in Gay Romance, Return to Me

Return to Me

1
***

If he knew I was going to take my life today, Troy would have been furious.
I try not to think about it as I sit on the patio that overlooks the golf course, shrouded by mist in the early morning light.
Mosquito netting encloses my refuge and I rub the gold ring he gave me 20 years ago with my thumb, up and down the length of my ring finger. We were never married—society wasn’t ready for that then—but we were married in our hearts, where it mattered.
I groan. All these years and there hasn’t been a day that I haven’t thought about him.
Cancer doesn’t pick favorites. It eats the body alive from the inside out and devours the souls of their loved ones who must watch helplessly. It has no mercy, no thoughts to whom it leaves behind.
I’m only in my early 60s, but I feel much older. I’m angry, still after all these years, and I haven’t been able to shake that feeling.
He lied to me. Troy said he’d come back and he never came back. He said he’d send me a sign from the other side, but decades have past. They say I should move on, but they didn’t know Troy.
He was my everything. Troy could make the sun shine on a rainy day. He could make me laugh when I wanted to cry.
I lean back in my patio chair and reach for the bottle of pills. A handful of them should do the trick. It will be painful as my throat closes up and my capillaries burst, but anything’s better than living another day without my Troy.
A cold chill runs through my body, followed by a thick, humid Florida breeze. My chrome wind chime sways back and forth in front of me, tinkling. It’s a mystical song, one that usually brings me joy.
Then a whisper from behind me says, “Wait.”
I sit up, something or someone stands in my peripheral vision. My neck is erect and the hairs on my arms raise. “Troy?”

2
***
Today

It was a dream. The same one I’ve had every day this week, but this time I’m awakened by the sound of glass breaking.
At first, I lay my head back to bed, wanting to believe it is my imagination, but someone’s shoes crunching onto the shattered remains upstairs makes me reach for the .45 caliber under my bed.
Call me paranoid, but even living in a guard gated community I’ve caught the estate’s security guards sleeping on the job enough times to be ready for anything.
I shoot out of bed, creeping up to my bedroom door where I look out both ways before stepping into the hallway. Long, dark shadows spread across the dimly moonlit halls, leading to the stairs.
I pause as the weight of my bare feet makes the wooden stairs creak and I hope it’s not loud enough to scare away my intruder.
I should call the cops. A man my age is no match for a burglar, but my years in the military give me more confidence than I should have. Besides, the gun in my hand feels good.
I take a deep breath before opening the door that leads to the room where I heard the footsteps. Maybe I’ll be leaving this world early after all, with one shot to the chest.
I’m struck by what I see as my eyes scan the sparsely placed furniture and settle onto the dimly lit guest bed.
A young man lies on it as if he’s an invited guest. I inch closer to him, aiming my gun in his direction and my confusion makes my hands shake a little.
With the way the moonrays spread through the sheer curtains on him, he glows like an angel—like an honest to God one, which is a stark contrast to the intrusive way he’s barreled his way into my home. Light glitters off the shattered remains of the window and I kick his shins to wake him.
He turns, cracking his eyes open to reveal a blue not normally found in nature and greets me with a smile as if he’s a long lost friend and not some break and enter artist. “Albert”” he says. “Sorry to wake you.”
I’m unnerved by his casual nature and I cock the gun in his face and say, “Who the hell are you?”
He chuckles as if not at all concerned about the weapon that could blow his head in two. “You sure have gotten old.”
He’s quite handsome—stunning, actually—but I clear that thought from my head. I’m half-naked and for once I wish I wasn’t so impulsive. I should have brought my phone with me. “I’m calling the cops.”
A glint of fright sweeps over his face. “Please, I can explain. I’m sorry.”
I lower my tone, spreading my legs and placing both hands on my gun as I keep my aim. “Damn right, you better explain.”
“There’s no need for a gun in my face,” he says as if trying to calm a beast, maybe that’s what I look like right now. “You always were a hot head.”
I’m annoyed by his apparent familiarity with me and my nostrils flare. “What are you talking about?”
A gentle smile spreads across his face and it fills me with a calm I shouldn’t be feeling. His eyes catch the light as he says, “It’s me, Troy.”

