I guess there’s a theme in certain romance novels where a supposedly straight man doesn’t realize he’s a lover of men until someone comes into his life who stirs feelings he’s never experienced before. He’s unsure of it at first, maybe even outright denies the whole thing, but it’s a romance novel so you know everything works out in the end and they’re together forever. Lucky bastards.

Our story isn’t like that, though. I mean, the beginning is the same: I was married when Daren and I met, despite the fact that I’d never felt any real desire toward anyone, female or male. It was a marriage of convenience, of status, and I knew Catherine had no more love for me than I her; or, if she loved something, it was my last name and my connections. I tried to do right by her anyway, though, because all I wanted was to be the man my family and society asked me to be. My own happiness, or lack thereof, didn’t really figure in. It’s no wonder Daren’s mere friendship felt like the first spark of light in the years of dreariness that encompassed my life.

Whatever was between us didn’t stay just friendship for long. The more time we spent together, both inside and outside of the office, the more I realized my longing to see him had gone beyond the normal or appropriate. For his part, Daren tried his best to hide his own feelings, but soon neither of us could help the flirtation which quickly moved from harmless to serious. And the serious flirting quickly became… more than flirting. We both knew it was a mistake but I’d never been nearly as happy as when I was in Daren’s arms. I soaked his affection and acceptance up like a desert that had never known rain.

Daren changed everything. For once I felt something more than apathy. Even the burden of secrecy paled before the electrifying wonder of this strange new thing we shared. We never meant for it to become more than an amusement, a dangerous fling, but love doesn’t care if you make other plans. It felt like we were fated, and I would have done anything for Daren, would have sacrificed anything to remain with him. For the first time in my life I wanted something for myself and almost had it in my grasp.

It’s the ending of our story that’s different, because of course we don’t live in a romance novel. I didn’t leave my hellish wife to be with the man I love forever. He didn’t choose to remain my cherished secret out of love and loyalty. No, I woke one morning after a precious, stolen night together to find the bed cold and empty at my side. When I got to the office he’d already given notice and removed every trace of his presence. Empty, too, was his apartment, and his phone rang endlessly without ever reaching voicemail. I don’t know where he went. I don’t know where he is now. All I know is Daren made the decision to cease our illicit liaison and that’s where our story ends. I’d be lying if I said I hope Daren is happy wherever he is; all I hope is that he regrets his choice as much as I regret giving him the chance to make it.

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