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Chapter Twenty-Six – The Tin Man Who Didn’t Want A Heart

It was a great thing he had Taz now, as he had a reason to go out of the house, and also to go jogging. Getting back to playing sports with buddies was not yet on his list of priorities, as he was still trying to get his life in order, and adjust to the post-Aron era, as he had come to call his life now.

Taz was a great jogging partner. Adjustments to the shoebox, as he called his home now, had to be made, and the cabinets now held dog foods from various brands which Carter wanted to try to see what Taz liked best. Apparently, his puppy was not pretentious at all, and, if there was anything he needed to worry about, as the human in charge, was the risk of making Taz overweight.

So running every day in the park had to do. He had gone back to his freelancing gigs, and everything was looking up. There was one thing to take care of, and that was to give Aron the money back, for the hospital bills and everything else.

Only that Aron hadn’t called yet, and Carter had to respect his best friend’s choice and not be the one to call again. It had been three days, but who was counting?

“Do you know how to count, Taz?” he asked his dog.

Taz just barked as a reply. That could mean anything. He was busy petting his dog on the head, so he didn’t notice someone coming from the opposite direction. For one second, he balanced on both feet but somehow managed to remain standing. The other guy wasn’t so lucky, and he was now struggling to get up, while rubbing his behind.

Carter hurried to offer the guy a hand and felt his jaw beginning to drop when he saw who it was.

“Simon,” he said without thinking.

Wearing a sporty getup that left little to the imagination, and complemented the guy’s slim figure, Simon was right there, in flesh and blood.

“Do I know you?” Simon smiled and took Carter’s hand to bring himself up.

“Oh, no, I don’t think so,” Carter said quickly. “I just mistook you for someone else.”

“Someone else named Simon?” the guy asked, still holding Carter’s hand.

“Yes.”

Okay, okay, he had to make a habit of thinking before talking.

“That is so uncanny!” Simon exclaimed and his mouth stretched into a large smile. “My name is also Simon,” he explained.

“Ah, that is, indeed, uncanny,” Carter shook his head and tried to pry his hand away from Simon’s now.

“What’s your name?” the guy let go, albeit a tad reluctant.

“Ahem, it’s Carter,” he said after a short moment of hesitation.

“Nice meeting you, Carter,” Simon smiled again. “Do you run here often?”

“No, I just took up the habit lately. And the dog,” he gestured towards Taz.

The dog had assumed a good pet position, and his tongue was hanging out.

“Well, see you around, then, Carter,” Simon winked at him, giving him a short once over and began jogging away.

He winked. Why did he wink?

Do you think he likes us?

Why? What makes you say that?

The wink.

No, that was just totally random.

Well, that’s what you get for bumping into people.

Why do you mean by that?

I mean complications. You’re an expert in that.

Ugh, shut up. It was just a small … incident.

Yeah, and he winked.

Just stop it already.

Carter shook his head, and began running, as well, but he didn’t take two steps that his phone started ringing. He was so fast to answer it that he almost dropped it.

“Hey, Aron, hi,” he said breathlessly.

“Hey, buddy, how are you?”

“Just trying to get back in shape, running and stuff,” he replied.

And bumping into your husband’s lover.

“That’s great to hear. Hey, what do you say about hanging out tonight? For drinks?”

“Great!” he exclaimed.

Oh, damn, he must have sounded desperate.

“Ah, wait, there’s something,” he added, looking at Taz.

How was he going to get a dog-sitter until tonight? It was unlikely that he could book someone so fast. Also, the idea of leaving Taz alone … He still cared for his ugly curtains and he had never left Taz alone before. Three days were too short a time to decide whether his dog was all right with being on his own.

“Yes?” Aron encouraged him to speak from the other end.

“Can we go somewhere where they accept dogs?” he asked.

“Yeah, sure, I suppose. But why?” Aron questioned. “Do you have a dog? But when …”

“Yeah, I have a dog,” Carter said brightly. “His name is Taz.”

“Ah, just like the dog you wanted to have when we were kids, right? Funny thing,” Aron said.

“What is?” Carter asked.

“Alex’s former assistant has a dog named Taz. I just happened to hear about the guy’s pet one day, when I was at Alex’s workplace to take him out.”

Okay, he could do this, he could do this.

Try hard not to remember what happened later that night … Aron is married.

To the wrong person.

Delusional much?

“Former assistant?” his words came out unnaturally bold.