3
***
Years Ago

“Idiot,” young Troy said under his breath, although loud enough for the junior history professor and university students to hear.
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Simmons,” Professor Albert said, looking at him from above reading glasses which dangled from his thin, hawkish nose.
The students’ anticipation of his next words filled the crowded, stuffy lecture hall with electricity. Albert felt it all over.
Troy smirked. “You’re saying that because you’re Christian—Buddhists, Jews, Hindus and Muslims are all worshipping incorrectly?”
Professor Albert tried to control his temper, but he was miffed that one of his students would challenge him in front of everyone. That he would dare.
Sure, most of his students were almost his age, having graduated early, but Albert had worked too hard to prove his place with the faculty. He wasn’t about to have everything he said undermined by some student.
“I’m saying,” Professor Albert said, catching his voice from erupting, “we simply know better.”
The class chuckled. “Like I said: idiot,” said Troy, just as the bell rang.
Albert’s nostrils flared. As the students scurried in a chaotic bolt toward the exit, his eyes scanned them for the rebel. “Mr. Simmons.”
“Yes, Professor?” said the young man, stepping toward him.
It was the first time the young professor had been this close to his student and they locked eyes. “I need to speak to you.”
The truth was, Albert hadn’t been able to focus since he laid eyes on Troy. The young man was quite frankly breathtaking, with crystal blue eyes that Albert could stare into for hours. He managed to keep most of the students’ attention as well, to Albert’s chagrin.
However, not only was it against faculty policy to fraternize with a student, he’d certainly be fired, as society wasn’t ready for an openly gay professional—especially not one in a teaching position.
Most men like the young professor had to keep their closeted life shrouded in the dingy back alleys of shady gay bars, which was not Albert’s scene.
Instead, he had kept his urges at bay by burying himself in work.
It’d worked thus far until he’d met Troy.
“So, what’s up, professor?” asked Troy, crossing his arms as if he were up for the challenge.
Albert crossed his arms too, also up for the challenge, both locking eyes with each other.
As the last student trailed out, there was nothing between the two young men but silence and kinetic tension.
Troy stepped closer and Albert’s heart skipped a beat. The clean scent of him filled the professor’s nostrils. He’d never been unnerved by anyone before. He’d prided himself in being confident, but something about this student stripped him of his defenses. Stripped him bare.
“Did you want to discuss this further?” asked Albert, clearing his throat and stepping closer to Troy.
A small smirk spread on Troy’s face. He liked the challenge. “Perhaps over dinner?”
Albert blushed, but he lowered his tone, letting the student know he was still boss. “Perhaps.”

4
***
Today

I’m snapped back to reality, grabbing this young man who claims to be Troy by the collar. How dare he impersonate my late husband! I can’t even begin to swallow the fury that fills me at his hurtful proclamation.
I should shove him out the window he broke into, but I can’t. Something about him makes me stop and think before I act—which isn’t like me.
I speak through gritted teeth. It isn’t easy controlling my temper. “How do you know that name?”
He scrunches eyebrows in confusion. “What name? Troy? That’s my name. Just like your name is Albert, or Ally when I really want to piss you off.”
My hand quivers in fear, and I lose my grip on him. He has that same clean scent that Troy used to have and I’m afraid I’ll accidentally shoot him. I uncock the gun and lay it on the nightstand away from his reach. Away from mine.
I pace back and forth, the wooden floor creaking in protest of my weight. “I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, but I’ll tell you one thing, the cops don’t take lightly to break ins around here. You better—”
“You better believe it,” he says, finishing my sentence and laughing. “You still say that? You haven’t changed.”
This is scary. Only people who know me well know that. I need to clear my head. I must be dreaming again. I wish I’d wake up. I blink my eyes several times and he’s still there. Taunting me. Making my heart ache at the sight of him.
“Just stop talking and stay here. I’m calling the police,” I say. It’s the only thing I can think of to do that doesn’t involve looking at this man any longer.
Instead of backing away, he approaches me calmly. I can’t stop thinking about how beautifully familiar he is to me. “I don’t understand. I told you I’d send you a sign. I told you I’d come back for you. Why are you upset?”
I freeze in my spot, my whole body vibrating, and my eyes water. “Troy?”

