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In My Blood and In My Bones

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Johnny falls in love with her instantly. She’s gangly and awkward and far too smart for her age - a precocious child who knows even though her parents are barely trying to hide it that something is very, very wrong in that house. When Dr. and the Mrs. fight and Johnny suggests they eat outside, away from the vitriol, she sees right through the offer, but agrees easily enough.

She tells him colorful stories from her fancy school on Broad Street, eccentric teachers and whiplash-smart first graders like herself. They’ve already got her started on French at school and she likes listening to Johnny conjugate verbs.

“Daddy said he worried you would teach me a Quebec...Quebec-ian accent and I would talk like I had mouth full of marbles,” she told him on his third week as he was making her waffles, not the frozen kind her mother was apt to throw together, but with the fancy waffle press, another one of the many high-tech kitchen gadgets Dr. bought that went unused until Johnny was unleashed upon the kitchen.

“Oh yes?” he says, heating up her maple syrup, because she doesn’t like it cold.

Pippa shrugs at him, her little shoulders moving with a boneless flexibility adulthood has robbed him of. “He said you sounded flawess in your interview.”

Johnny smiles and doesn’t correct her error. Dr. is English, straight from public school with the requisite stop at Oxford after, and for all that he fancies himself cool, finding himself a punk rock wife, tattooed and smoky-eyed and beautifully tortured, he’s still got a horrible rod up his ass that balked at Johnny’s Canadian-ness. He doesn’t let it bother him, the rod up Dr.’s ass got him a job when he was unemployed and under-experienced right out of college—a job in New York, in a beautiful loft, taking care of the best little girl for far, far too much money.

But sometimes the insanity gets to be too much and he wants to kidnap her and all her little outfits, take her back to Winnipeg, with his mother and father and brother, show her what home should really feel like. Sometimes the wish is so pure and strong, he actually finds himself walking to the closet where Dr. and Mrs. keep the suitcases until reality breaks in and he’s reminded Pippa is not his daughter and he has absolutely zero right to her.

*

Patrick’s not really sure how he found himself here—he didn’t think Julia Love was the sort of woman who still hung around places like the Cake Shop, but she’d been there, knew his buddy Verbeek, who was the first person to ever give him a shot when he came to the city—and now somehow he’s at her insane TriBeCa loft at one in the morning, smoking up expensive weed with a stupid name.

Guided By Voices is blaring from the sound system and two little girls in princess costumes are racing up and down the stairs like it’s some kind of fairytale palace. To be honest, Patrick isn’t entirely sure it isn’t. Julia’s flirting with him, Julia fucking Love, the curve of her cleavage a tease beneath this sexy sheer shirt she’s got on, only just see-through enough to give him a taste. All the while she’s talking about what it was like playing in the 80s and 90s, the desperate punk ethos that pervaded everything.

“You know what it was? It wasn’t just about damning the man, it was about making yourself ugly, because beauty was the man, and that’s what we were rejecting, this need to look a certain way, to embody some kind of image—of course we were all fucking conformists,” she tells him with a laugh, pushing her deep red hair over her shoulder.

She’s opening her mouth to say something else, but the little girls take another lap of the room, ribbons and sparkly wings trailing behind them, Julia grins and tugs one of the girls into her arms, hauling her in close for a bone-crushing hug that makes the child laugh.

“There’s my love,” she says, giving her daughter an Eskimo kiss, “all my love in the world.”

Patrick feels awkward, macking on some woman who’s got nearly twenty years on him, a child, and a fraught divorce that’s made page six more than a few times. But he can’t look away from her. Her dark lashes, her strong forearms with ink that’s older than he is, and the legs that go on for miles. He breathes in, tasting good weed on the air, and thinks, yeah, he’s going to do this.

*

Johnny doesn’t like to call it a defection—although strictly speaking that’s exactly what it is. The courts award custody to Dr., with every other weekend to Mrs. It only comes as a surprise to Mrs. herself. After Mrs. snapped at him that final morning to get Pippa dressed faster, Johnny had gone to his room, packed up all of his things, and taken a cab to the Upper East Side apartment Dr. had leased for himself after Mrs. kicked him out.

His room is smaller here, but Pippa’s is bigger, and with the care he put into decorating it, picking out things she would like, he’s not above admitting to blatant bribery. But carefully curating the selection of toys, the canopy bed, the beach themed spinning nightlight, the little dresses and sweaters to fill her new closet with had eased the nervous sensation that he was somehow doing something wrong.

When Dr. comes home with Pippa, soft and subdued in his arms, she brightens up when she sees him on the other side of the door.

“Johnny,” she says reaching her arms out so that Johnny can take her from her father.

“Ah, thank you Jonathan,” Dr. says. “Are you settling in?”

“I’m fine,” Johnny replies, barely sparing him a glance. To Pippa he says, “Are you hungry?”

She nods.

“I’ve got all the fixings for mac and cheese—wanna help me make it?”

She whoops and nods vigorously, arms tightening around his neck and he smiles and ducks his head to press a kiss to her hair.

Dr. has already abandoned them for the home office set up in the other room. Johnny contains his sigh. It’s not a defection, because he’s here for Pippa, and Dr. was always the one paying his bills anyway. But he thinks deep down, he can love this child twice as much to make up for her parents, and it still won’t be enough.

*

They play a small show at the Glasslands, and magic of all magic, Julia Love is there. He feels like he’s going to lose it, up under the lights, her eyes on him. Luckily, they kill it, good rapport with the crowd, strong set, and two encores. Afterwards, she sends a bottle of twenty-year-old Michter’s single barrel bourbon backstage with explicit instructions to drink it now.

Patrick whistles when he sees it.

“What?” Shawsy asks, pausing in the middle of breaking down his drum kit.

“Julia Love just sent us a $450 bottle of whiskey.”

“What?!” Shawsy asks, pulling the accompanying note out of Patrick’s hands. “You mean she sent you a $450 bottle of whiskey. Holy shit, Julia Love! Julia fucking Love.”

Patrick rolls his eyes at him, even though he’s barely playing it cool himself. He’s been bartending at an upscale whiskey bar in Midtown for the last four years. He doesn’t know much beyond music, but he does know whiskey and he’s pretty damn certain only 212 bottles of this stuff were made.

Wow, he mouths to himself. “So uh,” he holds up the bottle. “Anybody want a shot?”

When Patrick finds her at the bar, two ounces (roughly $33, good god) of liquid courage in his stomach and the rest of the bottle stashed in the trunk of Sharpy’s beater, she grins at him and spreads her arms for a hug.

“That was brilliant,” she says against his throat. “You were brilliant. Bloody brilliant.”

She smells spicy and warm, and he knows from the way her fingers dig into his shoulder blades and the pressure of her breasts to his chest, she’s planning to take him home, and hell, he would be crazy not to let her.

*

Johnny frets when Pippa goes back to her mother’s for the first time. Johnny wasn’t live-in help, when Dr. and Mrs. were still tearing each other apart under the same roof—it wasn’t until Mrs. kicked Dr. out that Johnny gave up his little sublet in Harlem to move into the cavernous SoHo loft Mrs. ruled from.

When the courts awarded Pippa to Dr, Mrs. snidely said, “Guess you’re getting a vacation, Jonathan.” So it’s entirely possible she hasn’t even noticed that Johnny isn’t working for her anymore.

Mrs. met Dr. at an AIDS charity function in the late 90s. They were together for years and years before they got married and decided to have a child. They deserved each other, chipping away at each other’s happiness year after year. He’s never figured out when and why they started planning to have Pippa. On the surface, Mrs. was a cool lady, politically motivated, free with her money, vocal during elections. But when she’s angry, all bets are off. She knows just where to stick the knife. He’d heard a lot of her venting about Dr. over the year and a half that he’s taken care of Pippa, all of it vitriolic and nasty and unfit for a little child to hear about her father. He doubts he’ll escape the wrath of Mrs.

He’s afraid of what she’ll say—that Johnny’s gay and does Pippa understand what that means? It’s a little hysterical, but he’s even worried that she’ll call him out for screwing Dr. and wildly claim the root of all of the problems in the marriage was a quiet unassuming Canadian boy. His own friends thought so when he first explained what was happening.

“You’re not...fucking him, are you?” Brent and Duncan had both, separately, tentatively asked. Brent had gone on to say, ”I know you love that little girl, but that family is fucked backwards, Johnny. You shouldn’t be in the middle of it.”

But he has to hope that it’s all going to be all right, that he made the right decision, that Pippa won’t hate him for whatever her mother might’ve said when she gets back.

It pains him to be so right on the money when Pippa does bring it up.

“Mommy says you kiss boys,” she says, in the middle of baking peanut butter blossoms on her first day back.

Johnny swallows, keeping his hand steady as he folds the dough. “I do kiss boys, not all of them, just the ones I like.”

“You don’t like Daddy?” she asks. Johnny pauses, heart in his mouth, but she barrels on, sweetly oblivious to his discomfort, “Mommy asked if you kissed Daddy and I told her that was dis-gust-ting!”

She enunciates the word with great relish.

Johnny breathes for the first time and hands her one of the mixers to lick clean.

“But now you say you only kiss boys you like. So you don’t like Daddy?”

Johnny laughs. “No, I don’t like Daddy. Not the way mommy used to like your Daddy, anyway.”

Pippa blinks at him, teeth catching on the metal edge as she tries to lick up the last butter and sugar. “So what boys do you like?”

Johnny has never been so glad to say “Nobody at the moment,” in his entire life.

*

He’s slept with her a couple of times now. Mostly, he’s so dazed and removed from the experience—I mean, Julia Love—he sort of can’t believe what’s happening. The first time he stays the night though, they spend the entire next day in bed, talking music, fooling around, laughing.

At four, she says she has an appointment, and as Patrick’s buttoning up his flannel shirt and she’s pulling on a perilously tall pair of heeled boots, she suddenly starts cursing.

