Christian checked, double-checked, and triple-checked his bags. He quite literally could not deal with leaving something behind, even if it was as simple as a toothbrush. (Did they have toothbrushes in Paris? Yes. Would Christian be thrown into a full-on panic attack if he made it halfway across the globe, only to discover that he was missing his toothbrush? Also, yes.) So, he checked his bags for a fourth time.
He was brought out of his OCD-inspired anxiety, by the buzzer of his apartment going off. He closed the lid to his briefcase and went to open the door.
“You’re chariot, awaits.” The man waiting on the other side of the door gave him a mock bow.
Christian frowned, “Carter? What are you doing here? Erik’s going to be here any minute to take me to the airport.”
“Not anymore.” Carter stood up. “Our dear, dear Erik has unfortunately been stricken by a bad case of food poisoning. He claims it is from the sushi restaurant I took him to last night, but I defer any responsibility to the man’s weak immune system.”
For a brief moment, Christian considered shutting the door in his face and calling an Uber. Carter was known for being the most unreliable member of their friend group, often shirking off his responsibilities in favor of drinking to excess. Christian could no longer count the number of times he has dragged a drunk and/or inebriated Carter, back to his apartment in the middle of the night. Needless to say, he would not be the first-person Christian would have chosen to put his faith in. That being said…
He glanced down at his watch and sighed. By the time he called for another ride, he would be late for his flight. He looked back up at Carter in disdain. “Help me get my bags.”
The first fifteen minutes of the hour-long drive were spent in silence. Christian tried to get some work done on his laptop, but the ride proved to be too bumpy to accomplish much. After another large bump, Christian glared at Carter. “Are you sure this thing is going to make it?”
“Thing?!” Carter held a hand to his chest in shock. “How could you refer to Bernadette as a ‘thing’?! She is a goddess among four-door-sedans.”
“Bernadette?” he asked skeptically.
“She’s named after Bernadette Peters.” When Christian simply stared blankly at him, Carter rolled his eyes. “God you are so uncultured.”
“Well, ‘Bernadette’ is a 2001 Honda Civic that looks like “she” has been hit by a bus.” He corrected.
“A couple of bike messengers, and a suicidal pigeon, but no busses yet.”
“Could have fooled me.” Christian crossed his arms with a huff.
The conversation stalled again, as they rolled up to a stop sign. Carter glanced at his passenger out of the corner of his eye. “So… you excited for, France?”
“Why did you say it like that?” Christian looked back at him.
“What do you mean?” he stared ahead at the road. “I just asked if you were excited about France.”
“No, you asked if I was excited about France.” He countered.
“Does everything have to be an argument with you?”
Christian glared at him, “You’re the one that said it weird.”
“I did not say it weird,” Carter insisted, “I just asked if you were excited.”
“Whatever.” Christian glanced out the window, as Carter merged onto the interstate. “For your information. Yes, I am excited.”
“And what are you doing there again?”
Christian couldn’t hold back his rage, “Why do you even care? You obviously haven’t listened to a thing I’ve said in the last two months. I’ve been accepted to a very well-respected law school there.”
Carter slammed on the breaks a bit too hard, as they came to a stop light. “Of course, I listen to you! I’m just trying to make conversation!”
Christian scoffed. This is exactly why he didn’t want Carter to be the one to drive him. It seems like every time the two were within a mile radius of each other, they ended up arguing.
“Look,” Christian turned to him, “why don’t we keep things simple? Let’s just sit here quietly and mind our own business until we get to the airport. Then I will be on my way, and we won’t have to see each other for an entire year. Sound like a plan?”
Christian watched as Carter’s face seemed to fall. He went quiet for a moment. “A year?”
“That’s how long the program lasts.”
“What, you have a problem with that too?” Christian goaded.
“No!” Carter snapped. Christian had never heard him sound like that. “I just… You ask why we always fight when you’re the one who is antagonistic! I am trying to talk to you before… before…” he was becoming more frustrated. “Why France?!” he finally yelled.
“Why did you pick France?” he repeated, still full of anger. “Despite what you may think of me, I listen to every word you say. I heard you talking to Erik and George about all the schools you got accepted to. There were plenty of respectable schools here in the States. So why are you going all the way to France?!”
“Carter I-” but before he could articulate his thoughts, his eyes went wide, “Look out!”
Carter only had enough time to turn his eyes back on the road before they ran over a large piece of debris from a previous accident. The tires on the left side of the car were torn open by the jagged metal. The car in the next lane over, laid on the horn, as they nearly swerved into their lane. Carter quickly regained control and brought the car over to the shoulder. They both sat there stunned for a moment.
