How many more times would Tony have to have this conversation? He ran his hands over his face, leaning back against his Mustang. He pressed into the door handle, just to feel it, to focus on anything beside having this conversation. One. More. Fucking. Time.
“Just tell me.” Brad was resting against the car and looked over at him. “Are you in love with him?”
Tony glanced down at his bruised knuckles. “Come on, don’t— let’s not do this.”
Brad shook his head, letting out a sigh. “That’s not an answer, Tony.”
“You’re my boyfriend. You.”
“Doesn’t feel like that sometimes.” Brad pushed off Tony’s car and walked off, kicking down an overgrown weed as he went.
Brad was making a bigger deal out of this than it was, wasn’t he? Tony thought after explaining the tapes, things would have gotten better and they did, for awhile. But when Tony didn’t spend any less time with Clay than before, more even, the jealousy cropped up again.
“This is ridiculous.” Tony jogged after Brad. He locked a hand on Brad’s shoulder and spun him so they were face to face. “I don’t— it doesn’t even matter. Clay is straight.”
Brad snorted. “And if he wasn’t?”
Tony shut his eyes. What good would talking in hypotheticals do anyone? “He is.”
“You’re as clueless as he is.” Brad snorted. “You think Clay is bad for not realizing you’re gay? How about you? For not seeing how he looks at you?”
Stomach flipping, Tony bit back a curse. Clay didn’t… he was just… he was Clay. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“That’s the whole damn problem, Tony.” Brad rubbed his hand over his face. “I can’t do this anymore.”
“Come on. I don’t want to lose you.” Tony placed a hand on his boyfriend’s cheek. He liked Brad. Brad checked off all the boxes a boyfriend should check off. Except that box in his heart. That one stupid box that just had Clay Jensen written next to it. Fuck.
Brad clenched his jaw and then ducked away from the touch. “Stop. You have to stop lying to yourself or you’re never going to be able to move on. And you have to stop lying to him.” He turned away and started walking down the road.
Tears pricked at Tony’s eyes and his hands curled into fists, his body entirely unable to decide to between sadness and anger. Not at Brad. At himself. And maybe a little, unfairly, at Clay.
“What are you doing?” Tony called to Brad, who was becoming smaller in the distance. A fuzzy line like one of the trees in the field. “Let me drive you home at least.”
“I can walk.” His tone was final, not something Tony would argue with.
Tony slid to the ground, un-breathing, a knee tucked into his chest. This was right, even though it hurt, like brass knuckles to the chest. It wasn’t fair to Brad, for Tony to try to keep this thing between them alive— artificially sustained on the life support of wishing things were different. On just wishing he hadn’t given his heart away a long goddamn time ago.
“Hey, you here?” Clay called out, skidding around the corner. His rubber soles squeaked on the concrete floor of the Padilla’s garage. “Tony?”
Something crashed out of sight, followed by a long string of fucks and shits. Near the far side of the garage, Tony was wearing a grey jump suit, surrounded by the spilled contents of a large toolbox.
“Whoa, you okay?” Clay jogged up to Tony.
“I’m fine,” Tony mumbled, as he chucked screwdrivers back into the toolbox. “What are you doing here?”
Clay’s brow furrowed and he knelt down to pick up a fallen wrench. When Tony took it from him, their fingers brushed, leaving a streak of motor oil behind. Clay looked down at that line across his skin, at this evidence that they—
“Clay? You here for a reason or?”
Blinking, Clay gave his head a small shake. “Oh, yeah.” He pulled his backpack around and unzipped it to remove a calc textbook. “You, uh, left this in the library. Ryan found it. He gave it to me because he thought I’d see you, and I didn’t, which was weird, because we usually—”
Tony sighed, then looked down, taking the textbook. “Thanks, Clay,” he muttered.
“No problem.” Clay smiled and knelt again to help Tony finish picking up the rest of the tools.
“I’ve got it,” Tony snapped.
Clay jerked back. “It’s really fine. I don’t mind helping.”
“And I’ve really got it.”
Clay put his hands up and took a step back. “You want to tell you me what’s going on?”
“What’s going on,”—Tony slammed the toolbox shut— “is that I have a whole set of spark plugs to change and you’re distracting me.”
Stomach dropping, Clay stumbled back. That tone directed at him from Tony? Well, he didn’t particularly like it, to say the least. “You realize you’re being kind of a dick right now, right?”
Tony rubbed his face, leaving a little black stripe like the one on Clay’s hand right by his lips. Clay started to lift his hand, like he was going to rub that line away. What am I doing? He tucked his hand into the pocket of his jeans.
“Brad dumped me.” Tony huffed. “Okay, you happy now?”
Clay squinted. “No… no. Why would—why would that make me happy?”
Tony shook his head. “It wouldn’t. I’m sorry. It’s just—”
“Hey, I get it, man. That really sucks.” Clay gave him another small smile. “And, I thought Brad was one of the good ones.”
“He was.” Tony sighed, then kicked the toolbox. “I’m the fucked up one.”
“You’re not fucked up.” Clay put a hand on Tony’s shoulder.
Tony tore away from the touch, nearly throwing himself against a customer’s banged up Camero. “Don’t.”
“Okay, jeez, dude. I’m sorry.”
“Fuck,” Tony spat and kicked the tire of that Camero. “Shit.” He kicked it again and kept on and on, kicking and cursing.
“Tony…” Clay breathed. An ache radiated in his chest. It sucked seeing Tony hurt like this. Like really sucked— in an awful, visceral sort of way. “I’m so sorry about Brad. I—”
Tony slammed his fist against the Camero. “Shit. Fuck. Can you just go, Clay, please?”
His instinct was to do as he was told, to turn and leave and give Tony space or whatever to deal with this Brad stuff. “I can’t,” Clay said, looking down. “You know that I can’t. Please don’t ask me to leave you when you’re…”
Tony drew in a loud breath. “Okay, Clay. Okay.” He popped open the hood of the Camero. “Don’t go,” he said and then didn’t say another word after that.
Neither did Clay. He just sat down on the floor and stayed with Tony, like Tony had done for him so many times before.