“Okay, Carl, spill the beans. You’ve had an idiotic grin on your face all day, and I know that your job isn’t that exciting.”
I looked up and grinned even wider. “Whatever do you mean, Sally? Balancing budgets is just so much fun.”
My boss smiled wryly. “What is it you’re taking, then, because I think we’d all like some of it,” she said, waving a hand at my work colleagues who were listening in.
I shrugged. It wasn’t something I mentioned often, but it was a special occasion. “It’s Ross and my ten year anniversary today.”
The smile disappeared from Sally’s face in an instant. “You’re still with him, then.” Her frosty tone showed her disapproval, but I didn’t care.
“Yep! Ten wonderful years.”
My boss sniffed loudly, spun on her heels, and marched off to her office. I decided to ignore her obvious distaste – I wasn’t going to let anything ruin my good mood.
“Who’s Ross?” Evelyn asked.
She had only been in the office for eight months, so it wasn’t surprising she didn’t know.
“My boyfriend, partner, lover, best friend.” It felt like my smile stretched from ear to ear.
Tim came over and extended a hand. “Congratulations! That’s a big milestone for anyone. I hadn’t realised you two were still together. It’s been, what, three years since you brought him to a company function?”
I was surprised to realise he was right. “Yeah, but after the way Sally reacted when she met him, Ross wasn’t keen to come to any more. To be honest, I wasn’t keen, either. She spent an hour at that party trying to convince me to dump him.”
“The bitch,” Evelyn said, glaring in the direction of Sally’s office.
I shrugged. “I think that’s a bit harsh. She just doesn’t approve of me being with Ross, that’s all.”
“Any special plans for the night?” Tim asked.
I nodded, while wondering if my smile could get any wider. “I’m picking up a cake on the way home and I’ve got something in my pocket now.” I patted the small box in my shirt pocket – I hadn’t wanted to take any chances of it getting lost, so I had kept it with me all day. “And I’ve got a present in the car.” I winked. “I also intend to spend a couple of hours in bed with Ross.”
Tim laughed. “That’s way too much information, Carl. I didn’t need to hear that.” He waved a hand and returned to his desk
Evelyn came over and kissed me on the cheek. “Well, happy ten year anniversary. I hope Eric and I last at least that long.”
She started to say something more but she stopped when Sally poked her head out of the office. “Carl, I’d like to see you in my office.”
“Good luck and don’t let her get away with anything,” Evelyn whispered.
“Thanks.” I stood up and headed in to see my boss.
“Close the door, please, Carl.”
I closed the door and took the seat opposite Sally. Despite my best intentions, I was nervous. I couldn’t think of anything I’d done wrong.
“What do you still have on your plate for today?”
I rattled off the few items I had outstanding. Sally nodded slowly as she listened.
“Okay, Carl. Since it’s obvious I’m not going to get any more useful work out of you today, why don’t you take the rest of the day off. Since you’re clearly happy being with that... that guy, I suppose I have to go with the flow. Have as much fun as you can tonight, and I’ll see you tomorrow morning. I just don’t want to hear any details, all right?”
“Thanks, Sally!” I stood up. I was about to go when Sally rose and extended a hand.
“I still think your relationship with him is wrong, but congratulations on making ten years.” She was smiling but her tone was still cold. I shook her hand, anyway. I knew she was trying to be nice.
I was out the door in a shot. The extra couple of hours were a bonus I hadn’t expected. I yelled, “See you, tomorrow!” to Tim and Evelyn as I left the office.
As I drove to the shop to collect the cake, I thought about whether to change any of my plans. I was tempted to see if I could find something else to buy, but I decided that spending the extra time with Ross was a better present.
I was lucky – there was an empty spot outside the store. I parked the car and went in.
“Hi, I’m here to pick up a cake.”
The middle-aged lady with the regulation hair net smiled. “What was the name?”
“I’ll go check the fridge.”
She was back after a couple of minutes with a cardboard box. “Here it is. I’ll just open it up to make sure it’s not damaged.”
“Thanks.” I watched eagerly to see if the cake was as good as the one in the picture I’d ordered from.
