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3ruri

 

TITLE: Strong For You

RATING: +18

STATUS: Completed

WORD COUNT: 29596


SYNOPSIS: Happily married Lane Dawson woke up one day and found out that his husband for six years had filed for a divorce. Despite the lack of reasoning from Theo, Lane agreed to divorce and they went their  separate ways. But how do two people who were clearly in love with each other stay away from one another for long? Recent events always dumped them onto each other's path and evidence from the past and present reminded Lane why Theo was the one and only love of his life. Will he be strong enough to fight Theo's resistance and resolve their issues?

DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of authors' imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, whether living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. The use of brand names are strictly for creativity purposes without any intentions to defame, promote or manipulate and the credits are respectively owned by said brand names.

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

Spoiler

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

I WOKE UP to the worst morning of my life. It started when I stretched my hand to the opposite side of the bed where my husband normally slept and found it empty and even worse than that, cold which could only meant Theo - my husband - had not been in bed with me for I didn’t know how many hours. 

 

After he came back from work last evening, like a routine, we had dinner together. Last night's menu was baked cod fish in lemon butter sauce, herb rice and a side of grilled asparagus. It tasted as good as I hoped it would be since a chef I am not, but I insisted on making dinner for the two of us when we were home even though we have helpers around the house during the day. 

 

I owned a tiny leather accessories shop in downtown Chicago where I handmade pieces of jewelry, mostly bracelets and necklaces out of leather cords and beads, among others, so when I closed shop at five, I would be home before six and dinner would be served by the time Theo reached home at seven. It was a schedule that I had followed since I moved in to live with Theo and continued in the six years we’d been married. Back then, cooking was how I wanted to show Theo how I loved him and appreciated him, and also because I loved cooking even though I wasn’t very good at the time. Because Theo always eats everything I cooked, I tried very hard to be better at it, even taking up classes on the weekends. He told me he didn’t care whether I could boil water properly or not - he could hire a cook for me or we could just dine out everyday for all he cared - but cooking gave me a domestic feeling, and god knew I’m a domestic type through and through. 

 

            I noticed that Theo didn’t talk much during dinner last night. He took small sips of wine between food, chewing and swallowing slowly, pushing around the flaky fish in its sauce and stabbing the asparagus like it had offended him just by being on the plate. It worried me when he turned down dessert, excusing himself to his office to catch up on work. I didn’t think too much about it as it was normal for Theo to be buried in work. 

 

At thirty-five, which he just turned earlier this month, Theo was the CEO and the President of a pharmaceutical company that had been in his family for a long time. His father had retired last year and decided with all the training and credentials Theo honed, he was ready to take over after him. There was hardly any time left for anything else - vacations cut short, holidays were interrupted by international conference calls, disturbed intimate times - he was a busy man. The fact that he came home on time for dinner almost every day was more than I could ask of him. 

 

            So imagine the dread I felt when I went downstairs after my morning routine in the bathroom that lasted for more or less half an hour, ready to brew a cup of coffee but instead, found an envelope containing a divorce form on the breakfast counter. A lump formed in my throat when I saw the familiar signature of Theodore Kingsley-Combs at the bottom of the page signifying that he wanted to end our marriage. 

 

I grabbed one of the stools for support, almost knocking the other when my knees felt like it had turned to jelly. About four months before our sixth anniversary and he was divorcing me? He never showed any sign that he no longer wanted me. Our marriage wasn’t perfect - we fought like any normal couples did - but it was my kind of perfect marriage. Theo was the strong, silent type who listened before he made his judgment or decision while I was the domestic and carefree type who had too much love to give. We fitted seamlessly together and if there was any indication that Theo was ever unhappy with our relationship, it never showed. Yet, the set of forms proved otherwise. 

 

            Regardless of the support I sought from the stainless steel and leather wingback-styled high stool, I slid onto the floor, divorce forms in hands. The lump in my throat grew bigger but I refused to cry just yet before I spoke to my husband. I needed to know why. Was he in love with someone else? Was the sex bad? Hell, I refused to believe that. Just two nights ago he practically mauled me in bed having my legs hooked over his arms, him slamming into me over and over, me quivering in pleasure until he finally threw his head back and roared my name as he finished inside me. I knew Theodore loved sex with me. He told me whenever he had the chance, propriety be damned. I can’t remember any surface in our house that hadn’t been the scene of our love-making. With the way our love life went, how could he be divorcing me?

 

Our romance could be called somewhat of a whirlwind. We met on one rainy day in April which sounded like a premise of a cheesy rom-com, where the girl wore something cute like a summer dress or a new pair of shoes that made her legs look longer and everyone in the movie dressed for the right season. I, on the other hand, was wearing one of my old skinny jeans with rips in a few places, a long sleeved tee with a cartoon character printed on the front and a washed out denim jacket that did nothing to protect me from the chills of the weather. 

 

It was entirely my fault because I never checked the weather report. I had given up relying on it because when I did and prepared myself for the onslaught of rain with an umbrella, the sun shone brighter than ever or when I left my scarf at home because the weather broadcast said it was going to be mild, the breeze chilled me to my bones. There I was huddled under the awning of a bookstore after I finished work at the shop that wasn’t yet mine when what seemed like a mere drizzle turned into a downpour as I was making my way to the bus stop. It was only a few metres ahead of me but with so many people already cramping the small space seeking shelter from the cold rain, being under the awning of the bookstore seemed like a better place. 

 

It was only a couple of minutes later that I heard a soft jingle of a bell from the small but chic cafe next to the bookstore where I was standing. My breath caught when I saw a man walking out, looking like he belonged in a fashion magazine rather than out in the rain. Everything about him made my heart thump like I had done summersaults. He was dressed in an expensive suit, Armani - my two best friends, Noah and Kay had taught me to take note of these things - with Italian leather shoes. He looked a little out of place in front of the chic cafe with its cute potted plants and adorable lanterns hanging from the awning but the way he carried himself, calm, confident and brimming with the sensuality of a virile man, blending in wasn’t an issue. 

 

The gorgeous male specimen was tall, around six foot three with broad shoulders and tapered hips, his dark hair carefully styled, thicker on top and shorter on the sides and back. He looked simply mouthwatering. He wasn’t wearing a necktie, so my eyes were drawn to where his exposed neck was, wondering what it would feel like if I ran my tongue over the tanned skin there and sucked on his Adam’s apple. Too bad that we were separated by two feet of rainwater. The distance between us withheld the colors of his eyes from me. 

 

He was talking into his phone, thankfully, or I would be caught with my mouth open and probably drooling. That was when I heard a chuckle from beside me and when I turned the other way, I saw an older lady looking at me with twinkling eyes. “He’s gorgeous, isn’t he,” said the little old lady who must have came out of the bookstore and took shelter under its roof while I was feasting on the hot guy with my eyes. 

 

I sighed. “He is. It’s unfair,” I moaned in defeat. It wasn’t like he would hear us talking in the heavy rain. 

 

The lady, who looked like she was about my grandmother’s age, giggled again like we were two girlfriends talking about our high school crushes. She saw me ogling a guy and the look on her face was of that amused and not contempt like I had seen plastered on my grandmother’s face four years prior, so she was already a friend in my book. 

 

“Oh sweet pea, you’re beautiful too.” 

 

 She took my hand and gave it a soft pat. Her words, spoken with kindness while her wrinkled hands gently holding mine made me teared up a little. I wished my grandmother had treated me like she did. Better yet, I wished she was my grandmother. “Oh pumpkin, tell me what’s wrong?”

 

I took a deep breath. Her genuine concern made me open up. “It’s nothing, really. He’s gorgeous and perfect and I want to climb him like a tree but that’s a very straight looking guy right there and I wished my grandmother could be half as sweet as you,” I blabbered. I did that sometimes and most people had problems catching up with what I was trying to tell them, but Selma, the kind old lady, had no problem keeping up with my woes. 

 

“Honey, sometimes people aren’t what they appear to be. My Joseph, who I had been married to for a very long time was like that too. I always thought he had an eye for my dear friend Charlene, so whenever he came around, I would push Charlene toward him even though I knew he was the one for me.” She had that wonderful dreamy look as she talked about her husband. “But in the end, Joseph walked up to me in front of everyone we knew and said ‘Selma, I want to make you my wife and you will make me a happy man. So say yes.’” 

 

It was amazing that a stranger that I had just met was willingly sharing the story about her beautiful family with little ol’ me. How I wished I could find a man who adored me and wanted to build a family together just like Selma did. It wasn’t impossible these days but sometimes I wondered if the problem was not because I liked men, but more about how people couldn’t love me enough. Clearly I had issues.

 

I glanced to the object of my instant affection occasionally while Selma was relaying her stories. He checked his wristwatch from time to time, a clear sign that he was waiting for someone. I wondered if he was there on a date and had been stood up, but thought better because no one in their right mind would ditch a hotshot like that. 

 

“Oh, that’s my Joseph.” Selma suddenly waved down a car that was coming from the slow traffic. “Are you sure I couldn’t give you a lift, Lane? It doesn’t look like the rain is going to stop soon.” She offered me, like the couple of times she did before. I shook my head, because Selma lived in the opposite way of my apartment. I wouldn’t want her and her husband to be stuck driving in this weather for a long time. 

 

“No, honey. You need to go home with your husband and get your feet warmed up.” I declined.

 

She opened her arms and I fell into her hug. She smelled like citrus mixed with the scent of rain. I wondered if my grandmother ever wore perfumes like her, but since she was already in my past, there was no reason to think about it.

 

“Well then, maybe I would drop by at your workplace and we can go for teas and cakes when the weather is nicer.” 

 

I nodded at her plan, looking forward to it since I had told her about what I do for a living and the place I worked at. I’m dying to hear more about her family stories, since I had none of my own. 

 

I wasn’t going to let her walk in the rain, even though it had slowed down to a little more than a drizzle. When I took off my denim jacket, I caught the man in front of the cafe watching me intently. My body involuntarily shivered which had nothing to do with me taking off my jacket. Since the rain wasn’t as heavy as earlier, I finally saw the colour of his eyes. It was gray like the colour of the sky above us. 

 

It was a great effort to pull my gaze away from him, as intense as it was, but I couldn’t keep Selma there when Joseph had stopped the car too close to the bus lane. I used my jacket to cover our heads as we walked briskly in the direction of the Ford her husband was driving. Once she was tucked safely in the vehicle and waved goodbye at me, Joseph drove away. 

 

I dashed for the bus stop once I saw their car joined the traffic and put my wet jacket back on. Only a couple of people left waiting since the earlier crowd had managed to get on the bus while I was taking cover from the rain in front of the bookstore with my new friend. I turned around to see if the good looking man I had my eyes on were still there, hopefully never taking his eyes off me. No such luck. He was gone.

 

The disappointment was greater than I expected. As weird as I always was, I loved rainy days - the monotonous, dark sky, filled with mysteries...just like the man’s eyes. Realistically, I knew I never had a chance with someone sophisticated and elegant like him. Yet the realization that we would never cross paths again coupled with feeling like a drowned rat made me want to go home and hide under my bed cover. 

 

God, what I would do to look into those stormy gray eyes again. What would it look like filled with desires? What would it look like filled with desires for me?

 

My thoughts were disrupted by a car sounding the horn as it rolled up in front of the bus stop. It was one of those expensive cars I’d seen many times from inside the bus. It was sleek and sexy, definitely cost more than my yearly rental. The two other people at the bus station and I were looking at it, wondering who the driver was waiting for. I was thinking they needed to hurry up before another bus arrived because the car was stopping in the bus lane. Then, the backseat window rolled down and the man I thought I would never see again for the rest of my life leaned over and tilted his head at me. 

 

“Get in,” he said. 

 

I was stunned and probably stood there like an idiot in drenched clothes when he was obviously telling me to get into the comfort of his car. Regardless of how handsome the man was, he was still a stranger to me so obviously I looked terrified as I shook my head at his offer. 

 

“It’s fine, I’m just going to send you home,” he explained. His voice, although deep and husky was gentle as he tried to assure me that I’d be safe with him. 

 

He opened the door from the inside and pushed it wide for me. The thumping that my heart did when I first laid eyes on him started again and even though I always called people in horror movies stupid for entering an abandoned house or did something that would definitely get them killed, my legs moved on its own and I slid into the leather upholstery of his car and shut the door. 

 

“Hi.” The gorgeous guy with gray eyes smiled at me as I literally fell into his arms as his driver drove us away. 

 

“Hi,” I replied lamely. 

 

“I’m Theodore. Theodore Kingsley-Combs. You are?” He asked as I was practically gathered into his arms, not caring that his thousands of dollars suit got wet. 

 

“I’m...wet.” I said, realizing that I didn’t have enough money for his dry cleaning if he ever sent me the bill. “Oh gosh, sorry. I didn’t mean to ruin your suit. I mean, the rain was getting in your car and if I didn’t close the door quickly, it’s gonna be bad. I didn’t mean to jump into your lap, even though I’m dying to--” I clamped my mouth shut at my verbal diarrhea. 

 

I was sure he was going to ask his driver to stop the car and kick me out, but Theo threw his head back and laughed. It was a sexy laugh too. 

 

Once he stopped laughing, he gifted me with his smile again. “Don’t worry about being wet. It's not a bad thing.” He winked at me. I was sure my jaw had dropped to my chest and Theo confirmed it as he put his finger under my chin and lifted it up so my eyes would meet his. “Your name? Unless it really is ‘Wet’?” 

 

I shook my head too animatedly that droplets of rainwater sprinkled around. I blushed as Theo let out another chuckle. 

 

“My name is Lane Dawson,” I finally told him. 

 

“Pretty name.”

 

“Not really what most parents would name their kid. I mean, what does it even mean? Lane as in a car lane?” I prattled. I blamed it on being nervous at how close I was sitting to Theo who still had his arms around me. “I mean, they could name me Peter or Jack or Kevin, but they chose Lane.”

 

“Lane is a very good name. You can trace it back to the medieval times.” Theo assured me. “I prefer Lane than Peter or Jack or Kevin. Someone so beautiful needs a pretty name to match, Lane.”

 

I shivered at the sultry way he said my name. Or was it because he just referred to me as beautiful? Or maybe I was chilled to my bones from the wet clothes and despite the warm interior of Theo’s car and his body heat that I was plastered to, I was still frickin’ cold. 

 

The man took the latter as true, telling me to take off my jacket as he shed his then wrapped me in the most expensive fabric I had ever had on my body. I got a whiff of his cologne, something woody and spicy - like ginger and cardamom, the underlying musk of his manliness with a hint of rain brought out more of his sensuality. I was glad his suit jacket engulfed me. Compared to my tiny, compact body, he was massive with solid muscles that I could make out from the way his crisp white shirt hugged his body. My body reacted like I was my thirteen year-old self who popped a boner after spending half an hour being in a swimming pool with other boys. The tailored jacket hid my crotch from his view but it kind of backfired a little because the tighter I held it around my body, the more aroused I got. 

 

“You really think so?” I asked, trying to calm myself down. The guy was giving me a lift home, there was no reason for me to get overly excited and had certain body parts ‘lifted’ unsolicitedly. 

 

“What? That your name is beautiful and it suits you?” He smiled and stroked the back of his fingers up and down my cold cheek. “Yes.”

 

“I like your name too. It sounds really classy,” was my comeback.

 

“You’ve never heard of me before?” He asked, one eyebrow raised. 

 

I shook my head. “Are you famous?” I asked dumbfoundedly. 

 

I didn’t have a television at home. The only time I was able to watch anything was at work when there was no customer or when I spent time with Noah and Kay and when I did, I didn’t care about watching the news. That could explain why his name didn’t ring a bell. 

 

“No. Not even a little,” he said, grinning. 

 

He leaned back against the backseat and pulled me to his chest, our legs tangled making me almost half sitting on his lap. It was a strange situation to be in since I had just met him and I was already riding in his car without ever telling him my home address. Judging from the view outside, I knew we were nowhere near where I lived. I had no idea where he was taking me but as weird as it was, I felt safe in his arms. Maybe this was how foolish young boys felt before they were lured into a secret sex dungeon and never be seen again. There was only one way to find out.

 

I estimated being in the car with him for more or less thirty-five minutes before we ended up stopping in front of a highrise building. The sky was no longer pouring but it was darker outside than it was normally for the time. Theo got out of the car and held the door for me to follow after him. There was a doorman on standby to greet him at the front door of the building. 

