Welcome to book Three of the William Carter series, this one is entitled Carter's Duty. It's a little different from the others, the characters are now in thier mid twenties and dealing with modern life issues.
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June 13th 2003
So much for life. Open defiance was his only recourse after being backstabbed so many times he could no longer feel the pain. Will lifted the cup of coffee, almost forgotten in his hand, and toasted the world. He downed the cup in a single fluid motion and felt the warm liquid slide down his throat to warm his insides. He would go on, as always; survival was the one thing he excelled at.
Will turned his back on the city; he said a silent goodbye as he re-entered his home, and within minutes his bags were packed and he was ready to leave. And as he held them he took a final glance around the bedroom and all the memories it held. He had closed the book on the love he had shared there; he would have to move on.
He climbed down the stairs and walked into the study, his only sanctum during the storm, taking the time to stare with hatred at the papers that littered about his desk. All the time, all the work he had invested just to succeed. He felt a sudden stab of rage and swore as he gathered the papers together, swept them into the small woodstove and tossed the match in afterwards. One last act of defiance against the company that he had given so much to and that had taken so much more, but he would deny them the final victory. He sat for awhile and watched the flames flare up over the paper, the steady rhythm of the clock over the mantle counted down the time until he was due to leave.
He picked up the phone and made a quick call to his assistant Alicia, to ask her for a drive to the airport: he couldn't face friends that morning, and he knew that Alicia would gladly accept a chance to say goodbye to the one boss she actually enjoyed working for. He stopped a moment in the hall and looked around him. He was lucky, his friend Jared had agreed to deal with the house and any belongings that could not be taken; it was one less burden for Will to deal with. And he shivered involuntarily; there was no point to remain there and, with a self-satisfied nod, stepped out of his house for the last time. His hand reached out to pull the door shut behind him.
The drive to the airport passed in silence. And, once he could check his luggage they were able to sit awhile in the airport bar. He turned the tasteless drink around in his nerveless fingers as he said goodbye to a life he had reluctantly come to accept as his own.
"Look, Will," Alicia said as she watched him roll the glass between his thumb and forefinger, "it's not like you to just give up."
He set the glass down and glanced at the hands on his watch as they neared the last hour before his time in exile was to begin and he realized that the life that had been chosen for him was about to begin. A new home, leaving everything he knew behind him. His life was being gambled by other people and he hated it. He didn't want it, going halfway around the world meant nothing.
"I have a job to do," he replied as he picked up the glass again taking a slow drink; he felt old at that moment, ground beneath the weight of his thoughts.
Alicia sat across the table and tried to make conversation, to help to ease the moment with the kind of friendly support only fine Canadian Rye could provide. But the intensity of the last week that had led to that lone ticket back to London tucked into his passport had at last reached a climax, and they both accepted that this was probably their final drink together. Strangely neither felt sad at the parting, they both knew that it had been inevitable, and accepted it as such.
"Well at least in London people will be polite when they hang up on you..." Alicia joked at the expense of the company both had been exploited by, and the memories of a shared camaraderie, tempered by the closeness they had enjoyed, lightened the mood of the pair.
Will looked up and around him, the comfortable airport bar afforded a view of the different people who arrived and departed from the airport that was a gateway to different cultures. And Will remembered back to when he had been a stranger who had stood upon Canadian soil for the first time. Now when he sat there, made wise by experience and no longer a stranger, it felt as though he was about to complete a journey he had started so many years before.
"I should go to the departure lounge," he said after a minute or two of silence passed between them.
She looked sadly up at the clock, "I'm going to miss you Will..."
He smiled, "My friends just call me Carter. " He extended his hand to her and when she took it he drew her close into a tight embrace, "Take care of yourself Ali."
She grinned at the nickname he had given her, "You too... don't be a stranger, stay in touch."
The time for departures had arrived and they walked together towards the gate. A final joke, the solemn promise to stay in touch, one last goodbye, and Will stepped into the departure lounge, to shed his old identity as he did so. Perhaps he had existed the last seven years with the hope of that moment. The realization of the immensity of what was unfolding lightened his heart; finally he stood in control of his own destiny and he could at last understand the freedom he had fought so hard to gain. But at what cost?
The nearly deserted flight lounge offered a chance for relaxation after all the stress of leaving who he was behind. Here he could lower his guard, the fear that had hunted him so ruthlessly would shortly fade into memory.
