A Fool and His Manny

This is probably mean.
But it’s late, and I need an hour of television and knitting or I’ll go out of my mind. 
I finished a book last night–which is why I didn’t blog, because… you know… this… close… and also, Mate left for Germany, and I was missing him so the less introspection the better.
Tonight was another juggernaut of activity, including kids doing homework right up until bedtime.
Squish made me do maths! (A true test of a mother’s love!) And ZoomBoy wrote an epilogue to Of Mice and Men that made us both cry.
I mean… 
Oh my God. 
I don’t know how he did it, but he made the goddamned book sadder.
So I read him some of the funnier parts of this book, and reminded him that brave people wrote romance because they dared to dream of a happy ending, and then I hugged. 
A lot. 
And decided that for blogging, I would probably be better off just posting some Dustin and Quinlan.  This book starts 21 years after the first one ended. That baby Nica and Jacob were expecting is now fully grown, and Quinlan has been part of their family for seven years.
He is, as Dustin says, not doing as well as he could be…
*  *  *
Mads didn’t stay for coffee long.
They talked idly—music, the tour, which Mads had been a
part of for a while, and about Bobbie and Chrissy and the men in their lives.
At around ten-thirty, Quinlan stood apologetically and
yawned, and Mads grimaced. “Subtle, Quinlan. But I get it. You have to be up at
three in the morning, out the door at four. 
Walk me out?”
They got to the landing outside his door before Mads
pressed for a kiss. 

Quinlan opened his mouth reluctantly.  It wasn’t a bad kiss—just a little bland.
Like eating restaurant lasagna instead of Nica’s special.  He returned it dutifully, and pulled back
like a gentleman, not sure what to do about Madison’s sigh.
“You’re not even giving me a chance, are you?”
“You’re a great guy,” Quinlan told him, remembering
Dustin’s words.
“But I’m not your
“I’m sorry.”  And
he was. The family’s hostility notwithstanding, it would have been great if he
could have hooked up with another musician, someone who got his love of
performance, who appreciated the time he spent on the road teaching.
“You make me sad,” Mads told him bitterly. “You’ve
devoted your life to these kids, and they’re going to be grown soon, and you
will have pushed away anyone who could have filled the damned void.”
“Petey’s only seven,” Quinlan told him, willing him to
smile. “I’ve got a little time.”
Mads shook his head and kissed his cheek and turned
away. “Later.”
Quinlan had no choice but to watch him go.
With a sigh, he leaned out on the railing as Mads
clattered down the landing and hopped into his car.  The night was still warm—uncomfortably
warm—and Quinlan spared a moment to be glad the tour extended into the Pacific
Northwest for a little bit of relief from the heat.
“Not a late night?” Dustin asked, startling him.
Peering into the darkness of the front yard, Quinlan
saw the bright ember of a cigarette glowing under the fruitless mulberry tree.
“I thought you quit for good,” Quinlan chastised.
Dustin had done it for his mother’s birthday. 

“One every couple of days.” Dustin drew deeply. “Work
get-togethers, that sort of thing. You gonna tell on me?”
half-laughed. “Not my place anymore. You’re grown, remember?”
Dustin pitched the butt to the ground and ravaged it
under his tennis shoe. “I do remember,” he said mildly. “I was just making sure
you did.”
“I remember.” Quinlan couldn’t deny it. “We’re exactly
the same height now, and we can take
you out in public.”
He was rewarded with Dustin’s low laughter. “You’re
funny,” Dustin said, like it was just hitting him. “You weren’t this funny when
I was a kid.”
“Not supposed to be funny when you’re trying to make
sure the kid you’re watching isn’t a threat to himself or others.”
Dustin grunted. “I wasn’t that bad.”
“No.”  He hadn’t
been, Quinlan thought, chest aching. “Once you warmed up to me, you were really
pretty awesome.”
“Why’d you scare him away, Q?”  Dustin came out of the shadow of the tree and
stood under the landing, face lit by the soda lamp over Quinlan’s shoulder. He
should have looked like a kid again—an adolescent Romeo—but he didn’t. He
looked like a man, determined, thoughtful. Quinlan fought off a shiver.
“You were right,” he said softly. “He was a sweet guy,
but not my guy.”
“You are so lonely.”
Quinlan stepped back, the words feeling like a slap. “I
am not!”
“You are.” Dustin stood there, just looking, like he
was debating whether or not to come to the top of the landing or not. “You
always have been. But it got worse, I think. After Sammy got sick. It was like…
like you got scared. You realized how much people could mean to you, and you
didn’t let us go, but you didn’t let anyone else in. And now, you’re just…
“I don’t see you out there finding your soul mate!”
Quinlan snapped, this entire conversation hurting him in ways he didn’t think
he could be hurt.
Dustin’s low laughter struck him again, but this time
disturbingly close to his groin. “Oh, honey,” he said silkily. “You are a smart
man, and smart about people, and good and kind and intuitive. It is stunning to me, that you don’t know that
I’ve found him already. But then, you’ve been hiding out in that apartment, in
the back of the family photos, in your own heart for so long. You won’t even
see my soulmate when he goes inside, brushes his teeth, changes his underwear,
sets his alarm and goes to bed.”
Quinlan made a child’s sound, Dustin’s low gravel as
hypnotizing as a perfect lullaby.
“It’s a good thing I know him when I see him,” Dustin
said, like Quinlan had actually spoken. “See you in the morning, Quin.”
“Night—“ His voice squeaked and he tried again. “Night,
Dustin’s chuckled lingered as he turned toward the
street and walked to his car, calling, “Belinda, get your ass in gear!” as he
The front door of the house opened and Belinda
followed, shooing the dog back in as she ran out. Apparently they’d let poor
Ginger back inside after Mads had left, and Quinlan thought that Mads would
never know they’d actually made an effort by protecting him from the terrible
He went back inside and washed the two coffee cups, fed
his fish, showered, and stripped down to his boxers for bed. His suitcase, his
knapsack, and his trumpet sat, neat and tidy and ready in the corner of his
room, and as he put his phone in the jack and ran a mental rehearsal of
grabbing his phone, the jack, his computer and cords, and his luggage before he
ran down the stairs, he thought that he could do it.
He could close his eyes and sleep without letting the
promise in Dustin’s voice unnerve him.
Without letting the heat of his body as they’d stood
together seep through his skin and remind him how to be aroused.
Without letting Dustin’s words hurt him, taunt him,
ring in the silence of his cozy, empty little sanctuary, until his heart bled and
he was forced to admit that Dustin was right.

Dustin wasn’t a kid anymore, and Quinlan was a very
lonely man.

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