"Do you have any massage oil?" Bruce asked, sliding open the drawer of the bedside table without even waiting for an answer.
"Hey!" Johnny turned. He tweaked the sore muscle again in just the wrong spot. The sound that began as indignation ended rather pathetically as a whimper. He winced and leaned against the door frame of the bathroom. "What if I have something embarrassing in there?" he asked.
"If you have anything embarrassing in here, it will improve my opinion of you," Bruce said. He glanced back at Johnny with a smile and then frowned when he saw him leaning in the doorway. "Man, why didn't you tell me you were in such a bad way?"
"I'm fine," Johnny insisted.
"Because you're the expert? You do remember that I'm the professional physical therapist here, right? To review: me expert, you idiot. Get in the shower. Run it as hot as you can stand it to relax your muscles. Looks like I'll have to run downstairs and grab my bag, but I'll be back by the time you're finished. Oh, Johnny," Bruce interrupted himself. "Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. Really?" He pulled a condom out of the drawer, waved it at Johnny in admonition, and then tossed it in the waste basket.
"What?" Johnny asked. "I'm a grown man. I'm allowed to have condoms. Don't throw that out!"
"It's expired," Bruce said. He dug his hand deeper into the back of the drawer and pulled out two more, glancing at them briefly before tossing each in turn into the waste basket. "Expired. Expired." He shook his head. "That's just sad, Johnny, sad."
Johnny closed the bathroom door and mumbled under his breath, "Tell me about it." He undressed and carefully stepped into the shower, very carefully lest he do even more damage to his back. He hadn't felt this old since he first woke up from the car accident that had nearly killed him. Of course that accident hadn't just nearly killed him it had also stolen six years from his life. He was, according to most people, lucky to have awakened from an extended coma with no serious long-term effects. No one really counted that pesky brain damage that left him with uncontrollable psychic visions because the same people who used the words "lucky" and "coma" in the same sentence had no qualms tossing around words like "gift" when it came to his visions.
Now, come to think of it, as many years had passed since the coma as he had spent in it. Which just meant he was even older. And he had "the lumbago" as his Great Aunt Mina had called it—always "the" lumbago—and all his condoms had expired. How was that possible? He had sex. If not often, at least semi-regularly, or, well, okay, sometimes, maybe not lately, but... He had the strong urge to go and pull the condoms out of the trash to see how long ago they had expired, but he was afraid to. Because when he really thought about it, he couldn't remember having sex—not real sex in this specific actuality—since Rebecca and Rebecca had been a long time ago. He was sure he'd had sex since then, but the memories didn't hold up to examination. They belonged to other people, not him.
He'd hit the Old Man Trifecta: back pain, no sex, and mental confusion. Actual senility, when it came, was going to be hell. Hard enough keeping track of your own life and memories and damned car keys when your head was full of everyone else's life and memories and car keys.
Bruce pounded on the door. "Come on. You've been in there long enough."
Jolted from his reverie, Johnny felt guilty. He'd just been standing there under the hot water without so much as touching the soap. That was all Bruce told him to do, run hot water over his lower back, but Bruce was about to put his hands on him and probably assumed that, stepping fresh out of the shower, he would not be all grimy. Johnny grabbed the soap and quickly sudsed up. "Just a minute!" he shouted above the noise of the shower. He felt old and he felt fat and he felt white. (The kind of fish-belly white that even other white people found unattractive and he couldn't imagine it being anything other than repulsive to Bruce.) He also felt dirty and sweaty even though the most active thing he'd done all morning was spill an iced latte and—and this was the part that took talent—wrench his back in the process of utterly failing to catch it. There was nothing he could do about old and fat and white, but he could at least make sure he was clean when he finally stepped out of the shower.
Bruce banged on the door several more times before he decided he was done. "It's people like you who cause droughts!" Was this what it was like to have siblings? Probably not. Not in this house anyway. Johnny had perhaps taken it for granted growing up, but he was now fully aware that he had grown up in a house that was nothing short of a mansion. He could have had half a dozen brothers and sisters without having to share accommodations.
He emerged hesitantly, clutching a second large bath towel around his shoulders in addition to the one cinched precariously around his waist.
Bruce huffed. "Finally. Bed." He pointed. Bruce grabbed another clean towel out of the bathroom and, as a sign of how slowly Johnny was moving, had it spread out on top of the bed before Johnny had a chance to lie down. Johnny supposed it was so they wouldn't have to worry about getting oil on the bedspread, but he didn't actually ask. He simply crawled onto the bed. (Although "simply" in this case involved more grunting and wincing.)
He waited for Bruce's hands, thinking how odd this was going to be. As his physical therapist, Bruce's primary duty, at least as Johnny remembered it, was yelling at Johnny to stop being such a wimp and—yeah, that was pretty much it. He didn't receive a great deal of actual hands-on attention and most of that had been Bruce flexing his knees and ankles, checking to see what was healing right, what torture he would be ready for next. There had been a few massages, mainly neck and shoulders when Johnny used to get bad twinges during his recovery. Those neck rubs had been nice, if a tiny bit awkward. It had been years though and Johnny and Bruce had long ago left behind the therapist-patient relationship to become friends, best friends even, but friends who did not give each other naked lower back rubs.
The first sensation was not the anticipated hands, but warm liquid pooling briefly in the small of his back before running towards his sides. And then Bruce's hands were there, scooping up the oil before it spilled off of him, spreading the warmth up and down his spine. Johnny made a completely inarticulate sound that was meant to convey, "I hadn't expected it to be warm," but sounded more like "Mwarg!" He cleared his throat and tried again, but Bruce's hands were still kneading heat into him and the second attempt was only the slightly improved, "Wwwarmmmmguh?!"
Apparently, Gibbering Idiot was one of the languages Bruce spoke because he responded, "It would have been warmer if you hadn't taken so long." Bruce's hands slid all the way up to his neck and shoulders where they tugged away the towel there without ceremony. "Man, you are tense."
Bruce continued to tsk at him as if it were his fault. Yes, I'm tense. My life is stressful. I have the "gift" of psychic visions that I can't control. Sue me. The sense of annoyance actually cleared his head a little. "You microwaved the massage oil?" he finally managed to ask.
"Nah, I don't trust microwaves for this. Too inconsistent. I don't want to risk scalding anyone. I warmed the bottle up on the stove in a pan of water. You can tell when the temperature is just right by the consistency of the oil."
He'd been in the shower much longer than seemed possible. Bruce had somehow had time to go downstairs, go out to his own car, find his massage oil, take it to the kitchen, heat it up, come back upstairs, and impatiently bang on the door while the oil cooled. That, in hindsight, should have been his first clue. You don't get to fast forward through the boring bits of your life. He wasn't processing clues though, obvious or not, because now Bruce's hands were sliding back down his spine and they were not stopping a polite distance from the towel cinched around Johnny's waist either. With the same disregard he'd shown for the towel around Johnny's shoulders, Bruce simply moved this towel aside out of his way. He left it resting loosely across him. Johnny could feel the towel on his thighs and across the very lower edges of his butt, but that still left a lot of pasty white acreage exposed and he could feel the towel sliding lower every time he even thought about moving.
Bruce's hands found his ticklish spots along his flanks. What he did didn't tickle though. He leaned in with an amazingly gentle strength and rubbed deep into the muscles there and Johnny lost at least twenty IQ points in one go. He whimpered pathetically and Bruce laughed. "And you said you didn't need a massage. I cannot believe how tense you are." He tsked at him again.
Hot guy feeling me up and all my condoms have expired. What's to be tense about? Even in his own head that didn't sound right. What he'd meant to think—can you mean to think?—was that he'd had a tragically long dry spell as evidenced by the expired condoms and that that fact alone, all alone, was what was making him ridiculously horny right now. And the hot guy slathering massage oil from his neck to his ass was just a really awkward coincidence. Fuck! Bruce was suddenly straddling him, jeans-clad thighs flanking his hips. Another twenty IQ points galloped away with the visual of the towel as a flimsy saddle. Bruce was using his weight now as leverage, massaging Johnny's upper back with strong hands, sliding down to delicately massage his lower back with fingers and thumbs and then sliding back up to repeat the process like the tide flowing in and out.
Oh, he has to be doing that on purpose. Hands slid up and his weight rocked forward onto Johnny's torso leaving Johnny gasping for breath. Hands slid down and his weight rocked back onto Johnny's pelvis, pressing his groin into the mattress and leaving him gasping for breath for an altogether different reason. "Oh, God, Bruce. Please. I surrender. I'll do anything."
"Just hold still and relax," Bruce said.
Johnny had no memory of producing anything like coherent speech after that, but he knew he was continuing to think, "God. Bruce. Anything. Please," over and over and over again in his head and at least some of those words must have made it into human language because Bruce stopped and asked, "What?"
And stopping was the very last thing that Johnny had been begging for. Johnny rolled on his side, desperately groping the empty air where Bruce had been a second before. "Don't stop. I'll do anything. Bruce." But Bruce had not only stopped, he clearly intended to stay stopped. He scrambled off of Johnny, dragging the towel askew in the process, leaving Johnny's erection bobbing comically and undeniably. "No, no, no, no, no. Oh, God, Johnny. I am sorry. I did not mean to...no, no, no."
Johnny whimpered out one last involuntary, "Please." Knowing that it was useless only made him want to beg even more.
"No, Johnny, no. I am sorry, Johnny, watch it! Watch out! The road, Johnny, watch the road!"
Johnny jerked his foot off the gas pedal. It was the only useful reflex that he pulled off successfully. The iced latte tumbled from his grasp and bounced off his clumsy attempt at a rebound catch, dumping the drink and ice squarely on his crotch. The right tire hit the gravel shoulder and the car tried to pull into the trees. Johnny's body was locked in a kind of shock and it was really that, rather than driving skills, that kept him from over-correcting and sending them back into oncoming traffic.
He was pretty sure that he and Bruce were both screaming when he got the car to a final stop at the side of the road undamaged. At least his ears were ringing with the sense that things had suddenly gotten quieter than they had been recently.
Johnny tossed an ice cube out the window in what might honestly be called a snit. There were bad days and then there were bad days. "I have got to learn to stop touching stuff when I'm driving."
"The latte? You got a vision off the latte?" Bruce grabbed a handful of napkins and Johnny quickly jumped out of the car before he could put them to use. Because twenty ounces of caffeine and ice had not managed to discourage his very confused adrenal system and a certain bit of his anatomy was just now starting to gear up for something that was not going to happen. Bruce did not need to witness that (again)(ever). He nearly turned himself into road pizza for the second time in thirty seconds by stepping out of the vehicle just as a pickup barreled by at full speed, horn blaring.
Great. And now his back hurt. He hadn't even hit anything, but somewhere between the latte and going off the road and scrambling out of the car and dodging the truck...or maybe it was just shock that tensed up every muscle in his body simultaneously that did it...he hurt his back. Just now. Which meant that soon Bruce was going to be offering to do something about that and it was all going to go a bit sideways.
"Johnny!" Bruce hopped out of the passenger side and picked his way through the bushes to meet Johnny at the rear of the car. Johnny ignored him and pawed through the gym bag that he still had stored back there even though he couldn't remember the last time he'd made it to the gym.
"Towel. See. Fine. I have a towel." Coherent thoughts, not so much. "You drive." Me Tarzan.
He handed off the car keys that he hadn't remembered even taking out of the ignition and crawled through the bushes into the passenger seat. He had his seat belt on and was clutching the towel at his damp crotch before Bruce even got to the driver's side door.
Bruce sat down in the driver's seat, but didn't put on his seat belt or put the key in the ignition. "Are you okay? Bad vision?"
No. Yes. Hell. "I'm fine. I have a towel." Johnny repeated it blandly. After it was out of his mouth it sounded like a clever Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy joke, but it hadn't been intended. It was important to keep the towel. Bruce was not getting his towel away from him. Not this time. Definitely not next time.
"You want to tell me about it?"
Hell no. "Not really."
"Do you want to change?"
The subject? "Huh?"
"Your bag. You had sweatpants in there. Do you want to change into something dry?"
Johnny shook his head frantically. He couldn't even think of a good lie. Later he'd think he should have said the gym clothes were dirty or torn or something. But all he could say was, "I think I'd just like to go home now." It sounded rather pitiful to his own ears. He had no idea what Bruce thought. He just knew that sweatpants and an erection were not a good combination even if there had been a discreet place to change.
Bruce drove them back to Johnny's place mostly in silence with only the occasional query. "What did you see?" Johnny just shook his head each time.
When they made it back home, Johnny's body had cooled but his head was still spinning. All he had to do was change into some dry clothing without Bruce noticing that his back hurt or at least without agreeing to a massage or at least without making a complete ass out of himself and it was all fine.