Will glanced at his watch. He traced the passage of time as the hands drew ever closer to the final minutes there. There, in between identities, between lives, he relaxed and reflected on how much time had changed the man he was. The hard shell he had locked his emotions behind opened briefly and he allowed the knowledge that his life was about to change set in. He had come so far in such a short time; there he stood on the edge of the future, at last free of all the constraints and imposed limits that had bound him so tightly to a false sense of duty. He stood on the edge of his world and stared out across the void to what lay beyond. A bright beacon of hope shone in the darkness, it shone its light upon the passage that led him onwards to his own destiny. He took solace in it; he had been betrayed, but at least he could take comfort in the knowledge that he would make the most of the chance to start over.
The boarding call went out, and the passengers rose and walked towards the plane. On the watch face, the hands met and his time in exile was over. As Will got up to board the plane the tensions of those long, past weeks faded, and he felt reassured with the sense of hope that was his guide. The rapid events that had led him up to that moment had perhaps passed too quickly. Being swept along in the tide of events he had no control over...He passed through the doors and handed his boarding pass across to the stewardess and dispelled that first seed of doubt; no, it was not the time for doubts.
Will was hot.
He wasn't hot in the kind of way that made screaming girls beat down his door and faint when he looked at them. No, unfortunately for him he was hot because the air-conditioning in his stylish split-levelled town house had decided that afternoon it would meet oblivion. Typically it would decide that Saturday was the perfect day to commit mechanical suicide, and despite the landlord's claims to the contrary, the device refused to be resurrected no matter how many times Will invoked God's name in reference to it.
Not that Will was unattractive, quite the contrary he was tall, dark and handsome, with careless hair and a pair of those deep hazel `Irish eyes' that drew people to trust him on instinct. But he was not hot. He had been told repeatedly that he looked distinguished in that classic Englishman manner that brimmed with raw charisma, but without it he was simply... normal. Now Tom Cruise was hot, but Will was more a James Dean, dark and brooding
He rested on the rail that separated the kitchen from the lounge, and sweated profusely in a thin cotton shirt as he tried to drink the cold coffee from a mug he held in his loose hand. Below him the eclectic mix of people seated on his couches to watch movies on his television sweated as well. He didn't object, he had invited each of them to what had become a ritual every Saturday night since he had moved back to Ottawa the year before, a mixture of his old high school friends and their current love interests; it was a way for each of them to stay close when their lives conspired so hard to pull them apart.
He loved each of them after a fashion, knowing how much they loved him. Too many years together, too many laughs. He flushed a small smile as he thought about some of the memories they'd shared together. But that was also the nature of friendship, to love each other no matter what.
They were all friends, if such a strange group of individuals from such a wide set of varied backgrounds could be friends. And Will smiled at them fondly as he enjoyed watching them for a while. He couldn't help but wonder what had kept them all so close over the years. But that was friendship for you, it took the most unlikely people threw them together and sat back to watch what happened.
His eyes drifted to the first couple. Lisa and Jeff were curled up on one of the couches together and shared a large bowl of pistachio nuts. He had often tried to work out what the attraction was between the two of them; she was a beautiful, intelligent woman with a keen eye and a sharp tongue. Jeff was an average guy who was a bright guy but no match for her intelligent wit. He had a tendency to allow himself to be pushed around by her. She was a public relations lawyer, an ultra-feminist, a vegetarian and an on-again-off-again lesbian (she really couldn't decide). He was a construction worker with a taste for sexual experimentation and a flare for art.
Will wasn't sure exactly what they saw in each other, but they were undoubtedly in love. You just had to look at how she looked at him to see that, and there was no question that Jeff adored her in return.
He had watched Jeff stand in the blistering cold for three hours just to walk her home. And he had watched Lisa devour an entire tub of rocky road ice cream and wail that she would never see him again when they had broken up. Will had weathered all the storms of their relationship, an unwilling passenger on their love boat. He grinned wondering if they would give him a captain's hat and call him Skipper. Come to think of it Jeff did look like a beefed up Gilligan...
Will turned as Andrew tapped his arm and gestured with the coffee pot to offer a refill on the stone-cold liquid in Will's mug. Andrew eyes sparkled as he realized that Will had been studying the party guests. He was bright: anyone who studied law at the University of Ottawa would have to be, and he knew Will too well.
"Having fun?" Andrew asked, glancing down at the guests and back at the man he loved.
"Yes," Will replied as he let him refill his mug with a smile of gratitude, "Thanks."
"Oh, come on, that was terrible!" Rafik bellowed standing from his couch and pointing to the screen, "I could do better..."
"Sit down and be quiet, I'm trying to watch the movie," Farah admonished as she pulled him back down beside her.