She cut the tape holding the box lid shut and folded back the top to reveal an ice cream cake decorated as a football field. Two figures from opposing teams were positioned at opposite ends. The one on the left was dressed in the colours of my favourite team, while the one on the right was in Ross’s favourite team’s uniform. A small plastic football was positioned in the middle. “10 Years” was written across the top in icing.
“It looks great!” I was very happy. Ross had been a keen football fan for as long as I’d known him.
The lady taped the box back up. “Your son is going to love it.”
“Oh, it’s not for my son,” I said as I handed over the money and accepted the box. “It’s for my boyfriend.”
I giggled as I left the shop. I’d never seen someone look as stunned as she had to that simple statement. The misunderstanding wasn’t really her fault – I’d picked a kid’s ice cream cake, after all. It was just the most appropriate one I could find.
I knew I couldn’t leave the cake in the car for too long, so I headed straight to my destination. Unfortunately, my luck didn’t hold. There weren’t any available car parks nearby. I make a quick decision and parked in the ten-minute area outside. I grabbed the box with the cake and headed inside.
“Karen! Can I ask a favour?”
The brunette behind the reception desk looked up. “Carl, what are you doing here this early?”
“My boss let me off early. I need some help, though. I’ve got an ice cream cake here for Ross, but I’m parked in the ten-minute spot outside. Can you get someone to put it in a freezer for me? I’ll be back as soon as I park the car.”
Karen smiled. “Of course. I’ll do it straight away. Is it for a special occasion?”
She had pushed my happy trigger. “Yep. It’s our ten year anniversary, today.”
“Wow, ten years. That's fantastic!” She picked up the phone and dialed a number. “I’ll get them to take it straight up and put in the fridge there.”
I waved my thanks and returned to my car. I had to circle the block three times before I found a place to park. The public car parks were all full, but I had expected that. It wasn’t often that I was able to park in one of those.
I retrieved the present I’d wrapped the night before from the back of the car. It wasn’t much, but I hoped Ross would like it. He wasn’t one for possessions but I thought he would find it useful.
I was walking past Karen when she called out, “Wait, Ross.”
I frowned while wondering if something had gone wrong. “What is it, Karen?”
She reached down and lifted a small basket of flowers up onto the counter. “We’ve got something for you and Ross. Happy anniversary, Carl!”
My mouth opened and closed a couple of times while I stared in amazement. “You didn’t have to.”
She grinned. “Of course we did. I told the girls and they told me to get something, pronto. I was looking for something bigger, but this is all they had. Next time, how about giving a girl a bit of notice?”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Then don’t say anything. Get going, Carl. I’m sure Ross is waiting for you.”
I leant over the counter and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you, Karen. You’re something special.”
I picked up the basket and held the other present in front. I was glad I hadn’t bought anything big or I would have had trouble carrying everything. I walked down to the lifts and took an elevator up to Ross’s floor.
“Congratulations, Carl. Karen told us the news,” Melissa said as soon as I stepped out. “I’m really pleased for both of you.”
“Thanks, Mel. How is he today?”
She sighed. “Not good. He’s still weak and easily tired. His T-cell count is down again and that’s made him depressed.”
I grinned. “Maybe I can make him happy again. Is it okay to go in?”
“Sure. When would you like the cake brought in? The rest of the staff want to be there, too, to wish both of you all the best. An ice cream cake was a good choice – I don’t think he could take any other sort at the moment. Oh, and Pete’s chasing up some candles for the cake.”
My eyebrows rose. “I didn’t think candles would be allowed. It’s a hospital, after all.”
Melissa winked. “As long as we don’t tell the ward supervisor, I’m sure we’ll get away with it.”
I laughed – I couldn’t help it: Melissa was the supervisor. “Okay, I promise not to tell you we’re having candles. How’s that? Once Pete’s found the unmentionables, you can bring it in. I just want about ten minutes, okay?”
“Good. Now go – your man needs cheering up.”
I went down to Ross’s room. I wanted to knock, but my arms were full, so I pushed the door open with my foot and stepped into the entrance.
Ross was lying on his side, his back to the door. He looked like a skeleton with skin, he was that emaciated. It was a sharp contrast to the rugged footballer I had first met those many years before, but there was still a fire burning inside – just muted.
