The one regret that changed everything.
It was eight o’clock in the morning and the contractors were back to work, filling my house with the obnoxious noise of renovations. I crumpled my pillow into a ball and shoved my face into it as I let out a frustrated cry. Lately, I’d been spending most nights with Aaron since my house is basically nothing but bones with a bedroom, but after Friday night, I was basically exiled until I figured out how to fix things with Donovan. The bastards didn’t care if I personally fixed my relationship with him, they only cared about themselves and if Donovan hated them.
That meant I was back at my house; where the bathrooms had no doors, the kitchen was gutted, the floors were plywood, and the walls were studs. It was barely livable. I shouldn’t have been living there, but I was. Of course, neither living in this construction hellhole nor getting the cold shoulder from my best friends were the reasons for screaming into my pillow.
Donovan. Sweet, sexy, smart, funny, sassy, and smoking hot, Donovan.
The things I’d said, the look on his face, and the hurt in his green eyes. Those were the reasons I’d screamed into the dark abyss of my feather pillow.
I’m surprised I heard the chirp of my phone (indicating I had a text) over my release of emotions, but I did. I didn’t want to look because I had a good idea who it was and he wasn’t anyone I wanted to talk to.
I was confident it wasn’t from any of my friends, and it definitely couldn’t have been from my boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend (I couldn’t bring myself to use that term, not yet). One would think Donovan had made himself clear, but I hadn’t quite reached the acceptance stage.
It was funny because, in the past, none of my breakups had that effect on me. If they wanted to break up, I said, ‘okay, good times’ and gave them a handshake before they walked out of the door. I never thought twice about the split. Donovan was the first person I actually wanted to date and spend time with, but old habits die hard.
I grabbed my phone while holding on to a sliver of hope that maybe, just maybe, he was texting me. There was a strong internal battle raging as to whether or not to look at the phone. On one hand, if I didn’t look then the possibility of Donovan wanting me back was alive and well, but if I looked, I’d know it wasn’t him.
It wasn’t him. It was Davis.
Fucking Davis Hollingsworth.
*** *** *** ***
I’d met Davis the previous week, about a potential commercial remodel job. The job was a big one and would keep me busy for a while, if I could get it. It was a hospital that was going to undergo not only extensive remodeling, but additions, which was why they needed me. Davis worked for Samaritan Health Corp. and was in charge of overseeing the entire project, including hiring contractors such as myself.
I’d never been one to suck up, but it was a big job and I really wanted it. I was respected in my field but was still considered a small fish. This contract would bump me up considerably. Life might not revolve around your success but that wasn’t going to stop me from trying to climb that ladder. Having the hospital job in my portfolio would allow me the opportunity to pick better, more sustainable jobs, which was why I allowed him to leach onto me. Since he wasn’t local, he asked if I’d show him around. I didn’t want to, but decided I needed to be friendly. As far as mistakes go, friending Davis had been a big one and I hadn’t been able to shake him since. I didn’t tell him about the Friday night game, but I’d accidently let it slip that I was going out with friends that evening, so he invited himself along. Everything happened so fast and the next thing I knew, he was following me into the bar.
Davis was obviously gay and very obviously interested in me—a feeling that wasn’t reciprocated. I hadn’t had a chance to tell him about Donovan, both because I didn’t have time and had no interest in sharing anything about my personal life with him, which made everything incredibly awkward when we sat down. I’d already been fighting with Donovan, which was my fault. Before arriving at the bar, I’d had every intention of sitting him down when the night was finished and explaining everything. Donovan didn’t look happy when he saw Davis follow me in and Davis didn’t look happy to hear Donovan was my boyfriend. I was stuck in an awkward sandwich in which I only wanted Donovan, and Davis could choked on a straw…after I got the contract.
In a perfect world, Donovan and I would’ve rubbed our blissfully happy relationship into Davis’ face, but we weren’t talking so, instead, I awkwardly sat next to Donovan. I’d told him I wanted to talk when we were finished, he agreed, and about two seconds later, he became pissed because I offered to get his drink refilled. That was pretty much the point when the night went to shit.
As Donovan stormed off, he took his friends with him and I watched them dance for a while before Davis started dropping comments about Donovan—he was obviously jealous and didn’t like him. I, mostly, ignored him as I followed Donovan and his friends around the bar with my eyes.
