Danny was tall, and confident, and popular. Danny was the one who always had a girlfriend, who always knew what to say and when to say it, who made everything look easy.
Danny was everything Michael wasn't.
Danny had a quick smile that made you want to smile back, but it was his slow smile that made Michael's face get hot. He didn't know how long Danny had been giving him that smile. It didn't happen all the time - sometimes Michael felt invisible to Danny, like he was just there without being important or noticeable in any way, like he was fading into the wallpaper. But then, occasionally, Danny would turn to look at him, and they could be in a roomful of people - Danny's current girlfriend could be sitting on his lap even - and Danny's lips would curve slowly into that smile. Michael would feel his ears getting red and he'd stammer when he tried to talk. Tried to tell a joke, tried to break the tension that he told himself he was only imagining.
He had to be just imagining it. It was stupid. No way, no way did those looks that Danny slanted at him mean anything. Just because Michael was different - Off. Wrong. - didn't mean Danny was. Even thinking that way, even imagining it, was going to do nothing but cause him trouble, maybe even big trouble if he wasn't careful.
He told himself that over and over as he screwed his eyes shut and tried - tried really hard - to think about girls, girls, girls as he stroked himself, struggling to be quiet in the darkness in his single bed in the room he'd grown up in. Afterwards, he panted up at the cowboy poster still stuck up over his bed from when he was twelve years old, the tape dried out and one corner drooping down.
Senior year now, and Michael was kind of thinking this wasn't something he was going to grow out of. He'd kept that as a hope in the back of his mind, but no, nah, it wasn't going away, and he wondered, sometimes, how he was going to do this, hide this, live like this. It seemed too much sometimes, but you got used to it. You got used to almost anything, after a while.
Two years now, though, and he'd never gotten used to Danny's tilted, knowing smiles.
There was a whole group of them that hung out after school all the time. Senior year was all about dancing and parties, and a lot of the time they'd all - Danny and Joe and Sylvia and Betsy and Beth and Michael - they'd all end up back at Danny's house. Danny had the biggest living room, and his parents didn’t mind if they rolled the rug back, didn't mind if they turned the phonograph up loud and danced.
And it was fine, it was fine, Michael was mostly okay with it. Hey, he got to be friends with Danny, and he wouldn't give that up for anything, wouldn't give that up for the world. It was all going to be just fine. He figured they'd be friends for life, maybe - he let himself believe that they were that special together, and maybe he was right. Maybe they were. If those looks and smiles meant anything at all, they meant that. Danny'd get married, and Michael would too, and they'd live next door to each other with their pretty wives and barbecue together on Sundays. Danny would stand too close next to Michael as he flipped burgers, like he stood too close to him when he picked out records to listen to on afternoons like these, and he'd never know, he'd never even come close to knowing what that did to Michael.
They'd had a lot of fun this afternoon - Betsy had learned a new dance step and they all had spent right up till dinner time trying to learn it, lurching all over the place and stepping on each other's feet. By the time they shut the record off, everyone had to run off home for dinner, Michael lingering to help Danny clean up.
The two of them rolled the rug back into place, then Danny leaned against the wingchair they had pushed out of the way into the corner, still catching his breath from the last dance. He grinned, watching Michael tugging the coffee table back into place. "Leave it," he said, still leaning there. "I'll help you in a second." He wiped the back of his hand over his forehead. He was sweating, still, from the dancing. He'd been spinning Beth all over the room real easy, like it was nothing. Now he was just watching Michael, and Michael was all right, he was okay, this was fine.
"I, uh, I should get home," he said, rubbing his hand over the back of his neck. A drop of sweat rolled down Danny's temple. "I'll help you with this, and then I'll just -" he faltered as Danny pushed off the chair, moved closer to Michael.
"What's the rush?" said Danny. "You could stay for dinner, you know." He nodded towards the dining room. "You're always welcome."
Michael was having a hard time catching his breath. Because of the dancing, he told himself, though he'd mostly leaned against the wall by the phonograph and watched Danny move so easily across the floor. "Eh, you know my mom," he said, giving Danny a quick grin. "She'll think I like your mom's cooking better than hers."
Danny smiled back, tilting his head. He had moved closer, was standing right next to Michael. Michael could smell him from this close, how he smelled of aftershave and clean sweat, and he shut his eyes for just a second, just the tiniest bit longer than a blink. That was all, that was it, it wasn't anything at all, not even a slip, but - Danny watched things. Danny picked up on things, and when Michael opened his eyes again - it had only been a second - the look Danny was giving him was knowing.
"Oh," Danny said, really softly, and Michael wanted to shut his eyes again, but didn’t dare. He felt his cheeks flush red, and cursed himself. He hadn't even done anything, he hadn't even slipped. The corner of Danny's mouth slanted up into a half smile, and Michael - dammit, dammit - dropped his eyes to look at it. He immediately dragged his gaze back up, but Danny's expression was one of deep amusement and Michael figured he had maybe five seconds before he got punched. It wasn't fair, it wasn't fair, he hadn't even -
Danny's hand slipped around the back of his neck, warm, curved there, holding him, and Michael just looked at him, bewildered. "Your face is all flushed," Danny said, still with that half-smile on his face. "Are you all right?"
"I -" Michael felt like he was strangling to death, actually, just from how warm Danny's hand was on his neck. "I don't -"
"Mm." Danny stared at him for a second, a measuring look. "But I do." Then he leaned in, and pressed his lips to Michael's, and if Michael thought he was dying before, he was surely going to die now. He'd forgotten how to breathe, his whole chest felt tight. Then Danny's other hand slid up warm over his shoulder, and Michael's hands came up to hang onto Danny's sides (Danny's shirt was damp under his hands), and then they were standing there in the middle of the empty sitting room floor, on the carpet with the furniture shoved away all around them, kissing. Danny's mother was only two rooms away, making dinner, Michael could hear her singing, she was that close.
Then Danny breathed out a sigh and slipped his tongue into Michael's mouth, and Michael couldn't hear anything at all except his own heart pounding in his ears.
It was sweet and easy and completely crazy and Michael just hung onto Danny's sides and tried to keep breathing.
Danny pulled back, just as his mother's voice floated out, "Daniel - dinner! Come set the table!"
Danny was panting just the tiniest bit - Michael himself was practically wheezing as he tried to pull himself together - as he grinned at Michael. "So," he said, rocking back on his heels, "You staying?"
"I -" Michael shut his eyes - really, this time - and breathed deeply for a second. Danny was - he had just - Danny was crazy, he was crazy, this wasn't next-door neighbors and wives. But he opened his eyes. "Yes, I - yes, sure," he said.
"Good," said Danny quietly, then touched the side of Michael's face for just a second before turning away. "That's good."
Michael stood there, feeling dizzy, and Danny called back over his shoulder, "Come help me set the table."
Michael shook himself, and looked around the disordered room, then - he followed Danny to, sure, go help set the table.
First we'd climb a tree and maybe then we'd talk
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life
- "Ahead By A Century" by the Tragically Hip