Chapter One—December

 

When Silas looked back and tried to figure out where everything went wrong, the conclusion was clear: Nicholas Wilson. This disaster, almost a year in the making, landed squarely at Nick’s feet.

None of that made Silas feel any better, but sitting in the back of the cab, Silas fought back his tears, swallowed hard, and decided when he saw Nick again, he’d kick him in the throat.

He let out a shaky breath. Okay. Maybe not. There’d been enough kicking. And to be fair—not that he wanted to be—it wasn’t Nick’s fault exactly, only how the whole mess started.

If not for Nick, Silas would still have Haruto as his roommate, and he’d still be happy.

Well, he’d be less miserable.

He certainly wouldn’t be in a cab, fighting snow, trying to get to the airport and hoping he hadn’t ruined everything.

Silas and Ru met in school, and they’d clicked. Once they’d both hit their stride in a graphic design class, they’d become friends. School had become something Silas had looked forward to, and that had mostly been due to the outgoing and fun, if often blunt, Haruto Sato.

After graduation, their friendship had been one of the reasons he’d decided to stay in Ottawa in the first place.

A few years later, Ru had to move back to his home town to take care of his sick father, and what had once been a close friendship faded into occasional emails. Silas forwarded projects he thought Ru might be well suited for when they came his way. Silas preferred working on user interface design, whereas Ru’s talents lay in graphic design and layout, but beyond those occasional emails or social media comments, they’d more or less lost touch.

In his own defense, Silas was scraping by and didn’t own a car. He couldn’t drop everything and go. And with Ru’s father in really bad shape, Ru almost never visited Ottawa.

Then, after Ru’s father passed away, a second chance. Ru wanted to come back. Preferably to the Village.

It had been perfect, given Silas existed perpetually one month away from homelessness. Having Ru as a roommate felt like the heavens had opened up, complete with singing angels. Not only would Ru make a great roommate, he already understood Silas’s family.

Coming from wealthy Albertan Big-C Conservative stock, Silas’s didn’t want his parents aware he struggled, or they’d buy their way in, and there’d be strings.

Even though they were multiple provinces away, it took effort. His father checked out his address on Google Street View, and he called when the result showed Bittersweets, the Village coffee shop. Silas had spent hours convincing his father a suitable, two-bedroom apartment existed above the shop and even then, his father suggested he find an actual home as soon as possible.

If they even suspected he was in a hovel, they’d put their foot down.

After all, what if someone found out they were letting their youngest son live in a hovel? Think of the optics.

It already took effort to stop his father nudging connections to land him a better job. Not a job he wanted, of course. One that paid more.

Silas could never move to something more affordable, like a bachelor pad, without them finding out, so he deflected and avoided. Rent was tight, even on his UI design tech salary. Silas’s landlady, Marion, already gave him a sweet deal. Two bedroom apartments in Ottawa usually went for much more than he paid, and he refused to screw that up. He loved his apartment, loved living in the Village, and loved the heavenly scent of the morning coffee in the shop below.

But most of all he loved the four-hour flight between him and his parents and brothers.

Still, Silas was burning out.

Then Ru came home.

Halving the rent meant Silas could slow down on extra consulting jobs after work, and finally get farther ahead on his app. He’d been working on Pride March for a couple of years, and although he didn’t expect any sort of financial windfall, the project was close to his heart. Ru had been the first person he’d explained it to.

“So people walk, and as they walk they get little cards with queer history on them?” Ru said.

“Yeah,” Silas said. “The more distance you cover, the more packs of random cards you unlock, and each card has some person or place or moment in history to read about. There are sets to complete, skins, you can trade with friends…” Pride March meant the world to him, but if it was a bad idea, Ru would be blunt.

“Stop worrying,” Ru said. “This is great. Let me know what I can do to help.”

As roommates went, Ru approached perfection. Silas loved mornings. Ru hated them. Silas could code like a madman from five in the morning until Ru got up at seven thirty, when their coffee machine brewed up his morning cup. They’d have breakfast, Silas would make them both a to-go lunch, and they’d work their respective jobs until quitting time.