That’s when a Britney Spears song came on and everyone forced him to dance. The dance itself was terribly cheesy, yet hilarious. The best part was watching Donovan—the guy could dance and watching his body move was my favorite pastime. Watching him move only gave me more motivation to leave so we could work things out, so then I could ravage his smoking hot body.
I watched them hysterically laugh as the song finished and then they pushed each other toward the exit. I couldn’t help but smile at Donovan’s carefree spirit. He looked especially good laughing.
“Donovan is seriously hilarious! I love that guy.”
It made me happy to know my friends liked Donovan, almost as much as I did—Drew could’ve toned it down a bit, but I wasn’t worried. Davis asked about Donovan and his friends, so we took some time to explain how we’d all met and about the night we’d all gone to the club after they beat us for the first time.
“So, you’re into guys like that?” Davis asked.
I felt his judgement and something inside of me panicked. I shrugged and nodded, too afraid to say something that might offend him.
“I think you’d do so much better with someone who’s not so...you know?”
I knew what he was implying and I would’ve been lying if I’d said there weren’t moments, in the past, when it was a little difficult for me—mostly because my dad, as great as he was, had really fucked me up.
“Sometimes he can be overly, boisterous. Like tonight.”
“Yeah, that dance was terrible! I was cringing the whole time. You’d never do anything like that, would you?”
“Of course not.”
And I wouldn’t have. I’ve never like attention and I’d always shied away from things like public displays of affection, karaoke, school talent shows, dancing at weddings with less than six beers or three hard drinks, or tripping on air. Basically, anything that might bring unwanted attention, which was any attention.
“I didn’t think so, because you’re not like that,” he smirked but I shot him a hard glance that told him to watch it, that he was treading on very thin ice. Davis looked around the table and realized he wasn’t surrounded by Donovan haters.
“Seriously though, you’re different. It’s my experience that not all gay guys are created equal. I guess to each their own. I for one, wish there were more guys like you. You’re cool and chill. You’re a man, you play sports, you live life. You don’t try and prove yourself by waving the flag or...doing a ridiculously embarrassing dance to Britney Spears in the middle of a bar,” he laughed.
Kurt looked at me with his mouth agape, unable to process how ridiculous this guy was. That he’d be talking shit about Donovan in front of us. We couldn’t help but laugh, not at what he was saying but at his cluelessness. I was already on shaky ground with Donovan, and as much as I wanted Davis’ contract, it didn’t come close to how much I wanted Donovan. Davis was treading in sinking sand and none of us were gonna pull him out.
I was still staring at Kurt, thinking about the day dad had taken us all to watch a baseball game and tried to justify my sexuality by saying I just like a tight ass. My father has said a lot of really ridiculous things in my life but that topped them all. On the plus side, we’ve gotten a lot of mileage from that ignorant statement. We were still laughing when I they noticed the smirk on my face.
“Well...yeah, I mean—I’m not a fag or anything, I just like a tight ass.
We were the only ones at the table that were in on the joke and we were about to lose our shit over it, like we did every time one of us said it, when I saw Donovan. According to the look on his face, it was obvious he’d heard (at least) a little of our conversation. I knew I was fucked the second I saw him. I wanted to stove everyone out of my way and rush to him and explain the conversation. If he heard my tight ass comment I knew he’d never give me the time of day. Instead of doing something noble, I sat there terrified, totally mute, as he put on a pretty decent exit show, including a spot on impersonation of Ross and Rachel’s “We’re So Over” fight.
A few minutes after he’d stormed off my brain started to function again so I grabbed my jacket and started to make my way out of the booth.
“I’m going to go talk to him and clear the air.”
Drew stopped me.
“I think you should let him cool off, first.”
I disagreed. I didn’t think this was something that could wait, but they held me back. I sat back and glared at everyone—I wanted to punch them, Drew specifically! He loved to interfere with Donovan and me and he really loved to side with Donovan. Deep down, I knew I shouldn’t have listened to them and I should’ve gone after Donovan to straighten everything out, but as I always did, I second-guessed myself—if the three of them said I shouldn’t, then it was probably the right choice, right?
“Fine, but I’m skipping tomorrow so I can fix things with Donovan.”
