++++ ++++ ++++
The next morning was a somber one and the tension was so high Ed was willing to peel off his own skin to rid himself of the sensation. Anything to keep from feeling it crawl every time Jean looked at him. He was hung over, Jean was still angry and this left Ed at a loss as to what to do. If he’d had any idea the night would have taken such an unforeseen turn he would have never set foot in that lodge. All the free ribs, fries, whiskey and ale in the world wasn’t worth the night he’d had. There were not enough pigs, potatoes and spirits in Amestris to make amends for this.
“Are… Are you sure you want to go home?”
“Yes,” was the clipped response that made Ed flinch.
“I know you don’t want to stay here but it’s still early and…”
“No. Home is fine.”
“Jean, I am so sorry I…”
“It’s fine Ed, it’s fine, just drop it and let’s go.”
Ed flinched again but busied himself packing his bag as swiftly as he could manage as the events of the previous night played over in his head. Each memory just made him shove something in his duffel that much harder.
Everything was going fine, great even. Jean had actually enjoyed dinner and the music at the Lodge. Ed still had no luck getting him out on the dance floor but he was laughing, smiling, joking and that was good enough for Ed. The trouble began as the drinks started making rounds. Ed and Emmerson were going toe to toe and drink for drink. By the time Ed tapped out and declared Emmerson the undisputed winner, both of them were feeling no pain.
Ed wasn’t sure when he got separated from Jean but he had a vague memory of his boyfriend playing darts or pool or both… hell something like that, with a few of the locals. During this time, Mayumi was sitting beside him and the two of them were talking about the recent publication of Noether's Theorem. During this discussion, Ed discovered that Mayumi was a promising mathematician with a few unique ideas of her own.
Ed couldn’t tell anyone what prompted her to do it, but before his muddled brain could process it Mayumi was kissing him.
If he had been sober he would have reacted better. On this fact he is sure. However, in that moment, half a dozen pints and a few shots in, Ed had merely smiled at the dark eyed raven haired beauty when their lips finally parted. He grabbed her hand, and held it to his chest as he explained to her that he was in a serious relationship with his boyfriend Jean.
“I see,” she said as a pout claimed her face. “My technique must be off.”
“No, that was not it at all my dear.”
“No the kiss was fine.”
“It sure looked like it was,” Jean said and the glare he was giving Ed was a sobering one.
Reality came crashing into Ed’s ale addled brain at a rate that rivaled the rockets on the other side of The Gate. He looked up at Jean and words failed him. Noting the tension, Mayumi apologized to them both before making herself scarce.
Her absence did not help.
No amount of apologizing as they returned to their cabin was helping Ed either.
“I… I’m sorry Jean but it all happened so fast and…”
“I’m sure it did.”
“I told her that you and I were in a committed relationship.”
“Your lips looked a little busy for talking.”
Ed cringed, “No I’m serious. I told her we were a couple and I wasn’t interested in her like that.”
“Nice of you to come to that conclusion after twenty seconds of sucking face.”
That situation was what brought them to being up just after dawn, packing their belongings to return to Central a full day ahead of schedule. As they loaded their things into the vehicle, Ed thought the silence alone was going to kill him. Ten miles down the road, Jean was still as quiet as an empty tomb and Ed thought he was going to crack.
“How many other ways can I say I’m sorry? What do I have to do to fix this?”
“Don’t worry about it Ed.”
“Don’t worry about it? There are so many reasons why that isn’t possible,” Ed said as his grip on the steering wheel tightened.
“Talk to me.”
Jean didn’t answer and they spent the thirty-minute ride to Central in awkward heavy silence.
When they arrived at Jean’s house, Ed moved to turn the car off but Jean stopped him. Ed’s heart was trying to pound its way out of his chest, the very air in the vehicle was pressing down on him and he was certain his left hand was trembling. He hated this feeling, he really hated it.
“Just go on home Ed.”
“But Jean I…”
“It’s okay. I’ll get over it.”
“Could we please talk about this?”
“Not today. Go home and get some sleep, you still look like shit,” Jean said as he stepped out of the vehicle and shut the door.
Ed watched Jean as he disappeared into his house and it took every ounce of restraint he had not to pound on the steering wheel in frustration. For the first time in years, he wanted to clap his hands together and start blowing shit up.
As he drove through the streets of Central Ed thought about going home but decided against it. He knew after taking one look at him, Al would corner him to talk and he wasn’t in the mood for that. Ed knew he had to fix this with Jean but he didn’t know how. He didn’t have a clue and anything he could think of was going to be damn near impossible when he couldn’t even get his lover to talk to him.
