Tuesday night, after work, Theodore waited for his mom to come to the house to babysit Vera. The idea of going on an actual, genuine date with Russell made his heart race and his stomach twist, but he was doing his best to keep it together. He wanted to move on. He wanted to show himself that he was worth more than someone like Shane.
As it stood, Russell had treated him rather well. If that wasn’t better than Shane, he wasn’t sure what–or who–was.
Finally, when his mom got to the house, Theodore unlocked and opened the door. “Well, don’t you look nice,” she said, her head cocked to the side. “You said you were going to the bar. Dress pants, a tie, and a very nice button-up are the things you’re choosing to wear to the bar?”
Theodore offered a smile. “What if I said yes?”
“Then I’d call you a liar.”
Theodore let out a breath. “Between you and me, I’m going on a date.”
His mother smiled. “Theo, baby, that’s great.”
His shoulders relaxed. “It is?”
“Of course it is. If you’re ready to try and start… living your life again, if you’re ready to be able and try to move past all that bad stuff? Of course that’s great. If even one date with a good man helps make you happy, it’s really great.”
Theodore smiled softly. “Thanks, Mom.”
She nodded. “Are you nervous? You look nervous.”
“I’m scared it’s too soon.”
“But you’re not sure?” she asked. He only shook his head. “Well, you look very nice tonight, so I say go. You can always leave early.”
“He’s picking me up. I don’t… I haven’t gotten back around to driving again.”
“That’s okay. Tell you what, if you wanna leave early and he won’t take you, you call me. I’ll put Vera in the car and come getcha.”
Theodore smiled. “Thanks, Mom. Really, I appreciate that.”
She touched a hand to his cheek. “You’re my baby boy. I gotta make sure you’re taken care of.”
“Thank you.” He cleared his throat. “So, umm… call me if you can’t find something or if you or Vera need anything. I’ll answer. Otherwise, I’ll be home in about three hours.”
“All right, sweetheart. Have fun, okay?”
“I’ll do my best, Mom.” Theodore pressed a kiss to her cheek before pulling open the front door. Though he had heard Russell’s car pull up, he hadn’t heard the door open or close. Regardless, Russell stood at the front of it, leaned back against the hood, eyes on Theodore.
Theodore swallowed, stepping outside. He reached back and pulled the front door closed. “Good evening,” he greeted.
Russell smiled softly. “Evening. How are you?”
“I-I’m good. How are you?”
“Also good. Do you need a moment, or may I open the passenger door for you?”
“You can–Yeah, you can do that.”
“Okay,” Russell whispered, pushing himself away from the car. He walked over to the passenger side and opened the door. Theodore drew in a deep breath and made his way down the steps, fingers tight around his cane. He hadn’t wanted to bring it, but Vera had insisted. In the long run, he also knew it was better to have it with him, but he hated bringing it everywhere he went. He wasn’t even thirty yet, not for another year or so. Having to walk with a cane made him feel… unbelievably old.
To say the least, it wasn’t a feeling he enjoyed.
“Thank you,” he said, his voice quiet as he slid into the car.
“No problem. All good?” Russell asked. Theodore nodded, pulling his leg a little further from the door as Russell closed it. Through the windshield, he watched the man walk around the front of the car, looking damn good in that suit. Russell slid into the driver’s seat, pulling the door shut behind him. After he buckled his seat belt, he looked over at Theodore. He flashed a smile. “I’m the boring kind of cop that’s not going to back up until yours is on, too.”
“Oh, shoot, sorry. I-I’m just… I’m nervous,” Theodore said, the words tumbling out before he had a chance to stop it.
Russell only smiled. “That’s okay. I’m nervous, too.”
“Very. Dates normally don’t go my way. The whole bisexual thing has really only gone well so far with a couple of women, and I just wasn’t interested enough for a second date. Or… a date at all. One of those gals is just nice to, umm…” Russell cleared his throat. “Well, I won’t go into detail on that one. But I’m nervous. That’s the main takeaway. You aren’t alone.”
Theodore reached over the center console, hesitating. “You won’t be mad if I touch your hand… will you?”
He nodded, dropping his hand to cover Russell’s before he could stop himself again. He gave the detective’s hand a squeeze. “Thank you. Knowing that you’re nervous, too? That makes this feel a little… lighter, easier.”