In fact, he'd nearly convinced himself that it couldn't have been today that he had seen. Those condoms couldn't possibly be expired already. What he had seen was some point in the future (after a really long dry spell) when desperation had gotten the best of him and the most effective way to avoid it was to get laid really soon. He should call Rebecca. Not that he was thinking of calling Rebecca for the purpose of getting laid because that would be rude and presumptuous. It was just that the thought of sex made him think of old lovers which reminded him that he hadn't talked to Rebecca in ages. But certainly not so long ago that all his condoms would be expired.
He blew Plan A by hissing through his teeth when he tried to get out of the car.
"Did you hurt your back?"
Way to go, Mr. Discreet. "How did you know it was my back?"
"Maybe I'm psychic. Or maybe I did not get my physical therapy certificate out of a Cracker Jack box. I can tell by the way you're moving. Right here." Bruce poked Johnny in the back with pinpoint accuracy and Johnny whined audibly. "Erector spinae, right medial form."
"I'll take care of it. I can give you a massage and work it out before it gets worse."
"No, no. I'm fine."
"You have a towel. I know."
"I don't need a massage, Bruce. I tell you what. I'm going to go upstairs and take a long relaxing shower and then I think I'll just take a nap and take it easy the rest of the day. So, I'm sorry that I screwed up our plans for today, but you should probably just leave now."
"A shower is a good idea," Bruce agreed. "I was just about to suggest that. A hot shower followed by a back rub, which I happen to be the king of."
"I don't need a back rub. Honestly."
Bruce held his hands stiffly in front of him and Johnny recognized the stance from physical therapy before Bruce even said anything. "Okay, Mr. I'm Fine, push my hands together."
He didn't need to be psychic to know this wasn't going to go well, but he tried anyway. If he could just...whimper like a puppy and clutch at Bruce's arms like an invalid. Yes. Perfect. That's exactly what he was not going for. Couldn't have failed better if he'd put effort into.
Bruce giggled at his suffering.
"Bruce," Johnny said between gritted teeth, "at some point in physical therapy school did they mention that you're not supposed to laugh in front of the person that you're torturing."
"It's considered optional."
"I'm going to go rest and you are going to leave now."
"You're going to take a shower and I'm going to give you a deep tissue massage."
Johnny was running out of excuses and his back did hurt and Bruce was going to make it feel better. He knew how this was (and wasn't) going to end, which should keep him calm enough to resist making an idiot of himself. It had to be safe now.
"All right, fine. I'm going to go take a shower. You can come up to my room in a bit to give me a back rub." Johnny hobbled into the house as manfully as he could. "Just," he said, trying to lean nonchalantly on the front door, "give me a head start. The stairs... ." He waved vaguely upward.
"Do you need—"
Bruce held up his hands in defeat. "You're fine. Oh, that reminds me—" Bruce turned and walked towards where his own car was parked. Johnny felt an involuntary shiver at the tactile memory of the massage oil.
Johnny closed the door behind him and went up the stairs as fast as he was capable. In his bedroom, he went straight for the bedside table to check the condoms which couldn't possibly be—expired, expired, expired, damn it! He tossed them in the waste basket, thought about it a moment, and then added several waded up tissues so that the condoms weren't visible if Bruce happened to glance in the trash. He took the quickest shower he could, lots of soap and cold water because the one thing he knew he could control was that he would at least be clean. He toweled off quickly (and painfully), aware that the race was on. He put on clean underwear and then pulled sweatpants on over those. He was pulling a T-shirt on over his head just as he heard Bruce on the stairs. I win.
He crawled onto the bed as Bruce walked in. Bruce said nothing about the clothing. Johnny found himself wondering why he hadn't just put clothes on last time. The solution was so simple.
Bruce took a towel from the bathroom and folded it underneath the bottle of massage oil. Johnny glanced at it and wondered if Bruce had had time to heat it up.
And then Bruce pulled his shirt up, which Johnny had been expecting, and tugged his sweatpants down, which Johnny had most definitely not been expecting. "Hey! Hands above the waist!"
"You hurt your lower back. Those muscles run below the waist." Bruce laughed and tugged his underwear all the way off his butt. "You're shy?"
"That's unnecessary. I know that's not necessary. You're just trying to embarrass me now."
"I want to see you blush. You're cute when you blush."
"I don't blush," Johnny insisted. It was a lesson Johnny learned when he was very young. Never let them see you blush. It was a corollary to never admit you're ticklish. Blush once in front of witnesses and you are doomed.
"You—" He'd never know what Bruce had been about to say. "—idiot. Hot shower, I said! Hot. Your skin is like ice."
Well, there was a reason for the cold shower, but Bruce didn't need to know it. Let him think Johnny was an idiot.
Bruce grabbed the bottle of oil and squirted it liberally across Johnny's backside, neck to ass.
"Hot!" He'd remembered what Bruce had said before about scalding and had the terrifying sensation that that's what was happening now. They hadn't let the oil cool long enough this time; it felt like lines of fire on his back. "Too hot!"
Bruce grunted at him, but didn't stop.
"I tested it first, Johnny, just like a baby's bottle. It's fine." Bruce tossed the bottle back onto the folded towel and began massaging the oil into his skin. "It only feels like it's burning because you were an idiot and took a cold shower."
Johnny still felt it was burning, but Bruce had his fingers in the oil now and he wasn't screaming so he tried to have faith. The oil was much hotter than last time, but as the panic faded, he realized it wasn't really scalding. Just hot. Really hot. Hot in ways he'd promised himself it wasn't going to get hot this time. Bruce's hands were everywhere, moving faster and rougher than last time. Bruce was annoyed, tsking at him for being tense and also for being an idiot about the cold water.
His hands were also straying farther than last time. Before Bruce had focused on the muscles and now he seemed to be focusing on covering as much skin as possible. Bruce muttered again about his cold skin and grabbed the massage oil. More hot streams of oil splashed on his back and Johnny realized the cold shower had backfired. Bruce was trying to warm him up. Bruce's hands curled around Johnny's shoulder and neck, the backs of his arms, his sides. "Put your arms over your head."
"Why?" Or maybe he'd only said, "Mmmmm?" Bruce didn't acknowledge a question at any rate.
"Arms above your head." Bruce pulled Johnny's shirt clear off and Johnny let him do it, vaguely thinking he shouldn't have but making no actual protest. Bruce then grabbed Johnny's right arm with both hands and began massaging it while tugging it into the desired position.
Johnny brought his other arm up as well and readjusted the pillow so that he could comfortably lie with his head on his crossed arms.
Bruce repeated the arm massage on the left side. He then reached around both sides and rubbed the heals of his hands into Johnny's exposed armpits. That was new. "What are you...what does that have to do with a strain in my lower back?" Johnny again had the sensation of brain cells floating away from him.
"The body is all connected." Bruce began stroking his sides from the triceps down his armpits to his flanks to his bare hips and back up again as he explained. "You are too tense and you didn't listen to me about taking a hot shower to relax your muscles. We need to loosen up all your muscles if we want to relieve the strain on your back."
Johnny didn't need the lecture about the body being connected. The instant Bruce started groping his armpits, his erection sprang optimistically back to life and never before had Johnny thought of his armpits as one of his erogenous zones. He was also hyper-aware of the fact that he was now as naked as he'd been in the vision. Instead of a towel slowly slipping down his ass, he lay there with the elastic waistband of his underwear entirely below his exposed butt cheeks. If Bruce were to repeat the straddling position, only Bruce's clothing would separate them. Johnny tried not to wonder what that would feel like.
He wanted this. God, he wanted this. If he didn't know better, he would swear that Bruce was deliberately trying to seduce him. Bruce's shock and embarrassment in the vision when he'd realized he'd aroused Johnny had been very sincere though. It was almost cruel that Bruce could be this amazing without even trying. What was he like when he did try? And, wow, that was not a calming thought. He needed calm thoughts. Boring thoughts.
Hydrogen. Helium. Lithium. B—something. Boron? Or was beryllium before boron? Come on, Mr. Smith, you had a Periodic Table of Elements on your wall for years. You cannot blank out on the fourth one. You've got to get down to the Actinides before you're allowed to be stupid. It was definitely a B one. B like Bruce. Ah, hell.
Bruce's hands were sliding into a familiar rhythm. He knew this. He'd seen this. Any moment now Bruce was going to decide it would be easier on his own back if he straddled Johnny and worked on him squarely with more leverage. And that was going to be the hottest thing Johnny had experienced in his whole damned life—God, I've got to get out more—and it would probably be a good idea if Johnny never found out if Bruce's jeans rubbing against his bare butt was better or worse than the towel.
"Bruce." It came out an inaudible whisper so he took a deep breath and repeated it. "Bruce."
"I'll admit you were right about the shower. I guess I was thinking ice for an injury."
"Ice is to reduce swelling. If it were a soft-tissue injury, then ice. This is tension as much as anything else."
"Yeah, so, the point is that I'm a little chilly now." He pointed downward with his thumb overhand. It was a lie, but he was shivering and he felt like he just might have goosebumps on his ass to back him up. "So, if you wouldn't mind—"
He had intended to say, "So, if you wouldn't mind, please pull my undies back up, thank you." Bruce had a different interpretation and hot oil was squirting on his ass before he could finish the sentence. And then there were hands, glorious, glorious hands. Bruce wasn't just occasionally straying south of the lower back muscles, he was full on massaging Johnny's ass. His actual ass ass, the fat part, the non-muscle part, the Oh-God-this-feels-like-sex part of his ass.
And then suddenly he wasn't and that was worse. Johnny wanted to scream, "Why did you stop?!" but bit his lip and buried his head in his arms instead. He could feel oil oozing along the cleft of his cheeks and the sensation was indescribably annoying. He desperately wanted Bruce to rub the sensation away. But Bruce's hands had vanished and Johnny didn't know where—oh, there they were. Feet. Bruce had decided that Johnny's feet needed to be warmed up too. Okay, that was probably for the best. Feet were safe. If he could just regain his calm thoughts, it would—
Bruce began sliding slick fingers between Johnny's toes one by one while massaging the sole of his foot with the opposite hand. Oh, fuck it all, I've got a toe fetish now?! Johnny whimpered in frustration.
"Knock it off with the porn noises, Johnny. It's kind of creepy."
"I am not making porn noises," Johnny panted, literally panted. This was officially the most humiliating day ever.
"Seriously, can you cool it with the porn soundtrack?"
No. Really, really no. With a final whimper, Johnny pulled up his underwear and his sweatpants. How could he have been so stupid as to think he could keep this under control? "We're done now, Bruce. It's time for you to leave." Just saying it hurt.
"I'm sorry, John. I was just kidding." Bruce's fingers continued to work his toes. Johnny loved it and hated it and never wanted him to stop and could think of a dozen better uses for Bruce's magic hands and needed Bruce to never touch him again. Most of all, he wanted Bruce to be naked, to be massaging him without using those magic hands, or at least with select body parts in addition to the magic hands. Or Johnny could massage him. That would be good too.
"Bruce, please." His voice broke in a sob this time. "You have to stop."
Bruce stopped. Johnny could hear his own breath, too heavy, too fast, too mortifying. "Johnny?" Bruce asked. "Are you...?"
Hard? Gay? Pathetic? Sex-starved? Desperate? Stupid? All of the above?
"Oh, God, Johnny, I am so sorry. I didn't mean—I am so sorry." It wasn't horror in his voice this time, but pity. Was that better?
"My back feels much better. Thank you." Johnny didn't dare even turn to look at Bruce. "But I really need you to leave now."
Bruce giggled at his suffering.
Johnny was already dizzy and the instantaneous shift from lying to standing position didn't help at all. He clutched harder at Bruce's arms. "You're trying to kill me on purpose, Bruce. I swear you are." They were back in the driveway and his back hurt again. He'd been distracted enough that he never even noticed when it stopped hurting.
"A massage it is then," Bruce concluded.
He'd failed at Plan A (don't let Bruce know he'd hurt his back). He would fail miserably at Plan B (keeping his composure and also, you know, clothing). He was left only with Plan C (no massage).
"No. You're leaving. Don't bother arguing. The answer is no. And this time, no actually means no."
"What do you mean 'this time?'"
"Good bye, Bruce." Johnny hobbled up the front steps in more distress than Bruce could possibly imagine.
"Not arguing. Not explaining. Just trust me. It's best this way."
He closed the door behind him and locked it just in case, but Bruce didn't try the door and after a minute or two, he heard Bruce's car drive away. It was a sad, lonely sound. Johnny opted to curl up on the couch—his bedroom felt too much like the scene of the crime. He made some hot tea and downed a couple of Tylenol and, as he settled in, he grabbed the phone and found himself dialing Rebecca's number.
* * *
He hurt his back on a Sunday. He spent Monday mainly on the couch, watching movies and popping acetaminophen. By that evening, he'd convinced himself that he was fine and stopped taking the pills only to regret it by Tuesday morning. By that afternoon, he was willing to admit (to himself, not to Bruce) that he needed some assistance.
