“That’s not how a relationship works, Preston. Look, I know I’m no expert in this area, but I know that in a relationship, you should want to be there for the person you’re with; you want to go places and do things with them, not hide them away from the world because you’re scared.”
Marshall runs his hands along his head, his fingers skimming through his short brown hair. I hate that I’m the reason for his frustration tonight, but I understand why he’s upset.
We left the bar an hour ago, and I’ll admit, I hate that I took the coward’s way out tonight. We had plans to meet up with Marsh’s friends, his family, tonight, and officially come out as a couple.
However, I chickened out on my way to the Eagle’s Nest. After another hour of back and forth in my head, I went….Only as Clark and not Preston.
All of Marshall’s friends, the group he considers a close knit family, I know. I’ve worked with a majority of them over the past two years, but being military, they’ve only known me by my last name. I’ve been lucky that they haven’t connected the dots and put two and two together, realizing that Marshall’s ‘Preston’ is their friend, Clark.
“I spent the past two years thinking you were shy about being gay. I didn’t think you were ashamed of it.”
I start to speak but he holds his hand up in the air, stopping me from getting a word out.
“Don’t try to deny it. If you’re scared to come out to your coworkers, that’s one thing, but you don’t want to come out to anyone. I don’t know if your family rejected you when you told them you’re gay, and you’re holding onto that or what. But it seems like you think everyone will do that to you, without even giving them a chance to know the real you.” He shakes his head, and breaks my heart with his next words. “I don’t even know if I know the real you.”
The sadness on his face is enough to make me wish I would have manned the fuck up and came out tonight.
If only we could go back…
“Of course you do, Marsh…”
“Do I? One minute, I see one side of you and the next, I see someone completely different. If you’re gay, then be gay. I’m not asking you to plaster rainbows all over your car or wave a Pride flag around everywhere you go, I’m just asking you to be fucking real. You can’t be gay here in the privacy of these four walls with me, then straight in the eyes of everyone else. It’s not fair to me and it’s not fair to yourself.”
I know he’s right, but my primal instinct is to protect my lifestyle by hiding it.
“I don’t act straight in front of everyone else. I just don’t flaunt my sexuality.”
He rolls his eyes at my lame attempt to defend my behavior.
“But you see, that’s where you’re wrong. When you’ve been working with people for this long and they still don’t know if you’re gay or straight, that’s when you know you’re hiding it.”
He shakes his head again and we’re both silent, contemplating what to say next, where to go from here.
He finally stops pacing the length of the couch and takes a seat beside me. Well, on the other side of the couch actually. With his elbows resting on his knees and his head in his hands, he delivers another blow I wasn’t expecting.
“Look, I’m too damn old to play this shit. You wanna be with me? Now’s the time to prove it. We have a family dinner coming up in a week, it’s way past time for you to meet my friends.”
“Marshall, I don’t know.”
He looks at me with a harsh glare that silences my plea in an instant.
“I do. I hate to be the one to dictate shit like this, but I’m done. If you still, at this point, can’t come out to the people who mean the most to me, then we don’t need to waste anymore of each other’s time.”
“No, I need some space and you need some time to think, Preston. I know you already have all the details for the dinner. You, or should I say Clark, were already invited. I guess it’s up to you who you decide to be that night.”
With that said, he walks over to the front door and opens it, waiting for me to take the hint and leave.
Unsure what to say or do at this point to make anything better, I quietly walk out with my head down, too afraid to see the anger and disappointment in his eyes.
Closing the door behind Preston feels so…wrong and final. I don’t know if I did the right thing or not.
Scratch that, I hate what I did tonight. I treated him like shit all night, then gave him an ultimatum.
Who the fuck does that?
This asshole right here, apparently.
I sit on my now empty couch and consider the best way to get a hold on this mess. I hate not being in control of a situation. Any situation. I’m a control freak to the max. And this unsettled feeling is already eating a hole in me.
Calli, my calico cat, sits in Preston’s vacated seat, glaring at me. She’s only been around a few short weeks, but she already runs this house. And judging by her intense glare, she’s not happy I sent Preston away tonight; I swear she likes him more than me.
Refusing to backtrack now, I do the best thing I know to do; head into my kitchen, open my liquor cabinet, and pull out a bottle of Hennessy. Foregoing the glass, I sit on my counter and take swigs from the bottle.
As much as I want to fix this, I know I can’t. Pushing Preston into a take-it-or-leave-it deal wasn’t the right way for me to handle our relationship, but something needed to happen. I’m ready to snap from all of my frustration at the dodgy persona I’ve acquired to keep this ridiculous secret.
I take another long pull of the amber liquor and relish in the bitterness as it courses down my throat.