 

For some reason I was nervous. Wrapped up in Theo’s jacket that he lent me, my ripped old jeans were visible. I wasn’t going to be pleased if anyone saw us and thought Theo had picked me up from an alley somewhere. I was a self sufficient young man who was more than able to take care of myself. It didn’t sit well in my guts if someone who saw us thought I was paid to be there. First of all, Theo didn’t need to pay anyone for favors with the way he looked, and secondly, even though some people think Pretty Woman as heart-meltingly romantic, to me it was rather disturbing - not that there was anything wrong for a wealthy man to fall in love with a prostitute. 

 

I was hoping that Theo was maybe a little gay. The fact that he couldn’t seem to take his hands off of me was a good sign. Even as we walked up to the entrance, the doorman greeted him by his hyphenated last name, Theo had his hand under his jacket around my waist, his finger found the skin on my hips and stroked it lightly. No straight guy would clung so possessively onto another guy in front of others if he wasn’t staking his claim.

 

I had no problem if Theo wanted to get a little down and dirty with me tonight. Hooking up wasn’t a strange concept to me although I didn’t do it frequently enough that Noah and Kay seemed to think that I’m pretty much an innocent baby gay. I met with guys in clubs every now and then, hoping maybe one day someone would ask me out for a date instead of taking me to the bathroom in the back for a blowjob or a quickie. Obviously I was looking in the wrong places but it wasn’t like I can walk up to any guy on the street and ask him if he wanted to grab a coffee with me. Most likely I would be grabbed, not in the way I wanted, and tossed in the thrash. 

 

Like I told Selma in our little chat, Theo was very straight looking. Unless he was sitting in a gay bar, there was no way I would approach him. Theo’s body language and his actions so far gave me a beacon of hope, unless I was overthinking and Theo’s intentions were purely innocent. He was hot and I was a hot mess. Why he would even talk to me was an enigma. Not many gay men were appreciative of pretty boy-twinks. I’ve met gays who hated the way I looked and dressed, because my “stereotypical flamboyant” look was giving them a bad name. If most guys weren’t normally bigger than me, I would have argued that I wasn’t flamboyant at all, that I was merely blessed with an androgynous look. Other than that I talked and moved just like a normal person would. I guess being picked on was normal for small guys, gay or not.

 

Assuming Theo was at least bi-curious, if he wanted a piece of me, he’d better treat me with respect. I wasn’t expecting an invitation to meet his mother in the morning, but if what he had in mind was just “Wham! Bam! Thank you, man” then sending me home with a cab fare, I would throw some serious shit in front of him, my size be damned. 

 

In the elevator, I noticed there was only a button for one floor. I looked up at Theo as the door closed after us and the car started to ascend to the top. 

 

“I guess I lied,” he said, giving me what was supposed to be an innocent smile, “I was supposed to take you to your home but since you never told me your address, I took you to mine.”

 

“You didn’t ask.” I raised an eyebrow. 

 

“Did that on purpose.” He grinned. “You know, in case you’d say no if I invited you outright. I figured if we’re already here, I could offer you to warm up in my big shower while I arrange for dinner to be delivered.”

 

“That depends...do you have a bath tub?” 

 

“Of course I do.”

 

“Aromatic oil?”

 

“Nothing fancy like lavender or bergamot, but yes, I have some.”

 

“Can we have sushi? It’s a deal breaker.”

 

“Only the best.”

 

In the end, I never left his top-floor penthouse. The only time I ever returned to my place was to pack up the few things in my possession and notified my landlord that I was terminating my lease. 

 

I introduced Theo to my caretakers, namely Noah and Kay because despite being the same age as I, Noah and Kay worried about me like two mother hens. It was fun to see Kay, who was a half inch shorter than my five foot seven loomed over Theo’s towering height trying to intimidate my new boyfriend. Kay’s mother was Thai. Being half Asian, he knew ways to put the fear into guys who thought they could take advantage of you, not that Theo had any of said intentions. 

 

It was great to see how he got along well with my two best friends, having none who could talk about ten random things at the same time like they did in his own circle of friends. I knew that firsthand because Theo didn’t waste any time introducing me to his friends and family only a few days after we’d met. 

 

I was so scared of their reaction because even though Theo never hid the fact that he was gay from anyone, I was plagued by my own “coming out” history when my family discovered I was gay. 

 

The panic attack came out of nowhere just as we were about to leave the penthouse. Theo had to carry me to his fourteen-thousand dollars custom made leather sofa so I could put my head between my legs and breathe. I knew I was cute, adorable, funny and sometimes sexy, with my dark hair that was almost black, cut in a longish-pixie that looked more masculine on girls than it did on me and cornflower blue eyes, but elegance and myself had never been introduced. Theo had to convince me that his family wasn’t set to eat me for dinner, instead wanted to eat dinner with me. My overactive imagination went on a rampage until I finally met them and they welcomed me with hugs and kisses.

 

That was enough to prove that I could be such a drama queen in the smallest things and as I marched into my husband’s home office on a Saturday morning where I knew he would be, I planned to be the biggest one ever. I had devised a full-on drama of a grand entry as I walked down the hall of our three-story townhouse to where his home office was. As I pushed the door open and was about to start my verbal assault, he looked up, phone against his ear and a finger upon his lips silencing me. I halted automatically.

 

There was something about Theo that when he commanded something from you, even with just a simple gesture will make you shut up and obey. And I, with all of my drama queeniness, was always a sucker of his commanding presence. 

 

Other people - past hookups - had tried to tamp down my penchant for drama, but none had been successful until I met my husband. He never tried to control me or change my very colourful personality, but because he treated me like a person who had rights to do whatever damn thing I wanted to do as long as it didn’t trouble other people, I reciprocated. So there I was waiting at the door while my husband who was trying to divorce me finished up his phone call at eight thirty on a Saturday morning. 

 

“Explain to me why are there divorce papers with your name and signature on top of the breakfast counter looking like a king cobra about to strike at me?” I said as soon as he ended the phone call. I knew I was a little over-exaggerating but he was trying to divorce me so I was entitled to be a little extra. 

 

Theo sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose the same way he did when he had to deal with me after I downed a few glasses or margarita and hung out with my two besties who thought they deserved to have more tiaras than the Queen of England. 

 

It made me want to scream at him. How dare he? How could he just left the signed divorce papers on the counter and expect me to flick my wrist and put down my signature without question? We were married for almost six years for fuck’s sakes. I loved him with all my being and never once given him a reason to doubt my feelings for him. If he was going to do this to me, I expected a fucking explanation. 

 

I wanted to scream, but despite boiling underneath, I couldn’t bring myself to shout. The man in front of me, the love of my life had presented me with pieces of papers that would end our love story. Regardless of his dick move, I knew Theo would never do something without reasons, so I plopped down onto the leather seat opposite of him, the wide mahogany desk between us, and faced him like the adult that I am.

 

“Theo, honey, please tell me why?” I pleaded, almost choking on the lump in my throat as it made its appearance again. 

 

My husband’s face was devoid of emotion as he looked at me. He looked tired, but he didn’t look particularly remorseful or guilty or even showing a hint of sadness. It broke my heart. 

 

“I can’t do this anymore,” he sighed. “I just...it’s how things are. I need you to sign it.” 

 

That was it, no explanation, just a demand for me to sign. 

 

“You don’t love me anymore?” Tears rolled down my cheeks as I put together the courage to ask him. “Is there someone else?”

 

“No! Fuck! No, there’s nobody else.” He denied. It was good to hear him curse because Theo hardly ever used swear words unless we’re in bed. The fact that he used one meant he was a little distressed as well. “I don’t want to be married anymore. I just want to end this.” 

 

‘This’ meaning our marriage. 

 

By this time I knew my face was a mess from crying silent tears. I kept my eyes on the crystal paperweight on his desk, too hurt to look at the man I loved. I wondered if this was how a woman felt when her husband told her they’re getting a divorce then bashed the husband’s head with the paperweight in rage and proceeded to stage the murder as an accident and lived happily ever after with his insurance money and a toy boy on her arm. But I loved Theo too damn much and I cared even less about money. I had been taking care of myself for years with no money to my name before I met him. I was always prepared to lose money, but I never foresaw losing Theo. 

 

“Okay,” I croaked. “I’m not going to force you to stay in a marriage you don’t want and then hate me for it.” 

 

I kept my eyes on his desk to avoid looking at him while reaching for a pen. Sniffling - if you can even call it that when my face was all wet from tears and snot coming out of my nose - I turned to the pages I had to sign and put my signature in the columns next to Theo’s. Once done, I smacked the pen down onto the papers and schooled my face to give the coldest glare at my soon-to-be ex-husband. The pained look I saw on his face, albeit only for a second which other people would have missed but since I knew my husband better than other people, didn’t escape me. It made me hesitant. The Theo I knew won’t do something like this. He may not wear his heart on his sleeves the way I did, but he never failed to show me he loved me. At the moment he was distant, determined to push me away and it hurt me so bad that I couldn’t bear to be in the room anymore. 

 

“I’m gonna need some time to find a new place, but I think I can stay at Noah’s for a while. He has an extra bedroom I can use,” I told my husband unnecessarily about my plan to crash at one of my besties’ house. 

 

“You don’t have to do that. I’m giving you this house, and anything you want, really. I’ll sort it out with my lawyers later and they'll get in touch with you.”

 

God! All I saw was red, so I stomped the few steps separating us and poked my finger against his hard chest that I knew made of muscles from working out at the gym, swimming and tennis.

 

“If you think I’m going to take even a penny from you, then you are sorely mistaken, Mr. Kingsley-Combs. I didn’t marry you for money and I’m not getting out of this marriage taking your money with me.” 

 

The man didn’t want me, what do I need his house and money for? 

 

Okay, yeah, I’ve lived more than comfortably since Theo and I were together but I never used his money for myself. Theo insisted on buying me things - clothes, accessories, gifts - basically everything I ever laid my eyes on. I never said no when he paid for my meals, because let’s face it, I was struggling on my own back then and the restaurants he took me to weren’t exactly in my price range. But when he started showering me with presents from brand names Noah and Kay always talked about but could never enter the stores without the salesperson giving us the stink eye, I had to put my foot down and told him to return them back. I knew I was dating a rich guy and money was never an issue for him, but I was a twenty-one year old guy who worked at a handmade jewellery stop where the most expensive pieces were Swarovski beads. Why would I need an Audemars Piguet watch or a Mulberry Brynmore messenger bag or a pair of Hermes shoes that I would rather hold in my hand than wear on my feet while walking in downtown Chicago in the pouring rain? 

 

The only expensive gift I ever accepted from him was the ring he offered to me when he was down on one knee as he proposed to me. The Cartier ring he presented me was actually designed for women with the diamonds and sapphires encircle the platinum band but I had slim fingers and I owned girly tops that I sometimes wore so why the hell would I care about a ring design when the man I loved was asking me to marry him? He told me he chose that particular ring because the cornflower blue sapphires - not royal blue sapphires - reminded him of my eyes. It was the most valuable thing I ever received and not because of its price tag. 

 

Suddenly it dawned to me that I had to leave the ring as well. It had been a permanent fixture on the ring finger of my left hand for almost six years and now I had to take it off. I stared at the ring adorning my finger. As I pulled it off, I felt like someone had slammed a sledgehammer to my chest and knocked the wind out. I gasped so hard that Theo was right in front of me in a flash with his hands on my shoulders, steadying me. 

 

“Fuck you Theo,” I choked. 

 

I threw the ring at his face, or at least I tried to. It hit his shoulder and bounced off onto his big work desk and rolled right in the middle of the cursed divorce papers. If that wasn’t a sign I didn’t know what was. I began hitting Theo’s firm, broad chest in a crying fit. He just stood there and let me. It only added to my anger that my hits didn’t even budge him from where he planted his feet. 

 

“Fuck you, fuck you!” 

 

“I’m sorry, baby. I’m so sorry,” he murmured against my ear.

 

“Fuck you! I’m not your baby... not anymore.”

 

“Shh...it’s going to be okay.” He pressed my head against his chest. I could feel his lips pressed in my hair. “You’re going to be okay.”

 

We slid onto the floor of his home office with me burrowing into his chest crying my eyes out until I reduced myself to a sobbing mess. As Theo rubbed my back gently for the last time, I thought maybe he was right and everything would be okay. At least that was what I told myself when the other option was to break down and lose my mind. 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Spoiler

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

AFTER CRASHING AT Noah’s place for a couple of weeks, I found a nice studio apartment not too far from my shop. It was a blessing because I could walk all eight blocks to my shop or take the bus if I was too lazy. 

 

            My shop, Crafty Leathers was the same one that I worked at before I was married. I continued my position as a shop assistant then made it as a shop manager - not that there were other staff but me - so the original owners, an older couple in their sixties, could take more time off and spend it with their grandchildren. The shop was just a tiny one, because although I like wearing custom leather accessories, not many people were fans. After being made the manager, I had introduced the shop online and we made quite a lot of sales from it. There was no need to expand the size because I mail the products to my clients who came from all parts of the world. 

 

Initially, Theo had suggested that I could quit if I wanted to because he was more than able to provide for me for the rest of our lives. I told him if I was a housewife and did housewifey things, I would consider it. We had maids, a chauffeur, we sent our clothes to get it laundered and pressed and many other things that Theo had hired people to  do to make our lives easier. The only thing I insisted was cooking dinner. I hardly contributed to our household other than managing how things are done so the fact that Theo wanted to give me spending money didn’t sit well with me. 

 

I wanted to be able to buy my own junk food or silly trinkets that I found in an antique store without having to call my husband for some cash. Theo said I wouldn’t have to do that because he’d get me a no-limit credit card with my name on it and we argued because that wasn’t the point. When people asked me what I do for a living, I didn’t want to say I lived off of my husband. A shop assistant or a manager may not sound like much in Theo’s circle, but I was proud of myself because I started with nothing and earned that position with hard work. 

 

Three years ago, the owners decided they wanted to retire and offered to sell their shop to me at a really good bargain. When I told Theo, he jumped at the chance to buy the shop for me as a gift for my hard work. Of course I declined nicely after I chewed his head off about how I would never be able to work things on my own if he kept babying me. In the end we came to a deal. I took a loan from Theo to buy the shop from its previous owners and paid him back every month. I managed to return every penny I owed him from the loan within a year and a half. I was proud of myself and felt even better when Theo told me he was impressed and proud of me too. He went around telling people how talented and good I was at what I was doing whenever the topic about my work came up. I was glad I stuck to my principles all those years. Now that Theo and I were no longer together, at least I still had something to call mine. 

 

It wasn’t like Theo didn’t offer me anything for the divorce. On the contrary, he offered me too much. I already told him that I wasn’t taking a penny out of his money on that fateful day yet he insisted, through the visits of his lawyers that I received some kind of settlement. He wanted to give me the townhouse that we lived in the last six years, any car of my choice from our - his - garage and work out some kind of monthly alimony. I told the unfortunate law person to take all those things and shove it up Theo’s ass next to his head before I slammed my front door in their faces. All I wanted was to be the love of Theo’s life. Since that was impossible, I wanted nothing to do with him. 

 

            I knew Theo was the love of my life, despite our whirlwind romance. We were married a week before Christmas, only eight months after we met. 

 

Five months after we started dating, Theo took me out for tea at the little chic cafe that I had laid eyes on him the first time. It was really a cute little place and they had salad cakes which not only were gorgeous, but tasted divine if you love your veggies. Theo told me that his friend, Matthew Hall, owned the cafe and he was there to discuss business previously. After tea, Theo had needed to talk to Matt, so I waited outside for our car when suddenly out of nowhere, it started pouring. 

 

Initially, I thought it was raining - it’s Chicago, but it was September and when I glanced up at the sky, it was clear and sunny. People on the sidewalk had given the storefront a wide berth to avoid getting wet. I wondered if the roof plumbing was leaking and was thankful that I was standing under the awning when it happened. The bell attached to the cafe door jingled and Theo came out, smiling. I was about to make fun about the day we met and how this was somewhat of a reenactment when he suddenly went down on one knee, a square velvet box opened in his hand revealing a sparkly diamond and sapphire ring to me. 

 

            “Lane Dawson, please marry me.” 

 

            “Really? Just like that, huh? Not even bothering with a sappy declaration of love.” I grinned while the thousand butterflies in my belly threatened to escape. “That is so cocky of you, Mr. Kingsley-Combs.”

 

            “I said ‘please’, didn’t I?”

 

            “You did.”

 

            “So is that a yes?”

 

            “Yes.”