Ed had plans for them tonight since Monday was a holiday and they didn’t have to rush back to Central. It was part of the reason he’d rented the cabin instead of just getting a room at an Inn. He was going to try his hand at romance in the form of making dinner, mood music, candles and every other cheesy cliché thing he could think of but before they could get close to that point one fluke undid it all.
Ed couldn’t stop the bitter chuckle that passed his lips at the irony of it all. He has run around the countryside since he was twelve years old. He’s been single most of his adult life. Fate chooses now to have someone randomly lip lock him in a bar. What were the fucking chances? Slim to none really, but that was Ed’s specialty wasn’t it? Making a two percent chance a sure bet?
Pulling himself together after letting out a string of curses Ed drove toward the edge of town until he reached Breda’s apartment. If anyone stood a chance of helping him it was Jean’s best friend. Looking at his watch, Ed noted it was just after 8am on a Sunday. He didn’t want to wake the man up but he didn’t want to waste time either.
Deciding that his day was fucked to shit already and a person yelling at him over the time of day or giving him dirty looks couldn’t even begin to compare to what had already taken place Ed decided to go for it. He climbed out the vehicle, made his way to the man’s door and buzzed the bell. Short of breaking a bone or being hit by a car he couldn’t imagine his day getting any worse.
As Ed stood there in the warm breeze of the early morning, the beauty of it all was in direct conflict with what he was feeling. It was hard to appreciate the pristine blue sky, the wispy white clouds and the brilliant glow of the newly risen sun when a person felt as if they were coming apart on the inside. That’s what Ed felt like. Like someone slid a cold stiff hand down into his gut, flexed the rigid fingers and pulled. Emotions could be as hard hitting as they were uplifting. He wasn’t very fond of the flip side of this coin and if it never happened to him again it would be too soon.
Twelve hours ago he was eating with Jean and on cloud nine.
He now felt like something that had rode into town on the underside of a garbage truck.
When the door opened, Breda was all smiles but that quickly faded when he took a good look at Ed.
“Good morning Boss what brings you… oh fuck… you look like shit Ed.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
Breda stepped aside and motioned Ed in, “Care to tell me what has you looking so haggard this morning?”
“No, but I’m going to anyway,” Ed replied as he flopped down bonelessly onto Breda’s couch. His shitty night was starting to catch up to him. He felt like crap.
As Breda walked across the room to join Ed a thought struck him, “Weren’t you supposed to still be on the mountain?”
“Yes and I… Breda I so fucked up. I… I… Shit do you have any coffee made?”
“No, but I can fix that,” he replied before moving to do so immediately. If anyone had ever looked like they needed a cup of coffee Ed did. To be honest he looked like a man that needed a shot of gin.
As the coffee did its thing Ed started recounting his sordid tale to Breda. When Ed he was done the other man was shaking his head. Yes, it was all hard to believe but Breda was also fighting not to laugh. Ed was upset, Jean was apparently just as upset if not more so, but that did nothing to erase the overall hilarity of the situation. There was a time and a place for everything but now was not either for Breda’s unique brand of humor.
In his world Ed getting smooched by some bow wielding babe was funny. Funny hell, it was downright hilarious.
His mouthy, brash and confrontational coworker was painfully shy when it came to personal matters and thinking of him soused enough to be smooching with a woman five years his senior in the middle of a lodge full of people was great stuff in Breda’s world; but then again he wasn’t dating Ed either so he could kinda see Jean’s plight even if he thought the silent treatment was overkill considering.
“So you are as hungover as you look?”
“Yes,” Ed replied as he sank down into his seat a bit further.
“I’m just giving you a hard time Ed. No worries from me,” Breda said as he added a few splashes of bourbon to Ed’s coffee.
When Ed gave him a look Breda said, “It’ll help take the edge off.”
“If that’s the case I won’t turn it down,” Ed said as he took a drink of his altered drink. “I’m feeling worse the longer I’m up.”
“You need sleep and water my friend. Now let’s look at this problem of yours,” Breda said as he added a few splashes to his coffee as well just for the hell of it. “Sounds to me like it wasn’t too big a deal. It wasn’t like you were trying to go home with that woman.”
“I know that, but that doesn’t matter, what does matter and what is a big deal, is Jean’s reaction to it. He won’t even speak to me.”
“Between the contest and the random kiss I think his pride was just wounded.”
“That still doesn’t fix this mess I’ve made,” Ed said as he poured himself a second cup of coffee.
Breda put a hand on Ed’s shoulder and said, “Look Ed I’m sure he’ll get over this but if you want to take action why don’t you just finish out your plan.”
“I somehow doubt he’d answer my invite to a nice candlelit dinner at this point Heymans.”
“Well don’t give him a choice.”
Ed gave the stocky man a confused look.
“You have keys to his place right?”