“What?” he asks, and then repeats it when she doesn’t respond, eyes distant and shoulders up around her ears, this time more firmly. “What?

“My daughter! I get her back from her asshole dad today. I totally fucking forgot.” She runs her hands through her hair, just artfully mussing it further. “Holy fuck, how could I ever forget?”

“Can you reschedule your appointment?”

“God, no,” she says, distraught, hands clenched tight. “It’s with David Byrne. I’ve been trying to work with him forever, iron out a few things with my sound. There’s no way I can stand him up thirty minutes beforehand. I am so stupid, so fucking stupid. I can’t believe it.”

Patrick swallows, pictures the little girl in the fairy wings enfolded in her mother’s arms and finally says, “Uh, I could get her?”

Her eyes snap to his, like she’s seeing him for the first time. “Oh my god. Could you?”

She writes directions on the back of a torn envelope and then practically bolts out the door and into the first cab that passes by her front stoop, with Patrick standing bewildered, wondering just what he’s agreed to. They haven’t even talked about what he’s supposed to do with the kid after he’s got her or when she’s going to be back.

Julia said that Pippa would be waiting at the front, but she’s not there. He tries not to feel like a criminal—a random twenty-four-year-old in a children’s elementary—making his way to the principal's office.

He pokes his head past the frosted glass door and finds a dejected-looking Pippa, a tiny backpack drooping from her shoulders, and a frantic looking dude who’s either a hipster or gay, or even both, holding her hand and saying, “I don’t know what to do,” to a woman who looks far too young to be a school principal. Patrick doesn’t remember them looking like that.

“Uh,” he says, unsure if he just goes with, ‘I’m here, you can give me Pippa, hipster’ and that’s that or if there’s some kind signing her out like a library book ritual that needs to observed.

“Who the hel--heck are you?” the guy asks.

“Uh, I’m her mother’s...boyfriend?” Patrick tries that on for size. It doesn’t feel quite right, but he’ll be damned if he just announces he’s screwing Julia Love in front of her daughter, her daughter’s school teacher, and this guy who looks like he’s about to go nuclear. He bites his lip and says, “I’m really sorry I’m late. Julia had an appointment, so I said I’d come get Pippa.”

Pippa stares up at him, all wide blue eyes, before shrinking to press her cheek to the guy’s thigh.

“What?” the guy says, brow furrowing. “Are you kidding me?”

“Jonathan,” the principal says, “you need to resolve this somewhere outside my office.”

Jonathan sighs and swoops Pippa up easily, balancing her on his hip and pushing past Patrick to get to the door. He doesn’t stop until he’s back out in the sunshine, and then he sets Pippa down on a bench, brushes her hair back with a soft hand and says, “Darling, wait right here.”

He turns back around and his eyes laser in on Patrick, lips thinned like he’s having the worst day of his life. Patrick’s honestly sure he’s never seen anybody so furious.

“You understand why I can’t just hand her over to some random?” he says, voice icy, but his tone low so that Pippa can’t hear.

“Could you chill out?” Patrick asks desperately. “Her mother was running really late—I said I would pick Pippa up. I get why you’re worried, but it’s not like I know who the hell you are either.”

“I’m her nanny,” he replies, somehow still managing to sound like he’s shouting. He delivers ‘nanny’ completely straight-faced, even as Patrick wants to smirk. “I was halfway down the L.I.E. to JFK so I can see my family for the first time in a year, when I get a frantic call from Pippa’s teacher that it’s already been an hour and there’s nobody to pick her up. What the fuck am I supposed to do? I don’t know you. Her mother didn’t say anything about you. This is just fucking typical.”

“Jesus, fine, call her up,” Patrick says, digging in his pockets for his phone. He dials the number and hands it over. Jonathan accepts the phone gingerly, like it might bite him, bringing it to his ear with his eyes on Patrick the whole time. She must pick up, because Jonathan moves a few feet away, muttering into the receiver, before nodding tightly and hanging up.

“All right, fine, Patrick,” he says with a mocking emphasis on Patrick’s name, handing the phone back. Patrick shrugs weakly and Jonathan goes over to Pippa on her bench, kneeling down so that they’re at eye-level.

“I just spoke to your mother, Princess, she says that Patrick is here to take you home.”

“No,” Pippa intones, eyes on her tiny polka dot sneakers.

“It’s gonna be fine. He’s gonna take good care of you,” Jonathan tells her.

“No, Johnny, I don’t want you to leave,” she says, voice rising, the silver sheen of tears lining her eyes.

“I have to go, Pippa,” Jonathan says softly, and he looks for all the world like his heart is breaking.

“I don’t want to go with him,” Pippa says, beginning to sob. Jonathan draws her into his chest and hugs her close.

He says something incomprehensible in French into her hair and then tells her, “Patrick is lovely. He has a very nice smile, and people with nice smiles are always a lot of fun. He’s going to take you now and you’re going to have a great time.”

Patrick blinks at them—how would Jonathan have even noticed his smile?

She sniffs and wipes at her nose. Jonathan magically produces a tissue—some nanny powers Patrick figures—and dabs at her eyes, before rolling steadily to his feet. Pippa stands with him, her little hand in his, and she looks over at Patrick tentatively. Patrick does his best to smile winningly. Slowly, she smiles back.

She reaches out her hand, the opposite from the one that Jonathan’s holding, and he takes it, meeting Jonathan’s eyes over her head. Jonathan nods, a little choked up and then drops her hand to call a cab. He looks back, just as he’s stepping inside, giving her a jaunty wave, before directing a searching look at Patrick that makes Patrick want to do better. At what, he doesn’t even know.

The cab takes off and Pippa yanks on his hand. “We can go now,” she says, in a strangely adult voice. “We’ve seen Johnny off.”

*

When Johnny gets back, Pippa is full of stories about Patrick. Patrick made her layered Shirley Temples with the pink color strongest at the bottom, Patrick makes the best grilled cheese— bacon and burrata ( “Have you ever had burrata, Johnny?”)—Patrick goes underdog with her at the swings, Patrick plays Brown-Eyed Girl for her on the guitar.

He’s more than a little impressed. The kid seemed pretty hapless when he showed up in his flannel and rumpled jeans, a backwards Yankees hat on his head concealing all but the edges of messy curls. He looked like he’d just rolled out of bed, and Johnny deeply suspected, as distasteful as the thought was, that he had. For those thirty seconds, Johnny was positive he was missing his flight and taking Pippa back to the UES apartment. That he was going to have to call his mother up and explain to her why he wasn’t home and she was going to lecture him yet again about how Pippa wasn’t his kid and he couldn’t make up for her disastrous parents, it wasn’t healthy.

But the way Mrs. had answered the phone when Johnny called, still thinking it was Patrick, voice soft and oddly fond, the same way she spoke to Pippa when she was in a good mood, had made Johnny realize it might be okay, to let Pippa go with the kid, even if he was a total idiot. Patrick wasn’t going to let anything bad happen to her for however long it took Mrs. to come home, Johnny was oddly certain of it.

Still, Johnny couldn’t help wondering what on god’s green earth would possess a person to get involved with Mrs.

*

Pippa’s parents shuffle her back and forth every ten days—just enough to make sure they have at least one weekend with her. During Julia’s ten days, Patrick easily spends more time with Pippa than he does with Julia, but he doesn’t really mind. Pippa is great. She’s always making up crazy stories for herself and she loves to draw and dance and help Patrick in the kitchen.

When her father’s ten days are up, Julia asks if Patrick minds picking Pippa up at Ancient Playground near Museum Mile. He’s not sure why he’s surprised to see Jonathan there pushing her on the tire swing—he’s ‘the nanny’ after all. Julia won’t say a lot about him, but he knows that she was incredibly pissed off by his choice to join Pippa’s father’s employ when Pippa’s custody was decided. A lot of bad blood there.

She refers to Pippa’s dad as ‘the bastard.”

Jonathan looks good, calm and at ease. With their dark heads bent together, they could be father and daughter. Still hipstery—although he’s a little too built to pull off the look completely, if that’s what he’s going for.

“Patrick!” Pippa calls, spotting him first, waving wildly.

Patrick ambles over, and Jonathan looks up and smiles.

Patrick’s not really into dudes—he’s done that whole thing a couple of times—that’s rock-n-roll after all, but god, when Jonathan smiles, he looks really good.

“Uh, hey?” he says.

“Johnny took me to the Temple of Dendur!” she says proudly, swinging herself over the side of the tire swing.

“Did you see any mummies?” Patrick asks.

“Nope, no mummies,” she tells him. She turns to Jonathan. “Johnny, can we go to Laduree?”

Jonathan lets out a surprised laugh. “Sneaky! Very sneaky! This is your mother’s time now. We can go to Laduree next time.”

Pippa has the same look on her face that she did when they put Jonathan in that cab and he left for the airport, like she’s suddenly realizing she’s not going to see him for ten days. Patrick’s heart twists.

“Actually, I’ve got her for the afternoon, we can totally go to Laduree,” Patrick says, and then pauses, uncertain. “...if you don’t mind?”

“I’m not sure…” Jonathan begins, but then he looks down at Pippa’s hopeful face and sighs. “All right missy, but no overdoing it on the macarons!”

Pippa cheers and tugs on both of their hands.

“What’s Laduree?” Patrick asks, over her head.

Jonathan smiles. “It’s a tea parlor. Very fancy.”

It’s more than ten blocks away so Patrick winds up giving Pippa a piggyback ride as he tells Johnny about his bartending gig in Midtown and a little bit about his band and how they’re finally getting somewhere, after slaving away all these years.

“What about you?” he says, as they reach the tea place and Patrick sets Pippa down.

“Not much to tell,” Jonathan says with a shrug. “I’ve been taking care of Pippa since she was three—right out of college.”

“I’m Johnny’s best girl,” Pippa tells Patrick, proudly. Jonathan smiles and reaches out to stroke her nose fondly.