 

            I didn’t even notice people had stopped walking to watch the proposal until there were thundering handclaps coming from them. Theo slid the ring onto my finger then scooped me up into his arms for a kiss. A twirl and a few pecks later, the crowd thinned and the water stopped. 

 

I heard someone bellowed from the rooftop; “Did he say yes?” as Theo walked me out from under the awning and looked up at Matt holding the water hose.

 

            “I’m getting married!” Theo shouted back at his accomplice for the rain scene. “I guess you’re gonna be the best man at my wedding.”

 

Later, I told Theo that I needed two best men because one, there was no way I could choose between Noah and Kay and two, there was so much to do since our wedding was only three months away. Most of the preparations were done by Theo’s lovely mother and younger sister. The three of us - me, Noah and Kay - got along famously with the mother-daughter duo. 

 

Mathilda, Theo’s mother said that before me, she only had one daughter to spoil after having two more sons after Theo. Now it was like she had three more. 

 

It wasn’t like my besties and I were femme or anything. I liked pretty and colourful things - thus my career choice. I didn’t mind a little make up although I mostly stuck to a little clear mascara and a thin line of eyeliner when I hit the clubs. My fashion choice was also rather mild. Skinny jeans, t-shirts, my trusty ol’ Converse were my usual. Thanks to my slim figure and average height, I could fit into some nice clothes from the ladies’ section as well. That always made shopping with Mathilda and her daughter Olivia a lot of fun. It was funny as hell when they turned to ask my opinion on how the clothes looked on them only to find me scrunching my nose like a confused rabbit. Just because I was gay, didn’t mean I spoke fashion. That was why having Noah and Kay with us when we did the wedding shopping was a blessing. 

 

Theo had his schedule packed for the three months because he was going to take some time off for our honeymoon after the wedding. We agreed it was best to leave Mathilda and Olivia to deal with the wedding planner as long as they didn’t do anything outrageous. Mathilda had probably planned for Theo’s wedding since he was still in her belly, so I wasn’t going to take away the fun from her. As long as I get to marry the love of my life without any embarrassing incident, I’m golden. Besides, between choosing engraved cards and seating arrangements, I was more than happy to leave it to them since I could hardly fill my invitation list. Asking me to arrange seatings for guests I had never met in my life was more than I could handle. 

 

My future husband, or his proxies Mathilda and Olivia, wanted to pay for my wedding attire. My fiancé knew I would fight him about this, so he sent the two lovely ladies thinking I wouldn’t say no given how much I adored them. My besties however, came to my rescue. They said since they were my honorary family, it was their responsibility to prepare for my wedding attire. 

 

“Do you think we would let our baby brother who had zero fashion sense choose his own wedding suit?” Noah said dramatically.

 

“Noah, you’re younger than me by half a year,” I pointed out as I rolled my eyes. My birthday was in March and Kay’s was in May while Noah’s birthday fell in September. 

 

“Yeah, but I came out when I was eight, so that makes me years ahead of you two.” 

 

“Oh puhleez, my mom knows I’m gay since I was born. Why do you think she bought me all that pretty stuff when I was a baby?” Kay applied his logic.

 

“Okay, fine! I’m the baby gay!” I relented then swung around to face my future mother and sister-in-law. “I’ll be in good hands here, mum, Livvy,” I convinced the two women who had taken me under their wings. Mathilda had insisted I call her ‘mum’ after she learned mine had passed when I was eleven. “So let’s meet up later for cake tasting.“ I hugged her and Olivia before being whisked away by my surrogate brothers to look for my wedding suit.

 

I was glad that Theo’s family backed down from paying for my wedding suit. I knew Theo came from old money and his family business worthed billions. Sometimes I felt uncomfortable being near all the luxury. I knew some people had perceived that I was marrying him for money, what with me being twenty-one and he was twenty-nine at the time. I thought it was bullshit because why would Theo marry someone like me when he could have had anybody. He was rich, the epitome of a handsome man exuding virility, intelligence and confidence. I was just a club-kid whose conservative grandparents had kicked out right after high school with no accomplishment other than my diploma and earned a measly salary to get by every month.

 

It was true I relied a lot on Theo. I lived in his penthouse, he was paying for the wedding, he paid for meals when we went out, he drove me around in his cars or his chauffeur drove me around with him. To say I was feeling the imbalance in our relationship was an understatement. 

 

When Noah and Kay told me they were paying for my suit as a wedding gift to me, I broke down and cried. Then they cried with me which made the three of us a mess as we entered a vintage shop downtown. The girl behind the register handed us tissues as we hiccuped our way trying to explain why we were there. She told us to take our time and let her know if we needed her. 

 

We were through several clothes racks when Noah and Kay started bickering about which style would look good on me. I left the two of them at it, wandering deeper into the store. That was when I laid my eyes on the gorgeous outfit. It was on a mannequin next to the antique full length mirror at the far end of the store. Noah and Kay were right beside me when I touched the fabric delicately with the tips of my fingers. It was love at first sight when I laid my eyes on the suit that stole my breath away, just like my love story was. 

 

“This is the one,” I told them, mesmerized. “This is what I’m going to wear when I marry Theo.” 

 

My wedding attire was a slim cut three-piece vintage suit with cream coloured waistcoat and pants, dove grey plaid suit jacket and baby blue dress shirt combined with a cute little cream coloured bowtie. It wasn’t Ermenegildo Zegna or Givenchy like the ones Theo often wore, but it was perfect for a wedding. My wedding. When I put it on to show my two besties, they started crying again. Of course I joined them seconds later and this time, the girl was prepared with a box of tissues in her hand. 

 

“Happens every time,” she said, trying hard not to tear up as well. 

 

The suit that I wore on the best day of my life was now safely tucked in a garment bag at the far end of my closet in my new apartment. Even though my marriage didn’t last, the memories behind it kept me smiling albeit it was a bittersweet one. 

 

Noah and Kay were mourning with me for the first couple of weeks of my separation from my husband, being the best friends I could ever ask for. Now that I’ve finally moved into my new studio apartment, I told them I needed some time to sort things out and face the world sans Theo. 

 

The first thing I did was redecorating the hole I called my home. The small place I rented came with basic furniture that the landlord picked up from yard sales. They weren’t bad per se, because once in a while I did find unexpected treasures when I had the time to visit one, but my landlord had thought that mixing Rococo and Victorian along with some designs from Ikea was a good idea. 

 

I was just about to rearrange the furniture when someone knocked at my door. I tried to ignore it because I had no energy left in me to deal with another one of Theo’s lawyers. After a few minutes ignoring it, the knocking became more insistent. Furiously, I stomped toward my door, ready to rip the lawyer a new one when I came face to face with my mother-in-law. 

 

“M-mum?” I stuttered, because once my divorce with Theo settled, am I still allowed to call her by that moniker?

 

“Oh, honey,” her voice was consoling as she opened her arms for me. 

 

I told myself that I wouldn’t start crying but Mathilda Kingsley-Combs had been nothing but loving and kind towards me ever since Theo had introduced the two of us. I stepped forward and fell into her warm embrace. She was only a little shorter than me, so that made her shoulder perfect to cry on even when we were standing in my doorway. 

 

“My sweet honey, I’m so sorry,” she murmured softly and stroked the back of my head like I was a small child. 

 

I didn’t know whether Theo had told her about our situation or she heard it from someone else, but I was glad she was there. 

 

We moved to my living room and I offered her something to drink. Mathilda gave me a look that told me she wasn’t buying my tough act, so I rushed to the PVC leather sofa that my landlord supplied me with and cried in her lap. I wondered if my mother was still alive whether she would offer me comfort like this woman did? I thought for a while and I decided that she would, because even though my grandparents were bigoted assholes, my parents had doted on me until they died in a car crash sixteen years ago. 

 

“Laney darling, there must be a misunderstanding. I’m sure the two of you will work it out,” she offered. “I don’t know what Theo was thinking, but if he doesn’t pull his head out of his arse, I will stuff my pointy shoes in there as well.”

 

I cried-snorted at her statement. Mathilda was from England and so was the predecessor of the Kingsley-Combs. The British blood ran thick in their family, but the accent wasn’t so much. At least not with Theo and his siblings since they were born and bred here in Chicago. I caught hints of his father’s accents once in a while, but Mathilda’s was more prominent. 

 

I drew in a breath and shrugged as I sat up to face her. “It’s fine, mum,” I croaked. “I don’t want to force him if he doesn’t want it. That won’t end well,” I sniffled so that whatever escaping my nose won’t mess up my mother-in-law’s Donna Karan’s suit. She let go my hands that she was holding to reach into her equally expensive purse and pulled out some tissues for me. I wanted to cry all over again. 

 

“I just don’t get it,” she fumed. “The two of you are in love with each other. I’ve seen it in the past six years. Weren’t you talking about having children at our last dinner?”

 

We did. Theo had brought up the subject with me and I was more than on board. During dinner with the family that we did once every month, he raised the topic and I had never seen the patriarch, Gareth Kingsley-Combs, more lively than he did that day. It made me sad that I wouldn’t get the chance to raise children with Theo. 

 

“Things change, mum. Maybe Theo’s feelings changed too.” I offered weakly. 

 

“Oh, bollocks! If my son ever changed, it was when he met you and became a better man.”

 

“Mum, language!” I chuckled because she was always so ladylike all the time. 

 

“Pish-tosh, just because I’m sixty doesn’t mean I can’t swear.”

 

“You don’t look sixty at all mum. I bet if anyone sees us walking together, they’d think you’re my older sister.”

 

“You cheeky boy.” She pinched my cheeks in response. “I’ve always adored you from the beginning. Even my Gareth the grumpy bear can’t help but feel fond of you.” 

 

My lips quivered. “I’m fond of you and papa Gare too.” I tried not to sob, but tears still welled up in my eyes. “And Benji, and Eddie and Livvy. I love you all.” 

 

The first time I was introduced to the family, Theo had taken me to a dinner at the family home. It was a huge estate with iron gates and long driveway and they even had the brass knocker on the front door. Theo said no one used that anymore, they preferred doorbells because we lived in the twenty-first century. I knew he was making a light joke because of the panic attack I almost had as we were leaving the house. When the door was open, an older woman in palazzo pants and butterfly blouse stepped out, smiling as she saw Theo. She didn’t even wait for the introduction before she kissed my cheeks and had me in her arms. The whole family then joined us at the door, not waiting another second to meet Theo’s new boyfriend. 

 

I was passed from one sibling to another;  first, there was Benjamin, the second son and a doctor at the University of Chicago Medical Centre, Edison, the third son was a financial analyst and Olivia was a law student. They were all three years apart from each other, which showed me how good Theo’s parents were at family planning. When they were done hugging me, pinching my cheeks and fussing with my hair like I was one instead of twenty-one, I was brought face-to-face with the patriarch of the family. He was tall and big, just like his sons, but whereas they had dark brown hair, his had turned mostly into silver. His grim expression and how he exchanged silent looks with Theo made me want to run and hide, but Theo came to my side, squeezed my shoulders and gently pushed me toward his father. The old man looked down at me, because I was short, not because I was poor, and patted my shoulder before she showed me a small smile that Iit me up inside, and I almost cried when he let me hug him tight. I had never missed having a family until I met them. Marrying Theo had not only given me a husband, but a family who cared for me as well. Losing Theo was killing me and now I was going to lose them too. 

 

As if reading my mind, Mathilda wrapped me in her arms again. She smelled of roses and lilies and comfort. “Regardless of what happens, we’ll always be here for you.” She assured me. 

 

I hugged her back because I couldn’t think of anything to respond to that. In a way I knew she was saying the truth, but it was too painful to hold on to something that wasn’t mine anymore.

 

……….

 

AFTER I lost my parents in a car crash, my paternal grandparents took me in. I have other aunts and uncles but they have their own children to take care of and providing for an extra child was not something they wanted to be burdened with. My childhood was pretty much normal. I went to school, played with my friends, did chores as told and so on. My grandfather pushed me to join some sports club, like soccer or baseball to toughen me up since he thought I was too small for my age. My grandmother thought I was just a late bloomer but once I hit puberty at thirteen, they realized that I was a runt. 

 

It wasn’t so long after that I started noticing how the bodies of other boys my age developed and realized that instead of feeling jealous of how small I was compared to them, I desired to have them press their growing bodies to mine. For some reason I knew I should have kept it a secret from everyone. My grandparents were churchgoers. While they didn’t make me go to Sunday school, they were pretty conservative. I stayed away from hanging out with my male cousins and friends from school because I was scared I’d popped a boner and they’d found out that I liked boys. I used my free time to do something with hands instead, and by hands I didn’t mean jerking off. I collected scraps from around the house - buttons, beads, strings and so on - and I started on random crafts projects. I always admired people who put their stuff on Etsy and made money off it. I never tried it until I was working at Crafty Leathers.

 

My grandfather thought it was a girly hobby and he didn’t like that people who crossed paths with me remarked that I was a pretty boy. My cousins all called me that but only behind my grandfather’s back unless they wanted to risk a good scolding. Honestly, it didn’t bother me that much. I liked my face, I had my father’s blue eyes and dark hair and my mother’s nose and lips. They were both fair, so of course I looked like the sun never touched me as well, not that I spent much time outdoors. I got my height from my mother which made me good material for bullying. Thankfully, I was cute, so some teachers took pity on me and made sure the bullying was minimal. That didn’t make my grandfather happy, though. He thought boys should be tough and fight back. I thought he was full of bulshit. I didn’t tell him that, obviously. 

 

It wasn’t until I was seventeen that they confirmed I was gay. I was at my lab partner’s house to work on a paper together. He had shown interest in me since we first started paired up for the task. He was cute and on the baseball team, tall with a fit body. But I knew boys like him was bad news, the kind who wanted to experiment with boys like me but at the end of the day drop the “I’m not gay” bomb like the hard on he sported wasn’t from looking at my tight ass. He kept being off topic while we were discussing in his room so I told him we should take a five-minute break. He took it as a sign for making out. His mother chose the moment he was shoving his tongue down my unexpecting mouth to walk in. I cared nothing that he pushed me away as if I was the one who came onto him - I wasn’t interested in him anyway. But the damage was done when his mother who went to the same church as my grandparents called before I reached home and accused me of leading her son astray. 

 

I stood up for myself when the accusations was thrown to my face but all my grandparents had heard was that I was gay. My grandfather especially called me many things that I couldn’t be bothered to remember, but I was seventeen and I’ve heard of what happened to boys my age who were kicked out after they came out. I begged my grandparents to let me stay until I graduated in less than a year. I promised to take a job so they didn’t have to waste their money on me. It was a close call, but since they would look bad if I ended on the streets selling my ass for cash, they reluctantly let me stay. As soon as I graduated, they told me to pack my bags and leave. 

 

One of the best things that came out of it was that I met Noah and Kay. I was working at a restaurant in a hotel which provided me lodging when two families were having dinner together to celebrate their sons’ graduation. I was their server for the night and had just put down the last plate when my hand was grabbed.

 

“Oh my god, that is so fancy!” The black haired teen who later introduced himself to me as Kay suddenly pulled back my sleeve to expose more of the handmade leather and beads bracelets I wore. “Where’d you get them?”

 

I didn’t know who he was, clearly we didn’t go to the same school, and being in the spotlight like that was making me uncomfortable but I didn’t want to appear as rude. “I made it,” I answered briefly so that I could continue serving other dishes. 

 

“Cool!” Noah who sat on the other side pulled my hand to take a look next. Both of them were about my size but they swept in like a hurricane I wasn’t prepared for. “You think you can make one for me too?” 

 

“I would, but I don’t have the stuff and I’m actually working right now. So…” 

 

“We can go get the stuff after you finish your shift,” Kay offered, then turned to his parents. “Right, mom, dad? We don’t have curfews anymore.”

 

“Um…”

 

“Sure, just not too late and take your keys. I don’t want to have to open the door for you when I’m getting ready for bed.” 

 

A small, lovely Asian lady who shared the same features as Kay except for darker hair and eye color filled in. The big guy next to her who was apparently Kay’s father nodded in agreement. He was a total contrast from them with blond hair and pale blue eyes. The reaction spurred Noah to get his parents’ permission too. From their chatter, I could tell they were cool parents as much as Kay’s were. 

 

Standing there in the middle of two happy families tied knots in my stomach. They must have noticed it on my face because Kay’s mother stood up from her seat, walked towards me and put her small hands on my face to ask, “Honey, are you okay?”