Again, everyone shook their heads no.
“No way! This is our annual family reunion, you’re not going to skip it for some boy!”
“You make it sound like I’m sixteen! Guess what, I’m not and Donovan’s not some boy.”
I hadn’t ever had feelings for anyone the way I did for Donovan, and we hadn’t even been dating long. He’d challenged me and pushed me outside of my comfort zone, in all of the good ways. Maybe my friends didn’t see it, but it didn’t matter. I’d had enough! I wasn’t going to sit there for a minute longer and feel worse than I already did so, with haste, I continued to move out of the booth so I could go home. Drew put his hand on my chest in an attempt to stop me.
“Where are you going? You know you can’t go to his house.”
“Why? Because you have plans to go, instead? Get out of my way. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”
I threw his hand off of my chest and walked out. By the time I got home, I was furious with everyone, including myself. I felt like the Hulk as I stormed around my shell of a house, ripped the plastic off of my bed, pulled the spare sheets out of storage, and brought my travel bag in from the truck. I was stripping down when I heard my phone chirp, indicating an incoming text.
My heart raced as I slipped my shoes back on, ran to the kitchen where I’d left my phone, and swiped my phone.
[Davis] Hey good looking. If you want company tonight let me know
It would’ve been the best text ever…if it wasn’t from Davis! I wanted to throw my phone, but that wouldn’t have solved anything, in fact, it would’ve only added to my frustration. Plus, I’d never know if Donovan had tried to get in touch. Instead, I ignored Davis, crawled into bed, and thought about Donovan. I didn’t sleep as I debated whether or not to ditch the reunion the following day, so I could see Donovan. Of course, as it turned out, that wouldn’t have worked because he was at the reunion.
*** *** *** ***
The whole day was a joke. First, I found out that Donovan was Donny Allerton. I cannot count how many times I wanked to his google pictures back in the day. He looked different now; ten years older and less muscular, but still hot as fuck. I couldn’t believe I dated him. Not only that, but he was friends with our grandfathers, in my co-ed league, and he’d kicked our asses. I’d fucked him and fucked things up with him. I followed him around with my eyes, upset that I couldn’t talk to him. There were a thousand reasons why, which included the fact my entire family was there, including my dad, but mostly Donovan wanted nothing to do with me. It was hard to watch him interact with my family knowing I couldn’t be by his side. It wasn’t just me, he wouldn’t talk to the rest of DAKS either.
I felt like such outsider by the end of the day. Most of my family were ignoring me, my dad crossed a line, DAKS were pushing me to fix things for their own selfish reasons, and I missed Donovan--who left shortly after the game. I left as soon as I could slip out unnoticed, and went straight to his house. I was tired of being told I needed to wait. Every minute I wasted was another minute I didn’t get to be with him and the further and further away he became.
Of course, he wasn’t alone. Why would he be? That would’ve meant something was going my way and that was plain, fucking crazy! Oh, no, all of the DONNAs were there and they were all drunk, especially Donovan. Not wanting to dig myself any deeper, I didn’t acknowledge the fact that seeing nearly-naked Donovan wearing a tiny pair of eighties-inspired, boy short undies was what my fantasies were made of. The maroon, with white trim, undies beautifully contrasted against his dark-olive, sun-kissed, smooth, flawless, and perfect skin as they hugged his tight waist and lean thighs.
Donovan, Donny Allerton, wearing sexy boy shorts.
Yeah. He looked good. The mud mask was definitely funny, but he still looked hot. He was drunk, though, and being drunk, especially with an audience, was a terrible scenario so I left when he asked me to leave, but if he thought he’d seen the last of me, he was going to be disappointed. I was good at that, disappointing people, but I wanted to fight for Donovan. I didn’t think he’d give me another chance, and I knew I didn’t deserve one, but I was going to fight for one anyway. People worse than I, get chances like a cat with nine lives.
I drove back to his house the next afternoon—unlike the night before, Allé’s van was gone, so that was good. I got out and knocked on the door a few times. Either he was ignoring me or he was gone. I was counting on the latter.
I’d been so focused on the door, I hadn’t heard the car pull up.
“Looking for someone?”
I turned to find the strangest person I’d ever met…Allé. He was wearing courduroy, flared pants with an orange and red, paisley shirt. According to Donovan, I didn’t have a great fashion sense so I had no right to judge.
