Standing outside the door to their apartment feels different this time. Maybe it’s his head pounding from drinking half a bottle of tequila with Layla. She put away plenty of her own and before long they were giggling messes. That’s mostly worn off throughout the day though. Most of the day DeMarcus just felt lucky to have somewhere to be. Layla’s got resumes circulating so her job right now’s to kick back and watch daytime TV. Joining her was a welcome distraction but it could only last so long.
It’s after six at night which means Jesse should be home. The sound of a Spanish song he can’t understand’s pounding from behind the door. It has a nice beat but it’s nothing Jesse would ever play if he were there. He finds not knowing what the people are singing about annoying. Light shines out from behind their rubber duck curtains. Jesse’s here.
Unable to let himself in, DeMarcus tries to work up the nerve to knock. After standing there for a minute he hears a throat clear behind him. He turns to find a pizza delivery driver standing there. “You the guy who ordered the pizza?”
DeMarcus shakes his head. “No, just a friend about to leave.” He steps out of the way of the door. “Here, you go ahead.”
The delivery driver looks suspicious as DeMarcus steps aside, out of the view of someone looking through the peephole. He doesn’t want Jesse to see him there and refuse to let him inside. After a moment of staring the driver steps forward and knocks. A voice inside says, “Just a minute.”
The door flies open as Jesse steps out wearing nothing but a bathrobe. His hair’s soaked and it looks like he just got out of the shower. He works at a grocery store and always feels gross after work. He’s holding his wallet and has a big grin on his face as he pulls out a pair of twenties. He’s cut his hair since DeMarcus last saw him; it’s shorter than he normally cuts it. His legs are showing below the robe and they look tight, like they usually do for a few weeks after he starts working out. A few times a year he says he’s going to start working out, does so religiously for a few weeks, then abandons it and goes back to his normal routine.
It takes him a moment to notice DeMarcus standing there but when he does the smile disappears. He shoves the money toward the delivery driver and grabs the pizza away. “I don’t want to see you. Figured changing the locks would give you a hint. Go away.”
He starts to slam the door but DeMarcus steps forward. “Don’t shut me out, I just want to talk. Please just talk with me.” There’s hesitation and the door doesn’t slam. Jesse glares at him but slowly steps inside, leaving the door open behind him.
DeMarcus follows. When he steps inside he’s shocked by what he finds. The place is immaculate. He’s never seen their place so clean since they’ve lived together. The mess isn’t the only thing missing though. Any sign of him is gone. Pictures of them together, trophies and awards he’s won over the years, his video games beneath the TV. Furniture and generic wall decorations are still there but someone new would have no idea he’d ever lived there.
Jesse walks into the kitchen and grabs a bottle of whiskey from their liquor cupboard. He pours a glass and takes a long drink. “If you want to talk, you should start talking.” He opens the box of pizza from their favorite place.
The aroma hits DeMarcus and his stomach grumbles. All he’s eaten today are a few chips Layla had laying around. She had a sandwich but didn’t have enough meat for both of them and he didn’t want to impose. It’s hard to think with the pounding in his head. He didn’t want to come over here drunk so he cut himself off hours ago but that meant he got to come over with a hangover. “You don’t think I could get a slice of that, or maybe a drink myself before I start?” Jesse’s eyes narrow and he doesn’t respond. “No, guess not.”
Walking into the living room, DeMarcus sits in his chair which he’s glad to see is still there. Jesse follows but sits at the nearby kitchen table. He’s never been willing to eat at the couch. Even on game nights he gets annoyed when DeMarcus wants to have snacks there. He stands and walks to the table, pulling out a chair and sitting down. “I can explain everything. I promise. I didn’t write those letters you got.”
Jesse takes a bite of pizza. It looks perfect. He ordered the margherita which is his favorite and which DeMarcus loves, though if given the choice he’d probably order the meat lovers. His stomach wouldn’t handle the meat lovers tonight though and he knows it. He chews slowly, looking DeMarcus up and down. “So your excuse is that while you were in the hospital for weeks, you didn’t write me the horrible letters I got, you just didn’t contact me at all?”