Unfortunately, one of the downsides of a small community, was that everyone knew everyone and he couldn't think of a massage therapist or a chiropractor in the county who didn't know Bruce. He was theoretically protected by patient confidentiality—in the case of the chiropractors at least, he wasn't sure if massage therapists had to follow the same rules—but he couldn't face the inevitable question, "Why not go to Bruce? He'd probably fix you up for free."
It was probably just the guilt talking. It was like Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" except it was a rather different organ thumping away below the floorboards. Johnny allowed himself a moment to contemplate the ridiculousness of "The Tell-Tale Penis" and even tried to use the idea as motivation to just get over it and see a professional already.
Which he did, sort of. He'd passed the neon signs for years without ever bothering to stop in, which probably made him a bit of a hypocrite since it was mainly the PSYCHIC READINGS $20 sign that made him not take the place seriously. The giant palm-reading chart on the door was also hard to miss. He'd never noticed that the shop also sold incense and jewelry and books, let alone paid any attention to the sign that advertised "Healing Massages."
It was Glenda's cat that talked him into it. It was an orange tabby that yowled at him rather demandingly has he limped past the storefront Wednesday morning on the way to the drug store. He'd never been much of a cat person, but he paused and the cat was suddenly doing circuits around his ankles. The resulting vision had been a little odd, but promising nonetheless.
Glenda utilized mystic rune stones, energy crystals, and incense. She was not psychic, but she was very sincere in believing that she was. He'd met his share of genuine psychics since the coma. He was also aware of a few charlatans. And then there was that gray area between, those people who believed they were psychic but weren't quite. Some of them were unusually observant and that was a rare enough gift to almost count as a special power. A few were oddly intuitive, which was about where Johnny fell on the scale prior to his head injury.
Glenda, on the other hand, was the kind of "psychic" who firmly believed in her powers mainly because it never occurred to her that she could be wrong about anything. If Glenda told you that your grandmother had died in childbirth and you insisted that all your grandparents had lived into their nineties, she would explain that she meant your great-grandmother or possibly your great-great-grandmother. Or she might even nod knowingly and say, "That's what you think because your real grandmother died in childbirth." If she predicted sudden wealth for someone who was run over by a bus the next day, she would declare that it was proof of the accuracy of her prophecy since clearly the person had just been reincarnated as a billionaire.
Glenda was a crap fortune teller, but she gave pretty decent massages. Her hands never once wandered anywhere odd—his toes and armpits remained completely unmolested. She did insist on applying a drop of essential oil to each of his Chakras, but she put a drop of oil on Johnny's finger and told him he was on his own for that first one. She even turned her back discreetly and was vague enough in her description that Johnny was left to guess exactly where his Root Chakra was located.
Glenda stroked his back firmly, always symmetrically away from the spine, generally following the lines of his back muscles. She told him it was to release old energies. Johnny was not concerned with what she called it. It was a back rub and it helped.
A few minutes in, the cat knocked a deck of Tarot cards off the bookshelf. The cards scattered on the floor at the head of the massage table and Johnny had a clear view. All the card had landed face down except for three: The Lovers, The Chariot, and Death. Well, that certainly wasn't creepy.
"You are having problems with your lover," Glenda declared knowingly as she placed another stone on his back.
That cat went "Mrraa" and she adjusted the placement of it.
"Doesn't everyone have problems with love?" Johnny asked. He felt odd playing the cynic, but it was so hard to take Glenda seriously. (The cat, on the other hand, was starting to worry him.)
"Not everyone," she said. "And I didn't say love, I said lover. We're talking about a person."
"Ah." Johnny tried to be noncommittal even as he found himself wondering if she was talking about Rebecca. Of course, if "lover" encompassed ex-lovers, she could be talking about Sarah. It may have been hard to take Glenda seriously, but it was also hard not to play the game. "What problem am I having with this person exactly?"
"Your lover has gone away," she said.
That would be Rebecca then. Sarah hadn't gone anywhere, well, except symbolically when she'd married someone else. Glenda would probably give a lot of weight to symbolic meanings if he told her about Sarah. She'd probably offer to do a séance for Walt. And then out of nowhere he had the absolutely ridiculous notion that "Your lover has gone away" meant Walt. Because Walt was dead and that was as gone away as you could get.
He'd loved Walt in a way, but they'd certainly never been lovers. Walt Bannerman was a hell of a kisser though. Walt would have freaked out if he had ever found out that Johnny knew that. Johnny only knew because often the visions showed him the world through other people's eyes and he'd gotten more than one rather disorienting Sarah's-eye-view of her husband. It was the creepiest thing about being Johnny Smith. He was—entirely inadvertently—a degenerate Peeping Tom. He carried in his heart a lingering fear that one day he'd be chased out of town with pitchforks and with that he carried the guilty sense that he probably deserved it.
And if he were going to include the possibility of vision-lovers, he couldn't help but think of Bruce because that was the reason he was at Glenda's in the first place. But Bruce hadn't gone away.
He was silent long enough that Glenda hedged. "Or will go away? Sometimes it's difficult to tell if I'm seeing something that hasn't happened yet."
"I hear you," Johnny said.
Glenda placed another stone on his back and the cat trilled until she moved it to a lower spot.
Johnny decided there was no point in playing coy. Glenda was silly, but she was easy to talk to. "Actually, my lover is coming back. I talked to Rebecca the other day and she agreed to come up for a visit this weekend."
Glenda said nothing as she placed three more stones on his back. The cat said nothing either and the stones stayed where she put them.
"But," he admitted, "I guess she isn't staying after that. She's spending the night at a friend's house even though I have much more room at my place."
Much, much more room and, now that he thought about it, how weird was it that Rebecca was going to be staying with Sarah during her visit? He started to worry about what they might end up talking about. It wasn't really a good idea for your ex-girlfriends to get too chummy with each other, was it?
"So, yeah,” he said, “in a few days she'll be going away again."
And it seemed rather unlikely that she intended there to be any sex or she wouldn't have made arrangements to stay with Sarah.
"But, we haven't been lovers for a long time so that's not really an actual problem."
Apart from the not getting any sex part. While not really unexpected, that was disappointing.
The cat stared down at him from the bookshelf and twitched the tip of its tail.
"No," Glenda finally said. "There's someone else. Possibly more recent, but definitely more important to you. Someone you love deeply."
"I don't love anyone deeply," Johnny said. The sad part was that he wasn't sure he ever had or ever would love anyone deeply. He loved Sarah. She was pretty much the love of his life and yet even with Sarah he couldn't find himself describing their relationship as ever being exactly passionate. The sex was fun, but of course if sex wasn't fun, one or both of you had to be doing it really badly.
The cat yowled, short and sharp. "You shouldn't lie to a cat," Glenda said. "They hold grudges."
"I honestly don't know what the cat's talking about." Did he just say that?
"You love someone deeply, but you're going to lose them because you're afraid of admitting how much you need them. You're not willing to be vulnerable."
That was probably true of most men, Johnny thought. He also noticed that she was using plural for singular, a common enough grammatical error so it probably meant nothing, but it was also a fairly common convention for avoiding gender-specific pronouns. She was talking about his lover as if she was sure of what she meant, but she didn't even want to commit herself to that lover being a man or a woman. He said nothing.
She added, "But all you have to say is 'Stay' and they will stay."
So, he should ask Rebecca to stay?
The cat leaped off the bookshelf onto his upper back at that moment and Johnny let out an "Ooof!"
"Oh, I'm so sorry. He's very ill-mannered that way." Glenda tried to shoo the cat away, but instead it sat down and switched its tale across Johnny's neck. He could imagine it sitting there and staring at the stones on his back.
Johnny thought about the stones for the first time. There wasn't anything more ancient and mystical about them than any other rocks. Glenda had a friend with a good eye for color and a rock polisher and that was about it, so he'd pretty much ignored them and let Glenda do whatever made her happy as long as "releasing old energies" worked the kinks out of his muscles (which it did). He now realized he could feel the pattern on his back. The rocks formed an arrow, an arrow pointing at his ass.
Dear Diary: Today a cat told me I was gay.
"So, are we done now?"
The cat jumped down onto the floor and walked out of the room.
* * *
By Thursday he was fine and didn't even try to dodge Bruce when he called. He felt a mild twinge of panic when Bruce asked if he could take him out for coffee the next day because they needed to discuss something important, but then he remembered that he had not actually sexually humiliated himself in front of Bruce and as far as Bruce knew he'd just been weird and also a little bit rude.
He and Bruce were standing in line at Starbucks on Friday when Johnny had his epiphany: it was Starbucks that was making him gay. Had he ever heard the word metrosexual before he'd heard of an iced venti chai? Coincidence? Every time he ordered a mocha frappuccino or a pumpkin spiced latte, he lost another gram of testosterone. It was inevitable. You didn't even have to drink the drinks. Just saying the words "non-fat mocha latte" made you just a teeny bit more gay each time. And he reached this conclusion a full two minutes before he had the vision that proved it.
He silently vowed that he was going to order a simple Americano. No hazelnut. No vanilla. No amaretto. He was just going to order a damned large coffee like a man.
"Good morning, Mr. Smith," the barista said when he stepped up to the counter. "Iced venti non-fat mocha latte?"
Johnny nodded helplessly and handed her his credit card, wondering if it was technically more gay or less gay if the barista had your order memorized so you didn't have to say it out loud. Almost certainly more. Bruce ordered the latest new promotional thing with caramel and whipped cream and Johnny consoled himself that that sounded even girlier than what he was getting.
He stepped down to the end of the counter to wait for his twenty ounces of emasculation. Was there an antidote? Drink more beer? Eat more chili? If there was a way back to red-blooded American manhood, belching and farting seemed like a good start.
The young man at that end of the counter had a streak of green in his hair that matched his apron. Johnny wondered if it was a deliberate show of company pride or what. In general the Starbucks crew had far better fashion sense than he did. At what point had he started to feel inferior to the people who worked at the coffee bar?
"Iced venti mocha latte!" the young man announced with a smile, setting the drink and a straw on the counter. Johnny reached for it and for a fraction of a second they were each touching the straw and Dakota's tongue was circling Johnny's nipple. Johnny slid his hands through Dakota's hair, which seemed longer when it was loose instead of pulled back in the tight ponytail he wore at work.
Johnny felt like he should ask again if Dakota really wanted to do this, to ask why Dakota wanted to do this, because clearly he was young and hot and could do much, much better than John Smith. But young and hot, Johnny reasoned, equaled young and horny and he couldn't imagine turning down sex at that age himself. Also he was young and hot and Johnny certainly didn't want to talk him out of this because so far this felt damned good and it promised to feel even better since this guy clearly knew what he was doing.
Dakota unfastened Johnny's pants, carefully worked the fly, and slid the fabric down just enough to be out of the way. Was it unromantic to let someone give you a blowjob without even taking your pants all the way off first? He didn't actually have much experience with this particular act. Sarah had been the only one who'd done this for him before and that had always been in a car when they were barely more than kids and they'd both been terrified they'd be caught so, no, he hadn't taken his pants off then either just in case he had to pull them back up suddenly. There hadn't been any blow jobs after those making-out-in-the-car days because no one had offered until Dakota and Johnny had felt self-conscious asking. It seemed like a selfish thing and he could never figure out how to ask without sounding like a jerk.
"Babe, relax," Dakota said, stroking his still only partially-erect penis.
Babe? Well, what did he expect him to call him. Dude? Sir? And once again he was being told to relax. He wasn't uptight. He was, in general, a very laid back guy.
"Relax," Dakota repeated and licked at Johnny's scrotum.
Okay, okay. Relax, relax, relax. Focus. It feels good. This feels good. This feels really good. Think about how it feels. Stop analyzing oral sex etiquette. Okay. Good. Good, good.
Dakota removed the wrapper from the condom and began unrolling it onto him. That was nice. There was symbolism he couldn't explain in it. Someone else was taking care of him. He liked that. That didn't happen nearly enough.
And Dakota was making sure it felt good as he did it, stroking roughly with his thumb at the base of Johnny's penis while gently rolling the latex into place with the other hand. And then his mouth came down on the end while he continued to stroke the shaft. Johnny wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to do now because the only thing he really could do was just lie back and be selfish. He stroked his hands through Dakota's hair again. The green streak kept drawing his focus. He had expected it to feel rough, maybe a little bleach fried, but it was as silky as the rest of his hair.
He heard a door opening and closing upstairs. He tried not to let it distract him. The neighbors are home. Big deal. One of the things he'd taken for granted growing up in a big private house, in addition to not sharing a bathroom, was not hearing neighbors playing loud music or slamming doors. He was used to quiet. Unexpected noises put him on edge. It was probably because of that that he heard the footsteps on the stairs before Dakota did.
