Kindergarten teacher Spenser Harris has carved a quiet, stable future out of his tumultuous past, but his world turns upside down the night a homeless teen appears on his doorstep—a boy whose story mirrors the one Spenser has worked so hard to overcome. The decision to shelter Duon is easy. What’s tricky is juggling the network of caregivers in Duon’s life, especially Tomás Jimenez.
Tomás wouldn’t have hesitated to take Duon in, but his plate is already full working three jobs to support his family. Though Spenser’s carefully constructed walls are clearly designed to keep the world at bay, Tomás pushes past Spenser’s defenses, determined to ensure the man is worthy of his charge. As the two of them grow closer, Tomás dares to dream of a life beyond his responsibilities, and Spenser begins to believe he might finally find a home of his own after all.
But Spenser and Tomás’s world is forever poised to crash down around their ears. Duon’s grandmother isn’t sure she wants him to be raised by a gay man and challenges Spenser’s custody. Tomás’s undocumented parents could be deported at any time, and all the while the state of Minnesota votes on a constitutional amendment against marriage equality and the US Supreme Court debates whether or not Spenser and Tomás get a happily ever after. All they can do is hold tight to their love, hope for a better future…and remind each other to enjoy the dance.
In the morning, Ed called Vicky as promised, but when she turned up empty-handed at the end of the day and again on Sunday morning, Laurie’s nagging concern became full-blown worry. They kept telling him he’d disappeared like this before, but all Laurie’s instincts told him this time was different.
When days and then a week went by, Laurie’s worrying went into overdrive. Two Sundays after the last time Duon had been seen by anyone, Laurie grabbed Ed’s phone from his hand during one of Vicky’s updates and took over the conversation. “We need to call the police. Something is wrong. We have to find him.”
“I know, hon. And we’ll keep doing our best. But sometimes Duon doesn’t want to be found. As far as the police go, it might not do him any favors to be caught by them.”
Because he was possibly—probably tricking. Laurie shut his eyes and pressed fingers to his aching temple. “What more can we do? How can I help?”
“Baby.” Ed pried the phone gently from Laurie. He told Vicky he’d call her back, hung up, and took Laurie’s hands in his, looking him in the eye with an expression Laurie didn’t like at all. The kind of look you gave someone who simply didn’t get it, bless their heart. “Laur, honey, I know you hate to hear this, but all we can do is wait.”
Laurie did hate that answer, and he refused to accept it. “We can do more. We can put up signs, offer a reward—”
Ed stopped him with a brief kiss that tasted of sorrow. “Vicky is doing everything she can. She has a better network than you do in this department. If she thinks putting up signs and offering a reward will help, she’ll do that.”
“But I didn’t tell her I’d offer a reward, or how much. I should call her back—”
This time Ed’s hushing kiss lingered, gentling Laurie until his angry panic dissolved into tears. Ed shushed him lovingly and wiped them away with first his thumbs and then a tissue from the coffee table. “It’s going to be okay, baby. He’s going to be okay.”
“You don’t know that.” Fear, regret, and terror filled all available space in Laurie until emotion overflowed in a sob.
Ed took him to bed, holding him tight while he wept. The dampness on the top of Laurie’s head told him Ed cried too, which only fueled his despair. He didn’t sleep that night, only drifted fitfully in and out of dreamless dozes.
On Monday he walked to work, taking the long way down streets Ed would have scolded him for taking. Though Laurie kept his eyes peeled and saw no end of colorful exchanges between strangers, including some unnerving stares in his direction, he never saw Duon’s trademark pink cap or any other sign of him. At Halcyon he grilled everyone he’d ever seen hanging out with Duon, but none of them had seen him either. He passed out his business cards until he had none left to give. When he saw no sign of Duon at his studio either, he taught his classes with one eye on the door, constantly hoping he’d see Duon walk in and scold him for making a fuss.
Duon never showed, but Ed did, right as the last class was finishing up. He smiled and flirted with the parents waiting in the lobby, but Laurie could tell his husband was upset. As soon as Effie and the last of the students had left, Ed’s cheerful demeanor fell and he let loose on Laurie. “I don’t even know where to start with you. First everyone’s telling me to talk to my husband about wandering in the wrong part of town, and then they’re all showing me your business cards and asking why you’re so hot to find Duon. Did you not hear me when I said Vicky would handle this?”
Ed had crowded close to Laurie, and Laurie pushed at his chest, not interested in being bullied right now. “I can’t stand by and twiddle my thumbs when I know he’s out there. He’s a lost child, Ed.”
“Why are you acting like I don’t care about him? I know he’s a child. Except I also know he’s been functioning as an adult since his mom left. Which was when he was eight. He’s not from the burbs, Laurie. He’s from the streets. If you gave your card to anyone outside of Halcyon, they probably thought you wanted to fuck him, not find him.”
Laurie’s stomach roiled. “That’s disgusting. I’m going to be forty next year.”
