Theodore woke up on his couch around eleven the next morning. He turned his head to the side, eyes landing on Russell. The man was asleep on the floor, arm shoved beneath the pillow tucked under his head. Theodore sat up, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms.
He vaguely remembered hearing something outside last night and being too on edge to fall asleep. Russell had offered to stay at the house with him, just to make sure everything was okay.
And Russell, the damn saint that he was, had slept on the floor, like he wasn’t an adult whose back and neck would most likely raise hell once he was awake.
Theodore dropped his hands back to his lap. “Russell?”
“You slept on my floor.”
Russell cracked open one eye. “Appears so,” he mumbled, voice rough. He closed his eye. “Do you want me off the floor?”
“That is… totally up to you.”
Theodore cleared his throat, dropping his feet to the floor. “It’s a little after eleven. Are you hungry?”
“If we keep hanging out, you’ll learn I’m always hungry.”
Theodore chuckled. “Okay. Let’s get you something to eat, then.” Russell sat up with a groan, one hand moving to the back of his neck. “Sore?”
“Yeah, but that’s more or less my perpetual state of life. Spend a lot of hours hunched over a desk and paperwork.”
“I can only imagine.” Theodore pushed himself to his feet and walked over to Russell, sticking out a hand. “Come on, old man.” Russell chuckled and slapped his hand into Theodore’s. Theodore tugged him to his feet before looking down at their hands. Russell’s grip was strong, his skin soft, his hand warm.
Theodore released his hand like he’d been burned, green eyes snapping up to Russell’s face. “I’m sorry.”
Russell only smiled. “It’s okay. Who would I be if I was angry that a cute guy held my hand for a couple of seconds?” He walked past Theodore, lightly bumping his shoulder with his own. “Come on. Let’s go find something for food.”
Theodore turned to watch Russell walk to the kitchen. He felt like an idiot for the heat that rose to his cheeks, but he couldn’t help it. Cute. Russell thought he was cute. That was a compliment he hadn’t heard in a long damn time. When he was with Shane, it was like people could see the man’s ownership over him. Men barely looked at him, much less called him cute.
Theodore headed for the kitchen, grabbing his cane on the way. “Hey, Russell?”
“Can I ask you something and you tell me… if you think it’s too soon?”
“Or if you think it’s idiotic?” Theodore asked.
“Also of course. What’s up?”
“How, umm…? What would you think if I asked you out to supper?”
“Well, my first thought would be that it’s a date. Would you like me to think of it as one while I answer your other questions?” Russell asked.
“Okay. Well, I don’t think it’s idiotic. And… when you say ‘too soon’, I have two thoughts. Which one are you referring to?”
“Probably both, but I guess I’ll start with, ‘Is it too soon in our… current friendship’?”
“No. You can take someone out on a date the very day you meet them,” Russell said.
Theodore nodded. Even he knew that much, but his mind didn’t quite feel up to functioning at full capacity this soon after waking up. “Okay. What about with, umm, Shane? Is it too soon to start taking guys out on dates again?”
“Only you can decide that,” Russell said. “So, when you ask yourself that question, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?”
“Well, Gina’s still kinda stuck in my head right now, so I guess the thing that comes to mind is that I can’t let him ruin my life from behind bars,” Theodore said.
“And what happens when you try to think outside of that? Is there anything else there on it? Or is it just Gina’s voice? Either one is totally okay and completely reasonable.”
“I-I don’t know that there is anything past that. I mean, except for all of the thoughts of me worrying. I guess that’s there pretty presently.”
“I can only imagine. You’ve been through a lot of shit, Theodore. Worry is to be expected.” Russell turned to face him, a box of pancake mix in his hand. “Mm?”
“Sure,” Theodore said, his voice soft.
“Awesome.” Russell turned back around, setting the box on the counter. “When it comes to those worries, are there any of them I can help with? Or do you need to work through them on your own?”
“Umm… maybe a bit of both? I’m not sure,” Theodore said. “And I don’t wanna risk making you uncomfortable.”
“Ah, hit me with your best shot.”
Theodore nodded, watching Russell go through the cupboards and drawers, getting the bowls and measuring utensils he needed. It took him a few tries to find whichever one he was looking for at any given moment, but he didn’t complain or get pissy. He just… looked, found, and moved on to the next one.
“How many angry exes do you have?”
“As far as I know, none. I’ve dated a couple women. I’ve only recently come out as bisexual, now that I’m not holding that against myself for being… different,” Russell said. “Which, if you aren’t okay with that, you don’t have to ask the rest of your questions.”
“I’m gay. I like men. Why… would I not be okay with that?”
Russell chuckled, though it held much less humor than usual. “You would be totally surprised by the shit I put up with when people find out sometimes. I’ve yet to actually go on a date with a guy that doesn’t end it when he finds out I also like women.”
“That’s shitty. I’m sorry, Russell.”
“Ah, that’s okay. I mean, it’s not. But, like, I’m okay,” Russell said. He looked back at Theodore, throwing out a charming smile. “But thank you.”
