"So I'm going to take the job in San Francisco."
It shouldn't have been a surprise. It couldn't have been a surprise. Patrick had already extended his vacation by a couple days and he'd heavily implied he was looking forward to being back in the city. But Richie still stared at him a little while before responding.
"You're going to ask me to stay."
"No," said Patrick quickly, and wished they were doing this somewhere more private than the middle of a sidewalk. But the moment had come upon them and the words had just come. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I wish you were staying. But I'm not going to ask."
"So, what, you just want me to offer? You're going to put it on me? I told you. I told you I can't...."
"No, no," said Patrick, shaking his head. "I'm saying this all wrong. I'm saying I'm coming here for me, and I know you need to go to Texas for you. I get it. I don't want to stop you."
They'd been avoiding talking about this, living in a bubble where someone's imminent departure was barely even acknowledged, let alone discussed. They'd made just one promise to each other the night of the wedding, an unspoken promise but a promise all the same: that they would try. The shape of that trying had yet to be determined.
"And if I decide I want to stay in Texas for good?"
"I'll take that chance," said Patrick. "I know you can't go away already thinking you're going to come back. That's hardly better than not leaving. We'll figure it out."
"You'll take that chance," said Richie flatly.
"So will you take a chance on me?"
Richie almost smiled. "You're not going to start singing are you?"
"I don't know. I might. I'm back in San Francisco now. That automatically makes me about fifty-five percent gayer. ABBA comes with the territory."
"Fifty-five percent?" said Richie. "Is that, like, the exact figure? Seems a little low."
"I was pretty gay to begin with, but it works with what it's got."
Richie shook his head and looked down, but he was definitely smiling. "We work with what we've got," he said. "All right." He exhaled slowly. "So I guess we should talk about what that means."
In his head, Patrick was looking at six months. In six months, they would know whether or not Richie was going to want to come back to San Francisco, or whether he would be moving to Texas, or whether both of them would be going somewhere else entirely. Or they would know if it was going to work out, but he wasn't counting that in his list of possibilities, not yet. He refused.
"Let's just figure it out as we go," said Patrick. "Can we do that?"
"I don't know, can you?"
"Didn't you hear? I'm a grown up now," said Patrick. "I can do anything."
"Hmm," said Richie, but he was still smiling. "I'm probably going to leave in a couple weeks. You know that, right? You get that?"
"I get that," said Patrick. "Go. Start fresh. Figure out what you're all about when your past isn't in your face all the time."
"Yeah, exactly," said Richie, and a moment later he gave Patrick a slight but definite nod.
The first time they tried the skype thing, Patrick was still in Denver, most of his belongings in cardboard boxes and his subletter due to drop by in an hour. The paperwork had been submitted and the money had been transferred. It was a done deal.
"Come on," said Richie. "Show me."
Patrick looked at the door, making sure the chain was on, then back at the screen. "This feels weird."
"Why? You've done this before."
"Not like this," said Patrick. It felt different. It felt important. He was safe sex's biggest fan, and he was generally pretty sex-positive these days, but still. This was what it was going to be now, for the foreseeable future. This was their life. This had to be good, and what was he going to do if it wasn't? They had already committed to this, they had already decided how it was going to be. It was a lot of pressure.
He was really probably overthinking this.
Richie tilted the camera downward, and any thoughts of this possibly not being good flew out of Patrick's head. He stripped off his boxers in short order, trying to get comfortable and finally kneeling with his tablet propped up against his pillow.
"Okay, I like that," said Richie, and started stroking his cock. The way the camera was positioned, and the way Patrick was sitting, he could only see from Richie's mouth down to his thighs, was focused on the way his lips were parted, the way his tongue darted out, the way his hand moved on his cock.
"I think I could come just from watching you."
"Well don't," said Richie. Patrick watched him shape the words. "I want to watch you too."
"This might actually be some heretofore unknown kink," said Patrick, spreading his knees and touching himself tentatively. It shouldn't have been harder with no one else actually in the room with him. He'd done that plenty of times.
"If we're lucky," said Richie, his voice catching as he stroked himself a little harder. "After all, there might be a lot of this for the next while."
Patrick didn't ask if Richie might reconsider the move. He promised himself he wouldn't do that, and he'd managed to keep that promise so far. He was actually happy, even with the distance, and he wasn't going to fuck that up.
They were together for just two days—two sweaty, sex-filled days—before Richie left, early in the morning so they wouldn't have to prolong their goodbyes. Neither of them were particularly good at those, Patrick especially. It was short and sleepy and not messy, and that was the best anyone could hope for, all things considered.
The next few weeks they got a lot more solo practice in. Patrick was going to be a cinematographer before this was over.
