he said again, his voice shaking in its intensity. “If one of us leaves, Calden,
it’s not going to be me. I’ll get mad at you, sure. Some things will be hard to
forgive probably. But you’re acting like this is all new to me. Like you
somehow tricked me into loving you and expect me to change my mind when I
realize what you’re like. Don’t you see? I
what you’re like. I know
you’re an impossible, arrogant, rude man, with no patience whatsoever for most
lips twitched toward a smile. “There should be a ‘brilliant surgeon’ somewhere
hand slackened on Calden’s shoulder before sliding up to cup his cheek.
we definitely can’t forget that,” he said with a small smile of his own. “Or
the fact that you used my key card to get access to the hospital opiates and
almost killed yourself, and I forgave you for it. There’s only one thing I
wouldn’t forgive, Calden. I could never forgive you if you did it for real.”
his fingers, Calden’s jaw tensed, then relaxed again.
was just words,” he said in a gruff voice. “I was just upset. I wouldn’t have
nodded. “I know. But as far as words go, I’m not sure you could have picked
do better,” Calden said, his hand rising to touch his own chest and the words
don’t have to. All I need is for you to be yourself.”
that, he leaned down and pressed his lips to Calden’s, drawing back after a few
seconds when Calden tried to deepen the kiss.
also need you to get some sleep,” he said as sternly as he could manage. “And
don’t bother saying you’re not tired. You got into bed without arguing. I know
what that means.”
rolled his eyes at him. Back to normal, then.
you coming to bed?” Calden asked, and from his tone sleep was the last thing on
going to take a shower first.”
protests didn’t deter Eli, and he left the room to clean up for the night. By
the time he came back, Calden was snoring quietly. Eli didn’t let himself be
disappointed. After three days, Calden needed the sleep, even if he didn’t like
to admit it. Before joining him in bed, Eli went to the office to find a
permanent marker. It was awkward to write on himself, but he managed well
enough. They’d have to do something about that obnoxious third line on Calden’s
chest, but until then…
better or Eli will leave you
new tattoo said.
reply was and always would be two simple words.
is just about finished taking a thorough inventory of his memory palace when someone
rings the doorbell. He frowns, wondering who it could be. He never gets
visitors. Only Eli comes by—or rather, only Eli used to come by. He lives here
now, a fact that is still new to Calden. Maybe it’s him. He said he wouldn’t be
long, clearly hesitant about leaving Calden alone to drop by the hospital. He
might have forgotten to take the keys.
good that he is back. Calden has a dozen questions to ask him about his illness,
his time in the hospital, and even the afternoon when it all started. Eli
looked rather reluctant to talk about that when Calden woke up, as though the
topic were painful. Why it would be painful to him when Calden is the one
afflicted is rather baffling. Unless…
if Calden went through with that horrendous plan of his and told Eli? What if
it’s part of what he can’t remember?
he didn’t. He couldn’t have. He was too sick, he couldn’t have gone through
with it. Unless he was delirious and didn’t know what he was doing. But if
that’s the case, what did Eli think? He’s here rather than with his husband,
but he didn’t even give a hint that he knows about Calden’s feelings. It’s all
very confusing. And frustrating. Calden doesn’t like not understanding things.
He doesn’t like missing so many parts of a puzzle that he can’t see the broad
picture. He also doesn’t like that wary gleam he saw in Eli’s eyes.
he goes to open the front door, he tries to decide which question to ask first.
He forgets all about it when he opens the door and it’s not Eli standing there.
jerks back, suddenly hyperaware that he’s wearing nothing more than pajamas and
a dressing gown. If it were anyone else, he wouldn’t care. But this is not just
anyone. It’s the man who claimed Eli as his while Calden was too busy being
scared. The man who told Calden, two weeks before the wedding, “You may be his
best friend and his best man, but I’m going to be his husband. Don’t forget
that.” The man Eli apparently left behind to care for Calden.