“I was hoping to talk to Donovan, but—”
“But he’s not here. Work stuff,” he looked unamused.
“Of course, work stuff.”
Duh. He’d always worked on Sundays. I tapped my fist into the palm of my hand as I walked back to my truck. It was fine, I’d try again. You know what they say—if at first you don’t succeed, stalk them until they get a restraining order against you.
“I’m supposed to go to brunch with him on Wednesday. The plan is to meet here at ten. I have a feeling I’m going to be busy. I’ll probably send him a text around ten after, to let him know I’m bailing. It’d be a shame if he didn’t have anyone to go with.”
He dropped a manila envelope through the mail slot on the door then walked back to his car, which was parked behind my truck. Was he actually giving me a leg up? I watched him with uncertainty as he met my gaze and smiled before reiterating.
“Wednesday. At ten.”
He actually gave me an in. Donovan might have Allé’s balls for what he did, but that strange man was actually helping me out. For the first time all weekend, I smiled as I stepped off of the curb and, with a smile, pounded my hood as I walked to the driver’s side of my truck.
“Wednesday at ten!” I shouted back.
*** *** *** ***
As frustrated as I was with Friday and Saturday, Sunday’s brief conversation with Allé had given me hope. It didn’t mean Donovan would respond, but it’d give me time within his schedule to try. Not wanting to get out of bed yet, I looked at my phone once more.
Fuck no, you idiot!
[Shane] I’m already working so I’ll see you for our one o’clock meeting
That was a lie, of course, although I did have some very important things to do.
I needed to win back Donovan.
*** *** *** ***
The only good thing about Davis was the fact he didn’t require a suit and tie for meetings. Business casual was my favorite working attire. Normally, I didn’t put much effort into my outfits (unlike Donovan) because frankly, I didn’t care.
Today was different. There was a one-in-three chance the hospital I might get to work on was Donovan’s workplace. For the life of me I couldn’t remember which hospital he worked. I wasn’t going to stalk him, but if there was a chance I might run into him, I wanted to look good. It was a no brainer to wear the dark-wash jeans he’d picked out—the ones that led to the epic, mirrored blow job—a cream shirt and green blazer (tied together with a leather belt), and shoes. I didn’t too look bad.
On the way to the hospital, I wondered how I could casually stroll through the pediatric areas. Were they close to where I was going to be? Were they accessible to the general public? Would it be part of the included tour? If so, how would Donovan react if he saw me? Would he make a scene in front of my potential bosses? Did I care?
By the time I pulled into the parking lot, I was a hot mess. But nothing prepared me for how I’d feel when I spotted Donovan’s white 4Runner in the parking lot. Samaritan was his hospital and he was working, so I blasted the AC and tried to cool off so I wouldn’t be a sweaty, nervous mess when I walked in. I psyched myself up on the way through to parking lot. I needed to focus on the meeting and then, afterward, I could casually run into Donovan.
Fuck. I was so distracted by the thoughts of Donovan that I’d forgotten all of my paperwork in the truck, so I jogged back, grabbed it, and then hustled back to the building.
So much for the AC cool down.
I was almost to the building when I spotted a stray German Shepherd that donned a blue vest and, after a quick glance around, no one to claim him, which was strange for a service dog since they weren’t usually too far from their master.
I wanted to give him a good rub down, but when a service dog is wearing its vest, that means they’re on duty and it’s frowned upon to overly pet them. As I snapped my fingers and pointed to the ground, I commanded.
I smiled as he obediently sat and debated whether or not to leave him while I went to my meeting or take him to the front desk. I was interrupted before I came to a decision.
“Moscow! You sneaky pup.”
I turned around and came face to face with brilliant green eyes and perfect brown hair. It took him a second to realize it was me, and when he did, he didn’t look all that happy about it. His disappointment didn’t stop me from smiling when I saw him. Then I smiled a little more when I caught his eyes roaming down my body.
“I didn’t know you had a service dog.”
His eyes narrowed. “I don’t. I bring service dogs to visit kids in the Oncology unit, you know, just doing my part to embarrass all of the normal gays of the world.”
