He looked from his computer and turned in his office chair to face his husband. Stephen looked vaguely shell-shocked, and the hoarse sound of his name on Stephen’s lips worried him.
Russ rose from his chair, frowning. “What is it, Stephen? Is everything okay?” Oh no, what if something’s happened to Miss Esther? He thought, heart clenching. He knew she wouldn’t live forever, but apart from her arthritis she was quite healthy for her age. He’d hoped they—and especially Stephen—would have her around for years.
Stephen stepped closer, cradling Russ’ face in his hands, his expression impossible to read. “The Supreme Court ruling was announced.”
Russ’ heart took off, pounding so hard it felt like it would leap out of his chest. “And?”
His lips felt dry all of a sudden and he had to lick his lips. He rested his hand against the lapel of Stephen’s navy blue suit, his heart racing as fast as Russ’ was. Their marriage was legal in South Carolina. This ruling wouldn’t change anything, and yet….
“It’s legal, Russ. Everywhere.” Stephen’s eyes seemed even bluer than usual, and he blinked a few times, wetness glistening on his eyelashes. Russ could hear the shock and disbelief in his voice, the echo of Stephen’s younger self who had convinced himself he’d never have the opportunity to marry. Although they’d been married the fall before, Russ knew this governmental stamp of legitimacy meant more to Stephen than he could ever articulate. It mattered to the boy who’d grown up knowing he was different, to the young man who’d been disowned by his family, and the adult who’d never imagined he could marry his partner. “Our marriage is legal.”
“Stephen,” was all Russ could manage. He felt Stephen’s lips against his, soft and needy, and he wasn’t sure which of them had closed the distance first. He lost himself in the taste and the feel of the man he loved, remembering the vows they’d exchanged on the beach nine months before. For a moment, he even thought he could hear the roar of the waves behind him and he pulled back to laugh with Stephen about it.
The sound didn’t fade though and he turned his head and realized their co-workers were standing in a circle around his cubicle, clapping. He realized he was grinning and he felt Stephen squeeze the back of his neck as if to say, “I love you”. Russ and Stephen rarely touched in the office, unless they were in Stephen’s office behind a closed door, and they’d both apparently been too caught up in the moment to remember where they were. Russ glanced around the room at their co-workers, shocked by how happy they all looked, how supportive.
“Congratulations!” Stephen’s assistant, Elizabeth, threw her arms around both of them. “I am so happy for you both.” She squeezed them both before stepping back to wipe her eyes.
Russ felt a strange sense of vertigo as the rest of the office surged around them, shaking his hand, clapping him on the back. Dazed, he thanked them, shocked to realize they were all genuinely joyful for him and Stephen. Even Sherry, the office busybody who’d sneeringly seemed to celebrate the rough patch he and Stephen had gone through early in their relationship gave him a small smile and nod.
A few minutes later, Elizabeth appeared with a tray of rainbow colored cupcakes—apparently she’d been planning ahead, in anticipation of a positive ruling—and an impromptu office party broke out. Russ found himself leaning against his desk, holding hands with Stephen as they spoke to Peter, who was Russ’s boss and Stephen’s friend. Both he and Elizabeth had attended their wedding on Hilton Head.
Russ’ phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out to see congratulatory messages from his sister, Addie, and her boyfriend, Joseph. As he finished his responses to them, a call from his father came through.
“You heard?” Alan asked when he answered.
“Yeah, Dad, I heard.”
“Figured you had, but I wanted you to know how happy I am for ‘ya.”
“Thanks.” Russ’ eyes stung. “I feel pretty damn lucky to have your support.”
Alan scoffed. “It’s common sense. I’m only sorry it took the rest of the country so damn long to get there. Sometimes I wish I’d done more.”
“You told me I deserved this. That’s all I needed,” Russ pointed out.
“I’ll let you get back to celebratin’ but I love you son, and tell that son-in-law of mine I love him too.”
“I will.” Russ reached out and squeezed Stephen’s hand. “We love you too, Dad. Thanks for calling. I’m really glad you did.”
His eyes were still stinging as he ended the call and he had to clear his throat when he turned to Stephen. “Dad sends his love.”
Stephen just smiled. The lingering sadness that used to be in Stephen’s eyes every time Alan expressed his love had disappeared and Russ was even more grateful for his father.
“Damn, this is one hell of a day, isn’t it?” Peter said, peeling back the cupcake wrapper and taking a large bite.
“It is,” Stephen agreed, nodding. “I keep feeling like I’m going to wake up and find out I dreamed it all though. I was afraid to get my hopes up and now that it’s here….”
Russ knew how he felt. Although he’d always believed marriage equality legislation would pass, the idea that it was a reality had yet to sink in. He’d been smiling so much his cheeks hurt.
“Sorry we disrupted the office,” Russ said to his boss, who shrugged and took another bite of cupcake.
“Hey, this is a historic occasion. If we don’t set work aside to celebrate for something like this, we’re no better than robots.” Peter paused, a thoughtful expression crossing his face. “Why don’t you two call it a day, actually? It’s Friday. Take the rest of the day off and enjoy a long weekend together.”
Russ turned to Stephen who gave him a slow grin, nodding. “I like that idea.”
It was rare for either of them to take any more time off than was strictly necessary, but today, Russ wasn’t going to argue. He thanked Peter with a handshake that turned into a hug, and he got another teary hug from Elizabeth on the way out. In no time, he and Stephen stood on the sidewalk of Midtown Atlanta ecstatic, but slightly dazed.
Russ turned to face Stephen. “What do you want to do? I’m sure Midtown’s going to one big celebration. We could check it out.”
Stephen gave him a thoughtful look. “Maybe we could get together with Marc, Curtis, Jeremy, and Evan this evening to celebrate,” he said, referring to two gay couples they were friends with.
“Sounds nice.” Russ grinned at him. “And what did you have in mind until then?”
Grinning back, Stephen wrapped his arms around Russ’ waist. “Oh, I thought maybe we’d go home and have our own celebration.”
“I like the way you think, husband,” Russ said huskily.
Stephen’s eyes shone as he leaned in to brush their lips together and Russ felt happiness rush through him, filling him with effervescent giddiness. He didn’t think it was possible to be this happy.
Russ had never been so glad to be proven wrong.
I hadn’t planned to write an Equals outtake, but Russ and Stephen are never far from my mind and as I thought about the ruling, their voices were clear and strong.
They’ve always held themselves a little apart from the majority of their coworkers, Elizabeth and Peter aside, but I thought this was the kind of day that would break down that barrier a little bit. I hope you enjoyed a glimpse of their celebration.
I assume most of you have read the Equals series already, but if you haven’t, stop by my page on Smashwords and pick up all of the books for free! Just use the following coupon codes to get the promotional price.
Equals – TT73J
Family – TT74F
Husbands – FP59K