Dorian allowed Alaric to sit on his shoulders as we walked across bridge. With his name and face all over the media, I was worried someone would recognize him. However, I could see why no one did all day. Dressed in jeans and a casual shirt, along with his hat and sunglasses, he looked like a completely different person. Just a normal dad. Well, a very hot dad, but a dad nonetheless.
“Your ice cream is melting.” He nodded to the cup in my hand.
“I’m full,” I replied but took another bite anyway.
He didn’t say anything and just opened his mouth. Laughing, I lifted the small spoon to bring ice cream to his mouth.
“Ugh… What in the world is this flavor.” He cringed as he swallowed.
“Apple Kiwi Pistachio.”
“Three words that should never go together for ice cream.” He made a face, trying to rid the taste from his mouth.
I took another bite and rolled my eyes. “What? It tastes good.”
“It tastes like a mistake.” He laughed, causing Alaric to wave at me, not sure what was so funny.
“Dad doesn’t like my ice cream,” I signed up to him.
“Me taste,” he said aloud.
I gave him a look. He’d eaten his ice cream, half of Dorian’s, and now he was coming for mine.
“What, you’re afraid he won’t like it?” Dorian paused, and I couldn’t see his eyes through the shades, but, from the smirk on his mouth, I could tell he was mocking me.
“Bend down, and prepare to be wrong. My son loves all kinds of food,” I said, already picking up the spoon.
He bent down, and Alaric leaned over, allowing me to feed him. He took the biggest bite and grinned. I waited. “Well?”
He made the same face Dorian had, shaking his head at me. “Bad Mommy.”
Dorian laughed and raised his hand up to give him a high-five. “Let’s stick to the classics. Vanilla, chocolate, and if we are feeling really crazy, strawberry, but let’s leave the Apple Kiwi Pistachio alone.”
I scoffed, shaking my head at them. “You both need to broaden your horizons! The world is big and full of wonderful tastes.”
Dorian lifted his hand up so Alaric could see, copying the sign Alaric had given earlier. “Vanilla, please.”
“Yeah, Mommy. Vanilla, please,” Alaric signed back, laughing.
“This the last time I’m sharing my ice cream,” I said before happily taking another bite.
They just laughed at me again, and I paused, looking at the skyline.“Man, I never get tired of looking at this.”
“I understand the feeling,” Dorian replied, and when I looked back to him, of course he was looking at me and not the skyline.
“And you love it.”
He gave me his elbow, and I took it, putting my chin on his shoulder just so I could whisper, “And I love you.”
He froze, and when he looked down at me, I reached up, took off his sunglasses, and kissed his lips quickly.
“We should get a picture before we get to the other side of the bridge,” I said, putting his shades back on. I reached into my bag to get my phone before he could say anything.
I politely asked someone passing by to take a picture of us and, after giving them my phone, I moved to stand next to Dorian.
“Okay, one, two, three—”
Right as the woman said ‘three’, he leaned over and kissed my cheek.
“Haha, nice, you guys are cute,” she said, handing me back my phone.
“Thanks,” I replied, glancing back at Dorian. He lifted Alaric off his shoulders and down on his feet. Alaric spun back around and grinned at him.
Dorian ruffled his hair, and I took at least a dozen pictures until they both looked over to me.
“Where to next?” he asked.
“How about—” I paused when I felt a drop of water on my nose.
It was just one. Then another one, and then it just poured down on us as if we stood under a waterfall.
“Come on!” Dorian said. He picked Alaric up with one arm, took my hand, and started running the short distance left of the bridge.
The water beat down all over me, soaking my shoes and causing me to shiver, but I just tightened my grip on his hand and laughed. We did what most people did and sought shelter in one of the bars. It was only when I got in, heard the old school funk, and saw the old Jukebox against the brick wall, that I turned around, looking over the door to find the word ‘Shameless’ overhead.
“We should go—”
I heard his voice behind me. “If it ain’t the heartbreaker.”
Spinning around, I saw the tall, salt-and-pepper haired man with thick-rimmed black glasses, a flat-top hat, and his signature black dress shirt, standing behind the bar pouring a drink for the man in front him.
He looked over my shoulder. “Long time no see, Dorian.”
My mouth dropped open, and I looked over to Dorian as he removed his wet cap. “Louden,” he greeted.
