Afterglow

By Dabeagle

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The next day I hated to leave my apartment, and Parker, behind. I stared at my screen and blinked a few times. God, I just wasn't with it today. I yawned and stood up, deciding to get another cup of coffee. Caffeine had already made me a little jittery so I decided on decaf, but at least it'd give me something to do.

"Somebody's tired today," Vickie said in that knowing tone.

"I don't know why," I said and yawned. "I slept really well. I just can't focus today!"

"Yeah. It is a mystery," she said slowly. I turned my head to face her and lifted an eyebrow. "Don't look at me like that. I saw that man you left with. He looked exhausting."

I laughed. "He's aggravating, I'll give you that."

She pursed her lips and nodded at me once. "Awfully exhausting."

I shook my head. "He's my best friend, Vickie. Not my boyfriend, not a hook-up."

"Oh, I see," she said and started to walk away, but abruptly stopped. "So, where did this best friend sleep?"

I rolled my eyes. "Okay, so you have to understand Parker. He has this cuddling obsession. I got him a - hey! Where are you going?"

"I'm shocked as all hell you aren't walking funny," Vickie said as she headed back out to the front desk. I frowned at her and then shook my head, unable to stop myself from chuckling. I had kept a body pillow at the apartment for Parker's visits, but the damn thing had gotten ripped and I hadn't gotten around to getting a new one. Clingy as ever, Parker had slept with me the night before. Slept. He cuddled the hell out of me like normal, which is nice of course, but we slept.

I filled my cup and headed back to my desk. The light on my cell was blinking so I woke the screen to find a text from Parks.

Where is the coffee?

I shook my head and smiled. Same as last time. Go to the end of the block and take a right. Can't miss it.

God damn it, Shane. I bought you a coffee pot for Christmas last year.

Keurig's are really wasteful - I told you I wouldn't use it. I rolled my eyes. If it makes you feel any better, Vickie is walking around thinking we screwed last night.

Really? I'm going to come down to your office and tell her you're a lousy lay and you don't make breakfast for your lovers in the morning - or have the decency to have coffee!

I burst out laughing. Resuming my seat I felt a little more energetic and started working through my ever-shifting list of things to get done so I could get on the road with Parker the next day. I don't go back to my hometown much, not unless I'm going to see my mom. The summer after graduation the world changed for me. Travis, genius that he is, got a full ride to UCLA. It had been very hard to lose him. Somewhere in the back of my mind I had envisioned us spending many more years together, especially given that our high school years were so good together.

Travis was stronger than I was this time, though. He knew he needed to get an education. More than anyone else he understood that his brain was how he was going to make his way in the world. I could still remember lying in his room after he'd told me he'd accepted the scholarship and would be leaving in just a few short weeks. In those last few years of high school he'd filled out a bit. He'd never be mistaken for a body builder, but he no longer looked as if a stiff wind would carry him off, either.

"I don't want to lose you. I mean," I said and licked my lips. "I know I'm kind of being a selfish jerk, here. I do. I just...I thought we'd be together," I said as I held his hand.

"I know," Travis replied. He looked at me with a sad, loving expression. "Believe me when I say this has been the hardest decision I've ever had to make. If I could take you with me, I would. But this opportunity...I have to take it."

I looked away and sniffed. "What about us? Is that it, then?"

He'd leaned into me, resting his head on my chest and held me lightly. "I don't think we're ever really going to be over. You've left an indelible mark on me. In me. I wouldn't be who I am without everything you gave me, taught me and...without the love you gave me."

I'd hugged him back and was unable to stop the tears. "I love you, Travis."

"I love you, too."

"I don't want you to leave...me."

He leaned back and studied my face, his lower lip trembling. "I have to do this, Shane. It's horrible, in a way, but if it wasn't for you I'd never have the strength to go out there. I'd be too scared. We can...we'll have the phone. Skype. We can make it work."

And we had tried, or intended to. It had been hard, though. Too hard. There were classes to take, papers to write and the time difference caused a little hassle, as if we'd needed any more. Travis had been my boyfriend longer than anyone else in my life. I'd had so many firsts with him, and then seconds, thirds and counting. He'd shared a love of movies with me and I'd given him my heart. I can still touch the pain of that break-up, but I can also say I've healed. I don't know that I'll ever be over him, exactly. I still love him and I know he loves me. But the world changed and it ended up changing us, too.