The two men up in the kitchen both glanced at the couple seated across from Jeff and Lisa. Rafik and Farah detested one another. Years of berating, aggravating and annoying one another had bred a relationship that festered on mutual hatred. They had to be in their third year of marriage by that point, and Will truly believed that the only blissful time between them was their time apart. In some strange way they persisted with the marriage. It probably had more to do with her need to control everything around her, and his bull stubbornness. Love had long ago vanished from their relationship and they resisted all attempts to reconcile them to each other.
Farah was a care worker, and as such should have presented an image of a warm person who cared and was able to listen with boundless patience to the world's problems. Will had learned quickly that Farah possessed none of those traits. The only thing, in Will's mind, Farah cared about was herself and she went to great lengths to prove that fact. But she could fake compassion well. According to Lisa, Farah faked a lot of things, not that Will particularly wanted to know. There was a bet on how long it would be until Rafik woke up and threw her out on her pristine ass. But Will had lost that bet two weeks after the wedding.
Not that Rafik was stupid; more that he truly believed Farah to be the right woman for him. She was a corporate wife who looked good on his arm at business functions. She complemented him well. Many of his co-workers wondered how a man with so few social graces and so little tact could convince a girl like Farah to marry him. Will knew all too well: Rafik's inheritance, once his parents passed away, would be enough to make anyone ignore his failings. That and Rafik had another fatal flaw, he was too nice to Farah, and she kept him tightly wrapped around her little finger.
Will supposed everyone settled in one fashion or another. Rafik, for Farah, was just one example. Not that Will had a right to criticize; he didn't exactly have a stunning track record for relationships. He'd been in one for years, somehow managing to stay together despite all the pitfalls that normally came with modern love. Partly due to the fact that Andrew was just as stubborn as Will was.
He was lucky for that, his friends had all gone through relationships were nothing short of monumental disasters, his friend Jared's last one had been on par with the kind of natural disaster that levelled cities. He was sure that somewhere someone had erected a memorial dedicated solely to man's fallen pride. Maybe one day he would get a chance to lay a wreath there and say a silent prayer; for the moment he was just glad he had never had to go through it. But that wasn't his doing; he'd somehow lucked into the kind of relationship that endured, the kind that grew stronger with time.
Andrew returned the smile as he leaned in close to whisper in Will's ear, "Why aren't you watching the movie?" he asked, as his lips brushed Will's earlobe.
"It was on TBS recently," Will replied as he wrapped his arms around Andrew and drew him closer, "and I didn't want to disturb the others."
Andrew had been a natural addition to Will's life. Sure there were unexpected complications with being all but married to a guy for the better part of five years. Will wasn't exactly sure how he felt about that. Part of him wished that he knew exactly where they were going, and another part of him enjoyed the thrill of not knowing. He supposed that was the way it was with love. They had been dating for the better part of five years and there was no question in his mind that he loved Andrew, but what did that mean? They lived together, loved together, best friends and so much more, but were they ever going to move beyond that? Suddenly he felt a moment of insecurity and doubt, would they ever admit this was more than just a casual relationship? After all the history they had shared he should know, but that was part of the problem.
Will wanted more.
Andrew was tall, built for hockey in that typical Canadian way, and to Will he was definitely handsome in an Old Navy commercial kind of way. It made Andrew appear young, wholesome and clean cut, the kind of boy you took home to your mother if it wasn't for the fact that he was a boy and Will's step-mother still existed in a world of denial. His sandy-blond hair parted in the middle almost carelessly only served to add to the image of a typical wholesome youth. But it was Andrew's sharp blue eyes that gave Will a way to see past the stereotype to the intelligent and determined man beyond. Those powerful eyes that shone every time they looked at him.
Andrew lifted the coffee pot and grinned, "Are you gonna let me go put this back or what?" he asked but he seemed in no hurry to escape Will's embrace.
Will nodded as he bit his lip and reluctantly let Andrew go, following him into the main part of the kitchen as he took a draught from the mug. He immediately regretted it as he winced at the bitter watery taste. Andrew was in the top five honour students at his university, but somehow the art of how to make a decent pot of coffee eluded him completely. No matter how many times he had been shown, Andrew's coffee retained an abysmal taste. Will quickly found the sugar pot and added heaped teaspoons to the liquid to hide the flavour, hoping that Andrew wouldn't notice and be offended.
Will still remembered the first time he had been subjected to a pot of Andrew's coffee. They had been at Lisa's cottage in the Gatineau's earlier that year. It had been a great weekend, the eight of them and Brody, who was notably absent from the night's get-together, a chance to relax and forget the world for a while.
It had been the first morning and Will had desperately craved a mug of coffee as he sat out on the porch wrapped in a blanket and taking in some of the fresh wilderness air he detested so much. Brody had joined him at some point during that morning and the two were idly discussing life. It had been Andrew who had kindly offered to make them coffee and vanished off to the kitchenette.
