soon. As she walked away she couldn’t be entirely sure that what she was doing was the right thing, but if Sasha sent Austin and Payson all the way out here, whatever they had to say must be important to him.

Emily got home and promptly put both of her sons to bed. Tyler had fallen asleep in the car and she’d carried him inside, (which, Emily realized, sounds a lot easier than it is) while Liam trotted along behind her. Once they were both tucked in upstairs Emily headed back down to wait for Austin, who showed up about ten minutes later.

“Emily,” he says, “Thank you so much for hearing me out.”

“Come in, Austin,” she replies.

Austin enters, thanking her again. It was strange to see him standing in her living room. It was like going back in time to when her dreams were so much different than they were now. Having Austin Tucker stand in her home was bizarre, like the past and the future all merging together. It was enough to make Emily feel nauseous. She did her best to keep that feeling at bay.

Austin sits down on the far end of her couch, so Emily sits down on the opposite side, pulling her legs into her chest. An awkward silence fills the air for a few moments.

Finally Austin speaks, “How have you been? You’ve got a great place here.”

“I’ve been… happy,” Emily replies, surprising even herself with how much she truly meant it.

“That’s great Ems.”

“Yeah, and what about you, how’s life treating Austin Tucker?”
He shrugs, “Same old, same old. I’m one of the assistant head coaches back in Boulder at the Rock, I live in a two bedroom apartment with my dog Charlie and my mom moved into town last year so I could help her around the house. All in all, I can’t complain too much.”

“No wife, kids?” Emily asks and then realizes she might be prying. How much did she actually want to know about him anyway? It wasn’t like she would see very much of him after he left.

He smiles, “No I haven’t been as lucky as you have. There have been a few women throughout the years but my schedule is so crazy I could never quite… please them.”

Emily smirks, “Too bad, I remember how good you were at pleasing women.” Wait, was she flirting? She scolded herself. The last thing she needed was to have Austin Tucker thinking she was interested in him. Flirting with Austin had always been second nature to her, and it was amazing how quickly that came back.

Austin didn’t seem fazed, “Yeah well, we all hit a rough patch once in a while.”

“You don’t have to tell me,” Emily replies.

He nods, “But you seem good now. You have a great job and your kids seem absolutely amazing. I can’t believe you have twins!”

“Some days I can’t believe it either,” Emily laughs. “It was a shock then, and it can still be jarring to see two practically identical humans running around my house.”

“They seem great though. The one of them that does gymnastics is crazy talented.”

“Tyler, he’s the more outgoing of the two. He was born first, and Liam was born second. He hid behind his brother for the entire pregnancy. I didn’t know I was having him until I was literally having him.”

“Are you serious?”

“Completely, it was an experience I would not recommend to anyone.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Austin laughs incredulously.

“What about Payson, or the others, do they have any kids? I haven’t heard from anyone in so long,” Emily says, surprised to realize she was actually interested.

“Uh, yeah, Payson married Nicky Russo not long after the Olympics. They’ve got a daughter about a year or so younger than your boys named Ayla, and a little boy now too who’s about six I think, named Gavin. Sweet kids, the spitting image of their mom. Ayla is like a carbon copy of Payson with brown hair instead of blonde.”

“Wow, that’s incredible. They’re gymnasts I take it.”

“Yeah they’ve both started training. Ayla shows real promise, but her head isn’t always in it. And then there is Lauren who has become the epitome of gym moms.”

“Lauren’s a mother?”
“Yeah, and actually not a bad one. She started out a little rocky, married a rich businessman who really didn’t treat her all that well, had Chantal, her daughter, and started drinking heavily. But, she’s been sober now for almost eight years and divorced her husband taking half of his assets with her, which she promptly donated to the Rock. She’s back on her feet, and her daughter, Cha Cha they call her, is one of the best in her year. She’s about ten maybe? Great girl, she’s the next Queen of the Beam if you ask me.”

Emily clears her throat and gets up from the couch, “Do you want a glass of wine? I’m suddenly feeling the urge to open a bottle.”

