Tibial woke up early the next morning, rousing his two girls enough to get them dressed. He secretly hoped that if they were still sleepy then they wouldn't raise a fuss about leaving--he knew that they hated having to tolerate long rides in the truck worse than he did.
Unsurprisingly, it was Jenna who showed the most resistance to leaving. She balked as soon as she saw Tibial was leading her to the vehicle she loathed.
"No Daddy!" she said firmly. "No more truck!"
"C'mon," Tibial said, impatient and anxious to get going. He was, in essence, trying to sneak away.
"No! I wanna stay at the beach. I wanna learn how to surf."
"Surfing is for big kids. You're too little."
"But that's what I wanna be when I grow up. And Jessa wants to be a mermaid, she told me so! We can't do that if we're not at the beach. And besides this is where you told mommy to come and look for us."
"I left a message for mommy with Lady Metta," Tibial lied, lifting Jenna up and carrying her to the truck, mildly irritated. "The place we are going has a beach nearby, so don't worry." He felt a small twinge of guilt as he buckled her in. He didn't know for sure how close the Vineyard Valley, as it was called, would be to the coast.
He got the truck packed up, and the girls settled in. Jessa was already nodding off again and Jenna was sulking furiously. He glanced up Metta's apartment, the Lady who had given him a place to sleep and had fallen in love with his daughters. He let his eyes drift over to Chad's door, and felt his chest tighten as he stared for several minutes. He loved Chad, had missed Chad, and had longed for Chad for five years. And now he was letting all that go. Forever.
Tibial got into his truck and turned the key in the ignition. The engine wheezed, shook, growled a bit, and then died.
He scowled, tried the ignition again. The truck rumbled hopefully, coughed, then died again.
Vehemently cursing the Goddess and all things related to her, Tibial climbed back out of the truck and even though he knew it would do little good, popped open the hood to look inside. The mechanical interior of a car or truck was completely alien to him. It was more of Chad's forte...
Tibial left his increasingly curious girls in the truck and marched across the sand. He pounded hard on Chad's door until he answered.
"You fucking bastard!'' Tibial spat out, shoving Chad with enough force to cause the surprised older man to stumble back several steps. "You-"
In a heartbeat, Chad pulled Tibial up against him, clapped a hand over his mouth.
"I strongly suggest you calm down before you address me again," Chad said and Tibial could hear the hard anger in his voice. "I will tolerate a lot of things from you, Tibial, but I will not be spoken to like that."
Tibial pulled away from Chad, shoved his hand away. "What did you do?"
"What did you do to my truck? Don't lie," he added when Chad glanced over at the truck. "I know you did something to it."
"Yes, I did."
Tibial's eyes widened. He didn't expect Chad to confess so easily. "Fix it."
"Don't tell me no. You're the one who disabled my truck, you damn well better fix it."
"Why?" Tibial crossed his arms.
"I think you know why. I went and did it last night after you went back inside. Do you think that I didn't know what you were planning? To sneak off before the sun was up without a word to anyone? That's a shitty way to handle things."
"Don't be such a hypocrite. You did the exact same thing to me."
"That was different," Chad said. "I did that for you. To make you happy."
"How was leaving me supposed to make me happy?" Tibial asked.
"I left because I was trying to help you. To give you a normal life the way you wanted. To give you a wife and a child so you could sit there and play the happy heterosexual like you were before!"
"That wasn't what I wanted!"
"You had no idea what you wanted."
"Oh, and you did?" Tibial asked, raising a skeptical eyebrow.
"For the Goddess' sake Tibial, all I had to do was utter the word ‘homosexual’ and you would turn white as a sheet and start flinging denials left and right. How could I expect you to accept what you had with me?"
"How could you expect me to accept it? I wasn't the one who denied it in front of the council! I would have died for you! I-" Tibial felt the tears threatening to come and he furiously pushed them back. "I wanted you. I've always wanted you. If I had wanted a life with Mia, I never would have sought you out in the first place! You were the one who left. Dammit, you broke my heart, why should I give you a chance to do so a second time?"
