The thing about them—about him and David—is that it’s pretty fucking easy, being together. Neal can do that. David doesn’t really want flowers or any of that shit, and Neal doesn’t want to buy any of it, so that works. And David’s just as horny as Neal pretty much all of the time, and so when Neal wants to fuck him up against the wall of a venue, or when he wants to go down on David in his bunk, well. David doesn’t exactly mind. So it’s all pretty easy, being together.
It’s just that sometimes, sometimes Neal forgets that they’re together and not just together, and that realization makes his heart race and his palms sweat and so Neal tries his hardest to just push the thought out of his mind, push the feeling down and away until he can breathe again.
It’s a Thursday and Neal’s running a skimmer through David’s pool. There’s a lot of leaves and shit, and Neal doesn’t even know why the hell Dave has a pool, because neither of them are all that big on swimming. When the sliding glass door to the house opens, Dave walks out, barefoot and wearing Neal’s shirt, dangling two beers in between his fingers.
“Both of those better be for me,” Neal says, and he pushes his sunglasses up a little higher on his nose.
“Well, shit, Tiemann,” Dave says, and Neal can see him staring at the skin of his forearms, naked from where his denim jacket is rolled up to his elbows. David looks happy, content, and Neal likes that look on him. “Who’d have thought you looked so good cleaning a pool?”
“Screw you,” Neal says. “If I liked you any less than I do, I wouldn’t be doing this shit. You should hire a fucking pool boy.”
David looks at him. “But I’ve already got one,” he says, and Neal laughs.
“You owe me something pretty fucking spectacular for this,” he says, and David tells him, “I always come through in the clutch.”
Neal finishes skimming the pool, and the entire time he’s doing it, he watches David out of the corner of his eyes. David’s blatantly staring back at him, and Neal knows he could be more open about it, that Dave probably already knows that Neal’s watching, but Neal chooses instead to focus on the top of the water and the way it ripples as he disturbs it.
That night, Neal stays at David’s house and David thanks him for his services. He lays Neal flat on the bed and then runs his hands up Neal’s sides, starting at his hips and making his way up, guiding Neal’s arms above his head as he does so. Neal’s body shivers the entire time, and when Dave clicks the handcuffs around his wrists, Neal bites his lip so hard he almost cracks skin.
“I’m going to make you feel so fucking good, Neal,” Dave says in his ear, and Neal lets him.
Recording is—well. It’s recording, and Neal kind of fucking hates it because at the end of every day, his hand hurts like a bitch and he hasn’t even been playing for anyone—not a thousand fans, not a hundred, not a one. It seems like a waste to Neal, but he tries not to bring it up because he knows that the guys worry.
And besides, there are other things to focus on: everything went well with their stand-in guy for that asshole who Neal no longer talks about. The new guy’s name is Monty and he seems pretty cool, and sometimes, at night, Dave talks to Neal about asking Monty to join full-time. Neal always says, “Hey, that’s your call,” but Dave says that it isn’t, it really fucking isn’t, and so he calls for a band meeting.
They all wind up at some weird-ass restaurant that has an outside smoking section and a special on something advertised as a four foot beer. Neal doesn’t really care how tall his beer is so long as it’s cold and the waitress keeps them coming, but Andy really wants one and so Neal agrees to get one, too. And Neal’s feeling wild, so he gets dark ale and Kyle looks at him with a face that says, You’re not going to want to finish that whole fucking thing if it’s dark, and so Neal says, “Shut the fuck up. I will.”
When their drinks come, they’re served in these purple, plastic monstrosities and Kyle laughs, “Nice chick drinks, guys,” and Neal and Andy simultaneously flip him the bird.
David says, “Hey, lemme have a sip.”
“It’s dark ale,” Neal says, and Dave pulls a face and then says never mind because he thinks that shit is nasty.
So they talk for a bit about the merits of chicken wings versus potato skins (only Kyle pulls for the skins), the new baseball season (David says, “Maybe they’ll let me sing the anthem so we can sit by the dugout again”), and the new season of Idol (“That shit’s just lame, man. It’s so bad,” Andy says, and then Neal says, “Yeah, I don’t know what kind of asshole would be on that show willingly.” David elbows Neal in the ribs and says, “The smart kind, you motherfucker,” and Neal takes offense to that).
At the end of the night, when none of them are drunk but all of them are getting there, David asks, “Monty—in or out?” It’s unanimous, and Dave squeezes Neal’s knee underneath the table.
Sex with David, Neal knows, is something he will never get tired of. He wakes up early the next morning and he can see out of the corner of his eye that one end of the handcuffs is still locked around the bedpost from a few nights ago and also that he missed the trashcan last night and his used condom is tied off and on the floor. Neal’s sated and content and really, what’s there to complain about?
Well, for one, there’s the fucking way Dave sleeps sometimes, his limbs all wrapped around Neal, his body heavy atop Neal’s chest.
“David,” Neal says. The sun from the window is in his eyes, and he’s forced to just squint. “David, come on, move.” Dave groans and rolls over.
“What?” he says, and he sounds cranky but at least Neal can fucking breathe again.
“Nothing,” he says, and David laughs sleepily.
“Great.” He throws an arm over his eyes. “Go make me some French toast.”
Neal laughs but then when he realizes that Dave isn’t joking, says, “Oh, yeah fucking right.”
“Come on,” Dave says. “I tip real well.” And maybe it’s something in his voice, still gravelly from just having been woken up, or maybe it’s the way his bare shoulders look against the sheets, or maybe it’s the way Dave’s wrists are rubbed red and raw, Neal doesn’t really know. Either way, he gets out of bed and throws some jeans on and makes his way to the kitchen.
There’s a bowl of fruit on the counter and Neal grabs an apple, biting into it as he takes out the bread and the cinnamon and the butter. He can’t find the eggs. Neal walks back to the bedroom to ask David what the fuck he did with them, but David’s sleeping again and so Neal throws on a shirt and some shoes, grabs his wallet and keys, and heads out the door. The grocery store is only a few blocks away, and Neal gets back before David even realizes he was gone.
Later, when everything’s on the table and Dave’s sitting down in only a pair of gym shorts, Neal says, “Well, I held up my end of the bargain,” and then pours about a gallon of maple syrup onto his plate.
“Shit, Neal,” Dave says around a bite. “What do I have to do to get you to be my live-in cook? Jesus, this is amazing.” And Neal knows that it’s a joke, but there’s something in him that feels knocked sideways once Dave says that and he doesn’t know why. And even after the conversation’s changed and they’ve moved on, the rest of the day all Neal can think of is how he cooked Dave breakfast and how he went out and bought Dave eggs.
Don’t fuck this up, Tiemann, he tells himself, but he doesn’t know how to do that.
It’s a Wednesday, a vocal-tracking day, and Neal’s got nothing to do, so he heads over to Kyle’s and they jam together a bit. It’s weird because it’s just them, just the two of them, and it sounds so empty to Neal, but it’s nice, too, being able to just hang with Kyle and no one else. Kyle talks in click tracks and drum beats and cymbal crashes; Neal gets that.