Christian’s heart felt like it was auditioning for the percussion part of a marching band. He checked all of his limbs and was pleased to find them all in their proper place. “Are you ok?” he asked it very casually, but when he didn’t receive an immediate response, he turned his full attention on Carter. “Carter?”
His head was slumped over the steering wheel. Christian immediately felt the beginning signs of an oncoming panic attack. “Carter?!” he yelled and shook the other man by his shoulders. His head turned to one side, and Christian saw tears streaking his cheeks. He didn’t even notice the condensation welling up in his own eyes. “Wake up!” He started shaking him harder.
“I’m not asleep Christian…” he finally murmured and sat up a bit.
“Are you hurt?” Christian undid his seatbelt and tried to examine his friend for any injuries.
“No, I’m fine…” he said sadly.
“Then what’s wrong?” Christian wiped his own tears on his sleeve.
He finally regained his composure, “I’ve made you late for your flight…”
Oh… Christian hadn’t thought of that. Why hadn’t he considered that yet? But… they almost died… How could he have thought of his flight at a time like this?
“Carter, right now I care more about if you’re ok.” He meant it to be comforting, but it only seemed to upset him more.
“Of course, I’m not ok!” he yelled and slammed his fist against the steering wheel. “All I ever do is screw things up…”
“No, you don’t…” Christian found the words spilling from his mouth of their own volition. “With Erik being sick, you really came through for me. This kind of thing could have happened to anyone. It’s not your fault.”
“Erik isn’t sick.”
“He’s not sick. I asked him to let me take you to the airport.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because I didn’t want you to go…” He paused a moment “I wasn’t going to stop you though!” he gestured to his car, “I didn’t plan this or anything I swear! I just… wanted to have time to say goodbye…”
“But…” The gears in Christian’s brain appeared to have gotten caught on something. Most likely one of the butterflies that had just escaped from the cage he usually kept locked in his stomach. “Why didn’t you want me to leave?”
“A year’s a long time…” Carter traced the lines of the wheel with his finger. “I… I’m going to miss you…”
“But… all we ever do is fight.” Christian couldn’t rationalize what he was trying to say. “Why would you miss that?”
“All we do is fight?” Carter asked. “Is that what you really think?”
Christian thought about it. Every time the two of them and their friends hung out, they always ended up arguing. They were always on the same team for board games, and they yelled at each other when they lost. When they go to the movies together, it takes hours to finally pick something they both want to see. Not to mention, it is absolutely impossible to ever decide on a restaurant when they go out for lunch.
Christian always volunteered to take Carter back to his apartment when he was drunk. Not because he felt obligated to, but because… he cared about him…
“I didn’t want you to leave,” Carter continued, looking out the window, “because I’m in love with you. I understand that you don’t feel the same way. But, if you left, that would have meant that I would never get to see you again. I just… I don’t know. I figured this was the end. You would go off to school, come back in a year, get a job, and never think about me again. I just needed to say goodbye…”
Christian’s brain had fully shut down at this point. Carter didn’t want him to go… Carter had almost died…
Carter pulled out his phone. “I’m going to call Erik. He can come pick us up. Then I’ll start seeing if any airlines have a flight for tomorrow. I promise I’ll pay for your ticket. It’s my fault after all.”
“I’ll even spring for first class if they have it.” he smiled to himself sadly as he continued typing on his phone.
“Don’t argue.” He still didn’t look up. “It’s the least I can do.”
“Carter!” he looked up with just enough time for Christian to smash their lips together.
“…why did you do that?”
“I… don’t know…”
“You… don’t know why you kissed me?” He paused, before giving Christian a small smile, “Well that certainly is romantic.”
“No! I mean, I know why I kissed you, I just don’t know why I kissed you… right then…” Christian glanced down at his watch to try to hide his blush.
Carter stopped smiling, “So you are trying to tell me, that you have like me all this time? Is that really what you want me to believe?”
“No. I mean, yes. I mean…” he held his head. “I don’t know…”
Carter crossed his arms with a smirk, “I’ve never seen you flustered before.”
“Do not mock me.” He said with a glare.
“‘Do not mock me.’” He mocked.
“I hate you.”
“Do you kiss all the boys you hate?” He teased.
Christian decided it was better to just ignore him, “My whole life, I’ve always focused on my career, and achieving my goals. But we just almost died, and now I’m realizing… I’ve never really considered… the other aspects of life.”
“Is this” he gestured between the two of them. “An aspect that you would like to consider exploring?”
The next day, Christian was on a new flight to Paris. As soon as his plane touched down, Carter was calling him on the phone. It was hard at first, but they made the distance work. It seemed like a year passed by quickly, and they were together once again. As soon as Christian stepped into the airport, Carter was throwing his arms around him and hugging him.
“I’m glad you’re back.”
“I love you.”