Paulie Hajek has loved weddings since childhood, so naturally it makes sense that his current job is in the wedding planning business. Unfortunately, that also means he works with Van Tremaine, his boss’s brother and a former bed partner who refused to commit to something permanent, like marriage. Paulie has been heartbroken for a year, but he’s not giving up on happily-ever-after, though the gloss has dimmed somewhat.
Van has a lot to prove to Paulie, whose love-tinted view of the world once struck fear in his forty-five-year-old heart and made him act like a fool. It doesn’t help that Paulie catches him with an intern in a compromising position, either.
To prove he’s changed, Van resorts to a bit of trickery which, in the end, may or may not give Paulie what he’s always wanted, if he can forgive Van for being an idiot. Will he say yes?
“Coffee?” I offered as I invited Van into my home.
“Sure.” I placed my keys on the rack by the door and headed to the kitchen, removing my winter jacket along the way and hanging it on the back of one of the chairs at the small table.
“You’re still a neat freak, aren’t you?” he asked as he sat and watched me fill the pot.
“You’re probably still a slob, I suppose?” I replied, remembering the many times I’d picked up after him because it drove me nuts to see clothing on the floor when there was a perfectly good laundry hamper lying empty, or dirty plates with a dishwasher close by.
“Believe it or not, I got used to your fussy ways and now I actually clean up after myself, most days.”
“That I’d have to see to believe,” I said as I poured hot water over instant coffee grounds in two cups.
“You’re welcome anytime,” he replied as I handed him a mug.
“Why are you being so ... not-Van-like lately? You’re freaking me out, and it’s confusing.”
“Maybe I had an epiphany, or something.”
“‘Something,’ more like,” I said as I blew on the hot liquid.
“Look, I need to tell you this, and you may not believe me, but it’s true. I miss us together.” At my raised eyebrows, he said, “I know, okay? I know I wouldn’t commit, but even with all the guys I’ve been with since you, it’s not been the same as when we were together even though I tried to make sure it stayed casual.”
It hurt to hear him say “guys” plural, but it was the truth. What could I say? I’d missed him, too.
I ignored my hurt feelings and the longing beneath them. “I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”
He placed the cup on the table. “But how do you know? How does anyone know? Maybe they get it wrong the first time, or maybe the right person is the wrong person in disguise. Or better yet, that person made a mistake in saying ‘no’ when he should have said ‘yes’ to the one man who meant the world to him, but was too scared to admit it, too old to change his ways, too stupid to see what was right in front of him.”
My breath caught. Was I hearing right? “What are you saying, Van?”
“I’m asking if forgiveness is possible, do you think, if someone makes a mistake like that? Will the lover take him back and give him another chance?”
That was tricky to answer. I mean, if Van told me he’d changed and meant it, I would jump into his arms in a heartbeat. I tried to give an honest answer. “I ... I’d like to think so, if that person was sincere. But the pain caused by past actions would be hard to overcome. That person would really have to put it all out there and likely grovel to convince the other guy he’d changed.”
Van searched my eyes, then focused on his coffee. “Well, that’s good to know.” He downed his java and stood. “Thanks for this, Paulie. Maybe we can hang out again sometime. We never talked much about ourselves, you and I, in the past, and I find I want to know more about you now, to make up for that. Are you interested? Platonic, I swear.”
This conversation was strange on so many levels, but I went with it. “Sure. I ... okay, I’d like that.”
God help me.