This is the last chapter of Embracing the Tension. I thought about breaking it up into two smaller chapters, but I figured I’ve tortured you guys enough already!
Thanks for sticking with me through this very long journey and I hope the ending lives up to its promise!
Copyright © 2018 by Hudson Bartholomew. All rights reserved. This story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Embracing the Tension – Chapter 10
The three weeks between New Year’s and Amanda’s wedding in San Francisco were the most difficult three weeks of his life. Bodily, he was in New York, but his mind and his heart were in Toronto, and he felt like he was living in some strange limbo state that he couldn’t wake up from. He forced himself to go through the motions of life, accepted invitations to dinners and parties, drinking too much, and always coming home to crawl into bed wearing the soft red t-shirt he’d stolen from Ryan and that still held Ryan’s scent.
The first thing he did every morning was wait until the clock ticked seven a.m. to give Ryan his wake-up call. It usually consisted of him chatting away while Ryan grumbled into the phone.
Work was probably the only thing that seemed to be looking up. The meetings he had were productive, people who had promised to get back to him were getting back to him, and things were moving forward. The script to one project had been finalized, and a director for another project had signed his contract. He was actively negotiating terms of funding with a couple of production houses. And yet, that all felt empty. Like he was just going through the motions with no real interest or stake in the outcome.
Getting on the plane to San Francisco was the first thing he had actually wanted to do in the three weeks since he’d been back in New York. And he knew that the short weekend away wasn’t going to be enough to satiate his need for Ryan.
Erik walked out of the secured area and immediately spotted Ryan waiting for him, arms crossed, eyes intent, with bags at his feet. It was like he had some homing beacon that Erik’s eyes latched onto and sought out even in the crowded airport. The lopsided grin graced Ryan’s lips as Erik approached. It felt like every other time he landed in Toronto and Ryan was there to pick him up.
He stopped a foot away from Ryan and they just smiled at each other like crazy fools, letting themselves adjust to being in the same space again. Then he leaned down and gave Ryan a quick peck on the lips. The way Ryan swayed forward into the kiss made Erik want to deepen it, to pull Ryan into his arms and ravage his mouth. But he satisfied himself with a second, more lingering peck.
“Car-rental shuttle is this way.” Ryan nodded toward the exit, and Erik followed him out the door, openly ogling his boyfriend’s ass and counting down the minutes until he could reacquaint himself with it.
The drive to their hotel was pure torture. Being close enough to touch but not able to hold and lean in was the worst tease Erik had ever had to suffer through. And then the guy at the front desk had trouble finding their reservation, leaving them standing in the lobby for what felt like hours before they finally got their key and made it into their room.
They tumbled onto the bed in their room, but instead of ripping off each other’s clothes, they snuggled down into the pillows and just held each other.
“I missed you,” Erik whispered. He didn’t need to speak loudly, they were too intimate for full volume.
“I missed you, too.” Ryan’s hands had found their way under Erik’s shirt, his palms hot against Erik’s skin.
“Three weeks feels like too long to be apart.”
Ryan grunted. What had Erik expected him to say to that? They both knew of a solution to that problem and Ryan’s stance on that was clear. Erik was the one keeping them apart—and for what? Some over-inflated sense of self.
The idea of moving to Toronto had taken up residence in his brain, lingering in the background, taunting him whenever he felt lonely or sad in his tiny New York apartment. But he had gotten so used to objecting to it that to give in now felt like admitting defeat. And wasn’t that exactly the problem Ryan had identified? Erik’s goddamn pride getting in the way of their future.
Erik turned his face to Ryan’s neck, needing to distract himself from his thoughts. He licked a path up toward the earlobe he loved. Ryan shuddered underneath him. He shifted them around so that he was on top of Ryan, hips grinding together as the rush of desire flowed through his veins.
He needed to reassure himself of Ryan’s presence, of their connection, and it must have shown in the frantic way he tore at Ryan’s clothes, the hardness of the kiss he planted on Ryan’s lips. Ryan grunted and pressed his hands against Erik’s shoulders, pushing him back. Propped up on his elbows, Erik bahis firmaları gazed down at the man he loved and saw confusion and concern on Ryan’s face.
“Are you okay?” Ryan asked.
