New York was another world in the fall, but not completely unpleasant. Shawn curled and uncurled his fists in the pockets of his worn jean jacket, muttering to himself about how stupid it had been not to take the train back - of course, he knew that he didn’t really want to take the train, he wanted to walk with the wind at his back pushing him forward to his empty little studio apartment where he could write like a proper artist. He knew if he had any shred of artistic integrity left he would have done just that, but instead he walked the same route he always did.
Cory and Topanga had a nice little apartment for the area, better than the dorms had been at least, and it was nice to be part of them even when he wasn’t part of their little unit. When he let himself into the apartment, it was surprisingly quiet - no blaring music or even TV, just Cory sitting on their sofa with what may have once been a smirk on his face. “Hey, you’re home.” Shawn spoke without inflection, trying to get a read on the situation.
“Yeah.” Cory answered, looking up as the corners of his mouth turned into a soft smile. “I bought a car.”
“You bought a car?”
“I bought a car.” His smile widened and he rose to his feet, taking his friend by the hand and then dragging him to the front window. “Look, look… right there, to the left of the fire escape.”
“The red one?”
“No, no - before that. The one with the cat on the hood.” Cory’s grip tightened on Shawn’s hand excitedly, “Isn’t it great!”
“Is that a T-Bird?” Shawn chuckled, shaking his head.
“Not just any T-Bird.” Cory giggled, clearly resisting the urge to bounce. “A green 1966 Thunderbird convertible in almost perfect condition.”
“It’s a car.” Shawn chuckled, smiling if nothing else for Cory’s enthusiasm.
“It isn’t just a car.” Cory said, giving his hand another tight squeeze. “Doesn’t that ring a bell? I know you know this one… we saw the movie together…”
“Oh come on! Thelma and Louise! Remember? They drive the car over the edge… a poignant tale that changed my life as a young adolescent?”
“Oh! Oh yeah!” It made sense, this was Cory… and the Matthews gene pool wasn’t exactly known for doing normal. “That’s pretty awesome. I can’t believe Topanga let you buy a classic…”
“She sort of doesn’t know yet.” Cory shrugged, pressing his face against the window like he was ten years old again. “But isn’t it amazing?”
“Oh man.” Shawn sighed, letting out a soft chuckle, “Yeah, it’s something.”
“That’s not all.” Cory turned back to him with that smile that could only mean they were about to get in trouble and possibly have an afterschool special moment.
“Do tell, my friend.” Shawn couldn’t help but return the grin.
“No, you have to guess. Three clues. Number one, maple trees. Number two, dairy farms. And number three…” He held up a set of keys with a great big maple leaf keychain. “Me, you, and the countryside.”
“Oh god, no...” Shawn managed to piece it together relatively fast.
“Oh god, yes!” Cory sounded like he was about to rupture with glee. “We’re going to Vermont!”
“And your wife is totally fine with this?”
“Well… yeah, sure.” Cory shrugged, pocketing the keys. “I’d hoped you’d be more excited… I mean, we planned this trip when we were twelve.”
It was true, he’d looked forward to it… well, probably for too long but that wasn’t the point anymore. They weren’t who they were then. “We can’t just up and drive to Vermont; I mean… when is this happening?”
“Tonight.” Cory answered simply, “It’s not like you have to be here - you’re doing freelance… I have a few days sick time to use by the end of the year.”
“She isn’t going, Shawn. This isn’t for her.”
“You’re sure she’s okay with this?”
“She’ll understand. Eventually.”
Shawn paused, it didn’t feel right. Nothing about the situation felt right, he could buy Cory going off and doing something impulsive but he’d never do something rash without prior approval. “Why are you doing this, Cor? Really?”
“I made a promise.” Cory shrugged, looking away as he retreated towards his bedroom. “I’ve already got bags together - just a couple days worth of stuff should be enough. We can go to your apartment and get anything you need.”
Shawn sighed and shook his head, lying wasn’t exactly Cory’s strong suit… so he tended to stick to vague information and dodging the subject. Even as kids the tactic didn’t work very well. “I’m not leaving this apartment until you tell me the whole truth.” He raised his voice slightly, sure that he would be heard.
“What are you talking about? That is the whole truth… I said we’d go to Vermont - I finally have the chance to take you. Don’t you still want to go?” Cory’s voice came from the bedroom.
“Of course, yeah.” Shawn stepped tentatively towards the bedroom, standing a few feet outside the partially open door but refusing to go in. He still felt uncomfortable intruding on their room… it was like their love nest where he had no right to even show his face. He’d learned long ago it was best not to even think about that room. “But… you don’t just do things, Cor.” He folded his arms, lowering his head as he waited for Cory to finish doing whatever it was that was more important than looking him in the eyes. “I get the distinct impression that you don’t have permission to be doing this.”