Bryce says coolly. “Can I come in?”
urge to refuse him entry is overwhelming, but a tiny bit of curiosity stops
Calden. He steps aside, then leads the way to the living room, gesturing
a seat. I’ll be right back.”
waiting for a reply, he hurries upstairs to his bedroom, dropping the dressing
gown and pajamas to the floor. He puts on a full suit and even slides on shoes.
Checking himself in the mirror, he combs his hair with his fingertips before deciding
it’s good enough. Fingers on the door handle, he takes a deep breath and goes back
walks into the living room, immediately annoyed when he sees that Bryce is
sitting in the armchair Eli brought with him when he moved in. Calden can’t
suppress the feeling that Bryce is intruding. He sits across from him, finally greeting
him with a slight nod and a single word.
circles under his eyes make him appear older and darken his gaze as he observes
All better, I see.”
gives Bryce a tight smile, the one he usually reserves for Petters when he says
something particularly stupid.
of course you
. Encephalitis and its effects can be observed by the
way a person dresses. How clever of you to notice. Your talents are wasted as
an ambulance driver.”
flash of anger twists Bryce’s features.
the act. Maybe you can fool Eli—”
annoyance growing deeper, Calden interrupts him. “Whether you believe me ill or
not is none of my concern,” he says sharply.
actually laughs at that, a dry, angry bark of laughter.
don’t look ill. You don’t sound ill, either. You’re just you. You certainly
didn’t forget how to be rude. Or how to manipulate Eli.”
Calden considers defining anterograde amnesia for him and pointing out that
he’s lost twenty-five days so far but remembers just about every moment of the three-and-a-half
decades before that. What purpose would it serve, though? Bryce made up his
mind already. He can’t see the damage, so for him it doesn’t exist. Nothing Calden
says is going to change that. Bryce decided Calden was bad news the moment they
met months ago—and in truth, Calden decided the same thing about him.
are you here?” he asks.
shifts in his seat, pulling a thick envelope he’d wedged against the side of
the armchair. He shows it to Calden before setting it on the table next to him,
on top of a pile of mail Calden brought in earlier.
came to give this to Eli,” he says, frowning at the mail. “But I see I could
have just sent it through the post. He already gets his mail here. He really
didn’t lose any time.”
doesn’t reply. The timeline of events is a little unclear in his mind, and he’s
not quite sure how long Eli has been living with him.
wish he could see you the same way the rest of us do,” Bryce says, his cold
eyes back to Calden. “Just because you saved his arm, he acts like you can do
no wrong. And now this. Playing him, playing on his guilt again when he can’t
you. Faking a life-changing illness so he’ll take care of you.”
wrong,” Calden says, but doesn’t bother listing all the ways in which Bryce is
mistaken, because something he said is suddenly explaining a lot about Eli.
Guilt? Is that really Eli’s motivation here? He’s a doctor. He has to know there
was nothing he could do. Doesn’t he?
you even stop for a second to think he had a home and a husband?” Bryce asks,
and now he sounds tired and sad. “Did
stop and think about that
before he agreed to all this?”
Calden has no answer for him. He doesn’t remember asking or Eli saying yes.
course not,” Bryce says as he stands. “I don’t know why I bothered asking.
Well, congratulations. I hope you’ll be very happy together. Until he realizes
you’re a fraud and you break his heart again.”
out without a word of goodbye, leaving Calden confused beyond words. He doesn’t
care one bit that Bryce thinks he’s faking. If he wants to willfully be blind,
it’s his issue, not Calden’s. But what on Earth does he mean by ‘break his
heart again’? And the guilt thing…
then, Calden’s phone beeps. He picks it up from the coffee table and glances at
the text message. Eli’s timing is rather astounding.
done here. Everything all right?
, Calden sends for all reply.
is a stupid word, and if Eli was here, he’d realize Calden is anything but. Or
maybe he can sense something through that one-word reply because a new message
soon comes in.
won’t be long.
clenches his hand over the phone, his eyes drifting to the envelope Bryce left
behind. Divorce papers. It has to be. Should he tell Eli Bryce was here?
