“For the love of God, don’t tell me you lost the freaking map,” Chris said as he stumbled after Dash. “Because let me tell you, fumbling around in a dark rainforest in the middle of fucking nowhere in Jamaica has always been the highest of my priorities.”
He let out a sharp gasp as his toe tangled in a thick tree root. His momentum sent him careening into Dash’s backside, and both collided with the ground.
Chris was just happy for something soft to break his fall. But Dash didn’t seem too thrilled as he groaned.
“You’re… heavy…,” Dash wheezed.
“What?” Chris said, affronted. “I’ll have you know parakeets are very light. Hollow bones, you know.”
Dash swatted blindly at Chris’s thigh behind him. “Hollow bones, my ass. You’re crushing my kidneys.”
“Fine,” Chris snapped and shoved to his feet, making sure to push even harder against Dash.
But Dash groaned with the force.
Chris spun on his heel, ready to give him a good tongue-lashing, but hesitated when he caught something white and dirty stuck to his foot. He yanked the thick card free. Dirt and mud splattered his already soiled Bermuda shorts. Working out the creases in the cardstock, Chris brightened.
“I found the map,” he chirped happily, his parakeet excitement coming through his human voice.
“Great,” Dash said as he wobbled to his feet. “Now find me the nearest tiki bar so I can slam daiquiris.” He took one step forward, then collapsed to one knee.
“You’re hurt,” Chris cried and crouched over him.
“I told you that you were heavy,” Dash said, chuckling humorlessly. He winced as he tried to get to his feet.
“I can get help.” The panic rose in Chris’s voice.
Dash took his hand and squeezed tight. “You are the help, Tweety Bird.”
Chris swallowed hard.
This was not how he expected his week to go.
When his mother surprised him with a ticket for a dream cruise to the Caribbean, he didn’t expect (a) his ex working as his cabin steward, (b) getting marooned on an island with said ex, and (c) help nowhere in sight.
One year earlier….
The Robin household had been quiet for four months, five days, eighteen hours, ten minutes, and four seconds.
The joke goes “not that he counted.” But Chris counted. He kept track of every agonizing second. It wasn’t exactly agonizing. Empty was a better word.
Chris hadn’t expected to live in his own empty nest long before he and Dash had adopted children. Children were always in their life plan. Dash had been on the first plane out for earthquake relief in Haiti in 2010. He’d come home a changed man—and indeed for the better. Chris had loved him since their awkward blind date in college, but the man Dash had ultimately become was his hero.
But even heroes can trade in their courage for cowardice.
Chris’s home had become a cage. His colorful parakeet wings clipped by the silence.
Dash and he had planned to start their lives here in this quaint corner of the Connecticut suburbs. Unfortunately the leasing contract had gone through after the wedding didn’t. Chris had spent months on Zillow, but Dash had been noncommittal. He had left Chris with the biggest decision of their soon-to-be married lives.
Dash insisted his love had been strong enough for Chris they could have very well lived in a cardboard box. Dash knew a thing or two about living in boxes from helping the homeless during the harsh winters in New York. It never mattered to Dash if the floors were solid tile or laminate.
Chris had ended up picking the ’70s love nest with the newly renovated kitchen with Viking appliances and marble countertops. He had sprung for Viking appliances. They were a vast step-up from the minifridge they’d shared in college. Dash loved cooking; he had been better at as Chris only managed to set fire to water. The years before, in their very, very long engagement, their pastime involved making lunches for the hungry every month.
Dash had a heart brighter than sunshine.
He had enough love for the world and the universe beyond. Chris was blindsided that when it came to commitment, it didn’t apply to them.
Chris counted on Dash being there for him. Willingly being there. Not promising, then never showing because he had to help the Humane Society that weekend.
He felt like the lowest of toilet scum when he had been jealous of Dash helping in kitten adopt-a-thons instead of spending time with him.
Smudging away the sting in his eyes with one hand, Chris sniffed as he returned to stirring the oatmeal over the cooktop. The oatmeal clung to the spoon in a sad, congealed blob.
It would have been easier if he hated Dash. It would have been easier if he could take roost with the first guy who had the most colorful plumage. But despite Dash and Chris being from two different worlds, they were birds of a feather.
Chris missed Dash so much he had resorted to truly eating like a bird. Which meant eating everything that hadn’t been nailed down. The cupcake shop loved him because of how fast he filled up his frequent customer cards. The pizza place had his usual waiting before he could order. Bottomless baskets of fries from diners were his go-to.
His gut reflected the triple fudge cupcakes and the veggie pizzas. Just because it was a vegetarian pizza, triple helping of extra cheese, sure didn’t help counting calories. He had joined a gym, but he only succeeded in paying his monthly dues instead of succeeding in getting on the treadmill.
Fuck, he missed Dash. He missed everything about Dash. From his cooking (since Chris could barely make a PB&J), to his terrible jokes, to his uncharacteristic giggle (for such a handsome guy), to how much he cared about everything. How every day was a gift. How there was always a reason to smile, even if things were going wrong.
Was their relationship going wrong? Was Dash just smiling to get through it? Was it intentional when the time came to say “I do,” he’d conveniently lost his passport in Thailand and had to spend two weeks sorting it out with the American consulate before he could get back. By then their eleven-day cruise had set sail without either of them. And their relationship with it.