It was uncomfortably silent for several long minutes before Cory came out with two bags in tow. “I’m a grown man, Shawn. I don’t need permission to go away for a couple days.”
“Uh… yeah, you do.” Shawn retorted, “The last time you did something like this without getting written permission from Topanga she dumped you, again. Remember?”
“Yeah, well… well maybe she needs to learn that I am a man and she isn’t my Mommy.” Cory’s face looked flushed, he was either about to cry or explode. Either was entirely possible.
“Shit.” Shawn closed his eyes, instinctively wrapping his arms around his best friend and pulling him in tight. He inhaled sharply, forcing back his own emotions at the tangy scent of scotch and bubble bath. He should have picked up on it sooner. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You already know that I have to… to take a stand.” Cory tried to hold up the pretense, melting easily against Shawn as he had a thousand times before. One right after the other, his bags hit the floor - Shawn’s never-fail hug drawing it out of him better than any truth serum. “It’s not like you think it is, Shawnnie…” He whispered, feeling Shawn’s arms pull even tighter. “We just had a little fight, no big deal.”
“I’m so sorry, Cor.” Shawn squeezed harder, trying to find the magic words that always seemed to work when his friend was hurting. It had been a while since the last time, but it had been enough times to commit them to memory. “She doesn’t deserve you.”
“It was just a fight, I was stupid.” Cory tried to shrug, but found his shoulders trapped in the tight embrace. “She’s just angry, she’ll cool off by the time we get back.”
“Was it the car?” Shawn began to slowly let go.
“No, no. She doesn’t know about the car yet.” Cory answered honestly, his voice dropping. “It was just a fight.”
Shawn tilted his head slightly; watching Cory’s eyes as he finally let him go. “You know what, let’s do this…” He sighed, “Right now.”
Cory grinned, “You mean it? Vermont?”
“Sure, why not…”
Early evening wasn’t exactly the best time to be travelling for scenery, but neither of them seemed to mind it much. Reluctantly, Cory put the top up and cruised up the I-91 just under the speed limit. Just past the Connecticut line Shawn let himself stop worrying about what was going on and just let himself take it all in. He leaned back on the roomy bench seat and propped his sneakers up on the corner of the window, flashing Cory a gentle smile.
“That’s what I wanted to see.” Cory grinned, the previous several days worth of worry slowly peeling away.
“I can show you slacking off any time.” Shawn stretched his arms up over his head, unbuckling his seatbelt.
“Come on, Cor… how often will I have the chance to stretch out in a monster like this? It feels good.” He batted his eyelashes, managing to catch Cory’s attention briefly. “Besides, I can’t put my head in your lap with my seatbelt on.”
At first Cory didn’t respond, as though he were seriously considering his options. “How about we just die in a fiery heap of twisted metal?”
“Ahh, sarcasm… you must be feeling better.” Shawn chuckled and refastened it. Things were weird, but no more than they always had been really.
They didn’t bother with the radio, the steady hum of the tires and throbbing engine kept coupled with the company was all they really needed. “Should we stop?” Cory asked an hour later as the stars became visible for the first time since leaving the city. “You hungry or anything?”
“Nah, I’m good.” Shawn flashed him a smile that didn’t go unnoticed.
“You’re smiling a lot tonight, happy to get out of the city?”
“Happy to be with you.”
Cory didn’t respond for several miles, but when he did it was well worth the wait; “It’s nice to be together again, isn’t it?”
Shawn understood what the word ‘together’ meant for Cory - it transcended the concept of occupying the same particular space and time for a similar means to an end… it was its whole own idea implying things like stopping at Denny’s because they hadn’t shared a slice of pie and a mini burgers with cheese fries since leaving the ‘burbs, or even finding the worst fleabag motel they could on a quiet stretch of highway running through Connecticut (which isn’t saying much, even the cheapest no-tell motel was deceptively nice) and spending an hour bickering over who got the bed and who got the cot when you both knew you’d end up sharing.
“It’s been a good day, right?” Cory sat on the edge of the bed in his boxers and a white undershirt, “I mean, once we got on the road it got good.”
“Yeah.” Shawn smiled, stepping out of the bathroom, one towel wrapped around his waist as the other made a quick pass over his body before being wrapped around his head. “Yeah, I guess it kind of was.”
Cory lifted up the blanket, folding it down to slide in underneath. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you we were fighting, I just didn’t want you to think that’s why I wanted to go - I’ve been wanting to do this trip for a really long time.”
“I know, you’ve just been… busy.” Shawn turned the towel around his head, and then let it drop off to the floor haphazardly. Busy wasn’t exactly the word, but they both knew what he wanted to say.
