Jefferson Martin prided himself on being a cool teacher, the kind who spent his own money on supplies, treated his students with respect, and always kept an open-door policy for anyone in need of advice. You know, the kind of teacher who actually cared. Right now though, he found himself wishing he could care just a little bit less. Then, maybe he could find it in him to slam the door in Tammy Cravelli’s face and tell her to sort out her issues with her mother on her own time.
Of course, he couldn’t do that, not without crying himself to sleep at night and feeling like a horrible failure of a human being. So, he welcomed Tammy into his empty classroom and offered her tissues and patted her on the back as she spilled her guts, all the while keeping one eye on the clock.
Today was a very special day for him. It was his and Manny’s two year anniversary. Jeff was a hopeless romantic, always jumping headfirst into relationships with any cute guy who gave him the time of day, but they rarely ever stuck around. Manny was different though; funny, easy-going, adaptable. He was someone who was always able to roll with the punches and keep up with Jefferson’s golden-retriever-esque personality. This was the longest relationship Jeff had ever been in, and despite others’ misgivings, he felt deep in the pit of his stomach that it would be his last. He and Manny were going to grow old together. He couldn’t even imagine being with someone else.
So, for tonight, Jeff was pulling out all the stops. Flowers, champagne, balloons, chocolate. He’d even booked them a room at the fanciest hotel in town. He’d told Manny that he was going to be working late and that they should just move their anniversary dinner to the weekend. Manny, as always, was super chill about it. Little did he know, he was about to get the most romantic surprise of his life. Now Jeff just had to leave campus soon enough to make it all happen. He had most of what he needed hidden in his desk or already assembled at the hotel, but he still had some pit stops to make, hence the uncharacteristic impatience.
“I don’t know why Mom can’t just accept me the way I am,” Tammy was saying.
Jefferson squeezed her shoulders. He’d been there before. Alas, Tammy wasn’t gay. She just wanted to go to art school and her mother wouldn’t pay the application fee.
“I’ll get you a fee waiver,” he promised, partly because he wanted to help her and partly because he wanted her to leave.
Tammy looked up at him with wide watery eyes.
“But the office said I don’t qualify for one because my mom makes too much money.”
Jeff put on a knowing smile and said, “I’m friends with your guidance counselor. If I tell her you need one, she’ll get it ready for you.”
Tammy’s tear-stained face broke into a grin and she hugged him with so much force it nearly knocked him off of his feet.
“Thank you, Mr. Martin! You’re a lifesaver.”
Jeff laughed and patted her on the back one last time before sending her on her way. Once he was sure she was gone, and the hallway was clear, he dug out all the date night necessities from his desk, threw them into his messenger bag, and sprinted out to his truck. It was still only 3:37. Manny wouldn’t expect him for at least another hour.
Jefferson stopped by the liquor store first and then the party store for some heart-shaped Mylar balloons. Finally, he picked up his large and expensive bouquet of roses. The cab of his truck was so filled with tokens of his affection that he had to drive with the flower arrangement on his knees.
When he finally pulled up to his and Manny’s apartment complex, he parked in his usual spot and took a moment to check his hair and teeth in his rearview mirror. Then he gathered up the flowers and balloons, tucking everything else away in the glove box for later. It was now 4:15. There was just enough time to get the surprises and pre-celebrations out of the way before their dinner reservation at five. From there, he would blindfold Manny and lead him to their room, which was technically a honeymoon suite decked out with the finest luxury items the high price tag could offer. They’d chill and crack open the champagne, share chocolates, and maybe even a bubble bath before breaking in the spacious rose-covered bed.
Jeff smiled. He’d really outdone himself this time. He could already imagine the shocked expression on Manny’s face.
He somehow managed to beep the lock button on his keys, while still juggling the balloons and flowers. He was romantic, not stupid. If he left his car unlocked, even for a moment, someone would definitely steal it. He took a moment to check himself out in the side view mirror. He looked a little bit red, which was an unfortunate side effect of his extremely pale skin and the cool winter air. His brownish red curls were piled messily on top of his head like they always were and his huge brown eyes were staring back at him like beacons. He knew he wasn’t traditionally handsome, but he was still “nerd cute” as his sister liked to call it. He gave his reflection a wide toothy grin that made him look like a kid in a candy store.
Finally, having made peace with his reflection, Jeff made his way up the rickety slate steps outside of his unit. It was a struggle and he may have seen his life flash before his eyes a couple of times, but he eventually made it onto their tiny balcony. He inserted his key into the lock, turning it as quietly as he could, and stepped inside.
He was expecting Manny to be sitting on the couch in his underpants in front of the TV, the way he always was on his days off, but the living room was surprisingly empty.
Frowning, Jeff kicked the door closed with his foot and let the helium balloons rest against the low ceiling. He took a few steps toward the bedroom, but stopped short when he heard soft rhythmic creaking noises. A few seconds later there was a high-pitched moan that most certainly did not belong to his boyfriend. Jeff didn’t even give himself time to think. He threw the door open so forcefully that the hinge smashed against the edge of the frame with a loud crack.
On his bed was a startled young man who was naked and on all fours. He had long black hair and tan skin and a tattoo of a shark over his left shoulder blade. Manny was standing behind him, equally naked and seemingly unashamed. He didn’t even bother pulling out of shark boy’s ass as Jeff looked up and met his eyes.
“I thought you said you were going to be late,” Manny said in his thick Southern accent, as if that was all the explanation that was required.
Jeff let his bouquet of roses fall on the floor, the vase shattering everywhere. He was angrier than he could ever remember being. He had been treated badly by many a boyfriend, but this was a new low. He wanted to hit him, he was a pacifist, but by God he wanted to hit him. Sock him right in that handsome, stubbly jaw.
“Get out,” he said, jaw working. “Both of you.”
Manny and “Shark Boy” gathered their clothing and shuffled past him. Jefferson made sure to pull away so that no part of his now ex-boyfriend’s skin could brush against him. He didn’t even watch Manny leave. He just listened for the sound of the front door closing before breaking down in tears, right next to the fallen roses.