My friends would accept Preston without a second thought. They already do, he just won’t give them the opportunity to see it for himself.
The burn of the alcohol does nothing to wash away the guilt I feel after that fight, nor does it blur the memory of Preston’s crushed face and sagging shoulders as he passed me when I kicked him out of my house.
I bring the bottle to my lips again for another long drink and slide off the counter. With the bottle in hand, I head to my room.
If nothing else, maybe I’ll knock out shortly.
I can only hope Preston finds the resolution to our problem by daylight. If not, this is going to be one shitty week.
One week later
Here we fucking go….
Although I’ve acted like my normal self, cool and fun loving, my insides have been crawling. There are so many ways this night could go. I’ve confided in my friends, no, my family, over the past two years. While I never told too many details of mine and Preston’s relationship, I vented out of frustration at his lack of commitment and other issues I’ve struggled with.What if everyone hates Preston because of the things we’ve gone through?What if they’re upset by our secrecy?Maybe I didn’t think this through logically….
While part of me is buzzing with anticipation on how we, as a couple, will be accepted, the other part of me is overjoyed at the fact that he’s on his way here.
My phone vibrates with his incoming text just as I exit my truck.
Preston: 3 minutes away from Tessa’s.
Truth is, I stalled as long as possible before loading up and driving over here alone. I was paranoid that after my insistence a week ago, our relationship was over.
I chose to not respond to him, instead giving him a bit of his own medicine.
I don’t need anyone to suspect something big is about to be revealed tonight, just out of my fear that it may not happen if Preston decides to back out, yet again.
With my phone tucked back into my jeans pocket, I mentally prepare myself. With my facade firmly in place, I make my way into the house without knocking.
I’m met with a flurry of excitement.
“What’d I miss?!” I call out to the room.
Everyone turns at my question, eyes immediately scanning to see if Preston is with me. Once again, my nerves spike at the possibility of him not coming through tonight, but I won’t let that show, not now.
“So, is someone going to tell me what you were all celebrating?” I ask to pull the attention and unasked questions out of the forefront of everyone’s minds.
“I’m pregnant,” Jo says with a shy smile.
“You’re shittin’ me?”
“Nope, it’s for real,” her husband, J.C., says.
“Holy shit! Congrats, you two!” I pull them both in for hugs while everyone else goes back to their own conversations. This is huge. After all of the hell J.C. and Jo have been through in the past year, this is some very well deserved good news.
Jo has slight tears in her eyes as we talk about her pregnancy and how excited her mom would be for the two of them.
“So,” Reed interrupts, “What happened with the guy?”
I feel another buzz of a text from my phone in my pocket and without looking, I know who it’s from.
I shrug my shoulders and try like hell to fight my smile from appearing, knowing he must be here. Before I can say anything to Reed, the front door opens again and in he steps.
“There he is, the man of the hour.” My eyes stay focused on Preston, but I know there are some confused looks throughout the room. “We were just discussing you, Preston.”
Preston’s eyebrows furrow together and a sly grins breaks out across my face.
Hope he was ready to be outed, because I was sick of waiting.
“What?!” a couple voices ring out.
“When did this happen?” another one asks.
“You mean Clark is Preston?” Pretty sure that one was J.C.’s southern drawl.
I don’t answer, instead keeping my focus on Preston, who’s still standing just inside the front door, looking as like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.
He physically shakes his head, as if shaking away the blur of emotions I’m sure are coursing through his mind, and plasters on a smile.
“Jeez Marsh, so much for mellow.”
I motion him to come stand next to me. Although I can still sense his hesitancy, it doesn’t deter him; he joins the group.
“So, wait a minute, I’m really curious to know just how this happened?” Jo says, motioning with a finger between Preston and I.
Leave it to Jo to voice what everyone is thinking.
I know everyone wants the details of Preston and my relationship, but I have to show him the respect he needs and give him adequate time to accept all of this.
Something I should have done before making that stupid ultimatum last week.
We both look at one another, silently trying to determine how much detail is needed tonight.
This is brand new for all of us, including Preston and I, and the last thing I want to do is overwhelm him by airing all of our dirty laundry out for everyone to dissect.
“Look,” I speak up. “I know everyone’s curious how this happened, and I promise, you’ll all get the scoop soon, but for now, can Preston and I have a little time to come to terms with everything first?”
A round of nods and affirmations are heard and seen.
That’s the thing about my family. While we’re all nosy as hell towards one another’s personal lives, we’re also understanding and respectful of each other’s space.
I think even before telling anyone how big of a leap this is for Preston, they all have an idea already, and no one wants to invoke more nerves or worries for him.