Austin laughs, “Sure, sounds great.”

In the kitchen Emily opens a bottle of Riesling pours two glasses and takes a few deep breaths. Talking about her past in the past is one thing, but hearing about her old friends’ new lives is something completely different. It was unnerving.

“So what about Sasha or Kaylie, how are they?”

Austin shifts uncomfortably in his seat, “You don’t know about Kaylie?”

“No.”

“She ran away with Damon a few months after the Olympics. They found each other at the American Music Awards and decided to try to be a duo. Apparently they’re pretty big overseas, but I’ve never bothered to listen to any of their stuff. Their band is called Brainwashed by Boulder so I never really gave it the time of day.”

Emily didn’t know how she had been expecting to feel when her suspicions of Damon’s feelings for Kaylie were confirmed, but she had definitely expected to feel something. As Austin spoke she slowly began to realize that Damon’s name no longer hurt to hear, and the fact that he was with Kaylie somewhere making music made her feel nothing more than a hope that they were both happy. Emily wondered if this is what moving on felt like.

She walked into the living room and handed Austin his glass, “And Sasha?”

Austin raises his eyebrows, surprised that there were no more questions about Damon or Kaylie. He takes a sip of his wine and continues, “Uh he married Summer. Shortly after you left they eloped, it was kind of a scandal.”

“Are you serious? I thought she was going to marry Lauren’s dad!”

“Apparently that plan fell through. I think we kind of all knew it would. Sasha and Summer are crazy for each other even now.”

“Please tell me they have kids. Summer would be the best mom.”

“They do actually. They have three, triplets actually, so there’s something you have in common with them.”

“Triplets, seriously?”

“Yep, Amber, Markus, and April Beloff, three of the most gifted young gymnasts I think I’ve ever seen, April especially. They’re about the same age as your boys, but it’s unreal how great they are.”

“Maybe I’ll see them compete someday. I’d like to,” Emily says, meaning it.

“Actually that’s what I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”

“Okay,” Emily says somewhat dreading what she thinks is coming next.

“The triplets are getting older now, and so is Sasha and he doesn’t think it would be completely appropriate for him to be the coach of his own children once they get to serious competing age, so he’s looking for a new head coach for the Rock.”

“Okay, so what does that have to do with me?”

“Sasha sent me and Pay out here to ask you if you would take the job. Sasha wants you to know before you answer that you should feel free to call him if you have questions but that he very much wants you to be the new head coach at The Rock.”

Emily almost choked on her wine as she really heard what Austin was asking her. Did he say head coach? How could this be possible?

“You’re kidding right?”

“Not even a little.”
Emily takes a moment to comprehend the idea, “Aren’t there better options? What about Payson, what about you?”

“Sasha was very clear. He wants you.”

“Did he say why? I don’t see why Payson isn’t better suited for the job.”

“He did mention something to me. He told me that Payson has the drive and the discipline but you have the heart.”

Emily shakes her head, “I don’t understand. I haven’t been in the gymnastics world for years, why would I even be a thought to Sasha? It makes no sense!”

“Regardless, this is why he sent me here, Emily. You are the one he wants to take up his legacy. Clearly he believes in you.”

“Well I don’t!” Emily cries in frustration. “I don’t believe in me. I can’t be a coach, and I can’t go back to the Rock. I can’t uproot my family to go all the way back to a place that was never right for me to begin with. No, Austin, just tell Sasha that I can’t, okay? I just can’t.”

Emily could feel herself shaking but she didn’t realize that she had been crying until Austin tried to wipe her tears away. She flinched at his touch, and immediately felt bad about it. He had come all the way here to do another man’s bidding, he didn’t need to care about how she felt and he still did.

“Emily, please don’t do this to yourself. If you want me to go I will, and that will be the end of it, I promise. But, I just need to say before I do, that I’m pretty sure that you could be the best head coach the Rock has ever seen.”

Emily takes a deep breath and manages to choke out one word, “Why?”