Ru also reminded Silas to step away from the keyboard in the evenings once he’d given the day job the full eight hours.

If Silas tried to put too much time into Pride March, Ru dragged him outside for a walk, or at the very least make him relocate downstairs to Bittersweets to people-watch and drink coffee.

Ru also introduced him to Felix, a board game nerd, and soon the three of them were hanging out and playing games every weekend. That group grew, adding Owen after they met him last Christmas, and once a month or so they even played Dungeons and Dragons instead of board games.

Nick may have ruined Silas’s life, but he was a great dungeon master.

In short, Ru got Silas out of his own head, and Silas loved him for it.

Even if he did sometimes go right back to his computer the moment he was alone.

“I swear to God, I’m surrounded by cute gay men who can’t resist a screen,” Ru said, their last Christmas together as roommates.

Ru had just come back from visiting Nick. He stomped snow off his boots and undid his scarf. He’d dyed his hair again—he did it every Christmas, one of the ways he celebrated the holiday—and he took a few seconds to fix the spikes.

“Trouble with Nick?” Silas guiltily closed his laptop. Pride March was getting close to beta, and he struggled not to throw every spare second into it. He’d hit the limit of testing it himself, and needed real feedback.

“Line edits.”

“Ah.” Nick’s first novel loomed. Silas looked forward to it. Nick wrote gay romances, and Silas was totally down with fictional romance.

Especially since he had zero nonfictional romance.

“At least you’ll finally get to read it,” Silas said. Looking back, for sheer self-preservation he should have told Ru to burn it unread.

But that was selfish.

In reality, Silas had been borderline jealous of Nick. Nick and Ru had maintained a strong friendship despite the distance, and Nick was taller than him and funnier than him and he got to be creative and…

No point dwelling.

Nick’s parents had also dumped him to the curb when he came out at nineteen. Silas’s parents were no saints, but they hadn’t cut him off. It might be a really low bar, but they had cleared it. And if they ever did cut him out of their lives—and God, that might very well be a possibility now, no?—he’d lose access to the one good thing about his family: his sister.

Which brought his thoughts crashing back to the cab, the airport, the disaster, and how all of this was Nick’s fault.

Silas rubbed his eyes. Snow fell thickly. He had no idea where they were, but he willed the driver to speed up.

Yeah, he’d been jealous. Nick and Ru had something special, but even though he noticed Ru could get a little weird when anyone mentioned how cute Nick was, Ru never did anything about it. Silas figured Ru hadn’t wanted to go there, which he understood. Friendship mattered. Ru dated a few times while they’d lived together, and if Ru tended to date slim guys in glasses who liked books, well, everyone had a type, right?

So, Silas coded, got ready to maybe, hopefully beta his app among his online coder queer friends, and ended up completely blindsided when Ru came dashing into the apartment a few months later holding a book.

“He loves me!”

Silas whirled in his chair. “What?”

Ru shoved the book in his face. “Oh my God. He loves me. I’m…I’m a fool. I thought…” He shook his head. “I have to go. I have to go talk to him.”

“Who?” Silas was completely lost.

“Nick!”

Silas looked down at the book in his hand. Nick’s novel. Ornamental, it was called.

“Look at the dedication.” Ru actually hopped from one foot to another.

Silas opened the book and found it. Five words.

For Ru. I love you.

“Oh,” he said. Then, because sometimes Silas took a bit to process, he said, “Oh!” again.

“I gotta go,” Ru said. “Shit, no. He’ll be at work. The bookstore. Fuck it. I can’t wait. I’m going.” The door slammed behind him before Silas could even put the book down.

Ru and Nick. He’d been right.

At the time, Silas took pride in his foresight. But the thing about people in love he hadn’t considered was they tended to end up living together.

So, Nicholas Wilson’s profession of love in the front of his book cost Silas his perfect roommate and got him into this mess in the first place.

The cab turned a corner, and Silas glimpsed the airport. Finally.

Maybe, just maybe, he still had a chance to set this all right.

Don’t be gone, Silas thought. Don’t be gone.

