The salty breeze gently brushed Adam’s hair back from his face as he sat cross-legged on the sand. He was close enough to the water’s edge for droplets of spray from rolling waves to dampen his skin, but back far enough to ensure the safety of his jeans. He smiled. Ben always teased him about his unwillingness to get his precious jeans dirty. Not that Adam cared. They were what brought them together for fuck’s sake.
The memory flooded back as though it were yesterday. He’d been staring at them on the rack, weighing up the pros and cons of splurging on a genuine pair of Levi’s, versus the cheaper pair he’d seen in Walmart that would mean he could eat more than beans on toast until pay day. That was when a voice from behind him said, “Your arse would look fantastic in those.” His smile widened as he remembered the carrier bag resting against the leg of the chair in the coffee shop half an hour later. He couldn’t remember what they’d talked about over that first of many coffees, but he’d known from the start that he could listen to Ben, forever.
What about Josh?
Adam sighed heavily and brought his knees up to clasp his arms around them. Josh. Josh was uncomplicated. Josh was steady. Josh was… present. Adam looked out across the water, squinting as the sun peeked out from behind a cloud. “What the fuck am I supposed to do?”
“What do you want to do?”
Adam sucked in a breath and closed his eyes. “I knew you’d find me.”
“You wanted to be found?” Ben flopped down beside him.
“True.” Adam opened his eyes and continued to stare at the sea. “Sometimes I forget you know me better than I know myself.”
“You needed to think. This is your thinking place.”
“Our thinking place,” Adam corrected automatically.
“Our thinking place,” Ben affirmed.
“How long have you known?” Adam couldn’t resist asking the question.
“From the start.”
Adam’s gut tightened. “I never meant to hurt you.”
“I know,” Ben said softly.
“Look at me.”
“That you hate me.” Adam heard the break in his voice but didn’t care. “That you hate me, and I’ll see it.”
“The only way you’ll know is if you look at me.”
God, he hated it when Ben made sense. Which was basically all the time. It was one of his less attractive traits.
“Do you hate me?”
“Look at me.”
Adam swallowed past the lump in his throat. It sounded so loud in his own head, he was sure whales at the bottom of the sea were staring at each other with WTF? expressions on their big whale faces. He slowly turned his head, clasping his arms tighter and tighter, his fingers biting into his skin as he willed himself to look at Ben.
“It’s you.” The words were involuntary. Adam couldn’t have stopped them if he’d wanted to.
Ben held out his arms and Adam scrambled into them, inhaling the musky scent of his cologne. He curled his fingers in Ben’s shirt, trying to get as close to him as he could. It was comfortable, familiar, like putting on an old sweater. He snorted inelegantly.
“What’s funny?” Ben asked, rubbing his chin on the top of Adam’s head.
“I was just thinking you feel like an old sweater.”
“In a good way.”
“And Josh? How does he feel?”
“Why would you ask me that?” Adam tried to pull away, but Ben wouldn’t let him.
“Just answer the question.”
“I don’t see why—”
“Different! Okay? He feels different.”
“In a good way?”
“Yes… but different. Not like you.” Adam brushed at the tears that threatened to escape his lashes.
“He’s not me.” Ben replied. “And he doesn’t have to be.” Ben loosened his hold and cupped Adam’s cheek, forcing him to look him in the eye. “What we were is done, you know that, and even though what we were to each other will never be over, you can have something else with Josh. He’s a good guy. More importantly, he’s good for you.”
“You like him?”
Ben nodded. “I really do.”
“Thank you.” Adam lifted his hand and brushed his fingers through Ben’s hair. Ben captured his hand and pressed a kiss to Adam’s palm. His gaze, when it met Adam’s was sorrowful.
“The sun’s going down.”
“Don’t go yet. I’m not ready.” Panic flooded through him. Not yet! Not yet! “Please…”
“Won’t Josh be waiting?”
“He won’t mind.”
Ben looked out at the water and smiled as he pulled Adam back into his embrace. “Okay, but just until the sun sets, then I have to go.”
They sat huddled together, watching the sun slowly sink towards the horizon, the first twinkling of stars high above them. Adam watched the water turn orange and gold, the warmth of Ben’s arms and the beat of his heart against Adam’s cheek giving him the comfort and acceptance Adam so desperately craved.
Then it was over.
They stood up and Adam brushed the sand off his jeans, ignoring Ben’s smirk. “Not a word.”
“As if I would.”
Adam rolled his eyes and took a deep breath. “I guess this is it.” His throat was thick with unshed tears. “It’s harder than I thought.”
“Nah,” Ben said. “This is the easy part.”
“Yep. All you have to do is kiss me goodbye.”
“That I can do,” Adam said. He closed his eyes and leaned in until he felt the sweet, softness of Ben’s lips on his, a gentle brush of skin against skin that was over all too soon. Adam opened his eyes. Ben was gone. And even though he’d known he would be, Adam still looked up and down the beach for a sign of him. Of course, there was none. The only thing left behind was the lingering taste of his kiss and the sense of peace Adam needed to move on.
“Hey, are you okay?”
Adam turned to see a middle-aged man eyeing him curiously, holding onto the leash of an exuberant husky. “Sorry?”
“You look a little lost,” the man said with a frown, his gaze moving to the tears on Adam’s face. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” Adam wiped at the dampness on his cheeks.
The man looked relieved. “When I saw you talking to yourself, I was a little worried.”
“I used to come here with my husband,” Adam explained. “He died three years ago. And, well, I’ve met someone, you know? It just seemed like the right place to say goodbye.”
The man’s gaze softened, and he nodded sympathetically. “I’m sure he was with you.”
Adam shoved his fingers into his pocket and found the ring he’d put there earlier. He didn’t need to take it out, he knew what was engraved on the inside, he’d looked at it often enough. Ben & Adam, Forever. “I know he was.”