This little ficlet started out as an extra for the release of On Call: Crossroads, my short story that benefits Doctors Without Borders. Keith and Dante have a sad mission that opens the story; this is how Dante sees what is to come.
Keith hadn’t moved in front of the mirror for several minutes, not because he was vain. He wasn’t even looking at himself — he was holding the ends of his tie, but his head was bowed and his eyes closed. Dante shrugged into the charcoal gray suit coat and came to help his lover.
“Let me get that,” Dante told him, and took the silk from his unresisting hands. “Chin up,” he almost said, but stopped, not wanting the request to sound like a demand for a changed attitude. Keith was grieving, and if he hadn’t said why, Dante could guess some of it. With a gentle finger, he tipped Keith’s head enough to tie a four-in-hand at his throat.
Their destination was a small church a few miles distant, a ceremony for a young man whose name Dante had never heard before, but who clearly meant something to Keith. He’d explain when he was ready, Dante knew; sooner or later Keith would be willing to talk. What little he’d said — “A patient” — was the only clue to why he was so torn up.
Dante pulled his small SUV, the back equipped with the animal cages he needed professionally, into the church parking lot, careful to avoid the streams of people, many of them young, all of them solemn. He glanced up at the steeple and kept his wish to himself; he wanted to drive a smiling Keith to church, with flowers pinned to their lapels, to make some binding promises in front of people who’d shed happy tears. That wasn’t going to happen today, or maybe any day ever. Dante dragged his head out of the clouds and turned to Keith.
Keith nodded without looking up, but didn’t reach for the door handle. Reaching across the console, Dante took one of Keith’s hands, lying slackly in his lap, and squeezed. “I’m here for you.”
Keith squeezed back. “I know you are.” That brought the corners of his mouth up just a smidgen, before they dropped again.
Dante squeezed again. “Keith, I will always be here for you.”
Binding promises didn’t have to be made inside the church.