This is Callan’s house, and Niall does not live here, but by the way Niall commits himself to washing the dishes, you would not guess it.
There is silence between the two for now, though Niall’s stiff, straight back and the angry vigor with which he scrubs the dishes, when paired with the defeated slump of Callan’s shoulders, says plenty.
Callan stops. He has been drying dishes and putting them away. Now he turns to lean against the counter, heavily, as though it is all that supports him.
“Please stop,” Callan says. His voice is weak. It is barely audible over the sound of running water and Niall’s vigorous scraping.
Niall does not pause in his work. He glares at Callan out of the side of his eye. The hot water has fogged his glasses, hiding the true power of his expression. “No. Where is he?”
The anger in Niall’s voice stirs Callan into motion again. He puts another cup into the cupboard. “I’m not sure.”
“This is such bullshit,” Niall says. He slams the pan he has been scrubbing onto the counter for Callan to dry. He reaches for another. “Not this,” he says quickly, gesturing to the sink and the dishes. “I don’t mind doing this. I mean Brendan.”
“I know what you mean,” Callan says. He sounds as though he barely has the strength to speak. “You don’t have to do this.”
“Yes I do,” Niall says. There is determination in his voice, alongside pride, and, perhaps, a bit of offense. “Who would I be, as a friend, if I didn’t help you when you need it?”
Callan shrugs. “I should needn’t it though. They’re just dishes.”
“There’s what, two week’s worth here?” Niall shakes his head. “More? You shouldn’t have to do this alone.”
“You shouldn’t have to help me with it,” Callan says. “It makes me feel weak. Pathetic. I should be able to do this on my own.”
“One: you’re not weak,” Niall says, finally turning from his task. He puts his hand on Callan’s shoulder. “Two: no, you shouldn’t have to do this on your own. Brendan is supposed to help with this stuff.”
Callan glances at Niall’s hand, where it rests on his shoulder, lingering. He does not mention it. “He doesn’t like to do it.”
“Neither do you,” says Niall. “Neither do I, to be honest, but I don’t mind it because it needs to be done. You’ve got to stop making excuses for Brendan.”
“He just gets busy,” Callan says. “I don’t think he does it on purpose.”
“Callan,” Niall says. “Come on. You’re the one that works six days a week.”
“Yeah but I told him to quit his job, because he was unhappy,” Callan says. He shrugs Niall’s hand off of his shoulder so that he can continue drying dishes. “And we’re fine. I make enough for the two of us.”
“You’re tired,” Niall says. “It’s not right for you to have to be the only one who works, then for you to come home and have to do all the cleaning, too.”
“It’s okay,” Callan says. “Normally I don’t mind, right? I just… It seemed like so much today. I felt like I just couldn’t do it.”
“And that’s why I’m here, Callan.” Niall shuts the water off, finally, though there are still more dishes to be washed. “But look, it’s not like two weeks of dishes just suddenly appeared today. They’ve been here for a minute, right?”
Callan sighs. “Yeah. I just kept putting it off. I get home, and then I’m hungry and Brendan is hungry, so I usually have to make food. Then by the time we’ve eaten doing the dishes just seems so… I don’t know, heavy?Like I’m tired enough that I can barely life myself, so the thought of having to do the dishes too just weighs me down.”
“I get it,” Niall says. “That’s when you have to ask Brendan to do them. Or ask him to do some cleaning while you’re at work. Something.”
“I have,” Callan says. “You know I have. He says he will, but then he just doesn’t. Or he comes up with an excuse. Like, ‘oh, I just got caught up in my game,’ or ‘sorry, I really wasn’t feeling well, so I took a nap,’ or ‘some of my friends asked me to come out with them for dinner.’”
“Is that where he is?”
Callan turns so that he can’t see Niall even out of the corner of his eye. “Yes. He went out to eat with some friends. They’ll probably go to the bar after.”
“What are you supposed to do for dinner?” Niall demands.
“Make something for myself, I guess.”
“Fuck this,” Niall says. He grabs Callan by the arm, forcing him to put down the bowl he’s been drying. “Come on. We’re going out, too.”
This is the diner where they used to get together with their friends in high school. Niall drove them here. He asked where Callan wanted to go, but Callan had no answer.
“Order whatever,” Niall says. “I’m buying.”
They do not speak as they read the menus. It has, in fact, been many years since either of them came here. It has changed little in the interim. They do not recognize the waitress, but she doesn’t seem new, either, only like this place belongs around her.
Only once their food has come, and even then, only after they have taken several bites, does Niall talk again. His eyes flicker back and forth between his plate and Callan’s fate. He lifts a forkful of food to his face, then stops himself, interrupting his own action.
