For the last year, Jay Warren has struggled to find the nerve to tell his wife he’s gay. He’s ashamed of hiding it all this time and he doesn’t want to hurt her, so every time he gets the chance to tell her, he freezes up. The guilt has been almost unbearable, but when his wife dies suddenly, Jay’s conscience threatens to eat him alive.
Funeral director Scott Lawson deals with the bereaved every day of his life, and he’s also all too familiar with the inside of the closet. He offers Jay some much-needed compassion and understanding, and from that connection comes a friendship that quickly—perhaps too quickly—turns into something more.
But are grief, guilt, and loneliness the only things tying them together? Or will Scott get tired of being used as an emotional crutch before Jay realizes what he has?
Tonight, I’m going to tell her.
Yeah right. Just like I was going to tell her every night for the past several months. Probably creeping up on a year at this point. A year of these long evenings of pacing back and forth across the living room or the kitchen, gesturing with my drink and talking to myself as I rehearsed the words that I had, to date, never been able to say in her presence. A year of psyching myself up and telling myself tonight was the night, only to lose my nerve the second she came through the front door.
Pacing back and forth across the living room, I sipped the double Seagram’s in my sweaty hand.
I can do this. I can do this. God, I have to do this.
It didn’t help that she was late. Sure, it was more time for me to drink a little liquid courage and convince myself I could do this, but it was also more time for those ever-present doubts to get up on their respective soapboxes and tell me why I shouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t.
“Do you really want to hurt her like that?”
“After this long, you’re an asshole for telling her now.”
“You’re a jerk, you know that?”
I stopped pacing and rubbed my eyes with my thumb and forefinger.
Come on, Jay. She deserves the truth.
She deserved the truth a long time ago. And every time I passed up an opportunity to tell her, the guilt just burned deeper. One more day of leading her on. One more day of pretending the problems plaguing our marriage could be resolved with just a little more time and patience.
I cursed under my breath, then took another long drink. I put the glass on a coaster on the coffee table—Misty hated rings on the table—and kept pacing along that path I’d worn into the carpet in front of the mantle.
I glanced at my watch. It was well after nine, and she was always home by eight-thirty.
Maybe her class ran late. Her professor’s lectures were always precisely two hours long, so if class started late, it ended late. There’d been a massive car accident on the freeway earlier this evening—a multiple fatality, from what the traffic reporter said—so maybe that held things up. But an hour or more late? Even that prof wouldn’t hold his class that long.
Her study group wasn’t meeting tonight, was it? They always got together after class and sometimes didn’t finish up until ten or eleven. I picked up my drink again and closed my eyes as I held my ice-cold glass to my forehead, wracking my brain as I tried to remember if they were meeting on Wednesdays or Thursdays this quarter. She probably told me earlier. Might have even e-mailed me at work to remind me. I was just too far into this bottle of Seagram’s and a night of undoubtedly futile self pep talks to remember.
Better check with her, then, since I wasn’t going to find the answer in my own nervous, slightly intoxicated mind, so I speed-dialed her cell. It rang several times, then kicked over to voice mail.
“Hey, this is Misty. I’m probably at work, in class, or just plain not answering, so leave a message and I’ll call you back.”
I cleared my throat. “Hey, it’s me. I can’t remember if you’ve got study group tonight or not, so I wasn’t sure when you’d be home, but give me a call when you’re on your way. Talk to you soon. Love you.”
I winced at the last two words. Sighing, I hung up the phone and set it beside my coaster on the coffee table. It wasn’t a lie. I did love her. I would love her until the day I died, and never questioned that for a second.
But was I in love with her?
No. No, I wasn’t.
And the longer I dragged this out, the more she’d hate me when she finally learned the truth that I had owed her for a long, long time.
I brought my glass up to my lips, but hesitated. I’d had enough for one night. No sense being legitimately drunk when she got home. For one thing, we’d end up fighting. Misty didn’t mind me drinking, but the second the alcohol showed itself in my speech or gait, she got pissed. I couldn’t even count the number of times a fight about my drinking had been the convenient excuse not to discuss the reason I’d been drinking in the first place. Not tonight. No. Come on, Jay. You can do this.
I also needed a clear head. Well, as close to a clear head as I could get. If I stopped drinking now, I’d be completely sober by the time she came home from study group.
I stood, leaving my glass on the coaster beside my phone, and started pacing between the coffee table and fireplace.
“Listen, Misty,” I said to the empty room. “I’m not quite sure how to say this, and I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you this sooner.” I paused, trying not to choke on the words. “But, honey, I’m gay.”
A million images of my wife flickered through my mind, each reacting a different way. One cussing me out. One collapsing into tears. One getting herself a very, very strong drink.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked in my mind. Sometimes she screamed it. Sometimes she asked through her tears. Sometimes she just asked matter-of-factly. “Jay, why? Why didn’t you tell me?”
And why didn’t you tell her, Jay?
Scared. Ashamed. Uncertain. Embarrassed. In denial. Didn’t want to hurt her. Didn’t want to lose her.
Same answers, different night. And when she came home, I’d choke just like I always did. God, how long was this going to go on?
The longer you wait, the worse it’s going to get.
I sank onto the sofa and rested my elbows on my knees. Rubbing the back of my neck, I sighed, wondering how long I could resist the siren’s call of that mostly empty glass on the table. My willpower was melting faster than the neglected ice cubes. I wanted to say to hell with it and chalk up tonight as another failed attempt to work up the courage to tell her, and I wanted to celebrate that failure with this glass and at least two or three more afterward. So what if we fought? Maybe if we did enough fighting, we could divorce over that instead of this.
My shoulders slumped, and I pressed my fingers into my temples. Who was I kidding? I didn’t want to hurt her. I had to, I knew that, but not by picking fights and giving us a reason to scream at each other until we could tick the “irreconcilable differences” box and move on. She deserved better than that.
She deserves better than me.
Fuck it. I picked up the glass and threw it back, swallowing the whisky in one go, barely tasting how much the melted ice had watered it down. The remaining ice clinked halfheartedly as I put the glass back on the table.
The doorbell rang.
I shot the front door a suspicious glance, then looked at my watch. Who the hell showed up at… Jesus, how the hell was it already nine fifty-seven at night?
Something tightened in my gut. I glanced at my cell phone, which remained still and silent on the coffee table beside my mostly empty glass. Heart pounding, I started toward the door, and with every step, that something tightened. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, and the deadbolt had never clicked quite as loudly as it did when I turned it.
I opened the door, and when I saw the pair of somber-faced cops on the porch with their hats in their hands, I knew.