 

I swallowed around theTexas-sized lump in my throat and told them I was fine and excused myself. I found the restaurant manager, told him I wasn’t feeling well to work on the floor and asked if it was okay for me to take over some kitchen duties instead. The hurt from being shunned by the only family I had left was still too raw for me, so I needed some space to calm down or I would have broken down in the middle of the restaurant. Thankfully it wasn’t a busy night, so I washed dishes in the kitchen until my shift ended at ten. 

 

Noah and Kay were waiting outside the staff entrance as I was leaving for the dorm in the next building. They didn’t know why I was upset but they apologized for what happened anyway. I told them it wasn’t their fault that it was a difficult time for me so the two of them took me out for a milkshake at a twenty-four hours family diner down the block. I told them about my grandparents and other things that happened in my life. It was so easy to talk to them, like we had been friends for years instead of just meeting a few hours earlier. By the time we finished our milkshakes, Noah and Kay gave me the tightest hug and told me we were brothers forever and they’ll take care of me. The rest was history. 

 

We were out looking for some materials for the bracelets I promised Noah and Kay when we stumbled into Crafty Leathers. They had a ‘now hiring’ sign, so I charmed myself into getting a job there. My shift at the restaurant starts in the evening until late at night, so I told them I could work at the store in the morning. That way I could keep the lodging that came with the job at the restaurant and forked up some extra money at a second job. 

 

After a while, I was more comfortable working there than at the restaurant, because at least I didn’t get groped by diners and co-workers alike behind the counter. Noah and Kay enrolled to the University of Chicago and planned to get an apartment together because two small gay boys in communal dorm showers didn’t sound like good security. They asked me if I wanted to come stay with them, which I did. We found a modest three-room apartment near the college and split the rental. It was a little far from my workplace and after a few break-ins at work, I decided to move somewhere closer because I didn’t want my elderly employers having to rush in the middle of the night to call in the cops and assess any missing items when I knew more than they did. It was hard leaving the comfort of living with my besties, but we hung out almost every day, so it wasn’t terrible. 

 

If I called, Noah and Kay would drop everything and rush to me, because they promised we’ll be brothers forever and they had never let me down. My love story with Theo may not be everlasting, but the love and support of my best friends stayed with me forever. 

 

Whether I had a family or not didn’t seem like such a big deal when I had the two of them.

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

Spoiler

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

ONCE I SETTLED in my new apartment, furniture rearranged, decorations more personal and stuff unpacked, I busied myself at Crafty Leathers. I had a bunch of orders to meet and lots of time being on my own. When I expanded my business online, I added to my skill repertoire in making items other than jewellery. Custom made leather belts and purses were a couple of my best-sellers. My free time as a newly-single man was filled with checking new designs online and keeping up orders in the office-cum-workshop at my humble little shop. 

 

My shop assistant, Bridget, helped me during the day. She was a chatty college girl who used to be into goth fashion in her younger years. Thus, how she found out about my shop. She frequently came by to buy leather wrist cuffs to accessorize with her newly bought black lace tops and matching black fingernails. Once she entered college, she decided being a goth was taking too much of her time and focused on her studies instead. Which meant, her clothing now was more effortless and consisted of fitting jeans and cute tops. I thought it was a better look on her. Anyway, I was glad that she liked what I had in the store and decided to apply for the shop assistant position. She and I were more like girlfriends than employer and employee. She was a godsend. 

 

Now that I didn’t have a husband to cook dinner for, I stayed in my office-workshop after closing time. The new materials had been delivered so I was excited to start working on the new belt design I sketched up. That was when I heard glasses shattered out in the store. After I bought the shop from the previous owners, the first thing I did was installed a CCTV camera. Previous break-ins taught me that video evidence of criminal activities worked better for insurance claims. I kept the door to my office locked when I worked late, so I quietly moved to my desk and switched on the CCTV monitor. There, in the middle of my modest shop were two men in ski masks, holding what seemed like a lead pipe making their way to the cash register. 

 

I instantly knew they would be checking my office soon since I had cleared the cash into the safety deposit box under my desk. That would put my life in danger. Immediately, I switched off the lights before they noticed someone was still around and tried not to make any sound as I took out my phone and called nine-one-one. As soon as I was put through, I told the operator what the emergency was.

 

“They’re checking the door now,” I told the operator in a hushed voice when there was a jiggle on the doorknob. 

 

“The nearest patrol is two minutes away. Is there any exit you can use to get out of there?”

 

“There’s a window in the bathroom but I lost the keys,” I paused when I heard a kick against the door. “Ohmigod, they’re kicking the door. It’s not gonna hold,” I almost shrieked. 

 

I scrambled to a corner to where a loveseat was pushed against the wall. There was enough space meant for a side table that I never bothered to get and I squeezed in, thankful for my small size. It was just seconds later that the door burst open and the burglars entered. 

 

“Sir, are you still there?” I heard the operator ask me but I held my breath, too scared of being caught. “Help is just around the corner, they’ll be right there soon,” the operator reassured me. 

 

The only shield between me and the thugs was my work table. If they hit the lights and looked over the table top, they’d see me huddled there all defenseless and scared. I closed my eyes when they flicked the light switch. I was counting seconds in my head before they saw me and this would turn from a robbery to murder. 

 

“Shit! Go! Go!” I heard one of them panicking. 

 

That was when I heard the siren. There were sounds of shuffling around and crunched glasses under their shoes as they made their escape. I didn’t leave my hiding place, but I heard shouting outside and more sirens joining the first one. I didn’t know how long I stayed like that until I heard an officer identify himself before appearing at my broken office door. 

 

“Lane Dawson?” He enquired. The emergency line operator must have informed them my name. I never took my husband’s family name because we never brought the subject up. I guess it was a small blessing because now I wouldn’t have to change it back. I looked up at the officer with red-rimmed eyes and nodded. “Is there anyone else in here?” He asked and I shook my head since I couldn’t find my voice to answer verbally. The uniformed officer hostered his gun and called on his radio that the coast was clear and he found me. “Are you hurt anywhere, sir? Do you need the medics to take a look at you?” He asked rapidly. 

 

I shook my head again to his questions but made no effort to leave my little hiding corner. Another officer, an older male with graying hair and a kind face came to see if everything was okay and I heard the first officer tell him I was in a shock. 

 

I was still in a daze when the second officer - the first officer addressed him as Sarge, so I’m guessing he was the sergeant - knelt in front of me and took my still running phone. He took it from my hand and spoke to the operator and hung up. I didn’t even realize that I hadn’t ended the call. The sergeant took me outside and passed me a blanket as I sat in the backseat of the police car, my legs dangling outside. 

 

“Is there anyone you would like to call, young man?” He asked me. 

 

At that moment I thought of Theo, how I always felt safe and protected in his arms and how I no longer have his protection. 

 

“No. I’m fine. Can I go now?”

 

“We need you to come to the police station and record your statement,” the sergeant  replied. “Then maybe you want to get someone to board up the broken window until it gets repaired.” 

 

I nodded and took some time to decide who I was going to call. I pulled up Kay’s number from my contacts and pressed the call button. Since it was past one in the morning, it took Kay a while before answering. 

 

“Laney baby, what’s up?” His voice was still cheerful even though I probably disturbed his beauty sleep.

 

“Listen, I need a favor,” I said, cutting to the chase. “Is your roommate around?” 

 

Kay’s roommate was on the SWAT team. He transferred to Chicago a few weeks ago but there were some problems with the property he was moving into, so he ended up renting Kay’s spare bedroom while the issue was being sorted out. I’ve met the guy a few times. He was a big, muscular man, with ruggedly handsome looks, totally Kay’s type. I didn’t know what’s going on between them but the guy was nice enough and I needed help covering the hole in front of my shop. I didn’t think I could do it even if I combined Noah and Kay’s strengths with mine. I told Kay what happened and while we were on the phone, Kay started banging on his roommate’s door. 

 

“Declan, get up. We gotta go get Laney.” Kay’s voice traveled over the phone. I heard his roommate, Declan, mutter something sleepily, but knowing Kay, the guy was never going back to bed. “Come on, man. We need those sexy muscles of yours.” 

 

I waited for Kay to relay my story to Declan. Before long, I heard Declan’s baritone at the end of the line saying “we’ll be there in ten,” then hung up.

 

……….

 

DECLAN and Kay drove me to the police station so I can give the police an official statement after Declan boarded up the broken window of my shop. It was close to three in the morning when I was finally done. All I could think about was how I wanted to lock myself up at home for a few days and buried myself deep under the covers. My companions walked me out of the police station, flanking me on either side when a car stopped right in front of us and Theo came out. 

 

“Don’t be mad.” Kay raised his palm to my chest, trying to calm me down. “Dec said the guys inside told him the burglars who broke into your shop managed to escape. I know you’re not gonna be stupid enough to go back in there alone, but you’re clearly shaken.” Kay took a deep breath before continuing. “You can always count on me and Noah to have your back, but right now, it’s not us who you need the most. I know he’s an asshole for hurting you, but I know you and I know you love him and how much you need him right now. The fact that he came for you shows he still cares. I’m not saying things will go back to the way it was before, but you’re feeling vulnerable and he makes you feel safer than you did with me or Noah.”

 

“I can’t right now, Kay. It’s still too raw.”

 

“I know. Of the three of us, you’re the most sensitive. Life hasn’t been treating you well but he’s the one person who did. I don’t know why he was stupid enough to let you go, but I need you to not fall to pieces. He’s the only one I know who can keep you together.” Kay put his arms around me in a fierce hug. “I’m not telling you to forgive him. But just for tonight, let him take care of you, make you feel safe. Please? At least for me and Noah?” 

 

He loosened his grip to cup my face and looked at me beseechingly. When I gave him a slight nod, he kissed my nose and turned me around to push me towards the man I still loved. 

 

Theo was standing not even five feet from us, hands in his pants pocket, his face a mixture of guilt and worry. We looked at each other not saying anything for a long moment. He looked good even at three in the morning in his pressed slacks and tan cashmere sweater. It reminded me of what I was missing.

 

“Right,” Kay broke behind us. “Dec and I are gonna head home, so call me soon okay? Love you, Laney.” I saw the two of them left only peripherally. 

 

My attention was fixed on the gorgeous man who broke my heart. I didn’t want to be the first to talk. Even though I had many things to say to him, there wasn’t a point. The papers had both our signatures on it. I took a deep breath to stop myself from hyperventilating. It was obvious enough to make Theo move so fast and had my head buried in his broad chest. 

 

“Breathe, baby,” he ordered me in a firm yet soothing voice. “It’s alright, I’m right he.”

 

His gesture, rocking me gently in his arms and voice deep and soothing did wonders to me. I didn’t fight him as he tucked me into the car and pulled the seatbelt over me. Theo got into the driver’s side and put the car into drive. 

 

“I want to go back to my place,” I said as he merged onto the main road. 

 

“Okay,” Theo agreed, although I could hear the displeasure in his voice. “Have you eaten?” He asked, probably to distract me from overthinking. 

 

“Not hungry.”

 

“You’re always hungry.”

 

“Not right now,” I argued. “I just wanna sleep.”

 

Theo nodded. “Okay, we’ll be there soon and you can rest. 

 

The remainder of the car ride was filled with silence. Occasionally I peeked at Theo while he drove. I loved watching him drive. Most of the time Theo had his driver take him to places so he could check his email or messages while commuting so he tried to drive as much as he could when he was not working.  

 

Back when we first met, I told Theo I didn’t have a driver’s license. He drove me to his family estate and taught me how to drive in one of his nice cars. I’d never forget the dent I put on his Maserati when I backed into a lampost. Theo told me the only way I could make up for it was to pass my driving test. Two weeks after that, I grinned from ear to ear as I showed him my shiny driver’s license. 

 

“We’re here,” his voice brought me back to the present. 

 

We were parked a half block away from my apartment. Theo killed the engine and went out of the car. Seconds later he was outside my door and already had it open for me. 

 

I was glad I remembered to grab my keys and wallet before leaving Crafty Leathers after Declan had boarded it up for me. I needed to thank that man for his help, so I made a mental note to ask Kay if it was okay to make them dinner. Theo took my keys from me while I was lost in my thoughts and opened the door. Only when Theo shut the door behind us and stood in my living room that I realized this was the first time he had stepped foot in my new house.

 

I was overwhelmed. 

 

My plan was to brave on my own in this place without any traces of Theo. Another reason I wouldn’t accept his offer to stay in the townhouse was because the memories we shared there would have destroyed me. I made the mistake of asking Theo to bring me back to my apartment. Now I had the image of him standing in my living room burned in my mind. 

 

“Oh god.” I croaked. “You should leave now, Theo. I can’t.” I dropped onto my sofa and buried my face in my hands. 

 

Theo was on his knees in front of me instantly. He tore my hands away from my face and pulled me into his arms. My whole body trembled as I cried in his chest. He shifted and moved to sit on the sofa and pulled me into his lap. His scent that made me crazy every time I took a whiff was subtle at this late hour. He must have taken a shower before he went to bed last night. I thought about being in bed with him in the home we shared. The reminder that I could have been there tonight rather than facing the intruders angered me. Theo had given me a safe place then took it away from me. 

 

“I hate you so much,” my small voice was muffled in his chest. I drew back and hit his chest, making myself look like a petulant child. 

 

“I know, baby. And I deserve it.” 

 

“You keep saying that, but you didn’t mean it!

 

“I’m sorry.

 

“I don’t need your apology!” I hit him again. “I’m never gonna forgive you!”

 

Theo nodded, agreeing with me. The truth was, I didn’t blame him for anything. I never would understand why he ended our marriage but I could never hate him. I believed him when he said there was no one else. I knew Theo and he was a one man’s man. As much as it hurt me, I knew it must be hurting Theo too. Whatever reasons he had for our situation must be something bigger than us. I’m disappointed that he never explained it to me, to figure it out together so we could save our marriage rather than take an easy way out. But I couldn’t force Theo to choose something he didn’t want. If he didn’t want me, then I’ll let it be.

 

Theo held me as I cried until I was reduced to a sobbing mess. He took my hands in his and kissed my wrist, my knuckles then each palm like he always did every time I cried. Honestly, I cried a lot. Kay was right, I was sensitive and whenever I was with Theo, I can just be and knew that he had me covered. 

 

After I calmed down, Theo moved me to bed. It was only a few steps away with my apartment being a small studio, hidden by a waist-high partition like a countertop that seperated the view of my bed from the rest of the house. When he started to undress me, the warning lights lit up like a strobe. I was risking my heart to a world of hurt. 

 

Reading my thoughts as he always did, Theo paused. “It’s okay, baby. I’m not gonna do anything. You need to get comfortable and get some sleep. I’m gonna take the sofa,” he promised but I heard the desperation in his voice how much he wanted to be close to me. He understood how spooked I was and he knew how much I needed his comfort. Being denied of it pained him. 

 

“Hang up your clothes properly or it’ll get wrinkled,” I told him as I burrowed under the cover. Theo took it the way I meant and quickly stripped leaving only his boxer briefs on before joining me in my bed. I turned around so my back was to his chest, Theo spooned me the way we normally slept together. Cocooned in the safety of his arms, I fell asleep sooner than I thought.

 

………..

 

I WOKE up feeling hot and suffocated. The curtains were slightly parted, letting the heat from the sun in, heating me up in bed. I glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand and discovered it was already past eleven in the morning. I was starting to panic for a second thinking that I was already late to open the shop, but my mind recalled the incident from last night and I remembered that I had to close shop until everything was settled.

 

I couldn’t move even if I wanted to because Theo had his thick arms around me, holding me close to his very warm body. The heat made me uncomfortable but as I already knew from experience, moving Theo away from me was impossible, so I turned and faced him instead. He still had his eyes closed but I knew he wasn’t dead asleep. 

 

“Theo,” I called, “I’m hot. Turn on the a/c for me.” 

 

Theo grunted and blindly reached for the remote control on the nightstand behind him. Once he had his hands on the device, he switched it on without even peeking at the buttons. 

 

“It’s almost eleven. Don’t you have to go to work?”

 

Theo grunted again but I didn’t understand what he said. He wrapped his arms tighter around me and wedged his thigh between my legs. I gasped when I felt the hardness against my back from our current position. We had been separated for more than a month. When we were still married, we had sex almost on a daily basis. I craved for Theo as much as he craved for me. Being away from him for too long made me desperate and needy and that was bad news. 

 

I tried to wiggle out from under him but to no avail. He was much bigger and stronger than me. “Theo, let me go,” I rasped even as my libido took over.

 

“You smell good, baby.” Theo rubbed his scruff against the back of my neck and bit the soft skin lightly. He pressed his covered dick between my cheeks as a telltale sign he was as turned on as me. Theo found my earlobe and caught it between his lips. His voice was rough from sleep when he chuckled in my ear. “You can always tell me no, Lane. You know I won’t force you.”

