Carey and Walter from Slings and Arrows
“Everything is not a joke,” Walter said.
Which was a clue to how tense he was about the upcoming Christmas dinner with his father and his father’s new wife. Walter usually liked Carey’s sense of humor.
“I don’t think everything is a joke,” Carey said, surprised.
“Of course you do.” That was so unfair it almost seemed like Walter was trying to pick a fight. Which really was out of character.
Carey didn’t enjoy confrontation and he sure as hell didn’t want to fight with Walter, so he was quiet. Walter turned away and walked to the frost-edged window of the apartment, staring bleakly out at the night. In the raw silence, Carey could hear the departing wail of distant train.
“Maybe you shouldn’t go,” Walter said finally.
“Come. To Christmas,” Walter said tersely. He turned to face Carey, his gold-rimmed spectacles glinting blankly, his expression withdrawn.
It was unexpected and painful. So painful that it took Carey a moment to say, “Look, Walt. I…know how to act in public. I’m not going to chew with my mouth open or talk about what we do in bed.”
Walter’s expression went tighter, closed like a fist.
“I don’t…understand,” Carey said at last.
“I’ve changed my mind,” Walter said with the same cold preciseness he used to use back when he’d been Dr. Bing’s teaching assistant rebuffing all slackers and goof-offs. “I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to come with me. You can go to your parents, correct? They’ll be happy to have you stay for a few days. We both know you’ll have a better time there.”
Carey swallowed. He was afraid the sound was audible. But Walter’s expression did not change. He was not going to relent. He did not want Carey to go with him. It was that simple. Simple as an arrow through the heart.
Carey said stiffly, “In that case, maybe I should just leave tonight.” He couldn’t imagine lying next to Walter in that perfectly appointed bedroom with all this between them. Hurt. Anger. Bewilderment.
“I think that’s a good idea,” Walter said.
* * * * *
Was it over?
Carey wasn’t sure.
They had been together for a little under a year. Walter loved him. He loved Walter. There was no question of that. There was no question that they were happy together. But Walter could be odd. Odd and hurtful. And Carey wasn’t sure that love was enough.
Four months ago Walter’s father had abruptly remarried. Walter had attended the small, private civil service without Carey. It had sort of bothered Carey, but he had understood. There was no love lost between Walter and his father.
“I want to go if you want me there.”
“I don’t want you there,” Walter had said.
That was Walter at his most bluntly honest, but Carey had forbore to take offense. The little Walter had shared about his childhood had been alarming to someone who had grown up in a big, noisy, affectionate clan like Carey’s. No wonder Walter had a few, well, intimacy issues.
When Walter had returned, he had said the wedding went smoothly and that he thought his new stepmother would suit his father. Carey had not pressed for more information. He was not sure he wanted to know.
But this was Christmas. Their first Christmas together. This mattered to Carey. Not least because they had both been invited to spend it at Walter’s family estate. And they had accepted. Together. As a couple.
Otherwise they could have spent it at Carey’s family -- where they would always be welcome with or without formal invitation -- together and as a couple.
Instead they would be celebrating Christmas apart. And Carey wasn’t completely sure if they still were a couple or not. Was Walter ashamed of him? Did Walter really think Carey would make inappropriate jokes or use the wrong fork or…
Or was it something else?
Something even worse?
Who knew with Walter?
This time Carey didn’t feel like being understanding or patient. It took him less than fifteen minutes to pack his suitcase (later he discovered he’d forgotten his toothbrush) and headed straight for the front door.
Walter was still staring out the window at the black and starless night. He didn’t turn around and he didn’t say anything to stop Carey.
“Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” Carey said bitterly. He regretted that crack later, but at least he refrained from slamming the door.
* * * * *
Christmas day passed without a word from Walter.
It was a nice Christmas. It was a Christmas like all the Christmases that had come before it. And probably all the Christmases that would come after. The thing that would have made it different, remarkable, memorable was Walter.
“Maybe next year,” his sister Susan said, and Carey smiled noncommittally.
He stayed over the weekend. Walter wasn’t flying back until Monday anyway, so there was no reason to hurry home.
On Monday Carey debated staying over another night, but it was starting to feel like he was hiding out. If he didn’t go home, he needed a reason, and that reason would have to be there was something seriously wrong between him and Walter.
If he went home now, they could pretend it had just been an ordinary, run-of-the-mill argument. Carey wasn’t sure he was ready to face it being more than that. Once he’d stopped being so angry, he’d started missing Walter. He still loved Walter. Doubts about the future didn’t change that.
But sooner or later they were going to have to face it. Whatever it was.