 

 

 

Chapter Two—September

 

“Of course, you’ll come home for Thanksgiving. We’re hosting an official event for your brother. Thanksgiving without all of us there? Be serious, Silas. What plans could you possibly have in Ottawa for Thanksgiving?”

Thomas Waite still looked every bit the former politician. His graying dark blond hair remained cut in the same short style he’d worn for decades, and even though it was both the evening and the weekend and the Skype session with his youngest son came from the comfort of his own home, Thomas Waite still wore a white collared shirt and a blue tie. Silas couldn’t remember a time when his father hadn’t worn a tie. Beside Thomas, Alexandra Waite, Silas’s mother, nodded in the infuriating way she had that managed to look maternal but be condescending. Her earrings were the exact blue of his father’s tie.

Creepy.

Silas took a deep breath, trying to think of something—anything—that would make his parents faces disappear off his computer screen. Maybe he could just close the program. Pretend it crashed.

No. They’d just call back.

“Well,” he said, but his brain filled with white noise. Hopeless. He’d have to go, suffer through a long weekend of his parents and brothers and discussions of the Waite potential. For a branded event for his brother, no less, which meant being the public version of their son: the polite queer boy in the Conservative family. Look how far they’d come, being so very tolerant of him. Bastions of diversity. Even seeing his sister wouldn’t balance that out, and Silas loved Elisha.

Ugh.

He took another breath, leaning forward. He could practically see waves of satisfaction coming off his parents. No doubt they were already arranging the photo op for the family Thanksgiving. Positive optics they could spin to their eldest son’s advantage. They knew they had him, both smiling…

And then they weren’t. Frowns replaced their smiles.

When Dino wrapped his thick arms around Silas from behind, Silas realized his roommate had come into view behind him and hadn’t bothered to put on a shirt first. Oh crap. What was Dino doing? He knew full well if Silas’s parents found out he had a roommate at all, they’d have even more ammunition for their ranting about his life choices, let alone their first glimpse being a giant slab of shirtless Greek beefcake.

“We’re going to my family for Thanksgiving,” Dino said. He squeezed Silas and kissed the top of his head. Silas tried not to hyperventilate. “It’s our first holiday together, really, and we want to do it right. I’m sorry. We already said yes. I asked him first, so I get dibs.”

Holy. Flying. Fuck. What was even happening?

“Son?” Silas’s father said, the discomfort in his voice not quite buried. For a lifelong politician, that said something. Some cynical part of Silas knew they’d be like this. Going from being a theoretical gay to so much as touching another man in front of them crossed a line they’d never discussed but all knew existed.

Hypothetically gay Silas was okay, so long as he didn’t talk much and showed up for pictures.

Visually gay Silas? Too far.

Dino squeezed again. The white noise in Silas’s head cleared and he got the message: play along.

Okay. He could do this. He’d never put any points into deception in his entire life, but natural twenties happened, right?

“Sorry,” Silas said. His heart bounced around in his rib cage, threatening to break right through. He put his hands over Dino’s strong forearms. “Like Dino said, we’ve got plans.” He didn’t trust himself to say anything else.

“Oh,” his mother said. Her eyes were wide, but her smile returned a shade too bright and a moment too late to be genuine. “Well then. That’s…nice. When did you two…?”

Wow. She couldn’t even say it, could she?

“We’ve been living together since April.” Technically true, it came out stronger, calmer. Borderline confident.

“Oh,” his mother said again.

“Anyway,” Dino said. “We’re late for kickboxing class, so we’ll talk later.” He did a little wave, and Silas’s parents’ shocked faces vanished when Dino tapped the keyboard.

“There,” he said, letting go. “Now you’re completely free for Thanksgiving. Also, your father fucking sucks. I mean, I already knew, but… wow.”

Silas turned on the stool. “I can’t believe you just did that.”

Dino shrugged and rolled his shoulders. “They were slamming you from the moment you said hello, and then they invite you home like that’s somehow a big favor? That’s just rude.”

“They’re like that.”

Dino snorted. “Yeah. I noticed. But your solution is boyfriend plans.”