Austin smiles and takes her hand in his, “Because of this right here. You aren’t thinking about yourself in this situation, unless I’m reading everything wrong. You’re thinking about your boys, about your family, and what this could do to them. Emily, you have kind of a gift for being selfless, ask anyone you know. You gave up your dreams for a child you didn’t even know yet, for a life you thought you could have with Damon, and even when that didn’t work out you never looked back.

“That’s why Sasha wants you and not me or Payson. You give things up for the betterment of other people, and that’s what a good coach does. Not to mention you know what it is to be in the position of these gymnasts who may sometimes have fears that they don’t think they can share with anyone, but you can be there for them. You know how these girls operate Emily; you were these girls ten years ago. And, I believe in you, so that should be worth more than all of it put together.”

“Ha!” Emily laughed, conscious now of Austin’s hand in her own and how close his face had gotten to hers. Emily is once again taken aback by how unchanged he is. Looking at him was like she was seventeen years old all over again at the Rock practicing late. But then there was something else, something so different about him in all the familiarity. It was like the light had gone out of his eyes, like he’d lost his spirit.

“What?” Austin asked when he noticed her looking at him.

Emily hesitated, “Who was she?”

“Who?”

“The girl that broke your heart.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Because I’ve seen the same look that you have in your eyes in my own, after Damon left me. Was it Kaylie?”

Austin squeezes her hand, “No it wasn’t Kaylie. Kaylie and I broke up long before she ever got together with Damon.”

“Then who was it? Who took the spark out of your eyes?”

Austin looks taken aback.

He takes a drink from his glass and begins quietly, “Her name was Cynthia. She was a schoolteacher in Boulder and probably the sweetest person I’ve ever met. There was absolutely nothing fake about her at all, she was not the kind of girl you would ever have expected me to end up with, but she was perfect.”

“What happened to her?”

Austin sighs heavily, “She died. Stage four lung cancer. She never smoked a day in her life, but both of her parents were heavy smokers. It was from all the secondhand carcinogens. It took her from me in less than a year. But, it was a long time ago, and time goes on, the heart heals.”

“But, never completely,” Emily says quietly, more for her own benefit than for Austin’s.

“And yet, I wouldn’t change a thing, and I know you wouldn’t either.”

She intertwines her fingers with his and holds on tight.

“No you’re right, I wouldn’t change anything. Have you seen my children? They’re amazing! How could I trade them in for a gold medal?”

Just then, as if his ears had been buzzing, Liam trots down the stairs, comes around the corner and plops down on the couch next to Emily.

“Hey baby, what are you doing up?”
“I can’t sleep.”

“Well, you’ve barely tried yet.”

He sighs, “I know.”

“Are we being too loud?”

“No, but I heard what you were talking about.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah and Momma if you want to move somewhere so Ty can do gymnastics I just wanted you to know that I wouldn’t be mad.”

Emily raises her eyebrows.

“But what about you, Liam, you don’t like it here?”

“I mean, I do. But, I can play music pretty much wherever, Tyler can’t do gymnastics wherever.”

“True, but you wouldn’t miss your friends, or your Aunt Melissa?”
“Could Aunt Melissa come too?”

“No, sweetheart her home is here.”

“Well she could visit, and I think Ty really deserves a shot Mom. And so do you.”

Emily smiled to keep from tearing up, “Thank you for saying that baby, and I will think very hard about it okay. But you really need to get to bed now, it’s very late.”

“Okay, I love you,” he says and gives her a hug.

“I love you too sweetie, always. Goodnight.”

Liam went back upstairs, and Emily turned back to Austin, “That’s more than he usually says in a day.”

“He is a great kid, Emily.”

“Thank you.”

“And he’s right; you deserve a chance to show the world that you are still kicking.”

“Why do you care so much? If anything you should be irate that Sasha chose me over you.”

“Well, first of all that isn’t my style. I’m really a good guy when it comes down to it. And secondly, I have always cared about you Emily, one way or another. You and I were kind of a secret pair back in the day, weren’t we?”