Unfortunately for Will, Andrew had spent much of his life at Tim Horten's a few doors down, and so in the morning he had been unable to find the coffee filters and, like most Canadian men, had improvised. The result had been a mug of coffee that tasted like toilet paper.
Will had didn't have the heart to complain and had grinned and bore it, keeping Andrew distracted while Brody had slipped unnoticed into the kitchen, dumped the pot, and remade it using the proper filters he found in a storage cupboard. A smooth operation that had resulted in Will stomaching only one mug of the noxious brew. But Andrew had tried, and Will wasn't about to tell the great handyman that he had failed utterly so had complimented him on that mug, and summarily doomed himself to Andrew's coffee thereafter. A sacrifice in the name of love.
"Hey," Andrew said, as if something had just struck him as important as he replaced the pot and turned back to Will, "you know, Jeff was saying earlier that he and Lisa have set a date."
Will tried his best to act surprised, but as usual he failed. Jeff and Lisa had been engaged for nearly five years and each time Jeff had settled on a date, Lisa had found a way to postpone it. It wasn't that she didn't want to marry Jeff; she simply found reasons not to go through with it. It was a familiar pattern and Will wasn't surprised that they had set another date. Jeff was an eternal optimist; he whole-heartedly believed she would go through with it eventually.
"When?" Will asked as he reached into the fridge to find the flavoured coffee cream he had invested in when it had become apparent Andrew was moving in. Will tried to be nonchalant, even though Andrew had gone to the same high school as Will and Lisa had, back when she was dating Brody; he had been a year senior to them and had never really hung out with Lisa that often, definitely not long enough to learn her relationship pattern. So the news of a wedding seemed like big news to him.
Will choked on a mouthful of coffee; he spat the liquid clear across the countertop.
Andrew looked at him in concern as he took the mug from Will's hand before it could be dropped onto the floor. He set it aside as he tried to straighten Will up.
"You ok?" he asked as he rubbed Will's back to help him breathe.
Will coughed again as he tried to stand upright and take a ragged breath. "Next week?" he managed to choke out.
Andrew nodded as he gave Will a look that said he wasn't sure why Will was so shocked, but he had long ago come to accept Will's peculiarities. Even though Will was only a couple of years younger than he was there were still some things he couldn't relate to. Will was a strange individual, one of those men that were eternally sarcastic, no matter what he said he typically had his customary mischievous grin on his face causing you to wonder if what he said or thought was serious or more him trying to be clever. To Andrew it was endearing, though it annoyed other people.
He gave Will a deadpan expression that said he was serious, "Yeah, they have nearly everything arranged."
"What's going on?" Little Peter asked as he wandered into the kitchen digging in the fridge for the Kool Aid as he looked in amusement at Will choking to death on his coffee. The young sixteen year old was the youngest person there that night, more of the resident mascot and little brother than anything else. He was sporting a gaudy Hawaiian shirt and a goofy grin on his face as he sipped his drink, his big blue eyes sparkling as he waited.
"I just told Will about the wedding," Andrew explained.
"Oh that," Peter said with a knowing grin, "They promised I got to be the ring bearer."
"Not in that shirt," Andrew warned nodding to the cheap polyester shirt with its bright pattern, "But anyway," he turned back to Will, "They wanted to wait till later to tell you."
Will stared at Andrew for a moment, as he tried to digest what he had just been told, before he strode over to the rail and looked down accusingly at the couple who stared back at him innocently. They acted as if they didn't know why he stared at them with such a startled look on his face. As usual Will was the last to learn about the important things, and typically he had to find out through someone else.
Not that he was upset about that; he was too shocked to realize the slight.
"Wednesday?" He demanded in a strangled tone. He was incredulous; they couldn't seriously have planned to get married with so little notice.
Jeff, as usual remained stoic, "Yes, Wednesday."
Farah sighed in disgust as she snatched the remote control from her husband and paused the DVD. She glared up at Will in annoyance for his interruption. Will ignored her; it was his usual method for dealing with Rafik's wife.
"And when exactly were you planning to let me know this?" Will demanded as the shock began to wear off and he began to think again.
"Oh, Wednesday morning." Lisa replied with a matter-of-fact tone, she enjoyed Will's spluttering indignance.
"I see," he replied sternly, before he broke out into a broad grin, "I guess I should congratulate you both then."
Jared sat up and looked between them in confusion, "What's up?"
Jared and Kerry. They were the last couple who graced Will's home that night. And Will supposed they were the best example of people who had chosen to settle. He was a financial planner with a background as a used car salesman. Will loved Jared deeply in that best friend kind of way, Jared was one of those guys doomed to be everyone's friend, especially the girls he fell in love with...
