The night was marginally cooler than the day had been, and the outdoor patio was slightly less packed than the indoor dance space. Benny followed Mikey to an open space on the fence. He signaled to a passing waiter and ordered two Coronas.
“I saw you earlier today,” Benny said. “At Pride.”
“Yeah?” Mikey leaned his elbows against the railing and stared out at the headlights of passing traffic.
“Yeah. You were with who I’m pretty sure was your wife and kid? At the kitten booth?” Benny fought the urge to run his hands down the line of Mikey’s back.
“Oh, that. Kid, yes wife, no.” He turned back to Benny.
Benny couldn’t make out the look in his eye. He didn’t seem angry, but he wasn’t smiling either. “Then who was that – oh God, tell me that it wasn’t.”
Mikey nodded. “Vanessa.”
“Fabulous. She loved me so much before I left. I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to see me.” Oh, wait. Mikey would never want to see him again, so it didn’t matter. “Not that she will have to.”
“Hey, if it weren’t for her, we wouldn’t have met tonight. She’s got Jasmine overnight.”
The waiter came back and handed them each a bottle of beer. Michael held his bottle out in a toast. “To helpful big sisters and new experiences.” That time he smiled.
Benny clanked the neck of their bottles together. Mikey always could make him laugh. He touched the mouth of the bottle to his lips, not drinking even though every cell in his body screamed for him to throw it back.
Michael sighed deeply as the cold liquid slid down his throat, and Benny felt an irrational surge of anger and jealousy. Adrenaline letdown from the shock of the revelation of who he had just hooked up with and post orgasm lassitude started to catch up with Benny. His head pounded, pain building behind his eyes. Carefully, he rolled the cold glass bottle across his forehead. Then he rested it on the back of his neck in an attempt to alleviate the pain. Benny pressed the heels of his hands against his temples. It felt like if he could just press hard enough, he could force the broken piece of his brain back together and stop the pain.
“Headache?” Mikey asked.
Benny closed his eyes and nodded.
Michael crossed the distance between them and leaned down to whisper in his ear. Despite all the emotions swirling in his pounding head, Benny’s body stirred at the heat radiating from Mikey’s body. Mikey’s hand on his arm sent shudders across Benny’s skin. “Do you want to get out of here?” Mikey asked?
Benny did. He didn’t know where they were going to go, what they were going to say but he didn’t want to be at this club anymore. The bottle felt too good in his hand, and he could hear its friends beckoning from behind the bar. They promised to ease the pounding in his head, to smooth over the awkwardness of this unexpected reunion, and to give him the confidence to face his past and lie directly to it.
He followed Mikey through the crowd, stopping at the end of the bar. Before he could think better of it, he tilted the bottle, drank half of it down in one swallow, and then placed it on the end of the bar. He nodded decisively and started to walk away. He got two steps before turning back to the bar. He grabbed the bottle just before the bartender cleared it off and finished it off. That should take the edge off. “Okay,” he said mostly to himself. “Okay.”
Benny got his phone and bag from the coat check. Luchador outfits, unlike Gladiator costumes, did not come with pockets.
They walked slowly to the parking lot. With so much between them that they weren’t talking about right now, Benny couldn’t think of a safe thing to say. He did have one question. “So, where we going?”
Mikey slowed to a stop. “I have no idea. A diner? Coffee shop? I don’t know.”
“My place?” Benny offered tentatively. “The friend’s apartment I’m crashing at this weekend. I don’t live there.” He hoped Mikey said yes. He needed to be somewhere familiar and safe right now.
Mikey studied Benny’s face. Benny had no idea what he saw there because he didn’t have a good handle on how he was feeling.
“Yeah, okay. Sounds good. I can take off this ridiculous outfit.” The deep timbre of his voice did things to Benny. He could have sworn they had both been finished growing up at eighteen, but apparently, Mikey had had some puberty left to finish. The puberty fairy had been extremely generous. He couldn’t stop himself from checking his friend out once again, eyes dragging across the miles of smooth dark skin and smooth muscles.
“Oh, It’s definitely not ridiculous, and I think you should leave it on. Though I’ll be happy to help you out of it.” Benny flirted automatically, and then mentally cringed. He shouldn’t be flirting with Mikey, should he? It was as if there were two Mikeys. One, the sweet, funny, serious eighteen-year-old best friend he remembered and the second this gorgeous, solid-looking, serious and funny grown man standing in front of him. Benny wanted both of them.