"Then why did you come by here? Why did you sleep with me?"
"I don't know! I just--fuck, that was never supposed to happen!"
"But it did. It did and I know you wanted it and you know you wanted it and now you're running away."
"I came here to see you, yes. Only to find out if there was still anything there, to see if the feelings that I had for you back then still existed."
"And what did you find out?"
"That I still love you. Which is why I can't stay."
"Why not? If you love me then why-"
"If I still love you, then that means you'll still be able to hurt me. And I can't let you do that again."
"Tibial, I won't hurt you. I swear to the Goddess, I won't."
"Don't swear to me," Tibial said. "Not on her name or anyone else’s. You've already hurt me. I love you so much it's crazy. You will hurt me again, I know you will."
"Okay. I can't promise that I won't. I know I probably will. But-"
Tibial turned and saw Jenna standing in the doorway, shifting from one foot to another nervously. "What is it Miss Jenna?"
"I don't wanna sit in the truck no more. It's hot."
"Okay sweetie. I'll just be a minute." Jenna turned back and ran back to the truck.
Chad glanced past Tibial at the truck. "Bring your children inside. I'll fix them something to eat and we can talk. Then I'll fix your truck. But first talk to me."
"About whatever it is that you need to say. I doubt you came all the way out here for a quick fuck."
"Promise you'll fix my truck?"
"You have my word."
Tibial sighed and nodded his head. "Fine."
Tibial stood outside, watching the waves on the shore slide back and forth, back and forth, an endless, soothing pattern. Chad was inside, cooking breakfast. Tibial declined, but made his girls sit down to eat. He needed to go outside, clear his head. He didn't know what Chad was up to, why he insisted on keeping him here any longer. Why bother trying to restore something that was probably best off dead anyway? It had been one mistake, one slip of judgment and now Chad thought that a night of mindless sex meant that they could talk. It was laughable at the best, pathetic at the worst. Tibial knelt down on the sand, head down and felt the tears fill up in his eyes and grinned. Laughing or crying, who could tell? Did it even matter anymore? Did anything matter?
He heard the door behind him open and shut, then soft footsteps patting across the sand. He forced himself not to react, not to turn around.
"Where are the girls?" Tibial asked.
"Inside. Occupied," Chad said.
Now Tibial turned, stood up. "So, you wanted to talk?" he asked, shoving his hands in his pockets, not meeting Chad's eyes. Maybe he could get this over with quickly. The last thing he needed was to draw this out, and the last thing he wanted was to see Chad looking at him.
"Yeah. I have some questions."
"Like how did you find me?"
That, at least, was an easy one. Tibial walked over to his truck, reached inside and pulled a magazine out of the glove compartment. It was folded back to reveal a page that had an article about a gallery opening. He handed it to Chad.
"I had been researching vineyards and wineries in search of a job," Tibial explained. "I missed the wine business and wanted to go back to that, even if it was only as a hired hand. I was looking through this magazine to see what was available out west and I saw this photograph. It belonged to an article about a new gallery that had opened up, but all I noticed was the painting that had been pictured." It showed a man in a swamp, bare chested with murky water coming up to his thighs, fists clenched, his head thrown back and mouth open, screaming out into the sky. "I recognized your style in an instant. After we left town, which I was planning on doing anyway, I went to the gallery to see it myself." Tibial paused for a moment, remembering. Once he was there, he could see the details: the glint of madness in the man’s eyes, the tendons standing out in his neck, traces of the fog coming up off of scummy water. It was Chad’s work, he would bet his life on it.
"So I inquired about the painting," Tibial continued. "I was given the name, Desolation, and the price, which was far more than I could afford, but the artist was anonymous. The gallery owner remembered you though, and she was able to tell me that you had been heading west. She also told me that she had recently heard from another gallery owner who had just bought a similar painting off an anonymous young man living in a small beach town." Tibial shrugged. "Once I had found the picture in the magazine, all it was is a matter of following the leads and connecting the dots."
"You knew it was me who did that painting?"
"And what? You just decided to swing here on your way to the vineyards?"