I cringed. I hadn’t expected that comment and I hated that he had that kind of ammunition, but I totally deserved it. It was my fault. Donovan hooked a leash onto the dog and started to walk inside so I followed.
“I deserved that.”
“I know, that’s why I said it.”
“You have every right to hate me.”
“I know, that’s why I do.”
He wasn’t make it easy, that’s for sure. He punched level five on the elevator—I needed six—so I waited with him.
“Could we get lunch or coffee? Or just ten minutes to talk?”
His features softened as he actually thought about it while he looked down at Moscow, who was sitting perfectly next to Donovan's leg. Donovan was wearing scrubs covered with dogs—very fitting. No doubt, he’d planned that out.
After the world’s shortest elevator ride, we stopped and the door opened on level five. Donovan tugged Moscow’s leash to indicate they were leaving, but paused and turned toward me. I could tell, by the hurt and angry look on his face, his answer wasn’t going to be favorable.
“I’m pretty busy. You know, being a fag and all.”
He tugged on the leash again and Moscow followed him out as he carelessly waved over his shoulder.
“See you around, Shane.”
I’d royally fucked things up. If the contempt that oozed off of him was anything to go by, I had a lot of work ahead of me. If I’d thought too long or hard on it, I would’ve been easily overwhelmed, instead, I’d decided to take it day by day. I just needed to focus on small goals, such as having a conversation without him throwing all of my failures into my face or not looking as if sharing oxygen with me might kill him.
Wednesday, at ten.
*** *** *** ***
I did it. I got the contract. It took eight signatures from seven different people, but it was mine and it was time to rub shoulders. It’s annoying how that works. People who’d barely had it within themselves to say two words to me before, were suddenly patting me on the back and shaking my hand as old friends would.
The glass double doors on the other side of the room were open. It was my ticket to leave, but since no one was in a hurry to leave, getting there would’ve been problematic. I felt yet another hand on my lower back as they swooped in from behind me.
“Congratulations, Mr. Kelly!”
Davis’ tone was more seductive than it should’ve been and his body was closer than I would’ve ever voluntarily chosen for it to be. A shiver of disgust ran down my spine and I felt like scum for emotionally whoring myself out for the job. I’d allowed his creepiness to slide so I could get the contract, and then regretted it. If it weren’t for the giant check they’d handed me after signing, I would’ve walked out. Fortunately for me, I could put up with a lot of things for big checks.
“We should celebrate with dinner and drinks. Maybe even a late start tomorrow morning.” He winked after his repulsive suggestion.
I glanced at the doors again and wondered which would be less obvious—taking a running start, sliding across the conference table like Jason Statham, and running for freedom, or shatter one of the floor-to-ceiling windows with a chair and jump to my death. If either had been an option, I would’ve done it.
I tried to school my features so I’d look less like I’d rather jump to my death and more like I was disappointed that my schedule was conflicting.
“As great as that sounds (which it didn’t), I actually have plans tonight. Plus, I doubt Donovan would be keen to it and besides, as you know, I’m currently in the dog house.”
Davis dramatically rolled his eyes and smirked. In another life, one where Davis wasn’t overly creepy and gross, he and Donovan might’ve actually been friends.
“No offense, but I’d hardly call getting dumped in public the dog house. I mean, have you even talked to him since Friday night?”
“I was at his house Sunday. I also saw him this morning before the meeting.”
His confident smirk morphed into a frown as my words sank in. I wasn’t interested in filling in the gaps with the truth. I wanted him to make assumptions that weren’t favorable to him—or us. Davis opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted when I was dragged away.
“Mr. Kelly, I have a few people I’d like you to meet.”
He pulled me to a small group of men who were heads of various departments that would be affected by the project. There had been talk of taking a tour of the hospital and the areas that would be under construction, but we ran out of time so we settled for introductions. It was the last man, Mr. Humphrey, who caught my attention. He was the head of Pediatric Oncology and I’d realized I was shaking his hand with more sincerity than the others.
“On my way here, I rode the elevator up with one of your staff members who was on his way to Oncology to surprise the kids with a service dog. I thought that was a great idea.”
“I would have loved to see the look on their faces! Donovan’s always going above and beyond for those kids.” He looked at his watch and rocked his head back and forth as he contemplated something in his head. “He’s supposed to be there for another thirty minutes. I always enjoy being there for special events like this, but I missed it since I was here. I was planning on stopping by on my way out, if you want to join me.”