"We're getting married a week Wednesday." Jeff replied completely indifferent to all the attention cantered upon him. It took a lot to get Jeff to react; a bomb could explode under his seat cushion and he would still take his time to react to it.
"That's great!" Kerry shifted as she looked up from the crook of Jared's arm where she was nestled, "It's about time!"
Kerry was a grade school teacher who always seemed to smell like poster paints. Everyone had experienced that one art teacher in school who looked like they had smoked too much pot and was just a little too far out there to relate to reality, and that was Kerry. But she loved Jared. She seemed oblivious to her own beauty; she possessed a natural beauty that shone through the obvious fatigue of running around after eight-year- olds. But she lacked confidence, which was one reason Will presumed she had become a teacher. Will had tried teaching once, and he was a shining example of someone who couldn't.
Will knew they loved each other; Jared had sex on tap and she had someone to cling to through moments of insecurity. However, Jared always bragged about the super models he dreamt about when he was alone with just the guys. There was something in this about defeat, and it seemed as though Jared had simply given up on his search for the right one and had settled for anyone. That saddened Will tremendously, he cared about both of them but they just didn't work as a couple. He wished sincerely they would figure it out eventually and either fall in love or walk away, their current status quo wasn't healthy for either of them.
The room broke out into excited conversations as the secret was finally revealed. There was talk of preparations and what had to happen before the wedding day arrived. It turned out that Jeff had everything nicely arranged; all that remained were a few of the smaller details: the guest invitations and a best man. And so movie night became an impromptu wedding shower.
Peter, Will and Andrew joined the others down in the living room, Andrew wrapping his arms around Will as he drew him up against him as he offered his advice to the soon-to-be newlyweds. And Will took a moment to watch Andrew as he interacted with his friends. It seemed that they had come to accept that Andrew was a part of Will's life technically they were the old married couple, the longest running relationship in the room, the one Lisa had confided she envied. But again it was a case of status quo... and that made Will nervous.
Lisa had commented many times that she thought Andrew was good for Will. Someone who could compete with Will and challenge him to think, unlike so many of her ex's who had more in common with a vacuum cleaner than a human being. No -- even Lisa had to admit, vacuum cleaners had a use; her ex's were simply useless.
Not that Will had ever thought that way; he'd liked some of them. It just proved he was no real judge of character. Then again he still thought it a mistake when she had broken up with Brody after high school. No one had seen that disaster coming, Lisa had been expecting white picket fences and children, Brody just hadn't been that type of man. Which was probably why she envied Will's relationship with Andrew. She'd liked Andrew back in high school, not even she had seen their getting together coming. But she had told Will that she approved of their relationship. Which was good, Will wasn't about to trade Andrew in for anything.
"Someone will have to call Brody." Jared commented as he reached out to grab a hand full of popcorn.
"Oh God, no." Farah complained, the remote still clutched in her hand, her movie forgotten by everyone but her.
Everyone continued to ignore her.
"Where is he now?" Jeff asked.
"LA at last report," Will responded. "Something to do with work."
"Brody doesn't work," Lisa commented dryly. "God knows what he does but it certainly can't be called work."
There was a chuckle around the room.
Will and Jared exchanged excited glances; Brody was coming.
Andrew's rolling gait kept pace with his best friend, his hands in his pockets and a lot thoughtful expression drifted across his face. Jared was talking about nothing as usual; sports, cars, girls and Andrew enjoyed the fact that Jared could just get lost in a conversation.
He grinned as he caught what Jared was hinting at, "I can't afford to buy another mustang right now." He said simply, "What between school and everything else I can't afford to keep a car."
Jared flashed him a sympathetic look, Andrew had sold his prized car to pay for his tuition, and the classic Mustang his father had left to him had been sold to give him a chance at a future. That had been a sad day for both of them, though Jared had taken it harder than Andrew had, he had done his best to get a good price for it. Andrew sighed looking over his should beck towards Will's house and then up at his friend.
"You okay buddy?" Jared asked in concern.
Andrew noted the look, casting one of his own and he shrugged, "Carter's not been himself lately, I don't know..."
They were both making the trek to the local beer store for a two-four and it had given them a chance to get out of the house and talk. Andrew appreciated that it was Jared's way of easing the tension.
"Will gets like that at times," Jared said in understanding, "You just have to picture him with that indignant `I'm British, you can't say that to me,' look on his face and that silly grin he gets whenever he is being sarcastic..."
Andrew couldn't help but smile, "But... but..." he spluttered imitating Will's British accent, "...I don't really do that do I?"