5
***
Years Ago

“Senator?” young Troy said, his eyes lighting up at the good news. He kissed Albert deeply in the one place where they could be themselves—Albert’s upscale apartment.
But Albert was distracted as he stared at the green kitchen tile floor. And Troy must have sensed it as he opened a bottle of wine. “This is cause for celebration. White or red?”
“Troy,” said Albert, his eyes met Troy’s. The younger man fished through the wooden oak drawer for another bottle opener as if he were avoiding a conversation they needed to have.
Pulling the opener out, he peeled off the silver wine wrapper. “Forget wine. We need champagne for this. I can’t say I’m surprised they’re going to support your run,” said Troy, now searching the cabinets for champagne.
“Troy!” he said, maybe a little too strong. There was silence between them and a knot formed in Albert’s throat. An ambulance blared by the busy street and he took a deep breath. What he had to say wouldn’t be easy.
This should have been a special moment for both of them. Troy had encouraged him to pursue his dream of being in politics and even worked an extra job so that he could quit his professorship and go for it.
Troy put the champagne bottle down. “What?” The smile on his face faded.
Albert sighed. His heart raced, he bit his lower lip and braced himself for impact. “There’s something I need to tell you. They know about us.”
Troy almost dropped the bottle in his hand and Albert grabbed it.
“And they’re fine with it,” said the older man, catching his breath. He set the bottle on the kitchen counter, his thumb rubbing over the moist condensation.
Troy’s smile returned for a moment. “Good. So, what’s the issue?”
He cleared his throat again. “The’’re fine with it so long as… it never comes out.”
Troy froze. It took him a few minutes before he spoke. He was hurt, Albert could tell. They’d been together for the last three years, after all, and their connection was strong. “Oh, then we’ll keep it discreet as we’ve been doing the last few years,” said Troy, grabbing the rag draped on the refrigerator door. The kitchen was spotless, but Troy scrubbed over the counter nervously.
It was self-sacrificing of the younger man. It agitated Troy to have to keep their relationship a secret, Albert understood that and he felt the same way, but he had more to say. “And that’s not all. They think the chances of me winning would increase significantly if… I had a wife.”
“A what?” Troy threw his rag down and started for the living room when Albert grabbed him by the arm.
Troy yanked his arm away. “If you wanted to break up with me, Ally, you could have—”
“No, never. I’d be lost without you, Troy. It’s only for show. What you and I have is what’s real. It’s sacred.” It was a lame excuse and Albert felt like a sell-out.
Troy’s eyes narrowed at him. “So sacred you don’t want the world to know.”
Albert bowed his head. He shouldn’t have even considered their offer. The love he had for Troy was worth more than any career move. “It’s only until I get elected. And maybe a few more years after that. Then, I’ll be such an amazing senator, no one will care what I do in my bedroom.”
The silence between them was deafening until Troy’s voice broke through. “Our—Our bedroom.”
Albert’s eyes lit up as he saw the small smile on Troy’s face. The things this man put up with were unparallelled. “Please, don’t leave me. I need you.”
Pulling Troy closer, their lips met and the younger man draped his arms around his neck, sinking into him. “Never.”

6
***
Today

“So how did you…?” I don’t know how to put it as I sit across this handsome young man on the couch. The large screen TV is on, mostly as a safety blanket in case we don’t know what to say to each other.
A familiar smile spreads across his face. He gives me a wink which relaxes me a bit. “How did I come back?”
I nod. I feel like a young man again. In fact, I feel like the first time we went out to dinner. I take a deep breath, projecting more confidence than I have, but he can see right through it.
“The important thing is I’m here and we can pick up where we left off,” says Troy. Maybe he’s avoiding the subject because he’s lying, maybe he senses I’m not ready for the details.
He puts his hand on my face. The softness of his youth brings back memories. It’s been so long since anyone has done that to me, I almost forgot how good it feels. “I missed you,” he says, his voice raspy.
Something in his cadence reminds me of my Troy. When I close my eyes and he talks, it’s as if he’s here with me again and I nod. The newscaster’s voice becomes my life-jacket. I don’t know what she’s talking about, but I need something to ground me.
I want to open up to him—I do, but I’m not ready to. I need to know for sure. I’ve guarded my heart only for Troy’s return for all these years and I’m still not sure this is him. I don’t want to be hurt again.
“I know this is difficult. You wonder if this is all real and I promise you it is,” he says, then he kisses my lips. The taste of him is intoxicating. It’s different than I remember, or maybe it’s been so long since I’ve been kissed. But it still feels good.
“You hungry?” I ask, getting up and trying to change the subject. I almost trip over the couch’s arm chair as I remove myself from him. I’m almost embarrassed at how messy I’ve let the house become. Troy used to keep the house spotless.
I’m rambling in my mind. The truth is I’m immensely attracted to him—Troy or whoever he is—and if I sit next to him any longer I don’t know if I could control myself.
“Grilled cheese—”
“With bacon, right?”
He smiles and my heart melts. I haven’t made one of those since he passed away. “Exactly. You remember.”
I want to pinch myself to see if this is real, but I’ve already done that several times before.
I start to say something when my cell phone rings. I grab it from the next room and sigh. It’s my son. I forgot. He’s supposed to come over this morning. He says he hates how I stay home alone, that it’s unhealthy.
I can’t cancel it or he’ll know something is wrong. I need to think fast.

