Taylor came into the living room to find Egan face-planted onto the carpet.
"Aw, fuck." He sat down on the couch and stared at him. "What's wrong?"
"I am not emotionally ready for this."
"Yes you are."
"No." Egan sat up and looked at him. "Look at me. Look at this tie. It's hideous."
Taylor looked. It was hideous. "I thought that's what you were going for? Ugly outfits are kind of a thing, at Christmas parties. I once showed up in--"
"It's not just ugly," Egan interrupted. "It's ugly-ugly. Uglier than regular Christmas ugly. I cannot wear this."
"You can, because we're going to be late." Taylor bent down to scoop his boyfriend off the floor, and Egan slumped in his arms like a cat, mumbling curses in Greek. “Besides, you’ve met my family before. It’s no different.” He paused. “Ignoring the fact that it’s Christmas.”
“I still say we make a run for it. We could end up in Ermoupolis by tomorrow evening if we go to catch a plane.” He leaned in, waggling his eyebrows. “Olives for Christmas. Tanning on the beach.”
Taylor gave Egan his sternest look. Egan slouched in his arms. “Fine.”
“We’re spending like three months there this summer.” Taylor carried Egan to their bedroom so he could pick out a new tie. “This was the dealllllll…”
Egan sighed sadly, and wriggled out of his arms to bound over to the closet. “I guess you need me there tonight anyways. I know how much you hate Christmas and family.”
“Only a cynic would hate Christmas,” Taylor said, dodging clothes as Egan riffled through Taylor’s drawers rather than his own. “And I-- I am a cynic.”
“Yes,” Egan agreed, pulling off his collared purple shirt and eyeing Taylor’s favourite red one with ruffled sleeves, and Taylor’s other favourite Buddy the Elf t-shirt. “But I’ll excuse that, considering they’re your family.” He held both shirts against his chest, then looked at Taylor. “Which one?”
Taylor was long past the point of telling Egan to use his own clothes, so, suppressing a smile, he pointed at the ruffled red shirt. It looked perfect against Egan’s smooth skin and messy black hair.
“Alright, let’s get this over with.”
“Cheerful,” Egan said as they walked out the door. He grabbed onto Taylor’s chin and tried to force his mouth into a smile. “We are happy to be here. Grateful.”
Taylor really did smile at that. “You’re so much nicer than me.”
“No, you’re just depressed. Think gratitude towards your family. Gratitude!”
“I don’t have anything to be grateful for.”
Egan paused to consider as they walked down the street. After the bustle of New York city, Ohio was disturbingly empty. Taylor wouldn’t have minded a car to come screaming from behind them, just for a reminder of home. “Then at least, don’t look like you want them all to be dead. Eh?”
Taylor squinted at him. “I swear your accent gets more pronounced every day.”
“Makes me sexy.” Egan grinned.
The only fun part about going to the family Christmas parties was the way the room chilled every year when Taylor walked through the door. Smiles froze. His mother’s hands clenched white on whatever she was holding. People stared at Disgraced Taylor Fox. And then everyone’s eyes zoomed to see if he still had the smirking Greek man lounging on his arm.
He always did.
He hadn’t even told anyone that they were married. He was saving it for another particularly awful moment when another offended, God-fearing aunt cornered him about marrying a nice girl. Then he’d whip out his ring, tell them, and watch them pass out on the floor.
Taylor stood by the Christmas tree with a drink in hand, talking to a group of potbellied great-uncles who were either too drunk to be homophobic or simply past the point of trying to change him. He eyed Egan from where he was talking to one of Taylor’s cousins, who was plainly trying to exit the conversation. The shirt looked far better on him than it did on Taylor. He would just stick it in one of Egan’s drawers when they got home.
In the beginning, it was irritating to be the less attractive one in the relationship. Egan was a jock; cocky smiles, lean muscles, tight shirts, perfect hair, with a tongue that rolled off beautiful Greek syllables to charm the girls with his foreign background.
They’d met in high school, but Taylor had never considered they would be where they were now. It wasn’t like he hadn’t had his own social life; Dungeons and Dragons, parties where he smoked lazily with friends and watched crappy movies, even the occasional wild night skinny-dipping into lakes with strangers. But Egan was something else completely.
Some people seem like they’re made of stories. Like they’re composed of poems about love, and beautiful stanzas about good hearts, and holy lyrics from a golden throat spiralling into sunrise. That was Egan; kind and reckless and smart and perfect.
And then there was Taylor. Thin, unnaturally tall frame, with a slanting face and watery grey eyes, horn-rimmed glasses that were the wrong size, and blond hair he kept tied back into a girlish little bun (at least that’s how he felt about it) at the nape of his neck. He always felt too big for any room, and not nearly attractive enough to have a person like Egan. On top of that, he’d never even thought of himself as a particularly interesting person; cynical and jaded, thoughts running around inside his head and waking him up in the middle of the night, twitchy fingers dotted with cigarette ash, and an inability to hold long conversations with complete strangers without the help of a few drinks.
They met in his second year of high school when Taylor moved to New York city from Ohio, to live with the only cousin who wasn’t homophobic enough to cast him out of the family after he came out. The first time Taylor made Egan laugh was at the end of their first semester. The first time Taylor thought about Egan at night, clutching a pillow to his chest and staring out the glassy window, was three weeks after that. When he slept with his first New York city boy, it was two months after that, and he did his best not to wish the boy’s curly red hair was black instead.