“What’d you study?” Patrick asks, assuming Jonathan’s going to say childhood development or psychology or something like that. The few other people Patrick’s come across catering to the children of the super rich seem to have been preparing for it their entire lives—multiple languages, teaching credentials, all kinds of crap like that.

“Linguistics,” Jonathan replies, “specifically language acquisition.”

Patrick raises his brows. “How many languages do you know?”

“Conversationally?” Jonathan asks.

“Yeah, fluent or whatever.”

“French, Italian, German, Austro-Bavarian, and Romansch,” Jonathan lists, and then pauses. “I guess I do alright in Spanish?”

“What?” Patrick asks, dumbfounded. Pippa giggles. “Romansch?”

Jonathan smiles, that same gut-punching one from earlier. “One of the languages in Switzerland. Austro-Bavarian is spoken in the Tyrol.”

“Oh, right...that place,” Patrick replies with a laugh.

“North of Italy?” Jonathan says.

Patrick shrugs. “Never been to Europe and my Geography sucks.” He’s waiting for that awkward moment when Jonathan gushingly suggests he go and why hasn’t he already? He gets that a lot from college kids.

Jonathan surprises him by saying, “It’s a cool place. But...I only really chose it because all the other thesis topics were taken.”

“So what can you do with a degree in linguistics?” Patrick asks.

Jonathan rolls his eyes. “Starve?”

Pippa and Patrick both laugh. Johnny mock glares at them and then starts to laugh himself.

There’s a wait. Laduree is popular with tourists and chi chi Upper Eastsiders alike. Pippa makes Patrick play the Miss Suzie clapping game with her four times before they finally get seated.

High tea is not really Patrick’s thing, and when he asks for his Othello tea iced the waiter laughs in his face. “I have champagne if you prefer something cold?” he says.

“Oh, that’s not really,” Patrick starts and then cuts himself off. “Hot tea is fine.”

Jonathan and Pippa hide their grins behind their menus. After the waiter leaves, Pippa says something to Johnny in halting French and he replies before saying, “It’s rude to talk like Patrick’s not here.”

She gives a blasé shrug of her thin shoulders, something she’s appropriated straight from her mother. “You should teach him then.”

Patrick laughs. He got kicked out of Spanish his junior year for having a bad attitude, and responded by putting a bunch of old toilets on his teacher’s lawn with the help of a few buddies. Any late-in-life attempts at French can only end in disaster.

Pippa has clearly developed a ritual about the tea. She has Johnny add two sugars, a dash of milk, and then has him blow on it before she’ll even try it, and then she uses the tea spoon and drinks it like soup.

“Daddy says I’m a heathen,” she explains proudly. “The English are very particular about their tea.”

The way she says it makes it sound like an oft-repeated quote and Patrick catches Jonathan rolling his eyes where Pippa can’t see.

Patrick feels like a heathen right about now, in this tea parlor, surrounded by society mamas, their Birkin bag carrying daughters, and tourists burbling away in a variety of languages. He’s probably only had a cup of tea about three times in his life, and every single one of those times he’d been sick and the drink his mother force fed him was more aptly termed a little bit of hot water and a whole lot of honey. He tries to drink his Othello tea, the name is awesome, but it’s just not his thing.

Jonathan must take pity on him, because after a little while he’s flagging down a waiter and asking for a cup of ice.

The waiter sets it down on the table on a little salver with tongs and then watches in grim-faced curiosity as Jonathan pours Patrick’s tea straight from the pot over the ice.

“You didn’t have to,” Patrick says, when Jonathan pushes the tea over, feeling a little like he’s been nannied himself.

Jonathan ignores this, watching Patrick take his first sip “Good?”

“Yeah, it’s good,” Patrick says, chuckling a little.

Pippa stares back and forth between them. “I want mine iced!”

“Next time, then,” Jonathan tells her.

“You’re not judging me too much over here?” Patrick asks, pretending not to notice as Pippa sneaks another Macaron.

“Oh, I’m judging you,” Jonathan replies, “I’m judging you a lot, but I’d rather you drink it.”

Patrick supposes he can accept that. After Jonathan’s paid the bill and Patrick’s slung a drooping Pippa up into his arms, it occurs to him that he actually cares what Jonathan thinks about him. That it matters.

Outside the restaurant, Jonathan says goodbye to Pippa. He’s heading back uptown to her Dad’s apartment, and they’re going downtown to her mother’s place. Pippa starts to look pinched and unhappy again.

“You’ll get to see your mother again,” Jonathan points out.

“I don’t care,” Pippa says, defiant, clearly on the edge of a tantrum.

“We’ve got lots of fun stuff planned,” Patrick says, “We’re going to see your mother record in the studio, we’re going to go to the Bronx Zoo, and your mother set up a few play dates with your friends.”

There are kind of a lot of play dates and sleepovers set up actually, more than Patrick’s parents would’ve allowed him as a kid. He thinks about what he’s saying, that he’s actually planned out zoo trips, pick up times, and dinners he’s going to cook. A month ago, his life was playing shows, getting through his shifts at the bar, and getting shitfaced with his friends. It’s kind of jarring. He wonders a little bit about what he’s doing with Julia. If he’s got any place in her ecosystem, if any of this makes sense at all. He’s not blind to how unorthodox it is—she’s nearly twenty years older with a little daughter and a lot of drama—his buddies have been nagging him about it for weeks. But he likes Pippa, he likes Julia, he even likes Jonathan. This is working for him.

*

Patrick’s kind of a tragedy, but he’s got a great smile and these clear blue eyes that look right through things. Johnny can see why Mrs. likes him, even though he’s far from one of the slick sophisticates that she usually prefers. There have always been men around Mrs., even before she kicked Dr. out—intellectuals, painters, gallery owners, experimental film directors, all handsome, educated, and polished. It doesn’t fit her gritty rock image, but then, even with her dark clothes and wild hair, Julia barely fits her gritty rock image anymore.

Patrick’s completely out of left-field, every time he sees Patrick, Jonathan is struck by it anew. At least, he cares about Pippa, and to Jonathan, that makes a world of difference.

Patrick calls him, voice thready and tight, at 9 PM on a Friday. It’s deep into Pippa’s time with her mother, and Johnny’s reading a mystery novel Duncan recommended on the giant sectional in the living room. He’s comfortable, the lights are low, Dr.’s been out of town for a while and so Johnny has the run of the place. When Pippa’s not here, but Dr.’s in town, Johnny feels most comfortable in the kitchen or in his bedroom, trying to keep out of the way. But tonight, he’s got the place to himself, a good glass of wine, and he’s sleepy and sated on his couch. He was expecting his mother to call and so when Patrick starts panicking on the other end of the line, it takes more than a few moments to figure out what’s going on.

“Patrick, Patrick, slow down!”

“I don’t know where she is, Jonathan,” he finally says. It takes Johnny a moment, frozen with horror, to realize he means Mrs. and not Pippa.

“What happened?” Johnny asks, rolling off the couch and swooping up his keys and wallet.

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Patrick replies, harried. There are voices at the other end of the line. “They dropped in on me at work around seven, and Julia said she’d be back in fifteen minutes, but it’s been two hours. I have called her so many times. She’s not picking up, and I have a gig at eleven.”

“Oh Jesus,” Johnny says. He can already picture it now—how Mrs. pawned Pippa off on Patrick. Just for a few minutes, I’ll be right back, she’d say. Johnny blows out a breath. “I’m on my way, okay? I’m on my way.”

Pippa’s in the back room when Johnny arrives, coloring at a table littered with empty Shirley Temple glasses, her tongue poking out in concentration. She smiles when she sees him standing in the doorway with Patrick.

“Johnny, it’s not your day yet!” she says, holding her arms out to him anyway.

“No, it’s not, but Patrick thought you might like to sleep over.” He swings her out of the chair and onto his hip.

Patrick holds out the little red purse that Dr. bought her when he was in St. Tropez, and Johnny puts it over his shoulder.

“Who abandons her daughter in a bar?” Patrick mumbles, looking determinedly past Pippa and Johnny. He’s shaking, fingers twitching like he’s been fisting his hands for hours and has only just remembered to unclench.

Johnny catches Patrick’s eyes and gives him a shake of the head.

Patrick breathes in deep and starts collecting the empty glasses, trying to keep his hands busy. He keeps his back turned and his head down. Jonathan doesn’t know what to say that’ll make him feel better. Everything he tries out in his head comes out as some variation of ‘you’re surprised by this?’

Pippa’s parents are nuts. Johnny himself will never understand and Patrick shouldn’t waste time on it. There is nothing that makes this right or okay, and if Mrs. thinks that Johnny won’t tell Dr. about this, then she’s sorely, sorely mistaken. And somehow, through all of this nonsense, with Pippa’s head pillowed on his shoulder, her soft mousey hair tickling his ear. He wants to kiss Patrick, right in the downturned corner of his mouth. Anything to make that rarely-seen frown disappear.

He swallows and ducks his head to ask Pippa, “You have everything?”

She nods into his shoulder and Johnny has to give Patrick credit. She seems to genuinely have no idea that anything is wrong.

“I’ll call Pippa’s mother and let her know what’s happening,” Johnny says, struggling to keep his voice even.

Patrick nods, eyes on the floor.

“Hey,” Johnny says, “I’ve got this, okay?”

He waits and finally Patrick looks up, biting his lower lip, but he nods at Johnny.

“Pippa?” Johnny says.

“Hmm?” she says, sleepily. It’s past her bedtime and the inevitable sugar crash has caught up to her.

Johnny squeezes her a little bit tighter to him. “Wish Patrick luck at his performance tonight.”

“Good luck, Pat,” she tells him and then, “Blow the doors off!”

Patrick laughs almost despite himself. “Your mother teach you that?”

“Yup,” she replies, brightly.

