Applause roared through the Cathedral like a natural force. Around him rose shadowy members of the audience, clapping vigorously. Some cheering. Matthew draped his coat overarm, and with head turned downward awkwardly made his way to the aisle. Free of surrounding human bodies, he turned his back to the stage and walked quickly toward the front doors.

Outside, the ash fell. He couldn't help feeling a twinge of excitement, the childhood anticipation of Christmas. An old home surrounded by snowy pines, mist rising over the frozen pond, the streets filled with lights, and the vastness of the winter sky; a cool, intimate grey. But today was June 15th. Ash does not melt. He shivered in the sharp chill of the evening.

Gentle hands on his shoulders. Matthew's first thought was to pull away. With caution the hands turned him to face their owner, his lover. Luke was still in choir robes. The audience members streamed past them, talking excitedly, laughing, paying no mind. With the coming of ash, most had found better things to do than bother about the choices of others.

"How'd you get out here so quickly?" Matthew asked with his eyes toward the ground.

"I saw you rushing out," Luke explained quietly. "You didn't like the performance?" His misted breath hung heavy in the air.

"No.. no Luke of course, of course I loved it. It's not like that." Matthew felt a blush rising, ashamed and pained he had even given such an impression. In the Cathedral, the choir's voice had filled the lofts till Matthew thought they might burst, opening to the frigid firmament. Awesome cries, human and animal, fighting their way toward the stars. His skin still tingled with reverence. But there were no stars tonight, nor moon. He still couldn't look up. "I just... couldn't stay there. Anymore."

Luke's expression softened from hurt to concern. He reached a finger to Matthew's cheek. "Love, you're crying," he whispered as he wiped it away. His finger was cold. Amidst the beauty, the people around him and their hearts full with music, Matthew's thoughts had jarred darkly. Schemes drawn up hastily, then discarded. Excuses, justifications, and vicious self-reproach. He had lost focus in the middle of Luke's solo, trying to write yet another script to say the unspeakable.

"There was another riot in Chicago," he muttered miserably to break the thick and stifling silence. "I saw it on the news just before I left. Seven hundred dead."

Luke smiled weakly, pure and sincere sympathy. The smile to say he would take all Matthew's troubles if he could, take them upon himself, anything for his greatest friend's happiness. Matthew wished he could just fall to pieces.

"I understand," Luke said, and nodded skyward. "'Praise Ye the Lord with Joyful Song' seems a little inappropriate these days."

Slowly, he wrapped his arms around Matthew. They were both shivering. He leaned in close, his breath warm and full in Matthew's ear. Luke's scent reminded him of the library, a shared study table, spontaneous conversation over Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. Gentle kisses eighteen seconds before sunrise. Tensely holding each other's hand in defiance of bubbling storm clouds, their tendrils cruelly lashing across the sky, and the glow of fires burning in the West.

He knew the tears were falling freely now. His face burned. His heart thudded with sickening haste. He could barely hear Luke's gentle whispers. "Everyone pretends nothing's changed. It's a game we're all gonna lose. But Matt, whatever happens, we're here, now, together. We can be happy for however long's left to us." Luke pulled away slightly and gazed into Matthew's eyes with confidence. "I love you. That's what matters. Nothing else."

Matthew tore his eyes away. "I'm just so afraid that I'll die... never having known what it's like to be in love."

He imagined shattered glass, the fragments spraying in all directions. He imagined waking in the morning free of liar's guilt. He imagined an old home wreathed in ash and broken strings of lights, a pond frozen over with mud, evergreens shedding their needles with sickened sighs.

Luke turned from Matthew. He walked unsteadily toward the Cathedral entrance, passing the stragglers as they giggled and dispersed into the darkness.

And Matthew remained where he stood, left with falling ash and a night that would never end.

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