“You did always seem to have my back. In fact you’re one of the only people I can look back on and say that I never thought badly of you. My own mother doesn’t even get that honor.”

“You don’t talk to her do you, or your brother?”
“They both decided long ago that it wasn’t in their best interest to support me. I never argued, I just moved on. Melissa has been much more of a mother to me then my own ever was. Sometimes I felt more like her mother.”

“I’m sorry. But the fact of the matter is Emily that I care about you, and I want what’s best for you, whether you understand that or not. Do you?”

“I’m beginning to,” Emily replies.

And, she means it. For the rest of the night they exchange old stories, laugh until they cry, and when Austin kisses her goodnight Emily doesn’t stop him. As she closes the door to his promises that he’ll return the following day to do a little more convincing, she can’t help but think that he won’t have to do much more to really convince her. She could see herself now standing inside the Rock helping young gymnasts, sticking it to every person who ever thought she wouldn’t amount to something. She saw it all clear as crystal, and she liked what she saw.


KAYLIE

“Kaylie! Kaylie, is it true? Is Brainwashed by Boulder really over?”

Kaylie Cruz pushed her way through the mob of reporters and cameras, remembering a time when it felt good to be the center of attention. How naïve she had been. Trailing behind her were the people that had become her entourage in the last few months since Damon had deserted her: her manager Paula Patton, best friend Kyle Everhart, his sister Krisha, and in her handbag as always, was her chocolate miniature pincher Petunia. Since Damon had left they had been her constant support system.

It had been a long while before the Japanese press caught wind of Damon’s departure. She had gotten close to three months of peace before someone from the states had sent in a few photos of Damon playing a gig with some other guy in Nashville to a Japanese tabloid. After that it had been like all hell had broken loose, and Kaylie needed out. Finally she had decided to take a nice trip to Rio de Jainero. If Damon could get out then so could she.

“God, could the paps be out in fuller force? They should be happy you and Damon are done. He was just holding you back, Kay,” Krisha said between pops of bubble gum. She wasn’t much but at least she was loyal.

“Thanks Krish, I think you’re right,” Kaylie replies, hoping it will please her, and maybe keep her quiet. She loved Kyle dearly, and he had been the one constant in her life for a very long time, but Krisha, well she was a different story. She was a fame monger, and Kaylie knew it, but she was Kyle’s little sister so she stayed around.

In all honesty Kaylie didn’t know what to make of her break from Damon. She knew she still loved him, but would that ever be enough for her to let him back into her life. Wasn’t it easier just to live a solitary life, no one there to lose, and no way to get hurt?

Kaylie and her entourage boarded a one way jetliner to Rio, and settled into their seats, hoping for an easy take off. As the other passengers boarded Kaylie pulled out her phone to turn it off. There were six new voicemails from her father, but she couldn’t stand to try and listen to them. They would just be more pleas for her to come home to Boulder, and Kaylie knew she couldn’t do it. She had listened to one earlier that day, hoping she would be strong enough to deal with whatever her father had to say. But, when she put the phone to her ear, it was not her father that spoke:

Hija, her mother had whispered, Kaylie, I miss you so much. I know your father has told you that I’m not in the best shape these days, but I don’t want you, for even a minute to stop chasing your dreams. They’re too precious to be wasted on a woman with so little left in her. Live your life hija, to the fullest, okay? Do it for me. I love you my sweet girl. Do not forget.


Kaylie could feel tears welling up in her eyes as she thought of her mother and all the times they had shared. It was her mother who had first taught her to sing, to dance, to love music, and now she could be gone. Her mother could be dead and she wouldn’t even bother to find out if her suspicions were right.

“Kyle am I a coward?” she asked her blonde friend.

“Oh, sweetie of course you aren’t. Why would you say that?”

She shrugged.

“Kaylie Cruz, you are a fierce, wondrous woman and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!”

She smiled, “Thanks Ky, you’re sweet.”

He squeezed her hand and went back to flipping pages in his Harper’s Bazaar, carefree as ever. She envied him.

