“Leaving you was the hardest thing I ever did. I did it for what were probably selfish reasons. It wasn’t anything you did and it wasn’t that I stopped loving you. I think a part of me probably always will.” Somewhat alarmed that he’d confessed that much, Park stared at the floor. When he looked up again, Jackson stared at him as if he’d grown an arm out of his head.
“You still left,” Jackson said softly.
“I made the right choice for my career. I have no doubt about that. But I don’t know that I made the right choice for my heart. Because you, at least, could find love again, but I probably won’t.”
Jackson took a step closer. “Because you only fuck men who also won’t tell. That’s a lonely way to live.” His tone was sad, like he pitied Park.
“Because I have spent the last five years comparing every man I sleep with to you. And none of them will ever measure up.” Park met Jackson’s gaze. His memories of life with Jackson had been plaguing him for months, since the Senate campaign began in earnest really, and were probably the very thing that had driven him to Jackson’s office to begin with. Being with Jackson was something he had no right to hope for. But he added, “How’s that for honesty?”
Jackson shook his head. “No. No, you don’t get to say shit like that.” He turned away and looked at the wall. “You walked out on our life together of your own volition. I loved you more than I’ll probably love anyone, and you destroyed that by leaving. And for what? So you can live like a monk while running for an election you’ll probably lose, all because you had some principle or moral that being gay conflicted with? You made a choice, you destroyed both of us in the process, and you have to live with that choice.”
Park understood Jackson’s anger. He felt some of it himself. “I did make a choice, and I’ll spend the rest of my life wondering if it was the right one, but it doesn’t matter now because it’s in the past. We have to worry about what’s next. So what I’m telling you is that I’ll be honest with you and you can trust me, but I understand that I have to earn your trust.”
Jackson remained quiet for a long time. Mostly he stared at Park. The only sound in the room was the rise and fall of their breathing and the cycling on and off of the air conditioner unit by the window. It was a cruel reminder that Park was not home and that these circumstances were so far out of the ordinary, he didn’t know how he’d find his way back.
When Jackson spoke again, his voice cracked, “This is so hard. Seeing you again, trying to keep professional distance, it is so fucking hard. When I look at you, I don’t just see a client. I see a million memories, and I see what I thought our future would be, and then I see you walking out the door, again and again, and it wrecks me all over again. It’s all stuck on some terrible repeat loop.”
Had Park really thought he could stroll into Jackson’s office and hire him and everything would be fine? Had he really thought that, even though they’d never be lovers again, he and Jackson could have some kind of professional rapport? It all seemed like such a foolish line of thinking in retrospect. There was still so much between them. “I’ll never be able to apologize enough for hurting you,” Park said, but even that felt inadequate.
“I’ll probably never really understand why you did.”
“It’s hard to remember why when I’m standing this close to you.”
Jackson looked down, probably examining how the tips of their shoes were only about a foot apart. When he looked up again, his expression was tired, resigned. “There’s a part of me that wants to hate you.”
Park could hear the “but” in Jackson’s tone, and it was like a sliver of sunlight along a dark curtain. “But you don’t.”
“I don’t want to trust you, either.”
“But you do.”
Jackson nodded. “I don’t want to be attracted to you anymore, either, but you’re still the goddamn hottest man on the planet to me. I hate that.”
And then they were kissing.