 

I knew. But I was weak and I needed it so bad. Needed him so bad. 

 

“Not fair,” I whimpered. I moved my hips so my cheeks rubbed along the length or his cock. I wanted it out of his underwear and I wanted to be out of mine too. “God, Theo. Take me. Please take me.”

 

Theo moved so fast and had our underwear gone in seconds. I was on my back as Theo found my lips and started mauling me like a starved animal. I opened my mouth for his tongue, taking and sucking while Theo’s hands traced over my skin, reacquainting himself with the shape of my body. He pinned my arms over my head and I kept it there without having Theo to tell me to. The kiss he delivered to my neck, rough and biting, would leave bruises that would be impossible to hide for days. He treated my nipples the same way - laving and teasing with his tongue - before he took them into his mouth and sucked them hard to the point of hurt. 

 

Once he was satisfied with my upper body, Theo traveled south to my belly button. He flicked his tongue a few times and when I shivered in pleasure, he dipped it in. Six years taught him all about my erogenous zones and he knew how to play with it. 

 

“You’re so beautiful, Lane,” He whispered against the skin where my thigh met my groin. “So beautiful and so responsive when I touch you.” 

 

He was the only man who ever took the time to learn about my body.

 

I cried out when his hot mouth engulfed my already leaking prick. I was never not wet for my husband and when he sucked hard, almost making me cum right away, my hands automatically went to his thick, dark hair, not sure whether I was pulling away or pushing him to take me further. When he took his mouth off me, I was disappointed, but the sight of him checking my nightstand drawer and taking out the bottle of lube he knew I would’ve stashed in there, gave me hope. He flicked the top of the bottle open,  poured out a liberal amount of lube onto his fingers and I hissed when his slicked digit was pressed against my entrance. 

 

“Slowly,” I warned him. 

 

It had been weeks and I hadn’t had anything bigger than my fingers in me. I pulled my legs wider for him and exposed my anticipating pucker. Slowly, Theo circled my entrance with the tip of his finger until I became more relaxed, then pushed a finger in.

 

“Baby, you’re so fucking tight, so hot.” He husked, adding another finger and moving them in a scissoring motion. “Fuck, I can barely fit three in here,” he groaned. The thought of how tight I was, how hot I would be when he fit his long, thick cock in my hole must be killing him.

I groaned thinking the same thing. “Theo, please,” I begged, moving my hips to get his fingers deeper. “I’m ready.”

Theo removed his fingers and reached for the lube again. He poured more onto his palm before giving his fully erect cock a good coating from base to tip. The first push stung a little but I loved taking Theo, loved how his thickness, his length spread my guarding muscles open. As he pushed his engorged cockhead past my tight ring, we groaned so loud, the sound echoed in the whole studio. He waited only seconds before he lifted my other leg into the crook of his arm then pushed home. 

“Holy god!” I arched my back off the bed in pure ecstasy. 

My hand sought Theo’s lightly haired chest, trailing up and down to feel the ridges of his chiseled torso and sculpted pecs. I clenched around him, feeling the solid length moving in and out, leaving me wanting more. 

I started babbling the harder Theo fucked me. He found my spot and proceeded to hit it with every firm thrust, delivering waves of pleasure to my whole body. My stomach tightened as I recognized the intense pleasure that was making my toes curl indicating how close I was to finishing. 

“Touch yourself, baby. Come for me.” Theo ordered.

I knew he was close too judging by the tenseness of his neck and his erratic breathing. I was too fucked out that I lost the coordination in my hands. Theo put his in mine, stroking my leaking cock from base to tip in rough movements. The only warning I managed to give Theo as I came was the desperate aahs followed by a loud cry. I made a huge mess on my stomach and some got on Theo’s chest as well. The next thing I knew, Theo had his head thrown back, shuddering hard as he pumped his hot seed into me. His deep groan made me shiver in the most delicious way. I welcomed his hard body as he slumped over mine, covering me entirely while I waited for him to recover from his high. He was still humping into me, even though I could feel his cock softening. I was happy to keep him inside as long as he wanted. 

We stayed in bed after that, sharing the post-coital bliss and comfort of being in each other’s arms. Theo planted kisses all over my face, shoulders and neck while whispering sweet nothings in my ear. I napped a little, feeling content after sex. I knew we had to talk about what happened but with the whole shit that I’ve been through, I deserved a good rest. 

……….

 

“Thank you for checking up on me. I was really scared, but I think I’m gonna be fine now,” I told Theo over take-out dinner.

 

We woke up late in the afternoon, hungry and awkward as hell. My body felt greater than it ever had in the past month, but the emotional turmoil of having the man who had divorced me with me, coupled with the danger I faced from burglary the night before was getting to me. 

 

“You still haven’t told me what you were doing at the shop until so late?” He asked, moving his chopsticks to pick up more food from the container of our favourite Chinese take-out.

 

“I was working.” 

 

Like I had anything else to do. 

 

“After one in the morning?”

 

“What else was I supposed to do? It’s not like I still have a husband to cook dinner for or go to bed with!”

 

That shut him up. I felt bad for the look of guilt he sent my way. 

 

“I was preoccupied designing new things. I forgot to look at the time.”

 

“We should’ve installed an alarm system like I said. The alarm company would be alerted as soon as they break the glass. I don’t want you to be in danger again.”

 

“You know why I didn’t install the alarm last time. I thought the CCTV was enough to keep anyone away,” I reminded him.

 

When I installed the CCTV years ago, Theo had suggested I get an alarm system for Crafty Leathers as well. I had just turned a business owner from a regular worker, so between thinking about how to keep myself afloat, pay off my loan and getting an alarm system, I had too many on my plate. 

 

“But now, there’s no reason not to,” supplied Theo. He sat up straighter the way I knew he always did when he meant serious business. “You were almost attacked last night. I can’t imagine if the cops didn’t get to you on time —” He heaved a heavy breath. A few seconds passed before he continued, “baby, please. I need you to be safe.”

 

His concern was annoying as much as it was touching. 

 

“Why would you care, Theo. I’m no longer your concern.” I pushed my chicken chow mein away on the small dining table, slowly losing my appetite.

 

“You’ll always be my concern, Lane.” He admitted.

 

“Why?”

 

“Because you deserve the best things and I’d do everything in my power to make sure you’d be taken care of.”

 

“I’m not your charity case, Theo,” I spat angrily. “There is only one thing I want and you can't – won't – give me that!”

 

“You’re never a charity case to me, Lane. You of all people knew that,” he said sternly. “I never lied about my feelings for you, so don’t cheapen it by calling it a charity.” 

 

“Then what do you call sending your lawyers around to get me to agree to the settlement?”

 

“I do that because I care!”

 

“So you’d shower me in your riches but you won’t keep me? How is that ‘caring’? And what happened earlier -- you still want me as bad as I want you! Or were you hoping I would be available whenever you have an itch to scratch and walk out on me when you’re done?”

 

I knew I was being unfair since none of us planned this. In my weakest moment, I succumbed to the needs of my body for the man I loved. I didn’t regret any second I spent with Theo in bed but it showed that I was far away from moving on. 

 

Theo sighed. Why he won’t open up to me was a mystery. There was never a secret between us before, but now we’ve hit a wall. I wondered if this was one of the reasons he couldn’t continue with our marriage. 

 

“You’re right, I took advantage of you,” he spoke guiltily. I must have looked stricken because he quickly added after that, “but I didn’t regret it. You are the best thing that ever happened to me, but this won’t happen again. I may no longer be your husband after the proceedings are taken care of, but I want to take care of you in any ways I can.” 

 

I shook my head unbelievably at his words. “I can take care of myself, Theo. Just because I had been relying on you for six years, doesn’t mean I forgot how to. It may take some time getting used to being alone again, but I’m older now. I don’t need you to be my keeper. I’ll be alright.” 

 

Theo rubbed his scruffy jaw, not happy with the way the conversation had turned into. He was used to winning our arguments with logic and solid reasons, but this time I’m sticking to my decision. He can’t decide to divorce me and still be controlling my life. What will become of me when he finally cuts all strings loose? 

 

I watched Theo as he walked to his car two hours later after extracting promises from me to be more careful. He gave specific orders to call him if anything, even the smallest thing happened. I told him I’d try my best depending on my judgement at the time. Theo kissed me chastely on my mouth, the tip of my nose, my forehead and my mouth again before he could tore himself away from me. 

 

I went back inside after I locked my door and put on the latch. I jumped into the unmade bed where the scent of Theo and me mingled together. Maybe I lied a little when I said I can take care of myself.

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

Spoiler

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

OLIVIA KINGSLEY-COMBS was at my doorstep a couple of days after the attempted burglary at the shop. She was taller than me at five foot nine inches, her dark brown hair similar to her brother’s fell down almost to her waist in loose waves, framing her beautiful, oval shaped face. Her eyes were more green than grey, like her mother but it was obvious that she had the Kingsley-Combs good genes. 

 

           “Laney!” she squealed and hugged me so fiercely that I almost had my breath knocked out of my chest. “Oh, honey. I missed you! Dinner was boring without you.”

           

            Once a month, the Kingsley-Combs had dinner at the family house. All Theo’s siblings and their partner will gather for an elaborate meal and longer conversation at the dinner table. I had missed the last one since I moved out of Theo’s house. I knew the family would still welcome me regardless of my relationship status with Theo, but it would take time before I could face the whole family and my soon-to-be ex-husband at the same time. 

           

            “I missed you too,” I said, untangling myself from her limbs and invited her in. “How’s Papa Gare? Did mum tell you she was here last week?” I asked rapidly so Olivia wouldn’t be the one questioning me things I didn’t want to answer. 

 

“Daddy’s fine, although he didn’t say outright he misses his Laney boy, we know he was upset by the way he was giving Theo the cold shoulder,” she said without missing a beat. “Mum gave Theo a thorough scolding. I’m surprised she didn’t take him over her knees and cane him. Benji and Eddie finally got the satisfaction they wanted from watching Theo being in the doghouse. The perfect son finally wasn’t so perfect anymore since he did something stupid like divorcing the doted son-in-law of the Kingsley-Combs clan.”

 

It sounded like a carnage. I felt a little sorry for Theo. He was always the focus of the family in a good way. He was the dependable eldest son, a role model to his younger siblings, the heir of the company which he had taken over after his father had retired and everyone looked up to him. To have something like a divorce to make them disappointed in him was something a little extreme. Don’t get me wrong, I was utterly devastated by his choice, but in situations like this, wasn’t the family supposed to be more sympathetic?

 

“I know what you’re thinking,” Olivia sneered. “You’re sorry for my dick of a brother. You love him so much that you couldn’t even find faults with him.” She was totally unimpressed.

 

“I do find faults with him.” I defended myself. “I just thought it was unnecessary to be mean to him.”

 

“Well, he deserved it for being mean to you.”

 

“He was never mean to me.” I assured her. We fought from time to time like every couple did. It had never turned physical other than the make-up sex after. 

 

Olivia rolled her eyes, clearly indignant. “You know what I mean. He couldn’t even tell us why he’s divorcing you.”

 

He didn’t tell me either. I wasn’t going to rat out on Theo to his sister. Being in the doghouse was bad enough punishment for him. 

 

“Benjy and Eddie were having a good time teasing him. They told him they’re gonna throw their gay friends who are just as rich and more good looking than him your way. I told them to piss off because I call dibs on finding you a new guy since I’m your favourite among the four of us.”

 

“You guys are horrible.”

 

“Yeah, but at least Theo knows the mistake he’s making. Anyway, you’re gonna have to help me plan a baby shower for Iris. She’s gonna pop like, in two months.”

 

The change of subject took me off guard. Iris was Eddie’s wife. They got married last year and she got pregnant with their first child not long after.

 

Theirs won’t be the first grandchildren of Theo’s parents. His other brother, Benjamin already had a three year-old toddler and a ten-month old infant. 

 

Theo only brought the subject of us having children a few months back. He said I was so young when we got married, so he hadn’t wanted to push me into being parents. I told him I was more than ready to raise a family with him and we finally had the talk about the options. It didn’t seem to matter much now. 

 

“Livvy, you know I’m not a planner type of person,” I reminded her. She roped me in to plan the baby showers for Benji’s wife, Lilah, too. I ended up doing nothing both times and let Livvy handle the whole thing because why she thought I could be helpful with party planning was beyond me. 

 

“That’s why we’re getting Lilah on board too,” Livvy said, the duh left unspoken. She probably had everything figured out. “So, I need you to get dressed so we can start working.”

 

“Livvy, I can’t just follow you when you come unannounced like this. I could be working, you know,” I groaned. 

 

“But you’re not. Your shop was broken into and if you go in there, Theo would sic bodyguards on your skinny ass, divorcing or not. Now shoo! Put on some nice things that would make my brother cry in his coffee.” She slapped my butt as I was getting up. “Okay, I take back what I said about your ass. That is not skinny at all. No wonder Theo’s gay.” 

 

“God, Livvy. If this is what it’s like having a sister, then I’m glad I’m an only child!”

 

“You love me, Laney. Hurry up and get that bouncy butt dressed so we could go meet Lilah before she turns into a banshee.”

 

I stripped so fast I didn’t think Olivia got any glimpse of me in my underwear. Getting dressed didn’t take a full minute when you know how scary Lilah could get if we were late. Never mess with a mother of two small children.

 

……….

 

WE met Lilah in time for lunch at an Italian cafe. She smiled when she saw me so I walked quickly over to give her a kiss on her cheek. She was a sweet-faced lady with sandy brown hair and brown eyes. She kind of reminded me of how my mother looked like, but I had only pictures to compare. My memories of her became hazy as I grew older. 

 

Lilah had the kids with her, the baby sleeping in the stroller while the older one sat on a baby chair. He seemed happy to see me and I melted into a puddle when he tried to say ‘Uncle Laney’ but the ‘Ls’ made it too difficult for him. He was too adorable.

 

We ordered, ate, caught up on the updates and planned for Iris’ baby shower. She was having a girl and everyone was excited because Lilah had boys both times. We picked a few color schemes, not entirely too fond of pinks just because it was going to be a girl. We decided on cupcakes and tapas for snacks then sparkling juices for drinks. God forbid anyone drinks alcohol in front of the pregnant lady. 

 

The baby shower will be held at Iris and Eddie’s place on Sunday. Only a handful of friends and families were invited, mostly ladies. Knowing Theo wasn’t going to be there made me a little less nervous. 

 

The whole extended family had attended mine and Theo’s wedding. All the cousins, the aunts, the uncles, Mathilda’s family from England and their family friends as well as associates had come to see the eldest child of Gareth and Mathilda Kingsley-Combs get married. It was a big affair and I was proud of myself for not having cold feet. Thankfully, Iris’ baby shower will be on a much smaller scale. 

 

I tagged along as Olivia and Lilah led the hunting party for the things we needed to buy. Lilah pointed to the destination while Olivia navigated. I rode at the back of the car with baby Luca and my boy Brighton in the child seat. It was becoming clear to me that my real role in this whole thing was a babysitter. 

 

Cheeky ladies. 

 

We headed to the mall because with the endless list Lilah and Olivia came up with, it would be impossible for us to run around the town, so they decided on a smaller target. I was left outside the department store sitting on the bench, shopping bags stacked around my sides and Luca and Brighton in their strollers while the two ladies did their thing. 

 

“You too, huh.” A stranger sitting on the next bench looked at me and smiled sympathetically as if he understood my pain. He too had a few shopping bags with him, but no kids to keep an eye on.

 

“My sisters-in-law are planning a party.” I offered some kind of an explanation. “They think I made a good babysitter.”

 

The guy, older than me probably by a few years, turned to my young charges. “Seems like you’re doing alright. No one’s kicking and screaming.”

 

“I like kids,” I said, smiling when I looked at the sleeping boys. “I was hoping I could have a few.”

 

“You’re what, twenty-one? Twenty-two? There’s plenty of time to start planning.”

 

“Twenty-seven,” I got out, sadness crept into my soul. “I’m going through a divorce, but thanks. Maybe I’ll adopt one one day and be a single dad.”

 

“Sorry to hear that, man,” he said, getting up from the bench. I turned and saw a woman walking his way with more shopping bags in her hand. He gathered the ones with him and turned to me for the last time. “Look, marriage is tough shit. I’ve been through some bad times with my wife and we’re trying to work things out. You’ll get through it too. Good luck.”