Patrick squeezes his eyes shut tight and then reaches out to brush her hair off her forehead, inadvertently stroking along Johnny’s shoulder in the process. “Thanks, Pip,” he says, but his eyes are on Johnny’s and his fingertips remain in stasis above Johnny’s shoulder.

Pippa sighs, snuggling in tighter, and Johnny decides it’s time to go.

*

The show does go well. The nervous energy that built up over the hours of not knowing what the hell was going to happen to Pippa fuels his play, but afterwards he still feels terrible. Scared and lonely and guilty for fobbing Pippa off on Jonathan.

He says as much to Sharpy when they’re breaking down their gear and Sharpy pauses, incredulous.

“Peeks, she’s not your kid, you don’t got anything to feel bad about,” he shrugs. “If anything you should be really fucking pissed. What kind of parent leaves their child like that?”

Patrick feels sick. “I don’t know, I’m sure she had a reason,” he mumbles, but it’s a lie, and he can tell from Sharpy’s face that he’s not buying it.

Weary, heading back home that night on the subway, feeling shitty rather than elated about how they played, he has to face the facts. Julia does this. She does this all the time. That day at Pippa’s school, the first time he met Jonathan, it’s pretty clear now why he was so furious—definitely not just because of the flight. With the benefit of hindsight, Patrick can see now that Jonathan was entirely too used to it. Everything in his face when he’d picked Pippa up had been deliberately gentle, practiced, like he’d perfected a routine for just this situation.

“You, uh, you probably shouldn’t see her again,” Sharpy had told him, watching his face carefully, before he left for the night.

Patrick had shrugged, unwilling to admit that Sharpy was probably right.

When he gets back to his apartment, he puts Bauhaus on as loud as he can get away with at this time of night, and then gets drunk off of a cheap bottle of 1776, pointedly ignoring the Michter’s Julia gave him.

As it turns out, it doesn’t even matter, because Julia never calls. She never offers an excuse, she never says thank you, she just goes silent, as if Patrick was the one who fucked up somehow.

Finally, frustrated, nearly a week later, he calls Jonathan up before the start of his shift at work.

“Uh, hey, what...what happened with Pip?”

Jonathan breathes hard on the other end of the line, steady but pronounced exhalations that makes Patrick wonder what the hell he’s up to and why the fuck he’s picking up the phone. It’s a little, visceral, actually. “Her mother collected her the next morning.”

“Oh, well, good,” Patrick replies lamely, “am I, uh, interrupting something?”

Jonathan lets out a breathless laugh. “No, no, I’m working out.”

“Oh,” Patrick says, unsure why he doesn’t just say his goodbyes and hang up, “right.”

“How’d your show go?” Jonathan asks.

“It went...really well, actually.” He feels bad, because he doesn’t want to admit that there was any benefit to what happened with Pippa. It’s horrifying. This is a girl, he’s rapidly realizing, whose parents don’t even think about her. She barely enters their world. Jonathan is really all she has, and because of that stupid custody agreement, every ten days, she doesn’t even have that.

But then Jonathan goes and says, all warmly, “Good, I’m really glad,” breathing hard into Patrick’s ear.

“You should come,” Patrick blurts, spontaneously. “Uh, the next time I mean.”

He knows that he and Jonathan don’t have remotely anywhere near the same taste in music. Pippa had told him quite seriously that Jonathan liked ‘crap music’ when he’d asked, crap meaning country and like, top 40 shit. It made Patrick shudder at the time, and Pippa nodded and told him that’s what her mother had always done too.

There’s probably no way he’ll like the angry new wave influenced brand of rock he and his band play, but he wants Jonathan there, to show him what they can do.

And for some crazy reason, even though they both know he’s into stupid country crap, Jonathan says very seriously, “Yeah, that would be nice.”

*

Mrs. stops seeing Patrick, which means, as a matter of course, so does Pippa. She talks about him all the time. When they visit to the pool, when they’re shopping for dinner at the grocery store, when they’re going to and from her music classes—everything goes something like: would Patrick like this, would Patrick like that, I wish I could show Patrick my art project, I wonder what Patrick would say about how long I can hold my breath under water. Even Dr. notices.

“Is he a classmate, love?” He asks over the top of the newspaper at breakfast. “Your Patrick?”

“Nooo! Patrick is too old to be at school,” she says and laughs. “He’s mommy’s friend.”

“Oh?” Dr. asks, suddenly pointed, the newspaper drooping in his hands so he can stare at Pippa. Of course, she can’t read the urgency in this one simple word, but Johnny can and he freezes, hands hovering over the new pot of coffee he’s brewing.

“He could be a classmate to Johnny,” Pippa goes on. “Johnny acts like he’s so much older, but Patrick says he’s Johnny’s age.”

Dr. smiles indulgently, thinking it’s just another one of Mrs.’ many musical groupies. It never occurs to Dr. to picture her robbing cradles. Just as well. He doesn’t want to think about what Dr. would do if he knew the truth.

It’s a staff development day at Pippa’s school, so when Dr. leaves that morning for work, Johnny makes an executive decision and calls Patrick up while Pippa’s in her bedroom changing into the outfit he set out for her.

He must wake him up, because Patrick sounds bleary and dazed at the other end of the line.

“Hey, Johnny,” he says, unselfconsciously using his nickname, even though he’s always only ever called him Jonathan before. It sounds good in his mouth, Johnny decides. “What’s up?”

“Pippa and I are going to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens today. I don’t know what your work schedule is like, but I thought maybe you’d like to join us?”

Suddenly, Patrick sounds clearer on the end of the line. “Sure! Yes! Okay, when?”

Pippa comes down the hall in her new Naartjie kids outfit and sees him talking on the phone and gives him a questioning look. Jonathan smiles at her and mouths ‘Patrick.’

Pippa rarely takes the subway, so they take the 6 down, and then transfer for the Q at 59th street, taking that all the way to the Prospect Park stop. Pippa sits in his lap and cheers delightedly when the train goes elevated.

Patrick meets them out front, a backwards cap on his head, a tray full of coffees for him and Johnny and a chocolate milk for Pippa in his hands. He carefully hands it all over to Johnny first so he can swoop Pippa up in a hug, tossing her into the air in a way that makes her scream with laughter. Johnny’s suddenly incredibly glad they were able to do this. It embarrasses him, but he missed Patrick too.

“So why the Botanical Gardens?” Patrick asks, after Johnny pays their admission fee.

“Botanic garden!” Pippa corrects, hands on her hips, the implied ‘get it right,’ makes them both chuckle.

“Sorry, Pip, the botanic garden,” Patrick says.

This time, before Johnny can reply, Pippa says, “Johnny loves gardening!”

“You do, do you?” Patrick says, mischief in his face.

Jonathan shrugs. “Not having a yard is one of the few things I don’t like about the city.”

“Yeah, what are the other things?” Patrick asks.

“Well, it’s kind a trek to go hiking, the city makes biking anywhere really impossible, and when it snows, it takes two days to get completely disgusting.”

“Ah, country boy, eh?”

“I’m from Winnipeg,” Johnny replies.

“Right, the bustling metropolis of Winnipeg,” Patrick teases, winking at Pippa. Johnny elbows him in the side and Patrick laughs, hand on his ribs. “Hey, I’m casting no aspersions, dude. I’m from Buffalo.”

“Yikes,” Johnny replies.

Patrick nods. “Yeah, exactly. I got out of there as soon as I could.”

Pippa spots an exhibit and runs off and they have to chase after her, effectively killing that conversation.

Patrick unexpectedly loves the Bonsai museum. He marvels with almost as much visible wonder as Pippa over the 200-year-old Quercus Dentata and the delicate flowering Andoh’s White. Pippa’s favorite is the tropical pavilion, where she loudly claims that she wants her father to decorate her bedroom like this, filled with jewel-toned dewy ferns and heavy-leafed trees. Patrick and Johnny laugh and trade glances over her head. This, Johnny feels, is what being a family is supposed to be like.

The thought catches him by surprise, and he has to turn his head, so that Patrick can’t see his face.

When they’re walking through the Cranford Rose Garden, each holding one of Pippa’s hands, two teenage girls stop them to ask if they could take their picture in front of a floridly blooming Hybrid Tea.

Afterwards, as Patrick hands one of the girls her bedazzled iPhone back, she says, “You and your daughter are really cute.”

Johnny flinches, even as Pippa looks up at them both proudly and sets the girls straight, “Johnny and Pat aren’t my parents, but I still like them.”

Patrick’s been in New York a long time, he’s a musician, he’s got gay friends, but Johnny still doesn’t know how he’ll take that—what he’ll feel at being arbitrarily assigned a sexuality because they’re two men with a little girl in a rose garden.

When the girls leave, Patrick shoots Johnny an outraged look. “That is so ridiculous! I don’t look old enough to be anybody’s dad! No offense, Pip, you’re the best, but what the fuck?”

Johnny can’t help laughing, thrilled and relieved enough he doesn’t even call Patrick on the bad language. Patrick looks at him over Pippa’s head, a bright grin on his face. He nudges Johnny with his elbow. “Must be doing pretty well for myself though, if I netted somebody like you.”

Pippa wraps her arms around Johnny’s leg and says to Patrick. “Maybe you should marry Johnny.”

“Oh yeah?” Patrick asks.

Pippa smiles up at him, still holding onto Johnny’s leg as if he’s going to run away. “Then I would get to see you more.”

“Oh, Pip,” Patrick says, bending to kneel at her level, “I don’t need to get married to do that. I love spending time with you.”

*

He unleashes a campaign worthy of Napoleon to get Johnny to one of his shows—texting, phone calls, shoving a flyer into Johnny’s hipster pants pocket before Patrick leaves him and Pip at the Botanic Gardens. Finally, the night before the show, Johnny calls him back while he’s on his shift at the bar and leaves a voicemail.

“You don’t have to try so hard,” he says in the message, when Patrick replays it on his break, voice clearly choked around a laugh. “I’ll see you at the Mercury Lounge tomorrow night.”

