It takes an eye-opening talk for Riley Gordan to realize there’s something wrong in his twelve-year relationship with Conor Flemming. He creates extravagant events for same-sex proposals and weddings to over-the-top holiday parties, but he never considered one for Conor and him. Busier than ever, he realized his time with Conor had shrunk. He decides to use his event planning skills and put them to work to rekindle the spark.
What was it about watching a confident man working with the tools of his trade? In this case, they were a fondant-covered level of a towering cake and an icing bag.
Riley Gordan leaned against the closest wall at the edge of the kitchen within Ambrosia Bakery as he admired the edible works of art his dark-haired partner of twelve years, Conor Flemming, built. From this position, he figured out this was one of three layers being turned into leather-bound books. He built this current piece out of multiple smaller layers of cake and filling. Each one wrapped carefully in different tinted fondant to create the leather-bound covers. Conor worked on the small details most folks would never even realize he used to make the cake a believable piece of art.
At another station, Riley watched one of Conor’s assistants manipulate marshmallow-rice treats and cake. As the assistant worked, Riley figured out it was a cat. They were a pair of cats. It was then he knew they were working on the four-tier wedding cake for one of his clients. The couple held a commitment ceremony over a decade ago, but this was different. Thanks to the Supreme Court, they could exchange actual wedding vows and rings and be recognized everywhere as a married couple.
They decided to celebrate how they met over arguing about who had dibs on a first edition Alice in Wonderland at an estate sale. The argument turned into a conversation, which flowed into a relationship and a mutual love of hunting down those special books. The ceremony was a ‘favorite book character’ theme and was taking place in an old library. To finish off the theme, Conor was turning their love of books and their favorite finds into the bottom layers of the cake. By the time they were finished, the cats would be exact cake replicas of their two beloved pets. Why hadn’t they discussed exchanging vows and making their partnership permanent? Neither one brought it up over the last few months. Even when they could have held a commitment ceremony, neither one wanted to change the way things were between them.
Why did it happen?
Riley didn’t remember the decisions. He’d been with this one man for twelve years. Both of them were closing in on forty. Neither of them were the young pups that loved clubbing or even thought about checking out options on Grindr.
What happened to them?
It was due to the Supreme Court’s decision, both Riley’s company, As You Wish, and Conor’s bakery had exploded with multiple orders over the last couple of months. To tell the truth, it had been exhausting but rewarding helping the variety of couples find their way down the aisle. At the same time, it was heart-wrenching. All this work frayed his relationship with Conor.
Could they even call it a relationship?
Granted they lived together, but when was the last time they snuggled in bed on a lazy Sunday morning? When did they last spontaneously decide to make love all night long? When was the last time he felt the love down to his soul? If they did have sex, it was going through the mechanics to reach orgasm, but no more. He felt empty. Not his balls drained empty, but his heart held a big fat hole in the middle.
“Where did we go wrong, baby?” Riley whispered as he watched Conor work.
Conor moved on from the piping bag. He used brushes and some kind of edible paint to color something on the table next to him. When he placed it on the cake, Riley recognized them as tarnished rivets an old leather-bound book would have. Conor used another brush and expertly painted the name on each spine.
“Are you going to watch him all day or go in and exchange a few words?”
At the question, Riley jumped and spun to see the bakery’s front manager, Patricia Hardy, looking up at him. He hugged his tablet against his chest and swallowed. Hard and audible.
“You haven’t been around very much, Riley Gordan,” she added.
“Things have been hectic at my place.”
Patricia settled her dark brown gaze on him. She wouldn’t accept any of his shit or excuses. “As You Wish is next door in the same building. I don’t think it’s that hard to walk over here. You’ve done it before for so long. Why did you stop? It’s a simple, but caring thought. Go ahead and offer to take him out to lunch. Check in on one another. Try getting him a freaking cup of coffee to share before starting the day. Any one of those things would be a damn good start. Are you two over? Is that the problem?”
Riley swallowed hard again as she hammered him down to the true problems. “You could say the same about him.”
“I’ve seen him walk over to your place, only to return five minutes later with his shoulders hunched over and tears in his eyes. He hides his disappointment well, but I’ve known him for too long.”
Riley moved his gaze back to Conor. When did Conor come to see him? Why wouldn’t he notice or hear Conor entering the business? “Did he say why he left?”