Kyle says, “Dude, you’re half a beat too fast,” and Neal fixes it.
Kyle says, “What do you think about some distortion?” and Neal grabs his pedal board.
Kyle says, “Maybe put that—that riff thing—yeah, yeah, that one—put it after the bah dum dum chh bah dum chh,” and Neal can do that.
He wishes everything else was that easy.
Late afternoon comes around and they go upstairs to feed Hayden. Kyle’s in charge of making the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Neal’s in charge of mixing the chocolate milk and Hayden is in charge of using the plastic cutter to get rid of the crusts and also, apparently, in charge of spilling the chocolate milk all over Neal’s shirt.
“Oh, fudge,” Kyle says, censoring himself. He passes Neal an entire roll of paper towels. “Gimme a second, I’ll go grab you a new shirt.”
And he does, and Neal thinks that’s pretty cool of him, but it’s one of Kyle’s striped tanks and it stretches across Neal’s chest and Neal thinks he looks pretty fucking ridiculous. Hayden says no, which is nice, and Neal leaves after dinner.
Neal gets home—well, back to Dave’s, anyways—soon after that, and Dave’s sitting there on the couch with a laptop propped up against some pillows.
“Last song tomorrow,” he says without looking up. “Should have the final album soon.”
Neal says, “Shit. I can’t fucking wait to hear it.”
“Me either.” Dave motions behind him, towards the kitchen. “Got your ice all set up. It’s in the freezer. How’s Kyle doing?” Neal goes to the fridge and grabs his ice pack, placing it on his knuckles and the back of his hand.
“He’s alright,” Neal says. “Same as—what? Two fucking days ago? Hayden’s huge though.”
“Yeah,” Dave stands up and says. “They say that happens sometimes.”
“Fuck you,” Neal laughs.
“I wouldn’t mind,” Dave says, and he’s smiling. Neal likes how that looks. “Not with how good you look in that shirt.”
Neal jerks his head. “C’mere, motherfucker,” and Dave listens to him, walks on over and stands real close, slipping his fingers under Neal’s—Kyle’s—tank top.
“Me or you?” Dave asks. Neal kisses him.
“You,” he says, backing Dave up against the counter. “I did it last time.”
“Okay,” David says, and Neal says, “Shut up.” He curls the tips of his fingers in the waistband of David’s jeans and just stands there, just kisses David too sweetly and with too much tongue, feels David grow hard against Neal’s leg not because Neal’s doing anything, but because David knows what’s coming. Neal grinds his hips against David’s just once, long and slow, and says, “Go upstairs. Wait for me. Don’t even fucking think about touching yourself.”
David nods and walks away, and Neal watches him the whole way up the stairs. He’s done this with Dave—not just the sex, but giving up control, or taking control, or trying out new things, whatever—for long enough that his heart shouldn’t be racing and his palms shouldn’t be sweaty, but Neal can still feel his heart through his ribcage and he still wipes his hands lightly on his jeans.
Neal swallows and licks his lips. He knows what Dave’s doing right now, can picture it in his head. He can see David kneeling, his head bowed, just waiting for Neal to come upstairs, to tell him what to do, to touch him. He knows Dave’s waiting to be handcuffed to the bed or blindfolded or gagged, and knowing that he wants it just as bad as Neal wants to do it…
Neal has to tell himself to calm down and not to take the steps by two.
“Mmm,” David says as Neal trails his fingers up and down his spine. “You played a lot today; your hand alright?”
“More or less,” Neal says. “Always hurts a little.”
David turns his head and looks at Neal. “I wish I could change that,” he says.
“So do I,” Neal tells him, and then his hand stills on David’s back and David leans over and kisses Neal slowly, softly, and they fall asleep pressed back to chest.
They finish recording the next day, and it’s a big deal. It’s a big fucking deal that they not only finished recording a fucking album, but they finish recording their second fucking album, and that’s the bee’s knees to Neal. When the last lick of the last of the guitars is laid and the producer says, “Alright, guys, I think I’ve got everything,” it’s like Neal can let go of the breath he didn’t know he was holding.
Kyle says, “Anyone want to go get a drink? I’m not on Hayden-duty til tomorrow.”
None of them have been to the Flytrap in a while, not really, because they’ve been so focused on writing music and not so much on seeing other people play live. So they go, and it’s alright. They’ve got one of the few tables, and the band—some super shitty Grateful Dead cover band—is going on in the background and all they really need now is one more chair because Neal’s standing and then they’re good.
Andy says, “Oh my god, could this band possibly be any shittier?”
And so Kyle quips, “Yeah; you could be singing.”
No fight breaks out or anything though, because then Dave gets back with the first round—on him—and they all raise their glasses in a toast.
Nobody says anything.
“Oh, come on, Dave,” Andy says. It’s your album, it’s your toast.”
Dave says, “Hey, no. Hey. It’s our fucking album, and we kicked fucking ass on it, and it’s gonna do real fucking well because we worked hard and we deserve it. The music deserves it.”
They all sit in silence for a minute and then Neal says, “Here, here,” and they all clink their glasses together and it’s going to be a good night, Neal feels, a good few days. He can feel it in his bones, or some shit.
“They’re starting to master it tomorrow and everything,” Dave says. “Just got the email.”
“So we should have it by when?” Kyle asks. “Two weeks or something like that?”
Dave says, “Yeah. And then we hit the road.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Andy says, and he kills off what’s left of his beer before standing up and saying, “Alright, who wants what?”
So it’s kind of like that; they just sit around and shoot the shit and it makes Neal realize just how fucking ready he is to tour again, how tired he is of sitting around and doing nothing.
And then someone comes up behind Neal and squeezes his hips and he almost jumps out of his fucking skin. He turns around, ready to bitch out whoever it is, but he sees a flash of green hair and he almost can’t believe it.
“Neal!” she says, and it’s her, Kira. Neal hasn’t seen or heard from her in a long-ass time, since before the Anthemic.
“Holy shit,” he says, and she smiles wide and says, “I know, right?” and then she kisses him on the lips, just a short little peck, but Neal can feel lip gloss still on his mouth when she pulls back.
“So?” she asks. “How’s everything? It’s been for-fucking-ever, Neal! And shit, you look exactly the same!”
Neal holds her away from him at arm’s length and looks her up and down, and then puts one hand under her chin as he moves her face from side to side, studying her. “So do you, though,” Neal says. “Still as gorgeous as ever.”
Kira laughs and flips her hair and says, “Thank you, thank you. Oh, but I got new ink!” And Neal has some too; of course he has, but doesn’t think to mention it. Kira takes off her jacket just enough so that he can see her bare shoulder. Her hair is still long and it gets in the way, so Neal pushes it back and looks at the burlesque dancer that she has on the side of her chest and the front of her shoulder.
“Pretty sick,” he says, and she thanks him.
It’s only then that Neal realizes that they have an audience, and so he turns back to the table and says, “Ah, sorry. Kira, you already know Andy and Kyle.”
“Of course,” she says. “Hey.” They don’t say much back, but Kyle lifts his fingers off the table in a half-assed wave and Andy nods.