A cute girl band opens for them, and while they’re going through their five song set, Patrick vibrates nervously in the green room, palms pinned between his knees, having to physically repress the urge to drink the entire pitcher of beer Sharpy got. It’s starting to seem like an increasingly brilliant plan, even if he knows it’ll make him sloppy on stage.

“What are you so worked up about?” Steeger asks, flicking his ear.

“Ow, fuck.” Patrick punches him in the thigh, hard, grinning viciously bright when he winces. “Fuckin’ worry about yourself.”

Somehow, through sheer determination, he manages to pull himself together. Of course it all goes to hell when they get on stage and he looks out over the crowd, spotting Johnny at the very back, leaning against the wall, a beer in his hand. Patrick meets his eyes and Johnny smiles, raising his glass.

They kill it. Sharpy’s on fire, singing about being lost, about being weak, about being poor, about being desperate, about being young, about being scared, about letting go, about learning, about second chances. Patrick wrote most of these songs, he’s performed them hundreds of times, but it feels like tonight, somehow, he’s managed to pull all these people into his head with him. It’s not about getting it. It’s about not being alone.

When they finish the set and come back out for the encore, Johnny’s still at the back, plastic cup now empty in his hand. Of course he wouldn’t just toss it aside like everybody else who goes to these things. He thought when Julia had been at his show, that it meant things, that the band would finally go places, and it’s so fucking funny, but he realizes now, none of that matters. As long as they continue to get gigs like this, Patrick will gladly glide on in life forever.

Afterwards, he sends a stagehand out to bring Johnny back to the green room. It’s in disarray because their crew are mostly just the drunk friends they can corral to help them out with these things. They’re breaking down their equipment and trying to get their stuff together and celebrating all at the same time. Sharpy spots Johnny while Patrick’s trying to change out of his sweat-soaked flannel shirt. He trips over himself attempting to intercept him before Sharpy can say something horrible and crashes into Shawzy, who shouts and gives him a shove.

“And who might you be, handsome?” Sharpy asks Johnny, never mind that he’s married to a really cool lady and has a kid. When Patrick makes a face at him, still trying to get his legs to cooperate, he can see the asshole biting back a laugh.

Johnny, thankfully, has got no time for the likes of Sharpy, and he gives him the dead-eyed stare capable of quelling crazy Upper East Side housewives and rambunctious children alike. “Jonathan,” he says, offering his hand.

“Welll, is that so,” Sharpy says, side-eying Patrick as he gives Johnny’s hand a vigorous shake. Patrick tries to shoot him the finger while getting the right buttons lined up with the corresponding holes on his shirt. How is this suddenly so fucking hard?

Sharpy ignores him. “Patrick 1,” he says, immune to dead-eyed stares.

“You are not Patrick 1,” Patrick says, pushing Sharpy aside, still trying to button up his shirt.

Sharpy grins. “Whatever you say, Peeks.”

Johnny gives Sharpy an amused onceover and then glances at Patrick. It makes Patrick’s cheeks heat a little when he notices Johnny’s eyes dip to the skin still visible behind his half-buttoned shirt. “Uh, thanks for coming,” he says, cursing himself for being the exact opposite of smooth. What the hell is going on? He thinks he was less of a disaster around Julia when he first met her. And she was famous. Johnny is just Johnny.

“You were good,” Johnny says, eyes now firmly on Patrick’s. “You were really good.”

“Don’t sound so shocked,” Sharpy says, taking a swig from Patrick’s whiskey glass.

“Gimme that,” Patrick says, stealing the tumbler back. “And don’t get your panties in a bunch. Johnny’s musically backward.”

Johnny laughs. “I am not.”

“You were singing along to Lee Ann Womack the other day,” Patrick says, voice dry.

Shawzy and Steeger crack up, but Sharpy, asshole that he is, bursts into song, “ ‘I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance, Never settle for the path of least resistance. ‘ “

They all wince from the blood-curdling sound of his falsetto. Lord only knows why a man who can sing as good as he does would ever want to make sounds like that.

“Thanks for that,” Steeger says, shoving Sharpy in the shoulder.

“You’re welcome,” Sharpy says with a placid grin.

Steeger rolls his eyes. “Kaner, why don’t you get out of here? We can take it from here.”

“You sure?”

Steeger waves him aside, so Patrick shrugs, and slings his jacket on. “Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“Uh, nice to meet you,” Johnny says as Patrick shoos him out the door. The guys all nod and wave.

“You really were good,” Johnny tells him when they get out to Houston street. “Musically backward though I may be.”

Patrick ducks his head and smiles. “Well, thank you.”

“Pippa was horribly jealous that I got to come and she couldn’t.”

“Ah shit,” Patrick says, “I didn’t even think about that.”

“Don’t stress,” Johnny tells him. “She knows the drill from her mother.”

That doesn’t exactly make Patrick feel better.

They go to the Great Jones Cafe for a late dinner. Patrick eats what feels like a metric ton of fries and then follows it up with their bourbon pecan pie. He already knows that Johnny’s a bit of a health nut from the times they’ve hung out, and Johnny surprises him by ordering a slice of key lime for himself.

“For variety,” he says, when the pie arrives, and spoons the whipped cream right off the top and into his mouth. Of course he doesn’t finish it and makes Patrick eat the last third.

“You’re ridiculous,” Patrick tells him, but the key lime pie is good, so he polishes it off easily enough.

When the check comes, they practically wrestle over it, but Johnny is larger and has longer arms, so he wins by holding the little leather folder over his head until their waitress snags it with his card inside.

“Ugh, why you gotta be like that?” Patrick throws his napkin down on the table.

“You did good tonight,” Johnny says, looking pretty fucking smug, and how he manages that when he’s giving Patrick praise, Patrick doesn’t know. “You deserve to be treated.”

“Whatever,” Patrick says with a shrug, but he’s pretty sure he’s blushing again.

Afterwards, they walk all the way over the High Line, but it’s closed, so they continue on to the waterfront along the Hudson, which is nearly empty except for a few insane joggers.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Patrick asks, Johnny.

Johnny looks at him, eyebrows raised. “When I grow up?”

“Yeah, what do you want to do with your life?”

Johnny shoves his hands into his pockets. “I dunno. I hadn’t really thought about it. Grad school, I guess. I wanted to do research, get my PhD. I guess I got a bit distracted. Pippa...” he trails off. “Well, you know how it is.”

Patrick always knew how devoted Johnny was to Pippa, it was evident through every interaction, but he never really realized that Pippa had become his entire life. When he thinks about it now, there was that time that Pippa said offhand when he was first getting to know her, that Johnny never had any boyfriends, never dated anyone. It gives a whole new meaning to the way that Pippa had sunnily proclaimed that Johnny would always, always be there for her even when he was in Winnipeg.

The sheer magnitude of what Johnny’s given up to be Pippa’s rock when her parents simply couldn’t swamps over him. It takes an act of supreme will not to reach for Johnny’s hand, like he has any right to it.

*

A week later, when Dr. is out of the country to attend a conference, Pippa asks to call Patrick. Johnny shrugs and says why not? He winds up laughing himself sick when Pippa invites him over on Friday to watch The Last Unicorn with them and demands that he bring popcorn and candy to boot.

Patrick must agree, because Pippa squeals and starts jumping up and down. “Johnny picks me up at three, so you can come over as soon as we get back to the apartment.”

“Settle down, Pippa,” Johnny says, taking the handset away from her. “Patrick?”

“Yeah?” Patrick replies, voice warm.

“How does six o’ clock sound? We’re ordering Chinese takeout.” Pippa makes a face at him and he has to hide a smile.

“That sounds good,” Patrick replies, voice fondly amused, “I’ll see you Friday.”

When Johnny hangs up, Pippa starts dancing around the apartment. “Patrick’s coming over, Patrick’s coming over, Patrick’s coming over,” she chants while hopping up and down.

“You’re pretty crafty,” Johnny tells her, arms crossed.

Pippa sticks out her tongue. “Like you didn’t want him to come over too.”

Johnny comes to the conclusion that silence is the better part of valor.

On Friday, Patrick arrives with a box of Jolly Time Blast-o-Butter popcorn, a jumbo pack of Twizzlers, a family size bag of peanut M&Ms, and a package of Dum Dums. Pippa cheers and goes to relieve him of his loot.

“Are you trying to poison us?” Johnny asks, ushering Patrick in through the door.

Patrick shakes his head at him. “That shit is the best, hombre, so you can be quiet.”

Johnny snorts.

“Jesus Christ,” Patrick says, wandering into the living room. They’re in the penthouse, and the last owner had taken out half of the ceiling to put in skylights. The open plan arrangement of the rooms means they have a great view of Central Park from pretty much anywhere. “And I thought her mother’s place was something else.”

Patrick goes to the French doors leading out onto the terrace, looking at Johnny for permission when his hand is already on the knob.

Johnny nods. “You can if you want. You just have to jimmy the doorknob to get it to open.”

He leaves Patrick to his explorations to make sure Pippa hasn’t already torn the bags of candy open. He finds her just about to shove a package of popcorn into the microwave.

“Oh no no no,” he says, hoisting her away from the counter and closing the microwave door. “Not before dinner.”

“Johnnnny,” she whines, making him laugh.

“Why don’t you ask Patrick what he’d like to order from Sichuan Chili?” Johnny tells her as he puts the candy and the popcorn on a very high shelf in the pantry. She sticks her tongue out at him, but when he hands her the menu, she goes easily enough to find him on the terrace.

Johnny hears Patrick ask, “Wow, Pip, just what kind of doctor is your dad?”

“A good one,” she replies, smartass that she is.

Patrick ends up making the call to the Chinese place himself. He orders far too much food for them all and when the deliveryman is buzzed up, insists on paying him.

“I’m taking the leftovers home,” he says, forking over two twenties. “Just try and stop me.”

“Oh no, you can’t deprive us of the leftovers,” Johnny says dryly.