Chad crossed his arms. "Another question. Where is Mia?"
Tibial sighed. "She left. She..." Tibial shook his head. "It's complicated. Things got pretty rough after the girls were born. We fought so much, all the time, and she was so resentful that she had to give up her old life. And then Mia got pregnant again. And this time, it wasn't-" Tibial stopped and swallowed hard. "And this time it wasn't mine."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I was sure. You need to be having sex for babies to be made and we sure weren't." Tibial blushed and looked down at his feet. "Our marriage was dead by that point anyway. I tried. Goddess, I tried, mostly because I knew that you had wanted me to. I did everything I could think of to be a good husband, a good father, but she could tell I didn't love her. So she found someone else. When I found out, I told her that she didn't have to leave just because she was pregnant. She said she wouldn't, that she wanted to think about things and consider the children and everything but when I woke up one morning she was just...gone. At least you had the decency to leave a note. She left a letter for the girls, I found it while I was packing up but-" He stopped and ran a hand over his face. "I'm so sick of people leaving me. I can't figure out what's wrong with me..."
"There's nothing wrong with you," Chad said.
Tibial shook his head, sat back down on the ground. "I've had two people in my life decide I'm not worth staying with. What else can I think?"
Chad sighed and sat down next to him. "I didn't want to leave you. In fact, I had never wanted anything less."
"But you did anyway."
"I thought it was what you wanted." Chad decided to try another tactic. "Let me see if you can understand what I was seeing. I was seeing my lover keep a commitment to another woman even after I had refused to see Terrasa any longer so that I could remain entirely faithful to you. I can understand why you kept your commitment to her, but I still didn't like it. And then, once we had escaped from prison and Mia knew everything, you still refused to let go of her. She asked you to make a choice and you wouldn't. On top of that, you vehemently denied being a homosexual. Each time you denied being a homosexual, Tibial, it was like you were denying me as well." Chad turned Tibial's face to look at him. "Do you understand now? Why I thought the way I did?"
Tibial nodded. "I hurt you. I was selfish. I'm so sorry," he whispered. He turned and hugged Chad tightly. "Please forgive me."
"I already had. Because I love you," Chad said hugging him back. "And I'm so sorry I hurt you as well." Chad kissed the dark hair gently. "Give me a chance to make it up to you."
Tibial pulled away reluctantly, shook his head. "I can't do this. I have a family, I have two children that depend on me to take care of them. I can't just think about myself anymore. I have them to consider. I need work."
"You can find work here. Not Vineyard work, but there are plenty of opportunities, especially during the summer. If you need a job, I can get you one."
"Chad, you don't get it." Tibial pulled away, stood up and took several steps just to put some distance between them. "I mean, I've changed and I'm sure you have changed but society hasn't. I can't stay here with you. Eventually, it'll play out the same way it did before. And I can't even take that chance. I have children, Chad, you seem to keep forgetting that. What would happen to them, Goddess forbid, if I got caught and sent to jail again, or got executed?" Tibial shook his head. "I can't risk it, I can't." He turned to Chad, who had stood up as well and was watching him with guarded eyes. "I'm sorry but you're not my number one priority anymore." He looked away, towards the apartment and waited for the scathing rejection, or the angry rebuttal that Chad would surely deliver.
"I may not be your first priority, Tibial, but you are still mine,” Chad said. “And if taking care of you means taking care of your girls as well, I will. But you don't have to worry about anything happening to you. You don't." He re-emphasized when he saw Tibial gearing up to argue. "I know things were bad for people like us where you grew up, but it's not like that here. Here, the only thing that people care about is that you work, and that you work hard and that's it. No one really cares about anything else, especially living arrangements. No one is looking to form coupling partnerships; that is not why people come here. It's a tourist trade here, and it's not a family oriented community. In fact, here it is common for several people of the same gender to live together, for many different reasons, some as simple as just saving living expenses. No one questions it. Things aren't perfect, I can admit. We can't go out and announce anything to the world, and we'll have to be careful, but if you were to stay here and pick up a job, no one would raise an eyebrow or think anything of it. You would be just another person down on their luck looking for a way to make a living. Things aren't the way they were back home, Tib, they're not. I've been here for close to four years, I can vouch for it."