"Um." He hesitated. Interrupting a blow job just because someone was outside the basement door seemed like a failure of priorities, but on the other hand he had a vested interest in Dakota not being startled if someone was about to knock. "I think someone is at your door," he said.
Dakota's mouth slid off the end of his penis. "Oh, shit," he whispered half a second before the door swung open.
It was just not Johnny's week at all. The woman screamed. She had a perfect view of the bed and of Johnny fully exposed.
"Mom!" Dakota yelled. "You are supposed to knock first! I pay rent!"
"What do you think you are doing?!" she shrieked.
Dakota was still leaning on Johnny's thighs and there was just no way for him to cover himself up under the circumstances. "Mom, get out! This is my private apartment! I pay rent!"
"You live under my roof! This is still my house!"
"You can't tell me what to do! I'm not a child! I'm going to be twenty-one next month!"
The latte was still solidly on the counter and that was the only reason he didn't spill it. "Oh, God, he's not even twenty-one."
"What?" Bruce asked.
"He's not even twenty-one!" Johnny repeated.
"It's okay. They don't serve liquor at Starbucks. They don't have to be twenty-one."
"I'm old enough to be his father."
"Yes." Bruce was looking at him like he was an idiot, which was starting to feel normal.
"They're all children." Johnny looked down the line of young people behind the counter. He turned back to Bruce and whispered, "Oversexed children."
"Whoa. Okay, there's something going on here that you're not telling me." Bruce smiled.
Why did he always have to be so damned cheerful? Johnny grabbed his latte and walked out.
"Hey!" Bruce called after him.
He climbed into the passenger seat of the car and made sure his shirt was pulled down low enough, because once again his body was responding to the wrong time-space continuum.
Bruce knocked on the car window and he lowered it a few inches. "Johnny, I offered to buy you coffee so we could sit and talk."
"I'm sitting. Talk."
Bruce sighed and walked around to the driver's side and got in. He smirked at Johnny. "So this is a sex thing? That's why you've been so weird? The other day when you were driving and I handed you the latte, you had a sex-vision of the kids at Starbucks? And it just happened again, didn't it?"
"I'm swearing off Starbucks, Bruce. I'll buy my own espresso machine if I have to."
Bruce laughed. "Seriously? I was right? You have 3D-Porn-o-Vision?"
"Don't say it like it's a good thing."
"How is 3D-Porn-o-Vision a bad thing?"
"When it's only half of a 3D-Porn-o-Vision and it ends with you standing in the produce section of the grocery store trying not to let anyone think you're shoplifting cucumbers in your pants."
"Okay, I can see how that would be a little awkward."
Johnny laughed helplessly. It wasn't a happy kind of laugh. "Bruce, the truth is that in just the last week I have had three vivid sexual visions and none of them have ended with me in a happy place."
"This is a midlife crisis," he said. "That's what this is. It's a midlife crisis. That's all. Random visions of young, sexy people. That's all this is. It doesn't mean anything."
"I get confused, that's all. It all gets mixed up. I see so much of other people's lives that I half-forget it isn't real. And then sometimes, my skin is just smarter than my brain."
"My brain thinks I've had sex every time I have a vision of sex. My skin knows it's not actually getting any."
"The other day, I bumped into a college—" (boy) "—kid. Just barely even bumped into and I am a dirty old man, Bruce."
"That sounds perfectly normal to me. You're just too repressed to let yourself be normal."
"I'm not repressed," he said mechanically.
"You said Rebecca's due tomorrow? Any chance that she'll help you out with that?"
Johnny frowned. "The psychic thing doesn't work over the phone so I can't say for sure, but, she was very polite. You know what I mean? Polite and she also said she had good news. You know how a woman says she has good news, but her good news is that her mother is coming for a visit or she just won free tickets to the opera or something else that she knows you are going to hate? That's the way she said she had good news."
"Aw, sorry, man."
Johnny nodded in acknowledgment and sipped at his straw. Bruce did the same. The parked car was quiet except for the sound of slurping straws for a couple of minutes.
"Johnny, can I ask you a question? Those two blonde girls that I keep mixing up," he said, pointing back at the coffee shop, "are they lesbians?"
"No." Johnny stared out at the parking lot.
"Okay, so technically not lesbians, but would they maybe be into a threesome?" Bruce thought he was joking or at least half-joking, but Johnny knew better.
"Michelle is. Kayla would have her boyfriend beat you senseless if you suggested it."
Bruce stared into the rear view mirror at the Starbucks for a full minute in total silence. "Which one is Michelle?"
"The blonde one."
"It doesn't matter. Her idea of a threesome and your idea of a threesome are not the same."
"How many kinds of threesomes are there?"
It was nice when, just occasionally, Bruce got to be the dumb one. "Bruce. One girl, two guys."
And Johnny knew that Bruce wasn't going to admit—not in front of Johnny, not fully sober in the Starbucks parking lot—that he would be okay with that. Yet Johnny also knew what could have happened last spring if he'd taken Michelle up on her offer to go home with her after work where she would serve them shots and teach them (or at least Johnny, since he was the only one who would remember the night that never happened) the risks of playing drunken Truth or Dare. That was the only time he had ever seen Bruce naked and, wow, that man was pretty.
He wasn't sure how it ended. The vision was cruelly incomplete. It had certainly been promising though. But he couldn't deal with the fear of the morning after and he panicked and turned her down.
"Bruce, should I feel guilty that I've had intimate visions of people and they don't even know?"
"No. Of course not. You're not doing it on purpose, right? I mean, if you were groping around people's underwear drawers trying to get sexual visions on purpose, that would be prying, but you have nothing to feel guilty about if you just picked up a latte and accidentally got more than you bargained for."
"But do I have any obligation to confess what I've seen?"
"Oh, hell no. What did you just tell me about Kayla's boyfriend? Do you want to get yourself killed? You can't walk up to a stranger and tell them you've seen them naked. That's much more stalkery than keeping it to yourself. Trust me. You have an obligation to not confess."
Johnny nodded. The logic made sense, but did it apply to people who were more than strangers?
"What was it you wanted to talk about anyway?" Johnny thought he was changing the subject to a safer topic.
Bruce scratched the side of his neck. The move struck Johnny as a stall tactic and he squinted at him with more interest. "Yeah, well, I'm not sure how to tell you this, but, I'm thinking of taking another job."
"Okay." Johnny didn't understand Bruce's hesitancy. "A good opportunity?"
"Yeah, real good. It's just...not here. I'd be moving away."
Johnny stared blankly out the window, partially aware of the traffic passing by on the street in front of them, partially aware of the pedestrians on the sidewalk. What was he supposed to say now?
"I don't have to go," Bruce said.
"But you want to?"
"I don't have to."
"You don't have to stay either. Do you want to go?"
"I don't know, man. It is a good opportunity. I don't want to go, but, I feel like I'm at a dead end here. The hospital decides who I take on as a patient and there was a time when that worked fine. Under the current hospital administration, given a choice between treating the hypochondriac with good insurance or the single mom with a real problem, you know which one they send me."
"Ah." Johnny needed to wash his car. The windshield was filthy. He couldn't read the decal from the service station from the passenger seat, but he suspected the car was overdue for an oil change as well. Why did he sit down in the passenger seat? Why did he automatically surrender his own car to Bruce? He didn't even ask if Bruce wanted to drive. Bruce was probably sick and tired of playing chauffeur.
"I don't want to leave you alone though," Bruce said.
Johnny frowned and glanced over at Bruce. "I am capable of taking care of myself you know."
"I survive on my own for entire days at a time without you."
"You don't need to reorganize your life around my inadequacies."
"Do what you want." That sounded petulant, so he added, "Do what's best for you."
"But you're joining me for breakfast tomorrow with Rebecca and Sarah. I can't face the two of them alone."
"After that, then I am capable of handling the rest of my life on my own."
"That sounds reasonable."
* * *
It was closer to lunchtime than breakfast when they met at George's Grill on Saturday, but it was the kind of place that served breakfast all day long and Rebecca had mentioned having fond memories of the waffles so Johnny kept calling it a breakfast date.
Rebecca and Sarah were sitting side by side at a back booth when he and Bruce walked in. They were leaning together, whispering and giggling, and Johnny was even more grateful that Bruce had agreed to join him. No man should have to face two giggling ex-girlfriends alone.
Why had he thought that inviting Rebecca to town was a good idea? He gritted his teeth and smiled and waved. Sarah waved back and Rebecca popped up out of the booth and hugged Johnny as he approached. Her "good news" didn't really surprise him. He'd said as much yesterday to Bruce. But he felt a bit deflated (no pun intended) anyway. And he was sad for her as well, because Rebecca deserved better.
"Oh, honey," he said as she stepped back, "you just keep picking the wrong guys."
"Johnny!" Sarah was aghast. She rolled her eyes pointedly at Rebecca's left hand. Ah. That would explain why they were sitting side by side. The better to see your engagement ring, my dear.
Rebecca was speechless for a moment and then shook it off. "Hi, Bruce. Good to see you."
Bruce and Rebecca couldn't quite decide if they were supposed to hug or shake hands or just stand there awkwardly. Johnny slid into the booth opposite Sarah and grabbed a menu. "They have really good hash browns here."
Bruce rolled his eyes and sat next to him. "You don't like the hash browns here."
"Yes, I do. I love the hash browns here."
"You like the hash browns at Florence Jean's on Route 117."
Rebecca and Sarah exchanged a look that Johnny pretended not to notice and Rebecca sat back down.
"But they aren't as good as the hash browns here."
"No, Johnny. Every time you order the hash browns here, you are disappointed, and I have to listen to you go on and on about how much better they used to be when the original cook worked here.
"Oh, that's right." He looked up at Sarah and Rebecca. "The hash browns used to be so much better when George worked here."
"The man died before you were born, Johnny. I think it's time to move on."
"So," Rebecca said, smiling nervously, "I'm getting married."
Johnny glanced up from the menu and shook his head. "That's really not a good idea. What do I like here?"
Bruce sighed and pointed at the menu.
"Timothy is wonderful," Rebecca insisted.
"Yes," he agreed.
"Rebecca's fiance is a doctor," Sarah added.
"He does volunteer work with developmentally disabled adults," Rebecca said.
"Great." Johnny waved at the waitress. "Can we get tea?"
"You drink tea now?" Bruce asked.
"Hot tea." Hot manly tea.
The waitress brought a pot of hot water and a basket of assorted tea bags and took everyone's order. Bruce started flipping through the packets before Johnny could. "Ooo! Orange spice. Do you want orange spice too? There's more than one. They also have lemon."
"I want tea."
"What flavor tea?"
Bruce rolled his eyes and shoved the basket back to Johnny.
"Johnny—" Rebecca began.
Johnny reached for the sugar and bumped Rebecca's car keys. "Oh! You know who's in love with you? Your mechanic!"
"Your mechanic. He's completely besotted. It's very sweet."
"My—you mean Mr. Preston?"
"No, no. Not the guy who owns the car dealership. The mechanic."
"No. Joe's the head of the service department. The mechanic. The guy who actually fixes your car."
Rebecca frowned. "Stinky?"
Bruce buried his head in his hands. "I cannot take you anywhere."
"He's wild about you."
"I'm marrying Timothy."
"Stinky cleans up okay. I mean, the grease under the nails takes some scrubbing, but he's really cute naked."
"Johnny!" Sarah was laughing and shaking her head at the same time.
"I don't even want to think about the fact that you've seen Stinky Jackson naked," Rebecca laughed. "And I am marrying Timothy."
Johnny bit his lip. This was awkward. "Have you met his mother?"
"Yes," Rebecca said, "yes, I have. And she's wonderful And she loves me."
"And Timothy would do anything for his mother, wouldn't he?"
"Y—oh. Oh. No. You are not suggesting that Timothy proposed to me because his mother wanted him to?"
The waitress placed a basket of warm biscuits on the table at exactly the right moment. She was getting extra for her tip
"Is there any jam?" he asked.
Bruce handed him a packet of jam.
"Johnny?" Rebecca grabbed his wrist. "I swear I will stab you with this butter knife if you don't give me a straight answer."
"Have you noticed a theme with the guys you date?" he asked. "You pick comfortable over compatible. And seriously, Stinky is adorable naked."
"His name is Stinky!" Rebecca protested, shaking her head.
"I'm sure that's not his real name."
"One of those mechanic nicknames," Sarah agreed, "like Goober or Cooter."
"It's embroidered on his shirt," Rebecca said.
"Just keep him away from broccoli and dairy products and he's fine," Johnny insisted.
Bruce and Sarah shared an exasperated look while Johnny bit into another biscuit.
"Timothy is adorable naked," Rebecca said.
"But not," Johnny said, "enthusiastic."
Rebecca glanced quickly from Bruce to Sarah and then hissed at Johnny, "He has confidence issues and that's none of your business!"