When the stewardess came around with dinner Kaylie shook her head politely and told her that she wasn’t hungry. In truth Kaylie felt empty, but not the kind of empty that food could fill. She hadn’t felt quite this horrible since Maeve’s death, and the thought of that frightened her. There had been some drastic fluctuations in her weight lately, and Kaylie knew that the monster was back to fight another round with her. Just like the first time, Kaylie was letting the monster win, and she could care less. Unlike the first time there was no Lauren or Sasha or Austin looking out for her and noticing the signs. She was fading away and no one was even aware of it.

If she wasn’t going to eat then she might as well sleep. She pulled Petunia out of her carry on and placed the miniature dog onto her lap, who then turned around a few times before curling into a ball. Before long the dog was snoring, and Kaylie was too. Her sleep was restless. She kept dreaming up people from her past. There was Lauren telling her what a coward she truly is, that Kyle is a complete dunce, she shouldn’t take what he says seriously. Then Emily convincing her that she is worth so much more than she is giving herself credit for, leave it to Emily to make her feel worse by trying to make her feel better. And then there was Sasha, who didn’t say anything, he just stood there, silent and disapproving, and his silence was worse than anything anyone could ever say.

Kaylie woke with a start, sweating and confused. Where was she? Then she remembered boarding the plane. Rio, I’m going to Argentina. All of a sudden she felt sick.

“Kyle, take Petunia,” she said, handing the dog over in a rather urgent manner.

“Uh, okay,” Kyle replied taking the dog.

Kaylie got out of her seat and began what seemed like a long journey toward the plane’s tiny bathroom. She felt extremely dizzy, unbalanced, and she didn’t think it was just because of the movement of the plane. Kaylie’s foot caught on one of the seats in front of her, or was it her other foot she caught it on? She couldn’t tell the difference, everything was too blurry.

“Kaylie, are you alright?” she heard someone ask. Paula, your manager, she told herself, but the thought was fleeting. It took all of Kaylie’s energy just to focus on standing up straight. Then she was falling fast, and she had no way to catch herself. She cried out and fell flat on her face. She could hear the muffled shouts coming from the people all around her, but none of their words made any sense. What was happening? Before she could get an answer her vision started to get spotty, and she vaguely registered Kyle and Krisha standing over her. All of a sudden she had this impulse to simply close her eyes, to give in. It would be so much simpler that way. So she did. And in the darkness, she thought she had finally found contentment.

Then, she woke up.

DAMON

Damon strummed the final chord of his song, and nodded his head in thanks at the smatter of applause that followed. After so many years of wild arena shows there was something comforting about playing in a next-to-empty bar at three in the morning. There was no pressure, no pizzazz; it was just Damon and his instrument against the world. What more could he want?

“Folks this’ll be my last song, thank you for listening this evening and safe travels home. You know how the old song goes, you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” Damon launches into a cover of “Closing Time”, his favorite song to end the night with. It was cheesy and completely overdone, but for some reason he loved it.

By the end of the song the only two people left in the bar were Damon himself, and the bar’s owner Donnie. Damon turned off his microphone, unplugged his guitar from the amp, put it in its case and slipped his leather jacket on. He grabs the tip jar he keeps at the end of the stage and collects the money inside. There can’t be more than thirty bucks in it, but Damon wasn’t complaining. When he factored in what Donnie was paying him nightly with tips, he realized quickly that he had worked for much, much less.

“Have a good night Don,” Damon says, slapping the bar on his way to the exit.

“Wanna stay for a drink Damon? It’s on the house.”

“Tempting my man, but I’ve got a nice soft bed waiting for me at home, and she is calling my name.”

“Alright, maybe another night then,” Donnie replies.

“You got it.”

Damon stepped out of the heat of the bar and into the cool, spring, Tennessee weather. After close to six hours cramped up on the tiny stage in Donnie’s place the fresh air and the wide open spaces seemed like just about the best things in the world. He walked over to his motorcycle, anxious to get on the road and feel the wind blow the sweat off his brow. Throwing his guitar case over his back he climbed on and started her up.