“With you as my boyfriend?” Silas said. “I mean, they’re not exactly up to speed on queer anything, but you and me? That’s not…” He hesitated. LikelyBelievableWithin the realm of possibility in any reality in the known multiverse? “…true.”

Dino laughed. “That would have been telling them you can barely stand them and wish they’d forget you existed. Anyway, let’s go. You’re late for kickboxing class.”

“Oh, you’re funny.” But the thing was? Silas was relieved. And grinning. In fact, he couldn’t stop. He’d just lied to his parents. How had that happened?

Dino. Dino happened.

Dino tilted his head. “You have to come. If you don’t come, I lied to your folks.”

“You just told them we were dating!”

“I lied twice then. Lying twice is too much.” He winked. “Come on. I bet Rob can teach you. After all, he’s still teaching me.”

“You’re a personal trainer. You’re already built like a brick shit house.”

“How is that a compliment?”

“Kickboxing.” Silas took a deep breath and realized he wanted to. “What the hell?”

“That’s the spirit.” Dino clapped his back when he got up. Silas grabbed something a bit less coder geek to wear, and Dino found one of his seemingly infinite tank tops, and they laughed all the way down the stairs about the looks on his parents’ faces.

It only occurred to Silas later Dino’s quick thinking had a secondary plus side. Not only would he avoid seeing his family for Thanksgiving next month, but he could stop worrying about his parents hearing or seeing Dino when they called. After all, if Dino was his boyfriend, of course he’d be around.

As plans went, boyfriend was a double-win.

Which only went to show how Silas never learned.

 

 

Chapter Three—April

 

When Ru suggested Constantino Papadimitriou as a replacement roommate, the word skeptical couldn’t begin to encompass Silas’s reaction. He’d only met Constantino once in passing when they’d met up with Fiona after work, and Constantino typified jock. A big, burly, dark and handsome jock. In the Silas Waite Venn Diagram of Life, the circles for “Big, Burly Jocks” and “People Who Are Kind to Me” didn’t overlap. Silas ignored Ru’s suggestion and posted online ads in local queer groups.

The only two remotely suitable people who’d responded to his ad both suggested they’d do their best for rent, which inspired zero confidence. The unsuitable options were worse. One guy asked him how he felt about threesomes during their initial chat “because my boyfriend really likes blonds. Oh, and light bondage, if you’re into it?” and a different bearish guy had been pretty cool right until asking Silas how he felt about pot smoke. Silas wasn’t averse, but the bear promised to keep it down to “a few hours a day and four at night, tops, and isn’t it great we can grow at home now?”

Pretty soon Silas would be back to taking consulting work to get by, which meant working every waking hour. The thought tightened his chest. By April, Silas’s savings were almost gone and he was desperate.

He went back to Ru and asked if Constantino still needed a place. Ru checked, and thus Silas found himself in Bittersweets, waiting.

And fretting. And feeling his chest tighten again.

“Relax,” he said to himself, blushing when he saw a pair of women eye him from the next table.

“Sorry,” he said.

“Date?” One of the women offered a supportive smile.

“Interview. Potential roommate.”

“Ah.”

Silas forced himself to relax. Or, at least, look like he was relaxed. Maybe. Obfuscation wasn’t his thing. Also, it was April Fool’s day, and that seemed like a bad omen. This could be a joke. He could be the punchline.

“Stop it,” he muttered to himself.

He was acting ridiculous. Constantino worked at Body Positive for crying out loud. The gym-slash-spa catered far more to the queer than the non-queer. Fiona opened the place specifically to create a space where people of all body types and levels of confidence could train. Hell, Owen, had done months of physiotherapy and recovery work there after his accident, and Owen had nothing but praise for the place. Constantino couldn’t be a high school throwback. Fiona wouldn’t allow that kind of asshole to work for her.

Still, Silas couldn’t imagine they’d have anything in common.

It’s going to be so awkward, he thought, and the door to Bittersweets opened, and in walked Constantino.

“Hi,” Silas said, rising from his seat.