“Are you awake?” I asked. It wouldn’t have been the first time I had arrived to find him asleep.
Ross rolled over. His face was initially expressionless, as if showing emotion took too much effort, but then his eyes widened. “What have you got there?”
I grinned. “Happy anniversary, Killer. The flowers are from the girls, and the present is from me.”
He blinked and then grunted. His head rolled to the side to stare out the window. “I didn’t get you anything.”
I put the flowers and present on the side table and moved up next to him. “When would you have had a chance? Now, move over, I promised myself I’d join you in bed.”
“You’ll have to move me,” he said bitterly.
“My pleasure!” I reached under the covers and shifted him enough to allow me to join him – taking a few liberties in the process. I then grabbed the present, climbed in and kissed him. “Here, I hope you like it.”
He stared at it for a couple of seconds before accepting it. “What is it?”
I rolled my eyes, but couldn’t stop myself from grinning. “You’ll find out soon. All you have to do is open it.”
It took a bit of encouraging, but Ross opened the present to reveal a small MP3 player.
“I’ve loaded it with most of our collection, and I can get more if you want. All you have to do it ask.”
A smile played on his lips. “Thanks, Carl.”
I grabbed him and easily pulled him towards me – he didn’t weigh a lot. I started to kiss him, but then felt the box in my shirt pocket. “I almost forgot!”
I pulled out the box and opened it up. “I know you asked me to keep it as it doesn’t fit anymore, but I thought you should wear it, at least for a few hours.” I pulled out the silver ring I’d given him at our commitment ceremony. I’d polished it the night before and it shone like it was new. Holding his left hand, I slipped it onto his ring finger.
“Carl...” His voice was weak. “Carl, I’d like to give you something, too.”
“You don’t have to. I’ve got you, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“Please, don’t interrupt. I need to do this.” He turned his head away again, but I didn’t let him roll over.
“I’d like to give you your freedom. It’s the only gift I’ve got left to give.”
My mouth dropped opened. “Ross...”
He looked back at me. His face was drawn and his sunken eye sockets gave his brown eyes a haunted appearance. “I’m dying, Carl, and I’d like to see you happy again before I go. You deserve more than me – you’ve already wasted ten years on this worthless hulk.”
I smiled at him. “I’m happy now, Killer. I’ve been happy for ten years – longer if you count the time we were dating. I don’t need my freedom. I don’t want it, either: I’ve got the man I want.”
“Do you remember that one time I went to an office function with you? And how your boss was happy for both of us until you let it slip that I’m positive?”
I shrugged sheepishly. It hadn’t been one of my better performances. “I didn’t think she would react the way she did. She’d been so supportive of me before then.”
“She told me that you deserve someone long term and I wasn’t going to be able to do that for you. Well, she was right. I’ve been here for four months now, and I don’t expect to ever leave. We’ve had some good times together, Carl, but it’s over. Go and do something with your life. Leave this empty shell behind.”
“No.” The word was blunt, but I put as much compassion into it as I could.
“Please? I want you to go. Leave me and find someone else.”
I shook my head. “I gave you my answer to that ten years ago, and it hasn’t changed.”
“What do you mean?” I could tell Ross was puzzled.
I smiled. “How about I remind you?”
I got off the bed and moved around to the right hand side.
“I, Carl, take you, Ross.” I took his hand. “To have and to hold.”
Ross tried to pull his hand away, but he wasn’t strong enough. “Stop it, Carl. This is silly.”
“For richer, for poorer.” I stared deep into his eyes, willing him to sense the depth of love I had for him.
He grunted. “You can’t get much poorer than me, right now.”
“In sickness and in health.” I leant over and kissed his forehead.
Ross stared at his withered arm – a reflection of the state of his body. “You got the short end of that deal, didn’t you?”
“Forsaking all others.” I rested my head on his chest. I knew who I wanted, even if our time together was limited.
Ross joined in the last part. His tone was bitter while mine was joyous. I knew he was struggling, and he only wanted what was best for me, but I was happy with what I had.
“Until death do us part.”
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Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
I would like to thank Rain from The Mail Crew for editing this story for me. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.