The waitress was setting their plates on the table when Johnny finally said, "Rebecca, you do know that most of your ex-boyfriends are gay, right?"
The waitress nearly dropped Sarah's eggs, but recovered nicely.
Sarah raised her eyebrows at Bruce who shrugged. "It would explain a lot," Bruce said.
"Tony was gay," Rebecca admitted. "High school," she said as an aside to Sarah. "And, okay, there was Roy."
"Oh, Roy was straight," Johnny said. "The ceramic figurine collection was strictly an OCD thing. And he's much better now that he's on medication. He's got it limited to salt and pepper shakers that look like penguins. And poodles. And platypuses, except he hasn't actually found any of those yet."
"Who besides Tony then?"
"Darryl if you count bi."
"I'm not sure I'd call Darryl bi. I think he was just really slutty, but okay I'll give you Darryl."
"And Brian goes by Brianna now."
"Brian? I caught Brian cheating on me with another woman!"
"No, you didn't."
"Yes, I—oh, those were his panties?"
"Wait, you're telling me that my type is gay?"
"Your type is safe." Johnny stared at his plate and wondered what possessed him to order sausage links when he knew this was where the conversation was headed. He began slicing them into tiny non-phallic pieces, or at least he tried to, but the process looked disturbingly violent and made him a bit queasy. "Your type is clean. That's why you don't want to consider Stinky."
"Johnny." Sarah was leaning back and squinting at him. "Can I ask you a question?"
He shrugged and took a swig of his tea. It tasted like seaweed so he washed the taste out of his mouth by taking a swig of Bruce's tea instead.
"Is Stinky Jackson actually hot naked?"
"Huh." She looked at Bruce and said, "You're right. It explains a lot."
"We're not talking about me. Okay, I'm more or less in the same category as salt-n-pepper penguin guy. I'm safe and clean and odd, but I've never even once—" (yet) "—had any kind of, of sexual thing—" (that counted) "—with a man."
Bruce rubbed his forehead between his eyes. "Johnny, I'm not going to say anything more in front of your ex-girlfriends. I expect you to be grateful for that. But we will talk about this later."
Rebecca picked up her keys and examined the butterfly charm on the key ring. Stinky Jackson had given it to her when she'd had her brake pads replaced. When she'd picked up the car, he'd given her back the key and instead of being on a ring with a grimy paper numbered tag like usual, it was on a pretty butterfly key chain. She'd remarked that it was pretty and she'd said, "Thank you," but it had just never occurred to her that he had given it as a gift to her. She'd probably just assumed the service center must be doing a promotion or something. Stinky had watched her longingly as she drove away and hoped she really liked it and wasn't just being polite when she said it was pretty.
Rebecca looked up at Johnny. "Stinky? Seriously?"
"Timothy is a great guy and he's going to try really hard to make it work, but you both deserve better."
* * *
It was the weekend of the big annual arts and crafts fair. Johnny had made it sound like a big deal when he'd told Rebecca about it on the phone. He'd actually just been reading the promotional blurb from the newspaper. He was quite sure that they had arts and crafts fairs every weekend when it wasn't snowing (and two or three in the winter too) and each one was "The Someteenth Annual Whatever". This one was either the strawberry festival or the bluegrass festival or maybe it was blueberries. There would be food and music and useless bric-a-brac for sale.
They picked up J.J. (who had chosen sleeping in over breakfast out) and the five of them drove in awkward silence to the festival. They'd barely gotten out of the car when J.J. asked if he could have a snowcone and held out his hand for money. "Did you even eat breakfast?" Sarah asked suspiciously.
J.J. nodded and continued to hold out his hand.
"I don't think I have any cash," she said without making any effort to check.
J.J. swung around to Johnny with his hand still held out in the same position. Johnny fished a couple of bills out of his pocket and handed them over without really looking. "Thanks!" J.J. said and dashed off.
"Johnny," Sarah said, "you just gave a twelve year old forty dollars in cash."
"Is that enough?"
Sarah surveyed the area. "It'll probably last him half an hour."
"I should find an ATM."
"Money's not a problem, Sarah."
Sarah shooed Bruce ahead with a wave that she didn't think Johnny saw. "Rebecca, you've got to have a funnel cake," Bruce said brightly, tugging her along despite her protests that she'd just had waffles.
Sarah took Johnny's arm and held him to a slow pace and they fell farther and farther behind. "I know you want to help, but as long as he's got a roof over his head and shoes on his feet and a couple of solid meals a day, too much money can do a kid more harm than too little. And, for the record, I can keep a roof over his head and healthy meals on his plate. You want to help, you can buy the shoes. He outgrows them every time he sneezes. But please don't start handing him cash every time he asks, okay?"
Johnny nodded. "I just feel like I should be doing more."
"You're still putting money in that college trust fund?" she asked.
He nodded again. He was actually putting money into two trust funds. Sarah was barely showing yet, but there was a little Bannerman on the way and he owed Walt so much more than that.
"You grew up with a lot of money, but your mom was pretty strict, wasn't she? I'm betting she didn't just hand you cash every time you wanted a new toy or heard the ice cream truck, right?"
"And she was strict and religious," Sarah said.
Johnny frowned. "Religious, very. But not really strict the way you mean though. Just...protective. Scared."
"She always seemed a little scared," Johnny said. "I figured it was because my dad died when I was young. She was afraid of losing me. When I found out about the mental hospital, it made even more sense. You don't exactly expect death. It's just that inevitable thing that no one likes to think about. Even though you don't expect it, you know it's always going to be there in the end. And when it happens—"
Johnny put his arm around Sarah and rubbed her shoulder.
"—you've got all those platitudes to fall back on about the circle of life and souls moving on to a better place. But to lose him to mental illness—I don't think she really trusted this world after that. So she worried a lot. Not just about the usual things like masked murderers in the bushes and meteorites falling from the sky, but also whether I was normal like the other kids. Did I play make believe like it was just a game the way a healthy child should or did I sometimes imagine things that weren't really there? And then of course there was the whole immortal soul issue. I thought she was going to have a nervous breakdown during my heavy metal hair band phase."
Sarah laughed. "You never had a heavy metal hair band phase."
"I did. I listened to devil music on my headphones and I tried to put posters on my wall."
"She made you take them down?"
"They upset her." Johnny watched his feet as he and Sarah meandered through the crowd. His shoes looked pretty bad now that he thought about it. He should look for new shoes for himself when he took J.J. shopping. "I took the posters down myself."
"I worry that J.J. will start to do that with me," Sarah said.
"Make his decisions based on what will upset his mother and not what's best for him."
"So you're worried that your son will behave himself to keep you from worrying?"
Sarah laughed. "Yeah, I am." She gave Johnny a one-armed hug and laughed again. "I could have worse concerns, I admit. But, yeah, sometimes I watch him doing his chores and I want to see a good kid and he is a good kid, but he's also slipping into man-of-the-house mode trying to take care of his widowed pregnant mother. That doesn't seem fair to him. I appreciate it a lot. I probably take advantage of it too often. But I don't want him to get into the habit of thinking he has to take care of me forever. There are some things," she said, her eyes straying pointedly toward where Bruce was taunting Rebecca with a funnel cake, "that you shouldn't do to make your mother happy."
"Ah." God, he was an ass. He should be saying something supportive now, but he just desperately wanted to change the subject.
"I'm going to ask you a personal question and you don't have to answer if you don't want to."
"That's not the question. And I don't want a knee jerk answer either. Listen to the question and if you don't want to give me an honest answer just tell me it's too personal. Don't lie to me. Okay?"
"Okay?" she asked again.
"Okay." Johnny wasn't really a liar, but he also wasn't very good at telling the truth if he thought it was going to hurt someone. Promising not to lie before he'd heard the question bothered him. She'd given him an out, but wasn't refusing to answer a kind of answer?
She watched him closely as she asked, "Before your car accident, did you ever have sex with anyone else besides me?"
The question startled him and he blurted out, "No," before he'd had a chance to think about it.
"We were sort of school sweethearts," Sarah said, "but we were mainly just friends for a lot of years. I wouldn't be hurt if there had been others."
"It was just you, Sarah." And then he thought about how that sounded and added, "But after the coma, after you married Walt, then there were other women. Lots of other women." That didn't sound defensive at all. He reminded himself that he was allowed to shut up now.
Sarah glanced around to make sure no one else was in earshot. "When we first started having sex, it was mainly just to figure things out with someone we trusted. When my mother gave me 'the talk' it was pretty much feminine hygiene and the reproductive cycle. She gave me a fairly clear understandings of ovaries and fallopian tubes and babies, but the actual sex part was something she said I could figure out on my own with my husband."
"Oh, don't you dare laugh," Sarah said. "You were even more clueless than I was."
"After the coma—"
"There were other women."
"I know. That wasn't my question. You're impossible, you know that?"
"Is that the question? Because, yes, Bruce tells me that all the time."
She didn't let him get away with making a joke of it though.
"Dana hinted at something once." Oh, this couldn't be good. "Something about your visions and sex."
"It's not always like that," he said quickly.
"When we made love that time, after your coma, did you see other people?"
Johnny found himself growing angry. He didn't like being cornered. His options now were to answer the question, refuse to answer the question (which was practically the same thing as answering the question), or lying. And he'd made enough of a mess of things with Sarah by lying.
He nodded. "Walt," he whispered. He meant to say more, but his throat closed up on him.
"You know, back then, I kind of suspected that you'd had a vision of another woman."
He shot her a quizzical glance, but she continued before he could say anything.
"I tried to tell myself it was just the intensity of the situation," Sarah said. "We were engaged and then the next thing you knew it was six years later and I was married to someone else." He remembered how hard that first year or so after the coma had been. How strange it was that now, when she was available again, they were walking along with their arms around each other as if they were a couple, yet there was no hint of that old desperation. "A lot of times we don't appreciate what we have until we lose it," she continued. "So I told myself that's what it was."
"That's what what was?"
"But then Dana hinted the way she does and I think I got a little jealous, which was so hypocritical of me considering I actually cheated on my husband and you just have visions that I know you can't control."
She had him completely confused now. "Sarah, what are you talking about?"
Sarah bit her lip and looked around them. She steered Johnny to an empty bench. On the way, they caught sight of Bruce and Rebecca and they all waved to each other, but as soon as Rebecca glanced down at her ring—something she was doing often—Sarah made shooing motions at Bruce again.
"We'll meet you at the bandstand!" Bruce called to them as he tugged Rebecca away. She didn't resist.
Sarah sat down on the park bench and again looked around to make sure no one could hear them, probably making sure J.J. wasn't about to come bounding back, out of money and full of sugar. It was making Johnny nervous. Whatever it was, he just wanted her to come out and say it already.
"That one time we made love after your coma, it was different. You were different. You were better."
That was not even close to what he had thought she was going to say and he repeated it to make sure he hadn't misheard. "I was better?"
She leaned in and lowered her voice. "You were a lot better."
He was completely befuddled now. "We're talking about the sex?"
"So, you're saying that all the times we made love before the coma, those times were what? Bad? Mediocre?"
"No, Johnny, that was fine. I'm saying that one time was a lot better."
"Fine. I'm 'fine' in bed."
"Arh! Johnny!" Sarah huffed in frustration. "The sex was always good. After those first few fumbling starts we had the mechanics down. And you were always adorable. I'm saying—"
"Good okay or—"
Sarah rolled her eyes. "Oh, my God, you have the biggest penis I've ever seen. You're the best lover on the planet. Have I sufficiently stroked your ego so we can move on now please?"
"The last time we made love it was intense. Really intense. You were passionate. Really passionate. You're sweet, Johnny, but intense and passionate are not words that I imagine anyone uses to describe you often"
"I'm very passionate."
"It's cute that you think that."
"And intense. Ask Bruce. He's always telling me to relax."
"Tense and intense aren't the same thing."
"Johnny. The best sex that you and I ever had, you were having visions of my husband."
Johnny's brow wrinkled and he tried to think of some response that didn't sound completely idiotic. The only thing he could come up with was, "Well, you have to admit that Walt was pretty cute."
She laughed, but her eyes watered up at the same time. "Yeah, yeah, he was."
"I don't do it on purpose," he said by way of apology
"Maybe it's time you did."
"I can't control the visions like that."
"I'm not talking about having more visions on purpose," she said. "I think it's time you stopped settling for second-hand visions of what you want and set about finding a man of your own."
"Bruce isn't—and he's moving away." Wow, that was abrupt. One quick leap from I'm not gay, I'm not, I'm not, I'm not to But I want Bruce and he's leaving me!
"Bruce is taking a job somewhere else. He's moving."
"I don't know. Soon, I think. I guess I didn't catch much after the leaving part."
"Oh, Johnny," Sarah said, kindly, "I'm so sorry."