“And that’s Dave, in the back. Dave, this is Kira.”
Kira says, “Hi! I’ve heard so much about you.”
And Dave smiles, says, “It’s great to finally meet you,” and then stands up and offers Kira his seat, if she’s going to be around for a while. She takes it with Thanks, and then Dave comes and stands next to Neal, reaching behind him to stick his fingers in Neal’s back pocket. It catches Neal by surprise for a second because he and David, they don’t do that kind of stuff, but Neal lets it go and looks at Kira.
She’s talking to the guys—it doesn’t seem to be awkward or anything, and so Neal listens in as she tells Andy about the best ways to make fake blood and that his haircut looks really good. Neal thinks she looks really good, her cheeks all rosy red and her smile big and wide. It reminds him of when they used to hang out and how they went to a horror movie convention and how afterwards she let him fuck her in the backseat of his shitty car. It’s too much for him, and so he says, “I’m gonna go get another drink. Anyone want anything?”
“Oh, nothing for me,” Kira says. “I gotta head out in a minute. Thanks though.”
David says, “Whatever you’re having is fine.”
“I’m getting dark ale,” Neal says, and waits for Dave to change his mind. But he doesn’t, just says, “That’s fine,” and Neal walks away confused.
Kira only sticks around for a little bit after that, and right before she leaves she hugs Neal real tight.
“Bye, Neal,” she says, her arms still wrapped around his waist. Neal tries his hardest not to notice how they still fit together in the same way. “It’s been real great seeing you again.”
“Yeah,” he says. “You too.” And he means it, he really means it.
When he and Dave get home, Dave plays rough and Neal is just as rough back. And after Neal’s been fucked, they lay side-by-side in bed and listen to each other breathe.
As much as Neal likes kicking it with Dave and getting to fuck him in a real bed each night, he’s kind of relieved when Dave gets a call from his manager in LA a week later.
“I need to go shoot the cover art for the album soon. In a few days,” Dave tells him. They’re sitting on the couch watching a show on sharks. “And do a couple interviews. So, I dunno. I’ll be gone a week, maybe? Maybe more?”
“Yeah?” Neal asks. “That’s good though, right? We’ll get on the road soon then.”
“Yeah,” Dave says. He stretches out and puts his feet up on one armrest, his head in Neal’s lap. Neal weaves his fingers through Dave’s hair; it’s getting long. “Back to bunks and gas station food, I guess.”
Neal says, “We were made for that, though.”
“Mmm,” Dave says. His eyes are shut. “That feels good.” Neal laughs lightly.
“What?” Neal asks. “Me tugging on your hair or the thought of—fucking—HoHos and Honey Buns?”
Dave doesn’t answer him, just says, “Hey, Neal? You wanna move in with me?”
And Neal’s entire fucking body freezes, because where the fuck did that come from? He has no clue what he can possibly say that won’t end in at least one of them being angry and resentful. Fucking Dave. Fucking Dave and his ruining everything when it was all so goddamn perfect.
“Um. No,” Neal says, and he braces himself for a fight, braces himself for when Dave will get all tense and things will get awkward. For a second, Neal thinks, So this is the beginning of the end.
But then David—David just says, “Alright,” and doesn’t even open his eyes, doesn’t even pull back from Neal an inch.
Neal doesn’t say anything, but he lowers the volume on the tv and if Dave falls asleep, Neal doesn’t know, because he’s out before the next commercial.
Neal wakes up the next morning and his heart is pounding and there’s a crick in his neck from sleeping on the couch, but he’s in Dave’s bed and vaguely remembers stumbling there last night.
What the fuck, Neal thinks, because he wasn’t planning on staying the night and he did anyways, sleeping in Dave’s bed like it was his own, even after he said that he didn’t want that. He hates what it is they’re becoming, the kind of couple they’re turning into, and he hates how he wants one thing and then does another, and he hates how that makes him uncomfortable.
Dave left him a note on the end table: Out at the gym. Leftover fruit salad in the fridge. Be back at 2. And Neal thinks, Fuck that. I’m not waiting around for him until 2.
So Neal heads over to Andy’s, totally unannounced, and he thanks god that Andy’s both alone and dressed when he gets there.
“Drink a beer with me,” Neal demands.
“What?” Andy asks. “No. It’s like ten in the morning.”
“Drink a beer with me,” Neal demands again.
“Alright,” Andy says.
Neal cracks one open and feels the need to say, “David’s being weird.”
Andy just says, “Sorry, dude,” and it’s enough.
And later, when he’s halfway drunk and he and Andy have been sitting on the couch for a good few hours, Neal says, “Dave wants me to move in with him.”
Andy throws back the rest of his beer and then says, “Awesome.” When Neal doesn’t answer, he says, “Right?”
“No, it’s not fucking awesome,” Neal says. “He’s ruining everything.”
“Neal,” Andy says real slowly, “this is a good thing.”
“It’s not for us,” Neal says. “It’s not for me. He’s trying to turn me into, like, his kept bitch or something.”
“You already are his kept bitch.”
“Fuck you,” Neal says.
“Really, though?” Andy asks. “You practically live together, anyways. What’s the big deal?”
And Andy just doesn’t get it, just doesn’t get how Neal’s suddenly turning into everything he hates because Dave seems to want Neal to be something that he isn’t. It’s hard, though, because Neal likes being with Dave, likes not being alone all the time. He just doesn’t want anything more than he already has.
Thursday Night Movie Night is a tradition for them, even when they’re on tour, and Neal’s determined to keep things the way they are. He heads over to David’s because David’s got the bigger tv, and he brings Sixx, some popcorn, and an entire box of milk bones. Neal lets himself inside and calls out to Dave that he’s there, and Dave’s in the kitchen, hollering right back at him.
“I’ll be out with beer and nachos in a second,” he says. “Set up the movie? What’d you pick?” And Neal just laughs because he brought The Lone Ranger on dvd, and Dave’s not going to fucking know what to do with that.
So they lay on the couch underneath a blanket that Dave’s grandmother made for him when he was born and Neal’s a little warm, but David’s spread out on top of him, his thumb idly stroking the patch of skin on Neal’s hip from where his shirt rode up, and so Neal can’t bring himself to care.
“You could totally be the Tonto to my Lone Ranger,” Dave says sleepily after a few episodes.
“Fuck that shit,” Neal tells him. “If anyone’s Tonto, it’s you. You’re shorter and tanner.”
“Alright,” Dave says, and then he laughs. “Alright, alright, I can accept that.”
“See that you do,” Neal says, and then he nudges Dave into a seated position. “Well, I guess I’m gonna head out now.” Dave blinks.
“You’re not going to spend the night?” he asks, and he genuinely expected Neal to stay, it seems, and that thought sets Neal off again, making him go from perfectly comfortable to suddenly on edge. Neal’s not what Andy says he is. He’s not.
“Nah,” he says. “You know, I wanna—well. I haven’t been at my place for a while. C’mon, Sixx. See you later, Dave, yeah?”
