The clap of thunder was still ringing in Rick's ears as Jim walked away. The conversation had started out simply enough. They had been arguing - it felt like they'd been arguing a lot lately - about what had happened that day. Or rather, what hadn't happened. They were supposed to have gone out with a group of friends on a socially distanced hike. Take some time away, out in nature. Out of nowhere, the morning of, Jim had decided that he wasn't in the mood for a walk.
"What's been going on with you lately? You were just complaining about how we never get to hang out with friends since the pandemic, and now you don't even want to go out?" Rick asked.
"I don't know why you're getting on my case about this all of a sudden. If I don't want to go, I don't want to go," Jim had said, a little testily.
"Well, that's fine, but we promised we'd go. I just confirmed with Donna last night after checking in with you like six times yesterday."
"Well, I just changed my mind; it happens sometimes! Why are you getting on my case?"
"Well, why are you even yelling at me? I'm just trying to figure out what's been going on with you. You're more moody than anything lately, and I just don't get why. Is it your job? Are you stressed out about work?"
"Well yeah, it's my job. Why do you always bring up my job? I fucking hate it, but one of us has work if we're going to keep all this going; all the hikes, the mimosas, the wine," Jim said, his arms flying about in aggravation.
"It's just one hike, and you know I'm trying to find a job! I just finished up my masters, and I've been looking, you know that. And you know I feel like shit relying on you for money and stuff, but-"
"No, forget it, that's not even the problem. I'm not mad about that. I'm just frustrated, you know, and we haven't had sex in months, I'm just-"
"Well fuck Jim! I'm sorry! You know the anti-depressants kill my sex drive-"
"Jesus Rick, I'm sorry, it's not even about that either I'm just-"
"You're just what, Jim? Fucking say it! We're supposed to be talking about some of this shit in therapy, but I just feel like we aren't really getting anywhere. We never really talk about anything real, you know. Every time I bring up some "controversial" topic, you shut it down with a joke; or you brush it off like it's not a "real issue." Damnit, Jim, I told you just last week that I was nervous about my parents because they live so close to Chinatown in Boston. I try to talk to you about how I'm feeling, and when I tell you about the uptick in crimes since the pandemic, it's like you aren't really taking me seriously. You always say some crap like, 'oh well, I don't see why this has got to be a political thing, as long as we keep it out of politics, it can be fine, it's not worth arguing about,' but these are my fucking feelings, Jim. But look at you. You can't even articulate what's bothering you, so how the hell are we even supposed to have a legitimate conversation about anything if you don't even know who you are?"
"Well, that's not fair."
"Well, neither is throwing my unemployment in my face. Like I'm stressed enough, I don't need your judgment too. But that's not even the point," Rick said, rubbing his forehead exasperated, "what's going on with you, Jim. You need to talk to me or talk to someone, but something's been off with us for months, and I don't get what it is."
"I'm just sick of sharing you with everyone else!" Rick looked at Jim, stunned.
"What are you talking about?"
"You're fucking out there dating like ten other people-"
"I only have two other partners; you know that," Rick interrupted.
"Well, you don't seem to have any time or energy for me. It's like you're always out with someone else, you're always on your phone with your friends or one of your new partners, and when I try to talk to you, you're always in a funk. If you're so fucking depressed, how the hell is it that you're able to find so much time for everyone else but me?" A raindrop hit Rick smack on the cheek, making him flinch.
"So is it the polyamory? We've talked about this so many times before; we tried inviting someone into the mix, but, surprise, surprise, we fought that weekend too. I told you, you could see other people, that we could have an open relationship-"
"I am seeing someone," the words tumbled out of Jim's mouth, and he looked like he wanted to take them back immediately.
"Well, okay, how's that? Do you feel guilty? Is that what this is about?"
"Well, it's been fine, but he's not into polyamory either," Jim said, more sure of himself.
"Well...does he know that you have a boyfriend?" Rick asked, slightly irritated.
"Well, no, I never mentioned it," Jim replied, matter-a-factly.
"Okay, so how long have you been speaking?" Rick asked, trying to keep the edge out of his voice and wondering what Jim had meant by "either."
"Well, it's been three months now."
"What the actual fuck, Jim. How can you be talking to someone for three months, who doesn't want a poly relationship, and they don't know that you're already in a relationship. On top of that, that's not fair to me that you've been speaking with someone for three fucking months, and you didn't think it might be important to mention it to me. I tell you all the time when I'm speaking with someone new, what the hell? Are you just friends? Am I just overreacting here, Jim? I don't understand what's going on," Rick said, not able to contain his frustration any longer.