 

I saw him making his way to her and took the shopping bags out of her hand. She looked grateful and touched and gave a peck on his lips as she hooked her arm around his and walked away together. 

 

Maybe the outcome of my marriage won’t be like his, but I appreciated that he believed I would get through it too. 

 

……….

 

OLIVIA and Lilah had outdone themselves with the baby shower. I was standing under the covered patio of Eddie and Iris’ contemporary home, Brighton’s arms around my neck, his feet wrapped around my waist as I inspected the decorations. They had chosen peach and cream as the color theme. Everything from the balloons, flowers, linens and plates were a combination of the two tones. 

 

There was still about an hour before the guests started arriving. While the girls were putting on the final touches, I volunteered to play with Brighton to keep him from bothering his mother and aunt coordinating. I was more than glad to get away from them too. My judgement wasn’t something they valued in last minute party touch ups. 

 

“Balloon,” Brighton squeaked excitedly, trying to reach for one. He was getting heavier for me to carry so I had to struggle to keep him and myself from falling as he wiggled in my arms. 

 

“Hold on, B. Uncle Laney will get it for you.” 

 

I had to admit, holding up a three year old toddler and trying to reach for a balloon that was tucked up amongst a few dozens of others was not in my set of skills. 

 

“That one!” Brighton pointed to a particularly big one at the top of the arrangement.

 

“That’s really a tall order you’re asking for, little guy,” I complained. “Uncle Laney is a shorty.”

 

I didn’t have the heart to disappoint the guy, so even though I would hurt my back trying to hold onto the kid and reaching out for the balloon at the same time, I persevered. I stood on my toes until the tips of my fingers touched the peach colored sphere but still couldn’t grasp it. My arm stretched and it was starting to hurt when someone came behind me and twisted the balloon out from the rest. 

 

“Unca Teeo!”

 

The cheerful cry froze me. I turned just in time to see a smiling Theo handed the balloon over to his nephew. He wasn’t supposed to be at the baby shower, so his presence sent little shocks to my body. 

 

“What are you doing here?” I asked, sounding a little hostile. I wasn’t ready to face him again after the last time we saw each other. 

 

Theo frowned. “It’s my sister-in-law’s baby shower. I’m allowed to join if I want to.”

 

“I thought it’s only for the ladies.”

 

He looked at me like I had lost my mind. 

 

“We’ll, you’re here, and little B is here. Baby Luca is inside, so who’s to say I can’t come?”

 

I opened my eyes to argue, but he cut me. 

 

“If you’re gonna say you’re gay, so it doesn’t count, I would like to remind you who you’re talking to.”

 

I clamped my mouth shut. 

 

“You look good.”

 

I snapped back up, staring straight into his stunning grey eyes.

 

I was wearing a soft, short-sleeved high collared top in cream, tucked into my fitted salmon pink jeans. It wasn’t the peach colour Olivia told me to wear, but it was close enough. Theo, on the other hand, was impeccable as usual. He was more casual in a Ralph Lauren cable-knit cashmere sweater and designer jeans that encased his long legs. None of what he wore followed the color theme for the baby shower, but no one in their right mind was going to give Theo a hard time over it.

 

“You look…” hot. Sexy. Delicious. “...like the usual.”

 

“I hope that’s a good thing,” he said, running his hands along the back of his head in a nervous gesture. 

 

I bit my lip because Theo messing his carefully styled hair made me hot and bothered. I was ready to flee with Brighton when the ladies came out with a few guests in tow. 

 

“Theo, make yourself useful and grab Luca.” Olivia threw at her brother. 

 

Lilah walked up to her brother-in-law and handed the baby who had woken up from his nap, milk bottle and napkin together. I’m getting the feeling that the gays were invited so Lilah could hang out with the girls without having to worry about Brighton running around or a wailing Luca. 

 

I turned to Theo and shrugged. “Should’ve thought twice before you come.”

 

“You’re here too.”

 

“Only because I didn’t want your sister to drag me out of my house kicking and screaming.”

 

“You need reinforced locks on your door,” he said, sounding serious all of a sudden. “And I've called the insurance company. They’ll cover the damage done to the shop, but not the alarm system. But I’m getting it installed anyway. Don’t fight me on this.”

 

The nerve of that man. I didn’t want to argue in front of everyone and spoil Iris’ baby shower. Also, there were children in our arms, so I did my best and walked back inside through the kitchen door, Theo was hot on my heels. 

 

I turned around with Brighton bounced on my hips and faced my still-husband, teeth clenched, feet apart - my battle stance. “Just so you know, you’re an assh--” oops, babies,  “--a jerk. If you ever use your money on me after our divorce is final, you’re gonna get everything returned to you in coins!”

 

“So that means right now I can still buy you things?” 

 

“Urghh!”

 

I stomped as I made my way into the sitting room. Brighton’s toys were there so I put him down and joined him building legos. Theo sat down on the sofa, helping baby Luca with his milk bottle. I committed the sight of them to my memory. Theo would make a good father one day, when he found someone to replace me. I had to come to terms with it sooner or later. 

 

Brighton patting my arm pulled my attention back to him. He told me he was hungwy. I was glad for the distraction and told Theo to keep an eye on his nephew while I went to get the food. 

 

The kitchen window gave me a full view of the baby shower. I saw Iris open the presents surrounded by family and friends. She was glowing in radiance. I was happy for her even though some parts of me died inside knowing my dreams of becoming parents with Theo had been shattered. 

 

I smelled roses and lilies before I saw Mathilda come in and hug me. She was always attuned to my sensitivity. Perhaps because she was a mother that she knew these things. I dreaded the day I had to let her go. 

 

“Don’t be so sad, angel,” she cooed. “It will work out on its own.” She promised. 

 

I merely nodded and heaved a suffering sigh. Wallowing in sadness had been zapping the energy out of me lately. So I told Mathilda I needed to get something for Brighton to eat, forgetting about my sorrows. I should cherish whatever time I had left with this wonderful family. 

 

When I returned to the sitting room with chicken tenders and a juicebox for Brighton, Luca was already asleep tucked in his sleeper that Lilah had brought with her. Brighton jumped up and down excitedly at the sight of boneless fried chicken in a bear-shaped plate. He must have been really hungry. I put the plate down on the coffee table and stacked some cushions on top of another so Brighton could enjoy his snack sitting down. 

 

“Don't worry about making a mess,” I told the kid. “Uncle Theo will gladly pay for Uncle Eddie’s cleaning services, so go crazy.” 

 

The smug grin I was sporting made Theo laugh. 

 

 

 

Chapter Five

 

Spoiler

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

I NEEDED TO look for more design samples for my products and watching videos online didn’t give the right feel. I needed to touch, to inspect, to feel every bump and crosses and braids of the products before I could get in touch with my creative side. It would take some time before the insurance company cleared my claims and get my shop back to its initial condition. The unproductiveness was driving me insane, having too much free time to think about my impending divorce. 

 

            I called Noah and Kay for reinforcements. They knew fashion more than I do and they knew where the best shops were. I was locking my front door when the cavalry came. I ran down the stairs and saw Noah and Kay had rolled the window down, passing judgment on the way I look with their sunglasses perched low on their noses. 

 

“What?” I asked, assessing my choice of clothes. 

 

I was wearing denim overall with rolled hems below my knee and an oversized white t-shirt paired with a pair of checkered Vans.  I looked as innocent as an eight year-old, which was likely the reason for their judgemental look, but I think I look cute and harmless. That was a good thing in Chicago, right?

 

“Get in, Dennis,” Kay gestured to the backseat of Noah’s Toyota, “before Mr. Wilson catches you.”

 

I got into the backseat and barely had the door closed before Noah drove away. 

 

“Aren’t you a little young to make a reference to that show? You weren’t supposed to be born yet when it was aired,” I said by way of greeting. 

 

“And you were?” Noah and Kay replied at the same time. 

 

“Touché.”

 

We headed to the shopping district where all the nice boutiques are. The car ride wasn’t long enough, but Kay managed to dig up some details about that night he sent me home with Theo. I told them nothing happened when we got to my place, but the next afternoon, though, was a different story. 

 

I didn’t want to spill that I ended up sleeping with Theo, so I deflected to Kay instead. 

 

“Your roommate Declan was a hero,” I said, a little too enthusiastically. “He looked hot boarding up my shop in jeans and a tight t-shirt. Did you wake him up like that or was he naked when you busted down his door?”

 

“Naked,” Kay answered. “The guy had no problem showing off his hot bod but I think he didn’t want to encourage me.” He sighed dreamily. “Much.”

 

“Is he gay?” Noah asked. 

 

“Yup. Unfortunately he likes topping muscles and not twinks, so I can look but I can’t touch.”

 

“Yikes.”

 

“Nah, that’s his loss. I got good things to offer but if he’s not interested, I have no problem looking somewhere else.”

 

I bit my lip, thinking about my own relationship. “What is it with these guys who can’t appreciate the good things they have in front of them?” I grumbled. “Another three months to our sixth year anniversary and my husband cut me loose just like that! Then there’s your hunky roommate who’s basically living with a self-proclaimed slut. If I’m him and not such a nelly bottom, I’d tap your ass every day.”

 

“Aww, I’d tap your ass everyday too if I ever turn verse. What about you Noah? Should the three of us insatiable bottoms swear off other men and engage in a poly relationship?”

 

Noah threw his head back and barked a laugh. “No way! Can you imagine Thanksgiving and Christmas with our families? It would be a riot!”

 

I shivered at the image of celebrating anything with both Noah and Kay’s family combined. Since I was eighteen and had been on my own, Noah and Kay had taken turns to have me over for Thanksgiving and Christmas as well as other celebrations. The warm welcome both families gave me was more than I could have asked for but considering how raucous both families could get I ended up overwhelmed most of the time.

 

Noah Gilmore whose Scottish heritage had given him auburn hair and olive green eyes had two sisters, one older and one younger. Christmas was pretty much normal with them until Noah and his siblings got overly dramatic about whose sweaters were the ugliest. Oftentimes, I was dragged into their fights, me being gay and worked at a jewellery craft store meant I had keen eyes on pretty things, or so they thought. I mean, I liked pretty things and my clothes were all cute but if you asked me which one was better between Gucci and Chanel, I’d say both. 

 

Kay Meyer’s family on the other hand, was a quirky mixture of Asian and European cultures. Kay’s American-German dad met his Thai mom in college. They got married after graduation and had given Kay an older brother and two older sisters. He was the baby of the family and he liked to use it to his advantage. They celebrated a lot more festivals than Noah’s family did because of his mother’s Thai roots, and I was the guinea pig for the new fusion cuisines his mom came up with. Still was. 

 

When I was with them I was treated like a family member. They joked with me, remembered my birthday and came to my rescue when I needed them. One time when the electricity in my building was out due to poor maintenance and I was scared because it was too dark and there were too many sounds coming from everywhere, Noah and Kay’s parents came to get me because my best friends couldn’t get there fast enough. Their kindness and love filled the void in my life for the few years before Theo showed up and whisked me away. But I loved them like they were my own family, because that was how they treated me. 

 

I still paid them visits whenever I had the time or at the very least give them a call. 

 

Noah found a parking spot and we headed to the first store. He was an event planner, so he knew a lot of good places to shop. 

 

“A leather club?” Kay and I turned to him when we read the sign above the shop. 

 

“I knew you’re a kinky little shit, but I didn’t know you’re into the scene,” Kay said, pretty much astounded. “ No judging, though.” 

 

Noah put his hand onto the door handle and waited for us to join him. “I’m not into the scene, silly. My previous client wanted a leather theme for her birthday party, so I was running around town looking for whatever she wanted. This place has some nice things and Laney works with leather, so I think why not.” 

 

“Uhuh.” Kay followed and I joined them. “But if someone spanks me, I’m gonna call my mom.” 

 

“I bet he wouldn’t mind if it’s Declan,” Noah mock-whispered to me. 

 

I snickered and followed Noah’s lead. He went to the front counter and chatted up with the staff. Apparently, apart from being a leather club, they sold merchandise to the members too. It was still early in the day, so the club was not open for patrons yet, but we could go and take a look at their products, and if we’re interested, we were more than welcome to buy. 

 

“These...certainly look interesting,” I commented, walking around in the shop. I worked with leather everyday but I never had any visions to turn them into anything close like what they sold in here. 

 

“Well, you said you needed to look at the patterns, so look all you want.”

 

“Yeah,” I said, picking up one of the objects with a weaved handle whose name I didn’t know. “This looks kinda cool.”

 

I studied the way the leather interwoven with one another, how one layer went over and up and the other layer was done in the opposite way. I made a mental note about how I could incorporate it into my designs and put it back on its place on the display shelf.

 

I did the same with a few other items but didn’t find an interest to actually buy them unless Noah and Kay wouldn’t mind having early Christmas presents. We thanked the person at the front counter and left for other stores that were thankfully normal boutiques and not another place that catered to a specific leather hobby. 

 

We were taking a lunch break at a nearby bistro before checking a few more places that Noah thought would be good for me. What he meant in that sense was he thought I could get more sexy clothes so the next time they headed to the club, I’d come with them and go home with some hunk to get laid. The fact that I was only separated with my husband at the moment and still in love with him was secondary. 

 

Halfway through my warm chicken salad, I heard a familiar voice calling my name. We were sitting outside since it was a clear day in September - not too hot for an outdoor meal - so turning around, I saw a tall guy in a business suit smiling my way. I got up from my seat and opened my arms as I met him halfway in a friendly hug. 

 

“Matt, how are ya?” 

 

I was genuinely happy to see him. 

 

Matthew Hall was Theo’s best mate since prep school. He was the owner of the cafe where I was proposed to and had been Theo’s best man at our wedding. We used to have lunch dates with him and his wife whenever our - Theo’s and Matt’s - schedule allowed. It was a little sad that since Theo took over from his dad as a president at the company, we had to cancel many times. 

 

“I’m doing great,” Matt replied, the corners of his eyes wrinkled as he smiled at me. “Becca misses you. She was dying to share some gossip about the girls at the club and you’re the only one who won’t stab her in her back.” He chuckled thinking of his wife’s penchant for rich people’s gossip. 

 

“She should do what I do and stop going there if she hates them so much.”

 

“And cook every Sunday? She’d rather chew on glass.” Matt chuckled again. 

 

I joined him because as much as we got along, I had never been successful at teaching Rebecca Hall how to cook. She tried a couple of times, but for the sake of her husband, she let cooking be handled by professionals. It was kind of ironic since Matthew was the owner of multiple cafes and restaurants.

 

“Wait a minute,” I said in revelation. “This is your place too?” I gestured randomly around the bistro. 

 

“As of two months ago, yeah.”

 

“Man, how many does this make? Did you ever slow down?”

 

“As much as I can.”

 

I was about to ask him more about the place when Matt’s face suddenly grew serious. He pulled me to the side so we were closer to the wall and had more privacy. 

 

“Listen, I shouldn’t be the one to tell you this, but I’m worried about Theo.” His voice was lowered as he started the topic about my husband. 

 

My heart sped a little while waiting for what he was going to say next. I wondered if Matt knew about us divorcing and if so, whether Theo had told him the real reason behind it. 

 

“Theo’s not well,” Matt told me, his face so serious. “I can’t tell you more than that or he’d crush my balls and add them into those health supplements his company makes, but he’s sick, Laney.”

 

“What do you mean by sick?” I almost choked on my own question. “Theo’s the healthiest person I know.”

 

Matt shook his head. “You know how Theo is. Always the strong, silent, manly bullshit type. Trying to get the whole story out of him was like pulling teeth. And the divorce...he’s being stupid, Laney.”

 

It was like being hit by cold water. 

 

“He told you about the divorce?”

 

Matt nodded, looking sympathetic. “But only the gist of it. Like I said, I didn’t get the whole story. I should’ve told you sooner, but he made me promise not to tell you.” He sighed, looking a little guilty at breaking his promise to his best friend. “He needs you.”

 

After telling me as much as he was allowed, Matt had to run to his next appointment. I promised him I would give his wife a call and arrange for a brunch soon and gave him one last hug before he left. 

 

I was like a dead man walking when I returned to my friends. Their look was filled with concern and I dropped down on the seat I vacated earlier. I told them what Matt had shared with me and instantly, both Noah and Kay placed their hands on top of mine. Noah told me he’ll drive me to the townhouse right away and we’d continue with the design hunting some other time.

 

I couldn’t ask for a much better support system than the two of them.

 

……….

