York set his bag down by the door, next to the rest of his camping gear, and his mountain bike. He had already changed the batteries in his GPS, checked all the seals on his OtterBoxes and verified he had all the adapters for his solar backpack. He dropped his storm-proof lighter into one of the pockets and looked around, making sure he didn’t forget anything. Satisfied with his packing, he cracked a beer and sank into the couch to wait for Milton to pick him up.
He stared at the TV, even though it was off. If he focused on that, maybe his eyes wouldn’t drift up to the pictures on the shelf above it. He couldn’t stop them, though. Haydn. Sweet, beautiful Haydn, with his black hair and grey eyes. He took a long pull off the beer and sighed, closing his eyes against the burn that threatened to spill into tears. He dropped his head onto the back of the couch and rubbed his chest. Thinking about Haydn always seemed to make his scar hurt, like it was new.
Two years ago. That’s when his life went to shit. When his world came crashing down around him in gunfire. This was the anniversary of Haydn’s death. That’s why his team wanted to take him camping. Get him out of the house. Away from the memories. Away from the ghost of his dead lover. Except he was never really gone.
“I miss you so much,” he said to the portrait over the TV, the grey eyes staring back at him. “I’m so sorry.” He let the tears fall and rubbed his scar again. He closed his eyes and let the memories crash over him.
“I’ll pump, you pay?” York asked Haydn, pulling into the convenience store parking lot.
“You got it. Want me to get you a drink while I’m in there?”
“Blue one. I know.” He smiled and leaned across the console to give him a quick kiss. “Be right back.”
York grabbed him around the back of the neck and kissed him again. “Better be. I’ll leave without you.”
They both smiled and got out of the car. York watched through the windows as Haydn said something to the cashier and nodded back at him. The pump reset, and he began filling the tank. He set the latch on the handle and went around the car to wash the windshield. When he looked back into the store, he saw Haydn in line, watching him. He smiled and waved the plastic bottle at York. The man in front of him finished, and he stepped up to pay. He smiled that million dollar smile at the sales woman, and York could tell from there that she was smiling and flirting with his lover.
Not a chance, lady. He’s mine. York grinned as he finished at the pump, thinking about the night he had planned. It was their second anniversary. He was going to take Haydn to dinner, and then to a hotel, with room service and a spa, and all the luxury he could afford on his meager salary. He dunked the squeegee into the water again and went to work on the back window. When he looked back for Haydn, his heart stopped.
Two men, dressed in black hoodies, stepped up behind Haydn and pulled out guns. One of the crooks aimed his gun at the cashier, and the other leveled his at Haydn’s head. York felt the wooden handle drop from his hand, then the splash of water as the sponge hit the blacktop.
“No!” he shouted, running for the doors. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. He felt like he was running through quicksand when he saw the man’s arm bounce up, and the spray of red before Haydn fell. The gunman looked out the window and pointed the gun at him. He looked at the face beyond the gun, and then he felt the burn. Looking down, he noticed the front of his shirt was wet. He stopped and put his hand to his chest and stared at his hand, dumbfounded by the flow of red pumping over his fingers. He heard sirens somewhere miles away, growing fainter, as the world turned grey, then black.
He woke up in the hospital, Ogilvie and Corny next to the narrow bed. There were uniformed officers all around, and Xander was talking to a man in a cheap sports coat. He lifted his hand, and Ogilvie grabbed it.
“Hey, buddy, how’re you feeling?” His dark eyes looked sad. “You had us scared shitless.”
York tried to look around, but he couldn’t see much from his vantage point. Xander and Sports Coat, who had a badge clipped to his belt, turned and approached his bed. When they parted, he saw Haydn’s shoes, sticking out from the end of sheet. He was laying on a gurney, and his face was covered.
“Haydn? Baby?” He called out, but there was no answer. He tried to get up, but Corny and Ogilvie held him down. “What are you doing? I’ve got to get to him. Help him! Why isn’t anybody helping him?”
“Nurse!” Xander shouted over his shoulder. He reached out to touch one of York’s legs, leaning over to block his view of Haydn.
“Xander! Move! Haydn!” He yelled again.
“Jesus, man. Calm the fuck down!” Corny shouted at him, shoving back against him as he struggled. “You’ve been shot. Fucking act like it!”
York looked up at Corny, and he felt a burning sensation in his other arm. He turned to see a nurse pulling a syringe out of the IV tube. “What?” He tried to look around, to get some fucking answers, but the world went dark again.
The funeral had been the worst. Fuck. Who was he kidding? Everything was the worst. Every next thing was worse than the last. The hospital. The rehab. The funeral, where Haydn’s parents refused acknowledge him, and the family that did looked at him with such disgust and hate, he could hardly bear it. Then the trial. The press. The sentencing. Every fucking day for two fucking years so far.
He stood, trying to get the sobs under control, and walked over to pick up Haydn’s picture. He tipped his bottle to it and finished it.
“Baby. I can’t believe it’s been two years. Fuck. Do you realize I’ve now been without you for as long as I was with you?” He sat down on the floor, cradling the picture. “I should have followed you. I should have been with you. I should still be with you.”
His cell phone rang, dragging him out of his thoughts.
“Hey, I’m pulling into the lot now. Need help with your gear?” Milton asked when he answered.
“Yeah, come on up.” He took a deep breath and wiped his face. He took one more look at Haydn and set the picture back in its place before opening the door to let Milton in. If the farm boy could tell he’d been crying, he didn’t show it. He just hefted the bike over his beefy shoulder and picked up York’s sleeping bag before nodding and heading back down the stairs to his truck.
York shouldered the backpack and took one last look at the picture. “Miss you, babe.”
He put his sunglasses on and left, locking the door behind him.