“Yes. The guy just dropped off, just like that. It casino şirketleri was quite strange as he seemed to get along with Alex like a charm. Which was a bit of a surprise since … Well, you decide the place and let me know,” Aron seemed to have just noticed he had a bit of a loose tongue, too.

Well, they had used to tell each other everything, and that kind of habit did die hard.

Except for a little detail, like the fact that he liked men. How could he keep that away from us?

“Yeah, sure, and I also want to sort out the money thing, too,” Carter spoke.

“Don’t worry about it,” Aron cut him short. “The least I could do for you. After all these years as friends.”

C’mon, c’mon, don’t get emotional, man, don’t …

“Thanks a lot, man,” Carter mumbled. “For everything.”

Aron could not know what that meant. Was he ever to know? Carter had to admit, all stupid hopes aside, that even without Alex, Aron could do much better than him, a homophobic ex-friend who …

“No sweat, buddy. I’m so glad you called. I was going to call you anyway, after letting you cool down a little, but it was nice coming from you.”

“You were? But why?”

“I told you. I will always be your friend.”

Nothing was supposed to make him happier. What would Aron think if he blurted out, out of the blue, that he wanted something else? Something more?

“I … want us to be friends again, too,” he spoke, trying hard to ignore the knot in his throat.

“Missed you, buddy,” Aron said, his voice serious. “I won’t let you this time around. Two years … That’s enough time, don’t you think?”

“Yeah,” Carter spoke softly. “It is.”

Like a hole in his life, in the fabric of time, and somewhere deep inside his soul, all in one. And, by contrast, the several days spent with Aron, as his husband, had been the total opposite. Only that Aron could never know, and was still in love with that douchebag, and after all the effort of keeping the two together, it seemed as if he was insane to try considering breaking them up now.

But he needed to. Somehow. Without making Aron think he was still a homophobic piece of shit and just trying to slander Alex’s reputation.

“Carter? Still there?” Aron called for him playfully.

“Yes, I’ll send a message with the place,” he spoke.

“Good. And let me know again sometime where you go when you go away like this. You used to tell me all the time.”

Aron remembered. The imaginary tales he had told as a kid, even into their late teens, with only Aron as his audience. Of places that never were, populated by creatures that could have never existed.

Aron was right. He was the only one who understood him completely. But now, he needed to keep hidden from his best friend the only thing Aron could not know. Because, simply put, he was coming too late to this party. Aron’s teenage crush had faded away, the man’s affection maturing in what he was feeling now for his husband, not a trace of that childish sentiment left. And to some extent, he understood why Aron was putting up with Alex. Aron had had the image of the perfect marriage in front of him all his life, in his parents. He could not just let go of Alex unless he really found out about the cheating.

And Carter could not just tell him, without proof. And even with proof, he was afraid that Aron was just going to think wrong of him and not believe a word. After something like that, the guy was just going to trust his husband blindly.

“I’m getting used to your silence again. I assume this is a good sign,” Aron joked, waking him up from his reverie.

“Ah, sorry, just … Let’s just meet, I can barely wait to really catch up this time,” Carter came back to his senses.

Just seeing Aron was going to be good. And he had to think of a way to prove Alex’s cheating, and free Aron from that poisonous marriage. It wasn’t going to be easy. Especially with Alex all aware of what Carter knew.

***

He could not just believe his eyes. Preferring to get busy with the glass, he tried to focus on some joke Aron was saying. Why on earth was Alex there, too?

Apparently, Aron was really bent on making all three of them friends, and it was painful to fake being friendly towards that snake. Especially since Alex was nonchalantly exposing a totally different personality right now.

Anyone who didn’t know the guy could swear he was the kindest, most considerate husband in the universe at the moment. Laughing at his husband’s jokes, leaning against Aron and touching him lightly, in a very domestic and affectionate manner, maybe a little too often, Alex seemed indeed able to play the marriage bliss part like it was his biggest role.

“Another round, guys?” Aron gestured toward the table and got to his feet. “I’ll go get the drinks from the bar, getting the waiter’s attention seems a bit too much right now.”

“Just water for me, honey,” Alex called sweetly.

Carter could see himself lunging over the table and strangling the asshole. So that was how he was ensnaring Aron! Fuck. This was going to be hard. casino firmaları He could not strangle Alex and then say his hands slipped or something.

“What are you doing here?” he hissed, the moment Aron was out of earshot.

Alex’s sweet facade vanished in thin air. His green eyes narrowed.