“That’d be amazing. If it’s not too much to ask,” I smiled, excited, yet nervous to see Donovan again.
“My pleasure.” I could tell by the look on his face, it really was.
“That sounds fantastic, I’d love to go, also. You know, kids and dogs,” he sang as he slid himself into our conversation.
His going along would ruin everything. I was walking on broken glass already and showing up to Donovan’s work place, with Davis, wouldn’t have benefited me at all. Hoping they’d take the bait, I suggested.
“Is it a good idea for a lot of people to walk through there at the same time, with all of those compromised immune systems and all? It seems like a bad idea. You guys go ahead and I’ll just wait until another day.”
“You’re absolutely right. We don’t want to overwhelm them. Davis, since you’ve been there before, I’ll take Mr. Kelly,” Mr. Humphrey responded.
Davis frowned and watched as we said our goodbyes and left the conference room. We took the elevator down and Mr. Humphrey signed us in at the front desk before we were buzzed through the secured double doors and, as we walked, he talked about his vision for the hospital and pointed out some of the potential changes he’d like to see.
The walls were colorful and full of fun paintings that ranged from professional to those that were obviously done by the kids. As we made our way down the hall, I’d glanced into some of the rooms and noticed most of the residents were missing. It wasn’t long before I found them, as we turned the corner into a giant recreational/living room with couches, big bean bags, games, books, toys, televisions, and everything kids could dream of.
Every spot was filled with kids. Some had IV bags hanging behind them, some were in wheelchairs, and some were sitting without restrictions. Moscow was lying on the floor, with several kids surrounding him, but no one paid him attention. Nope, everyone was paying attention to a good looking nurse wearing puppy scrubs.
The hot nurse raised a small remote and started the music. Everyone was smiling and laughing as Donovan and his three minions started swaying to “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. I didn’t look away as Mr. Humphrey nudged my arm, moving us toward the show, and excitedly said.
“You’re in for a real treat. Donovan is a crowd favorite and is always putting on a good show. Come on, you won’t want to miss this!”
Just as every performance I’d seen before, this was just as flawless. His moves were smooth and perfectly timed, and his face was happy and expressive. What the kids had lacked in technical skill, they made up for by being adorable. Donovan was so engrossed in the kids and the dance that we were able to watch the routine completely unnoticed. When it was over, he used the remote to pause the music before speaking to the crowd.
“Okay, lazy bones! Get up and show me what you’ve got!”
As he motioned for them to get up, some of the kids happily jumped up while others moaned and groaned, but slowly made their way.
I turned my head in surprise as Mr. Humphrey’s voice boomed over the crowd.
“Do you mind if I join?” He asked the small crowd, then smiled as he walked toward the kids and nodded for me to join. I shook my head and found a nice spot to awkwardly stand.
Donovan smiled. “Of course! It’s always a pleasure when you join us, Nick.”
As Donovan smiled at Mr. Humphrey (Nick), he also looked at me as if to ask, ‘what the fuck are you doing here?’ I smiled broadly and tried to play the cute-and-innocent-one by waving to him with my fingers, which he didn’t find amusing. It wasn’t a total loss, I did receive a class Donovan eye roll.
Once again, Nick tried to get me to join in. It wasn’t that I didn’t know the dance, everybody knows Thriller, but it was more the fact that my “spirit animal” was a hippopotamus, and not ones in Disney movies that could dance. I shook my head and gestured that I was perfectly comfortable where I was.
“Do we let strangers watch and not participate?” Donovan asked the kids.
A roar rang in response to his question. “No!”
“What do we do when strangers won’t dance with us?”
The next thing I knew, I was being pulled to the stage area by a mob of small people. I could’ve easily overpowered them, but it was frowned upon to beat up kids undergoing cancer treatment, which only left me with one option—to join them. As they shoved me into the lineup, I looked at Donovan to find him smiling at me—well, not so much smiling as smirking, but still—he appeared to be quite happy with his ability to manipulate me into dancing.
If dancing made him happy, then I’d dance.