“Hear me out,” Breda said as he moved to refresh his own cup of coffee. “I’m sure he wouldn’t refuse going out and about with me for a couple of hours later today. I bet in two hours’ time you could have everything set up and ready to rock if you had the place to yourself.”
“You’d do that for me?”
“But of course. What are friends for, Ed. Besides, I’m sure once he’s had time to sit alone in that house most of the day he will have realized how badly he’s overreacting and how much he misses you being there.”
“I’m not sure you’re right about all of that but I’m willing to risk it.”
“That’s the spirit! Now just make sure you are there by three this afternoon. Leave the rest to me.”
At two-thirty that day Heymans strode up onto his best friend’s porch ready to take action. Knowing the man seldom locked his door during the day if he was home Heymans flung it open and shouted, “Come on soldier get your ass in gear let’s…”
The rest of his sentence died in shock on his tongue.
The infamous base lizard. She was propped up on Jean’s couch, tea cup in hand, bosom thrust forward nearly spilling out of her dress and leer firmly in place. Jean was sitting close enough to kiss her exposed neck if he had wanted too and Bread was stunned. They weren’t doing anything incriminating at the moment but if their proximity to each other said anything, it said that wasn’t far off. It said if Breda had arrived fifteen minutes later he would be headed across town to tell Ed not to waste his time and energy.
As it was, Breda couldn’t speak. With him standing there motionless in the doorway Jean excused himself from present company, stepped out on the porch and shut the door behind him.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Jean asked in a rushed whisper.
“I’d like to ask you the same thing about her,” Breda fired back through gritted teeth.
“Look I ran into her at the market, she said something about liking tea and…”
“Save it Jean! Every soldier with more than a year in knows Julia, just like I know she isn't here to enjoy your off-brand tea!”
Jean looked away guiltily for a moment before turning back to stare his best friend down with narrowed blue eyes, “You don’t know what kind of weekend I’ve had so back off!”
“See that’s where you are wrong. I know exactly what kind of weekend you’ve had and that’s why I’m here.”
When Jean gave him a doubtful look Breda told him about Ed turning up on his doorstep at eight in the morning distraught and beating himself up over hurting Jean’s feelings.
“Shit,” was Jean’s only response.
“Shit is right. Now either turn that lizard loose right now or I’m headed to the south side of the City to tell Ed not to waste his fucking time.”
“You wouldn’t dare we…”
“You’re damn straight I’d dare,” Breda replied cutting Jean off.
“You can’t think what happened was supposed to be all fine and dandy with me.”
“No, but at the end of the day it was just a kiss. Do you deny the fact the she started it? Do you deny the fact he turned her down?”
“But nothing. We’ve all had our judgment and reactions blurred by the bottle. If memory serves me correctly that’s how you got to know Julia to begin with, right?”
It was Jean’s turn to be the one flinching as he sighed in defeat.
“So what’s it going to be?” Breda asked him when he didn’t move.
Jean thought for a moment before saying, “Fine, I’ll get rid of her.”
“Hell if it’s that hard to decide maybe you shouldn’t.”
“Look Breda, the last few months haven't been easy. I have a lot of shit on my mind.”
“Ed related shit I take it?”
“What do you think?”
“You two have been together for over a year now. You need to talk to him. He has to be the easiest person in our group to talk to. Hell, even perfect strangers love talking to Ed.”
“And that fact is part of the problem.”
“If that’s the case then you really need to talk to him. Problems of this nature won’t fix themselves and actions like this,” Breda said as he pointed toward the house where Julia sat, “damn sure won’t help matters either.”
“It’s not like Ed’s going to be around forever Breda. People like him don’t ride off into the sunset with people like me.”
“I think the past year or so has proven that an untruth.”
Jean snorted, “How much longer do you think that’s going to last, Breda?”
“I can’t see the future Jean but if you keep this shit up it’ll end today. Is that what you want?”
“Better on my terms than his.”
“Do you even hear yourself? You’ve been stupid in love lust with him for years. Now you have him, plus a damn fine shot at something real, and the first hitch in the road has you pulling out the lizard. What kind of shit is that?”
“I don’t know it… The whole thing is making me crazy.”
“Then talk about whatever’s bothering you, with him. I’m not the closest person to Ed but the kid loves you. Half this city would sell their mother to be in your shoes.”
“Again this is an issue.”
“What? Ed being popular? So what! Instead of being insecure about it how about considering yourself lucky?”
“Yeah, I’m the lucky bastard that gets to watch people throw themselves at their lover left and right. Half the time I feel like I should carry a cattle prod to fend them off.”
Breda shook his head in disbelief. Of all Jean’s traits this damn insecurity of his was the worst. Everyone had their bad side and this was most definitely his. It always led him down roads best left untraveled.