And Dave stands up and says, “Yeah. Yeah, of course.” He walks Neal to the door. “Hey, Doc—everything ok?” Neal shrugs and looks down at Sixx, scratching him behind the ears so he doesn’t have to look at Dave.
“Yeah,” he says. “Top fucking notch.” He tries to make his smile look as real as possible, but he’s pretty sure that fails, so he turns to David and jokes, “Hi-yo, Silver, away!” to try to cover it up.
In the rear-view mirror, Neal watches Dave stand on his front step until he can’t see him anymore, and drives white-knuckled the entire way home.
Neal still feels weird about whatever happened last night, so when Monty calls seeing if he wanst to go out looking for headstocks, Neal jumps to say yes. Something had happened, Neal doesn’t really understand what, but Monty snapped the neck on one of his bass guitars and has decided that it would be a good undertaking to attempt to re-neck the guitar himself instead of just buying a new one. Neal gets that, gets that it’s not about the guitar so much as it is about not being bored.
“Holy. Fucking. Shit,” Monty says. “Neal? Come here.”
Neal’s all the way on the other side of the store, this real old antique music store, but he hears the tone in Monty’s voice and he knows, just knows that Monty found something good.
“Is it—?” Neal asks when he’s closer. He can barely see the guitar that Monty’s looking at—it’s in the corner and partially blocked by a stack of old drums—but he wants it to be what he thinks it is so bad, so fucking bad he can barely thing straight.
“It fucking is,” Monty says, and a part of Neal knows that they must look like idiots, standing around just staring at a guitar that neither of them have ever played, but Neal can see the headstock and part of the body and it looks just fucking like a 1955 Gretsch White Falcon and Neal can’t even believe his luck.
“I’ve been in love with that guitar since high school,” Neal says. “Since tenth fucking grade.” And of course Monty already knows that, has to know it with the way Neal and Andy go on and on and on about this guitar, but Neal still feels the need to say it again.
Neal runs his fingers down the body of the guitar. He looks it over as he lifts the guitar off the hook and it is, it is the one he’s wanted for so fucking long and everything just goes silent in the room.
Holding it—holding it is even better than just looking at it, but even that’s blown wide open by Neal playing it, feeling how it sits in his hands and on his knee as he plays.
“I have to buy this,” he says. “I don’t care how much it costs. I need it.” And maybe, if it were anyone else, they’d say, Neal, you already have nine guitars; you don’t need another one. But it’s not anyone, it’s Monty, and Monty knows music and knows Neal and just says, “It’s not even a question, dude.”
It’s an old woman named Margaret running the store, and when Neal tells her that he’s interested in the guitar, she tells him that it was her late husband’s and she had only just recently decided to sell it.
“How much?” Neal asks, and he’s prepared to drop a shit ton of money, more money than he’s spent on anything except for maybe his car.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Margaret says. Her hair is grey and flying out from where it was tucked into a bun at the top of her head. Neal thinks that she must have been real beautiful when she was younger. “How much do you think sounds fair? Twenty-five hundred?”
And Neal’s entire body just stops because—twenty-five hundred? Twenty-five hundred shouldn’t even buy him the tailpiece. Monty’s bouncing on his toes next to him and Neal knows he’s just real fucking excited, but Neal can’t. He just... can’t.
“This, um,” he says. “This guitar? Costs about seventeen thousand dollars, low end.” Monty’s head whips to the side as he looks at Neal, his wide eyes screaming, What the fuck are you doing? Neal doesn’t know, doesn’t have a fucking clue.
“Oh, honey,” Margaret says. “Of course it does.”
“But then I don’t—I don’t get why—”
Margaret just smiles at him and says, “You got something about you,” and that’s it.
In the car, Monty says, “Twenty-five hundred dollars,” and that says it all.
“Twenty-five hundred fucking dollars,” Neal says, and he sucks a lip ring in between his teeth to keep from smiling.
“You better not let Dave play it before me,” Monty says, and when Neal laughs, he says, “No, I’m serious. Hey—stop laughing! I’m fucking serious.”
Neal says, “Okay, okay, alright,” and he feels lighter than air.
Dave comes over a few days later, after all Neal’s been doing has been playing the Gretsch and and cleaning the Gretsch and tweeting photos of the Gretsch.
Dave jokes, “Should I be worried?”
Neal kisses the side of Dave’s neck and says, “No. Besides, look at that body—all white. That’s one fucking virginal-pure guitar right there.”
“Good,” Dave says. “Good.”
And they don’t really do much of anything in particular, although Dave blows Neal and Neal comes apart quickly, too quickly almost.
They lay on the couch for the next few hours, talking and not talking and just breathing.
Dave says, “If you weren’t successful musician, what would you be?”
Neal says, “A struggling musician. If you had to have a black eye, which eye would you want it on?”
“What kind of bullshit question is that?” Dave laughs, and then says, “Left, probably. I see worse out of that one anyways.”
“I have twenty-twenty. It’s a hard life.”
Dave laughs again, low and the kind that starts in his stomach, and says, “Fuck you.”
They lapse into silence and Neal feels himself falling asleep, so he stands up and stretches and says, “I think I’m going to head to bed. See you tomorrow, though?”
Dave stands up and Neal walks him to the door, and Neal can see that he’s confused, that his brow is furrowed.
“Hey, Doc?” Dave asks.
He waits a beat and then says, “Never mind.”
Once he’s gone, Neal lets Sixx out and then goes to bed.
Neal’s not doing much of anything when Kira texts him, still from the same number after all these years.
I could probably murder someone for a Panini right now, she says, and Neal knows what she wants him to say back.
Panera? I could meet you there in 20.
Kira writes, Yes, please, and Neal goes to find his shoes.
The first thing she says to him once they sit down is, “Your boy is too cute.”
Neal stares at her dumbly and says, “What?”
“Your—” she falters, obviously not knowing what world to use. “Dave. I thought he was going to bite my head off when I kissed you the other night,” she says. And there’s something in that, in your Dave, that Neal likes. He likes that Dave is his; Dave shouldn’t be anyone else’s.
“What do you mean?” Neal asks. Dave had seemed alright to him.
“Oh, you know,” she waves a hand. “The whole getting-the-same-drink-as-you thing, and the no-concept-of-personal-space-between-you-two thing. Believe me, I got the point loud and clear, not that I was looking for that.” She pauses. “Not that I would have minded, though.”
Neal says, “Shut the fuck up,” and it’s more out of embarrassment than anything else, really, because he and Kira aren’t that anymore, aren’t ever going to be that again. It makes Neal feel bad for her, although he doesn’t really have reason to.
“No, seriously though, you’re really cute together.”
Neal says, “Shut the fuck up,” again, but this time it means a whole different thing. Kira laughs and takes a sip of her drink, and Neal notices that her mouth leaves lipstick around the straw. That’s something he’s missed, somewhere deep in the back of his mind, the ladylike quality of lipstick stains. They remind him of his mother.