* * *
Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, Johnny Smith was a pretty decent cook. When he wasn't spilling things all over the kitchen or setting fire to the dishtowels or forgetting to set the timer, he occasionally produced things that even Sarah agreed were tasty. Unfortunately, his specialty was blackened briquette flambe with just a few drops of human blood for that extra tang. Bruce decided to stick around after they returned from the fair to provide the adult supervision in the kitchen while Johnny prepped for what was supposed to be a dinner with Rebecca and the Bannerman family.
Bruce grabbed the phone—while Johnny drew first blood with the cheese grater—when Rebecca called to cancel. "It's okay. He understands," Bruce said as he handed Johnny a paper towel. "It was great seeing you again. You take care. And tell Sarah that if she wants to swing by after she's dropped you off at the train station... . Oh, okay. Yeah. Bye now."
Johnny ran his scraped knuckle under the faucet. He waited until Bruce hung up before he spoke. "Bailing, huh?"
"This wasn't exactly the nostalgic return to Cleaves Mills she'd imagined. She's anxious to get home and talk things out with Timothy."
"She didn't mention Stinky."
"Sarah and J.J. are still coming by later?"
"Nope. It's just you and me. Rebecca and Sarah went shopping for baby clothes and now I think Sarah's a little blue. Rebecca says she just wants to go home and rest after driving her to the station."
Johnny nodded. "And J.J. just thinks adult dinner parties are lame so he's probably glad to be off the hook. More for us then."
"And maybe you can take it easy now and not slice off any more of your fingers," Bruce said. He stepped up behind Johnny and pulled his hand out of the water. It was barely bleeding, just a little scratch, but he carefully examined it to be sure. For one heart-stopping moment, Johnny had the ridiculous notion that Bruce was about to kiss it to make it better.
Bruce turned and looked at him and they held the mutual gaze and the moment was—to hell with what Sarah thought—very intense. No, wait, this was Sarah's point, wasn't it? They had been engaged to be married. They'd conceived a child together. He'd always thought of his time before the car accident as back when he'd had the perfect life. But perfect wasn't the same as passionate. Just the flicker of the idea of Bruce's lips on his skin had sent a shiver through his whole body.
That was the intensity she was talking about. He'd thought he was jealous of Walt at the time. If not jealous, envious at least. Trying to make love to Sarah and suddenly picturing Walt, naked and beautiful and perfectly muscled, had stirred a competitive fire. If he couldn't outdo Walt, he at least had to match him or it would feel like failure. And he let the vision guide him, help him cheat just a little. Oh, Sarah likes that, does she? And then he was just lost in it and Walt might as well have been there because for all Johnny's senses knew he was. And Sarah was right. It was great sex. But they'd never done it again because they both loved Walt and they couldn't go on hurting him that way.
Johnny realized that not only was he still gaping at Bruce like an idiot, he still had three expired condoms in his bedside table. He swallowed and then they both said, "We need to talk," and burst out laughing. Bruce squeezed his shoulder, which produced a completely disproportionate response in Johnny's nether regions, and turned back to the cutting board.
"I'll handle the sharp objects. You focus on not burning down the kitchen. Deal?"
"That sounds like an equitable distribution of labor."
"After all the dangerous parts have been successfully navigated, you're going to tell me all about Michelle from Starbucks."
Johnny nearly knocked the saute pan off the stove.
"After we get out of the kitchen alive," Bruce said.
Johnny wondered exactly where Sarah drew the line between her definitions of tense and intense, because this evening was kind of both.
He was asking Bruce about baby clothes when they sat down at the table. "Do I buy things for her or do I go shopping with her? If I just buy things for her, she might think I'm being presumptuous and object to not picking things out herself, but if I only offer to go shopping with her than I'm forcing a chore on her that she might not want to deal with."
"Do I look like Sarah?" Bruce asked. "Ask Sarah what she wants. This right here is your fundamental communication issue. You want to figure out exactly what to say and do through analyzing the situation when all you have to do is ask."
"I'm officially changing the subject. Tell me about Michelle."
"What about Michelle?"
"Not playing twenty questions, Johnny. Just tell me what you're not telling me about Michelle."
"I don't know what you mean." Johnny started eating his peas.
"The blonde girl at the coffee shop. You said she wanted to do a threesome. Is that true?"
"So, I started wondering exactly how you know that."
Johnny looked up, confused. "Because I'm psych-ic?"
"Yeah, but did you have a vision of her just saying so or did you actually have one of your 3D-Porn-o-Visions?"
"Please stop calling it that."
"Here's the important question. Did you actually see me with Michelle?"
"I think we're violating that psychic confidentiality thing we were discussing earlier. You yourself said I have an obligation to not reveal personal things that I've seen."
"I said you had an obligation to not embarrass people with details that you know they wouldn't expect you to know. But I am your best friend and I am asking and when someone asks you what you know about them, you don't get to hold back. Did you see me have sex with Michelle?"
"Not exactly having sex with."
"It was a kind of drinking game," Johnny said. He wasn't really eating the peas now, just organizing them into rows on his plate.
"A drinking game?"
"With kissing and decreasing quantities of clothing, yes."
"Details, John, details."
"You weren't alone, you know," Johnny said. "I think I was clear on that already. There was another guy. She was fairly inflexible on that point. You try to approach her solo and she's not going to go for it."
"Okay, potentially awkward, but I'm leaving town in a week so I don't really need to worry about it being embarrassing to go to Starbucks afterward."
"Johnny, I told you this."
"I didn't think it was going to be this sudden."
"John, job offers don't just wait around indefinitely."
"Right. Sorry. I wasn't thinking."
"So I'm leaving town and I've got nothing to lose. Do you think Michelle would go for a little private farewell party?"
Johnny shrugged. "This was months ago. She might not even be interested anymore."
"What do you mean months ago?"
"We'd been helping the police on a case out of town until late. We hit the Starbucks just before closing to stay awake for the rest of the drive home. I don't know if you remember."
Bruce nodded. "We've done that a couple of times, yeah."
"While you were ordering you mentioned being so tired you were worried about making it home and I said you should spend the night at my place. You stepped down to get your drink and Michelle told me she lived nearby and suggested we both crash with her. When I paid for my order, I had a vision of exactly what she had in mind."
"And you turned her down? Without even asking me, you turned her down?"
"I—I thought you'd freak out."
"All right, details. Tell me exactly what happened."
"I politely declined, we took our drinks, and we left. That's what happened."
"In the vision, Johnny."
"The vision wasn't real. It didn't happen. It was just—"
"It was just what would have happened if you hadn't turned her down after you already had your fun."
"No, no, no! It was not like that. Don't think it was like that."
"Tell me what it was like then."
"Okay, fine." Johnny put down his fork and leaned on the table. "But I don't want to hear you complaining to me later about it being icky and weird that I told you this. You asked."
"I asked," Bruce agreed.
"In the vision, we went back to her place because you wanted to. You kept saying, 'Don't blow this, Johnny. Don't mess this up for me. Just be cool.' So I tried to be cool. For you."
Bruce's smile faded. This was going to hurt before it was over, was already starting to hurt, but Johnny decided they might as well have it out. Bruce had asked.
"We went back to her place and she served us something in shot glasses that tasted just like fruit juice. You could barely taste the booze but we started getting drunk really fast. She had this drinking game, but it didn't make sense and I think she was making up the rules as she went along just to make us do what she wanted. The only consistent rule was 'Do what the pretty girl tells you.' And you were so focused on her, Bruce, you would have done anything for her. You didn't even remember I was there until she changed the rules again."
"Changed what rules?"
"She kept playing with a pair of dice. Roll the dice; do what the pretty girl tells you. The dice didn't matter at all, but she pretended they did. At first she'd say the numbers determined who had to take a shot. And then it was whether you had to take a shot or remove clothing."
"Clothing was removed?"
Johnny decided that under the circumstances a lecherous grin was not out of place. Bruce had asked. "You were bare ass naked and raring to go, Bruce."
"Still in a bra and jeans. I don't think she drank nearly as much as either of us come to think of it. I got down to my shorts, not that you asked."
Their plates were both going cold on the table between them. Bruce was now hanging on every word. "And?"
"And either we started to bore her or she figured she'd gotten us drunk enough to step things up. So the rules changed. Now the dice were magically announcing not just who was going to take a shot, but who was going to lick shots out of whose navel. Who was going to drink out of whose mouth. And the funny thing about those dice, she didn't even have to look at them to know the numbers that came up always meant it was you and me. You and me, Bruce. We weren't very good at it and we were wearing as much booze as we were drinking, but she didn't care because she thought it was hot. It was hot. And maybe I was clumsier and spilled more of mine, because I think you were drunker than I was. You were so messed up that I don't think you could see straight. You were begging Michelle for sex and she kept laughing and sending you back to me and I don't think you even knew the difference. I was licking alcohol out of your navel so close to your hard cock that I could feel the heat and you were calling out her name."
Johnny choked at the end of that and had to take a few deep breaths before continuing. "And that's all I saw. I don't know what would have happened next. I just know I didn't like it. It was hot as hell, but I hated it. Because you didn't really want me. Because I was taking advantage of you. Because you were going to hate me when you sobered up."
Bruce was staring slack-jawed now. Johnny knew he never would have told him any of this if he weren't leaving in a week.
"So," Johnny asked, "still upset that I turned her down?"
"Oh, God, John. I'm sorry. I can't believe I did that to you."
"You didn't. You don't need to apologize for things that didn't happen." Johnny wasn't even sure why Bruce would apologize even if it had been real. Bruce hadn't forced him to do anything. Begged him to do something Johnny was slightly uncomfortable with, yes, but it wasn't as if Johnny wasn't a grown man capable of making decisions. In the end, he had said no and it never actually happened.
"We've known each other a lot of years and all this time I have been so oblivious. Sarah's right. You really are gay."
Had Bruce and Sarah found time for that conversation at some point during the afternoon? Or did the knowledge pass between them so clearly with that look in the diner?
"Don't I get to actually have sex with a guy before I have to face that label?" Johnny asked.
"No." Bruce laughed and the mood instantly lightened, just a fraction but enough. "It's more of a preference thing than an actual sex thing, I think."
Johnny picked up his utensils and focused on eating his dinner before it was completely cold.
"So, the vision with Michelle, you saw that months ago." Bruce took a few more bites before continuing. "That wasn't what has had you threatening to buy your own espresso machine this week. That was the guy, the one with the green hair."
"Dakota? Seriously, that's his name?"
Johnny shrugged. "Better than Stinky."
Bruce nodded. "When you freaked out in the Starbucks, you said 'He's not even twenty-one yet'. It was your green-haired friend who nearly got us killed on the road last week." Bruce raised his glass to the green-haired friend.
"No, that was you." Johnny smiled as Bruce choked on his wine. Might as well confess all. The massage was downright tame compared to doing shots with Michelle. "You handed me the latte in the car and I got a vision off of you."
"A sex vision?"
"No, no sex."
"You already told me you had a sex vision, 3D-Porn-o-Vision."
"First of all, those are your words, not mine. And all I said was sexual, not sex. There's a difference."
"How is there a difference?"
"We didn't have sex, it—"
Johnny laughed then. "Oh, just eat your dinner."
"It was nothing. You've already heard the worst. The vision on the road was just me making an idiot of myself. Even calling it sexual is overstating what I saw."
"Okay, so it was nothing. Tell me what this nothing was. Humor my curiosity."
"I let you give me that massage."
"That's it. End of story. I had a vision of you giving me a massage. It was very disorienting when I was driving."
"I gave you a sexual massage?"
"Not on purpose."
Bruce laughed. "Okay, see, now you have to tell me this story. How did I give you a sexual massage on accident?"
"You are a very talented man."
"Well, that much I know."
Johnny found it very difficult to maintain eye contact with Bruce now, but he tried. Every time he caught himself staring at the spiderweb in the corner or the crack in the wall near the window—both of which he really needed to do something about—he'd force himself to look back into Bruce's eyes. "You gave me a massage and I became aroused and I got my signals a little crossed and thought that you were actually interested and you weren't and instead you were horrified and I was mortified and the next thing I knew I was screaming like a little girl behind the wheel of my car. Dual morals of the story: don't touch stuff while driving and don't proposition people if you're not really sure."
"I'm sure I wasn't horrified," Bruce said. "Surprised maybe, but not horrified."
"You were horrified."
"I think you're projecting. The idea of you propositioning me is actually very flattering."
"Liar." Johnny scraped up the last few bites of dinner from his plate. He didn't even remember eating most of the meal.
"No, really, I'm flattered. Did you actually proposition me or did you just do that thing where you hint awkwardly?"
"There was begging."
"Aw, I made you beg?"
"You're a cruel man."
"I made you beg and I turned you down? That's low even for me."
