"Oliver? Honey, are you in there?"
Oliver held his breath. His mother hadn't been over in at least two weeks. The last time she had insisted on cleaning the place and cooking her son a meal. Oliver didn't think he could bear his mother's pained expression as she surveyed the mess of the apartment and the lack of interest her son had in life. He couldn't stand his mother's wounded brown eyes, as she went through the apartment, picking up clothes, throwing away junk mail, sorting through the bills, and wiping down sinks and countertops.
The knock came again, louder, a hollow echo. "Oliver, please open up. It's Mom. Please...I'm worried about you."
Oliver had just begun to breathe normally again when he heard the jingle of keys. Oh no...
The air rushed out of the room as his mother fitted the key in the lock.
He panicked...a wild animal caught in a trap.
Just as the tumblers clicked, Oliver rushed into the bedroom and scurried under the bed. Safety in the darkness, with Ryan's Nikes and the dust balls.
Perhaps he would stay under the bed awhile. It was nice there.
Footsteps clicked on hardwood. Sensible, low-heeled pumps. Oliver imagined her: salt and pepper hair pulled up, dark skirt and a light cardigan with pearl buttons.
"Oliver?" The word came out shaky, and Oliver bit his lip. "Please don't cry, Mother," he whispered. "If you cry, I will be forced to slide out from under here and I like it here. I like it."
After a while, the door closed, tumblers sounded once more.
Oliver slid out. Day's brightness watered down at last to a dull orange glow. He sneezed and sat on the bed, looking down at his sweat pants covered with dust balls. He slid them off and lay back.
Ryan's baseball cap sat on his pillow. Oliver lifted it, fingering the wales in the corduroy, biting his lower lip. He had gone back the next day, numb, a zombie, to the parking garage where Ryan had been taken from him. Oliver didn't understand why he would want to return. Perhaps to reassure himself that everything had really happened. Perhaps seeing the bright yellow police line tape and the chalk outline of his husband's body would make it real.
Or maybe it was just to find the hat he now caressed. It had blown into a corner, or had been propelled there from the scuffle.
However it had gotten there, Oliver was grateful it had been he who had found it. Grateful it had not been put in some sterile Ziploc bag by a police evidence technician.
Oliver imagined he could still smell Ryan's hair in the brim of the cap. He held it close, remembering the faint strawberry scent of Ryan's shampoo.
And then Ryan was there, in his arms once more. And Oliver was kissing him, and he was gazing down. Their eyes locked for an instant before his face found Ryan's neck and he felt the cool damp of Ryan's tears.
Oliver clutched Ryan's back, holding on so tightly he was afraid he might hurt him, but also afraid if he let go he would lose him once more, that he would vanish, like smoke.
Then, as quickly as he had come, Ryan was gone, leaving Oliver holding a dusty navy blue corduroy cap and wondering if anything was real.
Inside the cap lay a single strand of blond hair. Oliver plucked it out, certain it had never been there before.