That’s a can of worms Calden doesn’t care to open, especially when he’s still
thinking about Bryce’s parting words.
does Bryce believe Eli and Calden are together in that way? Why did Eli move
in, for that matter? What is Calden missing here? Wouldn’t Eli have told him if
something had happened to bring them closer?
as the prospect is, Calden can only think of one person who might be able to
answer—one person other than Eli, and Eli already proved he doesn’t care to
talk about it. Calden considers texting, but texts can be ignored while a call
won’t be. He dials, and the phone only rings once before Lana answers.
Are you all right?”
worry in her voice is enough to cause Calden to grimace. He doesn’t reply and
asks instead, “Were you there when arrangements were made about my care at
a beat, Lana replies warily. “Was I there when Eli agreed to live with you? Of
course I was. Why? What happened? Did he change his mind?”
not occurred to Calden until this moment that Eli might change his mind, and
suddenly it’s obvious that he will, sooner or later. Why wouldn’t he? What
satisfaction can he find in this sort of life?
did he say when he agreed?” Calden asks, ignoring Lana’s question. “
did he agree? Did you twist his arm? Did you say something that—”
was little more than a witness,” Lana cuts in with a little huff. “It was your
decision to ask him, and I had nothing to do with it. As a matter of fact, I
suggested other alternatives which you rejected.”
what did he
?” Calden insists.
don’t know why you’re asking me rather than him. He said ‘Of course.’ That was
just about it. Now is there anything else, Calden? We’re expecting an attack in
a few hours and I—”
disconnects the call with a raging press of his thumb.
the hell does that mean? It doesn’t explain anything at all. If anything, it
confirms what Bryce suspected—that he didn’t factor into Eli’s decision. But
why not? Surely, Eli should have thought of Bryce. Eli married him, after all.
Or was the marriage already over at that point? Calden had noticed a few odd things
since their wedding, but he thought it’d take longer. And besides, they were
seeing a therapist together. Eli hadn’t mentioned it, but Calden heard a rumor.
So why ‘of course’?
still no closer to finding an answer when Eli returns.
see you got dressed,” he says as soon as he walks into the living room. “Are we
Does it mean something? Well, it certainly means that Eli thinks Calden
shouldn’t go anywhere on his own, but apart from that?
I just… felt like getting out of my pajamas.”
smiles, like getting dressed is something worth being happy about.
since you are dressed, maybe we could go out for a walk.” Picking up the mail
on the table, he browses through the envelopes. “You haven’t been out of the house
since you came home from the hospital,” he says absently, setting down most of
the mail to open the thick envelope on top. “It’ll do you good to get some
doesn’t reply and instead watches as Eli’s eyebrows climb up his forehead when
he starts reading. Soon, he’s frowning, his lips pressed together in a thin
line, his hands shaking. Upset.
because of divorce papers he surely had an inkling he’d be given sooner or
later, seeing how he moved out of his apartment.
he believe he could work things out with Bryce regardless of where he lived?
why Lana’s first thought was that Eli had changed his mind about living with Calden?
ache is growing in Calden’s chest, making it a little hard to breathe or even
to answer when Eli shoves the papers back in the envelope and asks, a little
more sharply than before, “So? Fresh air?”
it’s clear he has no desire to go for a walk with Calden.
Calden mutters. “I’m tired. I’ll go to bed now.”
might be the worst lie he’s ever uttered for Eli’s benefit, but Eli, as always,
doesn’t notice. He just nods absently, his attention still on the envelope Bryce
delivered. It’s doubtful he even notices when Calden stands and leaves the
room. In his bedroom, Calden leans back against the door and closes his eyes.
is wrong if he thinks Eli might see more in Calden than a friend. Calden would
be wrong to let himself hope. And Calden is going to have to relearn that
painful truth every time he wakes up for the rest of his life.
a long, long time he considers the bottle of sleeping pills on his night table,
wondering how many would be too many. When he finally goes to sleep, it’s
without their help. He doesn’t want to add to Eli’s guilt.