"Well, no, we've slept together."
"How many times?" Rick said, steely.
"I don't know, a few."
"Like how many fucking times Jim."
"I don't know. I don't fucking keep count."
"How the hell not, or are you just having that much sex?"
"Well, we certainly aren't," Jim said. Rick turned away and walked a few paces back towards their front door to steel himself.
"So were you ever planning on telling me that you've been having sex with some strange man and then coming back home to me like nothing's different other than your fucking terrible attitude, or were you just planning on keeping this little affair going?"
"Well, I didn't see how it was any different than what you do with your polyamory," Jim said, shrugging.
"The difference is that I fucking communicate with you, Jim. I fucking tell you if I'm going out with someone new, if I'm talking with someone new, I fucking check in with you to ask you if you're okay with this or if we need to change something. I tell you if I'm sleeping with someone new, for fucks sake."
"Yeah, well, I hate that you are fucking dating two other people. I don't want to know anything about it. And then you're having great sex with someone else? We've been dating for three fucking years, and we haven't had sex for two of them. What the hell, Rick? That's not healthy."
"It's not fucking healthy that you're dating someone on the side and not telling me about it. That's not polyamory; that's fucking cheating, Jim. The fact that you've been hiding this from me makes it cheating. We fucking see a couple's therapist. How the hell has it never occurred to you to bring up the fact that you're seeing someone else in one of our sessions. You were the fucking one who even brought up that we don't talk about anything real in sessions anymore, how you didn't feel like we were getting anywhere, and then you go and keep this big secret from me. Do you even want to be with me anymore?"
"Well, we don't fucking have sex, we apparently can't communicate since we've been in fucking therapy for two years and we're still not having sex, we're both angry all the fucking time, all we do is argue, so I don't fucking know. I'm tired. I'm fucking tired of fighting for someone who doesn't even seem to want to be with me."
"What are you saying, Jim?"
"I'm saying we should just stop lying to ourselves when we tell everyone that we're dating. Let's just be honest here; we haven't been dating for years. This isn't a relationship Rick, not if you can't even bear it when I want to be intimate with you, but you don't seem to have a problem with anyone else. God, I finally see what Sky has been saying for months. That's his name, Skylar. The one I've been seeing, he's a sex therapist. He actually convinced me to start seeing someone on my own a few weeks ago. I need physical touch in a relationship, that's just how I feel validated, and when you pull away from me, it feels like you're rejecting me. It feels like you've been rejecting me for two years now, and then when you told me that you'd started sleeping with your other partners, it just felt like something is wrong with me, but it's not me. It's us; we're not good for each other. You've been trying to people-please me for two years to fix this, but we can't fix this; you have to stop trying to fix us; weekends together for "us time" just isn't enough for me anymore. I know what I want. I wanted you. Just you, but it doesn't mean anything if I'm not feeling emotionally validated in this.
"You say you're putting me first, but it doesn't feel like that. Come on, Ricky, be honest. You're not in love with me; you've afraid of being alone, and you've been trying to lose yourself in this relationship. Face it; it's never been about us. You tried the 'sexy thing' for a year, trying to be the perfect boyfriend to validate you. We only do "us" time because you're too wrapped up trying to be the perfect person to a bunch of strangers that you don't even have time to be present for those who are closest to you, let alone yourself. You spread yourself too damn thin that you never have enough time for me. It shouldn't be this hard. I don't need to be a priority or anything, but we should spend time together because we both want to, not because of a fucking calendar reminder. Can you honestly tell me that you have space to love me when you don't even know how to love yourself? Like, what do you even want here? It feels like we're just together because you're afraid of being alone." Jim walked past a stunned Rick to opened the front door. He went into the mudroom and grabbed an umbrella.
"I'm going out. I don't know when I'll be back. To answer your question, I think I'm saying that I'm done. We're through. Don't wait up." Jim opened his umbrella and walked towards his car parked a ways back in the condominium parking lot. Rick watched him go. The rain was pounding heavily on the awning above his head. Rick crouched to the ground, sitting in the open doorway to their apartment as the tears came running down his face as fast as the rain had started falling.
"Of fucking course, he starts to go to therapy when someone else fucking tells him to," Rick whispered to himself. Rick sat there, crying. The weight he'd been carrying trying to "fix" him and Jim shifted to the lump in his throat and the heavy, crinkly feeling he felt in his chest that started to open up as he sobbed.