"Chad, no. I just...I just can't."
"You haven't given me a good reason to."
"I'm not reason enough?"
Tibial gave him a look that was clever mix of exasperation and annoyance. "Why would you be? I wasn't enough reason for you, was I?"
"I thought we have resolved that."
"No, we didn't. Chad, you don't-"
"Don't what?" Chad interrupted. "Don't understand? No, I don't understand. I don't understand why you bothered coming back if you are just going to turn around and leave again. Why would you do that to me?"
"Maybe so you would understand how it feels," Tibial replied. "Chad you left me. You hurt me. You broke my heart and I can't get over that. If you left again, I couldn't--I wouldn't be able to handle it. You said you wouldn't do something like that again but how am I supposed to trust you?"
"Because you know me," Chad said. "You know I wouldn't do anything to hurt you if there was any possible way to avoid it. I did a horrible thing by leaving all those years ago, and it's a mistake I don't plan on making again, ever. I want to make it up to you; I want to make you see that I won't do anything like that again. I want to get to know your two girls. I want to make you fall in love with me again."
"You idiot, I never stopped," Tibial whispered hoarsely.
"Give me a chance," Chad said. He stepped up to Tibial, slid his arms around his waist, unmindful of who might see. "Give me a year. Stay until the next summer. If you decide at that time that you still want to leave, that's fine. I won't stop you. Hell, I'll even help you pack up and send you off with a smile. But just give me a year."
"A year is a long time," Tibial said.
"You gave Mia five. A year, Tib, that's all I'm asking. I don't want to lose you again."
Tibial bit his lip. "I need to check on the girls," he said.
Chad rolled his eyes and told himself to be patient. "Okay. I'll be waiting out here."
Tibial went back inside and saw the girls sitting at the table, finger-painting. He grimaced as he saw Jenna lift a blue coated finger to her mouth but didn't say anything. That would just make her want to do it more.
Jessa waved at him with a green and yellow smeared hand. "Daddy! Come look at what I did!"
He looked at the sheet of paper in front of her, which was an abstract mismash of colors. "How lovely. Tell me about it."
"That's me," Jessa said. "And that's sissie. And we're riding a big bird."
"This is me. I'm surfing," Jenna said, holding up her paper.
"I can see that. Ladies, I need to talk to you about something important."
Two wide pairs of eyes looked back at him. Tibial tried to keep his voice neutral as his spoke. "Mr. Devon here wants us to stay with him at the beach. That means we would be living here for a while. So we need to decide together what to do. Should we stay here or go somewhere else?"
Jenna frowned suspiciously. "If we stay here can I learn how to surf?"
"Eventually, once you are older, yes."
Jessa looked uncertain. "What is it sweetheart?" Tibial asked.
"Well...is the water outside going to keep growing until it washes us all away?"
"No sweetie. It might come high up on the beach if there is a storm or something, but it won't wash us away, I promise."
"Can we go to Lady Metta's apartment to see the kittens?"
"I'm sure she won't mind that."
"Oh. Okay, then. Can I paint some more now?"
"Go ahead." Tibial bent down and kissed both of his girls on the cheek, then walked back outside. Chad was standing at Tibial’s truck, the hood propped up, presumably fixing whatever he had altered to keep the truck from starting up. He felt a strong sensation of deja vu remembering a time so many years ago when he had been outside in the hot summer sun, watching Chad fix a truck with the same nervous butterflies in his stomach.
"How is it?" Tibial asked.
"Well..." Chad paused and pushed something into place. "Looks like it should start now with no problem. Promised I'd fix it for you, right?"
"Yeah. But don't worry. I don't think I'll be going anywhere. Not for the next year anyway."
Chad turned and grinned at him, his eyes crinkling and shining in the sunlight. "So is that a yes?"
Chad didn't say anything, just swept him into a tight hug. Tibial hugged him back, relaxing for the first time in a long while.
Perhaps he had finally found his way home.