Both Canadian's chuckled at their friend's eccentric behaviour, and Andrew shrugged, "I don't know, just he's broken and I don't know how to fix him."
Jared stepped down off of the sidewalk as they crossed the street; contemplating that, "Well look at where he works, if I had to deal with a Human Resource department day in day out, I'd be a morose mother fucker too."
Andrew punched Jared in the arm a light tap that said "hey watch it, that's my boyfriend you're talking about."
Jared rubbed his tenderized arm as he looked at his old friend, "But you see what I mean right? It's not that he's deliberately an asshole or anything."
Andrew sighed staring about him at the rows of brown wood town houses that made up their neighbourhood, it was quiet in the early evening, kids playing a game of street hockey, clearing their nets out of the way of passing cars, their parents sitting on stoops keeping an eye on their kids sipping beer from bottles and talking amongst themselves. Andrew liked the area; it was a place for families, a place for settling down and making a life for themselves.
"Carter..." Andrew began.
"Why do you still call him Carter?" Jared asked suddenly, curiosity burning in his eyes.
Andrew hesitated, as if he had never really considered something he just did instinctively now, "I don't know," he replied honestly, "Started in school and I just kept doing it. It suits him better than Will does." He watched as one of the kids missed a slap shot and the tennis ball bounced in their direction.
Jared looked thoughtful as he absently kicked the rogue tennis ball back to the kids, who cheered in thanks at his kind gesture, "Just it does describe him though doesn't it. How are..." he grew mildly uncomfortable, "well you know... how's it going?"
The way Jared stressed the `it' Andrew knew he meant the relationship. He stuck his hands in his pockets and nodded to Mrs. Twineham, the old woman cheerily waved before returning to watering her flowers with a garden hose.
"It's going," he said resignedly, "But I don't think Will's ever going to relax, like I said he's broken and I don't know what its going to take to fix him, if I even can. I love him, and I think he loves me, but you know its tough when I barely see him..."
"Yeah," Jared admitted, "Tough one, but you just need to see the way he looks at you to know he thinks the world of you."
"And he means the world to me," Andrew admitted as they began to cross the Beer stores parking lot. He rounded the obligatory Police Cruiser permanently stationed there, and reached out to hold the door open. "The problem is making him believe that."
They walked into the store, watching the long line of Sen's fans buying beer for their victory parties, or commiseration ones. Andrew gave Jared a look, both young men had no idea how the Sen's had fared and it was the playoffs. It was sacrilege to miss a playoff game in Canada, but the girls had categorically refused to watch the game on a movie night. The argument had grown heated, until Lisa, Farah and Will had each made it very clear that it was hockey or them. And hockey had nearly won out.
Life was hockey, everything else was a detail.
The trick was to find out the score without appearing like a couple of guys who were whipped by their significant others. Jared gave Andrew a determined look and leaned on the counter, "What about that penalty?" he said a little loudly, "Man..."
Andrew picked up on it quickly; suppressing his grin, "Tell me about it."
"I know, eh?" one of the other guys in line wearing his Sen's jersey said as he turned, "The ref was blind."
Jared nodded sagely, "Yes, and the goal..."
The Sen's fan rolled his eyes, "They would never have scored were it not for the power play..." He grinned, "Though we showed them, eh?"
"Yes, we sure did," Jared said in total agreement, agreement for what he had no clue.
Andrew turned to the cashier and placed his order for a two-four of `Fifty' a rather noxious, if cheap brand of beer. He leaned back, into the hockey conversation, "You think we're going to win it in six?" he asked the fan jovially.
The fan nodded enthusiastically, "We got the split tonight, stole home ice advantage from them, it'll be Ottawa in six."
Andrew grinned, they'd won, and set it up so that they would win the best of seven games and that was good news. He gave Jared an applicative look and the two paid for the two-four, and carrying it between them they started on the return walk.
Something Jared had said was weighing on Andrew's mind and as they each held a side of the two-four and crossed the parking lot, "What did you mean when you said he gets like that sometimes?"
"Aw man," Jared said seeming to regret ever having said it, "You know him better than I do..."
"Actually I don't," Andrew replied softly, regretfully, "He's been distant lately, I think there's something going on at work he's been staying late and coming home exhausted. I catch a ride with him when I can, but even then..."
"Yeah," Jared said with a sigh of his own, "He's working too hard, Will's out to prove something to himself. But that's what happens when a person gets bumped up the ladder too fast, responsibility changes people. He's just ... different. Like a bit of him is missing or something."