Kira continues to grill him about Dave under the pretense of that’s what friends do, Neal. She asks him how long they’ve been dating and Neal tells her, Since, just that one word, and she gets that what he really means is,Since you. She asks how they met and what he’s like and if he’s good in bed. Neal’s rather tight-lipped. Things are strained between him and Dave, just a little, and he doesn’t want Kira to know because it’s none of her fucking business. She takes everything the wrong way.
“No way,” she says. “Neal fucking Tiemann, you’re acting all shy and shit! I thought I’d never see the day.” And that’s not it, not even a little bit, but he lets her think that because it’s easier and steals a bite of her sandwich.
It’s a big deal, a big fucking deal, that they’re finally finished and getting to hear the final cut of their album. All five of them show up to the studio earlier than they have it booked for and they’re restless, unable to sit still. Beside him on the couch, Dave’s knee jumps up and down, up and down, but Neal can’t blame him. This is their record, their baby, and it’s all done.
They pop champagne and they don’t get drunk or anything, but they’re all moving at a hundred miles an hour anyways. Neal thinks that he can’t wait to get home, that fair is fair and it’s his turn tonight. Sex with David is always a high point in his day, but after all of this, and considering that Dave leaves for LA the next day, Neal just expects it to be unreal.
On the table, Neal’s phone buzzes with a message and Monty goes to hand it over. “Kira,” he says, then quickly follows it up with, “Shit, sorry, I didn’t mean to look.”
Neal says, “No problem, man,” but if the way Dave tensed is anything to go by, Neal thinks there might be one.
“Oh, yeah, dude, how was that?” Andy says. “My sister said she saw you two at Panera. She moving back here or something?”
“No,” Neal says. “No, just visiting some people. She still lives in California.”
“Well, fuck,” Andy says. “Tell her that if she’s—” Kyle reaches over and pinches Andy’s nipple through his shirt.
“Congratulatory titty twister!” he yells, and then makes a mad dash for the door, knocking over a couple of chairs on the way out.
Andy sprints after him screaming, “Get back here, motherfucker!” and that’s the end of that.
Dave’s quiet in the car. Neal thinks maybe he’s just ready to fuck, that maybe he’s just caught up in thinking about what he wants to do, but he’s not entirely sure.
“You alright?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Dave says. “I’m good.”
Neal says, “Alright.”
They get to Neal’s place and go inside. Neal throws himself down on the couch and Dave says, “So Kira, huh?” Neal groans.
“Nothing,” Dave says. “Never mind.”
“Don’t do that shit, Dave,” Neal says. “Kira what?” He watches Dave bite his lip and run a hand through his hair. This is not how he saw the night going.
“Move in with me,” he says.
Neal laughs, thinking he’s joking.
“Move in with me,” Dave says again.
“Dude, I—what?” Neal says. “Come on, Dave, don’t do this. Not now, come on.”
“I don’t get why we can’t just—” David says, and he doesn’t bother to finish the thought. They’ve had this conversation before, a million times before, and they both know what David is thinking and they both know what Neal is going to say.
“I just don’t want to,” Neal says. “I don’t get why that’s such a big fucking—”
“Big fucking deal?” Dave cuts in. “You don’t get why it’s such a big fucking deal? We’ve been dating for two years, Neal. We don’t get any time to ourselves on the road and I barely have any free time when I’m here, but God forbid I want to spend as much time as possible with you. God forbid I suggest we live together, Neal. God fucking forbid.”
Neal shrugs, and he’s fucking mad, mad as hell, but he says as calmly as he can, “You have a key to my apartment, you know.” Dave’s quiet for a minute and then he’s laughing one of those laughs that are really just air out of the nose more so than anything else.
“So that’s it, then?” Dave asks. “I’m just going to have a key to your apartment for the rest of my life?”
And Neal doesn’t know why, but before he even realizes it, he’s saying, “Who says I even want to be together for the rest of my life?” And it’s a stupid thing to say, a stupid fucking thing, because Neal doesn’t want anyone but David, not ever. Dave has to know that.
David’s quiet for a full minute.
“Oh,” he says. He looks dazed and deflated and he just repeats himself, “Oh.” David stands up and Neal watches him wipe his palms off on the front of his jeans.”I didn’t—didn’t realize we weren’t on the same page.” And then he’s heading out the door, saying, “Sorry, I just—I have to—sorry.”
And Neal just lets him go, watches his car back out, and he wants to say something, anything, but his mouth won’t move and then David is gone. It’s a cold night, but Neal sits on the front step for the next two hours in case David comes back.
He doesn’t, and Neal goes to bed alone.
Dave calls the next morning and Neal figures that at least that’s something.
“I just,” Dave says, “I just don’t want to fly out to LA without us figuring this out first.”
Neal says, “Okay,” and then, “I don’t—I don’t know—”
“And that’s okay,” David says, and he doesn’t sound mad or anything, just real down, real bummed out. “I just thought we were at the same place, you know? I just… thought we were both in this for the long haul, and that kind of just, um. Messed me up a bit.”
Neal wants to say, Just wait while I figure out how to do this, or maybe, This is hard for me, don’t you get that? or maybe even just, I’m trying. Instead he says, “Oh.”
“I think maybe we should take a break,” Dave says. “Just for a while, at least. I need to think things through and figure—figure everything out.” And Neal thinks that’s bullshit, such bullshit because if you actually wanted to be with someone, you’d never go on a break, because that’s basically the same as breaking up.
He’s pissed that Dave doesn’t even sound like he’s crying.
“If that’s what you want.”
Dave says, “It’s not what I want, but I don’t know what else to say.”
He hangs up and Neal goes back to bed.
When it finally hits Neal that Dave’s gone, gone and maybe not coming back, there’s this feeling in his stomach that keeps building up and threatens to spill out his throat. And Neal gets it, gets that he’s a fucking idiot, and so he calls Dave. He doesn’t really know what he’s going to say because he still doesn’t want to live together, but it turns out it doesn’t matter because Dave doesn’t answer. He waits a half an hour and then calls Dave again. No answer.
He takes a shower and brushes his teeth and then he calls Dave.
He buys beer and listens to classical music and paints his nails. He goes to sleep and he wakes up and he restrings his guitars. He gives Sixx a bath.
He calls Dave. No answer.
Neal thinks, Fuck him, that fucking bastard. Two fucking years and he screens my calls like a little bitch.
Dave’s been gone for eight days when Neal and Andy take Mr. Sixx to the dog park. It’s hot out, real sunny and shit, and Neal’s still wearing those same sunglasses from all those ages ago, the ones he thinks he accidentally stole from Kira. Neal unhooks the leash and Sixx goes off running.
Andy says, “Dave finished shooting the cover art. Says it went alright.”
Neal says, “Good,” but he doesn’t mean it, not in the slightest. There’s a lit cigarette hanging from his lips, and it bobs dangerously every time he talks.
“Have you talked to him since he left?” Andy asks.
“Neal,” Andy says, and Neal hears something in his voice that just pisses him right the fuck off.
“Don’t you fucking Neal me,” he says. “Dave’s the one avoiding me.”
“Look, it’s just.” Andy takes off his sunglasses and rubs his eyes. “We were best friends for a long time, right? A long fucking time.”