“Don’t.” Cory sighed, stretching out under the covers. “Just don’t be like that, okay? Let’s just completely suspend our lives and have our moment, okay?”
“Sure, Cor. I’m totally having a moment.”
“I really want to hate you for that.”
“If you hated me every time I made a sarcastic remark our entire friendship would have ended before we were in high school.” Shawn shrugged, sitting on his side of the large bed with his back to Cory, the edge of the towel tugging open. “Let’s face it Cory… you couldn’t hate me if you tried.”
“I can. I have.” He responded casually, letting out a soft laugh. “But you always seem to suck me back in.”
Shawn made an exaggerated suction noise and leaned back, letting his head rest against Cory’s stomach. “Somebody has to keep an eye on you.”
Cory laughed again, reflexively stroking over his friend’s wet hair. Truth was, as far as he was concerned he was the one keeping Shawn out of trouble. A long moment passed and Shawn opened his mouth, letting out a soft sound as though he was about to say something and suddenly thought the better of it. “Go ahead and ask, Shawn.”
The bad part about knowing someone as long as he’d known Cory was the occasional bursts of uncomfortable telepathy. “What did you fight about?”
“Do you have to ask?”
“You told me to.” Shawn shrugged against Cory’s side, rolling his head just enough to see Cory’s face.
Cory closed his eyes, “Do I have to answer?”
Shawn knew the answer, the sinking feeling in his belly was more than mini burgers and cheese fries. “It might help you feel better.”
“So does time.”
“And scotch.” It was a low blow, but Shawn knew he had to start somewhere if they were ever going to get to anywhere he wanted to be.
Cory didn’t answer right away, but when he did it sounded empty. “Sure.”
“So that’s your answer, then. Just wuss out and never say what you really want to for the hundred thousandth time in our life.”
“It’s a good answer, it’s had a real good run.”
“Maybe it’s time to retire it, Cor.”
Another uncomfortable silence, Shawn briefly considered just laying out on his side of the bed and trying to sleep, but then Cory popped out with what was probably the most likely answer that was least likely to ever come. “I told her about the ski lodge.”
“She deserves to know, Shawn. I should have told her before we even got married.”
“She didn’t ever need to know, Cory.”
The gentle stroke of Cory’s fingers slowed, and then stopped. “There’s more.”
“If you know everything why do I have to tell you anything?”
“Because you need to.”
“Yeah.” Shawn licked his lips, nuzzling his cheek against the soft curve of Cory’s belly. “She thinks I’m a threat.”
“Yeah.” Cory sighed, opening his eyes with the familiar glazed look right before he starts to cry again. “She does.”
Shawn sighed and turned his eyes back to the cracking ceiling of the motel room. “If I wanted to split you guys up I would have long before now. I had a lot of chances.”
“I know.” Once more Cory began to tease at Shawn’s hair until the wet strands curled around his fingertips. “But it’s a little more complicated than that.”
“Pretty cut and dry, we fooled around one time in high school and now she suddenly has me labeled as some sort of predator that’s just waiting for her to turn her back and force you into cheating on her.”
“I want you to move in to the guest bedroom.” Cory spit out the words as though he was ashamed to even think it, let alone admit to it. “And I want to try again.”
Shawn’s mind tried to collect the sheer number of implications in the statement and fully grasped on to pretty much nothing, “Wow.”
“And you told her that?”
“I did. Among other things.”
“Dare I ask?”
“Do you have to?”
Shawn paused, “Didn’t we just have this conversation? We could really save a lot of time if we just assumed you’re going to tell me anyway because this is all stuff you’ve been dying to get off your chest for years that you assume I already know, but I kind of need you to say to make sure I’m not the crazy one.”
“I’m totally the crazy one.”
“Then you’ve already told her you’re in love with me.”
Cory tugged slightly at an unruly stray hair, dragging it back into place. “I may have said something that sort of implied that maybe there was something similar to that…”
“In a manner of speaking.”
They didn’t talk about that, it was pretty much the one thing in all their years they had pointedly decided they were not going to talk about - except that one time they did which ultimately lead to a rather embarrassing incident involving a ski lodge and a broken arm. It wasn’t exactly fair that he would talk to her about it without even consulting him, but then again Shawn knew full and well he would have just talked him out of it. Again. He was pretty good at making sure things that didn’t need to be said didn’t actually get said. “That was a pretty stupid move.”
“She needed to know eventually.”
“Why? It’s not like it’ll ever mean anything to anyone but us.” He shrugged again, “I’m sure she would have been pretty damn happy never knowing that about you.”
“I’m being serious, Shawn. I want you to move in with us and you know… try it.”
“Which I expect your wife is less than thrilled about.”