7
***
Years ago

It broke his heart to see it unfold before him. As much as Troy had agreed to give Albert’s support to what the newspapers described as the wedding of the year, it shattered him to watch him kiss that woman and give his vows to her.
Christmas lights illuminated the church’s pew, arching over the aisle with white roses permeating the air of the crowded building.
A wave of murmurs filled the echoing hall as the faux bride floated toward Albert who wore the silk black suit Troy had fitted for him. He’d forced a smile on his face as he fastened the bow tie before Albert stepped outside earlier that day.
Troy hadn’t even been allowed to be a best man. Instead, Albert’s political campaign managers had cast the perfect wedding party made up of the who’s who of the country’s most elite.
Troy had to be strong. If Albert was going to change the laws to protect others like them, sacrifices had to be made. And Troy believed him like he’d never believed anyone else before. Albert was a good man with a good heart who wanted to make a real difference in the world. If anyone could, it was Albert.
And yet, as the younger man watched the couple exchange vows in front of everyone, Troy couldn’t stomach any more of it, he had to leave, the room was closing in on him and he could barely breathe.
Rushing out through the lobby and down the cobble steps, he almost keeled over, gripping to the doorway as he took a breath. He’d faint if he didn’t get a hold of himself, and the mountainous vista surrounding them didn’t make things any better.
This was supposed to be their wedding, their day to remember, and although he’d first tried to support Albert in this, Troy couldn’t help but feel betrayal.
He paced the floor, waiting most of the night for Albert to come home into the boutique hotel room after the wedding reception. The older man was so drunk that he could barely walk. Troy did his best to hold his temper as he undressed him from that black tux.
It should have been their wedding night they were celebrating, their reception. Instead, as Troy tried to steal away a few hours with Albert before he had to got up for his faux honeymoon with his wife, the man fell asleep. “Albert?” he whispered, as the older man cracked his eyes open in the middle of the night.
“Yeah, babe,” he said, his worlds slurred.
“Do you still love me?” he asked, though the question in his drunken state probably didn’t register.
“You better believe it,” said Albert.
Troy took a deep breath, watching the sheer curtain floating in the breeze. Sacrifices had to be made, he kept telling himself. But why, then, did this all feel like the beginning of the end?

8
***
Today

“You want me to go?” Troy asks, leaning against the doorframe. His face is both hurt and confused and I struggle with a way to explain it to him.
“Just until Sam… He’s on his way,” I say. I feel like a coward, hiding this secret from the world as if I’m not strong enough for the world to know. I thought that I’d come a long way since when we had to hide our relationship and now I’m not so sure.
“He’s our son,” says Troy, crossing his arms. His eyes narrow like they did when we were younger “Why would he—?”
I’m fed up and I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain myself. It’s been decades since I’ve had to and I dig through my closet looking for a clean shirt to put on. “He doesn’t know… How am I going to explain you to him?”
Troy bows his head, but first picks out a blue shirt for me like he used to years ago. “I guess I could take a walk. I just don’t want to spend a second away from you again.”
Those words touch my heart and I kiss him on the forehead and say the most truthful thing I’ve said to him yet, “Me neither.”
He holds on to me and squeezes me tight and, unable to help myself, I pull him tighter. I don’t want him to go either. I breathe in his scent. It’s different than I remember and yet it feels so familiar.
“Dad?” says a voice behind me. It’s my son, Sam, all six foot two of him. He must have snuck in from the back patio. He sports an Armani suit, probably having come from another high powered meeting
I pull away and Troy just stares at him. “He’s so big.”
I guess he must be shocked. The last time Troy saw him he was barely four years old. “Dad? Who is this…?” says Sam, looking at both of us for an explanation.
I feel like a child being chastised and I don’t like that. “This is…”
“You’ve gotten so old,” says Troy. He never did have a filter and I can see that hasn’t changed.
I step in front of him and usher my son out before Troy says anything else. “He’s my… special friend.”
“Special friend?” Sam’s eyebrows arch and I don’t know if it’s because I’ve never used that term with anyone before or if he doesn’t believe me.
He steps inside the bedroom, uninvited, towering over Troy. I know he looks like a child compared to me. “How long have you…? You never told me about him.”
This interrogation has to stop. I button the last button on my shirt and Troy fixes it. “Why don’t we do our breakfast another day?” I say, hoping Sam will leave.
My son crosses his arms to let me know he’s not leaving until he’s ready. “I saw the broken glass and the window. How did..?”
I sigh, trying to lead him out of the bedroom and down the hall. The walls are lined with old photos of me and Troy in our younger, happier years. “It’s nothing. Just some punk kids.”
My son follows me out and Troy is behind him. “We should fix it or…”
I turn around, I just wish he’d go. “Son, please. Can’t you see I’m busy?”
He studies my face for a bit and then says, “Sure.”
I know my son well enough to know that this isn’t the end of his suspicions and this certainly isn’t the end to what he’ll do about them.