Andrew sighed; they'd had their rough patches. The odds had been stacked against them. There was supposed to be only so long a teenaged relationship could last before the pressures of real life tore it apart. He remembered how much pain he had been in sitting on the train heading for his university leaving Will behind him on the platform. Long months of separation had nearly broken their relationship, and they had almost drifted apart. Letting go of Will would have been the hardest thing he had ever had to do, and it dawned on him that Will might be fading away from him, and that scared him.
"He'll be ok, he got you back didn't he?" Jared said as if reading Andrew's thoughts, nudging his leg with the beer.
"Yeah," Andrew said with a faint ghost of a smile, Jared had helped so much in those first few years, as if he wanted nothing more than to make sure Will and Andrew stayed together despite all the pressure to just give up. But that was a true friend, someone who looked out for your interests, even when you didn't. He'd kept Andrew up to date through messengers and Emails. Reminding Andrew to call Will, and generally being a pain in the ass whenever he could.
Andrew blew out a sigh of regret, "I just wonder if I'm going to get him back."
Jared nodded, "He's getting better, just don't expect too much. Lisa... Lisa thinks he's trying to figure out what he wants from life..."
"You and Lisa have discussed this?" Andrew asked, not sure if he should be amused or irked with them discussing his relationship with his boyfriend.
"Yeah," Jared admitted, "we were getting worried about him... about both of you."
Andrew nodded, "Alright well what with the wedding and everything maybe I can show him that he doesn't have to feel so alone."
Will found himself out on the balcony with Rafik and Jeff while little Peter and the girls discussed the bridal arrangements. Andrew and Jared had made a run to the beer store which left the three men who remained in an uncomfortable silence as they stared across the road at the retirement home that sat opposite Will's house. Both Will and Rafik realized what was to come. The age-old ritual that men performed just before one of them got married. It was considered the ultimate sacrifice of a friend, to be named best man.
Jeff was unusually shy as he hesitated to ask. Normally he would have just come right out and made the offer like he had the first time he had announced a date shortly after Lisa had accepted the engagement. Both of his friends had already agreed to act as witnesses, but that had been more from courtesy than from actual commitment. When Jeff asked again things were different; they would actually have to go through with it. They would have to stand witness to the union.
Though, Will grinned, least he wouldn't get stuck in a tangerine bridesmaids dress...
"I need you guys to stand for me..." he managed after a short pause. It was a simple request, short and direct. Like Jeff was himself, to the point.
Will had found himself nodding almost before he had known what he had been doing. It was an automatic response that committed him to help plan the event. He wanted to second-guess his decision immediately, but it was too late to back out of it now. He was committed, with all the responsibility that went along with it. So instead he simply grinned, happy to do it for a friend.
Jeff grinned happily as he clapped Will about the shoulder and he turned to Rafik.
Will immediately picked up on Rafik's unease, and he felt his heart sink for Jeff. Rafik was many things, but considerate wasn't one of them.
"I can't, man," he shook his head and extended his hands helplessly, "I've got a deadline this week. I'll be lucky to get Wednesday off at all. Look, I'm sorry."
It was a feeble excuse at best and it utterly crushed Jeff. A few simple words had robbed him of his earlier happiness. His plans for the perfect day that he had dreamt of for the past five years would have to be rethought because of his best friend's selfishness.
Jeff didn't say a word as he wandered back into the house, his shoulders sagged and his head bent.
Will watched him leave and rounded on Rafik. He knew Rafik well; they had known each other since school, and out of all of them, Will was the only one who knew Rafik well enough to understand him. Even then only Lisa seemed to know him better, but that was because of an abortive relationship that had gone horribly wrong. And their friendship, however strained, still allowed Will an edge when it came to figuring out Rafik's motives.
"You upset him." Will stated the obvious; it was the best way to start a conversation with Rafik.
"I can't help it," Rafik had gone back to leaning over the balcony as he took the time to light a cigarette. That was always a bad sign; Farah detested his smoking habit. She had imposed a rigid rule that he quit shortly after the wedding, and for him to risk taking a smoke with her in the house was a good sign of how upset he was.
Rafik always kept a pack of cigarettes at Will's. He and Jared used Andrew as an excuse to get together at the house to watch a hockey game and smoke. Not that Will minded, he tolerated the intrusion but refused to join their habit. He found it simply humorous that his home was a refuge, the last outpost of testosterone where his friends could find safe haven from the storm of estrogen in their lives. Ironic considering it was the home of two gay man.
Rafik seemed to believe that as long as he didn't own a packet of cigarettes and simply "borrowed" from Jared, he didn't smoke. The fact that he paid for the cigarettes and lit up more frequently than Jared did was beside the point. He flatly denied being a smoker.
"So work is more important than your best friend's wedding?" Will asked as he joined him at the rail.