“What’s really eating you?”
“Not this shit again.”
“Yes, this shit again. Tell me you haven’t noticed he’s stuck up Ed’s ass and I’ll eat today’s newspaper.”
Breda didn’t know how to answer that because he had noticed but he didn’t think Ed was interested in Roy like that and said as much.
“Yeah, but you saying that means you think the Chief has pies in his eyes when it comes to Ed too.”
“I can’t say for sure either way,” Breda answered truthfully “but that doesn’t matter if Ed’s in love with you!”
“See, that’s the kind of attitude that’s kept you single. You need to let this shit go, Jean. Do you actually doubt how Ed feels about you?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Then there shouldn’t be a fucking problem then. Now go get rid of your tea time pal so we can go.”
Jean went inside and fed Julia a line about a work related emergency. Once she left the house two men stood in Jean’s foyer staring at each other.
“Jean you know I’m not the judgmental sort but… just fuck, don’t make me regret keeping a lid on this okay?”
Jean said nothing, he merely nodded.
For Breda the gesture was not a comforting one. He didn’t know if it was done in agreement or merely to pacify him.
Only time would tell.
Ed was able to blame his mood and appearance on being hungover which allowed him to skip the awkward conversation with Al. After sleeping for three hours, drinking half a gallon of water and taking a shower Ed headed out to the market to replace the food he’d left at the cabin. With that done he got Al to drop him off so Jean wouldn’t see the car and headed straight into the kitchen to get the food going. He decided to make chicken with prosciutto and tomatoes over polenta. Jean like grilled polenta. Ed had fixed it as part of an appetizer a few weeks ago and Jean had talked about it for days.
As visions of happy Jean from that memory crossed his mind Ed couldn’t mesh him with the silent brooding Jean from the car this morning. It was as if they were two different people altogether. The Jean that was happily munching his way through half a dozen polenta cakes didn’t even look related to the Jean that had sat stone faced and unforgiving in the cabin after they left the lodge. Emotionally, the previous night had been one of the worst nights of Ed’s adult life.
Once the food was underway Ed shook those thoughts from his mind as he ventured into the living room. He was going to transform the dining area into a romantic little nook. Table cloth on, lace placemats down and tulips in a vase. Candelabras on either end, tealights dotting the rest of the table and napkins folded in the shape of fans. Small plates to hold the sliced fruit. Vintage chiller that was a gift from Gracia sat on the corner. One glass, a rummer, and two flutes a piece for the water, mint limeade, champagne and wine. Ed had the table looking like a masterpiece.
Done with that, he immediately moved to tidy up the living room. Jackets on the rack. Mail stacked neatly on the table. Dishes picked up…
Was that lipstick on the teacup in his hand?
It sure as hell looked like it.
Ed stared at the cup and stared at it until even he was surprised it didn’t have a hole in it. How could… Why would there be…. Shrugging it off he reasoned that it probably belonged to Riza or Ross, maybe even Rebecca. Perhaps one of them had come by. It couldn’t be… No! Ed decided that he wasn’t going to make an already shitty day worse by entertaining such moralless notions. He was ashamed of his own thought process, one hitch in the road and he already had the man dipping out on him.
Emotions were horrible things.
Ed wasn’t the least bit fond of them at the moment.
Shaking his head a few more times Ed put on music. He had to have something else to focus on besides his own thoughts.
The first batch of polentas were a gritty, crumbled bust but the second batch turned out perfect. When the food was ten minutes away from done Ed stepped into the bathroom, changed his clothes and combed out his hair. He started to braid it, but decided to leave it down. Everyone but Al seemed to prefer it down but then again Al had long hair as well and knew how much it got in the way.
With that done, all he had left to do was keep an eye the food and wait.
It was twenty-seven of the longest minutes of his life and once he heard Jean enter the house he suddenly wanted some of that time back. Sucking it up like the soldier he was Ed took a deep breath, put on a brave face and entered the living room.
Jean still looked shocked at what he was seeing and that reaction was a shit ton better than the anger Ed had expected. The man had made it clear that he didn’t want Ed’s company but Ed had decided to impose anyway.
When Jean looked at him Ed swallowed the lump in his throat, “Can I convince you to let me say that I’m sorry one more time?”
Jean smiled at him and the world took on a little bit of its former glory.
Dinner went great.
Dessert… well that was even better.
Later that night as moonlight spilled into the bedroom window like silver dust, Ed was lying awake beside Jean staring at the ceiling. Even though he was pleased to have his apology accepted and his life back to a semblance of normal, he couldn’t shake one thought...
We spent the entire evening together and he never once mentioned who his company was.