There was a hint of confusion in Bruce's voice. It was just a hint, but Johnny caught it and snapped to attention. Was Bruce implying that he thought it unlikely that he would turn down a proposition from Johnny? He had turned him down, hadn't he? Maybe not in the second version of the vision when Johnny had tried to salvage his dignity and asked Bruce to leave. But the first time, that had definitely been a refusal. You couldn't be clearer than no, no, no, no, no—but, of course, begging or not, that hadn't really been a proposition. From Bruce's point of view, he had been giving an innocent back rub and suddenly Johnny was waving his genitalia around—my erection, let me show you it—and who wouldn't freak out under those circumstances?
Johnny was staring at Bruce at an absolute loss as to what to say now and Bruce was staring back with an awkward half-smile locked on his face.
"You've never had sex with a man. If you are gay, then that means you've never really reached your full potential."
"I've had orgasms, Bruce. I am a sexually functional adult. Spare me your pity. I just don't—connect as often as I could wish."
"But if you prefer men and you've never—"
"I don't prefer men. I am for all practical purposes a straight man. Okay, I just apparently have some bi tendencies."
"Wow, your powers of denial are amazing."
Johnny gave up and cleared the table. Bruce followed him into the kitchen.
"Okay," Bruce said, "let's sort this out the easy way. Who was hot when you were going through puberty?"
"When you were in the throes of hormonal upheaval, who was hot? Farrah Fawcett?"
"I was a little young for Farrah."
"Let's see, you would have been about...Heather Locklear?"
Johnny shrugged. "Yeah, I guess."
"So, who was hotter? Heather Locklear or Axl Rose?"
"Oh, that's not fair. Everyone knows Axl Rose was hotter than Heather Locklear."
"Dukes of Hazard. Bo, Luke, or Daisy?"
"I always had a thing for the car," Johnny whispered.
"Madonna or Springsteen?"
"Bruuuuuuce!" Johnny mooed, as he washed the dishes.
"Is that your answer or are you just messing with me?"
Johnny smiled and refused to answer because messing with Bruce was fun. They were joking around. They were friends again. It was going to be okay. Just one more week and Bruce would be gone and he'd miss him like hell, but he wouldn't be walking on eggshells anymore either. It was just as well really. It was almost a relief.
He put the last dish in the drainer and turned to see Bruce leaning on the counter watching him, studying him almost. "Do you want to fool around?" Bruce asked. Just like that.
It was almost like that first time with Sarah. Do you want to make out? I want to make out. Let's make out. Tanya Jones keeps acting like it's this Big Thing, you know, but Sharon Edgewater says she and her boyfriend have already gone all the way and if Sharon can do it, how hard can it be, right? Because Sharon's sweet, but she's not that bright. And I don't have to be home for three more hours because I told my parents I had to work on my research paper but it's mostly done already and Sharon gave me a condom so let's do just do it.
"I don't have any condoms," Johnny said. He winced as soon as the words were out of his mouth. All Bruce said was fool around. Fool around could mean anything. Condoms explicitly suggested bits getting inserted into other bits and that was pretty damned presumptuous considering Bruce might not have even meant—
"I have a couple condoms in my jacket pocket," Bruce said.
"I'm an optimistic guy. What can I say?" Bruce always looked like such a doofus when he smiled like that. "I like to be prepared at all times."
"I—I—I don't understand." Even as he was saying it, Johnny was nodding because, hell, yes, he wanted to fool around with Bruce. And even as he was nodding, he was backing away because there was only so much emotional torture he could take and he'd met his maximum for the foreseeable future.
"Are you going to date, Johnny? Are you going to get out of the house—without Sarah having to drag you out, that is? Are you going to meet people? Are you even going to try?"
Johnny stared blankly at Bruce. "What?"
"Uh-huh, that's what I thought. I need to get you jump started."
"Prime the pump, as it were." Bruce winked.
Johnny raised his hands to shoulder height and, making an obvious effort not to touch anything, walked back into the dining room.
"Johnny, what are you doing?"
Johnny was staring at the clock. He hadn't paid much attention to it while they ate, but surely he would have noticed any significant time jumps.
"This is real?" he asked.
Bruce laughed at him. "This is real."
"This isn't a vision?"
"This isn't a vision."
"You're sure. How can I be sure?"
"It's real. Just go with it."
"And just so there is no miscommunication, you are actually offering—"
"You and me. Hot naked sex."
"Okay." Johnny was nodding like a lunatic now, but he still held his hands up.
"You realize I'll have to touch you for the sex to happen, right?"
"I know. I just—the visions lately have been very convincing and I don't think I can really cope if I snap back to reality and it turns out we're still at the fair or still at breakfast or—or this is real but the instant you touch me I'll have a vision that I'll also think is real and—"
"Whoa," Bruce said, "I'm sorry, man. I keep forgetting how confusing the visions can be for you. I don't know what I can say to convince you, but I know that I am real and sometimes, even when you know it's reality, you can't guarantee how things will turn out and you just have to take that chance and go for it anyway."
"Okay." Johnny relaxed his hands a little, but still couldn't bring himself to lower them all the way.
Bruce walked around him, careful to leave enough room that Johnny wouldn't be afraid of an accidental touch, and picked up his jacket. He fished the condoms out of the top pocket.
"Let's go upstairs. This is real. And this time I promise you that I will not make you beg."
He let Bruce lead the way. Bruce bounded up the stairs like a teenager. Johnny followed slowly, petrified and unsure of what. Okay, so, worst case scenario he was having a vision of the future. It seemed to be going well so far, in which case he might experience something pretty awesome twice and there was no bad there. Or maybe it goes badly somehow and then he just has to make sure it doesn't happen this way.
He froze halfway up the stairs when he realized what he was afraid of. He was absolutely, heart-thuddingly terrified because deep down he knew this was not a vision. This was real and that meant there was no reset button. Everything he did now counted. He was living his life in real time and there was no fast-forwarding to the end to make sure it turned out okay.
He walked into the bedroom to find Bruce already stripped, lying back on the bed, and aggressively fondling his erection. Johnny was filled with a warm optimistic glow. Bruce was hard and no Michelle in sight.
"What took you so long?" Bruce asked. "Did you get lost on the way to your own bedroom?"
Johnny giggled as he shut the door. He had no logical reason for closing the door. They were alone here and could be screwing on the floor of the foyer for all it mattered to anyone else, but it just felt better to have the door closed, to have their entire world be just here in this room.
Okay, Bruce had said it, sometimes you just have to go for it. He kicked off his shoes and pulled off his shirt at the same time and nearly tripped himself in the process. Quick, before you think about it. He shucked off his pants and underwear together.
"Wow," Bruce said. His smile was gone in an instant. "That's, um—"
Bruce was staring at his penis and that was not a look you wanted to see on your boyfriend when you got naked in front of him the first time. Johnny glanced around him looking to see where his pants had landed.
"No, no, Johnny, come here," Bruce said as Johnny started to back away. "Come here. It's good. It's all good. You surprised me is all."
Johnny still didn't know what he'd done wrong, but he was pretty sure the best course of action now was to put his pants back on and go crawl under a rock.
"That's a little intimidating, you know," Bruce said motioning at Johnny's erection. "You should warn a guy."
Johnny burst out laughing. "You just took it for granted that you were bigger than I am, didn't you?"
"I'm sorry, I should have realized that you would be a freak of nature."
"I'm not that big," he said and then instantly regretted it.
"So you think I'm small?"
"No, you're just right."
"Just right, like Baby Bear or something?"
Johnny really sucked at this. Only one of them could be insecure and neurotic at a time and Johnny was pretty sure he'd already called dibs. He crawled onto the bed and kissed Bruce on the mouth, partly because he really wanted to, but mainly because they both needed to just shut up already.
Bruce kissed back and so it seemed natural and easy to pull Bruce into an embrace. There was a fiery moment as their bodies rubbed against each other when it all seemed to be magical and perfect. Then as they kissed and kissed and kissed again Johnny began to realize that he didn't know what to do next. The kissing was nice, but there was surely more they could be doing.
Exactly how much more, he wasn't clear on. Bruce hadn't actually said what he had in mind. Should he go down on Bruce or fondle him first? Had Bruce brought the condoms upstairs with anal sex in mind or just oral? If anal, there was probably no point wondering who was top and who was bottom. (The cat hadn't even been subtle about that part.) But if he wasn't thinking about anal sex and Johnny suggested it, would he be grossed out? Would he think Johnny was slutty—or, worse, a liar—if he asked for something so quintessentially gay mere minutes after insisting that he wasn't really? What did Bruce want?
He struggled even with the question of what he wanted, because what Johnny wanted most desperately of all was for Bruce to just take over, to put his hands all over him the way they had been in the vision of the massage, strong and confident. Bruce's hands rested lightly on Johnny's shoulders and didn't move. He kept kissing back and he was still hard, which Johnny tried to take as encouragement, but there was nothing confident in Bruce's bearing at all. He was most certainly not taking over.
"Bruce?" Johnny didn't even know what to ask. If things weren't entirely going wrong just yet, they still weren't going quite right.
"Tell me what you want," Bruce said.
"Anything. Everything. I don't know. Please."
"You want to do this? Are you ready?"
Bruce opened up one of the condoms. He quickly rolled it on himself and for some reason Johnny was disappointed that he didn't get to help. "Okay, let's go." Bruce eagerly signaled for Johnny to turn around.
Johnny braced himself on all fours while he tried to sort out the thoughts racing through his head. He wanted Bruce to take charge and now Bruce had taken charge. Good? Bruce automatically took it for granted that he was the penetrator and Johnny the penetratee. Okay, so that was probably a no-brainer, but it would have been polite to at least ask. Bad? Of course, if he had asked if Johnny wanted top or bottom, Johnny would have likely dithered and in the end been too embarrassed to ask for top anyway, so this way was probably just as well. Good?
Bruce found his target and began to nudge. Johnny started giggling again. This was possibly the most ridiculous thing he'd ever done. The condom was pre-lubricated, which should have helped, but instead Bruce slipped off his mark twice and Johnny's giggles became uncontrollable.
"Johnny," Bruce grumbled. "Not helpful."
Bruce nudged again and Johnny tried to concentrate. There was a brief hesitation before his reflexes took over and then Bruce slid easily inside him.
"Are you all right?" Bruce asked. He froze while he waited for Johnny's answer.
"Don't stop," Johnny said. It felt odd. He wasn't ready to call it good yet, but halting at this point was unthinkable. It wasn't really about what it felt like now anyway. It was hormones and pheromones and primal instincts. The human sex drive was, Johnny had always felt, cruelly disproportionate to the amount of satisfaction derived from the actual sex. Whether it was actually good or not, the drive said what you needed was more of it. Bruce still hadn't moved so he repeated, "Don't stop!"
"Was that 'don't period stop period'," Bruce asked, "or 'don't stop period'?"
"Don't stop exclamation point!"
"Some of us need to work on our communication skills," Bruce said. "That's all I'm saying. So you're all right?"
"I'm fine." Johnny was doing his own mental analysis of the sensation and wasn't thinking clearly enough to understand what Bruce was asking.
"Are you sure? I didn't hurt you, did I?"
Pain was not among the sensations he was feeling. If he hadn't been on all fours, he would have shrugged. The only thing close to discomfort was in his knees. He had his doubts about whether his knees were going to hold up for the duration. "I'm fine," he repeated. "I'm not sure about the knees though."
"No, Johnny, I mean, your y'know, with my y'know."
"You're fucking me, Bruce. Or at least you would be if you were actually moving around back there. You can say the words. Also, feel free to, y'know, fuck."
"So, you're okay?"
"It's not uncomfortable?"
"No. Weird, but not uncomfortable."
"It's like pooping in reverse."
"Johnny, that is officially the least romantic thing anyone has ever said to me! Ever! If I live to be one hundred, that's going to hold the record."
"Sorry." Johnny Smith was not mentally retarded, but he had days where he thought it might be a good idea to get his doctor to put that in writing. He'd seen his share of pornography. He knew how this worked. He knew the lines. The lines were Oh, my God, that's huge! and I don't think it will fit! and I've never felt anything like this before! At no point was the correct line, Hey, your dick kind of feels a bit like one of my larger turds.
Bruce commenced with the fucking and Johnny tried to keep his mouth shut. He was heating up from the inside. Bruce's strokes were definitely doing something kind of interesting to him, but the happy glow he was sensing was just a tiny bit out of reach.
Bruce began making increasingly plaintive sounds. Bruce was going to be done well before he was. The particularly unfortunate thing was that Johnny's knees were going to be done well before Bruce was.
Johnny tried to shift as much weight as possible onto his hands and even tried digging his feet into the mattress to take some strain off his knee joints. The bedspread began bunching up under his feet as they continued to slide ineffectively. Bruce took the increased activity as encouragement and put even more of his weight into his thrusts. He similarly misinterpreted Johnny's first warning groan, but when the groan rose in pitch and coalesced into "Ow! Ow! Stop!" Bruce leaned back on his heels and pulled all the way out.