Damon remembered when he had first gotten the she-devil. Emily’s godmother Melissa had bought the motorcycle for Damon, thinking it would be nice for him to have his own mode of transportation in the hectic city of Las Vegas. He had driven away on it the day he left Emily, a day that still haunted him from time to time. When he was overseas he had it stored at a garage in L.A. Upon returning he sent for her immediately, anxious to ride her again, anxious to feel free. She didn’t disappoint.

He drove for about fifteen minutes until he came to an old rundown cabin, basically in the middle of nowhere. If one were to survey the property, one might think that the place was deserted. The paint was chipping off the siding, the roof leaked, the garden was completely overgrown, there were boards that creaked in almost every part of the house, but to Damon it was home nonetheless. He liked the space, how there were almost no neighbors for about a three mile radius. It was very liberating, a good feeling to have after being cooped up and depended on by so many people for so long.

Opening the door to the house, Damon wasn’t surprised to find it completely pitch dark inside. It was the middle of the night. But, he was even less surprised to find out that he was the first one home this morning. Razor and Johnny probably wouldn’t get home for another good hour. When they did they will probably have been drinking, and they will most definitely be hungry. There was no use in Damon trying to sleep when his roommates were just going to come home and wake him up again with their five a.m. antics.

Damon sighed and grabbed his guitar. Stumbling out the back door he walks out into what was probably once a corn field, but now is sprouting nothing but weeds. He makes his way past an old wrecked up barn, completely uninhabitable, probably about to collapse at any second and stops when he gets to the truck. He didn’t know why it was there, none of them did. But obviously its previous owner hadn’t wanted it real badly because there it sat in the middle of their backyard, faded blue, no wheels, just the hollowed out carcass of an old Ford truck. It was Damon’s favorite place to play and write and just think about anything and everything.

He climbed up onto the hood of the truck with his instrument, and lay down on the windshield so he could see the stars. Absentmindedly he began strumming his guitar, and slowly but surely his mind wandered to the person he could never seem to stop his mind from wandering to: Kaylie. Where was she? What was she doing? Who was she with? He could invent so many different theories, torture himself with countless what ifs, but he could never find the strength to call her and actually find out. It was as if the part of him that loved Kaylie was broken, unable to let her back in, and too prideful to make the first move.

Razor thought it was pathetic. He constantly caught Damon staring off into space, or strumming his guitar and looking longingly into the distance as though he was pining for some lost love. In a way he was, but that didn’t stop Razor or Johnny from making fun of him for it.

Damon had been extremely surprised that Razor had even offered him a place to live. After all, Damon had stolen his girlfriend and completely ruined their friendship. Those were things not so easily forgiven. But, in all the time Damon had been living with him Razor had never even brought it up, saying the past was in the past and that’s where it should stay. In any case, Razor probably wasn’t angry about Emily anymore, considering about six months after his relationship with her had ended he met Johnny, and his days of dating women had ended then and there. Razor had been out and proud now for over ten years, and while it took Damon a little off guard, in the end he couldn’t have been happier for his old friend.

Johnny on the other hand, was a lot less than Razor deserved. He was a lot more serious about making it big on the country music scene, and was convinced that in order to do so, he had to stay in the closet. Damon had woken up more than a few times to fights between the two of them over the issue, none of them even the least bit civil. Apparently tonight was to be no exception.

Damon started at the sound of the cabin door slamming, bringing him out of his reverie. There were some muffled shouts from inside the house and then he heard, clear as day, “Why didn’t you just do us all a favor then and fuck her Johnny? God damn it!” Razor was outside now, heading for where he knew Damon probably was. He tended to use Damon as a buffer in these situations, or at least as a friendly face to give him courage. Johnny was never one to fight fair.

“Oh, that is rich coming from you Razor.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Why didn’t I just do her? Why don’t you just go do him? I see how you look at him. It’s not a secret sweetheart.

“Shut up, Johnny, and quit trying to make this about me when it isn’t!”