9
***
Years Ago

“When did… How did this happen?” Troy asked, barely able to make out the words. His chin quivered and the stare back at Albert was excruciating.
Albert didn’t know why he thought making him a grilled cheese with bacon sandwich would make this blow any easier, but he flipped over the sandwich and pressed the spatula. How could the older man put into words an explanation that would justify what he’d done? “Must have been the wedding night. I was so drunk, Troy. You have to understand—”
“Understand? I don’t have to understand anything,” said Troy, seething with anger. Albert had never seen him this angry before, but he had every right to be. “You promised me this was just a show and now you’re saying she’s pregnant!”
Albert stepped away from the stove and put his hands on either side of his face. “I didn’t… I don’t even remember what happened… I have never—I would never cheat on you. You have to understand that, but… the advisors say this is a good thing. America loves a happy family and maybe this way—”
Troy’s nostrils flared and his eyes began to water. Albert had hurt him deeply and it destroyed him to see what he’d done to his partner. “Tell me one reason why I shouldn’t leave you, Albert.”
“The child will be ours. Cynthia doesn’t even want a child. We’ll take care of it. Think of it as her gift to you.”
“Ally, you know how much I hate that woman” Troy said through gritted teeth. He paced back and forth in the kitchen. “She’s an opportunist—”
Troy wasn’t thinking straight. They could work through this. Albert really believed that, or at least he hoped. They’d been together for over five years, after all. “Be civil. Be level-headed. Be—”
The fire alarm beeped at the smoke that had filled the room. Albert had let the sandwich burn and Troy tossed it in the trash, opening up the windows to let the air in.
“Don’t tell me how to be, Albert. You broke your vow to me. I love you, but I can only put up with so much.”
He was right, of course. Albert coughed up the remaining stench of the smoke. “Troy, please,” he said, reaching out to him.
Snatching his arm back, Troy said, “Just leave.”

10
***
Today

I overhear Troy talking to someone and my antennas raise up. I’m stepping out of the kitchen with some pastries on a small plate. He always enjoyed raspberry filled ones.
Troy told me that he wanted to sit outside on the patio where we could have some coffee and really talk undisturbed.
He doesn’t have a cell phone, as far as I know, so I don’t know where the voices are from.
I catch the tail-end of the conversation. “Why can’t you just leave us in peace?” Troy says.
“You’re not the first one to try to pull this and you won’t be the last,” the other voice says. I think I recognize the other voice, but I cannot be certain.
By the time I step out onto the patio, the other person has disappeared and Troy is shaking even though he tries to cover it up with a smile. “You forgot the coffee,” he says.
I’ve startled him and he jumps as I shut the door and step closer to him. “Who were you talking to?” I ask, closing the patio door behind me.
He never was a good liar, maybe because he was the most genuine person I’ve ever known. “What do you mean?” he asks, though he can barely look at me.
“Look,” I say, taking a seat next to him. The chair squeaks as I scoot closer. This is important. I try to put it in words that are clear and yet will not offend him. “If there’s something that you need to say, something that’s going on, now’s the time to come clean. I won’t call the cops—”
He sits up a little as if to stop me. “The cops?” he asks, shocked.
I take a deep breath, trying to control my emotions. “Please.”
Troy takes a deep breath. He’s hurt by whatever was said. I can tell by the way he stares out of the patio onto the manmade lake in front of us. “It was him—Sam. He thinks… I’m trying to take advantage of you. He threatened me… threatened my life.”
I put my hands on my hips, trying to breathe through the frustration. The doctor has warned me about my blood pressure before and I won’t lose my temper. I want to say I’m shocked, but I’m not. The thing about my son is that he doesn’t make threats, only promises.
But I won’t let him do that to Troy. I won’t let him ruin this for either of us.

11
***
Years Ago

“Wait!” Albert called to Troy over a sea of people at the train station.
Troy looked back for a second then disappeared into the crowd. It was one of the busiest times of the day at the station and Albert wasn’t sure if he could find him.
He could have just let him go, take that as a clue that perhaps their relationship wasn’t meant to be.
It would have been a lot easier for him, after all. His career could soar without distraction, but the more he thought about it, the more the older man realized that he couldn’t imagine a day without his Troy.
The intercom echoed as the next train leaving was announced, its blaring sound echoed across the large hall. Grand archways overlooked the center.
Spotting Troy stepping out and closer to a train, Albert pulled his hat lower and moved closer to him, tugging on his jacket. “Please.”
Troy glared at him. Albert was clearly still concerned about being spotted by the press or the public. “Don’t you have constituents to attend to?” said Troy.
That hurt Albert, though he deserved it. There’s nothing that Troy had done that deserved all Albert had put him through the last few years, the sacrifices he’d made all in the name of love. “Nothing’s more important to me than you.”
Troy shook his head. Albert couldn’t sweet talk him out of his decision this time and he shifted his luggage from one hand to the next. “I beg to differ. You’re a father now, and a husband.”
A waft of train steam swept between them as Albert said something he should have said years ago, “I’ll leave it all behind, all of it. She doesn’t even like me. She hates it as much as I do. I’ll leave the senate behind if need be.”
Troy’s eyes widened. This dream Albert had had become their dream. He’d put his own goals aside to become a doctor so that he could support Albert. If Albert quit, then the sacrifices wouldn’t have been worth it. “Don’t do that. You’re work is too important.”
“It’d be worth it,” said Albert, his eyes becoming misty. His thumb rubbed against the side of Troy’s hand. “I couldn’t bear not having you in my life.”
Troy couldn’t hold back the tears. “You hurt me. Yes, I want to be a father, more than anything. Yes, I want a life with you, but you can make real change in this world if you’re in a position of power.”
Now it was time for Albert’s tears. He’d always fashioned himself a manly man, but Troy had opened up a sensitive side of him all these years that he didn’t even know existed. “What does that all mean, without you by my side?” asked Albert.
Eyeballs were on them now. People stopped and whispered, clearly recognizing Albert, but this time Albert didn’t flinch from the attention.
“Albert,” said Troy. He must have been worried for him until the older man sealed his lips with a kiss in front of everyone.