Johnny farted. Classy.
Johnny rolled onto his back and reached out to Bruce, eager to reassure him that Bruce was doing everything right. All of the Bruce parts of the sex thing were pretty damn awesome if he could just figure out how to stay out of the way. "You're good, you're good," he said, unable to come up with anything more eloquent. "It's just my knees." Bruce good. Knees bad.
The view was nicer this way at any rate. Bruce was attractive even fully clothed. Naked, it was like a super power. Johnny could imagine him taking out whole armies of super villains with the brain-melting power of Naked Bruce. He reached out again and the only word he could think of was, "Please."
Bruce stretched out on top of him and kissed him and that took away his view but that was just fine because now the whole world was made of Bruce as it should be and Bruce was inside of him again and at the same time he could wrap himself around Bruce and—
"Hey! Hey! Get your scaly feet off of me."
—which left Johnny not entirely sure where to put his feet. To give Bruce access from this angle, he'd had to tuck his legs up in a slightly comical position, and if Bruce wasn't going to let him rest his feet on his backside then that just left them pointing awkwardly skyward. Bruce hadn't objected to his feet in the vision where he fondled his toes. Of course that was toes in his hands versus calloused heels scraping on his tender ass, so Johnny could sort of see his point. Also the massage oil may have helped soften his rough skin. How had he let Bruce come upstairs without grabbing the massage oil this time? Why hadn't Bruce offered? Did he not have the massage oil this time? Why did he have it last time? Did he always have massage oil in his car? Was that a physical therapist thing? Or an "optimistic" thing? Had he been giving someone else a massage last weekend?
He hadn't had a single vision, which was something of a relief. He didn't want to see a parade of Bruce's ex-girlfriends. Yet a vision or two could have come in handy right now. What was he supposed to do now? Just a hint would be nice. His instincts had failed him along with his knees. That warm glow that he couldn't quite reach in the last position was now gone entirely. He was also starting to get a headache, possibly, he thought, because he'd been clenching his teeth for who knows how long.
But maybe it would be okay anyway because Bruce had clearly found his happy place. Bruce settled into an almost mechanically precise rhythm and began making frantic little sounds. It might have been a single steady whine, almost a keening—which Johnny didn't find to be a reassuring thought—except his own motion and panting breath broke it into little chunks of sound. Aah, aah, aah, aah. Aah, aah, aah, aah. It put Johnny in mind of a steam engine and there were certainly worse metaphors.
He wrapped his arms around Bruce, still trying to keep his legs and calloused feet out of the way, and ran his hands up and down his muscled back. He imagined that this would be what it would feel like if an ancient Roman statue came to life, as perfect as art, but warm and supple.
"So, pity sex with the crazy guy is working out okay?"
He probably shouldn't have said anything, but Bruce just laughed which, interspersed with the steam engine whine, sounded like a mad scientist cackle. He kissed Johnny again, only briefly since he was out of breath already, and then whispered in his ear as if he were revealing a private little secret. "This feels so good."
And that was one of the lines. That's what you were supposed to say at a time like this. And even if it was just one of the lines that everyone knows you're supposed to say, it made Johnny smile anyway.
Bruce laughed again, more of a whoop really. Then he growled. Then he sighed. Johnny wasn't sure which of those sounds corresponded with the actual moment of orgasm, but Bruce sort of melted on top of him like a damp, sweaty rag.
Johnny's erection itched like mad clamped under Bruce's dead weight. Johnny wasn't in a big hurry to make Bruce move though. For starters, it was an instant in time to savor. Bruce had just achieved sexual climax inside of him, because of him, and that was good for the ego. For another thing, it was all about to go horribly wrong and Johnny didn't need to be a psychic to know that.
His bowels were rumbling in an all too familiar way. A greasy breakfast, junk food at the fair, too much dinner and Johnny had thought that all added up to the perfect time to try out anal sex for the first time in his life?
Bruce stirred and slid out of him and Johnny focused, careful to clamp down at the right moment. Too soon. Bruce hissed. "Easy. Easy." Johnny couldn't risk easing up much, but Bruce tugged safely free anyway. He was sure he'd just crapped the bed, at least a little. He tried to be nonchalant as he checked. (Bruce rolled over and stretched and thankfully wasn't paying attention at all.) The worst was only a few streaks of shit on the condom, but that was more than enough to panic him because Bruce would surely freak out when he saw it. It was gross. He was gross. Still actively clenching his rectum, he spared a few seconds to remove the offending condom from Bruce before he could see it, and then dashed to the bathroom.
He was probably, he knew, being a little neurotic about the condom. Bruce knew full well where he had just been sticking his penis and he couldn't expect it to be sterile upon removal. Okay, but he probably also wasn't expecting Johnny to be a disgusting poop factory, which is what he felt like now. He sat on the toilet, his dick still insanely optimistic—My turn? Soon?—and shat what seemed like a lifetime's worth of shit. He was in a hurry and Bruce was out there no doubt wondering what the hell was going on and that, of course, meant that it turned out to be one of those never-ending monster dumps.
When he was finally done, he felt like he needed a shower, but he made do with soap and a washcloth. Should he take out a fresh washcloth for Bruce? He kept a box of tissue on the bedside table and Bruce had had more than enough time to take care of himself by now. He wished he'd kept a bathrobe in the bathroom. The idea of walking out there, naked and finally wilted, was dreadful. He was sure Bruce would be staring at the door, would make some crack like, "What happened, you fell in?"
Bruce was asleep.
What was the etiquette here? Johnny was kind of pissed off, but mainly at himself because he'd basically waived his turn by spending a hundred years in the bathroom. Was there even a point trying to wake Bruce up? He wasn't sure he could get back in the mood now even if Bruce were willing. His penis twitched at the thought, but he called it a liar. All he was really likely to do if he tried now was to frustrate himself.
The only thing that could be accomplished with any certainty by waking Bruce was that he could complain to him that he hadn't been done. That would just put an unpleasant spin on what had otherwise been—for Bruce anyway—fairly decent sex. If they had to part, let them part like this.
He put on a T-shirt and almost grabbed the same sweatpants from the massage vision. He didn't want those memories mixing with these. The tension headache was getting worse as it was. He found a pair of drawstring pajama pants and put those on instead. They had knocked the covers mostly off the bed, which was convenient. Bruce was still on half the bedspread, but Johnny was able to fold a blanket over him with only a little difficulty. He turned out the lights and then curled up next to him.
He thought about going to sleep in one of the guest rooms. It might be less awkward in the morning. But this was his bed, dammit, and the headache was now bad enough that his eyes were starting to water. He was going to sleep in his own bed.
Bruce stirred, untangled the blankets around him, and crawled under the sheet with Johnny. When his hand found the fabric of Johnny's T-shirt, he sleepily asked, "You cold?"
"A little," Johnny lied.
Bruce snuggled up closer and draped an arm across Johnny's chest. It was sweet and it was a little more than Johnny could take under the current circumstances. How could it be so perfect and so messed up at the same time? How could he realize how much he loved Bruce just as he was leaving? How could he have sex with the hottest man alive and not get off on it?
Bruce kissed him on the cheek. "You're crying?" he asked when he found the moisture there.
"No. My eyes were just watering a little."
"You're crying?" Bruce repeated.
"No." Johnny didn't cry. He didn't think he'd even cried when they told him his mother died. He was sure he didn't cry when he learned that her death was really a suicide. He hadn't cried when Walt died either and that was his fault too. He definitely didn't cry just because he was tired and horny. "No. I just have a tension headache. It makes my eyes water sometimes. I'm fine."
Bruce fumbled for, nearly knocked over, and finally turned on the reading lamp next to the bed. "I fell asleep on you."
"It was my fault. I had to, um—" Johnny motioned at the bathroom door. "—and I took way too long."
"Aw, man," Bruce said. "I promised you—and I fell asleep—and why do you have to be so understanding? Wake my lazy ass up!"
Johnny didn't know how to explain any of it. "You're awake now."
Bruce kissed him and tugged at the drawstring on his pants. After an eternity of teasing, his body wasn't falling for it anymore. Even Bruce's hands stroking him did little more than make his headache worse. His eyes were watering badly and Bruce was going to think he was crying, which he was not.
"Tell me what you need," Bruce whispered. "I'll take care of you. Just tell me how."
I want you to do what you did before, the voice in Johnny's head screamed. I want you to fondle my ass and do weird things to my armpits and oil up my toes. How do you ask for weird shit like that?
"It's okay," Johnny said as calmly as he could manage. "I think we're done now."
Bruce snorted a half laugh. "Wait? After all that, you're not gay?"
"Oh, I'm gay." There were a thousand questions racing through Johnny's head, but that was not one of them. Every nerve ending was screaming in rage at the almost and the could-have-been. "I'm very, very gay. I'm just not very good at it."
"Okay. Practice. We just need practice. Tomorrow morning, you are getting a pedicure and we'll get those barnacles scraped off your feet." Johnny frowned and Bruce kissed him again. "Then you can put your feet anywhere you want them, okay? And I think I still have a bottle of massage oil in my bag in the car."
"You do," Johnny said. "I imagine that's exclusively for giving purely medicinal massages to elderly patients who are very ugly."
Bruce propped his head up on one arm so he could study Johnny's face. "Jealousy? That's cute. And in all honesty, the massage oil is not in my work bag, it's in my overnight bag. It's more of a personal item. It's not for clients."
"You have different massage oil for patients?"
"I don't use massage oil on patients. I'm a physical therapist, not a massage therapist. I might rub down a muscle cramp in the line of duty, but that's about it."
"What about 'King of Massages'?"
"Oh, I am. It's just a hobby. It's not in the job description."
"You've given me massages before," Johnny protested.
"As your friend, not as your therapist."
"You squirted hot oil on my ass as part of your hobby?"
"I did what?" Bruce looked shocked, a bit ironic considering he was currently stroking Johnny's cock, which was valiantly trying to stagger back from the grave.
"The massage oil is a good idea. Trust me."
"If I go out to the car and get the massage oil now—and I'll take that as a 'yes' then," Bruce laughed as Johnny's erection answered for him. "Okay, and here's another idea. How about you give me a massage? I'm thinking that if you can't tell me what you want, maybe you could show me?"
Johnny nodded. That might work.
"See," Bruce said with a smile. "We just need a little more practice. We're going to have this down to a science before I leave." He got up to grab his clothes, but Johnny tugged him back onto the bed.
"No," Johnny said with certainty. "That won't be enough time."
"How much time do we need, Mr. Psychic?"
"I'm just going to grab the oil. I'll be back before you know it."
"Stay," Johnny repeated. "Don't leave me, Bruce. Not now."
"I'll be right back."
"I'm not talking about the oil. That's not important. I don't care if you get it tonight or if we wait until tomorrow after the pedicure. I'm saying we can have sex every day until you leave and it won't be enough. Stay."
"Oh." Bruce relaxed and let Johnny pull him into an embrace. "I already gave notice at the hospital."
"Good. You hated working in a bureaucracy."
"I'm not going to find another physical therapy position in an area this small, Johnny."
"Put up your own shingle in town. There's a vacant storefront right next to the palm reader."
"Do you know how hard it is to start up your own business? That's not in my budget. And I already gave notice to my landlord too. I've scheduled a moving truck." Bruce looked completely befuddled.
"It's in our budget," Johnny said. "Have the moving truck bring your things here. Move in with me."
"Our?" Bruce repeated. "What exactly are you suggesting? Because you know that what you're hinting at isn't legal in Maine yet?"
And once again, Johnny was making an idiot of himself. Bruce had only agreed to this because he was leaving and wouldn't have to deal with a relationship. He closed his eyes and rubbed that spot between his eyebrows where the headache was coming back.
Bruce began stroking him again and without warning he felt Bruce's tongue on his left nipple. It should have been amazing, but all Johnny could think was that, despite Bruce's honorable efforts, he was not going to be able to follow through and thus years of friendship were going to end with Bruce's final impression being of Johnny as both desperate and ineffectual.
He really had just blurted out, Move in with me and let me pay your bills. How could you spin that in a way that wasn't pitiably clingy? "Or, uh, I mean, just for awhile, you know, until you can find another place. I don't mean to—Or, y'know, if you want to go, then obviously—"
"Uh-uh. No. You're not allowed to do this, Johnny," Bruce said shaking his head. "Absolutely no take-backs."
"I ask you," Bruce said, "how is this going to sound as a story to tell the grandchildren? Did I ever tell y'all about the time Grandpa Johnny proposed to me? Two seconds later the man was trying to weasel out of it."
Bruce turned his attention to Johnny's other nipple. "Do you really want me to stay?" Bruce asked between licks. Johnny could hear the smile in his voice.
Bruce silenced him with a finger across Johnny's lips. "Shhh. I promised you I wouldn't make you beg."