Walking wounded — by Keith A Raymond

 They loved each other to avoid the appearance of clinging. Their true friends knew the truth, though. Seth and Anders lived in a house his grandmother built. A cared-for garden of wonder, blooming in each season. They built small garden houses for trysts and privacy; an atelier, a bath house, an observatory (and even a ham radio shack) stood between flowers and fruit trees.

 Before they met, Anders worked in a lab. His precision work made Swiss watch makers look like clumsy louts. Slicing brains a single cell layer thick, mounting slides, preparing molecular solutions to track singular optogenetic neural pathways assured his supremacy in the field. At home, to relax, he sewed costumes for the local theater. His loneliness was as deep as the pits in his oily acne-scarred face.

 Seth was a construction engineer. He looked at structural angles, complications of space, installation vectors, and then moved like a machine quickly through a process. With astonishing grace and vigor, he would stop only for a smoke, while he allowed minions to stagger through his onslaught on form. His bosses marveled at his accomplishments then cut him loose without a second thought the minute he injured his back at fifty. His pain and isolation made him realize how empty his duty had been.

 They met at a masque. Anders nursed a drink in a corner, dressed elegantly, afraid to mingle. Seth forced himself to attend at the bidding of his gay friends insisting he get out of his house. He had juggled his medications so he would be almost pain free and even cheerful. Anders and Seth stumbled into each other in their passage between bar and dance floor respectively.

 They lifted their half masks about to argue but were calmed by an instant connection. They introduced themselves to each other with their names and nods like news anchors at a broadcast’s beginning. Went on to tell of their victories and disasters, segment after segment, with their own human-interest story tying the show together at the end. Laughing, they no longer felt estranged and separate from the handsome men around them. Even danced and embraced sensing their own beauty. Reveling in their mutual attraction.

 Anders couldn’t take his eyes off of Seth with his butch short white hair, pot belly, and strong shoulders. While Seth was drawn by Ander’s self conscious shy blue eyes and mischievous smile. Anders was ten years younger than Seth but it made no difference to either of them. They had an easy comfort with each other.

 Together they were pushed out of the masque and into the street having stayed on after the others left not wanting to part. So they strolled to the village square and sat under the lights talking until dawn replaced incandescence with an orange glow.

 Within days their bodies touched where their minds had met and soon after they moved in together to celebrate their intimacy. Anders brought Seth a gift. A long hair Maltese dog whose owners had died. Its permanently happy face and yearning for treats won Seth’s heart. Soon other dogs followed and the couple was allowed to displace their physical intimacy from each other to their dogs. Their intensity struggled against their need for personal space.

 A happy equilibrium came into their lives long past the time other couples had had theirs and moved on. To share this joy they made candles and sold them in their home at Christmas, a way to show appreciation for the long passed introduction. Men from the masque and couples from the neighborhood came, bought, and browsed, sipping eggnog while getting into the spirit of the season.

 “Marvelous creations,” Bob noted, in admiration of the candle work.

 “Seth seems so happy. He suffered for so long until he met Anders,” Janice answered.

 The couple smiled and admired the glow coming off the two men as they chatted with friends and family. Their lifelong wounds now just scars.

 Seth looked outside at the fall of the first snow and instead of Winter he felt a warm Spring in his heart. Anders joined him to watch the show, Seth throwing his arm over his lover’s shoulder, half listening to the conversations behind them. Nothing mattered in this perfect moment.