It took until 6:58 for Tony to decide he wasn’t going to the auto show with Clay. It took until 6:59 to decide that he was going. Tony grabbed his keys from the hook by the door and rushed to the Mustang. He pulled into the parking lot, blending in with the color and shine of the other muscle cars. He parked and turned off his car at 7:15. His heart skipped. What if Clay had already left, thinking Tony wasn’t coming?
His boots crunched the gravel as he stood. The steeple of an old cathedral cast a sharp shadow across the large lot. The sun had begun to set and the dim light made spotting Clay in the crowd difficult. If Clay’s even still here…
Tony walked for a while, occasionally shading his eyes with his hand. Maybe this was a bad idea. He still hadn’t decided between being honest with Clay and fighting to keep their friendship as it was. Maybe it was best if Tony just went home. This is a mistake…
A hand fell on his shoulder.
“You came,” Clay said, his voice pitched higher than usual.
Tony pivoted toward him, his chest lifting, like it filled with helium. Clay’s skin looked pinker in the falling light, his hair ruffled by wind. Instead of his usual t-shirt and hoodie, he wore dark jeans and a slightly rumpled white button-up with the sleeves rolled. Tony flexed his fingers to fight the urge to smooth the wrinkles, to feel ribs and muscles beneath thin cotton.
Tony let out breath through tight lips. “Sorry, I’m late.”
“No worries.” Clay tossed him a smile. “I’ve just been wandering around with a really serious face pretending to have some idea what I’m looking at.”
Tony laughed. “Trust me. Half these guys don’t know what they’re looking at either.” A lot of them were just rich, white guys who bought a car, then dropped it off at places like the Padilla’s garage whenever, inevitably, their carelessness ran it into the ground again.
“I did, however, find a stand selling funnel cakes,” Clay said.
“How many have you eaten already?”
“None. I was waiting for you.”
Tony gave him a look. Sure, Jensen.
“Okay, two, but they were small. Like coasters.” Clay crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back on his heels. “I could go for another one.”
A tremble ran Tony’s spine and radiated out to his fingers. “Lead the way.”
They navigated their way through the crowd. Tony’s gaze would occasionally catch on the shiny engine of one of the cars. He passed an electric blue Camero he would love to get his hands on. But most of his attention latched onto Clay. Onto the movement of his shoulders as he walked, onto the way his lips would curls and the soft flutter of his lashes.
I should not have come here, but a 500 horsepower engine couldn’t drag me out of here, away from Clay right now.
They stood in line, behind a few other people and a sign that read Funnel cakes and Corn dogs.
Clay’s eyes narrowed. “Do you think the funnel cake batter is just the corn dog batter with sugar in it?”
Tony snorted. “You could always ask.”
“And take all of the mystery out of the world? I don’t think so.”
Nudging his arm, Tony said, “That’s the last of the mystery for Clay Jensen? Funnel cake batter?”
“That and Santa Claus.”
Tony smiled. “Clay, there’s something you should know…” This is a perfect opening. I could use it for… no. He wasn’t going to tell the love of his life how he felt about him in a funnel cake line. Love of my life? I am so fucked. Coming here was a terrible idea. This was a terrible idea.
“You want a corn dog too or—”
I can’t eat a thing. “Uh.”
Clay’s brow furrowed. “How about we just split an extra large funnel cake.” He turned toward the cashier and smiled. “One extra large funnel cake.”
“That comes with a free pink lemonade,” the cashier said. “Would you like one?”
Flashing another smile, Clay leaned on the counter. “Now, what kind of person turns down a free offer like that?”
Tony’s eyes widened. Is Clay flirting with the cashier lady? He grit his teeth. Clay had every right to flirt with the cashier, if that indeed was what he was doing. A few moments later, the cashier handed them their food and Clay thanked the lady and walked away.
“So tell me.” Clay handed Tony the lemonade and used his free hand to point at a lime green Charger with a bird painted on the hood. “Tell me, what kind of person drives a car like that?”
Tony thought for a moment. “Middle age, fake tan, tribal tats, sandals. Divorced at least once.”
Clay took a bite of the funnel cake. “And his name is definitely Chad.”
“Oh, one hundred percent.” Tony’s eyes flickered up to Clay, who was looking over at him. They stayed like that, a bit too long. “Okay, your turn. What about that one?” Tony pointed a finger at a slick black Pontiac GTO.