“Okay.” Mikey smiled, tugging on the one dreadlock that hung differently than the others, sneaking forward over his right shoulder rather than hanging down the back like the rest.
The club sat in an industrial area of town. Despite the late hour, there were still men in every costume imaginable pouring out of cabs and Ubers to wait in line to get in. Mikey pointed. “Want to try and grab one of those taxis?”
“I got a car.”
As Benny walked, he texted Chris to let him know he was headed back to the apartment. You home?
Chris answered quickly. In what world would I be home at 11pm on Pride weekend?
Good answer. I’m coming home. Head’s up. Not alone.
Le gasp! Little Benny bringing a boy home to meet his parents?
I’m hoping he doesn’t have to meet you. Don’t want to scare him.
Benny’s phone vibrated relentlessly with the slew of text’s Chris sent during the thirty-second walk to the car. Benny settled into the passenger seat of Mikey’s non-descript silver Altima. He buckled up and gave Mikey the first set of directions to Chris’ apartment. He checked his phone while Mikey searched for some music.
Who is he? Chris had asked about five times, each time adding more and more exclamation marks and poop emojis.
It’s complicated. Benny texted back.
Ooh, like facebook complicated, or I’m fucking my boss complicated?
Kind of the second.
Chris responded with a line of big-eyed emojis followed by some pornographic ones Benny had never seen before and an all caps message. DETAILS. TOMORROW. YOU GET YOU SOME. KISSES!XOXOXO
Mikey looked over and raised his eyebrows.
“Chris.” Benny lifted the phone in explanation. “It’s his place I’m crashing at.”
“Hmm. Good friend?” Mikey turned back to the road.
“Yeah. My best friend here in Colorado. He’s a good guy. Great artist.”
“Yeah?” Mikey swung smoothly onto the highway. “You doing the art thing finally?”
Benny sighed and looked out the window, watching the lights flow past. “Can we add that to the list of things we’ll talk about later.”
“It’s quite a long list.”
“Yeah. No shit.”
With Benny pointing out turns, they got to Chris’ apartment in ten minutes. Denver closed down a lot earlier than San Diego and late night traffic was non-existent. It had taken Benny a while to get used to keeping farmer’s hours as Chris called them. Now he found he liked it. It helped him keep a real job. Red Deer had zero nightlife to speak of anyway.
Benny flicked on the overhead light as they walked in. Chris’s apartment reflected his artistic interior rather than the party boy exterior he carefully cultivated. Prints of his digital art hung on the walls. They depicted cozy domestic scenes in plant-filled apartments and on rainy balconies. Young men in comfy sweatpants or soft pajamas lounged in sunlit breakfast nooks watching the world outside their windows. They could be illustrations from Chris’s life.
“Nice place,” Mikey said. He put his mask and the small bag he had grabbed from the backseat of his car on the sofa. “Are those his prints?”
“Yeah.” Mikey walked to the small open kitchen. He desperately needed something to drink to get the taste of beer out of his mouth. It had taken all his willpower to stop himself from asking Mikey to pull into the drive-through liquor store. “You want something to drink?”
“Sure.” Mikey joined him. “What do you got?”
Holding his breath, Benny opened the fridge. “We got water, iced tea. Couple of different kinds of coke. And…” He picked up a can to check it. “Soda water.”
Benny shook his head and checked out the top of the fridge where Chris usually kept his alcohol. Empty. Chris wasn’t a big drinker, and he usually cleaned the place out when he knew Benny would be staying over. Benny had told him more than once that it wasn’t necessary, but tonight he was damn glad of the consideration.
“Sorry. Looks like we’re dry in here tonight.”
“Whatever you feel like pouring then. But no Dr. Pepper. I hate that stuff.”
“Yeah, I know.” Benny grabbed two cans of ginger ale. He didn’t trust himself with glasses and ice. His whole body vibrated with the knowledge that Mikey was actually here and standing behind him. The memory of the way his thighs felt trembling under Benny’s hands, the way he kissed, the sounds he made when he came, and the taste of him pushed all other thoughts out of Benny’s mind. The fantasies he had for years hadn’t come close to matching the reality.
Benny took the ginger ale and eyed the can suspiciously. “This stuff always makes me remember being sick. Like it should only be served with saltines.”
They toasted with the cans and then sat down on the small sofa.
“Let’s make a list of things we don’t want to talk about tonight. I’ll start. The Marines. Now you go.
“Jasmine. My kid.”
“Why I didn’t go back to New Mexico.”