12
***
Today

We’ve been laughing for over an hour. Troy always had the ability to turn any tense situation into something light hearted.
My doubts about whether this is the real Troy are diminishing as I wipe the happy tears from my eyes. He remembers little details, stories that only the two of us knew, things that I’ve never told anyone, and yet as I see him wipe the happy tears from his eyes, something is bothering me.
I see it in the way he looks off to the side and stares off into space as we sit on the couch across from the television. Something’s bothering him and I need to know what it is.
I squeeze his hand. “What’s wrong?” I ask. I feel helpless again, unable to help him like in his last days. “If this is about Sam, I’ll beat his butt before I let him—”
“No, it’s not that, it’s just…” He takes a deep breath. Whatever he has to say is difficult. He squeezes my hand. “There’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you.”
“What is it?” I ask, my face is etched with concern, but then I see something in the reflection that catches my eye. It’s the television and a face—a familiar face—but, as I turn to take a better look, the face is gone.
I swear I saw Troy’s face—the new Troy—on the television, but he squeezes my hand again to get my attention. “I missed you,” he says, laying his head on my shoulder and I pull him close.
It feels so good to have his weight on my shoulders. It’s something I yearned for so long.
But something’s definitely wrong, I can feel it. I just need to live in this fantasy a bit longer, and the truth is I don’t ever want it to end.

13
***
Years ago

To say that the couple had been publicly humiliated by coming out of the closet was an understatement.
Being forced to retire from the senate was just the beginning for Albert, and so was Troy losing his medical clinic’s clients.
But when the homophobic slur was spray painted across their apartment door, that was the last straw.
That hot summer day, Troy was ready to take a pitch fork and stab someone with it as he searched through the closet.
Albert stepped in the spare bedroom to find his partner on the floor frantically piling boxes on top of the others on the floor. “Just calm down. What are you doing anyway?” asked Albert.
“Looking for something I can kill them with the next time they—” he said, lost in his search.
Albert wanted to laugh, but it wasn’t a laughing matter. He grabbed his partner by the arm and pulled him up. He loved how defensive Troy got when it came to him. “Listen, the lawyers say—”
Sighing, Troy stamped his feet. “The lawyers say this, the lawyers say that. When are we going to do something, Albert?”
He rubbed the younger man’s shoulders to calm him down. “We are doing something, Troy. We’re still here. We’re living our lives. We’re showing them—the world—that we will not be intimidated.”
He closed his eyes and took long, slow breaths through his nose. “We’re running out of savings, Ally, I got an eviction notice again today and—”
It was true and it’s not that it didn’t frighten Albert, it was just that as long as they were together they could get through anything. “Baby,” Albert said.
Troy shook his head, putting the boxes back into the closet. “Maybe we should… Maybe you should just say it was a all a misunderstanding. If I leave town now—”
He raised his voice. That wasn’t an option. “No, never. I’d die without you, Troy. You’re my everything.”
Troy smiled through the budding tears he fought back and held on to Albert tightly. They didn’t have much, but at least they had each other.