“No problem.” Theodore cleared his throat. “So you’ve… never had a boyfriend?”
“Nope. Just several guys I’ve gone on half a date to a full date with.”
“What about girlfriends?”
Russell nodded. “I’ve had three actual girlfriends since graduating college. Otherwise, I focus most of my attention on work.”
After a moment, Theodore nodded, though Russell was busy stirring together ingredients for pancakes. “Are you a workaholic?”
“Eh. I do my best to devote as much time and personal resources as I can to the job when I have a case on my desk. I don’t want to be lazy when I’m trying to find someone’s killer, you know? Otherwise, no, I’m not a workaholic,” Russell said.
“Are you working a case right now?”
“So… you can balance a personal and social life between your job, even when you’re on a case?” Theodore asked.
“Oh, of course. If I think the person at the other end of that social life is worth it, anyway,” Russell said.
For the second time that morning, heat climbed up Theodore’s neck and to his pale, freckled cheeks. Russell considered him ‘worth it’. That was more than he’d ever gotten with Shane.
Which sounded absolutely pathetic, but Theodore had long since been aware of how pathetic and naive and just plain stupid he was.
“Do you… want a boyfriend?”
“Of course. I want someone I can start a life with. Whether that’s kids or animals or just me and him–or me and her–doesn’t matter. I just want to take the next step in my life, and now that I’m happy with my body, with my mind, with my job…” He lifted his shoulders. “The next step for me is a partner, and not in the criminal sense.”
Theodore chuckled. “Well, that’s good to know,” he said quietly. “Russell?”
“With all of, umm, that in mind, will you let me take you out to supper next week?”
“I sure will. I would love to go out to supper with you,” Russell said. He turned to face Theodore. “I don’t wanna be blunt, okay? I don’t want you to feel like I’m trying to shame you or anything like that. But right now, are you able to take someone out to supper? Or shall I take you?”
Theodore cleared his throat. “You’re talking money, right?”
“I… get paid Friday.”
Russell nodded. “How about I take you out? You can get the next one.”
“The next one?”
Russell smiled. “Yeah, assuming you don’t get sick of me after date numero uno.”
Theodore chuckled, a faint smile coming to his face. “I’m okay with that idea. I’ll take you out for date number two. So… the place is also your choice for the first date.”
“Do you have a preference?” Russell asked.
Theodore shook his head. “It, umm… wasn’t my job to be picky about what I was willing to eat or where I was willing to go. It was Shane’s way or the highway, literally.”
Russell’s expression softened, but Theodore was glad not to see pity in his eyes. He looked sad and a little angry, but there wasn’t that familiar hint of, ‘aww, poor Theo, couldn’t hold his own against the big, bad Shane’ that he was used to seeing in everyone else’s eyes.
“I know that’s not something you’ll work through instantaneously, by any means, but I do want you to know that, when you’re with me, you’re allowed to have an opinion and a voice. And I won’t kick you out of the car for having them,” Russell said.
Theodore offered a smile. “Thank you.”
“No problem. So, if you can, uh, mind telling me if there’s any food you don’t enjoy all that much?”
Theodore swallowed roughly. He knew Russell wouldn’t hit him or charge him or scream at him, but somewhere in the back of his mind, he still worried. How could he not? “I… was never really a fan of sushi?”
“Okay. No sushi. Got it.”
“I, umm, don’t really enjoy seafood in general. I can only do fish if they’re those breaded, beer-battered fillet things that probably aren’t even fish by the time they’re done being processed.”
Russell chuckled, nodding. “Okay. No seafood unless I take you to a restaurant with kid’s menu options.” He smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m not a huge fan of any of that, either. If I can see that it has a tail or eyes, I don’t want it,” he said. “Anything else?”
“I-I don’t think so.”
“Mmhmm. No seafood, then. I’m sure I’ll find something that works just fine,” Russell said. “What about places? Are there any places you don’t want to go specifically due to bad memories? Bad days? Anything like that?”
Theodore bowed his head, rubbing the back of his neck. “Umm… you know that Italian place that opened up a year or two ago?”
“I think so.”
“I can’t go there again. Like… ever.”
“New Italian place is off the list, I promise,” Russell said.
It was unbelievable how calmly Russell said things, how much he acted like the limitations didn’t bother him in the slightest, like they weren’t extra trouble. Shane would’ve held them against them for the next decade, and even that was probably on the short end of things.
“You’re sure it’s no trouble?” Theodore asked.
Russell reached out and squeezed his arm. “I promise you that it is no trouble at all. And if you think of anything or anywhere else you need on the no-go list, you let me know. All right?”
Slowly, Theodore nodded. “Okay. I will, umm, be sure to keep that in mind.” He cleared his throat. “But for now… pancakes?”
Russell flashed that charming, easy smile of his. “Pancakes.”
Enjoying the story? Consider dropping a comment or a like down below!!
Updates every Wednesday!
Love what I do and want to help support me? You can ‘buy me a coffee’ on Ko-fi!