“That preppy, annoying assistant of yours tells him how you’re having a new consult, or on the phone with a vendor, or out of the office, or any other type of excuse. Conor never gets past his desk. Not once since you hired that young man.”
“I’ve never heard anything about this from Brian.”
“Of course you wouldn’t.” Patricia shook her head. “Think about it, Riley. Why would your assistant turn away your boyfriend and then not tell you he visited? You’re not stupid.”
Riley didn’t reply, but his mind raced through the possibilities. He knew Brian had a crush on him, always asking him to join him for a cup of coffee or dance at the latest club. At the same time, Brian knew Riley was with Conor. Even if things were rocky between them, Brian wouldn’t dare try to push his way between them. Would he?
“It’s starting to hit you, isn’t it?” Patricia said.
“There’s no way. No, he wouldn’t.” Riley shook his head and looked at Patricia. “Would he?”
“You’re oblivious and that can get dangerous. He’s a young man on the prowl. I’m certain business is the last thing on his mind when he looks at you. You’re a handsome, successful business owner with a troubled relationship. Of course he would take the chance to snatch you up. He’s not a fool, but smart and conniving. He’ll scheme his way into your heart if you let him.”
“But I’m with Conor. No, there’s no way I would look at Brian and never in that fashion. He’s my assistant. That’s all and he knows it,” Riley said.
“Does he know?”
“He knows I’m with Conor.”
Confused where Patricia was going, Riley tilted his head and clutched the tablet tighter to his chest. He
was almost afraid to ask, but he had to know. “Am I what?”
“Are you truly with Conor?”
“From what I hear you’re little more than roommates.”
Riley swallowed when he heard what went along with all those earlier thoughts circling his head.
Patricia shook her head when he didn’t answer. “Think about what you want with him, Riley. Don’t hurt him anymore. You need to rebuild his trust and love or nothing will happen. It’s at the point where he could decide to drop your relationship to nothing more than business and not think twice about moving out.”
“No—” Riley whispered, but the strangling fear gripped his throat.
“Can’t you see what is happening to him?” She pointed back into the bakery. “Conor works long days, full nights and weekends. I’ve seen a suitcase of clothes in his office and a bag in his bathroom. He sleeps on that sofa. I found blankets and pillows folded every morning for the last two weeks. He avoids going home. He has bags under his eyes. I often force him to pause for a meal. Yes, he claims it’s all due to the schedule, but it isn’t that ridiculously busy around here. Things aren’t in a rush situation.
We have plenty of help. Still, he’s insisting on doing everything he can to push through and not stop.”
Patricia’s words hit him hard. Straight into his gut where it twisted him into knots. He collapsed against the wall.
“You really had no idea this was happening,” she said.
He shook his head, feeling horrendous for being so out of touch with Conor. Back within the kitchen, Conor spun the cake around as he designed and layered pages within the ‘books’. Would Conor rebuff his pathetic attempts to rebuild his trust and their relationship?
“Do I even have a chance?” He didn’t realize he even voiced the question until it happened.
“That I don’t know. It’s up to Conor. And you. Personally, I’m tired of hearing the pain in his voice as he talks to me. Yes, he does tell me everything. We’ve been together since the beginning of the bakery. You know this. I’m his sounding board. I feel like I’m betraying his secrets, but I’m pissed at seeing him lost,” she said.
“Thank you for telling me.”
“It better be for something, Riley Gordan. Either way, you better figure out what you’re doing. Because this problem,” Patricia said as she gestured between him and Conor, “isn’t going to cut it. We need him focused on the bakery and his work when he’s here. If he keeps going like this, he’ll collapse and I can’t let that happen to him. Do you hear me?”
Riley nodded in agreement while he kept his gaze on Conor. He looked back to Patricia. “I’ll figure it out. One way or another, I’ll figure it out. I’ll do whatever it takes to fix our relationship. I promise.”
“You better,” she said.
With that, he turned and left the bakery without talking to Conor.
A quiet one, Nicole Dennis curled up with the latest book of a favorite author. Since the beginning, there were these characters in her head, worlds wanting to be built on paper, and stories wanting to be told. She began writing during class and continues to this day. Now she can let others into her imagination and worlds that always celebrate the love between two or more people within LGBT, paranormal, and fantasy.
During the day, she works in a quiet office in Central Florida, where she also makes her home, and enjoys the down time to slip into her imagination. She is owned by a semi-demonic tortie calico, affectionately known as Fat Cat.