With the kitchen no longer an active warzone, guests were able to migrate and disperse in there, which helped alleviate the cramping; even with that option, the house was at its limit for occupation. Another downside with hosting at Jodie’s was that everyone else couldn’t swing by after their respective family gatherings to hang out since the space was too small. Jodie played it off as though she wasn’t bothered, but it was undeniable that she missed having the roster around for the holiday. She was particularly glum over Maya’s absence, and made a few comments in passing that were twinged with longing and jealousy. God forbid someone have a healthy relationship with their entire family and be able to celebrate that.
Meanwhile, Mitch felt as though he was navigating through a laser field security system in a heist movie, and moved about with the utmost caution. If Toby wasn’t clinging off of him, he constantly lingered in the peripheral. When Avi approached Mitch, without fail Toby crept over soon after with his bad attitude. Hostility simmered below the surface, nearly boiling over when -unprovoked- Toby asked Avi how tall he was “out of curiosity”. Mitch retorted by “accidentally” driving his heel into the top of Toby’s foot, then sent him into the kitchen to fetch a seltzer.
The caveat to Toby’s hovering was Jodie, who he didn’t dare go near. Or at least, that’s how it was initially. Eventually, Toby became brave out of necessity, since he couldn’t very well avoid her in her own home. To Jodie’s credit, she was a good sport and matched his charm and wit; sometimes the two laughed as though years of deep seated animosity hadn’t driven a wedge between them.
It’d be foolish to think that this ceasefire would last longer than the few hours that Toby was permitted to stay, but Mitch accepted this tiny miracle and breathed a bit easier over not having to be a referee for the day.
And yet, something was still off. He’d convinced himself that he wanted Toby integrated into this part of his life -arguably the most important part- but a sinking sensation continued to overwhelm him the more that he observed. Instead of being thrilled or relieved over this mingling, he became borderline irate and territorial. These were his people, his family. God knew what Toby embellished out of earshot, or the outright lies that were being shared, and Mitch didn’t want to think about it.
At one point, Mitch loved Toby with a ferocity that consumed him the way that fire does tinder. Toby was the only thing that mended his heart after Dylan ripped it out of his chest. He frequently teetered on the edge of throwing his life away for him, and would have abandoned Calvin if Toby just said the word. For years, he was convinced that they were soulmates, and that in the end they would wind up with one another.
But enough time and distance and therapy sessions came and went, and Mitch at last allowed himself to digest what they were, what this was. Fact of the matter was that it meant nothing at best and was fatal at worst. Toby made him feel like he was the most valuable person alive when it was convenient, only to drop him when Mitch would so much as hint that he needed a crumb of real effort and not just the superficial doting. It fucked with his head, reduced his self-worth to nothing, made him feel as though he couldn’t voice his needs with anyone, lest he be abandoned.
They met when he was 19 years old, and in retrospect, how was he supposed to know any better? How was he supposed to handle being told that he was loved by this older man, who promised him the moon and stars, only to repeatedly leave him in the cold vacuum of space? More often than not, Toby’s shuttle was the only one around. It was the sole form of safety that Mitch became conditioned to, even though the risk of being violently ejected from it was constant.
How did this go on for so many years, and yet they were never on the same page? Not once? How did the roles become so drastically reversed? When Mitch was the one that couldn’t handle commitment, Toby became obsessed with the idea. He would have killed for this level of devotion in the past, but now that he could have it, it wasn’t appealing in the slightest. Too plastic, too insincere, too many airs. Unsustainable and artificial.
This experiment failed, Mitch accepted at last, despite his continued efforts to revive what they once had. The bottom was due to fall out any moment, and someone would get hurt. And though the nasty, vengeful part of his psyche wanted Toby to get his after everything, Mitch couldn’t bring himself to inflict that same kind of cruelty on purpose.
While he nursed his seltzer and watched the room from a corner, Wil sidled up to him and they exchanged knowing glances. As two introverts, they often ended up like this together at big gatherings. Sometimes Gianna swung by and tried to pass a drink to Wil, but he reminded her that he was the designated driver and that she should go enjoy herself. Once she left to join up with Avi and Arin, Mitch turned to Wil and quietly asked, “Am I the most fucked up guy alive?”
“For real?” Wil asked, and Mitch nodded. “Maybe in this room.”
“Thanks,” Mitch grimaced.
Wil offered a sympathetic smile. “C’mon man. We’ve known each other for a while now. I think you’re just going through it. We’re all allowed our moments of madness.” He paused, eyes trained over to where Toby and Victor conversed. As if he could tell that he was being watched, Toby looked over to where they stood and winked, and Mitch begrudgingly waved to him. “Your, uh, guy might have you beat, though, if he can’t pick up on what you’re putting down.”
“You could tell, huh?” Mitch rubbed the side of his face.
“Mhm,” Wil hummed affirmatively, and Mitch sharply inhaled.
“Yeah, I gotta deal with that.”
“Good luck,” Wil gave him a hearty pat on the back, then cleared the way for Toby’s return by rejoining his wife.