 

THE townhouse looked big and loomy since the last time I was there. Noah and Kay had offered to stay and wait with me in case I needed anything but I told them I would be fine and will call them for updates later. 

 

When I moved out of the townhouse, Theo had insisted I keep a spare key in case I changed my mind about living there. He might be obstinate, but I was stubborn about not having anything to do with the place anymore, so when I rang the bell, the housekeeper, Mrs. Abbot, who was a plump woman in her mid-sixties with pink cheeks and gentle smile, opened the door for me. 

 

“Heyya Mrs. Abbot.” I greeted her. 

 

Her eyes widened when she saw me and then she started sputtering and her hands were on her chest as she tried to contain her tears. 

 

“My dear Laney, I’m so happy that you came back,” she spoke happily while quickly wiped her tears away with the corner of her apron. “Theodore is still at work, but he told me you might come anytime and I was to call. Oh, I’m so happy you finally changed your mind.”

 

The old lady was so nice, I didn’t have the heart to tell her my real purpose of visiting, that would make me the devil. I didn’t know what Theo had told the staff, but to hear that she was happy I was there was really touching. 

 

I caught up with Mrs. Abbot, who had been working with the Kingsley-Combs family for almost forty years about what I had been doing in the past month. I told her about the burglary at my shop and the baby shower we had for Iris. She was relieved I was unharmed and glad that Theo was installing the alarm system for me, as it was his duty as my husband. I didn’t remind her that we were divorcing since she had already moved on to the subject of Iris and how excited she was for the birth of another Kingsley-Combs. 

 

She told me how she had been working at the main house when Mathilda had all the lovely children even though I had heard of the story many times before. When Theo and I moved into the townhouse, he needed a few staff to take care of the place during the day while we were working. Mrs. Abbot had jumped at the chance to cut back down some hours, thinking it was time for her to slow down. She said she thought about retiring altogether, but her grandchildren were busy with school and had no time to spend with her, so working was the other thing that made her happy. 

 

Mrs. Abbot had to do some chores so I let her return to them. It was a strange feeling coming back to the house after not being there for over a month. 

 

The first time I stepped into the house was right after Theo and I came back from spending two weeks honeymooning around Italy. We started in the Amalfi coast, then off to Cinque Terre before ending our journey eating authentic Italian cuisine in Florence. We did as much as sightseeing as we were wrapped in each other's arms in bed. We had decided to forego condoms after the wedding, and Theo had reaped all the benefits. 

 

When we came back, I expected to return to his penthouse apartment but Theo had moved us into the bigger townhouse as an after-wedding surprise. At that time, it felt symbolic, like we were building a new life together from scratch. The house was filled with memories of six years we’ve spent together, the laugh, the tears, the love, all emotions were packed within the walls, in the picture frames, in the decorations and even down every hall.

 

I  decided the best place to wait for Theo was in his home office because every other room was too personal for me. 

 

My plan to face Theo with calm determination was decimated when Theo found me asleep on the couch in his home office a couple of hours later. I must have fallen asleep between thinking about what I was going to say to him and keeping myself from dying of boredom. I guess boredom won because I was slightly disoriented when I woke up, thinking whatever happened in the past month was just a fragment of my imagination. 

 

Looking at Theo’s tired face sobered me up quickly and put out any hopes that it was all just a dream. 

 

“Hey, you’re home.” 

 

Theo helped me sit up on the sofa. He was still in full suit and I saw his briefcase laid down on the mahogany desk. 

 

“Mrs. Abbot told me you’re here. She said you were supposed to ring me, but there weren't any missed calls on my phone. Did you call the office?”

 

I shook my head to confirm that I didn’t. “I was going to but I didn’t want to disturb you at work.”

 

“You know I wouldn’t mind that,” he said with such a gentle voice that told me he sincerely felt that way. “I would’ve come home straight away if you had called.”

 

“More reason why I didn’t.” I pulled him down to sit beside me on the sofa. “There’s something I want to ask you.” I confessed, feeling my stomach twisted into a knot. I wasn’t sure how to approach the topic without triggering his alarm. 

 

Theo took off his suit jacket and draped it over the side of the sofa followed by loosening his two hundred dollars Armani silk tie. The sight of his exposed throat almost made me forget my purpose when all I wanted was to kiss the skin there like I always did when I took the neckties off him. 

 

I shivered at the memory before I calmed down and composed myself. Theo was patiently waiting for me to continue. 

 

My hands shook a little when I took his in mine. I made sure to look up into his stormy gray eyes so I wouldn’t miss any of his  reactions. 

 

“Be honest with me, okay,” I began. “Are you sick?”

 

Theo’s whole body stiffening was obvious, it was impossible to miss. 

 

“So it’s true?” I probed, my hands tighten around his larger ones. 

 

Theo looked away. 

 

“Who told you?” He finally asked after a full minute of silence. 

 

“Doesn’t matter who told me. Why did you hide it from me?”

 

He pulled his hands away and got up from the sofa, his body language closed off. “There was nothing to hide because it’s not true.”

 

“You’re lying.” I stood up and faced him. “You never lied to me, Theo. Don’t start now.”

 

He looked down at me and I realized I had never been the recipient of such a harsh look from him before. 

 

I took a step back.

 

“It has nothing to do with you. I don’t know where you got the idea of me being sick, but as you can see I’m fine.”

 

“It has everything to do with me if that’s the reason why you’re divorcing me.” I tried to reason with him. “Theo, please. I need to know if you’re sick.” I pleaded. 

 

“Why?” He asked, teeth clenched and he was the most hostile I had ever seen him. “What can you do about it? You can’t even take care of yourself!” 

 

The words that came out of his mouth were intended to hurt me. I was aware of it, but some of it stung my already hurt heart. 

 

Tears started falling down my cheeks. It wasn’t the best time to show my weakness but I never hid my emotions. Once, Theo had told me that he thought it was a form of honesty. The tic in Theo’s jaw showed me that my hurting pained him too.

 

“You’re right, I always rely on you for so many things. But that’s because I trust you to have my back.” I almost choked on my own tears. “So why didn’t you trust me with this too?”

 

“There is nothing you can do, Lane! This is what I have decided and nothing will change my mind.” 

 

“What about me? Don’t I get to decide too?”

 

Theo moved towards me and grabbed my shoulders, almost shaking me. “I am giving you choices. That’s what the lawyers are for. If you’d just let them explain–”

 

“I don’t want the damn lawyers to explain anything!” I shouted. “I want you to tell me what the hell is going on with you so we could get through it together!”

 

He dropped his hands off my shoulders and stalked to the door, fingers combed in his thick hair.

 

“I can’t do this right now.” His voice was low as he said it that I almost didn’t catch his words. “Please, Lane. I beg you. This is what I want. Just go with it.”

 

My husband never pleaded to anyone. To hear him say those things told me his heart was in agony. It broke me into a million pieces. 

 

I walked to the door, opening it to get out. Theo had his back to me. I wished I could touch him and kiss him, tell him that everything would be alright. But I knew he wouldn’t listen to anybody right now. Not when he was set to ruin himself and our marriage.

 

“Please tell me one thing, Theo,” I said, wanting at least a small closure for today. 

 

Theo turned his face slightly to watch me over his shoulder. 

 

“What do you have?”

 

He went silent for a long time again, I almost thought he wouldn’t answer. 

 

“I have cancer.”

 

……….

 

THE next morning I woke up in bed, feeling like my energy had been sucked into a black hole. After the confrontation with Theo last night, I had taken the cab home. The driver asked me if I was alright seeing how I bawled my eyes out the whole way home. I told him I had just heard the worst news in my life and I needed to cry before I could think of anything else. 

 

The scene in Theo’s home office kept playing in my mind like movie reruns on cable. Theo’s harsh words, me begging him and him closing me off left a bitter aftertaste on my tongue. My husband had cancer and he didn’t think I could handle it so he divorced me. 

 

In most situations, I had to agree that I wasn’t the strongest. I was emotional, I had a soft heart and would cry at the smallest things. Having Theo pushed me away because I was the way I was made me angry. Was he such an asshole this whole time?

 

But if he was such a dickhead, why would he insist on me talking to his lawyers about settlements? Why didn’t he just leave me high and dry? He made me let him pay for my shop’s alarm system and if I had given in a little more, he would have renovated the whole place. Was that guilt talking?

 

Trying to understand my husband’s logic while not being in sync with him gave me a bad headache. I decided to video chat with Noah and Kay because if I don’t, they’d come banging on my door before noon and my headache would get worse. 

 

“Hey baby Laney, you o– oh my god what happened?” Noah answered first and gasped when he saw my red and puffy eyes.

 

“What’s going on?” Kay joined not three seconds later.

 

I sucked in a breath and let it out so I could start telling them without starting to cry again. 

 

“Theo has cancer,” I started.

 

Their gasps were loud. 

 

I told them the exchange between me and my sick husband and they agreed with me that Theo was being a dick. 

 

“God, the guy and his fucking macho bullshit. I can’t believe he would do that.” Kay was indignant. 

 

I felt compelled to stand up for Theo somehow. “Maybe I was too clingy. Maybe he can’t deal with his sickness and me at the same time. I’m suffocating him.”

 

“Oh honey, he loved how clingy you are to him, he can’t tell anyone otherwise. Whenever the two of you together, his eyes were always on you. He kept his arms around you while exuding the ‘fuck off’ vibes to anyone who might seem a little interested in his little Laney. Your husband was a possessive bastard.”

 

“Exactly!” Noah agreed with Kay. “We were a little worried when you two got married not even a year after being together. But it has been six years and the two of you were like couple goals… at least until he pulled out the divorce papers on you.”

 

“So why did he push me away?” I whined. 

 

“We don’t know, honey.” Kay sighed. 

 

“Maybe you could give him some time. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”

 

“But my husband is sick and I want to be there for him.”

 

“Then you go tell him that. Show him that you’re strong enough to handle whatever shit he’s facing.” 

 

I pondered a little over what Kay had suggested and nodded although a little part of me was scared that Theo would push me away again. I can only take so much rejection especially from the person I loved. 

 

“Thanks guys,” I said over the phone. Seeing Noah and Kay’s face on my phone screen made me feel better– not as much as having them by my side, but it was just as good. “I’ll let you know if there’s anything else. Love you.”

 

“Okay Laney. We love you too, bye.”

 

Looking at myself in the bathroom mirror, I decided it was better to stay away from the public's eye for a little longer. I looked like I had a severe allergy reaction with the red-rimmed puffy eyes and pink nose. The shop had been redone and someone had contacted me the other day that the alarm system was up and running. I called Bridget and told her that we’ll take another day off and return to Crafty Leather the next day. 

 

When she arrived for her shift the next morning, she berated me on staying past closing time. She decided that as long as I was inside, she wouldn’t go home regardless of the hours. 

 

Having people who cared about me was very humbling.

 

After what happened on the burglary night, I had installed a new window in the toilet inside my office-workshop and added the key to my keyring. I also took advantage of the slow customer traffic in the past two days to rearrange the furniture and created an emergency hiding place far better than the corner I squeezed in last time. It wasn’t a panic room or anything, but I cleared out some space in the supply closet where I can crouch in and nobody would notice I was in there if I didn’t move or make any sound. I called Bridget into my office and crawled into my new hiding place quickly to test my theory and I was satisfied when she had come and gone and checked the toilet a few times wondering where I went. 

 

“Are you a child?” She growled at me when I finally shimmied my way out. 

 

I stood up and patted the dust away from my chino pants. “Hey, I was just testing my new hidey hole.” I looked at her innocently. 

 

“You’re lucky you’re my boss or I would’ve folded you in half and stuffed you into the safe because I could and you’re tiny enough to fit in there.”

 

“Tsk, tsk.” I waved a finger in her face. “Unfortunately you don’t have the key so you can only shove me somewhere else.” 

 

“Well, you can take the keys and shove it up your ass, boss since it’s already past nine and I’m hungry and I’m not leaving you alone here. So chop, chop, boss man, I still need to go home and study.” 

 

“Geez, you’re still a grumpy goth even though you’ve discovered the existence of colors other than black these past few years,” I grumbled as I put my stuff in my sling bag and walked out of the office after her. Sometimes she acted like she was older than me. 

 

I activated the alarm before we exited the shop and squatted down to engage the lock at the bottom of the door after I was done with the one at the top. As soon as I came back up, someone grabbed me from behind and I felt the cold steel pressed against my neck as I dropped the keys. 

 

Bridget shouted at my attacker but jumped back when she realized he had the back of the knife up to my throat. He could turn the blade around any time and cause serious damage to me. 

 

“Don’t fucking move,” he warned me. I smelled alcohol on the guy’s breath since it was so close to my face. 

 

“Please don’t hurt us,” I begged. 

 

“Shut the fuck up!” He yelled and I recognized his voice. He was the guy who broke into my shop previously. 

 

I glanced Bridget’s way quickly to see if the other man – since there were two of them last time – had her as well, but the one who had me was alone and she was free. I wanted to tell Bridget to run but he could turn more aggressive if he thought she was going to call the cops once she was out of sight, so I resorted to more begging. 

 

“Please.” I tried again. “Just let us go.”

 

“Open the door!”

 

“Please let me go.” I tried stalling. 

 

“Open the fucking door or I’ll slit your throat!”

 

“Okay! Okay!” I relented. “But you need to let me go because the lock is on the bottom.” I explained. 

 

He was quiet for a moment but his hold around me was still tight and the hand that held the knife was moving around as he talked. 

 

“You,” he called out to Bridget. He waved the weapon on the ground where my keys were. “Take the keys and open the door.”

 

Bridget complied and picked up the keys before kneeling in front of the door to unlock it. She dropped the keys a couple of times seeing how scared she was for me. I was scared too, but someone must have seen us and alerted the cops. I had to buy them time as much as I could while not angering the man. 

 

“There is nothing valuable inside,” I told him. “We only opened today and the sales were slow. We do most of our business online.” 

 

He ignored me and urged Bridget to move faster. 

 

“Police! Put your knife down!”

 

The attacker’s grip on me was so tight, it was almost difficult to breathe. His knife was back on my throat, but this time, the blade was only a millimeter away from my skin. 

 

“Put the knife down, man,” one of the police officers shouted from a few yards away. “We have permission to shoot you if you don’t.” 

 

“Please don’t hurt me,” I begged his conscience, in case he still had it. 

 

From the corner of my eyes, I saw one of the uniformed officers gesturing over to Bridget to walk toward him and pull her to safety. I was relieved for her but at the same time feared for what was about to go down. As much as I have faith that the law enforcement officers could take care of the situation, I still wouldn’t want to be caught in a crossfire. I had plans to face Theo once again to talk him out of divorcing me and let me take care of him. I can’t do that if I died from being stabbed or shot. 

 

“Come on man.” I heard the policeman again. “You don’t want to end up like your partner, do you?”

 

Whatever happened to the other guy, I’m guessing he didn’t have a good ending judging by the policeman’s words. 

 

I heard the police officers order the man to put the knife down and step away from me with his hands up so many times that I started to fear they would open fire within seconds. My assailant was resistant for a long time before finally, he did as he was told and dropped the knife. When three of the officers moved in closer with guns aimed at the man, my knees went weak and I almost dropped to the ground. Another police officer rushed and pulled me out of the way so the other three could put the guy in cuffs and apprehend him. 

 

The EMS was called and they had the EMT checked me in case I sustained any injury. There was a fine, bloodless scratch on the side of my neck when the knife made contact with my skin. Other than that, I was fine and clear to go once they thought my shock wore over. 

 

I was more than relieved that nothing happened to Bridget. Simple apology wasn’t enough to show her how sorry I was that she got dragged into this. She told me it could have happened to anyone and I appreciated her being considerate. I hoped a big Christmas bonus would make up for it. I didn’t know why my shop was targeted when we hardly sell items that were priced in triple digits. But people had stolen other things that cost less. I guess it was just my luck.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six (Epilogue)

Spoiler

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

A SLEEK, BLACK Audi stopped abruptly behind the police cars, the driver’s door opened and Theo got out, looking panicked and stricken when he saw the commotion. I excused myself from the officer who was taking my statement, telling him that my husband had arrived and made my way to him.

 

While the EMT was checking my vitals, I had called Theo to come pick me up. It wasn’t easy to face him again after what happened two nights ago, but I was determined to get things settled between us. 

 

Theo met me halfway and pulled me into his arms in a strong embrace that bordered on crushing. I recalled the moment of the attack where the guy had clutched me tight and compared it to the one I was in right now. Theo’s arms were my safety net. He was my protector and he had never ceased to be one to me. Knowing how he never changed being all those things to me, I knew I had to fight for us and show him I could be strong for him too, that I was his home. 