“Hey,” Constantino said. He was even bigger than Silas remembered. Or maybe the tight tank top with the Body Positive logo on it emphasized just how wide the man was. He kept his dark hair just long enough to start to curl in a sort of rumpled style, and apparently his five o’clock shadow arrived in the early afternoon on his bronze skin, which all but glowed with health.

I wonder if he ever had a zit, Silas thought.

“Let me grab a drink and I’ll be right back.” Silas nodded and sat down, feeling awkward and forcing himself to take a sip of his own coffee. Why he’d ordered a coffee he had no idea. Caffeine wouldn’t help. Maybe they should have met at NiceTeas.

You’re being ridiculous, he scolded himself.

It didn’t help.

Silas ran through questions in his head, getting ready for Constantino’s return, but instead, the moment Constantino sat down across from him, he put down his cup and said, “So, tell me about you.”

It wasn’t aggressive, but Constantino had a kind of directness, and his eyes didn’t hurt. A deep brown, Dino’s eyes were nevertheless warm and welcoming. The whole package sort of inspired confidence, and Silas found himself answering.

“I’m totally your basic nerd,” he said. “Software architect by day, mostly user interface. I’ve lived in Ottawa since university, and I don’t want to leave. There’s a good tech presence here, and I telecommute almost all the time, so I want to stay in the Village, which financially means having a roommate. I’m quiet, I like to read, host weekend tabletop games nights with my friends, and play video games to wind down. Oh, and I’m also designing a queer game app of my own, Pride March. I’m thirty-two, and yes, I’m aware I don’t look it.” Silas glanced down at the table, wilting a bit under Constantino’s amused gaze. Where had all that come from? He almost never told people about his app and all that other stuff. Wow. Overshare much? He cleared his throat, embarrassed. “I’m honestly really boring, which I hope is good roommate material.”

“Which games?” Constantino asked.

Silas looked back up. “Pardon?”

“Which video games do you like to play?” He seemed genuinely interested. Huh.

“Uh, well, right now I’m replaying Fallout 4 for the fourth time.” Silas paused. “Or maybe the fifth?”

“Let me guess,” Constantino said. “There’s a settlement that needs your help?”

Did he just…?

Silas laughed. “Between you and me, once I max out Preston, I stick him in the airport and leave him there.”

“Preston is so annoying,” Constantino said, and that sent them off on a tangent for nearly half an hour. Unbelievably, to Silas anyway, they had the same taste in video games: not just Fallout, but any first-person RPG storytelling game with lengthy plots and lots of side-quests.

“Your turn,” Silas said, once they’d agreed on their favorite Dragon Age. “Tell me about you. You’re a trainer at Body Positive, so you work for Fiona, right?”

“She hired me.” Constantino nodded. “It’s a great place, and it lives up to the name thanks to her. I cover a lot of early shifts for people training before work, so I have evenings to myself most of the time. Which is when I do the video game thing. Weekends is kickboxing, or I blow off steam at Chances.”

Silas raised a hand. “Wait. Kickboxing?”

Constantino grinned, and to Silas’s surprise, it made him look positively boyish. “I’m brand new. I’m giving it a shot. So far I am utter crap at it, but that’s always how you start, right?”

“I wouldn’t know. The only athletic things I do involve snow or ice.”

“Kinky.”

Silas laughed, taken aback again. Okay, Constantino wasn’t turning out to be anything like he’d expected. He was quick. The Silas Waite Venn Diagram of Life did not usually include “Funny” overlapping with “Big, Burly Jock.”

“Not what I meant. I like to skate and ski and snowshoe. In my opinion, sports are all about winter, given the added bonus of keeping warm. Summer? Summer is for sitting still and trying not to sweat.”

“Sweat can be a problem.” Constantino tilted his head. “You should swim.”

“That only works if you know how,” Silas said. “Which I do not.”

“We’ll fix that. You, me, the pool at Body Positive. Are you free Saturday morning?”

“Excuse me?” Silas blinked. What was happening?