“We still are,” Neal says, and he takes drag from his cigarette.
“We’re not really, though,” Andy says. “I mean, we’re still close and everything—fuck, you’re my brother— but somewhere along the line, Dave happened, and that’s cool, I get it. I’m really, honestly, super fucking happy for you guys. It’s just, you’re going to lose more than a good fuck when you ruin whatever this is you think you have with him.”
Neal says, “I’m not ruining anything.” The sun is in his eyes and it’s hot out, really fucking hot, and Neal can feel the sweat on the small of his back and between his shoulder blades.
“Shut the fuck up, man,” Andy says. “We both know you are. If you don’t move in with Dave? That’s it; game over.”
“Shouldn’t be that way,” Neal says.
“But it is.” And Neal thinks, Fuck that, because everything’s not about what Dave wants, what Dave needs.
Neal tells him, “But I like living alone.”
Andy motions to his chest and says, “No you don’t. You don’t even like going to the dog park by yourself.”
“Well, what if I just don’t fucking want to?” Neal asks. “What if I don’t fucking want to move in with him?”
“What’s not to want?” Andy asks. He’s all calm and shit and Neal’s just sitting there, getting angry. “Look. You know him, right? Your parents love him. You stay at his place a majority of the time already. He cooks for you and fucks you at night and he loves you. What the fuck is not to want, Neal?”
And Neal doesn’t know what to say. He knows that Andy’s right; of course Andy’s right. But it’s still there, deep in his chest and the pit of his stomach and the back of his mind, this irrational fear that moving in with Dave will cause him to hate Dave, or cause Dave to hate him, or cause them both to hate each other. He licks his fingertips and puts out the cherry of his cigarette.
“Living together will change everything,” Neal says.
“I don’t think I can do it,” Neal says.
“I’ve never done it before,” Neal says.
“You’ve never been with anyone like Dave before,” Andy says, and then Sixx is there, dropping a slobbery rope into Andy’s lap, and Andy’s picking up the free end and then they’re playing tug of war and Neal’s just sitting there and sitting there and sitting there.
Kyle says to him, “You need to get out, man, come on. Let’s go to a bar.”
“Yeah,” Andy agrees. “Come on, it’ll make you feel better.” Neal doubts it will, but he goes anyways.
The place turns out to be pretty empty—for a Thursday, anyways—but Neal doesn’t mind that. He can feel his feet stick to the floor as he moves and it’s one of those things that simultaneously grosses him the fuck out and makes him feel at home. Andy buys the first round of Stroh’s.
Neal says, “You should buy every round; I’m depressed and shit.”
Andy just says, “Fuck you,” and steals one of Neal’s cigarettes. Neal lets it slide.
And he’s not having a good time, not really, but he’s having a good enough time, and that’s all that really matters. The three of them shoot a few games of pool, Neal wins a majority of them, and Kyle accidentally gets a pool cue to the nuts. It’s pretty sweet, actually, but Neal’s also pretty drunk.
Of course, every good has its bad and halfway through the night, Neal hears someone yelling, “Kyle! Yo, Kyle!” and of fucking course it’s that asshole Joey. It makes Neal’s skin crawl to think that he ever called that piece of shit his band mate, his friend. Neal slams down his bottle harder than strictly necessary.
Kyle says, “Come on, man, I get it, alright? He said some stupid shit. But he’s my friend.”
Neal ignores him and says, “I’m going outside for a smoke.”
“Don’t make me choose,” Kyle says.
Neal tells him, “I shouldn’t have to,” and leaves the table. He hears Andy’s chair drag along the floor as he backs away from the table, and Neal knows Andy’s going to follow him outside and Neal’s glad that he doesn’t need to ask him to.
They stand outside, leaning against the bricks of the wall and smoking cigarettes and the cold does nothing to sober Neal up.
“I don’t feel better,” Neal says.
Andy just says, “I know,” and Neal goes back in for more beer.
Later that night, when Kyle’s talking to Joey and Andy’s taking a piss, Neal goes against his better judgment and calls Dave. He gets Dave’s voicemail.
“I don’t get why you won’t fucking pick up your phone and it’s pissing me off,” he says. “You need to pick up because I need to tell you that—that I can’t fit into that fucking mold of yours. I need to tell you that I can’t be what you want me to be just because you want it, and that it’s pretty fucked up that you’d ask me to. And I need to fucking tell you what a huge-ass fucking pussy you are for breaking up with me and then running away to fucking California, of all fucking places. And I especially need to tell you that I fucking hate you, you sad piece of fucking shit, don’t call me back.”
An hour later, Andy takes him home, drops Neal on his bed and talks to him.
“What’s the prognosis, Doc?” he asks.
“I think—I think we might be done. Done done.”
“No, come on,” Andy says. “Don’t say that shit. It’s not true.”
But then Neal just looks at Andy, and Neal’s drunk as shit and his head is swimming and there’s this pressure building up behind his eyes that has him blinking real fast as he says, “Dave’s breaking up with me.” And Andy—Andy’s got this look on his face like it can’t be true, only it is—it is—and Neal turns over onto his side so Andy won’t see. But Andy knows him, has seen him through far worse, and so Neal’s not surprised when Andy lays down next to him, when Andy’s shoulder presses solidly into Neal’s back.
“Get some sleep, Doc,” Andy says, and Neal thinks that’s the best fucking idea he’s heard in a long while.
When Neal wakes up, he wakes up sad. Dave’s not there. Neal calls him one more time and the phone clicks over to voicemail on the second ring.
And Neal—Neal just knows that’s it, the end of him and Dave, and all of a sudden he doesn’t know what to do because he was never supposed to get to this point in the first place.
No one’s at Dave’s, of course no one’s there, and it all just feels too big and too empty to Neal. It’s hard for him at first, finding all of his things, and then after that, it’s hard to pack them away into the brand new cardboard boxes that Neal brought with him. It’s even harder to put the boxes in his car after that, but Neal manages.
He leaves his key on the kitchen table and locks the front door from the inside on his way out.
When Andy knocks on the door—and of course Neal knows it’s Andy, because who else could it be?—Neal doesn’t bother to get up to open the door. Andy has a key, and Neal knows he’ll use it.
“Hey,” Andy says once he’s inside.
“Hey,” Neal says.
Andy holds up a shopping bag and says, “I brought Cheetos.”
Neal nods, says, “Cool. There’s Fritos and Tabasco sauce in the kitchen.”
And then they just sit there, and neither of them really says anything. On tv, Maury says, You are not the father, and there’s some guy sitting real close to a woman and her child and he’s saying, I don’t care. I don’t care! Imma raise that baby like it was my own.
“No, you’re not,” Andy says to the tv. “You’re just saying that because you’re on Maury Povich.”
“You should’ve seen the last episode,” Neal tells him. “Obese babies.”
“Fuck,” Andy says. “You know those episodes are my favorite.”
“I do,” Neal says, and maybe there’s something in his voice because then Andy looks at him, just looks at him, and it makes Neal uncomfortable. He doesn’t know what to say.
