Shan threw the invitation down on the table, let out a huff and waited for Reg to register his presence and tear his attention away from his Macbook.
After a pause, Reg looked up, one eyebrow arched defiantly. “Yes? How can I help you tonight, dear boyfriend?”
In light of the invitation, Shan couldn’t help but notice that Reg’s accent seemed more pronounced. Almost as if Reg was daring him to question the provenance of the invite.
“Well, dear boyfriend of MINE,” Shan started, “it would appear we have been invited yet again to the Annual Valentine’s Day Game Night at Orville and Marie’s. And when I texted dear Marie to try to break the news gently, she was already under the impression that we were already committed.”
“Well, Shan, my dear. We are. It’s something I have done with my uni friends well… since, uni. And must I remind you the steps it took for me to get you approved to attend. Measurements, political leanings, career aspirations… Shit, Orville was this close to asking your blood type.”
“God, why is Orville so fucking poncy?”
Born and raised in South Orange, New Jersey, Shan found himself mimicking Reg’s British accent on the final word. God, he could be such a dick sometimes, even to the man he loved with all of his being.
“We’re going.” Reg shut his laptop, stood up, and headed towards the kitchen, indicating that there was to be no further debate.
Shan wasn’t going to let this go so easy. In fact, his therapist, Moira, had recently been encouraging him to engage in conflict, rather than avoid it. Sure, she was referring to the fact that Millicent from the office always took the only salt bagel from the bag on Bagel Fridays without asking if anyone else wanted it. But, Moira had also encouraged Shan to practice the lessons from therapy in every aspect of his life.
It came out more shrill than he had hoped. And he still hadn’t gotten over the ridiculousness of his boyfriend’s name, even after four years of dating and three years of living in sin. But, then again, Reg’s parents had nary a clue about American golf or mixed beverages. Charles and Enid Palmer didn’t own a TV and exclusively drank weak tea and cucumber water, whatever the fuck that was.
“For once in our four years together, I would like the opportunity to spend Valentine’s Day with the love of my life and ONLY the love of my life. I want to bring you flowers. I want to cook you dinner. I want to rail you on the expensive couch we bought. I want to buy impractical bottles of wine and only have to share them with you. Not with Orville and Marie and whatever new, annoying hippie dippie, organic, granola friends they’ve met through TikTok because of their work with the magazine—Sage and Butternut and Miso and Pepper. Shit, their friends literally are soup ingredients.”
Reg faced the sink, his shoulders hunched. Shan waited for a response. Especially since he used the word poncy. He had never brazenly pointed out how pretentious he found Orville.
“Well,” Reg said quietly. “I wasn’t aware you hated my friends so much.” He still did not turn around.
Once you’ve chosen to engage in conflict, don’t back down. Millicent will attempt a number of tactics to still stake her claim on the salt bagel and somehow make you feel badly for requesting it. But, I promise you, if you shrug it off as nothing, next week, Millicent will still be enjoying her salt bagel and you’ll be stuck with cinnamon raisin.
“Well. Maybe if they didn’t show such disdain for me. The American in London. The ‘boy’ who takes up so much of your time.” Reg was 35, Shan 25. Orville (and even Marie) often spoke to him like he was a teenager permitted to sit at the adult table at Thanksgiving.
“Oh, Social Media Manager? Does that mean you post to Twitter and Instagram all day while Reg saves the world from financial collapse?”
Orville piled on. “I had a friend who did that once. I believe last I heard, he’s living in his parents’ attic. I’m sure Reg would support you… for a little while… if that doesn’t work out.”
Shan responded by polishing off three bottles of Orville’s best wine, and since he hadn’t eaten anything, the night ended with him flipping the card table when he got up too quickly, sending Trivial Pursuit pieces everywhere and then vomiting into the pot of the nearest ficus plant.
Reg responded, “They wouldn’t show such disdain if instead of drunkenly making a fool of yourself, you acted like an adult.”