“Julia, Jasmine’s mom.”
Benny raises his eyebrows. “When were you in San Diego?”
“We’re not talking about it. Your turn.”
“Okay. My parents moving to India before Jasmine was born.”
Benny snorted at that. He shook his head sadly. “I feel like you’re winning this game and, truthfully, I’m kind of shocked. I thought it would be me.”
“Winning this game feels an awful lot like losing at life.”
“No such thing. Okay, what else?”
The silence stretched as they both wracked their brains for either something to talk about or something to avoid talking about. “Grant Hansen,” they said, almost simultaneously. They both laughed.
Benny crushed the soda can in his hand. “How about what happened in the club? Can we talk about that?”
Mikey licked his lips and angled more towards Benny. “Which thing that happened in the club? Your terrible dancing? I could talk about that all night. I wish I had video.”
Benny slid closer on the couch to punch Mikey in the arm. He stayed there, their knees touching. “No,” he said, leaning in towards Mikey. “The part where you said you’d been fantasizing about me.”
Mikey licked his lips and took a sip from the nearly empty soda can to avoid looking at Benny.
“Was it true?”
Mikey took a deep inhale, held his breath while he stared at Benny’s eyes. Benny prayed that for once in his life there wasn’t an ounce of mockery in his expression. The answer was important.
Mikey let the air out of his lungs in a long exhale. “It’s true.”
Benny slid his arm around the back of the couch, fingers just brushing Mikey’s shoulder. “So you’re gay now?”
Mikey’s eyes dropped to Benny’s mouth back up again to meet Benny’s gaze. “Bi.”
Benny raised one eyebrow skeptically and leaned forward over Mikey.
“It’s a real thing, asshole.” He smacked Benny in the chest with the flat of his hand.
Benny grabbed his hand keeping it pressed up into his chest. “Keep telling yourself that.”
Benny shifted up onto his knees, leaning Mikey back against the arm of the sofa. “What about that blowjob I gave you that almost made you see God? Can we talk about that?”
“I don’t really feel like talking anymore.”
“Me neither.” Benny closed the distance between them, reaching down to kiss his once and hopefully future best friend.
How do you describe a kiss? They’d already made out in the bathroom, but he hadn’t known who he’d been kissing. This was different. This kiss counted.
Mikey’s mouth was warm and soft. He tasted slightly of the beer from earlier and way his teeth bit gently into Benny’s lower lip sent chills running down Benny’s spine. Benny braced his arms and spread his legs, wedging one between Mikey and the back of the couch. Mikey’s hard thighs felt amazing between Benny’s legs. He squeezed, just to feel them better.
Mikey slipped his arm up under Benny’s, grabbing his shoulder to pull him down more. His strong fingers pressed down hard into the muscle between Benny’s neck and shoulder, and Benny groaned in surprised pleasure. “Holy crap, that feels good.”
Mikey slipped his other hand up to Benny’s shoulder and did the same thing on that side. “You’re so tight.”
“Oh, honey, you ain’t seen tight yet.”
Mikey’s snorted laugh was simultaneously unsexy and adorable.
Benny let himself fall completely down onto Mikey. “Will you think I’m a tramp if I ask you if we can move to the bedroom?”
Mikey’s hands roamed up and down Benny’s back. “I already think you’re a tramp for hooking up with a stranger in a bathroom.” He put a hand behind Benny’s head and rolled them off the couch. He landed on top of Benny. “Didn’t your momma teach you better than that?”
Benny grabbed Mikey’s ass with both hands and pulled him down, spreading his legs and thrusting his hips to get the friction exactly where he needed it. “She tried,” he said sadly, stretching his head back to give Mikey the access to his neck he seemed to be searching for. “I was just a rebellious kid.”
Mikey stopped nipping and sucking on Benny’s neck to pull back and look him in the eye. “You were a drama queen.”
“If you don’t put your mouth back on me right now, I’ll show you drama.”
Mikey laughed and slid gracefully back onto his haunches, sitting between Benny’s legs. He ran his hands up and down Benny’s thighs from the inside of his knee and up to the crease of his hip, thumbs ghosting against the swell of Benny’s cock. Benny propped himself up on his elbows and watched Mikey’s expression as he watched his hands moving over the tan skin and blue spandex.
“Is this weird?” He wouldn’t meet Benny’s eyes.
Now he looked up. “Do you want to stop?”
Benny shook his head back and forth slowly. “Do you?”
His heart pounded in his chest at the look in Mikey’s eyes when their eyes met again and his breath caught in his throat.