“What is this about precisely, me dancing with some girl? Come on baby, you know I have to keep up appearances. She didn’t mean anything.”

“That’s it exactly, Johnny. I can’t watch you ‘keep up appearances’ anymore. It hurts. I watched you tonight. You—“ Razor’s voice broke, “You touched that girl in ways that should be reserved for the person that you love. Ways that should be reserved for me, and I can’t watch that shit anymore.”

“What do you want me to do, Ray? I’ll do anything, tell me what to do.”

Razor scoffs, “You should know what to do Johnny, I shouldn’t need to tell you.”

“Come on—“

“I want you to stop lying to yourself! You are gay, John. Why is that so hard to deal with? I’m proud of it! I’d yell it from the rooftops if I could! I’d tell everyone how much I love you, and how I really don’t give a rat’s ass what anyone else thinks about it. But you, you are content to keep it all hidden, even from yourself.”

“You know why I have to do it. It’s not what I want, but have you ever met a gay country singer?”

Damon turned to look at them then. They were only a few feet away from him now, and Damon could see Razor’s face in the moonlight. He looked like the fight had completely been taken out of him. In that moment Damon really felt for him. He knew what it was to know someone for so long, and be so disappointed in the person they have become.

“So be the first one, John. Don’t be ashamed of us,” Razor says, taking his boyfriend’s hands.

“Razor, this is important to me.”

“And I’m not?”

“I didn’t say that, it’s just—“

“No, I’ve heard enough Johnny, enough for a lifetime, and I’m telling you I can’t do this anymore! This is a fight we’ve had way too many times. If you can’t swear that it’s going to be me and only me, twenty-four seven, then I think you should go.”

“Go? Go where?”

“Anywhere, but I… I can’t have you here anymore if this is going to be our life. I’ve wasted nine good years not being truly loved by you, and damn me to hell if I waste one more.”

“Ray, baby, I love you, what are you talking about?” Johnny tried to take Razor’s face in his hands but Razor pulled back.

“If you loved me, you would have danced with me tonight, not some two-bit hussy in tacky cowboy boots. You would have told her that you are in a committed relationship with your bass player and that you needed to get back up and play soon. Then you would have walked over and planted a big, fat one on me, just because you can. But, you didn’t. You squeezed her ass instead of mine, so now I’m going solo, Johnny, and you have no one to blame but yourself.”

Johnny stood there for a moment, silent, staring into Razor’s eyes, probably wondering if this was all a bad dream. Damon didn’t like him much, and he knew Razor was doing the right thing, but he also knew Johnny really did love Razor, and that throwing away a nearly ten year relationship was extremely hard for anyone, regardless of the situation. But, Razor stayed strong and poised in that moment, never letting Johnny see anything but the decided look on his face.

Johnny nodded then, and said, “Fine, if that’s the way you want it, I’ll go pack my things. Give me a half hour before you come in, huh? I could use the space.”

Razor nodded in reply, and Johnny walked off.

When Johnny disappeared into the house Razor stared after him, probably wondering if he did the right thing.

“Hey Ray,” Damon says, breaking the silence.

“Yeah, Damon?” Razor replies, his voice wavering.

“I’m proud of you right now. That took… everything. Trust me, I know. It feels like your world is falling apart right now, but tomorrow and every day after this you’re going to wake up, and every day it’s going to get easier, I promise.”

Razor nods and then turns to climb up onto the truck next to Damon, “It’s a weird feeling to have, this freedom. I can’t remember the last time—Well actually I can remember, it was losing Emily. That’s the last time I can ever remember feeling this kind of emptiness I’m feeling now.”

Damon shifts uncomfortably.

“Don’t worry man, this, uh… Well this feels way, way worse,” Razor says, and Damon knows that Razor is not going to be able to hold on much longer. When Damon had left Kaylie, he had been able to walk away entirely, even leave the country she was in. It was a clean break. Razor was going to have to walk around the house that he had lived in with Johnny, go to all their old haunts, and even play in his band if he wanted to make any money. Johnny would haunt him everywhere he went, which was much worse than the way Kaylie or even his regrets about Emily haunted Damon.