“You know each other?”
Dorian nodded. “The funeral.”
Oh. I’d forgotten all about that. Louden had brought all Donovan’s friends to the funeral, of course he knew him.
I looked down to Alaric when he called, trying to wipe his face. It was then did I remember we were all still soaking wet. I bent down and wiped the water off his face.
“Don’t just stand there, Heartbreaker, get towels from the back,” Louden called out to me. “They're in the same place as always.”
“Please stop calling me that,” I muttered to him before turning to Dorian. “I’ll get some towels. You guys sit down.”
“Once a heartbreaker, always a heartbreaker,” Louden snickered as I moved around the bar and toward the back room.
Of all the bars… Shameless? I hadn’t been back here in years. Though you would never be able to tell. Everything was exactly the same, down to the handwritten chalk notes on the bricks inside. I stopped when I saw my name written up next to the towel racks, and right next to it an arrow with the words ‘should call Don,’ his old number right still there with lines pointed all over it.
Taking the towels, I left quickly. I didn’t want Dorian to feel uncomfortable. Donovan and I were all over this place because we’d spent so much time here. I wasn’t even sure what he could see, but I didn’t want to risk it. However, because I was just having bad luck, I walked out as Dorian looked over the polaroid photos hanging on the wall. Alaric, the true food monster, already had a menu in his hands, excited.
“We can go if you’d like,” I said, handing him a towel before putting one over Alaric’s head. He pointed to waffles, and it reminded me of Donovan. No matter the time of the day, he’d come in for waffles.
“I think Alaric’s got the right idea,” Dorian snickered, taking off his sunglasses and wiping his face. He smiled at Alaric and signed, “Hungry?”
“You don’t have to—”
“Lulu, I’m fine,” he said and looked around. “Actually, better than fine. I’m a little jealous.”
“My brother always had more friends,” he laughed, nodding to the wall. “The life of the party.”
“Yeah,” I said softly when Alaric lifted the menu again. I glared down at him, and he pouted, putting his head on his hand, obviously not enjoying the fact that he wasn’t the center of attention. If only I could focus on want I wanted to eat.
“Honestly, Lulu, I’m glad. Let’s just eat. Besides, it’s still raining.” Dorian lifted his menu. I glanced around the bar. It was mostly empty, with the exception of us, Louden, and two men watching an old baseball game on the screen. They were completely in their own world.
“Louden, you gonna take our order?” I called over to him as he bobbed his head back and forth at the music.
He paused and looked at me. “That’s the waitress’ job.”
I looked around again. “There isn’t a waitress.”
“Yeah, cuz she up and quit on me. If she and her guest are hungry, she knows her way around. I mean, it’s the least she could do after leaving me short-staffed.”
“It’s been four years!”
“Exactly, you should feel even worse! I lost half my customers cuz of you.”
“Me?” I got up. “What did I do?”
“All the handsome young men who just came to stare at you stopped coming. You should have seen their faces when I told them you left me, Heartbreaker.” He sighed louder than necessary.
“You are ridiculous.” I rolled my eyes. “And stop calling me that.”
“Ha.” Dorian tried not to laugh but apparently something was just hilarious, and he laughed his heart out. When I looked back at him, he pretended to be just as interested in the menu as Alaric, even pointing to things for him.
This was all so silly, but I couldn’t help but laugh. I mean really, what were the odds? After all this time, I was back where I started—in a bar called ‘Shameless’ with a Rhys-Gallagher.
Luella and Donovan had the same talent. They could so easily pick up conversations and relationships with people. Even after four years, she blended in so well, never missing a step. As the afternoon went on, more and more people came into the bar. All of them remembered her and all of them still gave me condolences, telling me how much they missed my brother. I wasn’t lying to her when I said I was jealous.
All of them still cared. Still remembered, still had stories of my brother. When I was gone, I wouldn’t have that. I built and tore down companies, but I’d never built real relationships. I avoided them, while Donovan dove head first. Maybe that’s why he still felt alive here. Photos of him laughing, surrounded by people that truly cared, were everywhere.
Tearing my gaze from the photos, I looked over to Luella, the heartbreaker, holding a sleeping Alaric in her arms. She reached over and touched my arm.
“Let’s go home,” she whispered.