“What do you think? That I’ll let you waltz into Aron’s life and steal him away from me? No way.”

“And do you think I’ll let you ruin his life? You don’t love him!” Carter pointed out.

“Maybe, but as I told you, he’s mine,” Alex shrugged. “So if I have to keep him happy for a while until he forgets all about you, so be it.”

“Forget about me? Hello. I’m his best friend,” Carter replied.

“Not you, as how you are now, silly,” Alex grimaced. “All the things you did with him while I was away, I need to undo them carefully. And that means that I need to show him the real version of his husband that could make him happy. Hence my presence here. As a loving husband, I need to support my man in his efforts to get back with his old friend. But really? What’s with all the dogs outside on the patio?”

“It’s a pet-friendly bar,” Carter exclaimed.

“And? You’re Aron’s pet now?” Alex snorted.

“No,” Carter scowled. “My dog is outside.”

“You have a dog?” Alex wondered out loud, like the simple fact that Carter owned a pet was somehow ludicrous.

“Yeah. I couldn’t leave him alone,” Carter explained.

“Whatever, enough about your pet,” Alex waved. “Now tell me, what’s all that stuff about some David guy? Aron is over the moon that I made some big impression on this David.”

“Not telling,” Carter said with satisfaction.

Alex mumbled something under his breath.

“Fine. I’m willing to negotiate. What would it take for you to tell me about David?”

“Stop cheating,” Carter said simply.

Alex seemed to ponder the possibility for about half a second.

“No, too much.”

“Too much?” Carter exclaimed. “Stop being a cheater, for fuck’s sake! Aron doesn’t deserve this from you!”

“Have you been with other guys? Besides Aron?” Alex ignored completely Carter’s reply and continued on a different thread.

“What kind of question is that? Of course not!” Carter ground his teeth so hard his jaw was starting to hurt.

“Then you should start. What do you find so amazing in Aron, anyway? Okay, so he’s good looking. Big deal. A lot of guys are.”

“In the fashion magazine life you’re living,” Carter pointed out.

Alex scrunched his nose.

“He doesn’t have that great a personality. Kind of boring,” he continued. “Too serious. We never go to enough parties.”

“Well, that’s an up point for me,” Carter replied.

“Of course. You’re as boring as he is. No wonder you two make such a good pair.”

A good pair? What the hell was Alex talking about? He was about to ask when Aron placed their drinks on the table. Ah, damn, he could not really talk to Aron, if that scumbag Alex was going to tag along all the time.

He spent the rest of the evening in a daze, and felt guilty for it, too. It was clear as day that Aron was trying really hard to make this work. But it was the strangest love triangle in the universe that could exist and Aron was the only one not aware of it. And that made it really hard for him to focus.

***

All the more reason to be happy when Aron began coming by his place, but alone. At least, Alex was busy enough with his fashion career to let Aron off the hook once in a while.

“So, we have plenty to catch up, right?” Aron placed one hand casually on Carter’s knee.

“Yeah, two years,” Carter mumbled.

It was so hard to focus when Aron was touching him, even though it was not one ounce sexual. Just the heat of the guy’s hand through the fabric was making him feel a small tremble in all his body.

And the way Aron smiled. He could just stare at his best friend like that all day, even without talking to each other. But Aron had no idea about what was going through his mind. He couldn’t have.

“I hope you didn’t mind about me bringing Alex along when we met at the bar.”

“No problem,” Carter lied through his teeth. “How come he’s not with you now?”

“Alex gets bored easily, and since we weren’t going to a bar, he decided not to tag along this time. Also, I think Taz gave him quite a scare. Alex is not used to dogs, and has this irrational fear of them.”

“Hmm,” Carter barely managed.

“I really do want to know what you have been up to, all this time,” Aron squeezed his knee.

Carter’s leg shook, taking both him and Aron by surprise. It was apparently a knee-jerk reaction. Or he needed to have a serious talk with his leg.

“I understand that you still have muscle cramps from time to time,” Aron spoke. “The doctor told me. Sorry, I don’t mean to pry, but how are you feeling?”

“No sweat,” Carter waved. “Yeah, I still have some annoying muscle cramps, especially in this shoulder,” he rotated the culprit with a small grimace.

“Here, let me help,” Aron grabbed him by the shoulders and güvenilir casino turned Carter with his back to him. “Do you recall how I always put you back on your feet after a game?”