“Yeah,” Erik said, though his voice shook as he said it. “I’m fine. Did you not want to…”
Ryan regarded him with skepticism and it took everything Erik had to keep his shit together. “I don’t think you’re okay.”
Erik tried to hang on to his façade, but it didn’t work. He rolled off Ryan and onto his back, arm covering his eyes.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Ryan pulled his arm down, leaving him with nothing to hide behind.
“Nothing.” Erik shook his head unconvincingly, his eyes shut tight. “It’s just… three weeks feels like a long time.”
He felt the heat of Ryan’s gaze on his face, but didn’t expect to feel Ryan’s soft lips at the edge of his mouth and along his jaw.
“You know I don’t like using sex as a means to some other end,” Ryan whispered as he kissed his way down Erik’s neck. Straddling his thighs, Ryan pushed his shirt up and kissed down the middle of his chest. “I don’t like hiding behind sex; it’s not some sort of escape route for me.”
Erik knew all of this, felt ashamed for trying to use sex to distract himself from their problems. But then, here was Ryan, undoing his belt and unzipping his jeans.
“But sometimes, I wonder if I’ve become a prude. Compensating for all those years of porn by swinging far in the other direction.” Ryan’s breath was hot against the growing bulge of Erik’s cock. Ryan pulled the waistband of his brief down far enough to hook under his balls.
“Maybe using sex as a distraction isn’t bad all the time.” Ryan licked his cock from the base to the tip. “Sometimes, when we’re too in our heads, sex is exactly what we need to stop thinking so much.”
Ryan’s lips closed around his cock and Erik gasped at the sight of Ryan’s lips stretched thin. The head bumped up against the top of Ryan’s mouth and the pressure held as it slid farther back to Ryan’s throat. Spittle ran down the sides of his dick and Ryan used the wetness to pump the back of his cock in a tight, excruciatingly pleasurable grip.
Ryan’s eyes watered, and he gagged for a second, then Erik felt his cock slip into Ryan’s throat.
“Jesus Christ.” Erik gripped the bedding under his hands and forced himself not to move his hips. He kept his eyes glued to where Ryan went to work on his cock: one hand at the base and the other on his balls, Ryan’s tongue was magic where it teased at the head.
Soon, Erik felt that rising wave start from deep in his gut. His balls retracted and every muscle in his body tensed.
“I’m coming,” he warned. Ryan doubled down on his efforts, increasing the suction until Erik was sure his entire being would get sucked through his piss slit. When his climax hit, it felt like his whole being had been thrown into the orgasm. He let go of everything he held onto so tightly—all the worries about their future, his need to succeed in life—and just let himself be catapulted into the heights of pleasure.
Floating down from there was warm and pleasant. Ryan’s arms around him, Ryan’s beard against his temple. He felt safe and happy in a way he had never found in another place in the world.
The thoughts that had plagued him earlier were still there, but they were muted—Ryan had done that. He would get back to them later; for now, he would just be present in the space Ryan created for them.
A small group of Amanda’s and Mitch’s friends and family were scattered around the beautifully appointed suburban house that belonged to one of Mitch’s aunts. It had been a chance for the happy couple to mix and mingle with those who had traveled to San Francisco for the wedding, and they had been dutifully making their rounds all evening.
Erik watched them, the way they beamed at each other as if the love they had could not be contained. He was happy for them, delighted even. But the longer he watched them, the more annoyed he grew. He knew it wasn’t them—it was himself. He could so easily see him and Ryan in the exact same position as Amanda and Mitch: happy, smiling, showing all their friends and family just how wonderful they were together.
But that wasn’t going to happen. At least not any time soon. And that understanding ate away at Erik until the cavernous living room he was in shrank into a suffocatingly small cave.
He made his excuses to some uncle of Amanda’s and ducked out into the back yard where the cool, winter air cleared away that stifling, muffled feeling. He probably should have grabbed a jacket, but after the few weeks of real winter in Toronto, this felt more like spring.
He last saw Ryan sitting on the couch, engrossed in some deep debate with one of Mitch’s friends. There had been a furrow in his brow, and his hand lingering on his chin in thought. One finger brushed back and forth along his lips, almost as if he was reminding Erik of how good those lips tasted.