My desk phone rang and I picked it up. "Shane Blankenship."

"Shane, Nick Adowski. Listen, I have to make this short." I sat up a little. Nick worked in the senator's office, one of my contacts. "There is a rumor that the Game Hunting PAC is considering not endorsing the senator. Word is it has something to do with gun legislation. I need to back-channel this - can you reach out?"

I was stunned for a moment. "Yeah, of course, Nick. I'll reach out right now and get back to you."

"Sooner the better. If they are withholding because of the legislation, we may have to pull it."

Shit. "Okay. On it," I said and disconnected.

"He's not walking funny either. You two must be professionals," Vickie said as Parker slid past her and put a bag on my desk.

"You only walk funny the first time. Right, Shane?" Parker asked as he plopped into the guest chair. I rolled my eyes at them and picked up my phone.

"It's true, Vickie. Parker is a baby, though. He'd stretch walking funny out to two weeks and file a workman's comp claim."

"Work - I never got paid! You owe me money, dude!" Parker exclaimed and Vicki laughed with me.

"So you've known Shane for how long?" Vickie asked. I leaned back in my chair, sure to be amused by Parker's replies to her questions.

"Ever since high school when he was just a little gay bean," he said with a grin. "See, he had this list of guys he wanted to bang and I was on it."

"Oh, God!" I groaned and covered my eyes. He loved this story.

Vicki laughed again. "That's how you became friends? Discovering you were both gay and sleeping with each other?"

"Oh, I'm more equal opportunity than that," Parker said airily. "After Shane I dated several women."

"Just having big breasts didn't make her a woman."

"Shane, how sexist!" Parker gasped.

I glanced at Vickie. "It was high school."

"Girls mature faster, but I'm going to have to go with Shane on this one," Vickie said with a nod and a smile at Parker's stricken expression.

"Vickie, we had such a good thing going here. We were a team!" Parker told her.

"Uh huh. Well, I'll let you two get back to being your own team." She cast a knowing look at us and left the doorway. It's funny. People who have met Parker when he's been in town to visit before always think we're a couple. I'd love to be, especially when you consider my woeful dating history post-Travis. It had taken me a while to get back on the horse, so to speak, after Travis had left. Part of that was trying to make things work long-distance, but I'd had trouble getting the enthusiasm up for that venture. Once he'd left for Los Angeles, in my gut I'd felt he'd left me for good. I couldn't shake that and it hurt my self-esteem for a while, that I wasn't reason enough to keep him closer.

It probably had taken six months to try anything, but it never lasted very long. I'd call Parker and tell him about whatever guy I'd just ended things with. I was starting to think the problem was me.

Parker sipped his coffee while my call connected. "Hey, Anita? It's Shane over at GSC. Listen, I heard a rumor and I'm wondering if you've heard it, too."

Parker opened the bag and pulled out a small plastic container I recognized as something I'd bought and never used. Inside was scrambled eggs and links of sausage that fogged the container.

"I know the one you mean, and it's trouble. Gordon Isaacs is making a play for control of the board," Anita said in my ear.

"Gordon?" I ask in disbelief. "How?"

"I have to run. I'll call you in twenty; I'll know more." The line went dead and I put the handset back slowly, thinking rapidly.

"Gordon is a dickhead?" Parker asked. I glanced at him and nodded.

"He's...well, when you talk about gun rights there are people who are for no restrictions and then there is a spectrum going towards legislation and all kinds of other things. People you could say are for responsible regulation. Gordon is the kind that thinks there should be no regulation. He was never able to gain any real traction in the organization, as far as I knew, but I guess he's making a play for control of the board - so this must not be an ideological shift, but something of convenience or power. But who is behind him?"

"Well, if you'd bother to eat breakfast, you could probably puzzle that out. Go on. Eat."

I glanced back at the container in front of me and then back at Parker who had a matching container. I raised an eyebrow at him.

"Meals are meant to be shared. This is known," Parker said in a stuffy tone and then we both laughed.