“I’ll comp you lessons. We get a bank of hours for community outreach.” Constantino leaned forward, and his arm muscles flexed visibly. Constantino had guns. Bigger guns than either of his two older brothers, and they were two of the biggest men Silas knew. Normally, arms like Constantino’s intimidated the hell out of Silas, but they didn’t. And he was offering swimming lessons.

That has to be a good omen, right?

“Did you just call me a charity case?” he said.

“Everyone should know how to swim. Period.” Constantino didn’t back down. “Basic safety. Didn’t your parents teach you?”

“No. I never…I mean, they didn’t…My parents were…busy,” Silas said.

“Hm.” A noncommittal response, but Silas could feel the judgment in it. Which led him to the next thing, which he hoped wasn’t a deal breaker, because he wanted to offer Constantino the room. Their schedules were in synch, he had a steady job, they liked the same video games, and it sounded like Constantino would be out on weekends a lot of the time, so Silas’s gaming nights wouldn’t feel like an imposition on their shared space.

He was no Ru, but Constantino might be runner-up for the perfect roommate title.

“On the topic of my parents. Just so you understand,” Silas said. “My parents call on Skype, and I can’t let them know I have a roommate. They’d be uncool about it. They don’t call often, though. I try to keep it to once a month if I can. Sometimes twice. Is that okay? I’d try to arrange it while you’re out, which is what I always did with Ru.” Silas tried to tone back the pleading in his voice. He already felt pathetic enough catering to his parents, but it had to be said.

“That’s fine.” Constantino’s voice softened, which surprised him. “Ru explained things a bit.”

“He did?” It didn’t help Silas feel any less pathetic. He could only imagine the terms Ru would have put things in. Not that Ru would have misrepresented, but Ru was blunt.

Constantino leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees. The muscles in his arms did their swollen bulgy thing again. And, again, it didn’t make Silas nervous. “Being this close to work would be worth it no matter how often they called, and given it’s not often, it’s cool. I can do stealth.”

“See,” Silas said, “I would have guessed tank.”

Constantino laughed, and Silas felt a little bit of triumph. He made someone laugh. He didn’t usually consider himself overlapping with “funny” either. He bit his lip. “Do you want to see the apartment, Constantino?”

Constantino finished his coffee in one long swig. “Absolutely. But call me Dino. Everyone does.”

“Okay.”

Their first morning together, Silas knew he’d made the right choice. Dino and Silas managed a kind of dance in the small kitchen, moving through each other’s space without interrupting. Silas got the coffee going while Dino scrambled eggs. Once coffee gurgled, Silas shifted to the counter and started assembling cheese and tomato sandwiches, beet hummus, and baby carrots. He’d made two lunches on autopilot, a habit from living with Ru, who got out of bed as late as possible and then tended to make poor lunch choices later.

“Do you like cheese and tomato?” Silas said, once he realized what he’d done.

Dino glanced over, then smiled. “Are you making me lunch?”

“If you’d like,” he said. “I used to do this for Ru. It’s really no extra effort to make things for two. It’s easier, from a grocery shopping point of view.”

“That’s awesome. Thank you. And yeah, I like cheese and tomato.”

“There’s hummus and baby carrots, too. It’s probably not enough for you, come to think of it.” The guy was significantly larger than Silas. Or Ru, for that matter.

“It’s great. Thank you.” Dino eyed the eggs he was making them both. “Wait, you’re not vegetarian, are you?”

“No, but while I’m on the computer, I’m permanently peckish. I snack all day, so I try to make sure I’m surrounded by veggies if I can. And if I make a lunch in the morning, I sometimes remember to actually stop and eat it.” He shrugged. “Ru used to call my computer the black hole.”

“Fiona schedules breaks relentlessly. Like, if she catches you working through your break?” He drew a finger across his throat, then divided the eggs onto two plates and put them on the bar.

They ate breakfast together in what seemed to Silas to be a comfortable silence, and then Dino left for the gym. Silas sat down at his computer, logged in at work, checked the logs for customer issues, and caught himself humming while he worked.

The Silas Waite Venn Diagram of Life needed an update. Time to nudge the “Big, Burly Jocks” circle a bit.