The Wild Hunt
Peter is anticipating a peaceful ride up to his Aunt Jackie's house for Christmas. Carlos is anticipating some time at his parents' to recover from an unexpected breakup. But when he's nearly at his aunt's cabin, Peter hits a deer. Carlos, who was driving behind him, stops to help... and both men are floored as the injured deer morphs into a woman...
“He doesn’t want to talk to you.”
“What?” Carlos asked, wishing he could sound anything other than wounded. Anger was in him, he knew it was, so why was there only a pathetic plea to his voice now? “Why?”
“He… well…” Karsyn rubbed the back of his neck, glancing away. Carlos hated bringing him into this, but Karsyn had been friends with both him and Ethan for years—and suddenly Ethan had stopped returning his texts, his calls, and had unfriended him on Facebook. When Carlos had gone to his house and knocked, Ethan had refused to answer, and the key Ethan had given him for their one-year anniversary hadn’t worked. He didn’t want Karsyn to be stuck in the middle, but what was he supposed to do?
This couldn’t be happening. It was three days before Christmas. He and Ethan were supposed to head out tonight to drive down to meet Carlos’s parents. They were scheduled to drive back home the day after Christmas, and one month ago he’d bought Ethan a ring. He’d intended to put it on the star at the top of the tree. It was silly and cheesy, he knew, but he’d also thought it sweet and had spent several pleasant hours over the past month imagining the look on Ethan’s face when he saw it…
“He just doesn’t think it’s working out,” Karsyn finished awkwardly.
“He never said anything to me!”
“I know. He just thinks it’s easier this way.”
“Easier?” Carlos exclaimed. “I didn’t hear a word from him, and I thought he might’ve been hurt!” He’d checked Facebook to see if friends or family had made any comments—many of them didn’t know that Ethan had a boyfriend, after all, so it wouldn’t have surprised him if he hadn’t been notified in case of emergency—which was when he’d found out about the de-friending.
“He’s still friends with you online, right?” he asked now, and Karsyn put a hand on his shoulder.
“C’mon, Carlos. Don’t.”
“Don’t what? Don’t try to figure out what happened? Is there… there’s someone else, isn’t there? That’s why you don’t want me to look.”
“No. No, that’s not… y’know what, fine. Ethan probably wouldn’t want me to show you this, but hey, he shouldn’t have ghosted you. So fair’s fair.”
Carlos watched, his heart in his throat, as Karsyn opened his laptop. Ghosting. He’d heard the term—it meant cutting someone out of your life suddenly and completely, without a word of explanation—and while initially he’d thought it cruel, Ethan had pointed out that sometimes it was a necessary thing to do. For instance, when someone was frightened of how an abuser might react to a more traditional breakup.
“Ohhh, god,” he whispered. “Ethan isn’t scared of me, is he? He can’t be. I’ve never been violent! Well, no, there was that one time when I punched that poor worker at the haunted house, but that was just reflexes and I did apologize and I bought him dinner and aspirin. I never—”
“Calm down, man. It’s not that.”
“Then what did I do wrong?”
“Nothing. Honestly, I’m surprised you guys made it as long as you did. He’s Mr. Spontaneous, and you get edgy if you have to switch laundry night from Tuesday to Wednesday.”
“He said he loved that about me,” Carlos said quietly. “He was always joking about how opposites attract.”
Karsyn logged in to Facebook and went to his friends list, calling up Ethan’s profile. There, at the top, he’d posted a block of text.
“Almost the New Year,” he’d written. “Time for some changes. For a long time now, I’ve known that my relationship wasn’t going anywhere. I’m still young, and I deserve more than hopping straight from college to middle age. I’m tired of boring routines and debates about what to watch on Netflix. I need travel, fascinating conversation! I want to talk with a stranger at the Eiffel Tower at midnight. I want to swim with the dolphins in Hawaii. I want all the romantic movie clichés and more. And it’s far past time I go after what I want. So I’m making a clean break. It’ll be easier for both of us this way. Some of you know exactly who I’m talking about, and I urge you to stay quiet about it. One of us has to be the adult here. My decision is made and there’s no point dredging up drama. Thank you for reading, and Merry Christmas. May your future be as full of hope as mine is now!”
Carlos read the words over again, and then a third time, feeling sick.
“Look,” Karsyn said. “I know you were gonna do this whole big thing with your folks, but if you want to hang out with me for a few days instead, that’s fine. I’ll be seeing mom in March for her birthday, anyway. She’ll understand. We can—”
“No, no,” Carlos said. “Thanks, but I’m just going to do what I already planned on.” Of course you are, he thought to himself derisively. Mr. Routine, that’s you. “Mom and dad would understand, too, but they’d still worry. Don’t want to put them through that.”
“If you’re sure,” Karsyn said. “And look, just—don’t dwell on it too much, okay? Ethan’s my friend and all, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a jackass. And hey, you can get the money back for the ring, right? That’ll be a nice chunk of money for other gifts.” Seeing the look on Carlos’s face, he sighed. “Ignore me. I’m a jackass, too.”
“No, you’re not,” Carlos said. “Thanks for helping me out.”
“No problem. Have a safe trip, man.”