14
***
Today

“We need to leave,” Troy says, waking me from my nap. The panic on his face alarms me. It’s been days since he’s arrived and although something has been bothering me, we’ve done nothing but laugh and talk about memories.
“What’s wrong, baby?” I ask, sounding groggy. I sit up, the pillows imprint creased in my skin.
He drops a duffle bag on the floor near the bed. “I’ve packed some things to last us.”
I sit up and rub my eyes. This is too much information for someone who’s just woken up. “What’s going on?”
He looks at the door and says, “Please, they don’t want us to be together and I can’t lose you.”
Tears stream from his face and I stand up. He’s serious and I don’t ask any more questions. I trusted my Troy back then and I trust him now, even if there are still doubts in my head.
We will leave for him. I don’t know for how long and I don’t even know why but I trust that all will be explained later. It takes me less then five minutes to gather the rest of what we might need on this mysterious trip.
He looks like an ashamed puppy who’s done something wrong, but what? I turn the television off that was left on and wonder if I should grab some more food, but he pulls me closer to the door.
As we’re about to step out, a loud knock at the door almost gives me a heart attack. It’s not a neighbor, it can’t be. The knock was a force with a purpose.
“We should go out the back,” he says, but then a voice from the other side of the door says, “Mr. Whitman—Albert, open up. It’s the police.”
I swallow. What is all this? The police? This is a fairly safe neighborhood and other than Troy breaking in a few days ago, nothing ever happens here.
“Please,” says Troy. He pulls me in the direction of the back patio, but it’s too late. My son Sam steps inside the house, stuffing his keys in his pockets and a gun pointed right at Troy.
Why the cops allow him to have a gun, I don’t know, but I’m guessing with his connections to the city they’ll let him get away with anything. I freeze, then step in front of Troy to protect him. “Sam, what are you—?”
He swallows, cocking the gun anyway. “Dad, step away. He’s dangerous. Haven’t you seen the news?”
Troy’s kept me so busy that although the news has been on, I really haven’t paid any attention to it. Most of the time we’ve been watching old movies by Troy’s request, but now that I think about it, maybe that was intentional.
“The news?” I look to Troy for an answer, but I only see panic. I mentally beg this not to be true.
“Don’t believe them. Whatever they say.” He starts for the stairs, but Sam re-cocks his gun.
“Don’t move a muscle,” says my son, and I know that he won’t hesitate to shoot.
Troy puts his hands up slowly.

15
***
Years Ago

“You don’t like the caviar?” Albert asked, pouring him some more champagne. They had a lot to celebrate. Not only had he gotten a job as the director of civil rights for a nonprofit, but more importantly they’d been together for more than seven years.
Troy conjured up a smile as he picked at the fish eggs with the tip of his fork and stared across the candlelight table. “You know I don’t like that fancy stuff. It’s just—”
Albert was a little bit hurt. He’d gone through a lot to pull together this romantic dinner, but Troy’s happiness was more important. “Well, forget it, I’ll go to the store and we’ll buy chips and salsa. It’s our anniversary, I’d think you’d be—”
“Albert, I’m dying.”
The words hit him square in the chest like a bullet. Silence fell between them, making his heart pound in his throat.
He chuckled, waiting for Troy to laugh to or come up with some explanation, but he didn’t. “Dying? That’s not funny.”
The younger man closed his eyes, set his elbows on the table and rubbed his face. “No, it’s not. But it’s true.”
Albert set his fork down hard on the table. So many emotions ran hot through him in that moment. “What do you mean?”
Troy took a sip of the champagne before answering. “I’ve been having pains in my… You know I haven’t been as intimate with you lately as I’ve wanted to be.”
“You know that’s not important to me,” said Albert, grabbing Troy’s hand across from the table.
His eyes cut at him. “But it is. So, I went to the doctor to have it checked out and… I have colon cancer.”
Again there was silence. Albert tried to put to words together and stuttered before spitting out the question he needed an answer to. “How long have you known?”
Candlelight made his partner’s face glow as he waited for him to respond. “I wanted to be sure, so I got a second opinion and then a third—”
Wiping his mouth with a napkin, he threw it on the table and said, “I don’t believe it. We’ll get a fourth.”
“Albert, it’s best that we start making preparations.”
The older man rose to his feet and paced back and forth in the dining room. “Preparations my foot. We’re going to fight this, Troy. You hear me?”
Troy nodded, tears streaming as Albert pulled him closer. He turned on the record player and played the Elvis song, Love Me Tender. They danced on the living room floor that night as Albert sing the words to Troy. For this moment, they allowed themselves to get lost and forgot about the pain to come.
16
***
Today

