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Shake The Sheets

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Nate's place is at the east end of the second floor. Brad's only been here for two days and he'll only stay for a third, but he knows that you have to lift up on the doorknob to gain entrance into the apartment, and he doesn't pause before kicking off his shoes and scraping his toes down his ankle until he can shake his sock off. He does the same for the other foot, then pads into the kitchen -- 'kitchen' is being generous, seeing as how it's as big as a shower stall -- and stops short.

Nate is sitting at the dining table, studiously reading. This is normal. What isn't normal is what's  on  the table.

It's a goddamn cake.

Brad eyes Nate warily. Neither of them say anything.

There's a knife lying next to the cake, but Brad silently reaches out and swipes his index finger right through the middle, gouging a hole in the frosting about the length of a cigarette. He glances at Nate to gauge his reaction, but Nate is still focused on reading his apparently scintillating textbook.

Without taking his eyes off Nate, Brad contemplatively sucks the frosting off his finger.

"I don't know if I'm getting the tradition right, but I think you're supposed to put a candle in it before doing that," Nate says, still without looking up.

"I never told you my birthday," Brad finally says.

Nate just shrugs as he highlights a few lines of text.

"I'm sure there are way more important things to allocate your memory for," Brad says. He wipes his finger on his shirt and then nudges his thumb underneath the front cover of Nate's book to pinch the pages together, briefly flipping it up to see a glimpse of the title. "For example, Japan's international policies from 1940 through 1990," he finishes, letting the book fall open again. The hardcover makes a dull noise against the table, reminiscent of years and years of being herded like sheep through the California public school system. Brad almost falls asleep immediately at the sound of it, like some kind of Pavlovian response.

Nate highlights something else, then finally looks up. His eyes are bright, cheeks still a bit wind-chapped and red. Running is something they do separately. Nate wakes up at ass o'clock because he likes feeling like he's in a fucking Gatorade commercial or something, and is usually showered and settled by the time Brad gets back.

"I've memorized a lot of things that we would both deem unnecessary, but we'll have to disagree about this one. I think it's pretty necessary."

Brad snorts. "Waste of your own time and brain space."

He feels Nate watching him when he goes to take another swipe out of the cake. From the side this time, ruining the tiny ridges that are etched into it and scoring several almond flakes in the process. He chews them slowly with his front teeth.

Nate turns a page in his book.

"So what kind of unnecessary things do you have memorized?" Brad asks, finally dragging out the chair adjacent to Nate's. He picks up the knife and fists it in his hand, Michael Myers style, with the end pointing straight down.

"Well, I know when Person got his first blowjob, and exactly how many stains there were on that picture of Reporter's girlfriend when it finally made its way back to him," Nate answers, then says, "Jesus, Brad, don't kill the cake." He pushes two plates toward Brad, the second one nudging the first with a small  clink  of porcelain.

Brad grunts, but adjusts the angle. He hesitates for a fraction of a second, just processing the scene in his mind. Sitting at a kitchen table on his birthday, about to cut a cake that Nate had bought for him; Nate watching him placidly, his hand curled around a pen that's hovering over his notes. The tiles are cold under Brad's feet, with that early morning dampness still clinging to them. He doesn't have to look to know that Nate is awkwardly sitting cross-legged in his chair, feet tucked under his thighs.

"Getting me a cake was really, really gay," Brad says. He makes a solid cut lengthwise, then cuts it into thirds widthwise.

"I know."

"I hate it when people do stuff for me," Brad says.

Nate scrapes his chair back and heads to the coffee machine. "I know."

Brad dumps a piece of cake onto each of the plates just as Nate returns to his chair and places two full cups of coffee on the table. With one smooth motion, Brad puts the knife down, digs out another chunk of frosting with his finger, and leans in to smear it over Nate's mouth. He places his hand on the back of Nate's chair for balance and closes in the rest of the way to lick the frosting off, almost as quickly as he'd put it there in the first place.

"Happy birthday," Nate says, muffled, trying not to laugh against Brad's mouth.

Brad grabs Nate's chin with his hand, getting more frosting all over his jaw, and kisses him again in response.