The small wooden boat rocked gently in the dark waters. Bright lights lined the waterway as they passed silently by. Nick held the man in his arms closer, thankful for this quiet time together. “I’m sorry,” Zak whispered, moving closer, half laying on Nick’s body.
Kissing the shell of Zak’s ear, he whispered, “For what?”
“Yelling at you…last night.”
Nick closed his eyes tight. “That wasn’t you, Zak. I know it wasn’t.” The gondalier steered their boat away from a wall with his foot, causing the boat to rock gently.
Zak laid his head back on Nick’s shoulder, burrowing his face into his neck. Nick could feel his face muscles tense and release against his skin. “I wanted to hurt you.”
“But you didn’t.”
“I wanted to and that scared me, Nick. That scared me more than anything. I could have killed you.”
Nick shifted, tightening his embrace around Zak’s chest. “The thought of losing you scared me more than the thought of you hurting me.”
Zak sighed against him but turned back towards the shoreline. “This was a great idea.”
Nick grinned. “One of the top ten most romantic things to do in the world.”
“Wonder how many couples have gotten engaged on a gondola ride in Venice,” Zak whispered almost to himself. Nick grimaced. He knew what was coming next. They’d had this conversation a million times. Zak’s arm crossed over his legs and ran down the outside of his thigh. “Wouldn’t it be great, Nick?”
Swallowing hard, Nick sighed. “Zak, you know I can’t.”
“It’s been ten years.”
Nick’s heart broke at the emotion in those words. “I know…”
Zak sat up, removing himself from his warmth, resting his elbows on his knees. Nick tried to pull him back, but the large body would not move. “I don’t understand why you can’t just leave her.”
Heat flared up into his face. “You don’t understand, or you don’t want to understand, Zak? We’ve talked about this.” Nick was starting to second guess this gondola ride. “Where the hell is this coming from?”
“It’s been ten years, Nick.”
He grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest. “Yes, Zak. I’m aware.”
Zak’s face fell into his hands. “I don’t know…”
Nick’s anger turned to fear.
“After last night, I don’t know if this is a good idea.”
“You’re going to break up with me because you were possessed?” Nick asked in disbelief, his voice raising. “That’s a stupid reason, Zak.”
“How about I don’t want to have to explain that episode to your wife when she sees it?”
“What the hell is there to explain? We do this shit all the time.”
Zak looked between them and down at the gondola. “No, Nick. You know this trip was supposed to be special.”
Nick grunted. This had to be the longest gondola ride in the history of gondola rides. He wondered if the gondalier secretly spoke English and was listening intently to everything that was said. Turning back to look at him, the gondalier smiled brightly down at Nick and winked and he decided against that theory.
Nick felt something hit his leg and he turned back to a small box balanced on his thigh. “Ten years tomorrow, Nick. And for what? I was going to give that to you tomorrow.”
Nick swallowed. “Can I… can I open it?”
Zak shrugged and looked at him. “I don’t know if it will mean as much to you as it does to me.”
He picked the box up delicately in his hands, opening the lid slowly. The ring caught the glint of the lights alongside the boat, making the tiny diamonds along the band shine. “Zak…,” his voice caught in his throat.
“Ten diamonds. For ten years,” Zak said, not looking at him. “I had it engraved, too.”
Nick pulled it out of the box, trying to see the faint letters. His heart broke. Their anniversary date. And I love you. He swallowed the lump in his throat and slipped it on his right ring finger. “If you’d let me, I’d love to wear it.”
Zak sighed and looked back at him, his eyes glossy and muscles tense. “I don’t know what to do Nick.” Nick looked down at the rings on his hands. “For ten years, I haven’t asked you to make a choice. I thought it would just come.”
The loud voice of their gondalier startled him. The boat had pulled up to the dock and he was gesturing at them to exit. Slowly, they got out of the boat, Nick slipping the man an unknown amount of money. He didn’t even look at how much was in his hand. At this point, he didn’t care.
They walked along the canal, side by side, hands in their pockets, both itching to touch the other but neither daring to make the first move. Nick thought back on the past ten years. How much time he had spent away from his wife and how much of that time he had spent with Zak. No one could make him jealous like Zak. Dusty the Park Ranger figured that one out quickly enough.
Nick sighed. But there was so much Zak didn’t know. Veronique knew. She had guessed and he couldn’t lie when she asked him. Their relationship was basically that of roommates at this point. Or extortioner and extortionee. She had threatened to out them to the press and the only way he could keep her quiet was to let things run, business as usual, and give up a significant portion of his paycheck to her each month.
Zak shoulder bumped him gently. Nick smiled and ran his hand down Zak’s arm, pulling his hand from his pocket. Interlacing their fingers together, Zak brought Nick’s hand up to his lips, kissing the back of it softly. “The ring looks good on you.”
Nick smiled and dragged Zak into an alley, pressing him against the side of a building, kissing him passionately. Zak’s body melded into his, tension releasing. Nick broke the kiss, resting his forehead against Zak’s. “The day that our show goes off air,” he whispered, “I will leave her. I promise you.”
Zak smiled and kissed him again softly. “I’m sorry…”
Nick pulled him back, out of the alleyway. “No you are right. I need to make a choice.” His arm slipped around Zak’s waist as he guided him through the streets of Venice. “Happy anniversary.”