Tony raised his eyebrow.
“Batman?… I’m terrible at this game.”
Chuckling, Tony took a sip of the lemonade. “It’s your game.”
“My game is eating funnel cakes.” Clay broke off a piece of the cake and popped it in his mouth. “Want some?” He held out the sugary plate.
Tony broke off his own bite. “Thanks.”
“Don’t hog the lemonade.” Clay took the plastic cup from Tony and wrapping his lips around the straw, right where Tony’s lips had just been.
Tony forced a smile as Clay handed him the lemonade back. I am so monumentally fucked.
Clay sat shotgun in Tony’s mustang. The window had been rolled down a few inches, letting in cool night air. He breathed it in, casting a look over to Tony.
Tony, whose head bobbed gently to the music, whose knuckles flexed on the steering wheel. He looked so at home in that seat. Powerful. Like he could drive to the edge the world and back in a weekend. Like he’d done it before. I wonder if he’d take his shitty sidekick with him?
The Mustang rolled to a stop in front of Clay’s house, and Tony pulled the car into park.
“Thanks for driving me back.” Clay shifted in the passenger seat as he unbuckled his belt.
Tony looked over at him and sighed. “Of course.” He had such brown eyes— like garden soil. How had he never noticed how brown they were before? And why am I noticing now?
“I’m really glad you came tonight. I’ve been worried that we, that we aren’t okay.” Clay skimmed his fingers along the door handle. “We’re okay, right?”
Tony let out a quiet breath and cast his gaze down. His lips tipped into a frown.
Clay’s stomach dropped to his feet like a lead balloon. “Oh.” Tonight had been good…really good, at least, that’s what he thought. At least, that’s how Clay had felt about it.“I get it. You were there for me, with Hannah, there when I needed you. And there’s no way I can thank you for that, but we’d been growing apart before, so I get it. No hard feelings, right?” Clay gave a weak smile as he pushed open the Mustang door. His throat burned, his head spun. “See you around,” he muttered, then nearly bolted toward the front door.
Friendships didn’t always work out. That was life, right? People changing. People growing up and apart. But he didn’t want to grow apart. He wasn’t ready to give up his shotgun seat and shitty movie nights and fighting over pizza toppings. Tony obviously didn’t share that feeling, and there was nothing he could do about that. Not a damn fucking thing. Fuck.
On the porch, Clay fumbled for his keys in his pocket, his hands shaking.
“Clay.” A voice called behind him. Tony’s voice. “Clay.”
He turned around to face Tony. In the porch light, Clay could see Tony’s hands trembling, his face paler than usual. He bit his lip.
In a hoarse voice, Tony said, “Do you really want to know what’s been going on with me? Why I’ve been acting the way I’ve been acting?”
Worry gripping like claws into his spine, Clay stepped forward. “Of course I do. Talk to me.”
“I need you to…” Tony ran a hand through his hair. “You have to really want to know, Clay.”
Clay blinked. What the hell is going on? “Tell me. You can tell me anything.”
A step closer and Tony said, “I can’t tell you this.”
“Can I show you?”
Show me? His mouth went dry. With a knot lodged in his throat, Clay couldn’t manage any words. He gave Tony the smallest nod. Show me.
There it was again. That foot between them. That small, awful, hated distance. It was there, and then it was gone.
Tony leaned in and caught Clay’s lips with his own. Caught them, just like that, like a lightning bug in a mason jar.
Clay’s heart split into slivers, into shreds, burst like a bottle rocket. Stubble scratched against his cheeks. That’s new. That’s… The smell of motor oil, of sizzling wood, of aftershave. Big hands, rough and steady, running over his cheek to his neck. A man’s hands. That’s really new…damn…
The pressure lifted as Tony jolted away, leaving Clay wobbling, melting. Say something. Say anything. He couldn’t.
“Fuck. I’m sorry. Fuck.” Tony turned and bolted down the steps to his Mustang.
The Mustang’s engine roared and the car tore off down the street. Finally, Clay could feel his body again, could move again. Too late.
Holy shit. Holy fucking shit. Tony Padilla just kissed me. On the mouth and I’d…fuck.
Tony had kissed Clay and he’d done nothing. He’d just frozen. Mouth unmoving, hands stuck at his sides. If Clay hadn’t wrecked their friendship before, he sure as hell had done it now.