“I wasn’t in the hospital and there was no way I could contact you. The first thing I did when I woke up was ask for a phone to call and they wouldn’t allow it. They told me they were sending you those letters and I asked to write one myself to tell you the truth, or even to tell you what they wanted if I could only make it from me and tell you what I wanted to say about you. They wouldn’t let me.”
Taking another bite of his pizza, the anger on Jesse’s face seems to be replaced with disbelief. At least he’s interested. “Go on.”
He spills his guts. He talks about the attacks, saving people, watching people die, thinking for sure he was going to die. He tells him how much he wanted to call but how his phone died before he could. He talks about the chemicals and the powers, about taking out the attackers one by one using them. Then about his being taken into custody, how they wanted to study him. How he was offered those powers forever if he’d only take them but he couldn’t do it. He wanted to come home too much.
Jesse asks a few minor questions in the beginning but as DeMarcus goes on he stops, content to listen. By the time DeMarcus is done Jesse’s jaw sits open. He stands without a word and walks into the kitchen. He returns a minute later with a plate with a piece of pizza and a glass of whiskey. He holds them out. DeMarcus almost cries to see them. He considers jumping up to hug his boyfriend but doesn’t know if they’re ready for that yet. Instead he downs the whiskey in one gulp and starts tearing into the pizza. He didn’t realize how hungry he was. The crust cracks how he remembers and the freshness of the sauce and the basil make him feel weak. He’s home.
Watching him eat, Jesse seems to be studying him. He waits until the piece is gone before he says, “So to be clear, you were held prisoner by the government because they wanted to take advantage of the powers you got in this attack.”
Wiping his mouth on his sleeve since he doesn’t have a napkin, he nods. “I know it sounds unbelievable but it’s the truth.”
Looking at the ground, Jesse leans on his elbows and puts his forehead on his clenched fists. “It doesn’t sound unbelievable. We’re talking about the government. Besides, you’re not that good at making stuff up. Now I feel bad that I spent the last few weeks hating you instead of worried about you.”
“Come on, it’s not like that. You had every reason to feel that way.” The man still won’t look up. “Jesse, look at me.” He does, for a moment. The moment passes and he looks away again. “I don’t need you to feel bad or anything like that. I want to come home though. This is my home. This is our life. I want to come back to it. Can I do that?”
Standing and walking away, Jesse goes to the kitchen. He gets the whiskey down and pours himself another glass. “I cheated.”
DeMarcus feels his stomach drop. He glances down at his empty cup. There’s no relief there. “When?”
“About a week after your last letter. Or their last letter. I felt hurt. I wanted to be there for you. We’ve talked about getting married. Becoming a family. That’s what family’s all about for me. Being there for each other when times are hardest. I felt betrayed. I wanted to hurt you as bad as I was hurting. It was stupid. Some guy from work who wanted to go get drinks. It was only one time and I was safe but it happened.”
“Can you come in here and talk to me? I’d rather not say this to your stomach.” Jesse’s stomach is all he can make out between the upper and lower cupboards of their kitchen.
“I can’t say this to your face. I screwed up so bad. I told myself it wasn’t really cheating because I was going to break up with you the first time I saw you. I almost wrote a letter breaking up with you but I decided I’d rather look you in the eye when I did it. Funny, because now I can’t look you in the eye and say this.”
“I forgive you.” DeMarcus can feel his heart breaking but this wasn’t a betrayal, or at least not an intended one. He can’t say for certain he wouldn’t have done the same in Jesse’s situation. It hurts and there’s a part of him that wants to run out of here and never look back but he’s willing to forgive given the circumstances. What he wants more than anything is to go in the other room and hold his boyfriend and tell him they’ll be alright. That they’ll get through this. He stands, starting to head toward the kitchen. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“Maybe you can but I don’t know if I can.”
Hearing the pain in Jesse’s voice drives a stake into his heart. He wants to fix this rift and put them back together. He can only think of one thing which might work though and there’s a good chance it drives them further apart. “I cheated on you too.”
Silence hangs in the air for a long time. He can still only see Jesse’s stomach but he notices it shaking. “When?”