I nodded, getting up as she did.
“See you in four years, Louden!” Luella pointed to the man still behind the bar, now much busier than before.
“Door’s always open!” He winked at her.
She shook her head, but she didn’t say anything else, not that she could over the music. We stepped out in the street, and I waved down a taxi, holding the door open for her to get in when it pulled to a stop at the curb. When I sat down, I felt my phone buzz. I took it from my pocket and saw four missed calls from Goldie, as well as nine others from shareholders, and lastly, a reminder from the hospital. I deleted them all and leaned back into the seat. I’d hoped for one day, one day of just us being a normal, everyday family. But the more we laughed, and the more I saw her and Alaric smile and talk, the more I didn’t want to tell her. I didn’t want to shatter all of this. Us.
So many things had run through my mind.
Not telling them at all.
Lying, and leaving for treatment.
Not getting treatment and spending the last few months I had just living like we lived today.
Leaving them for good.
Holding back for a few more days.
I thought about it all. Then she said those three words. She said she loved me, and it was like she yanked me back to her.
“The door,” she said, asking me to help her when we got back to her apartment building. I held it open and followed her up the stairs, toward her front door. “I’m going to change him and let him lay down for a little bit. You should change, too.”
I looked down at my wrinkled and still damp shirt. Heading into her bathroom, I stripped my shirt off and stopped to stare at my own reflection the mirror.
How could I be sick?
I didn’t feel sick!
I didn’t fucking look sick!
I tried to speak but my throat ached, all of me ached. I wanted to run from this but where could you run when your own body was attacking you?
“Goddamn it!” I hollered, punishing into the glass in front of me without thinking. The force of my fist against the glass shattered it, and the glass cut into my fist. “Fucking idiot,” I muttered to myself, pulling my hand back and bending down to look for anything to stop the bleeding.
Before I had a chance to even blink, Luella was in the bathroom, a dark pink towel in her hand. She wrapped it around my fist. “What happened? What’s wrong?”
I sat on the bathroom floor, placing my hand on top of hers over my fist. This isn’t how I wanted to tell her. I didn’t want her to see me break down like this.
“I’m tired, Lulu,” I whispered. “I’m so tired.”
She knelt in front of me and opened her mouth to speak but then closed it again. She did it one more time before finally speaking. “Of me? You’re tired of me? Is it what I said on the bridge? I’m sorry—”
“No. No. No,” I replied, upset that I’d even let her think that. “Not of you. And it definitely has nothing to do with what you said on the bridge. You are the very last thing I’m tired of.”
“Dorian, talk to me, I don’t understand. What went wrong?” She begged. She just didn’t realize what she was begging for. The truth didn’t help either of us.
“I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want you to cry because of me.”
“Now you’re scaring me—”
“I love you too, Lulu.” I had to at least let her know that first. “It’s because I love you, and because we are still just at the beginning, that I don’t know how to tell you…”
“Tell me what?”
I didn’t speak.
“Dorian, whatever it is, I’m going to be right here. Talk to me, baby, please, because right now you are—”
“I have cancer, Lulu.”
Staring into her hazel eyes, I saw her heart break.
She was frozen for just a second before she focused on my hand. “We need to clean this.”
She got up and opened the cabinet by the door, pulling out a first-aid kit. Quietly, she came back and sat down in front me, opening the box. I didn’t say anything and neither did she. She took the towel off slowly before taking a Q-tip and some alcohol, dabbling it over my skin. It stung, but the look on her face hurt more. Reaching over, I placed my hand on her cheek and brought her closer until she rested her forehead on mine.
“Only be sorry if you aren’t willing to fight it,” she muttered, looking into my eyes. “We’re going to fight this, right? We can fight this, right?”
We’re…We… If only she knew how comforting and yet painful it was to hear those words from her.
“I don’t want you to see me like that—”
“As I see you now is all that matters. You can’t tell me you love me and then leave me. It’s cruel.”
She bit her lip to fight back the tears welling in her eyes, and so did I. “You really know how to pick ’em, Ms. Thorne.”
I tried to joke, but the words didn’t come out. Instead, when I blinked, the tears fell. I didn’t want to leave.
“Dorian.” She hugged me, kissing the side of my face.
I wrapped my arms around her and held tightly. “I’m going to fight, I swear.”