They go to eat on the suede sectional in front of the TV after Johnny spreads a few spare sheets over it.

“They’re from a fancy furniture place,” Pippa tells Patrick in a stage whisper, “no stains allowed, because my daddy’s anal.”

“Pippa,” Johnny admonishes, “that word is not appropriate.”

Pippa tips her head, a shrewd look on her face. “Mommy says it.”

Johnny sighs and Patrick, seeing his look of defeat, sets the bag of food on the table with a flourish. “Hey, Pip, help me open the containers while Johnny gets plates.”

“The chow mein is all for me!” she declares.

Halfway through the movie and well into the bags of candy, the doorbell rings. Johnny’s watch says it’s nearly eight pm, and he has no idea who could possibly have gotten up here without Teddy, the doorman, buzzing them up. One of their neighbors maybe, asking to borrow something.

Patrick reaches past Pippa, who’s curled up into his side, to grab the remote.

“Don’t pause it,” Johnny says, rolling to his feet to go answer the door. Patrick nods and Pippa snuggles in closer with a soft sigh. Johnny catches the way Patrick looks down at her, fond and full of wonder, and knows that everything that Johnny sees in Pippa, Patrick sees as well.

He’s distracted when he opens the door. As soon as it swings open, he really wishes he’d looked through the keyhole first.

“Mrs. Love,” he says, stiffly, mind racing a mile a minute. What the hell is she going to say when she sees Patrick?

“Jonathan,” she replies, throaty voice somehow managing to make his name sound like an insult.

“I’m supposed to drop Pippa off tomorrow morning.”

“Yes, well,” she says with a shrug and steps through the door before he can stop her. “I’m leaving for the Finger Lakes tomorrow, early, and I thought it would be easier if I got Pippa now.”

“We’re in the middle of a movie,” Johnny tells her.

“We can take it with us,” she says easily.

The look she gives him, like Johnny is being strangely difficult and she’s not sure how to deal with it, raises his hackles. As if he’s somehow being ridiculous for expecting that she call ahead of time, respecting the bounds of her custody agreement with her husband.

“Pippa, darling,” she calls out, striding into the living room, while Johnny follows behind her, “get your—”

She looks over her shoulder at Johnny, astonished, and then back at the tableau of Pippa pressed to Patrick’s side while The Last Unicorn plays on the TV.

Patrick sees her and immediately pauses the movie. “Hi, Julia,” he says, evenly. Johnny closes his eyes. This is so beyond not good.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” she shouts, her voice going high-pitched.

“Mommy?” Pippa says, voice thin and scared.

Julia ignores her. “I don’t understand.”

“Pippa,” Johnny says, “can you go to your room and put on your Magic Sing-along?”

Pippa nods, big eyes wide, mouth rimed with blue sugar from the lollypop, and quietly goes back to her room. As the first tinny strains of guitar filters down the hall, Johnny’s heart breaks that they’re still doing this, all these months later when he’d finally thought, with the divorce, that they were past this.

“Mrs. Love,” he says firmly, “Pippa invited Patrick over.”

“Yeah? And why would she do that?” she demands. “Jonathan, explain to me how you thought having my ex-boyfriend around my child would be appropriate?”

“Are you kidding me?” Patrick asks, eyes blazing and color high in his cheeks. “I spent more time with your kid than you did when we were together. That little girl is amazing and you abandoned her with me at a bar! And you’re asking what’s wrong with him?”

Julia stares at him, lips so tight they’ve gone white. Her eyes swing to Johnny, filled with venom. It nearly makes him take a step back. She looks away from him in disgust.

“You, more than anybody, should understand how important the music is!” she shouts at Patrick. “How much I’ve had to give up.”

“Well, I don’t. I don’t understand it at all!” Patrick shouts back. “Maybe that means I don’t get the music, but shit, man, that’s your daughter.”

“That’s right, that’s my daughter!” Julia screams, “Which means I’m the only one who gets a say in how to raise her. I came from nothing, you understand? Nothing. Growing up it was me, my brothers, and my mother and we killed ourselves just to make rent every single month. Do you know how hard I’ve worked to make sure she has everything? That she grows up as somebody who doesn’t have to fucking struggle all the time?”

Patrick stares back at her in silence, his face shuttered.

“You have no fucking clue what it’s been like, no fucking idea how hard it’s been to fight her father, especially after this one,” she points at Johnny, “goes and tells the judge that I’m ‘volatile.’ As if I’ll hurt her!”

“It isn’t enough,” it bursts past Johnny's lips, startling even him.

She slaps him, the smack of her palm meeting his cheek echoing through the spacious apartment, hard enough of to rock his head back.

“Johnny?” a small voice says down the hall, and his stomach drops at the sight of Pippa poking her head out of her room.

“C’mon, Pippa,” Julia says, stomping down the hall to grab her hand, her high heels banging on the wood like she’s trying to kick through the floor. “We need to go.”

“Johnny?” Pippa asks again, towed along in her mother’s grip, eyes bright with what looks suspiciously like tears.

“It’s okay, Pip,” he says, borrowing Patrick’s nickname for her, but the tears spill over anyway, and he watches, helpless.

Julia looks back over her shoulder at him when she’s at the door, waiting for Pippa to shrug into her coat. “If you think I’m not telling my lawyer about this, you’ve got another thing coming.” And then she’s tugging Pippa out the door and slamming it behind her.

Patrick collapses back down onto the couch. “Oh god, did I just make everything worse for Pip?”

“She’ll be okay,” Johnny says, quietly, looking down at his hands, “she’s strong.”

“But what about you? What about your job? Those things she said—”

Johnny shrugs numbly, trying to push the sight of Pippa’s tear-stained face out of his mind. “She accused me of fucking her father when we were in court. Frankly, she can say whatever the hell she wants, as long as it’s not in front of Pippa.”

“Johnny, I wish I hadn’t...I swear to you if I had known, I never would’ve…not with Julia...” Patrick breaks off, face miserable.

“Hey,” Johnny says, reaching out to squeeze Patrick’s shoulder. “Don’t do that to yourself.”

Patrick glances at him, palm coming up to rest on top of Johnny’s hand, blue eyes dark with some emotion Johnny can’t quite name. The look on his face makes Johnny swallow, and the next thing he knows, he’s leaned in and pressed a kiss to Patrick’s mouth.

He’s not sure what he’s expecting. He just did it without thinking about the consequences, but the way that Patrick surges into him, mouth opening underneath his, hands coming up to frame Johnny’s face, is somehow both unexpected and completely inevitable.

*

Kissing Johnny is amazing. The warmth of his mouth, the sounds he makes when Patrick licks over the swell of his lower lip, the way he smells—spicy and warm and something else indefinable that makes him completely drunk on it—everything about it completely and totally amazing.

Eventually Johnny pulls back, blowing out a breath. “Not here,” he says. “Not in this horrible apartment.”

Patrick looks around the crazy windowed showplace and then back at Johnny. “Do you wanna spend the night at mine?”

He’s not really expecting a yes, so when Johnny’s mouth slowly resolves into a smile, his stomach swoops like he’s just gone over the first hill on a rollercoaster.

“To help you carry your leftovers back?” he says, voice warm and teasing.

“Exactly,” Patrick replies.

They don’t touch on the forty-five-minute subway ride back into Brooklyn, but Johnny’s solid presence at his side is driving him completely crazy, by the time they get off at the DeKalb stop for his place he’s shaking with nerves and adrenaline and crazily turned on.

Johnny laughs at him when he drops his keys attempting to get the door open.

“Shut up, you’re very distracting.”

“I’m not doing anything,” Johnny replies, a wicked smirk on his face.

“Your face is plenty,” Patrick replies, finally getting through the lock. He’s not sure what Johnny was expecting, but the loft space clearly takes Johnny by surprise. Patrick’s proud of his apartment. He pulls down enough at the bar that he can afford to live on his own. It’s not fancy or a feat of complicated engineering. Patrick did the build out for the deck space where his bed is himself with just Sharpy and Burr’s help. It’s north-facing and the building’s just tall enough that he has a good view of Manhattan even if the place gets criminally dark, especially during the winter.

“This is really amazing,” Johnny says softly, going to the bank of windows. The owners didn’t replace the original industrial window fittings when they renovated the place. It’s shit insulation in the winter, but the effect is perfect.

“Thanks,” he says, trying not to be embarrassed and uncomfortable at the unexpected praise. It takes everything in him not to duck his head.

Johnny laughs at him. “Not good with compliments, huh?”

“Oh shut up,” Patrick replies.

Johnny laughs again, but then, after a moment, his face goes solemn.

“Hey, Patrick, have you done this before?”

Patrick shrugs. “I mean, I’ve fooled around with buddies before, drunk and horny or whatever, but uh...I’ve never like, made a plan before.”

“Hmm, okay,” Johnny says, stripping his shirt off. A line of dark hair disappears into his jeans, but for the most part, his tan skin is smooth.

Patrick’s mouth goes dry. He doesn’t look like that under his clothes. Seriously, what the hell is Johnny doing with him? His body’s the kind of cut perfection you barely see outside of magazines and Patrick’s just your typical music nerd who prefers to avoid the inside of the gym at all costs.

Johnny raises his eyebrows. “I’m feeling a little alone here.”

“I’m sorry, I’m uh,” Patrick tries to come up with something better to say than simply ‘ur hot.’ He clears his throat. “I’m just uh...taking a moment to look at you.”

“I appreciate it,” Johnny laughs, pulling Patrick to him, unbuttoning his shirt with sure fingers.

He gets Patrick’s pants open with a concise flick of his wrist that makes Patrick’s dick fill and then he drops to his knees, his eyes on Patrick’s the entire time.

Patrick swallows hard, and Johnny’s only reply is to pull down the band of his boxers and fit his lips to the head of Patrick’s dick, fingers curling around his cock to fist him to full hardness.

Patrick jerks in surprise.

