Rusty’s hair was damp from the shower, and had grown long enough that it itched along the back of his neck. He reminded himself to get a haircut soon (which meant staying in town long enough to find one, which meant no quick exit, which definitely meant no blackjack tonight) when there was a knock at the door.
Three, really—quick taps of skin to wood in a rhythm that halted his reach for the doorknob.
He waited to breathe once, twice, before uncurling his fist to pull the door open.
Though the radio had said a high of sixty and cool, Danny looked flushed and a little damp, like he’d worked hard to get there. Rusty had time to take in details, like the fact that Danny was wearing expensive shoes (no socks) and a tie half-knotted over a wrinkled button down, because Danny just stood there for a long moment. Rusty didn’t move either, didn’t make a gesture, or a joke, just let Danny keep standing there.
Danny finally shifted his weight, swallowed.
“Can I come in?”
Rusty waited another moment, then nodded and let Danny by.
The most important detail he had noticed was the patch of pale skin where Danny’s wedding band usually rested.
“Are you hungry?” Danny asked as he skimmed his hands over his pants pockets, almost placed them there and let them hang loose again. “I passed about a million places with the kind of junk you like. I almost picked you up something when I left… on my way here.” Rusty almost thought for a second he could hear the tight noise in Danny’s throat as he swallowed.
Rusty realized that he was still facing the open door, so he closed it, turned the deadbolt by habit, turned around to see Danny’s face. But Danny had walked over to the room’s window, tugged at the small opening between the curtains to look out at the darkened parking lot.
“Somebody tailing you, Danny?” Rusty finally asked. Only because he knew Danny so well did he see the small flinch, the tightening of the shoulders which he was sure came along with a sharp look of hurt in his eyes. But Danny still didn’t turn around.
“Funny,” Danny said.
“Is it?” Danny made a motion with his head, not quite a nod, and Rusty wanted to clench his teeth. “Why are you here, Danny.”
“You don’t know?”
“Oh, I think I do, and that’s the problem.”
Danny let the curtain drop from his hand and finally, slowly, turned around.
“It never was before,” he said, and Rusty almost winced, because while they talked all the time, words and half phrases started in one mouth and ended in the other, they never talked about this.
Never really had to, until Danny chose, and even as Rusty swallowed back the words down into his throat he knew he had been fine with that, fine with that because that’s how Danny was, all impulsiveness and forgiveness wrapped up in a slightly guilty smile.
Sure enough, when Rusty raised his head Danny was looking at him, smiling just like that, a twist to it showing that Danny at least knew what he was doing. Mostly.
“You don’t,” Rusty began, then stopped, because that wasn’t how he’d meant to begin, and dammit, how was it that Danny always had the ability to read him, pull the meaning out of him even when he didn’t want it, didn’t want to be read like a broken paperback. He swallowed and tried again, this time watching Danny’s hands. Safer than his eyes.
“You don’t get to walk in here like this, and pretend that none of that happened. That Benedict didn’t happen, that you didn’t,”
“Take the house?” Danny offered, and Rusty met his eyes, irritated and amused all at once.
“Yeah, took it big, and now you’re here and… what? Why are you here, Danny?”
“Because.” Danny said, and the sharp finality of that word made Rusty close his eyes.
It was almost too easy to keep his eyes closed, just listen to the quiet rasp of Danny’s shoes against the crap hotel shag carpeting, the drag of skin against fabric as Danny raised his hand towards Rusty’s shoulder, cheek, chin. Rusty could almost feel the heat of it and he suddenly stepped back, eyes still shut, and he knew more than heard as Danny’s hand lowered, went into his pants pocket.
“Because,” Rusty murmured, opening his eyes and smiling at Danny. “Because it’s hard? Because Tess wants you to give it up? Because you thought tonight was a good night to stay at the Best Western in Rahway?”
“You never asked me why before.”
So I changed the rules, rested on Rusty’s tongue, sharp and wet. Danny’s eyes slitted but didn’t entirely close.
“I’m here because… I know that even at this hour there’s a poker game within eight hundred feet of this room that we could empty in less than half an hour. Because I almost bought Twizzlers and a liter of Pepsi at the rest stop and was halfway to the cash register before I remembered that you weren’t waiting to split them in the car. Because Tess wanted new curtains and didn’t understand why I couldn’t tell the difference between mustard yellow and saffron. And neither can you.”
Rusty wanted to raise his fists to his eyes, scrub this whole conversation away. Instead he asked, “do you love her?”
Danny took in a quick breath, then released it.
“Yes, I love her. I love… yes.”
Rusty breathed in, out, an eerie enough parallel to Danny’s motion that it felt like they’d merged, become the same person.
“I hate curtains,” he offered. Danny smiled a little.
“No, you don’t,” Rusty continued.
“You think you do, but you don’t. Part of you hates it, but more of you likes seeing the casual khakis in the closet, the matched china in the kitchen cupboard. Likes sleeping in on Sundays in a place that you don’t need to be out of by eleven, where the towels are yours and you have some kind of say about the toilet paper.” He smirked, tried to keep it even while locking eyes with Danny. “You say you’re here because…” he stopped. “…because of a lot of reasons, but really you’re here because you love Tess, and you’re scared.”
“You love her. With all of you, not just part. I’ve known you for years, Danny, don’t think I can’t tell when you lie.”
Danny let out another breath, shoulders curving in, making him look even more tired and uneven. Rusty held his next sentence in his mouth, a jumble of words yearning to be started and finished by another, watched the slow release of Danny’s arms, the weight that both draped and left his shoulders.
“You should go soon,” Rusty said finally. “I have an early flight.”
Danny swallowed, almost spoke, swallowed again. Rusty wanted to watch the muscles shift, forced himself to look at Danny’s eyes. Safer.
“I hear you’re going into the hotel business for real.”
“We’ll have to come stay sometime.”
“Tell Tess I don’t cheapen out on the toilet paper.”
“Have a good drive.”
Danny didn’t answer, and Rusty walked to the window, tugged at the small opening between the curtains to look out at the darkened parking lot. Part of his said it was to make sure his car was still there in one piece (this was kind of a dodgy neighborhood), but most of him knew it was so he could pretend not to hear the lock turn, the door pull open, then close again.
He could pretend, but he always knew when he was lying.