I feel like a fool. As I answer questions at the musty-smelling police station, I bow my head. The rowdy criminals they book in the facility become a blur in my head.
It’s only until my son kisses me on the side of my head and says, “I’m sorry, Dad.”
Troy—or whoever this person was—is a conman. That’s what the news says, anyway. There’s video of him on the news robbing a bank and a long list of mostly women that he’s conned out of their money.
The police had been chasing him after a robbery. Shots were fired but he disappeared days ago.
I guess I wanted to believe that Troy would come back to me so bad that I was willing to believe anything. And yet, still there are so many unanswered questions.
As I walk with my son to the holding cell desk, I ask myself how he knows all those details, things that only Troy and I could have known? I want to be angry at the young man, but I can’t. Fool or not, he gave me more joy in those few days of fantasy than I’ve had the last twenty years since I lost him and, yet, something’s still nagging at me.
I just need to see him, if I can see him, maybe I can get some questions answered. The officers agree for me to say a few words to him even if they advise against it legally. I don’t care about the law right now, I just care about my heart.
“Why?” I ask, the words have to be pushed out because they’re stuck in my throat.
He looks up from the holding cell. “You have to believe me.” His expression is sincere and I feel helpless. I don’t know if it’s my heart playing tricks on me or if I should listen to my gut.
I raise my voice and the correction’s officer raises an eyebrow. “Enough of the act,” I say, my nostrils flaring.
He stands up and steps toward me, the bars separating us. Even though I don’t know if I want to hold him or strangle him, I stay put. “There’s so much I want to tell you. So much that would explain everything, but I can’t. It’s not allowed.”
I grip the bars of the holding cell. I’m so tired of the double-talk. “What’s not allowed?”
The young man starts to speak, then bows his head and I’ve heard enough. I’m not going to get any answers out of him and I turn away to exit, when I hear him sing Love Me Tender, his sweet voice echoing in the concrete walls.
My eyes water. It’s him. It has to be him. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but it’s my Troy.

17
***
Years ago

Albert lost track of how long he’d been sitting at Troy’s side in the hospital that day. Months had past and the cancer had eaten him alive from the inside faster than they’d anticipated.
The younger man had gone in and out of consciousness for days and the doctors said the best thing they could do was make him comfortable.
“Albert,” said the scratchy voice he barely recognized.
Albert stood up, squeezing Troy’s bony hand. His sunken cheeks and cracked lips didn’t dim his light. “Yes, baby,” he said. The antiseptic odors of the private room they’d arranged for his partner mixed with the scents of death that never left his nostrils.
It took Troy a few minutes to say what he needed to say. His lips were dry and cracked and Albert smeared a little vaseline on his lips. “Listen. I want you to know. You’ve made me the happiest man alive.”
Albert wanted throw something against the wall. He wasn’t ready to give up. Not yet. “Don’t talk like that. You’re not going to die. We’re going to fight this.”
Troy narrowed his eyes at the older man. “Shut up.” He turned his head toward Albert and said, “Ally, I want you to open the drawer there. I’ve left something for you.”
Albert obeyed and found a ring box. He gasped as he opened it and revealed a gold band. It sparkled in the pulsating fluorescent lights. Slipping it on and he held back the tears.
Albert nodded and Troy continued, “Promise me, you’ll find someone else.”
Albert’s chin quivered and he said with as much force as he could muster, “I will never love anybody else.”
Troy nodded. He’d barely enough strength to speak, but he pushed his last words out. “I will find you. When I cross over. Wherever I am, I’ll send a sign from the other side. I will return to you.”
“You better,” said Albert, a tear falling.
“You better believe it…” said Troy, his eyes fluttering as if it took every bit of strength he had left to keep them open.
“Promise,” said Albert kissing his cheek and forehead, desperate to hold on to what was left of his prince.
“I… promise,” said Troy, his voice barely a hiss. “I will return… to… you…”

18
***
Today

My son is angry with me, but what’s new? I’ve bailed Troy out with my own money because I believe in my heart it’s him. But that’s not all.
We’re going to run away together. As I shift gears in my car, he squeezes my thigh and our eyes lock long enough for me to know it’s truly him. I roll down the windows a bit, the wind making his golden hair flow in the breeze.
He takes a deep breath, then lifts up the bottom half of his shirt where I see a haphazard attempt at stitches. “He was shot,” says Troy as my eyes widen. “This body.”
“This body?” I’m confused and I swish my mouth back and forth, trying to grapple with what he’s said to me.
“It’s me, Albert. It’s really me inside but this body… He was shot and dying. It was his chance at redemption. I made a deal to use it long enough to see you again, to smell you again, to touch you again, but…”
“But what?” I ask, lowering my tone. It’s a lot to take in, but it’s a miracle and sometimes miracles aren’t easy to understand.
He squeezes my hand and I know what he has to say is difficult. “But I don’t know how long I can stay.”
I speed past the cornfields blurring into golden colors in my mind. “Don’t tell me you’re going to go away again.”
He take a breath, then swallows. “I hope not, but I can’t guarantee.”
“Then, we’ll just have to spend every waking moment together,” I want to pull over but I know I can’t. I don’t even know where I’m going except that I’m going with him.
“Together. I like that idea,” he says, leaning his head on my shoulder. “Thank you for returning to me.”
“You better believe it,” I say.
Tears of happiness stream down my face, as I shift gears and speed over the hill where the sun sets low. I finally have my Troy back and, this time, I’ll never let him go.

THE END