Erik felt a mix of emotions whenever he was in kaçak iddaa the same room as Ryan—comfort, joy, excitement and pleasure, but also an increasing worry that there was a countdown clock somewhere, ticking away the hours and days until their long-distance relationship could no longer sustain the distance. It was ridiculous, Erik knew. There was no stupid clock, and he saw no reason why their current setup couldn’t continue for a good while yet. And yet, he could hear the subtle tick, tick, tick at the back of his head.
The glass door slid open, and Erik was surprised to see Amanda slip outside with a tired smile.
“Hey, Erik. It’s getting a little stuffy in there, isn’t it?” She slid the door shut behind her with a satisfying thump and dropped into one of the patio chairs. “Ugh, this feels better.”
Erik took the opposite chair. “Are you tired of talking to people? I never would have guessed.” He teased, remembering Amanda’s outgoing and bubbly personality.
“Honestly, it feels like I’ve been making small talk for six months straight. It’s like I started when we were back in New York, and it’s not going to end for another couple of days yet. I love people, I do. But even I have my limits.”
Erik laughed at the way Amanda rolled her eyes and leaned her head on the back of the chair.
“You look happy, though.”
Amanda smiled, weary but genuine. “I am. We are. I can’t wait for this whole wedding thing to be over so we can just be together. I mean, weddings are fun, and I’m so happy that so many of our family and friends were able to come celebrate with us and all that, but I just want to be married, you know? I just want to be husband and wife and start our life together. Sometimes I wonder why we bothered with this whole show.”
Erik could understand that: the desire to just be with someone. No fanfare or spectacle, just an intimate commitment to one another to be together and then actually be together.
“But enough about me. I feel like I’ve been talking about me for forever. How are you? How are you and Ryan?” Amanda sat up in her seat and turned toward him, suddenly energized and eyes bright.
Erik chuckled, not sure how to answer the question. “We’re fine, I guess?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” She reached over and smacked him on the shoulder.
“Nothing!” Erik pretended to fend off her attack. “We’re fine. We are.”
Amanda clearly wasn’t going to let this go, so Erik figured it couldn’t hurt to use her as a sounding board for his dilemma. After all, she probably knew Ryan better than anyone outside Ryan’s family.
“It’s this long-distance thing… it’s a thing?” He winced at his inability to explain, but it seemed as if Amanda didn’t need any explaining.
“Ugh, long distance is the worst!” She rolled her eyes dramatically and flopped back into her chair. “I’ve been in long-distance relationships a few times before. It’s sucks so hard. How often do you guys get to see each other?”
Once he thought about it, it seems like they saw each other quite often considering how far apart they were. “It’s not really about that. It seems to be working fine now. But I just don’t know what to do in the future. Like, are we going to be long distance forever?”
“Oh! You’re thinking about the future already!” Amanda made those puppy-dog eyes that made Erik feel both immensely proud of them and also groan in the cheesiness of it all.
“I guess. Sort of. We haven’t talked much about it.”
“But you’re thinking about it!” She forged on. “Eventually you guys will need to end up in the same city for this thing to work long term, right? So, either you move to Toronto, he moves back to New York, or you guys both move somewhere else. Oh! You should move to San Francisco!”
Erik laughed at Amanda’s exuberance but knew there was very little chance that they would move to the West Coast. “I don’t think Ryan will move back to New York.”
She nodded. “Yeah, I can’t blame him. New York is awesome—but also awful. You can’t do New York half-assed.”
Erik agreed. Which left only one other option.
“So?” Amanda continued. “Does that mean you’re moving to Toronto?”
Did it? He couldn’t say yes, but he couldn’t quite say no, either.
“Sounds like it’s more of a yes.” Amanda teased, grinning at him.
He sent her a mock glare but didn’t correct her. Maybe it was more of a yes.
“If you want my opinion—and I’m going to give it to you even if you don’t—don’t get hung up about New York. I did when Mitch first brought up the idea of us moving out here. I was like, ‘but we’re New Yorkers!’ And he was like, ‘why do we have to be New Yorkers?'”
Erik chuckled at how Amanda lowered her voice to mimic her soon-to-be husband.
“But after a while, I realized I was being stupid. What was I doing in New York that I couldn’t do here? Then I listed out all the crappy things I was putting up with just to be able to say I lived there. Is being a New Yorker, really worth all the stress? I kaçak bahis don’t think so.” Amanda wagged her finger back and forth.