“How could I not?” Carter groaned in pure delight, as Aron’s expert fingers began working the knots in his shoulder blades, while inadvertently blowing hot air over Carter’s neck.

Except that those times Carter hadn’t felt aroused. Short and swiftly, he grabbed a pillow and placed it over his groin, hoping Aron wasn’t going to notice. All right, so he was a bit insane. Aron could just breathe in his direction and he was ready to …

“Is it hurting that much?” Aron asked, his voice a tad worried.

Apparently, he was making some weird sounds. From his dog bed, Taz was watching him intently, too.

“C’mon, guys, I’m not a cripple,” he joked, freeing himself from Aron’s skilled hands.

“Guys?” Aron asked. “Ah, look who’s awake,” he called for Taz who happily jumped from his place and hurried toward Aron.

Could someone be jealous of a dog? Aron was talking to Taz now, caressing his fur. Nah, he couldn’t be. Taz was a sweetheart. Of course Aron liked him, too.

“I haven’t done anything interesting these two years,” he found himself talking.

Aron was used to him picking up conversations five questions back, so he didn’t comment on the abrupt statement.

“I guess your life has been much more interesting,” Carter tried to smile.

Like you got married to an asshole and got silvers in your hair to go along with that, he thought to himself.

“Well, I guess,” Aron shrugged. “I did get married, but I guess we both know you’re not a fan of that particular event,” he chuckled.

“For what is worth, I’m sorry, Aron,” he said.

We are? We were practically right. Alex is a hoe.

C’mon, stop with the denial. Alex didn’t make Aron gay.

We did.

Again with the delusions, you really are something. That was just …

Why don’t you ask him?

Are you nuts?

“Hey, it’s all in the past,” Aron smiled at him. “But if you’re sorry, that really means a lot to me. Anyway, my life hasn’t been that exciting, either. Being married is …”

Aron was hesitating. His smile was faltering a bit, too.

Aron needs a friend.

David’s words from that time were coming back to him now.

“Hey, you can tell me anything,” he invited his friend to speak. “Not that I know anything about being married.”

Hmm.

“Or being gay.”

Really?

“I guess,” Aron shook his head and smiled again.

“Is Alex still going at it that I pushed him? He seemed civil the last time we met.”

And a borderline sociopath.

Aron’s face clouded.

“Alex has … some issues with trust. He grew up in a very toxic environment.”

In which he thrived like a carnivorous plant.

Unaware of the imaginary conversation in his best friend’s mind, Aron continued.

“He sometimes lies to himself, that he is a victim. Of circumstances, of other people …”

“Did you know that about him when you asked him to marry you?”

And that he’s a complete basket case?

Aron exhaled.

“No, I cannot say that I did. But he is really a wonderful person,” he spoke, but to Carter, the words rang hollow, as if Aron was trying to convince himself that Alex was, indeed, just misunderstood. “Except for these obsessions and some … let’s say, erratic episodes, he is … perfect. Everything I want.”

He’s just a bastard, great at reading people so that he can manipulate them.

“But what’s wrong with him? I mean, is he seeking treatment?” Carter tried to choose his words carefully.

“He is considering now, after the accident. But somehow I feel like he just tries to draw attention on himself with this. I think he believes it’s fashionable to see a therapist. Oh, damn, you must be thinking I’m a horrible husband, standing here, and gossiping about my husband with my best friend.”

“Not at all,” Carter said as naturally as he could.

“I cannot admit such a thing in front of my parents for the world. For once because I know they were against my marriage to Alex, and I feel ashamed now for some harsh things I told them back then.”

“You can talk to your parents. I’m sure they love you just the same,” Carter spoke.

Even if you are married to a douchebag.

“Yeah, I’m sure they do, but that doesn’t make me less of a prick. I took responsibility with that vow, you know? I cannot just ditch Alex now because he has problems, and it’s not all milk and honey. I need to understand him.”

“Does he understand you?”

You’re on fire!

Thank you! See, I’m totally fine!

“I hope he does,” Aron chuckled with mirth. “You know I can be difficult, too.”

“Difficult? Like how?” Carter asked.

Aron waved.

“Relationships can be difficult. Marriage can be difficult. And maybe my parents were right that I rushed into it, but this doesn’t mean that I’m not going to do my best to make it work.”

“Alex is beautiful,” Carter pointed out.

Aron smiled and shook his head.

“That’s hardly the point. I know you might not believe me, but it wasn’t because of his physical appearance that I liked him, the first time we met.”

“Then what was?” Carter asked.

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