When the call finally came from Perry, Albert could hardly understand her through her sobs. He got that Marco was alive but in dire condition, with burns over…well, he didn’t know exactly how much of his body, but Perry was nearly incomprehensible in her panicked state. As soon as he got the name of the hospital from her, he and Gregg were on the way. Chris opted to stay behind since he said otherwise he’d be a creeper.
“You are a creeper,” Albert tossed at him, though his heart wasn’t in teasing Chris. It was more a habit than anything else.
Chris just nodded and shooed them out the door. “I’m here if y’all need me,” he added before closing it.
“He’s not so bad,” Gregg said as they hurried to the parking lot. “Your vehicle or mine?”
“Um, yours. I’m kind of shaky.” Albert shook his head. “That’s selfish. Marco’s your friend—“
“I wouldn’t go that far.” Gregg stopped by his car. “I’m not being a dick. I just mean, I don’t really know him. I probably would never have heard from him again after the calendar shoot. That doesn’t mean I’m not upset, but I can drive.”
Albert nodded. “Okay, then. Perry’s call just…it just shook me up. She sounded so—“ He wasn’t sure what words to use. She’d been understandably upset, and saying she was hysterical somehow made him feel misogynistic.
“I could hear her,” Gregg filled in for him, unlocking the car. “I can’t blame her, either. If that were my dad, I’d be flipping out. I want you to meet him, and the rest of my family, soon.”
With that bombshell dropped on Albert, Gregg got in the car. Albert stood for a moment, slack-jawed, then he snapped his mouth shut and got in, too. He couldn’t look at Gregg as he buckled up. Did Gregg really think they were at the ‘meet the family’ point in their relationship? Did Albert?
Albert frowned. How would he know? He hadn’t ever had a boyfriend like Gregg.
Gregg reached over and took his hand. “I probably should have waited to tell you that, but my mom has been asking me to bring you to Sunday dinner since I told her we were dating. Well, before, even, when I told her how I planned to seduce you into dating me.” Gregg smiled warmly, glancing at him then turning his attention back to the road.
“You told her that?” Albert asked, touched and a little freaked out, but unsure why. He supposed it was because he felt the same serious connection with Gregg, and it was…intense. Real. Hopefully, enduring.
No wonder he was scared. The big ‘C’-word was right there, between them, and they were talking around it.
“Commitment,” Albert blurted out, because God forbid he not be awkward as fuck. He slapped his forehead and ducked his head. “I mean—“
“Yeah, commitment,” Gregg agreed, sounding relieved as he gave Albert’s other hand a squeeze. “We’ve already done that, though. We said we were boyfriends and monogamous. I don’t know why commitment is so scary to say, because we’ve said it in other ways.”
“I don’t know,” Albert muttered. “Because I’m a weirdo?”
Gregg chuckled and leaned over to push Albert’s hand off his forehead.
Albert would have panicked had he not noted they were at a red light.
“I think you’re amazing,” Gregg said, looking him in the eyes. “And I’m the luckiest man in the world to have snagged you.”
Albert sputtered, but Gregg kept talking.
“Just wait until I propose to you some day.”
Albert squeaked. He didn’t know what he was trying to say or do or think, because his brain just kind of went haywire on him.
Gregg smiled so big his eyes crinkled. “Yeah, I figured that one would really throw you for a loop. I’ve got so many different options on how and when to do it, I made lists.”
“Lists?” Damn it, there was that squeak again. Albert cleared his throat.
“Yup. Lists.” Gregg bobbed his head. “I like to be prepared.”
Then an idea sparked in Albert’s wretched brain. He gave Gregg a quick side-eye. Maybe he’d surprise Gregg with a proposal one day—one of those big, flashmob, singing, dancing, colorful proposals that would be viewed millions of times on YouTube and be featured on NewNextNow, even.
Oh God! I can’t sing or dance for shit! Albert refused to get anymore freaked out than he already was. He took a deep breath, then slowly exhaled.
“You okay?” Gregg asked. “Too much, too soon?”
Albert grinned at him. “No, no, just a little surprised. Maybe intimidated about meeting your family. You can’t meet my folks until they get back from Hawaii in two months.” They lived there and came to visit four times a year.
And Albert had it then—a destination wedding, on a white-sand beach, with leis and hula dancers and all the glorious beauty of the sun setting, turning the sky to the most amazing shades of orange and purple and red.
Oh yes. He had a plan now, and it calmed him some as well as distracted him from the worry and fear of what might happen to Marco.
When they arrived at the hospital, Gregg had to park almost on the top floor of the parking garage. Perry had texted him the floor she was on, and which waiting room she was in.
Albert felt a little queasy as he got out of the car. “I’m scared,” he said to Gregg quietly. “Perry’s become a good friend to me, and I don’t want her to lose her father, or for him to suffer. And Ezra, he’ll be upset. Marco’s his friend.”
“You’re a good person,” Gregg told him, touching Albert’s arm but not doing more than that. Albert wished they were free to hug and hold hands and kiss everywhere, but the world he lived in was still too filled with hate.
“Thanks.” Albert texted Perry and let her know they were on the way in.
He and Gregg didn’t speak much as they made their way to Perry. Gregg was still a reassuring presence, and Albert was grateful to have him there. He was surprised to see Ezra sitting by Perry, one arm around her shoulders as she leaned on him.
Ezra and Perry saw them at the same time. Both stood, but Perry came flying at him, and Albert caught her in his arms. Luckily Gregg pressed a supporting hand to his back, or else Albert and Perry might have toppled over.
“They don’t know if he’ll make it,” Perry sobbed. “He has burns, but it’s the smoke inhalation and they think he was drugged.” She squeezed him hard, then let him go and dashed the tears from her face. “Actually, they tried to tell me he must have used drugs, and I told them they were full of shit. Dad hates drugs, even prescribed ones.” She scowled. “He was not himself when I talked to him. I mean, you know.” She tipped her chin toward Gregg. “He wasn’t making sense. Something wasn’t right with him.”
Albert wanted to ask where Evan was. He didn’t like that woman, and he’d put her at the top of the suspects list.
“Yeah, he was out of it, but I thought it was from lack of oxygen,” Gregg replied. “I still don’t know why he called me.”
“I think he just hit a random number on his list,” Perry said. “Or maybe he thought he was calling me. I don’t know. He’s going to need surgery and skin grafts and—“ Perry broke off in sobs again.
Ezra looked wrecked, Albert noted, as he reached for Perry.
It was going to be a long night of waiting, but Albert was determined to hope for the best—whatever that was.