“It’ll all work out in the end,” Andy tells him, and they both knows he’s not talking about Maury.
“No, it won’t,” Neal says, and the second those words are out of his mouth, he’s never been more certain of anything in his entire life. “But I’ll be okay. We’ll be okay.”
And then Neal turns back to the tv and he can feel Andy next to him, feel his body heat through his shirt sleeve, through the side of his jeans. Neal wipes the orange powder on his fingertips off onto the armrest of the chair and Maury Povich says, Until next time, America.
Neal doesn’t know what to do. He thinks about it more than he’d care to admit, but he doesn’t get any closer to deciding what to do, to deciding how and if and when he can salvage things with Dave. Neal doesn’t go out much for a few days, and showers even less. He doesn’t care; he’s not expecting visitors.
Which would explain why Neal is pretty fucking irked to be answering his door at only half past nine.
“Look,” he says, “it’s still pretty fucking early for—” and he just stops there, because what the fuck is he supposed to say to David Archuleta anyways?
“Um, hi,” Archuleta says, and he says it loudly and with such a force that Neal thinks he’s trying to make himself seem big and bad and unafraid.
“Dave’s not here,” Neal says. “LA.” He makes a move to shut the door, but Archuleta throws his hand out against the door to stop him. Neal raises an eyebrow.
“So, um, listen,” Archuleta says. “I don’t usually like, condone this type of language, but you’re being a huge jerk to Cook and you have to stop.”
“Yeah,” Neal says, unconvinced. He crosses his arms over his chest. “That’s really none of your business.”
“Well, um, it is my business because he’s one of my best friends,” Archuleta says. Neal almost laughs.
“Look, you’re like, what? Sixteen?”
“That’s great and all,” Neal says calmly, “but you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, and you’ve never been in my shoes, so if you could just shut the fuck up—”
And then Archuleta has the guts to cut him off. Neal’s impressed. Honestly.
“No, how about you just—you just shut up, okay?” Archuleta says. “So what you’re a big musician. So what you travel the world and don’t have a nine to five job and don’t have to worry about money or any of that stuff. I hate to have to be the one to, you know, break it to you, but you’re still an adult. And adults sometimes have to do things that they don’t want to do for the people they love. And if you love Cook? You’ll just grow up and move in with him because he loves you and he would never want anything bad for you. So, um. Grow up.”
And Neal—Neal has no fucking clue what to say to that because he wasn’t expecting it, not one little bit. So he just stands there and tries to figure out what just happened, but he can’t because this is the kid Andy was making fun of ages ago—That’s David Archuleta, bro, Andy had said. Body of a twelve-year-old, voice of an angel—and yet Archuleta’s got his shit together better than Neal has.
“Grow up, Neal,” Archuleta says again, and that snaps Neal right out of his reverie.
“Get off my fucking doorstep,” Neal says. He’s got no patience for this shit, and Archuleta backs away like a shot.
“Look, hey, um,” he says. “Don’t um, hate me? Because I think you’re really cool, really, but like, just not when you’re making Cook cry. Just, um. Think about everything.”
And then he’s gone, back to his car or wherever the fuck he came from, and Neal’s left standing there and standing there and standing there.
Archuleta said he made Cook cry.
Neal slams the door.
Neal stares at himself in the mirror. It’s fogged up from his shower and even though he wiped it off, it’s still hard to make his face out.
“Figure your shit out,” he says to himself. “Figure it out.”
Later that day, Andy calls and Neal lets it click over to voicemail.
“Hey, so, Dave comes back tomorrow morning, at like eleven, and I know you have all his flight information, so if you’re not busy, well. The guys and I were wondering if you’d go pick him up? Besides that, guess who I saw at—” And Neal knows that Andy can’t hear him, but he yells at the machine anyways.
“I’m still trying to figure everything out, you piece of shit!” he says.
“—I guess, and that’s about it. So whatever, call me back. Bye.”
The next morning, Neal wakes up at eight and showers and takes care of Sixx and makes breakfast. He knows it takes him forty minutes to get to the airport; he’s got plenty of time to decide.
Nine o’clock rolls around; Neal’s not going.
Nine fifty-six, Neal’s definitely not going.
Ten fourteen and Neal’s grabbing his jacket and racing out the door.
By the time Neal gets to the airport, he’s early and Dave’s flight hasn’t landed yet and Neal paces the arrivals gate waiting. Standing to the side, he sees a man dressed in a suit holding a sign that reads, D. Cook. Neal stares at it, and it’s only five letters, that’s it, and yet they make Neal’s stomach clench and make him feel sick.
When David finally walks out, he’s wearing a hat and his glasses, and carrying a yoga mat. For a second Neal thinks that’s fucking ridiculous, but then he pushes the thought aside because he has other things to worry about.
“I didn’t know if you were going to come or not,” Dave says, walking up to him. “I called a car service.”
“I know,” Neal says. “I saw.” They start walking to the baggage claim and neither of them says anything to the driver a few feet away. There are tons of people milling about and they all race past him and Dave, and watching them makes Neal feels like he’s moving through jell-o.
“So why are you here?” Dave asks. “Is anything different, or are we still where we left off?”
“No. Maybe. You can’t—you can’t fucking—just fuck you, Dave,” Neal gets out, and maybe it doesn’t make much sense to other people, but it makes sense to him and it sure as hell makes sense to Dave and that’s really all that matters.
David crosses his arms. “Can we not do this in the middle of the airport?”
“I don’t know—if I call you later to talk about it, will you actually pick up?” Neal says, and David doesn’t say anything back. The conveyor belt starts moving, but the bags come out slowly and so they just stand there, each of them silently fuming, and Neal hates what they’ve become.
“Leave me when I’m yours, right, Dave?” Neal asks. “Cause you don’t want me anymore?” And it’s a cheap shot, Neal knows that, but he’s not above cheap shots, not when he’s feeling like this.
“Oh, fuck you,” Dave says. “Just fuck you. What are you even doing here if you’re going to be like this?”
Neal runs a hand through his hair angrily and says, “You don’t—you just don’t fucking get it, Dave. This is hard for me. All this stuff that you want from me? It’s hard, and I don’t know if I can give it to you, but I’m trying, I’m fucking trying, and you just don’t see that.”
“If it’s so fucking hard, then why bother?” Dave asks. “Huh?”
“Why bother?” Neal asks, and he’s pissed, so fucking pissed. “Why bother, Dave? Because I fucking love you, you asshole. Don’t you get it?”
“But you—you—” Dave says, and for a second it’s clear from his face that he wasn’t expecting to hear that. He scowls. “You can’t just say that and expect everything to go back to how it was. It doesn’t work like that.”
“Oh shut the fuck up,” Neal says, because that shit’s not easy for him to say and Dave’s taking everything the wrong way. “Look. I came because I had something to tell you.”
“What?” He sounds worn out.
“I’ve stopped renting my apartment,” Neal says, and he doesn’t know what he was expecting—maybe David to be happy or something—but whatever it was, this isn’t it.
“Oh,” David says, and he doesn’t sound excited or happy or anything. “You stopped renting your apartment.”