He started the music and everyone began moving. I was prepared for him to play Thriller, again, but I was wrong. Instead, we were listening to remax version of Little Einstein’s theme song. It’s one thing to dance to a familiar song, it was quite another to try to dance to a song I’d only ever heard when hanging with my nieces and nephews.
Just as I knew would happen, I’d stumbled over my own feet, and a few innocent children, as I tried to follow along. I was a few counts behind on every move and missed every transition. By the time I’d caught on to waving my hands in the air, they’d already moved on to the next move.
I was a few rows in front of Donovan so I couldn’t see him, but I felt his eyes on me as he watched me fail, miserably. On the other hand, I had a perfect view of Nick and it was obvious, by his moves, it wasn’t his first rodeo. For an old guy, he could dance quite well to children’s songs. I sighed with relief when the song finally ended and the room erupted into applause as the kids dispersed around the room.
Nick laughed as he squeezed my shoulder, “Well, you tried!”
“Yeah, well, I’m not exactly fluent in children’s song and dance,” I laughed at myself.
“You were great. Kids don’t care if you’re good, they only care that you’ll try. Come on, I want to introduce you.”
I followed him toward Donovan, who was talking and laughing with a few of the older kids. Their conversation ended when they noticed us approaching. One blonde boy in particular, had watched me with interest. Nick introduced me to Donovan and his three amigos—Calvin (the overly interested blonde), Evan, and Owen. Calvin’s eyes widened with amusement.
“You’re Shane! Shane, from the videos and Snapchats! I thought you looked familiar!”
I had no idea what he was talking about. Videos? I’ve never been in a video. Snapchat? I didn’t have one of those.
“I can’t believe I’m meeting Donovan’s boyfriend!” Calvin exclaimed.
My head snapped up and all thoughts of videos and secret Snapchats disappeared. Donovan had talked about me? They knew about me? I turned my attention to Donovan, who looked slightly uncomfortable, and smiled. Nick looked between us with confusion and amusement.
“I didn’t realize you two were dating.”
Donovan opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out. He’d panicked and I knew he wasn’t going to correct the situation, not in front of everyone.
“It’s only been a month or so, nothing serious,” I offered with a genuine smile and a nonchalant shrug.
“Nothing serious my butt! You’re in every single video that Donovan shows us. Plus, his Snapchat might as well be called Shanesnap since you’re the only thing he ever Snaps or has on his story.”
I chuckled as I watched Donovan avoid my gaze. He was always so confident and sure of himself, so I allowed myself to enjoy watching him squirm as a preteen unknowingly revealed all of his secrets. My insides fluttered from knowing he’d found me captivating enough to share with others. All of the times we’d been together, he’d secretly taken videos and pictures and sent them to his friends, including his patients—that’s how much he’d liked me. That alone made up for the total disregard for my privacy.
The blonde was oblivious to Donovan’s not-so-subtle gestures to shut the hell up, so I asked him.
“What kind of videos were they?”
He looked at his friends, as if they’d help jog his memory, and smiled, “Well, most of them are of your butt. According to Snapchat, Donovan’s obsessed with your butt.”
Once again, my eyes snapped to Donovan, who was desperately shaking his head at Calvin and his friends, but that didn’t slow the kid down as he held up his fingers and started to count with them.
“There was the superzoom of your butt when you were catching, another one, of your butt, when you were running bases while he played the “Bubble Butt” song in the background, a few boomerangs of you eating and working out, a cute one of you setting the dinner table, and a morning—”
Donovan tried to push him away, “Okay, I think he gets it. Go be annoying elsewhere.”
Calvin slipped from his grip with a smile and continued. “Nurse Doo Doo always talks about you. He says you’re kind of a stupid boy, but you tick his boxes, so—”
Donovan tried to interrupt. He was not amused by the conversation, but no one paid attention to him.
“Oh, my god! Will you hoodlums shut up?!”
I looked at the boys, quizzically, and asked, “What boxes?”
“You know! Requirements for dating someone. There are negotiables, like having all your teeth, a driver's license that’s not suspended, and a bank account that’s not overdrawn.” He paused as he tried to remember more so Owen practically shouted.
Calvin informed Owen that it was considered a non-negotiable and he won’t budge on those.
I looked at Donovan with surprise. Soft hands? That’s a requirement? I’d have to make sure I moisturized more often if it was going to be that big of a deal. What else did I need to know? Being happy to gain as much insight as possible, I inquired.
