The simple stop at the pub for a pint and chance to warm up before making his way home grew into several hours as he and Gavan sipped dark, rich beer and slammed back whiskey shots. The game over the bar turned into a great contest and even though neither man admitted to being a fan of either team, they were soon rooting for both sides.
“God, it’s late and I’m fucking drunk.” Gavan mumbled at the half, glancing at his watch. It wasn’t that late, almost nine, but for how long he’d been gone it was late enough. “I should get home.”
“You shouldn’t drive like that.” Val assessed his own level of drunkenness and found himself still sober enough to manage the walk home.
“You are the most unobservant man I think I have ever met. Val, we’ve only been living in the same apartment building for two years. I’ve passed you on the street walking to and from the hospital. Where’s your head at?” Gavan fumbled with his wallet and paid both their tabs.
Val struggled with the idea that he had been so disconnected. “That building, it’s mostly businessmen and doctors, it’s not cheap.”
“No, it’s not.” Gavan tossed a friendly arm around Val’s shoulders and felt the half drunk man tense under the contact. “I’m on the eighth floor, you’re on the sixth. We’ve ridden the same elevator on occasion.”
He shrugged off the arm to pull his coat on and as an afterthought made sure Gavan had his coat on and button closed. The night would be even colder now, and he didn’t look forward to the last blocks home. “Huh. I’m sorry.” “Don’t be,” he tossed his arm back over the shoulders and leaned weight against the man. “You always look very serious, like you’re constipated or stuck in very, very deep thoughts.” He tried to manage to walk but the steps were staggering and he smiled a little as Val eased a helpful arm around his waist. “Come on, we’ll make it home and finish the game at my place.”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s a great game and I hate watching it alone.” He pulled Val along and shivered as the cold, icy night air stole their warmth. “Brrr, coffee, going to need coffee to thaw from all of this.”
The stumbled together out onto the sidewalk and Val turned them toward their apparently shared apartment building. He wasn’t sold on the idea of finishing the game with Gavan, as much fun as it was to watch with another fan. The day had been long, he was now warmly drunk and in no mood to deal with someone’s mentally handicapped cousin. Not after the string of mentally disturbed patients he’d had today. That had been a lesson he’d learned while still working on his master’s, there was only so much a man could take before he had to take time to decompress.
“I mean, come on.” Gavan was muttering. “He knew about Trist from the day we met. He knew I had obligations.” The word obligations slurred its way out and Gavan didn’t care. “It’s not fair, it’s really not. I dated him even though he’s named Wally, I mean Wally, have you ever tried to scream the name Wally as you come? It’s absurd.”
“Can’t say as I have.” Val wasn’t sure if he should laugh or frown and wasn’t drunk or sober enough for either reaction.
“It’s impossible, I’ll tell you that. God, but he’s so nice, so sweet. I really wanted him to stick around, I like him. I’m such a damned fool, I should have known better.”
“It’s not easy for people who don’t have to deal with a challenging loved one to understand. If this Wally doesn’t understand, you’ll eventually find someone who can.”
“You’re such a good listener. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be whining, I knew this was going to happen, I knew it.” He knew he was indulging in pity but the cold night dragged it out of him.
“It’s okay, it’s sort of what I do.”
“Oh I’m such an ass, I totally forgot you’re a shrink. I bet you get really sick of hearing everyone bitch and moan all the time.” His foot landed on an icy patch and he skidded slightly.
Val balanced them out easily. “I’m not a shrink, I’m just a psychologist, not a psychiatrist. Come on, almost home.” The door man nodded to them both and held the lobby door for them. “Do you have your keys?”
It took a little fishing around pockets but Gavan produced a set of keys with a smiley face key chain hanging on them. When the elevator doors opened, they piled in and Gavan noticed something was missing.
“Hey, don’t you normally have a whole satchel full of work with you?” That was his image of the handsome, distant neighbor. Val standing in dress slacks, button down shirt and tie, his hair always perfectly trimmed to a short length in the back and long enough to run fingers through in the front. The soft brown wasn’t an extraordinary color but it always looked glossy and shiny. Only, every time he’d seen the man, he’d had a heavy satchel over one shoulder and normally was reading some file or paperwork while the elevator carried them up or down.
Val nodded. “I’ve two weeks off for my wedding and honeymoon. Happy vacation to me.”
“Man, that blows. I’m sorry.”
“I could use the time off.” The elevator dinged and the doors opened on the eighth floor that looked just like the hallway on Val’s own sixth floor.
Gavan pushed himself away from the wall and managed to make it on his own power out of the elevator and down the hall. Val followed simply because it was a nice place and it wouldn’t look good to have Gavan pass out in the hallway and be found the next morning in a pool of his own vomit. They stopped in front of apartment 858 and Gavan got his keys in the lock and the door open. The space inside was larger than Val’s, at least a two, no, he figured a three bedroom. The living space was large and open, the wide kitchen was finished with marble counter tops and copper pots hung from a rack on the wall. The living room had fluffy, expensive sofas and a large screen television sat in the center around expensive surround sound speakers. It wasn’t the bachelor pad he’d expected from two single men.
“Nice place.” Val nodded. The colors were finished in warm tones. Soft toasted tans, warm deep brick reds, it was oddly soothing like watching a sun set over the Arizona desert.
“Thanks, Trist did it, I can’t match my socks to my pants most days.” Gavan grinned, snatching up a remote and flipping the on the game.
Both men stood entranced as one of the impossibly tall players sunk a three shot point from several feet behind the line. Both men let out little groans of delight at such an amazing shot.