That familiar soft smile came back to Russell’s face. “No problem, Theo.” He laid his free hand over Theodore’s, encompassing his cold, clammy hand with nothing but warmth. “Are you ready? Or do you wanna sit and talk a while longer? I’m okay either way. I made sure our reservation time accounted for a bit of nerves.”
Theodore offered a smile. “I’ll put on my seat belt and be ready to go. Thanks, Russell. Again.”
“No problem, Theo.”
Their reservations were at a simple but very nice restaurant, though all the tables directly around them were empty. After their waiter gave them their menus and walked back toward the kitchen, Theodore turned his attention to Russell. “I’m rather suspicious of you.”
Russell snorted before lifting his head. “For which reason?”
“This is a nice place, and I’m assuming you didn’t take me somewhere that had terrible food.”
“I didn’t. You’re right.”
“So why are there so many empty tables?”
“I… don’t know that you want an answer to that.”
“I think I do.”
Russell cleared his throat. “I wanted to play it safe and make sure that you didn’t feel too on edge. My sister manages this place. She made sure we were the only ones seated in this section for the next hour and a half.”
“Invasive,” Russell said. “I should’ve asked you if that was something you wanted, but I was worried you wouldn’t give me a straight answer, anyway. I just don’t want tonight to be terrible for you.”
Theodore reached across the table, touching two fingers to the back of Russell’s hand. “Russell, I was going to say that’s about the nicest thing a man’s ever done for me. Thank you.”
Russell’s shoulders relaxed as a smile came back to his face. “No problem, Theo.” Theodore nodded once, pulling his hand back to himself. “So, I want you to know that you don’t have to skim that whole menu and then order, like, a four-dollar salad, okay? You can get whatever you want here, no matter what it is, and I will not be angry with you. I will not hold it against you later. It’s important to me that you do your best to understand that, even though I know it’s difficult for you.”
“I-I’ll do my best,” Theodore assured. He cleared his throat, eyes falling to the menu in front of him. “You’ve eaten here before, right?”
“What… do you recommend?”
“Well, I really like the steak. I’m pretty sure that’s my favorite thing on the menu,” Russell said. “But the chicken breast is good, and the salmon is good. It’s the battered fillet, so… no eyes.”
Theodore snorted. “Good to know. What about sides?”
“I always get fries with the steak, even though my sister tells me I should try and be classier,” Russell said.
Theodore chuckled. “Your sister sounds like a hater.”
“Man, she totally is, she just won’t admit it.”
“God, I know. Rudeness is her speciality,” Russell said.
Theodore lifted his eyes to Russell’s face. “Sibling jabbing aside, is she the one with the niece you bought the book for?”
Russell smiled. “Yeah, she is.”
“What’s your niece’s name?”
Russell’s smile widened, eyes brightening. “Abby. She’s… God, light of my life, you know?”
“I do. Vera’s the light of mine,” Theodore said. “Hopefully this Abby knows how great of an uncle she has?” He was damn proud of himself for managing what he hoped was a compliment without blushing or syking himself out of it. Russell deserved compliments. He was too good of a guy not to have them thrown at him every day.
“I think she knows,” Russell said. He smiled. “And thank you. I hope Vera knows how great of a father she has.” A pause. “Well, that’s a lie. I don’t have to hope for that. I’ve spoken to her about you. I already know she knows it. She sees you as… a warrior, a protector. She’d be right.”
Heat rose to Theodore’s cheeks, but he still managed to shake his head. “No, I’m no protector, and I’m certainly no warrior. I… I let Shane–” “Theo, you didn’t let that bastard do anything. He took what he wanted to take, and he did what he wanted to do. It was a systematic approach to forcing you into submission, forcing you to believe you were garbage and that you deserved what he was doing and saying to you. You, in no way, let that happen. That is not your fault,” Russell said. “And as far as I’m concerned, you are a warrior. You are a protector. He sent you to the hospital, and you fought back against every single thing he had ever done to keep you quiet, and you sent the cops back to that house to make sure Vera would get as far away from him as possible. That sure as hell makes you a warrior in my eyes.”
A/N: I love these two SO damn much, and I have no idea what I’ll do with my life after this book is over, lmao
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