Rafik seemed to grow more uncomfortable, as if he was choosing how much to say and finally he caved. "I'm invoking the roommate clause."
The roommate clause was an age-old bond of trust that went back to when they had shared an apartment with Jeff back when Will had first returned to Ottawa after graduating from Kings university. Those were the days in a cramped Sandy Hill apartment, of Kraft dinners, and of the mistakes that came with being out in the world for the first time. It was a mutual promise that whatever was discussed between roommates stayed between roommates and was usually reserved for those sacred conversations, the one that could land a roommate in serious trouble. Will had invoked it a few times over the years, usually when he confided a secret about Andrew.
"We're not roommates anymore," Will reminded as he leaned on the balcony, "but I can make an exception this once, what's on your mind, old man?"
"I'm serious, man," Rafik stressed as he took another drag on his cigarette; he was uncharacteristically anxious for some reason.
"Alright," Will said as he grew more serious. He watched as Jared and Andrew rounded the top of the street on their return trip; they carried a two-four between them and laughed at something or other. Will looked over at Rafik and waited.
"I don't think they're in love." He admitted slowly, "Not enough to get married, I don't want to be a part of it."
Will was incredulous; Rafik could be highly hypocritical at times and opinionated about it as well. When he chose to be stubborn on an issue he often refused to be moved even after the facts his opinion had been based upon had been disproved. He tried to cover it by choosing his stances carefully, but when he refused to take part in a marriage simply because he believed there was no love involved... He obviously didn't spend enough time in front of the mirror.
Will decided not to call him on that fact, it would be counterproductive, instead he decided to probe the conversation, "Alright, I suppose I now have to ask you why you think that?"
"She doesn't love him," Rafik said as he flicked the ash off of the balcony and onto the driveway below. Will ignored the fact that the ash fell on his Jeep. Rafik was distracted after all. Not that it mattered; Rafik often didn't care about the effects of his actions.
"Marriage is about love," he continued after a moment, "and from the way Lisa complains about him...She hates his temper," he explained, "she wants to date women, there is always something she wants to leave him over, and now they're getting married? It's hypocritical." He angrily flicked the butt of his cigarette out into the street and reached for another one.
Again Will bit back a sharp retort, he had to be diplomatic. "Well," he said after a moments thought, "I'm going to support them whatever they choose to do."
Rafik rolled his eyes in exasperation, "I'll be at the wedding," he lit his second cigarette in an awkward way, "I just can't witness for it. It would be wrong to do it when I don't believe they should be doing it in the first place."
"Fair, I suppose." Will said after a moment, he could see Rafik's point; the young Saudi took things too seriously sometimes. To stand before God and say he believed in a marriage when he obviously didn't would be too much for him.
Will however had no such compunction. He had his own agreement with the Almighty. It was an agreement to disagree on virtually everything, but it was a workable relationship. God agreed to throw obstacles into the road of life and Will chose to stick his finger up at religion in return. It was a mutual understanding that since Will was damned to hell anyway he could curse God as much as he wanted to along the way.
"Hey, buddy!" Jared called up to Will as he and Andrew turned into the driveway. The two were old friends; they had been teammates back on the high school hockey team. That friendship only seemed to grow stronger over time. They were both Sen's fans, and with their team set to go to the Stanley Cup finals that year, they were almost inseparable. Will supposed he could have been jealous that he didn't share that connection to Andrew, a common interest would have gone a long way to ease the relationship tension between them. But Will couldn't get his head around the great Canadian game.
Sure he had a healthy foreigner's interest in the sport. Which was to say he didn't understand it at all. Even after eight years of being in the country, he still couldn't tell one play from another, or even grasp the basic concepts of how it was played. He wondered at Andrew, he was a complication indeed. No one else had ever managed to make him sit down to experience a hockey game. Will couldn't get through a single period without boredom, but he still felt as though he should try.
He glanced back at Rafik; a truly unhappy individual lay beneath the man's exterior. A man who, despite all the material things he had in his life, couldn't find a shred of happiness. Not because he deserved it, but he ignored it completely when it came to him. He was a creature designed to work. In a loveless marriage set to have children he didn't particularly want. He hid behind material wealth with the urge to escape but steadfastly refusing to run.
And for once Will didn't envy the ideal job or the nice car. At least he was still able to enjoy life. That spark of life he kept inside him enabled him to put one foot in front of the other and face the day with hope. Rafik didn't have that; he was dead inside and miserable. Farah had seen to that.
"We should go back inside." Will commented.
"Sure," Rafik replied as he tossed his half finished cigarette aside and popped a super mint into his mouth. He followed Will back to the party.