This story is by Hannah Coleman-Zaitzeff and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Leo was sprinting across the grounds before his brain could even register what he was doing. He had only eked out a mere, “excuse me” before leaving the stunned party of 4 staring into their tea cups, no doubt dumbfounded by the sudden escape.
His legs bound him across the fields and toward some cover. He was aware that Arthur had followed him out, now sprinting after him towards the setting afternoon sun.
Leo’s legs finally stopped and he glanced back at the, now distant, estate and sighed. His feet had unknowingly led him somewhere very familiar. This pond was at the intersection of his family’s land, the Bellenet’s land, and Arthur’s family’s land. It looked stunning in the summer sun, surrounded by bright green grass and all the bounties untended nature could provide.
He and Arthur had spent many days by this lonely and beautiful pond, and Leo remembered when Sylvia and Jane Bellenet had begun to join them here as children. They were an inseparable bunch, trouncing around their own little corner of the world.
Leo had come to the estate to propose to Sylvia, but sitting in the foyer looking between Arthur, Sylvia, and Sylvia’s parents, Leo knew what he had to do.
Arthur couldn’t believe what had just happened. One moment he was hardening his heart to listen to Leo’s proposal, and the next Leo was sprinting out of the Bellenet’s foyer and out onto the grounds. Arthur burst through the tree coverage at the edge of the property and located the outstretched Leo.
“Leo!? What the hell?”
Leo was laying at the edge of the pond, panting from his sprint. He had unceremoniously removed his jacket to reveal a now rumpled white shirt and his charming suspenders falling down near his muscular arms, which were pulling at the fabric of his –
Arthur felt himself blush. His mind had run away with itself again.
Leo is proposing to Sylvia, Arthur reminded himself. They both needed to focus.
Arthur panted, “What on earth are you doing out here?”
Arthur and Leo hadn’t been back to the pond in ages. He had forgotten how ridiculously beautiful it was here in the summer and how romantic the air felt when the sun was low in the sky, like it was at this very moment.
Leo bursted, “Arthur, I can’t do it-”
“What are you talking about?”
“I can’t. I came out here because I –”
“Because you’re nervous,” Arthur cut him off, “It happens to everyone, mate. But I am here to put you back together and get you back in there.”
“Art, I –”
“I know what you’re going to say. You’re scared Sylvia will say no. Well, she won’t if you get through the damn proposal. You can’t let her get away.”
“I can’t let her get away?” Leo repeated in disbelief.
“Yes, now you are getting it.”
Arthur sat down next to his best friend and smacked a hand on his back. This manly performance felt wrong and Arthur knew Leo wouldn’t fall for it. But it was all Arthur had to keep himself from falling apart.
Leo couldn’t believe how ridiculous Arthur was being. Just a week ago, Leo told him about the proposal and Arthur avoided him for days. And now Arthur was his personal cheerleading team?
“Do you want me to get married?” Leo asked his suddenly optimistic friend.
Leo saw panic flash across Arthur’s face and then disappeared behind a goofy plastered smile.
“This isn’t about me. This is about you. You want to marry her and that’s what matters.” Arthur retorted.
Leo felt a twinge of sadness hit him. He hadn’t told Arthur that his parents had pushed this proposal or that it wasn’t until he was sitting in the foyer of his soon-to-be in-laws, that he even considered what he might actually want.
“Okay, I know what you need.” Arthur interrupted Leo’s thoughts and sauntered over to a stump right on the edge of the pond. “You need to practice. Propose to me!” He declared as he sat delicately posed beside the water.
“What?” Leo couldn’t believe this was happening.
“Pretend I’m Sylvia and propose to me.”
“I don’t think this is a good idea Arthur–”
“Come on. You can do it.”
Leo’s heart lurched. He didn’t want to be telling Sylvia how he felt. He wanted to be telling Arthur, but the fool was so damn busy being supportive that Leo couldn’t get two words out.
Leo looked at his best friend, playing fiancé beside their childhood pond. He smiled as he remembered them as silly kids. Their childhood days of adventure had tumbled them into a friendship that lasted through school and into two lives intertwined in adulthood. They shared a flat, shared friends, shared a lovely little life.
Leo had hoped they could live forever that way. That is, until they came back here for the summer and Arthur’s parents had skillfully invited Sylvia and Jane over for dinner.
From that night on, it was clear Sylvia was smitten for him and soon Leo’s parents were cornering him, ring in hand, with a plan that had been laid out by their parents many years before.
Jane had been meant to fall in love with Arthur, he supposed. Unfortunately for them, Arthur was gay and, though his parents knew, they never stopped trying to get him to fall in love with a woman anyway. Leo hated that.
Leo had always cared about Arthur. Now if he could just get him to shut up for two seconds, he might be able to tell him.
Leo was staring at him and smiling softly, and Arthur felt like he could jump out of his own skin. He was trying so hard to be supportive, but having all of Leo’s attention might be enough to make him burst.
He hadn’t told Leo how devastated he was about the proposal, or how he didn’t want things to change. And he certainly didn’t tell him that his secret crush on his best friend might actually be something much much more. And now that best friend’s stunning eyes might make his heart and all his secrets tumble right out of his chest.
“Okay. I’m done running away.” Leo whispered as he lowered onto one knee in front of Arthur.
Leo took Arthur’s hands in his, and Arthur’s heart leapt in his chest.
“I’ve loved you for years, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I didn’t want to come to terms with what that meant… So I used you. I’m not proud of it, but I needed to be around you, so I took almost all your time and love and never had to make a real decision – I was being a coward, and it wasn’t until I was about to lose you that I realized I couldn’t possibly let you go.”
Tears began burning at the corners of Arthur’s eyes. This wasn’t fun for him anymore.
Arthur had been preparing for days for this proposal. To hear his best friend propose to Sylvia and leave him behind. But he didn’t know it would feel like this. Crushing. Hollow. Wishing the words were meant for him.
Arthur couldn’t do this anymore. He realized he needed to get away from this stupidly romantic pond and this stupidly handsome man who would never say such beautiful things to him.
He cleared his throat and pulled his hands free from Leo’s, “Um… well… good job, mate. She surely can’t say no to a proclamation like that.”
Arthur quickly stood and turned back toward the estate. As he tried to move away, he felt Leo reach out and grab him. Leo pulled him back and before Arthur knew what was happening Leo’s mouth was on his.
Arthur gasped against his lips, but quickly relaxed and fell deeper into the kiss. A kiss he had been dreaming about for years.
When they finally parted, Arthur was stunned and, for the first time all day, was silent.
Leo smiled and whispered into his neck, “I knew that was the only way to get you to shut up. I’ve been trying to tell you this whole time. It’s you that I want.”
“But what about all those things you just send about Syl–”
“I wasn’t talking about Sylvia, Art. I was talking about you.”
Holding Arthur firmly in his arms, Leo said, “After all, I couldn’t let you get away.”