“You good?” Johnny asks, the swollen head of Patrick’s cock hovering over the shiny red swell of Johnny’s lower lip. “You gonna be able to do this?”

Patrick nearly stumbles off his feet. “No, it’s not you, it’s not the gay thing. I’m acting like an idiot, because I really, really like you and I want it, I want you to have what you want—,” he says in a rush and then immediately regrets it.

But Johnny’s smiling up at him. “Well then,” he says, and sucks Patrick into his mouth.

It’s quick and dirty, and over far too soon. Gay dudes really are better at head, or that’s what he’s telling himself, because he’s never come so quickly from a blowjob in his life.

Afterwards, Johnny wipes his mouth, dark eyes going even darker. He takes a moment, breathing hard like he was the one who just fucking shot all over the place and slowly rolls back up to his feet.

“Probably shouldn’t have done that,” Johnny slurs in his blowjob-roughened voice, crowding Patrick back against the stairs leading up to the deck. He’s still wearing his jeans and he adjusts himself with a pained sigh. “Now you won’t be able to fuck me.”

Patrick groans and screws his eyes shut tight. “Where were you when I was eighteen?”

So Patrick might be down for the count on that front for about half an hour, and blue-balling Johnny into waiting that long is hardly sporting, so instead he gets Johnny flat on his bed, wondering how it is that watching the way Johnny lift his hips to push his pants and boxers off is so fucking hot. He knocks Johnny’s hands away when he goes to jerk himself off.

“I got this,” Patrick tells him sternly, taking his blood-hot cock in his hand.

Johnny throws an arm over his eyes and shudders, like he’s responding to the command in Patrick’s tone. Interesting. Patrick files that way for later.

Patrick didn’t really consider how difficult it is to jerk another dude off. He’s not sure how he managed it those few times at parties in high school. Somehow it devolves into wrestling on the bed, kissing and laughing, hands everywhere.

“Jesus, I’m gonna die,” Johnny finally says, breathless, pinning Patrick to the mattress, dick still hard between them. He dips to kiss Patrick again, nibbling at his lower lip and then pulling away with a harsh exhale. “Ugh, your mouth.”

Patrick squirms under him, closing his eyes against the weight of Johnny’s gaze. Johnny sighs. “Okay, this is how we’re going to do this,” he says, and then rolls off of Patrick, tugging Patrick onto his side and then turning against him so that Patrick is the big spoon at his back.

“I guess it’s not called reach-around for nothing,” Patrick jokes, mouth skimming the smooth skin at the back of Johnny’s neck. He finally gets his hand back on Johnny, who groans deeply in appreciation, and this time the angle is right, familiar enough that Patrick knows what he’s doing.

He gets Johnny off like that, pressed to his back, unable to stop mouthing at his neck. After a while, he gets hard again, pressing against the swell of Johnny’s perfect ass. Johnny lifts his thigh and Patrick inadvertently thrusts between his cheeks, making them both groan.

“That is just…” he says, trying to string a sentence together.

Johnny chuckles, but it’s with a breathless raggedy edge, and Patrick knows he’s must be close. He thrusts against him again, cock sliding between Johnny’s thighs and against his balls.

“Fuck,” Johnny says succinctly, curling in on himself a little. Patrick keeps it up, trying to match the rhythm of his hand on Johnny’s dick.

When Johnny finally comes, it’s almost silent, but the way he stiffens up in Patrick’s arms telegraphs it loud and clear. His thighs tighten further around Patrick’s dick and he cries out, milking Johnny through it and trying to stop himself from biting the strong, proud wing of Johnny’s shoulder.

He must say it out loud, because Johnny laughs weakly and says, “You can, if you want.”

He does, unable to stop himself, coming hard between Johnny’s thighs, his teeth caught in the meat of Johnny’s shoulder.

*

The days that follow are amazing. They barely leave Patrick’s place and when they do, it’s to get brunch or to visit Green-Wood Cemetery, which Johnny told him he always wanted to see. They spend an entire day just tooling around in Greenpoint, trying to spot all the cool graffiti and making out on the quiet side streets where nobody bothers them. The only dark spot is that they don’t talk about Pippa. They can’t talk about it really, what’s there to say? Johnny doesn’t know what’s going to happen with the way things were left.

Johnny’s technically off right now. It’s Pippa’s mother’s time, so he only goes back to the Upper East Side once, to pack a bag of clothes while Patrick is at work. He does it as quickly as possible, and practically slams the door on the way out.

There’s not a lot to see in Bushwick. It’s still so heavily industrialized and there are barely any trees or greenery, but Johnny takes to exploring while Patrick’s at the bar, repairing Patrick’s old fixed-gear so he can ride it around.

“How?” Patrick asks, when he gets home and finds Johnny pumping up the tires. “What’d you do with it?”

Johnny shrugs. “Just tightened the bolts up, I had to file the edges flat on this one to even get a good grip on it, it was that rounded.” He tests the tire pressure and then moves to the back wheel. “Annnd I replaced the busted chain—the side plates were totally disfigured. That’s what was causing your problem.”

“All that, huh?” Patrick asks, eyes on Jonny's hands as he wipes down the braking surface of the wheel rim. When Johnny gets to his feet, Patrick practically tackles him. “God, you are so fucking hot.”

Johnny laughs, kissing Patrick back, trying to make sure his grease smeared hands don’t leave marks on Patrick’s shirt. “Whatever you say, Stud.”

He starts keeping a list of places for them to visit--bars and restaurants and coffee shops. “We can’t go to Northeast Kingdom every night,” he says, as they’re lounging on Patrick’s couch, his head pillowed on Patrick’s lap. It’s ridiculous since both he and Patrick cook. Although Patrick is mostly too lazy to do so, and everything Johnny makes Patrick complains is too healthy to eat, so they do end up going out a lot where at least Johnny can default to a salad if he feels like he’s packing on too many calories. Patrick can eat whatever and never worry about the consequences.

“Ugh, you’ve gone fully native on me.” Patrick pokes him in the side.

“I’m going to have to do so many more crunches,” Johnny replies mournfully.

“Okay, seriously, I don’t know why you care so much,” Patrick tells him. “Were you a jock growing up?”

Johnny pulls a face at him.

“Jesus, you were!” Patrick laughs at him.

“I like working out,” Johnny says, “It gets me out of my head. It feels good to push myself like that. Maaaybe, you should try it!”

“Ugh, pass!”

Patrick’s band plays a show at the Knitting Factory, and afterwards, getting a late bite at DuMont Burger, squeezed in together at one of the communal tables, Sharpy asks, “So, are you guys forking?”

Patrick chokes on his milkshake and Kris and Andrew laugh uproariously. “Why?” he asks. “Why would you say it like that?”

“Abby says I swear too much and now that Maddie is getting to the stage where she repeats things…”

“Pretty sure that’s cheating,” Johnny tells him, while cutting his burger. Patrick makes fun of him for using his knife and fork on his French fries of course. “But yes, you could say we’re forking.”

“God, don’t repeat it!” Patrick says, elbowing him in the side. Johnny laughs and leans in to kiss him.

Kris gives them a look. “Whatever that is, it’s worse than forking.”

“What?” Patrick replies scandalized. “No! We are not making this a thing. Forking is not a thing, Sharpy.”

Johnny finally goes back to Dr.’s apartment when Mrs.’ ten days are almost up, the day that Dr. gets back from Geneva. He and Patrick left pretty hurriedly, so he spends a little time cleaning up the kitchen, disposing of the last of the candy, putting The Last Unicorn back into its case.

He isn’t surprised when a few hours after Dr. returns, he calls him into his office.

“This is a bad situation, Johnny,” Dr. says, sitting behind his desk with his hands folded. “She’s making an awful stink with her lawyers about this Patrick kid. Fucking crazy cunt.”

Johnny has to hide his internal wince at the word.

“Julia was sleeping with him?” Dr. asks.

“She used to have Patrick watch Pippa all the time,” Johnny explains, “Pippa got attached. When Mrs. Love and Patrick broke up, Pippa missed him.”

Dr. sighs heavily and takes off his glasses to rub at his face. He’s a handsome man if you can ignore the arrogant asshole that so readily shines through. Right now though, he just looks tired.

“This is a bad situation,” he repeats.

“I know,” Johnny replies.

“Pippa is telling people that Julia hit you,” Dr. says, leaning forward. “If that’s true, you understand that that changes things.”

Something about the way Dr. says it, his eyes seeming to look right through Johnny as if he’s calculating some odds or eventualities, puts his back up.

“I’m not sure...” Johnny starts off.

“That would look very bad to the courts, a mother hitting her child’s nanny,” Dr. says.

And then Johnny gets it. Of course, it’s just one more bargaining chip in the epic battle between Dr. and Mrs. If they didn’t have Pippa, it would be over something else, some priceless family heirloom, the SoHo loft maybe, or some property upstate.

A part of him wants to tell Dr. the truth. Of course, Julia hit him. She’s got no sense that any of the rest of them are humans, that they have wants or desires that don’t end and begin where hers are. He wants her to be able to learn, for Pippa’s sake, some decency and awareness for the rest of them. But he can imagine what it will mean if he says yes. Pippa will be dragged into the whole mess and made to tell the story over and over again. She’ll have to do it in front of her mother, whose relationship with her is complicated and warped enough. He doesn’t want to think about what it would be like for Pippa after that. All he knows is that he wants no part of it.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says at last. “Pippa must have been mistaken.”

As soon as it’s out of his mouth, he knows he’s going to get fired.

Johnny can deal with it better than he thought he could've if you’d asked him a few months ago. The thought of leaving Pippa would’ve been unconscionable. Now, he doesn’t know how he could possibly stay. Pippa’s father tries to be decent about it, embarrassed maybe that the person they’ve trusted with their child with all these years is leaving them under these circumstances. He gives Johnny a decent amount of severance and pays to have Johnny’s stuff moved to Patrick’s place while he figures out what to do next.