“Years ago. We’d only been going out a few months and I got drunk one night at the bar. I don’t even know his name. I wasn’t safe but I got tested since then and I was clean. I thought about telling you but we’d talked and you said the only thing you couldn’t forgive was cheating so I never said anything. I should have but I didn’t want to lose you. Figured I’d take it to my grave but right now, maybe you need to hear it. If you can’t live with it and end it, at least you don’t feel like it’s your fault.”
He can hear tears and he walks around the corner into the kitchen. Jesse’s head’s against the cabinet, another glass of whiskey waiting to be drunk in his hand. “How could you do that?” He tries to respond but by the time his mouth can open Jesse screams, “How could you do that? Even back then?”
Walking closer, DeMarcus puts his hands up, trying to calm the situation. “I know it sucks and I suck because of it but I wasn’t trying to justify it. I know it sucks. Even then I knew it sucked. It was so stupid.”
“You’re damn right it was. You were willing to throw this away, for what?” He throws the glass of whiskey back and starts to pour another.
“I wasn’t trying to throw anything away. I was just stupid and young. Calm down. Please.”
The tears stop and Jesse sets the glass down. He walks past DeMarcus, out of the room and a glance into his eyes shows no sign of emotion. He walks into the living room and sits on the couch, turning the TV on. DeMarcus follows him. “What are you doing? Are you alright?”
“I’m fine. Stuff happens, no reason to lose it.” More than the words themselves, DeMarcus is concerned by the tone. He sounds too fine.
“We should talk about what you’re feeling. I just dropped something important on you, you have a right to be mad. You should be mad.”
“I’m not happy about it, but I feel calm.”
Now his blood runs cold. “How calm?”
Jesse shrugs. “I don’t know, just calm.”
Moving in front of him, DeMarcus puts a hand on each of Jesse’s shoulders. The first physical contact they’ve had since he’s been here. “This isn’t a time for calm. Get mad. Lose it on me. I’m okay with it, I can take it.”
Anger roars into Jesse’s eyes. It sweeps across his face like a flock of locusts. “You want me to get mad? Fuck you DeMarcus. I have plenty of reason to get mad.” He jumps to his feet and pushes DeMarcus away. Grabbing at a lamp next to him, he throws it and DeMarcus barely dodges.
“Don’t throw stuff at me.” The second the words leave his lips he regrets them. Jesse was already reaching for a pillow to throw but he stops. Still he comes at DeMarcus, pushing him back. “Calm down again.” He closes his eyes, almost hoping the anger will continue. It doesn’t though. The calm’s suddenly back and Jesse goes back to the couch, sitting down and resuming his TV show without a word.
Without another word of his own DeMarcus runs into their bedroom and grabs a duffel bag from under their bed. He throws his closet open and is relieved to find Jesse didn’t get rid of all his clothes. He starts stuffing a variety of things into the bag. He grabs another and fills it as well. Soon most of his clothes he cares about are packed. He runs to the bathroom and grabs his toothbrush and a few odds and ends. Jesse may have taken every sign of him from the living room but he wasn’t as judicious in clearing the rest of the apartment. Shoes, his tablet, a few other odds and ends he might need are easily found.
Returning to the living room, Jesse’s still watching TV as if nothing happened. A small grin starts to spread over his face as something funny happens on his show. DeMarcus considers saying something. In this state of control though it won’t mean anything and what can he say? What he’s done will wear off in a little while and Jesse will be back to himself. He could stay and try to sort this out. That wouldn’t be fair though. Every time they fight he could suddenly take control of the situation with a stray impulse. He can’t be in a real relationship with that power. It’s impossible.
Instead he walks behind the man he loves. He leans down and kisses him right in the middle of his head. He considers one last impulse like telling him to be happy or not to miss him but that’s stupid. It would wear off in a few hours. The man deserves to feel what he feels as much as he can.
Closing the door behind him, he considers going back to Layla’s and telling her what happened. He remembers her revulsion when he told her about the powers though. Her sudden fear she was being controlled. She calmed when she found out they’d worn off but now he knows that’s not the case. Somehow, they’re still here. How did they not work in the facility? It doesn’t make sense.
He walks toward the parking lot, preying to find his car sitting there. It is, parked right next to Jesse’s. Someone must have towed it home after the attack. He’s grateful for that. No locks have been changed here. He climbs inside. There’s not much gas but it will have to be enough.