"Thanks, Parks. I usually skip breakfast," I said as I picked up the fork and popped the top to the eggs and sausage. "This smells so good."

"Better be. I'm a freaking expert on this shit these days. So," he said, dragging the word out. "You told Vickie we were bumping uglies?"

I tilted my head down and lifted an eyebrow at him before finishing what was in my mouth. "I tried to tell her your body pillow ripped, but as soon as I said you'd cuddled the hell out of me, she walked away. She's probably trying to picture you naked right now, anyway."

"Yeah. I'm used to it," he said with a sigh and then he glanced up at me and we both laughed.

"I missed you," I told him as I dug into the food he'd made. He faltered for a moment and then smiled in pure joy at me.

"I missed you, too. So, how are things-"

"Oh, shit! That's it!"

"What's it?"

"Gordon. Hang on." I picked up the phone and dialed an internal extension. "Kathy? Shane. Can you reach out and see if any campaign related paperwork has been filed that references a Gordon Isaacs? I need it ten minutes ago - we may lose the senator. Put Mike on it, please? Okay, thanks."

"What was that?" Parker asked as he sipped his coffee.

I leaned back and smiled at my friend. "Gordon would never be able to get enough support within the organization, so he's getting outside help - pressure. The senator has some pressure coming from the right, but it hadn't been horrendous. If they could co-opt this PAC, though, they could gain some leverage on the senator - and that endangers our legislation. However," I said with a smile and pointing my fork up in the air. "If he's in bed with someone, politically, there should be paperwork. We follow the money."

"Glad I could help," Parker said with a grin.

"Huh?"

"Clearly it was my home-cooked breakfast that got your brain in gear to figure this out," he said reasonably.

I smiled at him. "Clearly."

"So how long were you and the Xbox athlete together?" he asks and I start to laugh.

"Xbox athlete? How long did it take you to think that up?"

"Not that long. It almost rhymes if you think about it. Just not too hard," he replied.

I shook my head and we finished our breakfast. I used to eat in the morning when I was in high school, but the habit fell away after that. The tumultuous summer after graduation, saying good-bye not just to my boyfriend, but also to the best friend I'd ever known. I remember feeling it was tremendously unfair. It was, in its way, but that was life. Mine had taken me to community college and then on to Denver, where I finished a communications degree. I'd dated a little, tried a few hook-ups, but found it just wasn't me. I longed for the connections of my youth, the feeling of belonging that I wasn't finding - except at work. I was passionate about that.

"So? How long?"

I glanced at Parks and shifted mental gears, having completely forgotten that we'd been talking about Carl. Cal! Jesus, now I was using Parker's names for my exes. "A few months. In real time it was about a week and a half since most of our hanging out was just him playing a game."

"Travis used to game a lot," he said quietly.

"He also turned it off to spend time with me and was insanely cute," I pointed out.

Parker laughed and shook his head. "So funny, that list you had. If someone took that list with pictures of the people - they'd have no idea what interested you except they were male."

I smiled a little at him. "Brains and hearts don't show up well on film."

"Yeah," he said thoughtfully. "That's true enough."

I scooped the last of the eggs from the container and smiled to myself. I don't remember anyone ever cooking for me before. Travis and I ate together, but cooking wasn't a passion with either of us. I always figured whoever cooked best for Parker would land him, so it's kind of funny that he's gotten into cooking for himself.

"So, I was going to ask how things were going. You doing okay for us heading out tomorrow?"

I glanced at him as I put the cover back on the container. "Thanks for the food, again. It was fantastic." I grinned and he nodded with a smile. "I've been assigning the things I need to get done to other people - delegating what I can. The only wrinkle is this thing with the PAC, but I can probably handle that from the road."

He nodded. "Okay. I have a few things to do. Is there anything at your house to cook for dinner tonight?"

I looked at him blankly.

"Okay, I'll hit the grocery," he said with a laugh. I grinned at him ruefully. I kept some easy stuff - and breakfast stuff was easy, just not something I actually made in the morning. Parker left my office as my phone rang and I sighed. I love my job. I'm good at it and I throw myself into it every day with relish. But Parker is here, and now the office is the last place I want to be. I think I must be lonely.

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