“He’s probably had older. And yes, I hate it too. But you have to understand it’s not the same as looking for one of your Eden Prairie students. It’s more complicated and more dangerous.” A tic formed in his cheek, but his gaze was hollow with angry terror. “And if you ever go traipsing around in Frogtown again, so help me God… Laur, there are assholes in that neighborhood who would happily beat a gay white man senseless. Or dead.”
“I don’t care. Because they’d beat on Duon too.”
“They have beat on him. Multiple times.”
Tears pricked at Laurie’s eyes. “Have they done that again now?”
“There are no patients or bodies matching his description. No one in any hospital in the Twin Cities metro area, or even a suburb.” He rested hands on Laurie’s shoulders, his posture easing somewhat as he pressed their foreheads together. “Baby, you have to trust Vicky. And me.”
Laurie’s hands had found Ed’s hips of their own accord, and Laurie gripped them tightly, his anchor in all his pain and fear. “I hadn’t realized how much I cared about him until he disappeared. I should have taken more care of him. I should have…” He trailed off, unable to think of anything else he should have, or even could have done.
Ed pressed a long, tender kiss on Laurie’s forehead. Then he reached behind Laurie for the remote to the digital stereo. “Dance with me, sweetheart.”
“I can’t dance right now. I’m too jumbled inside.”
“That’s exactly why you need to dance.”
The opening strains to Jem’s “They” played over the studio speakers as Ed put their bodies into position. He wanted to tango? Laurie tried to protest again, but Ed ignored him, leading them into the first steps of the dance as the eerie, upbeat minor tune wafted around them.
Jem sang, over and over, that she was so sorry life was like this. It made Laurie angry, because he didn’t want apologies. He wanted action. He felt like an idiot, dancing while Duon was God knew where. He fought Ed, dragging, pushing, trying to trip him. But they’d danced together too long, and Ed met every challenge. The more Laurie tried to derail them, the more deftly Ed maneuvered Laurie into the dance.
Laurie didn’t realize he was crying until Ed spun him out and the room stayed blurry after his return to position. When he faltered, Ed eased him into an ocho and pressed a kiss on his ear. “It’s okay. Let everything out. It’s just you and me and the dance.”
Laurie didn’t want to let it out, but the dance wouldn’t let him to anything else. Stole the fight from him until all he had were his tears and the ache in his soul.
I’m sorry. So sorry…
The music shifted, but Jem’s song kept echoing in Laurie’s head. He didn’t know what he was sorry for—Duon’s situation, his helplessness, the fact that he had to watch his step in the city he lived in so random strangers didn’t beat him senseless, that in a few weeks his state might vote him less than human…
Yes, actually. He was sorry—devastated, demoralized, defeated—for all of that.
When Ed danced them into the office and locked the door, Laurie went boneless to the wall. Eyes shut, he floated in the strange, safe but sad place Ed had let him, moving his arms obediently as Ed undressed him between drugging kisses. He only surfaced when Ed hoisted him off his feet, clearly intending to fuck him against the back of the door.
“Your neck.” When Ed pursed his lips, his own sorrow showing, Laurie motioned to the filing cabinet. “Use that. It’s just the right height.”
It was a little low, and balancing on the edge of it wasn’t the same as being held boneless against a flat surface. But it was still hot and dangerous and wicked, and when they finished, Ed wasn’t rubbing his neck because he’d pushed himself too hard.
They kissed and touched each other as they dressed, held hands as they locked up the studio and headed to Ed’s car. Back at the loft, Ed made love to Laurie again in their bed, Laurie balanced astride him. Ed couldn’t manage a second orgasm, and Laurie’s was mostly a whimper, but when they curled together after, contentment and release bled away from their tangled bodies like snow on a sunny day.
“We’ll find him, Laurie.” Ed stroked Laurie’s naked back, lips pressed to Laurie’s hairline. “We’ll find him, and I’ll even let you scold him for scaring us if he tries to blow it off.”
Laurie wasn’t sure he’d have that in him. He kissed Ed’s clavicle and slid his arm tighter around his husband’s torso. “I want to get my car wrapped. With the vote no message, like yours.”
Ed’s hand paused. “Okay. But where’d that come from?”
Laurie wasn’t sure. Probably it had been dug up by the dance and washed out with the sex. “I can’t do anything to find Duon, but I can stop pretending that awful amendment doesn’t upset me.”
Ed squeezed him closer. “Fair enough. Except I think the next one is in Duluth, this weekend.”
“Then I guess we’re going to Duluth.”
Laurie fell asleep in Ed’s arms, but when he woke in the middle of the night, the bed was empty. From the kitchen, he heard the sound of pill bottles opening, then someone rooting around in the freezer.
When Ed returned to the bedroom, he saw Laurie awake and grimaced. “Sorry. We should probably give in and build some walls in this place so I don’t wake you up on my midnight pill runs.”
Laurie flicked this away with a wave of his hand. “Hush and get into bed.”
He curled up against Ed and his mountain of pillows and tried to go back to sleep. But as he drifted away, the song from the studio drifted back into his head again, a sad refrain he couldn’t shake.
I’m sorry. So sorry.
This contest has ended.