“Yeah, I get what you’re saying.” And, just like that, he realized how stupid he had been about the whole thing.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong! Moving to a whole other country for a guy is not easy. What if you go there and you break up? What if you hate Toronto? Then you just uprooted your whole life for what?” Amanda was on a roll now.
“I’m not saying you guys are going to break up. I’ve seen you guys together and the way you look at each other? There’s definitely something real there. Making big changes is never easy. You know what, though? Ryan doesn’t seem like the type to ask you to move. Has he asked?”
“No, in fact, he did the opposite of ask,” Erik explained. “He didn’t want to ask me for the exact reasons you just mentioned. What if it didn’t work out? He didn’t want to feel responsible.”
Amanda nodded. “That sounds like him. But then sometimes he wouldn’t know a good thing if it smacked him in the face.”
A chuckle escaped Erik because it was true and because he wondered whether he was really a good thing.
“Seriously, though? If I had a vote, I’d say go for it. Love is worth taking risks for.” Amanda yawned and pushed herself out of the chair. “Do you think they’d miss me if I just ducked out for the rest of the night? I’m exhausted.”
Erik smiled at the way Amanda swayed on her feet. “You have a big day tomorrow, I’m sure they’ll understand.”
She nodded and waved goodnight before disappearing back into the house. But her words stayed with Erik: love is worth taking risks for. It was an easy thing to say, but actually doing it was another thing completely. Except the idea of going back to New York, knowing his heart was in Toronto, felt almost like a death sentence. One that no one but himself had issued.
Erik closed his eyes and slouched down to lean his head against the back of the chair. If he could wake up tomorrow in the city of his choice, which city would he be in? In his mind’s eye, all he saw was blank whiteness, as if his brain had given up trying to figure out where in the world he was.
But then the image of Ryan next to him in bed, long dark lashes fanned across high cheekbones, came into focus. Ryan—that was the answer. It didn’t matter which city they were in, Erik realized. He wanted to be in whatever city Ryan was in. If that meant Toronto, then that meant Erik should move to Toronto.
He blinked his eyes open and stared up at the night sky with only the brightest of stars above able to overcome the constant light spilling out from the city. Move to Toronto—could he do it? His heart hammered in his chest at the idea.
The sliding of the glass door behind him interrupted his thoughts, and the man who was constantly in his thoughts stepped through.
“Hey, Amanda said I’d find you out here. Is everything okay?”
Was everything okay? Things weren’t perfect, but they were okay. Especially when Ryan was there.
“Yeah.” Erik reached out for Ryan’s hand and brought it to his lips for a kiss. “I’m fine.”
Ryan gave him a skeptical look, but Erik didn’t bother elaborating.
“People are starting to head out. Want to head back?”
“Sure.” Erik stood and pulled Ryan into his arm—not for a kiss, but just a hug, just to feel this man and soak in his warmth.
Ryan chuckled in his ear. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Erik gave him a squeeze before letting him go. “Yeah, let’s go.”
That night, in their hotel bed, they made love. With Ryan’s legs wrapped around his waist, and their fingers laced together, palms against palms, Erik took his fill of the man he loved. He sank his weight down onto Ryan, knowing that Ryan was strong enough to take it. And when he made that first breach into Ryan’s body, it felt like he was coming home to something warm and familiar and satisfying.
They moved together, knowing just how to arch into each other, where to touch, how to kiss. Ryan’s cries in his ear weaved deeply into his body, wrapping around him like the tattoos that snaked across his skin. He was caught in them, caught in a hold so powerful that to disentangle himself would mean the end of him.
After they both reached their climaxes, Erik couldn’t stop shaking. The realization that home was wherever Ryan was resonated so profoundly inside of him that it manifested in physical tremors.
“Babe? Everything all right?” Ryan asked as Erik buried his face into the crook of Ryan’s neck.
The only response he could muster was to cling even more tightly to Ryan. And Ryan held him, those boxing-trained arms solid and secure around his shoulders and back. Gradually, as the shaking receded and sleep crept in, Erik finally accepted the truth that so many others had seen from the very beginning: he was moving to Toronto.
The wedding itself was beautiful in a trendy industrial space with brick walls and exposed-wood ceiling beams. Dainty white lights were strung up around the space, and baby’s breath decorated every available surface. Amanda was stunning in her wedding dress as she walked down the aisle, and Mitch had barely been able to keep himself together as they said their vows.