“Why do you put up with him?” Niall says.
“I love him,” Callan answers immediately. The answer is ready on his lips because he has been asked this question before, by Niall, and by others.
“Yeah, but he treats you like shit,” Niall says.
“No he doesn’t,” Callan says, his voice stronger than it has been the rest of the night.
“Callan, he barely helps you around the house,” Niall says. “He doesn’t make dinner for you. Ever. He forgot your birthday last year. When was the last time he got you anything for Christmas?”
“Well, he doesn’t have much money,” Callan says. “It’s okay.”
“He doesn’t have his own money because he doesn’t want to work.”
“That’s not fair,” Callan counters. “I told him not to work. I just want him to be happy.”
“You’re not happy.” Niall leans on the table with both elbows, pushing his face as close to Callan’s as he can. “Why should he be?”
“That’s not how relationship work,” Callan says. “That’s, like, vengeful. I’m not about that. Just because I’m depressed or whatever doesn’t mean I think he doesn’t deserve to be happy. I’m happy for him.”
“Callan,” Niall says. Here he hesitates again. He bites his lip. “You know what I want to say.”
“Please stop,” Callan says. “Just eat your food and take me home. I’ll finish the dishes by myself.”
“You wouldn’t have texted me if you didn’t need help,” Niall says. He holds out a hand, palm up, on the table, ready for Callan to take it. “Let me help you.”
Callan stares at Niall’s hand, but he does not take it. “You helped some with the dishes. That was enough.”
Niall closes his hand into a fist. He withdraws it. “You should leave Brendan.”
“No,” Callan says.
It is hard to see, even in the diner’s too-white, too-bright fluorescent light, but there are tears forming at the edges of Callan’s eyes. They become glossy and reflective.
“Yes,” Niall says. “I know it’s hard. I know. But you need to do something for yourself.”
“That’s not…” Callan takes a deep, shaky breath. “That’s not who I am. I don’t leave just because things have gotten harder.”
“They haven’t just gotten harder, Callan. Brendan acts like he doesn’t care about you.”
“He loves me.” The fact that a tear chooses this moment to fall from the pools that have formed in Callan’s eyes weakens his words.
“He did, once,” Niall says.
He offers his hand again. Callan takes it.
“Come stay at my house tonight,” Niall says. “Tarah will understand.”
Callan only shakes his head.
“Please, Callan,” Niall says. “I know you want Brendan to be happy, but I need you to be happy, too. Brendan is hurting you.”
“Did you know he cheated on me?” Callan says. The tears come full force now. Callan pulls his napkin from his lap to wipe at them.
Niall eyes widen. His jaw drops a bit, working up and down as he searches for the right words. “No, I… When?”
“In April,” Callan says.
“Then again in June. Different guy. Once more in July. Same guy.”
“Every time he said it was the last time,” Callan says. “I believed him. I still do, I guess, but I wonder every time I’m not home what it is he’s doing.”
“There’s a lot of time you’re not home.”
“Yeah,” Callan says. “Yeah. I think he felt bad, though. Or at least, he didn’t want to lose me because of it. Or he didn’t want me to be mad. I dunno.”
Niall grips Callan’s hand tighter. “Come stay with us tonight. Please. Just for tonight, at least.”
Callan pulls his hand from Niall’s grip. He puts both hands over his face, leaning back in the booth. “Yeah. Yeah, okay. Will you take me home first, though? I need some clothes and my toothbrush. And… And there’s stuff I don’t want to leave in the house, if he gets mad. Stuff I care about.”
“What right does he have to get mad?” Niall says. “He goes off and does stuff without you all the time.”
“Brendan tends to break things when he’s angry,” Callan says. “It’s… no, don’t look at me like that. He’s never hurt me. He’s never even threatened me.”
“Okay,” Niall says.
They get boxes to take the rest of their food with them. Niall drives Callan home. On the way, he calls Tarah, who says she’ll make up their guest bed. Callan packs an overnight bag, and a box full of books, journals, his laptop, and a few other things that are important to him.
Niall has to convince him all over again to leave, even after they step out of the door. Brendan is still not home when they drive away, hours after dark, and he hasn’t texted Callan in hours.
Callan doesn’t get Brendan’s next text until he wakes up in the morning.
Where r u?
He didn’t even ask a second time, or call. Callan does not answer the text. He calls into work for the day. That afternoon, Tarah drives him home, because Niall did go to work. He expects to see Brendan there, but the house is empty.
With Tarah’s help, Callan loads his clothes and his possessions into his car and Tarah’s. She hugs him as he cries in the doorway, but when he finally walks down the sidewalk, his tears are dry, and he feels like will never cry again.