“What are some other non-negotiables?”
“Nothing that you know anything about!” Donovan covered Calvin’s mouth with his hand. He’d tried, unsuccessfully, to push them away. Instead, they started to laugh and Evan decided to pick up where his friend had left off.
“I can’t remember his non-negotiables, but with the way he goes on and on about you, I don’t think you have anything to worry about…or maybe you do?” he raised his brow. “For weeks, it’s been Shane this and Shane that, until last week when he got super mopey. He said something about you ghosting him? Will you stop ghosting him already because he’s annoying when he’s not happy?”
His expression was a mixture of seriousness, about not wanting Donovan to be mopey, yet, he laughed as he dodged Donovan’s attempts to silence him. Maybe they weren’t as oblivious as I’d thought.
I laughed as I watched Donovan try to control the situation, but I felt terrible because I knew I’d been such an ass to him. It wasn’t only the fact I’d run out of his house a week ago and ignored him, or even what I’d let happen Friday. I had baggage and issues that would drop me from his list in a heartbeat.
“Okay, that’s enough, everyone. Back to your rooms!”
This time Donovan wasn’t messing around and Nick had his back. He shooed everyone away and they scattered like birds in every direction before slowly making their way to wherever they belonged.
As I awkwardly stood there, I watched Nick and Donovan usher kids around and do whatever it was they did. I could’ve left, but I wasn’t ready. I knew Donovan was upset, but it was as good of a time as any to at least try to get somewhere with him. I sat on one of the couches and watched Donovan as he interacted with a mixture of grace and confidence that only he could manage. Fifteen minutes had passed before everything appeared to be settled and Donovan passed by. He abruptly stopped after he realized I was still there and had no intention of leaving.
“Why are you still here? Do I need to file a restraining order or something?”
He stood in front of me, the way a football coach would while giving a serious lecture; his feet shoulder-width apart and both hands firmly holding a metal storage-clipboard over his genitals. Even angry and hostile, he looked good. His brown hair was styled in a quiff and his lean arms were lightly flexed as he gripped his clipboard.
“Since I was invited here by your boss, I doubt that’s necessary.”
Donovan’s hard look softened as he sighed and shifted his body until he was hugging his clipboard against his chest and his green eyes were almost pleading.
“Seriously, Shane. What are you doing?”
“I want to talk. I really, really want to talk.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“There’s lots to talk about. At least, there’s lots for me to explain.”
“There’s nothing I want to hear.”
“How do you know? You have no idea what I have to say.”
“Excuses, lots of excuses.”
I let out an annoyed sigh.
“I guess there’s only one way to find out.”
“Then I guess we won’t be finding out.”
His eyes narrowed with defiance as I stood up so we were chest to chest.
“It’s not a negotiation.”
He opened his mouth to say something, but I cut him off.
“You have every reason to write me off and I have no doubt you will, but not until I have a chance to talk. It doesn’t matter how much you resist, we’re going to talk sooner or later, just accept it.”
I wasn’t angry, but I wasn’t exactly happy about Donovan’s attitude, either, regardless of what I deserved.
Donovan pursed his lips, but didn’t say anything. I took a moment to let my eyes wander across his gorgeous face, especially the curve of his slender nose and the contour of his cheekbone. I’d missed him terribly and it took all of my self-control to not caress his cheek with my thumb.
I wish I could’ve gone back one week. If I could’ve done it again, I never would’ve yelled at him and stormed out of his house. I would’ve stayed and explained everything but, in the moment, I didn’t think he’d understand. Yeah, I’d been stupid before, but leaving that morning was the one regret that’d changed everything—the “what if” of all of my scenarios.
“Please?” I half begged.
So much for not negotiating.
“Maybe. We’ll see.”
“Okay. Maybe is a start,” I smiled.
Donovan rolled his eyes. “Maybe is only maybe.”
I decided it was time to leave while I was ahead—progress was going to come in small doses and I didn’t want to wear out my welcome. I’d never thought that way before. Relationships were convenient and nice, but I’d never tried to make them work before. Either they were a relationship or they weren’t—it was black or white, no grey. Living in the grey with Donovan had been different and it made me feel as though I had something to strive for, someone to be my best for—a future.