“Uh, Damon?”

“Yeah, man?”

“For like five minutes can you pretend you aren’t straight as an arrow and hold me?” His voice broke; tears began pouring down his cheeks, his shoulders shaking.

“C’mere,” Damon chuckled pulling Razor toward him. Razor laid his head on Damon’s shoulder, and held on tight to the arm Damon wrapped around his torso. They both looked up at the sky, and Damon resolved to just let Razor cry. There came a point when you just had to let it all out and then build up from nothing. Damon wanted nothing more for his oldest friend than for him to have some kind of peace, so they sat there for what felt like hours, and Damon didn’t mind.

When Razor finally calmed down, he asked Damon, still weepy, about his experience with Kaylie. He asked how long it would take him to feel like there wasn’t a giant space inside of him threatening to grow at every turn and swallow him whole. Damon responded first by telling him he should start writing songs about everything he was feeling, because this time in his life was prime for songwriting. Razor laughed, and Damon considered that a small victory.

“But I have to honest,” Damon told him, “It never really goes away. A piece of Emily and now a piece of Kaylie are going to be with me for the rest of my life, and in turn they each have a piece of me. That’s the price you pay for giving yourself to someone, the price of love.”

“How do you stop from falling apart completely?”

Damon couldn’t even remember the amount of times he had asked himself that exact same question. He had to think very hard before coming up with a good answer, “You take every day at face value, you work hard and you throw yourself into the things you love. One day you’ll realize it doesn’t hurt to think about that person anymore. Then you’ll thank them for the lessons they taught you, and you’ll carry that piece of them around with pride, hoping they feel the same when they think of you.”

“So you think I’ll get there?”

“I know you will, man! We’ll get there together, because God knows I’m not even close.”

“You still think about her?”

“Every single day.”

“God, we’re depressing,” Razor deadpans.

Damon snickers, “You ready to go in? The sun is coming up, and I think I might pass out here if I don’t go lay down.”

“You go. I think some time to myself is in order.”

“Want me to leave Susie with you?” Damon asks, referring to his guitar. “She’s a good listener.”

“Yeah, sure. I might strum her for a bit while I contemplate my future.”

“Good idea. Hang in there dude.”

“Damon?”

“Yeah,” Damon says swinging around to face his friend again.

“I can’t play with him anymore. I have to quit the band.”

Damon sighs, “If you want I can talk to Donnie, see if he doesn’t mind taking on another act, or maybe he’ll split my pay in half and we can play together. It’s been a while since I’ve really, truly collaborated with anyone, might be nice.”

“That would be… incredible, actually. I’ve got some material stored away. Maybe we could make a go of it, like the old days.”

Damon grimaces, “Hopefully a little better than the old days.”

Razor laughs, “Touché. And Damon, thanks for being here. I don’t think I could have done any of this without your example or your words of wisdom.”

“Don’t mention it. After everything I’ve put you through, I’m happy to help.”

“You know I don’t hold any of that against you,” Razor says after a short pause. “Everything that happened between you and me and Emily, it was a lifetime ago. I was never really that crazy about her to begin with, for obvious reasons. But she was crazy about you, and I wanted that. That’s why I was so angry. I saw how she looked at you, and I wanted to be that person for someone. That’s all it was. So quit bringing it up like you owe me something. At this point it’s been water under the bridge for quite awhile.”

Damon didn’t know what to say.

“Go to bed, Damon,” Razor says, saving him from an awkward reply. “We have a lot of music to make in the… early afternoon.”

“’Night, Razor.”

“’Night.”

Damon walked back to the cabin, surprised he could still walk at all. It was past six in the morning, and he had been awake for almost twenty-four hours now. The events of the last few hours weighed on his mind heavily, but that didn’t stop him from falling into bed, utterly exhausted. Within minutes he was asleep, dreaming of airplanes and uneven bars.


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