* * * * *
The minute Carey unlocked the front door, he knew Walt was home.
The apartment was silent, but the silence had a living, breathing quality. Relieved,
pushed open the door and walked inside. Cary
There was a neat tower of expensively wrapped red and green parcels on the chrome and glass coffee table. His own gift to Walt, a plum-colored cashmere pullover, hung over the arm of the sofa. All other signs of Christmas had been cleared away. Walt was in the kitchen making a grilled cheese sandwich.
He looked up at Carey’s entrance. “How was your family?” he asked.
“Fine,” Carey said. “How was yours?”
“Fine.” Walter was unsmiling and serious. But that was usual for Walt.
“Did you have a nice Christmas?” Carey asked.
“It was all right,” Walter said politely. “How was yours?”
Carey opened his mouth. But he couldn’t do it. Couldn’t play the game, couldn’t be a part of this. He wasn’t built like Walter. His former relief that everything could go back to normal vanished -- because this was not normal.
“I missed you,” he said. “But I guess I better get used to that.”
Walter’s pale, bony face reddened. “Carey --”
Carey waited but Walter didn’t go on.
Carey let out a long weary sigh. He hadn’t realized how tired he was. It was the effort of holding back all that sadness and worry. But there was no holding it back now. “That’s what I thought,” he said.
“What did you think?” Walter turned off the stove and came across the kitchen to Carey, but Carey put a hand up to stop him. Walter did stop. He looked stricken.
“Carey,” he said in a very different voice.
“I don’t know any way to explain it that I’m not going to sound childish or petty,” Carey said. “But this isn’t about where we spend the holiday. Or how we celebrate, except that holidays are for spending with the people we love.”
“Next year we’ll spend it with your family,” Walter said quickly.
“No. I don’t think we will because…” Carey swallowed but made himself go on. “I’m not sure we’ll be together next year. I don’t think we will be.”
Walter put a hand out to grip the back of one of the kitchen table chairs--as if Carey had punched him. No, more like as if Carey had delivered some mortal blow. “Of course we’re going to be together,” Walter said. He sounded almost frightened. “I love you and I know you love me.”
“I do,” Carey admitted. “But I just spent the five most unhappy days of my entire life. And I don’t even know why.”
“Why it had to be that way. You shut me out -- and not the first time -- and there’s no debate, no discussion. It’s just the way it is. And then when you decide to open the door again, everything goes back to the way it was. Except now I’ll be waiting for the next time the door slams.”
“It’s not like that,” Walter said. “If I’m…if I’m closing doors, it’s to protect you.”
“Give me a break, Walt,” Carey said, surprised to find himself getting angry.
Carey shook his head and turned away. Walter caught his arm. “Wait.”
Carey stared at Walter, seeing the jump of his adam’s apple jump, the little nerve pulsing in his cheek. He seemed unaware his fingers were digging into Carey’s forearm. Walter kept himself in tight check all the time. Only with Carey did he ever let his guard down.
“I love you and I don’t want to lose you,” Walter whispered.
It killed him to hurt Walter. “I love you too, but we’re already losing each other if we can’t be honest.”
“Wait. Listen to me,” Walter said. “Just…listen.”
Walter didn’t go on, but Carey listened anyway. And he did feel like there was some kind of plea in Walter’s struggling silence.
“Walt,” he said helplessly. “Talk to me.”
“I don’t want you to see me like they do,” Walter burst out. “I don’t know why you love me, but you do. And I don’t want you to stop. I know it’s not logical. It’s not rational. But I don’t want you to change toward me.”
Relief washed through Carey. This was one explanation that had not occurred. Maybe it should have, knowing even the little he did about Walter’s childhood. He was still a little angry, but now it was on Walter’s behalf. “I’m not going to change.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Of course I do.”
Walter shook his head. “Sometimes, even now, it’s a struggle for me not to see myself like they do.”
“You have to have some faith in me.”
Carey said carefully, “But it’s also about not having faith in me and what I feel for you. I don’t want a stack of expensive presents. I want you. All of you. The good and the bad. The real you. Isn’t that how you want me?”
Walter said instantly, “Of course.”
“Buying a bunch of presents is like something your dad would do.”
Walter looked startled and then dismayed. “It wasn’t like that. I just want you to feel appreciated.”
Carey started to smile. Relief and happiness were filling that hollow ache he’d had for the past five days.
Watching him, Walter smiled tentatively in response. He drew Carey toward him, and this time Carey yielded.
He said softly, “Okay, well as far as making me feel appreciated, I’ve got a couple of ideas…”