Third Time’s the Charm
They’re 14, the first time MC asks Damien out.
Damien still went by “Dahlia” back then. Still dressed in pretty sundresses and sensible black Mary Janes, forced to be his mother’s little dressup doll.
Even at that age, MC already refused to answer to his birth name, and Dahlia had always admired him greatly for it.
(Through countless and increasingly irritated calls of his name, he’d sat convincingly oblivious, even when his mother’s eyes were wide, her nostrils flaring, her fists clenched.
“Miles Christopher Young, you answer me right now!”
He’d been grounded the entire winter vacation of their ninth grade, and still he stubbornly refused to acknowledge his name until, finally, his parents and teachers alike had decided this was a war no longer worth fighting, and had finally agreed to start calling him MC.)
They’re together for all of high school, practically attached at the hip.
Dahlia is the first one MC comes out to about being pansexual.
MC is the one that buys Dahlia’s first pack of pads, when he’s shut himself in his bedroom, crying and refusing to let anyone into his room, too ashamed to tell his mother.
They pose together for countless prom pictures, and MC gives Dahlia a corsage with a single, beautiful white rose.
(Innocence and purity; charm and innocence.)
But then they’re 18, and both leaving the nest for parts unknown, attending university on opposite ends of the country.
They try to make it work. They try so hard. But in the end, the stress, the distance, the workload, it’s too much. The phone calls and texts falter away, from daily to weekly to monthly, until quite suddenly it’s been three months and they realize they can’t remember why they’re still together at all.
And so they quietly cut ties and go their separate ways.
A clean cut, simple and easy, and so much more painful than either of them are willing to admit.
They’re 27 before they see each other next, and MC almost doesn’t recognize him at first.
Not that Damien can blame him.
Damien’s been on T for almost a year now, and has done away with his birth name for good.
MC smiles, wide and bright and joyful, telling Damien how proud he is of him, and Damien wonders for a dazed moment why he’d ever let this beautiful man go.
(He doesn’t tell MC about how, on some days, he had been the only one that kept Damien from falling apart at the seams.
He’d remember MC’s bullheadedness, sitting peacefully at his desk and reading a book as their furious fifth grade teacher called his name over and over again until finally she’d given in and said, with an exhausted sigh, “MC.”
And he’d looked up with the sweetest, most innocent smile.
They fall back in with each other so easily, it’s like nothing had ever changed, like they’re still the two goofy children who had imprinted upon each other on the first day of elementary school and had never let go.
They aren’t, of course.
They’re adults now, and reality isn’t quite so rose-tinted.
Damien is a single father, victim of an emotionally abusive transphobe of a fiancé who had walked out on him when Lucien was just a year old.
And MC is freshly widowed, still so lost and alone after losing Alex, clueless on how to be there for little 5-year-old Amanda when she wakes up in the middle of the night, screaming and crying for her papa.
But maybe that’s why the universe had brought them back together.
Because they were both drowning, and only the two of them could bring each other back up.
Three months after being reunited, MC shows up at Damien’s door with a red face and a bouquet of elegant white camellias and charming little yellow cowslips dotted throughout.
(Perfected loveliness; youth and healing.)
The next four years are perfection.
They take holidays to the beach and weekend trips to museums and art galleries.
Damien gives Amanda her first camera and teaches her how to use it.
MC teaches Lucien how to ride a bike and picks him up when he punches classmates who make fun of his papa.
(Officially, MC scolds Lucien harshly for these instances and grounds him for a week.
Unofficially, he takes the little punk out for ice cream and praises him for looking out for his dad.
“Papa,” Lucien corrects him one day, and MC looks at him in confusion.
“Damien is papa,” Lucien explains. “You’re dad.”
And his voice is so matter-of-fact, as if he’s stating a simple truth of the universe, like the sun being yellow and snow being cold.
MC most definitely does not cry.)
But then, things start falling apart, like they always do.
The endearing little quirks they love about each other become irritating, the fights louder and more vicious.
Damien and MC both have their own problems, so many things to work through, so many hurts to heal from.
And maybe…maybe they’re not the right ones to help each other out after all.
Maybe they’re just hurting each other more by being together.
The second break-up is, if possible, even more painful than the first.
Amanda becomes withdrawn - why bother getting attached to anyone if they’re just going to leave you in the end? The only one she opens up to is her father, and to him she clings, like a baby koala. Because she’s already lost two parents. She can’t bear to lose a third.
Lucien becomes harder, more angry. He was 3 when MC had come into his life, and can’t remember a time without him. The longing for his dad is like a hurricane, a wild, fierce ache he doesn’t know what to do with. So he turns it outwards - to students who sneer about his weird last name and adults who call his papa she and her. But he never turns that snarling, explosive anger on his papa. Never on Damien.
They’re 39 when MC and Amanda move to quiet little Maple Bay, and it’s a few days before they actually become aware of each other’s presence.
Amanda is hanging out with some of her new friends (a pair of girls from her class, both named Emma), and MC, with nothing better to do, is at the Coffee Spoon, a nice little cafe within a few minutes’ walk from their new house.
He’s got a book open in front of him, and is sipping at his piping hot chai latte when the bell over the door gives a chime to announce a new customer.
He doesn’t look up as a pair of teenagers walks in talking about something or other, and he doesn’t notice how one of them freezes in his tracks, staring at MC with a breathless shock.
