Xavier Urban sat at a table near the window. He’d see Piers as soon as crossed the street to the diner. His hand shook slightly as he reached out to pick up his coffee cup. He set it right back down, not really wanting to spill it on his hand.
“Coffee not quite up to your standards, big brother?” a voice said behind him. “Don’t tell me the Marines actually served you better.”
He turned his head and grinned at her. “Just letting it cool off, “Magdalene.”
“Oh, Poor Xavier, the big bad Marine, scared of burning his mouth.”
He reached out to smack her arm. “You’re still just as much of a brat as when I first joined up. How does that husband of yours put up with it?”
“He’s in the kitchen. I could send him out so he could tell you himself. You know if you’d order more that ‘just coffee’.”
He almost laughed when she made quotes round the last two words. “I’m not hungry right now.” At least he didn’t think he could eat anything. At least not until after Piers got there, and they talked. And it would be best if her husband didn’t come out to see him. Xavier always seemed to make a fool of himself in front of the other man.
He turned his head at the sound of the bell on the door. And watched as Piers walked into the diner. Damn, that man looked fine. Always. In a t-shirt and combat pants. Decked out in his combat gear or dress blues. Or wearing a dress shirt, tie, and slacks as he was now.
And that smile he flashed now. It always did something to Xavier. Which was going to make this so much harder.
Magdalene smiled. “Welcome, Piers. Let me guess, you want ‘just coffee’ too.”
“I assume I’m missing a joke there. But, yes, I would like that, Mags.”
When she turned away, Piers leaned over the table. Xavier pulled back, though. “Not here,” he hissed.
Piers narrowed his eyes, but he slipped into the chair across from Xavier. When Piers reached for his hand, Xavier pulled that back, too. “I said not here.”
“You’re shaking. Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?”
What was the matter? At least he was pretty sure that’s what Piers had asked. Where to start? “Nothing. It’s nothing.” It was everything. It was the only promise he’d ever broken to Piers.
“You didn’t tell them yet,” Piers accused.
Xavier dropped his gaze to his coffee. “I couldn’t,” he said quietly. “I just couldn’t do it.”
“Seriously? I came out to my strict Marine father and ultra-Catholic mother, and you can’t even be truthful with the people who once put you in private school they couldn’t afford to get you away from vicious bullying. Isn’t that what you told me?”
Xavier nodded. “The bullying didn’t stop with that, it just changed.”
Piers reached out and pulled his own hand back this time, as if he was fighting with himself. “We said we were both going to do this. We’re out of the Corps, we won’t face any blowback there. Our families will come around. But, we said we weren’t going to do this in secret any more. My father would hardly even look at me, but I did it so I could be with you. In the open.”
Xavier finally looked up from his coffee. “You didn’t see them when I came home, Piers. So damn proud. They’d never looked at me like that before.” He was having trouble keeping his voice down, but his sister hadn’t come back out of the kitchen at least. “I couldn’t tell them I’d lied about not being attracted to guys anymore. That I was in love with one.”
Piers snorted. “In love? I’m obviously the only one who suffers under that condition. But, I won’t do it in secret.” He pushed back from the table. “Let me know if you’re ever brave enough to be honest with yourself, let alone your family. I’ll let you know if I still suffer from it.”
The parting words were almost more than he could take. He pressed both hands on top of the table, as if that would get them to finally stop shaking. It didn’t work. And almost before the bell had stopped chiming at Piers’ departure, Magdalene was beside the table, filling a second cup with coffee and joining Xavier.
“What’d you have to go and break that man’s heart for, X?”
He jerked his head up at that. “I…I don’t know what you mean.”
“Oh, you certainly do. I saw the way you were looking at him.”
“You were spying on us? I’d have figured you’d grown out of that by now.”
“Never, big brother. And I have the right, maybe even the responsibility, to keep an eye on my customers.”
“You are delusional.”
“No, X, just worried about you. Mom and Dad might have bought your story that being gay was just a phase, and the Marines turned you straight again, but I never have. Even before I saw you looking at him.”
“Don’t tell them. You aren’t going to tell them, are you?”
“Of course not. I’ve never spilled any of your secrets before. I won’t start now. But, you should. You’ll never be happy as long as you’re living a lie.”
“Let me worry about my happiness.” But, he couldn’t help looking out the door, even though Piers was long gone by now. Xavier wondered if he’d ever see him again.
Note: Some time has passed since Piers and Xavier first met and realized they had feelings for each other. About twelve years, in fact. I didn’t “meet” them until about three years after this. And it was obvious there’d been something between them that had broken. I didn’t know exactly what it was until I wrote this. Can’t wait to get to their full story and start to mend things for them.