They’re in the car. It’s gotten windy and kind of chilly out in the open air, and it’s downright cold in the car, where it should be warmer. The year is turning but neither of them brought jackets, because it was still sunny when they left for the stadium. Now that the game is over and they’re headed back, Meldrick has been unsuccessfully arguing in favor of turning on the heat.
“Meldrick, you know the A/C does a better job for this weather.” Mike takes a hand off the wheel to wave toward the windshield wipers. Raindrops splatter at frequent intervals, but the windshield stays more or less clear.
Meldrick recrosses his arms over his chest, sighing. “Whole lotta good that does us if we turn into human popsicles in here. I ain’t signed up to be no Ernest Shackleton.”
“Didn’t Shackleton die of a heart attack?”
Meldrick unfolds an arm and gestures at Mike. “My point exactly.”
Mike finds himself smiling, despite how even he’s starting to wonder if his goosebumps will be permanent. Though the A/C setting means it’s supposed to be pushing cold air at the windshield only, he wishes the rain would stop so he could stand a chance of driving with one hand, the other hand tucked under his thigh.
He glances over at the passenger seat. Meldrick is pouting at the roof, his chin tipped up. Mike’s tried to imagine how Meldrick looked as a child, or as a teenager, but he can’t quite manage it.
Meldrick has never shown Mike any photographs of himself besides a few that Meldrick keeps at his own place, snapped during Christmases with the Crosetti family. In one photo, Meldrick is sitting on a couch and Crosetti’s young daughter has looped tinsel around the crown of Meldrick’s head. Beatrice pensively appraises her handiwork; Meldrick is grinning, one hand behind his neck. He doesn’t seem to be aware of the camera.
Afterward, Meldrick put the pictures back in their envelope, smoothing a hand over it with tremulous care—then he dropped the envelope in a desk drawer and slammed the drawer shut. Mike could tell Meldrick was about to change the subject, so Mike leaned in and embraced him before he could say anything. Meldrick stood unmoving for a second or two, then relaxed into the hug and kissed Mike on the ear, pressing his cheek against Mike’s.
Mike has thought about those photos often since then. He wants to gauge the breadth and depth of what Meldrick lost before Mike even met him. At the same time, despite the evidence, somehow it feels impossible to believe in the existence of any versions of Meldrick—past or present—other than the man he’s known. Looking at Meldrick now, mouth pursed and a flash of reflected light casting the shadows under his eyes into sudden relief, Mike is seized by tenderness so intense it feels like his throat is closing up.
Mike looks away quickly, back at the road, and says, “You know, people must want to kiss you every minute.” He tries to keep his tone light, but Meldrick turns to face him.
“Is that so?”
Mike doesn’t have to look at Meldrick to know he’s got his head tilted to one side, eyebrows pulling together, is watching Mike with an expression located on the border between laughter and concern. Mike can’t make himself go for a teasing rejoinder like yeah, to stop the nonsense coming outta your mouth sometimes, jeez—so he shrugs and says quietly, “Yeah.”
Meldrick is silent; Mike can feel his gaze. Then, in an undertone: “Mikey.”
Mike turns toward Meldrick for a moment when he touches Mike’s arm at the elbow, leaning in a little as he slides his fingertips up Mike’s forearm. Mike shivers, thinks about goosebumps again; Meldrick closes his hand around Mike’s wrist. It’s surprisingly warm.
They’re not far from Meldrick’s place, and he doesn’t move his hand until Mike reaches for the parking brake. Before Meldrick pulls away, Mike catches his hand, turning it over and kissing his palm. The rain’s coming down hard now; no one else on the block is outside. When Mike looks up and meets Meldrick's eyes, they could be the only two people in Baltimore.