Epilogue. Lance: Never
Two hundred and thirty-seven days passed before Lance saw Brian again. He knew the exact number. He hadn't been counting the days.
It was the type of thing no one would have believed of Chris, the type of thing Lance would have laughed to hear before. Chris wasn't a sentimental guy. But Lance knew better now, knew Chris better. He had seen the secret tenderness inside Chris, closely kept and carefully cultivated, seen it a thousand times now, in the dark depth of the night, in the silent bleak hour before dawn. He had thought at first that Chris was ashamed of it, but he knew better now. Chris hid it, not like a man with a private vice, but like a man with a secret treasure. Chris knew what it was worth. Lance knew, too.
Fifteen days had passed before he first noticed the small black number, scrawled across the bottom of a page in his daily planner. He had studied it for five solid minutes, trying to remember what note he had been trying to leave for himself - fifteen what? - before he realized it was written in Chris' cramped hand. He had counted in his head, flipped back one page, then another and another, until he found the first number. He had traced it with one finger, laid his hand flat over it, blinked hard before he closed the book. The next day his fingers had trembled until he saw the small sixteen tucked next to the date.
He never asked Chris about it. He knew better than that, too. On day forty-two he had kept the book with him all day, taking it out of his bag at night and hiding it in Joey's room. The next day it wasn't there, and he missed appointments and forgot deadlines until it appeared in the middle of his bed a few days later, a neat note on top of it. Don't fuck with me, Bass. He smiled when he opened it and saw the scribbled 45. He never tried to hide it again.
It was the first thing he looked for in the morning, and during the day he sometimes found himself with the planner open on his lap. During meetings he absently rubbed the number with his knuckles. He knew what Chris was counting with the days.
Lance knew Brian would be at the party that night. Justin had told him with an unaccustomed gravity that made Lance think he had guessed or been told something of what had happened. That morning 236 had been written in his planner and firmly underlined. Two hundred thirty-six days since the first night. Two hundred thirty-seven since the night before.
Chris knew too, although Lance hadn't told him. Lance could tell by the way Chris was watching him covertly, the same way Lance was watching the door. When Brian walked in, Lance felt Chris' eyes on him and he worked hard to keep his face impassive. When Chris turned away toward the bar, he knew he had been successful.
Brian disappeared into the crowd, and Lance almost forgot him in the music and the press of people. It was close to midnight when he saw Brian walking along the edge of the dance floor, heading for the balcony. Lance started to follow. Chris caught his arm as he passed. "Going home, Bass," he murmured against his neck. "You coming?"
"I don't. I want to," Lance said. "Brian's here."
Chris pulled back and studied Lance's face. "Be careful," he said finally.
"I'm always careful," Lance said.
Chris smiled. "Liar," he said. He kissed Lance quickly and left.
Lance wandered out to the balcony. The nights were still cold, and he shivered in his thin shirt. Brian was leaning against the far end of the railing, a bottle of beer dangling from his hand. Lance walked over and stood beside him.
"Hi," Lance said quietly.
Brian looked over at him. "Hi," he said.
"How have you been?" Lance said.
"Fine," Brian said. "You?"
"Fine," Lance said. "It's great about the CD. You guys must be really happy."
"Yeah," Brian said. "Thanks."
Lance shifted and thought that maybe Chris had been right. Maybe people did get over it. Maybe this was all there was left of it, a casual conversation between acquaintances.
Brian looked at him and said, "Lance." Lance met his eyes. There was nothing casual about this conversation. "I heard. About you and Chris. You guys seem really happy."
"Yeah," Lance said. "Yeah."
"I'm glad," Brian said. Lance looked down. "I mean it," Brian said. "I do."
"I know." Lance took a deep breath. "Look, I always wanted to tell you I was sorry about that -"
"I never think about that." Brian's voice cut crisply through Lance's words. "I never think about it."
"Oh," Lance said. "Because I do sometimes, and I thought -"
"Never," Brian said.
"Okay," Lance said.
They stood in silence for a few minutes. Lance crossed his arms against the bitter wind that blew around them. "You better go in," Brian said. "It's getting cold out here."
"Oh," Lance said. "Okay. I just thought -"
"What?" Brian said mildly.
"I just wanted. We didn't. I wanted to know how you've been."
"I've been fine, Lance."
"Oh," Lance said. He looked at Brian.
"Nothing, I just thought. Maybe there was something else you wanted to say."
"What do you want me to say, Lance?"
"Nothing, I just. I guess. I think about you sometimes and." Lance smiled. "I'd like to know that you're happy."
"Yeah," Brian said. "I'd like that too." He walked back inside the house.
Lance stood alone on the balcony for a long time. It was freezing. He didn't notice.
When Lance got home, the house was dark and warm. Chris was already in bed, sprawled snoring on his back. Lance stood watching him for a few minutes.
He moved to the desk and opened the small leather book on top of it. He pressed a hand over the newest number, less than three hours old.
"Two hundred thirty-seven," he whispered. He closed the book and got into bed.