The first time Egan kissed him was their senior year, after Taylor’s era of bad drugs and bad drinks and bad boys who sometimes left bruises on his skin had run its course. It was the birthday party of a popular girl, and like all parties in high school, everyone showed up. Taylor remembered it clearly; he’d been sitting off to the side with a wine bottle curled in his arms, his glasses falling off his nose, hair loose around his face. Egan tells him now that he had thought Taylor was the cutest thing ever when he saw him like that. Taylor tells him now how un-cute he’d felt in that moment, pining for the laughing boy across the room who had been kind to him. The laughing boy who came over, sat down next to him, and smiled a crooked smile. “Did I ever tell you you’re pretty?” he asked.
Taylor choked on a gulp of wine. “No. No one’s ever told me I’m pretty.”
Egan’s smile grew. He tilted his head to the side like a puppy. “What have they told you?”
Taylor considered. “Nothing I found particularly flattering.” He turned his own smile onto the boy next to him, with the magnetic hair and gentle charm. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re pretty?”
Egan watched him quietly, his smile fading and softening into something warm, something small and private and strange. “No one I am particularly interested in.”
There was something in that look that made Taylor’s face flush bright red, and made his fingers curl tighter on the bottle like protection. He bobbed his head stupidly and babbled, “Well. Yes. Well. You are--but, sometimes the type of people interested-- I mean, who you date-- well-- girls don’t really give compliments-- that’s rude, of course they do, well-- sorry-- but uh-- yes. What?”
“Hmm,” said Egan. Then he leaned in and kissed him. It was brief, just a few seconds, but Taylor’s stomach felt like it ignited and pooled with lava, and when Egan pulled away, he stared at him with what he was sure was a very idiotic look on his face. Then he blurted out, “Okay, shit.”
Egan laughed and chased his mouth down again, and they spent the rest of the night sitting on that couch, talking and trading kisses, pretending not to notice people staring and taking pictures of them. It was all over Instagram the next day. Taylor spent a couple hours pacing in his room, terrified that when they got back to school on Monday it would all have ended, that they’d both just been tipsy and the posts would scare Egan away from him. But then he got a knock on the front door, and Egan was standing there, grinning as always, with a bouquet of flowers and an order to, “Get a coat so we can go to the iHop.”
“Oh, thank God,” Taylor groaned, and he buried his face in his hands. Egan laughed above him. “What, had you think we are finished here?”
“A little,” Taylor admitted, close to tears. “Hang on, I’ve got something for you too.” He hurried upstairs and fetched the bouquet of paper roses he had made in a frenzy of stress that morning. His body was vibrating with such a strange mixture of joy and relief he had scattered handfuls of pink glitter onto them before he knew what he was doing.
Egan still had one of the paper flowers on their nightstand, and the rest in a shoebox. Taylor kept the receipt to the iHop date in his wallet.
They were together for two years until the stress of different colleges got to them, and they broke up. Then they got back together in a night of torrid kisses and questions pressed into the pillows. Then they broke up again after a year and Taylor, puffy-eyed even months later, made a half-hearted dating app profile after his friend Claire insisted he needed to get back out there. He scrolled for a while and stopped dead on Egan’s profile. His bio didn’t say anything. Taylor texted him one word: “Dude.” and Egan responded with a smiley face and the cheerful demand for Taylor’s address, which he made full use of.
That had been six years ago.
Taylor glanced around the decorated, gleaming room of his family, his blood, and his horrible relatives. His mother and father, who cast him out screaming, and his two sisters, who both blocked his number afterwards. The uncles and aunts who had wielded the Bible against him for years, and who dragged him to church so that he could kneel, half-crying, and beg the unknowing God out there for respite from the hell inside him. The grandmothers and grandfathers who glowered and stopped sending gifts. The floods of nieces and nephews and children he loved, who would probably grow up hating him. He didn’t have much to celebrate, or to be grateful for.
But he glanced at Egan. And he knew he wouldn’t have it any other way.
The first time they’d slept together Taylor stared at the ceiling and grinned as widely as a Cheshire cat. Egan traced patterns into his shoulder. “So which of the ‘sexuals are you?” he asked.
“I’m the OG,” Taylor said. “Gay as hell.” He glanced down to where his boyfriend curled against his chest. “You?”
Egan considered, smiling up at him. His lashes were long and dark against Taylor’s skin. Pretty. “Several months ago I would have said I was bisexual. The girls and the guys. But now, I have done this.” He stretched out an arm and laced his fingers together with Taylor’s over their heads. He watched the twining shapes for a moment, smiling to himself. “And this is very very different from girls.”
Hours later, before Taylor fell asleep, three days before he told Egan he loved him for the first time, five years before they were married at a small chapel in Athens and Egan cried like a baby during their vows, and fifteen years before Taylor’s family tried, far too late, to forgive Taylor for the sake of his new twins, Taylor glanced down at the man next to him. Considered the fact that he had finally found something to be grateful for. And, thinking of the hours and hours he had spent in church, trying to forgive himself for what was in his heart, he thought, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen, and kissed the shape of gratitude lying next to him, breaths fluttering like butterfly wings through both their chests.
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