This was Mikey he was about to fuck. And it wouldn’t be just sex. It couldn’t be. If felt like his past and future were coming together, balancing on this small moment in the present. He could almost see the different paths leading from here. So many opportunities to screw up, so many tears and heartbreak.
He always imagined somewhere, some time, when he finally had his act together, he would go back home, find Mikey, and say ‘Look at me now. What do you think?’
Now some time was here, and he was still so far from together; nothing but a damaged mess of failures and insecurities. His breath came faster, and he struggled to breathe.
“Are you scared?” Mikey asked.
“Me, too. Can I kiss you again?”
Mikey leaned forward gently, shifting up until they kneeled facing each other on the floor. Hands on Benny’s shoulders, he kissed Benny once. A small thing, lips closed. Then he did it again. And again. His big warm hand cupping Benny’s face. Holding him still.
Benny clutched at Mikey’s arms. Arms that felt strong enough to hold them both. He felt the solid realness of this Mikey, this perfect man, and in his kisses, he felt the love and friendship that had been his rock and protection since he’d been an arty gay kid in an oil town school. Love and friendship Benny had thought he’d lost between one breath and the next all those years ago.
Mikey wiped away the tears that slipped from beneath Benny’s closed eyelids. “Shh,” he whispered. “It’s okay.” He gave Benny more of those soft kisses that tore Benny apart in a way nothing else ever had. “It’s okay. I’m sorry.”
Benny’s breath caught on a sob. “Oh, no. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Mikey sat down, back against the couch, and pulled Benny against him, tucking him under his arm. “Sorry, I let you down that night.”
Benny pushed his face against Mikey’s shoulder, rubbing tears into the skin. “I’m sorry I ran away. Sorry, I didn’t call. I missed you too much. I missed you all the time. I thought-” His voice cracked and he sniffled. “I thought you hated me.”
“Never. Not for one second.”
Benny laughed softly and lifted his head for more of the kisses he was quickly getting addicted to. And Benny knew from addiction. Going cold turkey from Mikey again would kill him. “I liked it better when we weren’t talking,” he joked.
Mikey’s arm tightened around him. “Yeah. Me, too. You still scared?”
“Yeah, me, too.” Mikey sighed and leaned his head back against the couch. “I’m beat. Would you be offended if we didn’t, you know?” He waved his hand in a small circle, encompassing both of them.
Benny’s body sagged with relief. Part of him wanted to, badly, but that part also wanted to get drunk, shag Mikey unconscious and then run away while he was still sleeping. That part could shut the hell up. “Yeah. No. You okay with that?”
“Do you think Chris would mind if I used his shower?”
“No. Go ahead.” Benny sat up and ran both hands through his hair. “I could use one, too. Are you hungry? I’m starving.”
“Oh, man. I wasn’t until you said something. Now I am.” Mikey stood up, looking down at Benny.
Even though they weren’t going to ‘you know,’ Benny couldn’t resist running a hand up the back of Mikey’s leg. Mikey’s shiver was rewarding. Benny dug his thumb into the hard muscle of Mikey’s thighs. “You’re like a rock, dude. I think you’re bigger than you were in high school. How much do you lift?”
Mikey laughed, teeth bright and eyes shining. He reached a hand down to help Benny up, and Benny fell a little in love. Mikey reached behind Benny and lifted him up easily. Benny wrapped his legs around Mikey’s hips and his arms around Mikey’s shoulder. “I can lift enough,” Mikey said.
“Yeah, you can.” Benny kissed him, somewhere in between the heartbreak kisses of before and animal urgency of the club.
Mikey groaned and loosened his hold.
Benny unwrapped his legs from Mikey’s hips and slid them down until he could stand. They were both breathing heavily again, but Benny was okay with that. For the first time in his life, it seemed important not to rush into this. He knew that if he wanted his future to look different than his past, he had to leave his scorched-earth policy of screwing around behind him. It had damaged him as much as the drinking.
“Pizza sound great. Sausage?”
“You got it.”
Benny showed him where the shower was, phoned for pizza, and flicked on the television.
Forty minutes later, he and Mikey were sitting side by side on the couch, shoveling pizza in their mouths and watching things blow up, just like old times. And if Benny pressed his leg against Mikey’s and breathed deeply to get that Mikey smell deep into his lungs, well, that was just like old times, too.
The way he woke up later, to Mikey pressed up hard against his back, lips on Benny’s shoulders? That was brand new.