“You all right?” Patrick asks that night, walking along the Brooklyn waterfront.

Johnny shrugs, trying to stay neutral. He finally says, “This day was always coming.”

“You’re allowed to be upset,” Patrick says, tentatively.

Johnny shrugs again, but he’s having trouble staying neutral. “She wasn’t mine to save. I just hope—oh fuck.” Johnny has to sit down for a moment or he’ll, god, he’ll fucking cry. Patrick watches him, helpless and unsure as he collapses onto a bench, his head in his hands. After a moment, he comes to sit beside Johnny, just close enough to be a comforting presence without actually touching him. Johnny clears his throat twice and then takes a deep breath.

Patrick places his hand over Johnny’s and they sit like that, long after it’s gotten too cold for them to remain on the pier.

*

It hits Patrick in the middle of playing Modern Warfare, with Johnny beside him on the couch, that he is, honest-to-god, completely satisfied with his life right now.

In a fit of perhaps complete and total insanity, while Johnny is alternately looking at grad school rankings, trawling Craigslist for an apartment, and paging through Glassdoor for a job on his laptop, Patrick just says it, “Stay.”

“What?” Johnny asks, a tab for an apartment in Windsor Terrace open on his computer. Patrick’s keeps his eyes on the video game, it makes it easy for him not to look at Johnny’s face while he repeats his insane proclamation. That’s definitely for the best or he might lose his nerve.

“Just move in,” Patrick tells him. Johnny doesn’t have a lot of stuff, a symptom of living in somebody else’s house for so long, what he does have, has sort of naturally migrated around the apartment already. Currently, Johnny’s sheets are on Patrick’s bed. Johnny’s Blu-Ray player is already hooked up to the TV. His alarm clock is sitting on a spare chair Johnny appropriated as a nightstand. His extension rod shower caddy is already in use.

Johnny remains silent.

“I mean, you kind of already have,” Patrick says, finally the pausing the game and setting the controller aside to look at him.

“We don’t...actually know each other that well,” Johnny says quietly, but he closes the laptop which Patrick views as a small victory.

“So if it doesn’t work out, you’ll move out again. It’s not like I can’t afford this place on my own.”

“We argue all the time!” Johnny points out.

“So?” Patrick asks. “It works for us.”

After that, he’s really not expecting Johnny to say, “Yeah, okay.”

“What?” he replies, astonished.

“I’ll stay,” Johnny says, laughing at him.

“I was planning for this to be a long, drawn out battle,” Patrick replies, blinking at him. “Like, I was planning to...I don’t know...woo the shit out of you.”

“You always think you have to convince me,” Johnny tells him, setting the laptop aside and moving to straddle his lap. That’s pretty distracting. His character dies on the screen and Patrick tosses the game controller aside so he can gets his hands on Johnny’s ass. The last time he was popping boners this much he was still in high school. It’s scary how much he’s into Johnny.

Not that Johnny seems to mind.

“Do you...do you wanna fuck me?” Patrick asks, a little tentatively.

For all that the sex they’ve had, all over the apartment, on the roof of the building, fuck, even outside in Greenpoint, they haven’t really had the conversation about what they’re into. Maybe Johnny’s only a bottom, or maybe he’s been bottoming only because Patrick’s "straight" and he thinks that’s the only way to make him happy.

“Whoa, hey, what are you stressing about?” Johnny asks, tipping his chin up.

“Is this...is this cool? How we’re doing this?”

“Is it cool?” Johnny repeats blankly.

Patrick starts to say, “Well—” but Johnny interrupts him with a harsh kiss, before rolling off Patrick’s lap in one fluid motion.

He starts stripping off his clothes as he walks away, shirt hitting the floor, belt coming off on the stairs, jeans by the bed.

“Well,” he says, over his shoulder, fingers hooked into the waistband of his boxer briefs. He’s standing on the lofted portion, waiting for Patrick to get with the program and Patrick nearly kills himself trying to get up the stairs.

He fucks Johnny from behind, watching the muscles in his back bunch and smooth with every thrust, the way his ass clings to Patrick’s cock like he never wants to let him go. He thumbs the red rim of Johnny’s hole and Johnny curses at him and pushes back against him, shoving Patrick in deeper.

Patrick holds him there, still, balls flush with his ass. “This is my show,” he says, putting some authority into his voice.

Johnny groans, arms collapsing under him so that his cheek is pressed to the mattress. Patrick sets up a slow dirty grind, fucking him hard and deep, making Johnny cry out every time he bottoms out.

Soon the muscles in Johnny’s thighs are trembling, but in typical Johnny fashion, he doesn’t like to give up control that easily. “So I’ve got a lot of money in my savings account these days,” Johnny tells him, voice partially muffled into the sheets.

“Uh, good for you?” Patrick has like...three-hundred dollars in his savings account. He’s far more interested in the hot clench of Johnny’s body, the way his hips seems perfectly shaped for Patrick’s grip on them.

“Pay attention,” Johnny replies, sounding bitchy even as he’s breathing hard. “How would you like to come with me to Europe?”

“What?” Is Patrick really expected to be able to think right now?

“In the summer—” Johnny says, and then Patrick must hit his prostate pretty good, because his voice jumps up an octave. “Oh, god, right there.”

Patrick’s hands tighten reflexively on his hips and Johnny recovers himself a little bit, still sounding ragged, but also like he has all the time in the world. “I was thinking Spain, Portugal, Italy, maybe France? I’m not sure yet. The French are pretty insufferable.”

“Aren’t you...French?” Patrick manages after a long moment, thrusts starting to go a little erratic.

“French-Canadian,” Johnny corrects him and punctuates it by clenching tighter around Patrick’s cock.

Patrick curses and thrusts in hard, loving the gut-punched sound Johnny makes when he does. “That’s like a million times worse,” he says, struggling to keep his voice from cracking.

“Yeah? You like me anyway,” Johnny replies, voice warm and sure.

“Can we go to Berlin?” Patrick asks, skimming his palms along Johnny’s thighs, finally reaching around to fist Johnny’s cock. “Maybe London? For the music scene?”

“We can do that,” Johnny replies easily enough, but his hands are white-knuckled, fisting rents into the sheets, and his back and face are flushed so dark it looks like he could’ve been burned. Johnny comes after that, ass gripping so tight and hard around Patrick's cock that Patrick follows barely a few seconds later, collapsing on top of him and bearing Johnny down onto the mattress.

Johnny accepts this for a little while, before grunting and pushing Patrick off of him. He breathes deep when Patrick pulls out.

“Is that cool enough for you?” he says, turning over to meet Patrick’s eyes.

Patrick laughs. “I dunno, man, I just wanna know if you wanna do other things. I want to be able to do those things with you, if that's what you want,”

Johnny runs his eyes over Patrick's face, like he's trying to puzzle something out. After a long moment, he finally says, “Patrick, make no mistake, someday I’m going to fuck you and you’re going to like it, but for now, this is working for me.”

“Yeah?” Patrick asks.

“Yeah,” Johnny repeats.

They doze for a while after that, lying in bed the last of the afternoon light filtering in through the windows. Johnny really likes spooning, and he doesn’t mind letting Patrick be the big spoon at all. Eventually, though, Johnny’s phone goes off and he groans and rolls out of bed. He left it on the sofa and he curses the whole way down the stairs to get it.

“Hello?” he asks, distantly, at the other end of the apartment, and Patrick starts to drift off until Johnny calls his name.

“Patrick? It’s Pippa, she’d like to talk to you.”

“Huh?” Patrick asks, sitting up in bed.

“Hey, Pip, hold on a moment, he’s just coming over now,” Johnny says and then walks over to the deck to hand the phone up to Patrick.

“Hello?” Patrick says, hoping he doesn’t sound as dazed as he really is.

“Hi Pat,” she chirps. She sounds good.

“Hi, Pip,” he replies, smiling even though she can’t see it. “How are you?”

“I’m good. I made a new friend in school and mommy hired a babysitter for when I’m over at her house. Her name is Alice. Alice said I could call Johnny, but only if I didn’t say anything to Mommy and Daddy.”

“Alice is helping you break the rules already, huh?”

“Alice says rules are dumb,” Pippa replies.

Patrick bursts out laughing. “Yeah? How old is Alice?”

“Super old.” Pippa replies, “Seventeen.”

“You’re having fun with Alice?”

“Yes, Alice is nice. Are you having fun with Johnny?” Pippa asks.

Johnny walks naked and unashamed around the apartment, collecting his clothing from off the floor and getting himself a glass of water. Patrick has to take a moment just to watch the muscles in his thighs flex as he moves. Yeah, you could say he’s having a good time with Johnny. “Yup, Johnny is pretty nice too.”

“Are you kissing Johnny?”

Patrick laughs again. “Sometimes, why?”

“I thought so,” Pippa replies. “I told Mommy I thought so, but she said ‘no way, José.’”

“It’ll be our secret,” Patrick replies, meeting Johnny’s eyes across the room.

“Patrick?” she asks.

“What’s up, Pip?”

“I miss you.”

“I miss you too, dollface.”

“Can I talk to Johnny again?” she asks.

“Sure thing,” he says and holds the phone out to Johnny.

Johnny talks with her for a long time. When he climbs back into bed, it’s gone fully dark outside and Patrick has nearly fallen asleep again.

“Everything okay?” Patrick asks groggily, as Johnny settles in beside him.

“She’s going to be fine,” Johnny replies, sure and strong, like he actually believes it.

“Yeah?” Patrick asks. He hopes Johnny’s right.

“Yeah.” Johnny draws Patrick to him, tangling their legs together. “You know, we should really get up, do something useful today.”

Patrick opens his eyes. “I already did do something useful.”

Johnny snorts. “I was thinking we should probably have you brush up on some languages for when we go to Europe.”

“Oh no,” Patrick says, “no no no.”

“I’ll wear you down. You’ll see.”

*