“This is a great set up.” Val admired as the tv fans cheered around him.
“Thanks, that’s my doing. Coffee?” He was going to need several cups just to chase the dampness from his bones.
“No, thank you, I should go.”
Gavan’s face fell and he turned from where he was filling the coffee maker with grinds. “Aw come on.”
“No, really, I’m not going to be much company tonight.”
“All the more reason to stay.”
Val opened his mouth to protest again, knowing that he’d been using distraction all day to keep from thinking about his sister and knowing he needed some time to think about her. Before he could get another world out, one of the doors opened and slammed against he wall.
“What the fuck is going on out here?”
Val’s mouth stayed open as a slender, obviously angry man joined them in the living room. He snapped it shut and glanced to Gavan and back again at the livid man as the new arrival snatched up the remote and turned the cheering basketball game off.
“Hey, Trist, did you eat dinner?” Gavan managed without slurring his words.
“Are you fucking drunk? You are!” A long fingered hand rose to rub at his temples before his eyes fell onto Val. “And who the fuck are you and why are you drunk to?”
It was the eyes. Val had seen patients so lost to their own inner psychoses, worked with people that had butchered family members without remorse because of their illnesses. He’d seen madness, violent, almost evil dissertations of humanity and never once had he looked away. Now, in the comfortable living room, he looked away. He couldn’t hold those eyes, brilliant, clear green circled with a ring of brown so dark as to appear black. The thin band of black around the outer edge of the iris locked and controlled any stare, sucked in all contact to the too clear green like a bulls eye.
“Don’t get your panties in a bunch, Trist, this if Val, he works at the hospital with me.” Gavan kept making coffee.
“I fucking know that, what are you two doing here and drunk?” He spat the words out.
“I should really go.” Val took a step toward the door.
“Hang on Val, this is my cousin, Tristram, Trist, behave.”
“Nice to meet you.” Val nodded his head. The two looked more like brothers than cousins. The stable, ordinary balance in Gavan was sharpened to handsome lines in Trist. Like the green based hazel eyes of Gavan that were so similar but so exotically different on Trist, it was all that way. They had the same, nose, the same shape to their mouths but Trist’s cheekbones were sharper, the point of his chin more obvious and Val figured a lot of that was how much skinnier Trist was from Gavan. There was a look to the cousin that Val had seen in anorexic patients, a look of long term starvation.
They had the same dark brown, almost black hair, Gavan’s cut short but Trist’s was long and braided tightly into a single plait. They both had the same fair skin, Gavan’s ruddy now from the drinking and cold walk home and Trist’s flushed from anger. Neither man was as tall as Val, he judged them against his six feet and figured they were maybe five nine or ten. All and all, Trist wasn’t what Val had been expecting.
The skinny cousin shook his head. “Not quite the drooling retarded gimp you were expecting, huh?”
Val pulled his professionalism around him the same way he wore his coat and barely blinked at the angrily spat words. It was Gavan that pushed past him, no longer swaying in drunken numbness. He reached out and caught his cousin’s face between his hands.
“Trist!” He snapped. “Behave!”
“Fuck you!” He nearly shouted back and writhed against the hands holding him but made no move toward physical violence.
Gavan lowered his voice, drew a slow breath. “Come on, Trist, settle down. It’s okay.”
Trist shivered and his eyes clenched shut but the angry tension melted from his lean frame. This time when he pulled away, Gavan let him go but he followed as his cousin hurried to the kitchen. He managed to reach the sink before his stomach turned inside out.
Gavan stood beside him, holding the braid out of the way and rubbing his cousin’s back. “Guess you ate dinner, huh? Easy there, easy now.”
Trist hung over the sink a moment to make sure his stomach was going to behave before he reached to turn the tap on and rinse the sink and his mouth clean. “Ugh, sorry, I…” Val heard the weak whispering. “You’re too drunk and he’s too angry. I can’t…”
Gavan reached over and pulled a paper towel from the rack and wiped his cousin’s mouth. “I’m sorry.”
Trist shook his head, his odd eyes sliding to where Val still stood but the man looked neither horrified or angry. “I’ve a client tonight. At nine thirty, you have to leave, both of you. You’re too loud, I can’t have you here.”
“You didn’t have anyone scheduled.”
Trist shook his head and leaned against the cool marble of the counter. “No, they called a couple of hours ago.” He was rubbing at his temples again.
Gavan put a hand on the back of his cousin’s neck and placed a quick kiss on the tense forehead. “It’s cool, no worries. You just take care and I’ll be back in a couple of hours. Okay?”
Trist was nodding but unable to move from where he was leaning.
Gavan scooped his keys up and went to push Val out the apartment door. “Wash your mouth too, you smell like puke.”
Val let himself be guided from the apartment, not protesting and not understanding.
“Blow me!” Trist tossed after them and Val saw how it made Gavan smile but before the nurse could shut the door the voice echoed after them with less malice. “Hey, Gavan?”
“Yeah?” He stuck his head back inside.
“I’m sorry about Wally.” The words were laced with regret.
Gavan ducked his head. “Thanks.” And pulled the door shut, leaving him alone in the hallway with an obviously overwhelmed Val. He forced a smile and clapped Val on the arm. “Sorry about that, didn’t know he had a client, mind if we finish the game at your place? I really don’t want to stagger back to the bar in this cold.”
Intrigued as much as he was confused, Val found himself nodding. “Sure, the place is a wreck but sure.” There was no way he was going to let Gavan off without explaining.