“She’s not just my wife; she’s part of us you know.” Cory’s voice began to slip from soft and sad to almost… hopeful. “It’s not like she didn’t already feel it - she’s felt it since we were thirteen. Everybody’s felt it - even my parents know it.”
“But she’s angry?”
“What do you think she’s going to do?”
“She’s visiting her parents and her old therapist to work through it.” Cory dropped his hand down to tease at the curve of Shawn’s earlobe. “She’ll come back the day after we do and assume that we talked it over and then roll from there.”
“It’s a bad idea.”
“I don’t think so.” That hopeful tone took root again, not doing much good for the sinking sensation in Shawn’s belly. The chances of it ending well were not very good. “Imagine it, being able to kind of figure our stuff out and still keep the unit together… just like always.”
“Until she gets jealous… or I do.”
“Trust me, Cor. This is stuff you don’t just want to figure out. Not now, maybe ten years ago… not now.”
“Why not now? Anytime is better than never, right?”
“You might not like what you find out.”
Cory’s fingers traced down Shawn’s jaw as far they could before resting against his cheek. “I love you.”
It was the breaking point; Shawn realized Cory had hit the junction where there just wasn’t any going back. Not just playing with fire but lighting a bonfire and tossing gasoline at it to see what happened. “You don’t play fair.”
“It’s true, I’m just saying…” Cory sighed, “You don’t have to say it back, I know you do.”
“Of course I do. We just… not like this. Not like that. We had our time and blew it.”
“Now you’re not playing fair… come on.” Cory forced a laugh, “Like anything was easy in high school.”
“It’s easy now?”
Shawn sighed, sitting up on the bed. He waited with his back to Cory, sorting out his thoughts… calling his move, it was tough to say in the end what he was actually thinking. Call it impulsive, or the thrill of being on a road trip, or even just being sick of dealing with the ‘Yes, No, Maybe’ of taking their friendship beyond what it was - he gathered his wits and did what he knew Cory was waiting for him to do for a good deal longer than he wanted to admit. “Cory. Are you sure you want to do this? I mean, have you actually thought about it?” He scooted up on the bed and pressed his side tight to his friend’s.
“Yeah, I’ve thought about it.” Cory nodded in all seriousness.
“What if we don’t want to be best friends any more after we go through with it? I mean what if we break up or something?”
“You don’t know that, Cory… you can’t know that.”
“Jeez… you sound just like Topanga. Can’t you just take a gamble?” Cory grabbed Shawn’s hand and held it tight. “You’re supposed to be the impulsive one.”
“No, I’m the one that knows what you’re doing and has been hurt and has to tell you when you’re being stupid. You’re being stupid. This isn’t like fooling around when you’re a teenager, Cory. You’re talking about major shit here.” He sighed loudly, pulling his hand away. “It’s one thing if I pull the whole ‘Am I bi?’ thing, it’s expected out of me. You can’t just change who you are.”
“Yeah, but maybe that is who I am.”
“Okay, then tell me this… what would you tell your family if it did work out?”
Cory paused, as expected, and came back with; “That’s not fair, family is different…”
“Different? Come on, the first time Eric showed up to visit he’d know something was up.”
“Eric would be cool with it.” Cory shrugged.
“Yeah, Eric would be. But come on, your Mom?”
“Maybe they already know.”
Shawn sighed, yeah… they knew the same way everyone else knew, not exactly the same as knowing it is actually happening. “You don’t want to change yourself like that, Cor.”
“Stop telling me what I want.” Cory squeezed his hand even tighter, looking him dead in the face. “You always act like you know what’s best for me and maybe I’m right. Maybe this is what is best for us.”
“Fine. You want to go through with it, then let’s do it. Right now. Right here.”
“You heard me. Let’s do it. If you’re so sure this is what you want, go for it.” Shawn quirked an eyebrow, waiting for the inevitable back down.
“I haven’t had time to… prepare. I’ve got to be ready for it; you don’t just… do it.”
“People just do it all the time, Cor. If you have to think about it, it’s probably not the right thing to be doing, okay? Just take it from me, I know.”
“Fine.” Cory nodded, slowly letting up his grip on Shawn’s hand. “Fine.” He whispered.
“We should…” Shawn began to diffuse the conversation, ready to suggest they just turn out the light and go to bed, when Cory’s mouth was quite suddenly on his.
Cory swung his hips over Shawn’s pinning his shoulders against the headboard as he forced the kiss, only letting up when he sat fully astride the other man’s lap. “Let’s do it.”
Cory kissed him again, even harder than before. Shawn attempted to push, almost fighting back, only to have his shoulders once more pinned back against the board.
“Alright.” Shawn breathed heavily when the kiss was broken, his face buzzing warm with the unexpected roughness and the broadest hint of embarrassment. “Let’s do it, Cory. Let’s do it.”