Patchwork Paradise

By: Indra Vaughn

Ever since we’d left high school, Saturday nights had been holy. Untouchable. All-night happy hour at the Nine Barrels was something none of us skipped. The bar was known for its paella and port wine, but we went there to drink cheap beer and gyrate to Latin music while hitting on anything that moved.

Or, well, the others did the hitting. Not me. I’d found the love of my life when I was sixteen years old. He was being incredibly stubborn at the moment. Or maybe I was being a bit of a brat.

“But it’s Saturday,” I complained for the tenth time that day.

Sam sent me a look with a hint of annoyance, and I knew I was running out of brat-credit. “It’s one time, Ollie. It won’t hurt,” he said as he straightened his tie.

“I don’t know about that.” I threw myself back on our perfectly made bed and luxuriated in the duvet with the ridiculous thread count. “I might injure myself. You know like how those marathon runners or professional cyclists can’t just stop doing exercise or their overlarge hearts will explode? I bet it’s the same with me. I stop drinking abruptly and—”

“Your liver will explode?” Samuel smiled at me in our stripped and repainted mirror—an old piece of shit I’d found on one of my digs through Antwerp’s flea markets and that Samuel had completely turned into a work of art. “Now there’s a sight I’d like to see. Besides, there will be alcohol at this party. Better alcohol.”

It was mostly his eyes that laughed at me. Samuel always laughed with his eyes. His dark eyelashes were so long. They’d lift as his eyes narrowed in mirth, and the pale blue of his irises would glint with mischief and promise.

“But—”

He spun on his heel, and I snapped my mouth shut. We’d known each other since we were ten. We’d started dating when we were sixteen, we’d had sex for the first time two weeks later, and we were getting married in one month. And still he took my breath away. Samuel always looked gorgeous, but Samuel in a suit threatened to melt my brain.

“Hi,” he murmured as he walked up to the bed.

“Hi,” I said. I sat up so I could touch him—his lapels, the white shirt underneath, the luscious burgundy tie. He kissed my nose.

“Get dressed, Ollie. We go to the opening, I show my face, do some brownnosing, and then we’ll go to the Nine Barrels.”

“Really?” I sprang up and hugged him—lightly, I didn’t want to crease him. “You’re the best.”

“That’s why you love me.” He grinned, and his eyes crinkled.

God. All mine.

“I do,” I whispered and kissed him. He smelled of cinnamon toothpaste—which I thought was disgusting to brush with, but somehow on him it tasted divine—and of my favorite aftershave. His dark hair was carefully gelled away from his face, and I wanted to mess it up but didn’t. I knew how important hosting this event was to him, his first as manager of the gallery. So I let him go, lifted my own suit off the hanger, and began to dress.

Samuel sat on the bed and watched me. I felt like making lewd jokes, but something fragile hung in the air, something to be treasured. A little moment in time I’d remember forever.

“You look gorgeous,” he told me when I struggled with my tie. He rose to his feet, squeezed my hands, then gently moved them aside. With long, deft fingers, he did my tie for me. He stared into my eyes the entire time. It was sappy. I didn’t care.

“You sure they’ll be okay with me being at the gallery?”

Samuel shrugged one shoulder. “They all know.”

“Knowing and seeing are two different things.”

He’d been working for his current boss at a huge gallery for over three years, but this was the first time she’d let him organize an opening party, and he’d managed to snag one of Antwerp’s most up-and-coming talents. I’d been to the odd Christmas do, but this felt different.

Samuel cupped my face. “It’s fine, Ollie. I’m not the only gay person who works at the gallery. This is Antwerp, after all.” The right side of his mouth lifted. “Stop looking for excuses.”

I rolled my eyes. “Okay.”

He opened his arms, and I walked right into them, sighing deeply. Samuel was taller than me by a good four inches, and broader—not that that was hard.

“You make me feel so safe,” I murmured. His cheek lifted against my temple, and I smiled too.

“That’s good to know,” he said and gently let go. “We need to leave soon. Are you ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

“You’ll be wonderful.”

One last attempt to get out from under this. “But I won’t know anyone and I’ll look sad and pathetic.” I fluttered my eyelashes at him, knowing it wouldn’t work.

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