His friend stops too, and turns to look at him with confusion.
“You okay, dude?” asks his friend, Ernest, but he doesn’t reply.
“Dad?” he chokes out, voice just barely above a whisper.
And Ernest turns to follow his gaze, expecting to see Damien Bloodmarch.
But the man Lucien is staring at is short and broader in the shoulders. He has messy red curls and freckles sprinkled like cinnamon across the bridge of his nose. He’s engrossed in his book.
“You high or something, dude?” asks Ernest, but Lucien doesn’t reply.
“Dad!” he calls again, louder this time, as he walks up to the man sitting at the table, and his voice is maybe a little desperate, maybe a little vulnerable.
The man looks up, and Ernest sees his expression cycle through a million different emotions in the span of three seconds.
Confusion, bewilderment, dawning realization, tearfulness, joy, love.
He gets to his feet, pulling Lucien into a crushing embrace.
And the teen may be half a head taller than him, but he folds into the embrace with something akin to relief, like a tension Ernest hadn’t even known existed finally being released from his shoulders.
He’s quiet, almost docile, in a way that’s so completely foreign, Ernest is rooted to his spot.
They exchange a few quiet words, the stranger wiping what look like tears from Lucien’s cheeks.
Then, they pull apart, and Lucien watches the man leave with longing, watches him cross the street and head towards the Bloodmarch residence.
He doesn’t snap out of it until the man is completely out of view, after which he proceeds to ignore Ernest’s questions in favor of dragging him to that house that used to belong to the Wilson family until they’d moved last week.
He pulls out a key that Ernest hadn’t even noticed the other man give him, and let them into the house, where they sat watching television while they waited for…something.
An hour or two later, the front door finally opens, and a pretty older girl with healthy dark skin and a sweet, freckled face walks in.
She stops short when she sees the two strangers in the living room, and looks like she’s about to take on a fighting stance before Lucien quickly unfolds from his position on the couch and approaches her cautiously.
(He, better than anyone, knows not to underestimate her sweet and unassuming appearance.
She’s been taking kickboxing since she was 6, and had been formidable even then.
He shudders to think how dangerous she must be now.)
“Calm down, Manda, it’s just me,” Lucien says by way of greeting, and her expression morphs into confusion.
“Who is “me”?” she asks, eyes narrowed.
“What, don’t recognize your own baby brother?” he asks, tone teasing, and she gasps.
“LUCY!” she shrieks, tackling him, and Ernest would probably be laughing at the ridiculous nickname if he wasn’t just so darned confused.
It takes about ten minutes for her to get her squealing and tears back under control.
“Where’s dad?” she asks. “Where do you live? Can you take me there? I wanna see pops! Is he home from work yet? How-”
“They’re busy, Manda,” Lucien finally interrupts, and Amanda’s eyes light up.
“’Busy’?” she asks, her smile taking on a sly edge, and Lucien huffs and rolls his eyes, pushing her face away from how annoyingly close it was to his own.
“Talking,” he stresses. “Busy talking.”
And Amanda’s smile takes on a softer cast.
“About time,” she says. And her voice is hopeful as she asks, “Do you…do you think they’ll…?”
She doesn’t say the words, worried that vocalizing them will break the fragile hope that’s woven tight around her heart.
Because she wants this. More than anything she’s ever wanted in her life. Wants it so much she can barely breathe, so much she doesn’t know how she’ll survive if it doesn’t happen.
And Lucien, for all of his cynicism and jadedness, wants it just as fiercely as she does.
“God I hope so.”
It doesn’t take MC 3 months to ask Damien out this time.
It’s been nine years since their fragile happiness had broken apart, and in that time, he’s done a lot of thinking.
A lot of learning and growing and regretting.
And now that they’ve found each other again, he’s not going to let go a third time.
They sit and talk for a long, long time.
They talk about their lives, their hopes, their problems, their children, their love.
They talk about everything that had gone wrong the last two times, and they talk about whether they’re willing to give it one last shot.
After five hours of talking things over and working things out, they decide to take some time apart to think things over.
MC goes home with a spring in his step and hope in his heart.
Amanda and Lucien, as well as the other boy from the coffee shop whose name MC never got, are slumped over each other on the sofa, fast asleep while an episode of Long Haul Paranormal Ice Road Ghost Truckers murmurs quietly in the background.
With an exasperated smile, MC turns off the television and tucks a blanket around the teens.
Lucien returns home the next day just before noon with a kink in his neck and a smile on his lips.
He badgers his father for the next hour or two about what he’s going to do about his relationship with MC until Damien finally gets fed up and throws him out of the house to go and “bother someone else for a bit.”
Lucien obviously takes this as a good sign, because he’s wearing a satisfied grin across his cheeks.
Damien wants to be annoyed at how easily his son can seem to read him.
But he doesn’t have any room in his heart to feel anything but excitement, happiness, love, optimism.
When his doorbell rings a few hours later, he opens it excitedly to find MC standing there, hiding behind an enormous bouquet of dahlias.
(Dignity and elegance; commitment and everlasting bonds.)
And Damien can’t help but think back to that innocent little girl more than three decades ago, with her pretty little sundresses and sensible black Mary Janes, with her scraped knees and fingers covered in paint.
He wonders if she’d be proud of the person he’d become.
He sure hopes so.