 

The police cleared me and Bridget to go. Theo shook hands with all the officers and thanked them before he turned to offer Bridget a ride home with us. She told us someone was already on the way to get her, so I hugged her tight and told her we’re taking a few more days off and I will call her soon. 

 

My husband was quiet throughout the car ride, which sat well with me because my mind was running a hundred miles a minute thinking about the conversation that I would be having with him once we got home to the townhouse. I glanced at him a few times during the entire way and caught him swallowing hard occasionally. I wondered what was going through his head, but I decided I had a lot of chances to ask after we had arrived. 

 

The house was dark except for a few lights that Theo had left on before he came to pick me up. I followed him into the foyer then to the living room where he headed straight to the bar and poured himself a glass of top shelf hard liquor. 

 

“Is it safe for you to drink in your condition?” I asked cautiously, not wanting to start the conversation with a confrontation. 

 

He downed the whole glass and poured another, but he didn’t immediately drink it. He only stared at the golden liquid as if it was an enemy. I got up and took the glass away from him, slowly pulling him back towards the sofa and pushed him down. Instead of taking a seat next to him, I straddled his thighs and made myself comfortable. 

 

The kiss tasted like the scotch he had been drinking but underneath the smoky sweetness, I could taste something uniquely Theo as well. He opened up for me, letting me savour the feeling of our tongues touching, curling, licking, giving way for the desperation to surface after being deprived of each other. 

 

We broke off for a quick breath then Theo took over the kiss with his fingers in my hair and one hand holding the back of my neck. His kisses were as passionate just as they were mauling. 

 

“Baby, you scared me,” he said in a voice that was laced with fear. 

 

I could tell how afraid he was when I looked into his eyes. My phone call must have been a shock to him. 

 

I put my forehead against his, wanting to be closer to him. “I was scared too.” I admitted. There was no need for tough acting. 

 

I took a deep breath and kissed his face, channeling all the love I had for him. We had been together for six years. There wasn’t a time I ever thought I could stop loving him. 

 

“I almost died tonight,” I whispered, my lips brushed against his. 

 

Theo shut his eyes tightly, probably imagining the moments where my life was threatened. I cupped his face in my hands and forced him to look at me. 

 

“I realized one thing,” I continued. “If it happens that today is my last day, I would prefer to spend it with you rather than be apart from you.”

 

The tears that flowed down his cheeks was a surprise, but I kissed each of his eyes regardless because he was finally willing to show his true emotions to me. I knew Theo saw himself as the stronger one in our relationship and in many ways it was true. He was my anchor, the pillar I leaned on whenever I needed support. He was the calm in the storm, and always the voice of reason when there was doubt.

 

Now it was my turn to be his. I needed him to know that it was okay to show weakness, that showing emotions didn’t make him a lesser man in my eyes.

 

“Tell me, please,” I coaxed him.

 

He swallowed hard a few times like he did in the car. I gave him a moment to compose himself allowing him to talk to me at his own pace.

 

“They found a lump on the side of my neck,” he said slowly, voice hoarse from the tears. “Thyroid cancer.”

 

“Honey, I’m so sorry,” I choked back. I needed to be strong for him. 

 

Theo shook his head, denying my sympathy. “I decided against treatment. That’s why I asked for a divorce. I don’t want you to be a widower when you’re not even thirty. I don’t want you to be stuck with me, watch me waste away when you can build a new life, live your dreams, find new love.” 

 

“No!” I yelled. “There won’t be anyone but you. How could you say that?” 

 

“How could I not? You’re still so young, baby. You’ll have many great things -- I’m going to make sure of that.”

 

“And I’m not going to allow you to do that!”

 

We were both covered in tears, refusing to back down from one another. I was still in his lap where I wanted to be, but I needed to find a way to reach deeper into his heart.

 

“Baby, please. It’s the only thing I can do.”

 

“Why does it have to be that way? Why do you have to be the one who makes the call? We’re husbands, Theo – lovers, partners – whatever it is you want to call but the bottomline is that we’re together. I made a promise that I will love you in sickness and in health and I intend to keep it. Why won’t you let me?”

 

“Because I’m a joke, Lane.” Theo wiped his tears away angrily. “I’m the CEO and president of a multi-billion pharmaceutical company. I sell health products, supplements, cure! I’m thirty-five, I go to the gym four times a week, I don’t smoke, only drink occasionally and eat healthy. What would people say when they find out that I have cancer, what would the Board or Directors say?”

 

“You never cared about what other people think before, don’t start now,” I replied almost immediately. “Theo, everyone will die eventually. What makes it different is what you do about it. You have people who work for you – doctors, researchers – they look for possible cures and solutions for diseases like cancer everyday. You won’t know how things will end up if you give up now. I know talk is cheap, but we can work this out together.” I held his hands in mine and promised him. “I’ll be with you all the way. And when we come out of this, we’ll be stronger. No one will fault you for getting sick. They’ll see you as a fighter. And I… I will always see you as the love of my life.” My voice cracked at the end. 

 

We were wrapped in each other’s arms on the sofa, crying for a long time after that. It was therapeutic as much as it was an awakening that we both needed. 

 

………..

 

THE doctor’s office was cold and smelling like antiseptic as we were kept waiting there while they processed Theo’s bloodwork, PET Scan, MRI scan and every other test related to his condition. We called his doctor first thing in the morning and managed to get him a slot followed by a consultation. Since he had been refusing treatment after the initial diagnosis seven weeks ago, they needed to check if the cancer had spread. 

 

It felt like hours when it should have been only minutes since we were called in. Theo had closed off again, but I held on to his hand  and rubbed circles on his knuckles. 

 

When the door finally opened, the oncologist, Dr. Kaufmann, came in with the test results in his hands. The friendly smile he flashed us gave me hope. 

 

“I’m glad you finally decided to pursue treatment, Mr. Kingsley-Combs,” he said after shaking Theo’s hand then mine before taking a seat behind his desk. “Of all types of cancer, the chances of people who had thyroid cancer to recover fully was high.”

 

I listened intently as the doctor laced his fingers on top of Theo’s file on his desk. My husband was quiet beside me.

 

“Last you came for your check up, the lump on your neck was barely noticeable. My biggest worry when you stopped getting treatment was how fast it would spread or if it would enter your bloodstream,” the doctor paused and pulled up a couple of printouts of Theo’s MRI scan. “This is the one from your last visit.” He pointed the one on the left then proceeded to the one on the right. “This is from today. Note any difference?”

 

The images were so clear, but to my untrained eyes, they were identical. I wasn’t sure what difference was there to spot. I turned to Theo to see if he had seen anything in particular. 

 

“I’m not medically trained, doctor. I hope you can tell me.” 

 

Dr. Kauffmann took his pen and circled the area indicating where Theo’s thyroid glands were. 

 

“As you can see, there is no alarming change in the current image as compared to the previous one. Which means, the cancer has not grown and other tests also showed that it hasn’t spread to other areas in your body. If we start your treatment now and remove the affected tissue from your thyroid glands, the possibility for you to fully recover is very likely.”

 

“You mean, he won’t have cancer anymore?” I interjected. 

 

“That is a possible outcome. Most patients who had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer at an early stage survived the ordeal without relapse. I’m positive if we take the right steps right away, your husband would get the same result.”

 

We discussed on the treatment route Theo would have to undertake. I was feeling hopeful, but I knew Theo had his worries. For six years I knew the man, he never had gotten sick, not even the common flu. He was feeling helpless because something out of norm had befallen him and he couldn’t find his way out by himself like he normally could. I was glad I was there with him because when he was doubting himself, it was my role as his partner to convince him that he was the fighter he always was. 

 

The doctor scheduled for a lobectomy to be carried out soon after that. We were lucky that only a small part of Theo’s thyroid gland was affected, and he might not even need the hormone therapy after the recovery. I did a lot of reading online so I could understand more about it and what I can do to support Theo after the procedure.

 

Having Theo hospitalized prior to the surgery had brought the family to visit us. His mother had berated him for hiding such a serious thing on top of using it as an excuse to divorce me. His father took mercy on him, happy that I was back in his life, telling his mother to cut him some slack seeing how their son had pulled his head out of his arse

 

I didn’t know Papa Gare loved me so much. It made my day. 

 

Benji, the doctor in the family, was having a field day teasing his older brother. He came over alone with regards from Lilah and the children since they couldn’t come and sat on the bed at Theo’s feet while checking his carte. 

 

“Thyroid cancer, more common in women than in men…” he remarked. “But of course, you had to have if.” He snickered. 

 

Theo gave him the death glare only an older brother could pull off. 

 

I took pity on my husband and slapped Benji’s shoulder. “That’s not nice,” I told him, although the heat was taken off by the smile I was showing him. “He’s in pain.” I added.

 

“Well, he’s always a pain in the ass, nothing new there.” He sighed as he looked at me then changed his angle on the bed so he could see Theo better. “But I’ve talked to your doctor and from the way everything they’ve seen so far you’re in good shape. You’ll be back being the pain in the ass again soon enough.”

 

I heard the relief in Benji’s voice. Despite him and Eddie’s constant teasing of Theo, I knew both my brothers-in-law loved their eldest sibling. 

 

“Admit it, Benji. You love Theo.”

 

“Wha-- I do not!” He sputtered indignantly. “I’ll have you know, the only reason I’m glad he’s going to recover is because if he dies, I’d be the eldest. I love my job too much to have to take over his place at the company.”

 

“And I would turn in my grave if father hands over the company to you after I die. It would be a disaster.” 

 

“Can we stop talking about death right now? I prefer to have my husband with me for a long time before we decide to buy burial plots next to each other in another fifty years or so.” 

 

“You can keep your husband as long as you want. The only person who could put up with his arrogant ass is you. Speaking of that,” Benji looked at me then at his brother before asking, “have you taken care of it? The divorce?”

 

Theo nodded. “I already asked my lawyers to put a stop to the proceedings last week. It’s been taken care of.”

 

He reached for my hand and kissed the back of my palm and kept it by his side. My wedding ring was back on my ring finger and so was his. 

 

Before he made the phone call to his lawyers, I asked Theo if that was what he really wanted. I knew I didn’t want to part from him and the reason for our separation was because Theo thought he was going to leave me a widower, but I didn’t want to put him under more pressure than he already had been, so I told him if he really couldn’t be with me, I’d learn to live with it. He said he made a big mistake of hurting me once and it won’t happen again as long as he lived. I told him he would have to keep that promise for a long time because I’m certain we were going to grow old together. 

 

Benji left because me and Theo acting mushy and sickeningly in love made him throw up in his mouth when the reality was I knew he needed to escape and hid the fact that he was tearing up. I loved Theo’s family. They’re not the sappy types who threw ‘I love you’s everyday, but you knew they were close and could be counted on for anything. 

 

Being accepted wholly by them was the greatest gift I ever received.

 

……….

 

THEO spent two more days in the hospital after his surgery ended successfully. He still needed to follow up with some tests to make sure no traces of cancer were left. In the meantime, I had him under house arrest - I called his PA and said Theo will be on a recovery leave for at least one month and no one was to look for him unless someone is on fire - much to his dismay. My attention was smothering him, but after not being able to care for my husband when he first found out about the disease, I was making up for lost time and I was sure he was enjoying having me as his personal nurse. 

 

We talked a lot while he was recuperating. One of the topics that came up was about Crafty Leathers. Theo admitted that he dreaded the days I have to go into my shop and he wasn’t the only one who felt that way. 

 

Even though I loved my shop, I had to come into terms that I would never feel safe going back in there. I thought about the risk on Bridget and as much as I think there were better places that could use her skills, I liked her too much to keep her as an employee and a friend. 

 

Theo suggested relocating my business to a safer neighbourhood, somewhere burglaries were less common and with better traffic at night. I appreciated his suggestion but the extra expenses were not needed and seeing how I made about ninety percent of my sales online, the wise thing to do was to sell the shop. 

 

“Are you sure, baby?” He turned onto his side on the bed, facing me. 

 

I was staring at the ceiling of our bedroom, thinking about my decisions to let go of the shop. 

 

“It would be hard to let it go.” I admitted. “But it’s not like I’m ending my business. I’m thinking about setting up a workshop somewhere and Bridget could come and help me with taking the orders, the packing, the shipping. She’s doing those things already, the only difference is that everything will be done in a remote office and no cash involved.”

 

“I have another suggestion,” Theo said as he wrapped his arms around me, his scruffy chin rested on my shoulder. He fretted having to shave it all off for the surgery, but it had grown back to its former length while I kept him home in the past two weeks. “Let’s move to a bigger house where we can build you a workshop. That way you can work from home and take care of our kids at the same time.

 

It took awhile for me to digest what Theo was saying and when I caught up, I turned abruptly in his arms. 

 

“What?” I asked dumbfoundedly. 

 

Theo kissed my nose and grinned at my clueless face. “You heard me. We talked about this before and I know you love kids. I’ve seen how good you are with Brighton and Luca, how they adore you. I’m more than ready to be a parent… with you.”

 

It was impossible to answer him with words when my eyes started to blur with tears.

 

“Oh, love. You have such a soft, delicate heart.”

 

His mouth was instantly on me and I opened up for him, surrendering to his dominance like I always did. He moved on top of me easily, pinning my arms above my head with one hand while the other lifted my shirt off to expose my stomach and chest.

 

“Theo,” I whimpered as his lips found my nipple. “We can’t. You’re recovering.” I protested weakly, lost in the sensation his mouth was delivering. 

 

“Two weeks,” he said in response. “No vigorous activities for two weeks. It’s been sixteen days and I’m done waiting.”

 

“B-but–”

 

“I’m fine, baby,” he whispered in my ear. I had to agree, because after he was discharged from the hospital, I had been watching for any changes in him like a hawk. And aside from the slight change of his tone and a hoarse voice, which the doctor told us were expected and not permanent, he was fit. “You took very good care of me. Time I repay you back.”

 

We were naked within seconds and when he pushed into me, his cock slicked up in lube, my channel thoroughly prepared, my moans drowned his ragged voice. Reconnecting with my husband after all we’ve been through had been more emotional than I expected. When he pulled out, my yearning body sought for him and when he pushed back inside, I clenched for him, not wanting to let him go. 

 

Our coupling was a mix of passion and lust, gentle and rough as we deliciously burned for each other. When Theo finished in me, liquid fire filling my hungry channel, I screamed his name as my body shook in a violent tremor. I came off the high panting and gasping, Theo the same after he was done pumping his seed into me and slid his softening cock out. He got up from the bed, grabbed a damp washcloth from the bathroom and wiped me semi-clean. He went back in there for a quick cleanup himself then came back in his naked glory, got under the cover and spooned me, his lightly furred chest against my back. 

 

I was ready for a little shut eye when Theo whispered softly in my ear. “How do you feel about becoming a Mr. Kingsley-Combs?”

 

“You mean, like, Lane Kingsley-Combs? Doesn’t really have a nice ring to it.”

 

“I guess not.” Theo agreed with me. “But your family is the Kingsley-Combs, not the Dawsons anymore so no reason to keep that name. Besides, when we have kids, they’ll be confused as to why their papa doesn’t share their last name.”

 

“If you say so,” I replied, yawning.

 

“I do say so.”

 

“Ok then. Goodnight Mr. Kingsley-Combs.”

 

“Goodnight to you too, Mr. Kingsley-Combs.”

 

I fell asleep smiling.



 

— THE END —

 

 

Visual models for Theo and Lane

Spoiler

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Visual inspiration for Theodore Kingsley-Combs

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Visual inspiration for Lane Dawson

 

- Enjoy Reading!

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yaoi4fans

@3ruri

I adored it! Every bit of it! I love the same-sex marriage idea and the part I found the hottest, was when, after the hot sex scene, Theo ordered him to touch himself! So hot! I hope you write more stories! :in-love-cheetah-emoticon:

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3ruri
5 minutes ago, yaoi4fans said:

@3ruri

I adored it! Every bit of it! I love the same-sex marriage idea and the part I found the hottest, was when, after the hot sex scene, Theo ordered him to touch himself! So hot! I hope you write more stories! :in-love-cheetah-emoticon:

@yaoi4fans Thank you so much for reading!! I thought no one would pay attention to this. And I think married people who are still so much in love are the sweetest! I'm glad you enjoyed it! :yoyo51:

I'm in the middle of writing Kay's story, but taking a break from it at the moment. Hope to continue it soon. 

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yaoi4fans

I can't wait for the continuation! <3

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