“Reg, what the fuck is this about?”
“It’s about Owen.”
Well, Shannon. We have talked about Owen previously. It’s important that those who are engaged in mature, adult relationships acknowledge the influence of outside forces. So, let’s talk about that today, shall we?
Have you ever been a car wreck? Where silence is sound and time slows, but not enough that you can change the collision course?
Shan had been in two since moving to England.
“It’s not the wrong side of the road; it’s the left side of the road,” Reg soothed.
“All I know is it ain’t right,” Shan quipped, using a trifecta of definitions all at once. The second time it happened wasn’t nearly as cute, but they had good insurance on account of Reg’s job at a prestigious firm.
“What about Owen?” Shan finally managed.
Reg looked at his hands. Shan’s mouth tasted sour, like that bite of treacle tart he concealed in a napkin his first time dining with Reg’s parents.
“Oh honey,” Reg offered, frowning in pity. “You think I don’t know? The Friday nights where he shows up unexpectedly with takeaway and a few bottles of wine. I retire early, you two stay on the couch, pretending to watch some horrid Netflix horror movie.”
The light above the sink cast a shadow on Reg’s face, creating an eerie visage, a combination of abject sadness and seething rage.
“I believe,” Reg said pointedly, “last time Owen just ‘stopped by,’ you stayed up drinking with him for another three hours and took a 45 minute shower before coming to bed, even though you spent the entire evening complaining about how ‘truly knackered’ you were.” Reg let this all out in one breath and kept going, “And the next morning, our houseguest was naked on the couch, his t-shirt, pants, and sky blue bikini briefs strewn about the living room. So, please spare me the guilt trip about your desire for a romantic Valentine’s Day.”
Neither was going to be the first to break eye contact.
Whenever Shan found himself in an argument, he had a tendency to use big words that he normally had no use for in everyday life. He always felt the need to prove his intelligence, especially since British people just always sounded so damn smart, even if they were saying something horrifically stupid. Shan also had a tendency to default to yelling.
Moira again. Shannon, talking louder won’t necessarily solve the conflict. In fact, it may escalate the conflict to an unmanageable point. And that may lead you to shut down. Remember, you said you want to face the challenges in your relationship head on.
“Why must you always be such a prude? It’s so… so… jejune. You didn’t mind Owen’s attentions when all three of us were ‘pretending’ to watch a movie on Christmas. In fact, I believe ALL of our pants were strewn about the living room that morning—and you didn’t seem to mind. You made GODDAMN CINNAMON ROLLS FROM SCRATCH FOR BREAKFAST. And you added chicory to his coffee, because, I quote ‘that’s how I know he likes it.’”
“I think,” he finally offered, “that this is over.”
Shan’s heart leapt into his throat. He closed his eyes and saw Moira’s foxlike face guiding him in sorting through the button bag of emotions contained inside.
Sharp pain at the idea of losing his mate.
Indignance towards the sanctimoniousness of his accusations.
Frantic to find a fix for a relationship that was tearing multi directionally, like a zebra carcass being fought over by a pack of hyenas.
Then lastly, relief.
Which frightened Shan more than anything else.
A light touch at his elbow broke Shan’s introspective trance. “Oh, there you are, bab. I lost you for a minute.”
“That I lost you for a minute?”
“Right before that.”
“Oh, I said that I think we should go up to bed.”
Shan’s heart dislodged from his throat, repositioning itself back into his chest cavity where it belonged.
“…it’s just that we expend astronomical amounts of time trying to resolve these conflicts and I know when I always look back on them after one sleep, they feel trivial.”
Trivial. Shan turned the word over in his mind, remembering how awful he felt after the board game incident. How he bottled up those feelings for the preservation of Reg’s.
Shan listened to the slowing of Reg’s breath as he rambled into deep sleep and stared at the nearly full moon out their window. It would be hours before Shan would get any rest.
— END OF PART I —
Come back soon to find out what happens in Part II.