“Yeah,” Neal says, and he shoves his hands as deep into the pockets of his denim jacket as they’ll go.
David pauses for a minute, and he looks out at the suitcases going by and grabs one before he says, “So, where are you going?” Neal blinks. Didn’t he just explain that? Didn’t he just fucking tell David everything?
“Were you not just fucking listening to me?” Neal asks, incredulously.
“Oh, my bad,” Dave says. “My apologies that you make less than zero sense. It’s my fault.”
Neal decides to try again and says, “Where I live kind of… depends.”
“I don’t know,” Neal says. “On whether or not you’re still in the market for a live-in pool boy.”
David says, “Really?” but he sounds more skeptical than anything.
Neal hesitates for a second, and he realizes that this is his one chance to back out, to stop fucking with whatever it was that Dave and he had, but still he says, “Really.”
And then Dave’s smiling, small and with not enough teeth, and saying, “Yeah, I’m in the market. Yeah. Yeah, of course.” And Neal doesn’t really know where that leaves him, but he knows he’s moving in with Dave and that scares the shit out of him.
He says, “Don’t let me fuck this up, okay?”
Dave says, “You couldn’t.”
“I almost did.”
Dave shakes his head. “I love you, too.”
Neal reaches forward and curls his fingers through Dave’s belt loops and pulls him closer, leaning in to kiss him. The angle is a little awkward because Dave’s still got his baseball hat on, but Neal makes do and it’s only been a few days, really, but it feels like forever since they last kissed.
And then there’s a flash going off around them, and Neal feels like a fucking idiot because he just outed Dave in a fucking airport of all places. He and Dave plow through the cameras and the people and head to the main door and Dave’s asking, “Where’d you park?” He reaches his fingers into Neal’s front pocket to grab Neal’s keys and then he’s walking away, leaving Neal to follow him, dazed and confused, wondering what it will be like when Dave gets back to his house and has the time and the privacy to finally start freaking out.
The drive home is quiet, neither of them really saying anything, and Neal is twelve different types of tense. He looks over at Dave every once in a while, whenever he thinks he can get away with it; Dave looks exactly the same and completely different all at once.
When Dave unlocks the door to his house, he freezes. It’s weird for Neal, too, being in there and not seeing any of his stuff. He flinches because he had forgotten. Dave puts his bag down and just stares at Neal. It makes Neal uncomfortable because he doesn’t know what Dave’s thinking, and he shoves his hands deep in his pockets to keep from squirming.
“You moved out,” Dave says.
“But now you’re moving in?” he asks. Neal’s teeth worry one of his lip rings, pulling it in and out, in and out of his mouth.
“Yeah.” Neal doesn’t know what else to say.
David walks forward, backs Neal up against the wall and kisses him slow and sweet. “Okay,” he says when he pulls back. “Yeah, okay,” and Neal reads so much into that, gets so much out of it that he doesn’t know what’s real and what he’s just assuming, what he’s just projecting his own feelings onto. Dave places his palms underneath Neal’s shirt, on his stomach, and Neal’s just missed that so fucking much that he almost can’t breathe.
They go to the bedroom and take off each other’s clothes with shaking hands and rushed movements and Neal thinks this feels more like a first time than any other firsts he’s ever had. He runs his hands over Dave’s chest, his arms and his shoulder blades, and he feels like he’s rediscovering something, remembering something from a million years ago.
“You want to, or—?” Neal asks.
“You, you,” Dave says. “You.” His voice is ragged and it tears Neal up inside. And when Dave says, “Fuck, I’ve missed this,” Neal doesn’t bother biting back the “Missed you,” that leaves his mouth.
Afterwards, when they’re both lying there languid and content, Neal says, “I’m sorry. About the airport.” And he really is, is the thing, because he knows that Dave has it so much harder than he does, that no one gives a shit about Neal Tiemann but that everyone needs to know when the American Idol decides he’s gay.
“I don’t care,” Dave says.
“Really?” It’s dark in the room, and Neal can’t make out Dave’s face.
“Neal,” Dave says. “It’s you,” and Neal doesn’t get what Dave means by that, but he also feels like it’d be wrong to ask.
“Okay,” he says instead.
And later, when he’s about to fall asleep, Dave says, “You don’t have to move in if you don’t want to.”
“I want to be with you,” Neal says, and his voice is thick with sleep.
“I’ll take whatever I can get with you, Neal Tiemann. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to. So long as you’re with me.”
“I want to,” Neal says, and Dave snorts in a way that means he doesn’t find it funny, not one bit. “Hey, I do,” Neal says. “I’m just scared.” And then just like that, it’s out in the open and Neal feels a million times lighter. He’d never voiced that, was too proud to, but this is Dave and Dave has never cared about that sort of thing, not ever, not a once.
“I’m just scared,” Neal says again, because he can.
“Me too,” David says, and he doesn’t try to comfort Neal, or tell him that everything will be okay, or that they’ll be okay, or anything like that. And that, in and of itself, means the world to Neal.
He falls asleep sometime before Dave, he thinks, although he’s not sure.
They have this little get-together once Neal’s all moved in, and it’s kind of like a housewarming party except for how the house has already been warmed because Neal’s essentially and unofficially been living there since Dave bought it. The only difference now is that Sixx has a bed there and there’s a whole new army of guitars next to Dave’s, and how Neal leaves his stuff in the bedroom closet and not just all over the rest of the house like before.
Kyle is there, and he brought Hayden, who’s content to play videogames against Monty and eat pizza and ice cream with Monty and don’t tell your dad I’m giving you this soda, too, okay Hayden? Okay?
And then Andy shows up, and the first thing he tells Neal is, “I bought you two champagne as like, congratulations or whatever, but I drank it. Figured I deserved it after all the shit you put me through.” And that last part—that part’s true, and Neal feels bad because he understands now that he and Dave are not an entity separate from the rest of the band. He and Dave are the band, and so are Andy and Kyle and Monty, and whatever happens to one of them happens to all of them.
Neal opens his mouth to apologize, but Andy cuts him off, saying, “No, don’t you fucking dare.” And then he pushes past Neal and into the house, and Neal can hear him saying, “Monty, Hayden? Monty? I better still be your favorite. Somebody give me a controller so I can show this kid how it’s done.”
And even Andrew shows up, drives the hour and a half from wherever he was just to rag on Neal.
“Neal fucking Tiemann,” he says. “Living in sin with my brother!”
Dave rolls his eyes, says, “Shut up, Andrew,” and Neal doesn’t understand why, but Dave looks embarrassed.
“Correction,” Neal says, holding up his beer can and pointing one finger and Andrew. “We are living in a lot, a lot, of sin.”
Andrew pulls a face and Dave laughs, and out in the living room the rest of his band—his family—is screaming at the television, all Rematch! Rematch! and Yeah, Hayden! High five, buddy!
They all leave pretty early, but Neal doesn’t mind, especially because the following day is the start of their new tour. He and Dave clean up the mess and then he and Dave take a shower and then he and Dave go to sleep, in one bed, under one roof, together.