He'd never be sorry he went to Denver, even if it had been running, but being back in San Francisco was the right decision too. He missed his friends. He needed his friends. And it all felt fresh again, like he was seeing it all with new eyes and a new appreciation. Like he had shed some of his sins over the past year.
"So how's the wrist?" said Agustín. "Ready for some intensive physical therapy yet?
"Fuck you," said Patrick. "Are you going to order or not?"
"Are you saying there are problems in the bedroom already? Do tell, Paddy. Uncle Agustín is all ears."
Patrick looked significantly at the waiter, who had been standing there waiting for at least a minute already, until Agustín ordered a Greek salad and shoo-ed him away.
"My sex life is fine thank you very much. And none of your business. And…" Patrick sighed. "Okay, God, yes, I'm on the verge of asking for some ice. It's killer trying to hold a phone and get off at the same time. Why didn't anyone tell me?"
"Because your smarter and more attractive friends actually keep their lovers in the bedroom."
"Don't remind me," said Patrick." You don't know how many times I've wanted to ask him to come home."
"But you haven't?"
"He needs this, and I need him to have this. I don't want us to have, you know, any regrets or resentments."
"Don't move to Texas, Paddy. That's all I'm saying. Denver was bad enough, but Texas?"
Patrick waved a hand in his general direction, like Agustín was a pesky insect buzzing around in his face. "What's that saying about the caged bird?"
"That it sings?"
"The other one," said Patrick. "You know. If you love something set it free."
"Fine," said Agustín. "But if you think we really coming to visit you in Texas...."
"Lots of bears in Texas," said Patrick. "Who knows? It might be your promised land."
"Bite your tongue," said Agustín. "Besides, I'm a married man now. You won't, though, right?" Patrick shrugged and sipped his water. "We just got you back, Paddy. We don't want to let you go again."
"If you love something...."
"We already did that. We set you free, little bird, and you came back to us. By your logic, that means you're ours forever now, no takebacks."
"I never said...shit, I did say that, didn't I?" said Patrick, and grinned at him. "It doesn't matter anyway. We're not there yet. We're still happy with things the way they are."
"So things are good? Tendonitis aside?"
"Things are good," said Patrick. "And that's all you need to know about my sex life, so don't traumatize our waiter, he's coming back and I'm hungry."
"Yeah, hungry for—" Patrick cut him off, but Agustín still made a very clear hand gesture. "Fine, but I'm getting you drunk this weekend and then I'm getting more details out of you."
"You go ahead and try," said Patrick, and really hoped the waiter had only spit in Agustín's food and not both of them as he dug into his lunch.
"So wait, what are you saying? I mean, he actually...with the cowboy boot?"
"In the cowboy boot," said Richie. "And no, I'm not mistaking porn for real life. I swear to God."
"I wish I'd seen it," said Patrick. "I'm still not sure I believe you."
"I wish I hadn't seen in," said Richie, "and if you make me think about it any more we're definitely not having sex tonight."
"Well, we're not actually having sex anyway."
"You don't think this is sex? This thing, that we're doing?"
"I don't know," said Patrick, adjusting the tablet a little bit so that Richie had a clear view of just his face. "I mean, is it really sex if I'm not touching you?"
"What would you call it, then? This thing where I'm sexy and you're sexy and we get each other off. It's not sex? What is it?"
"Okay, it's sex," said Patrick. "I'm just saying...I'm just saying...."
"That you want to fuck me."
"That I really want to fuck you," said Patrick, and let out a breathy laugh. "Or you could fuck me. Whatever. I just want to...feel you. I want your hands on me. I want your mouth on me. I want...I want."
"Damn, Patrick," said Richie, then fell silent. Patrick could hear him breathing, hear his hands moving against his body. "You're making this hard."
"Double entendre intended?"
"Shut up," said Richie, breathing becoming even louder, or maybe Patrick was suddenly intensely focused on it. "Just shut up."
Storytime was clearly over, and Patrick was totally okay with that. It might have been his own hands he felt, but it was unmistakably Richie that he was with.
"Regretting not going to Austin now?" said Patrick, as Richie gave a rundown of his daily clientele. He was fully dressed for once, and looked too exhausted to even make a cursory attempt at sex. This was when they should have been on a weatherbeaten sofa together, feet up and bodies pressed side by side.
"No, It's fine here," said Richie. "It's different."
"And there's enough of a gay community?"
"There are gay people everywhere," said Richie. "Hell, there are even gay people in Denver, apparently."
"Ouch, okay, I deserved that," said Patrick. "And you family is...?"
"Better than my dad? Is that what you're asking?"
"Well, I wasn't going to ask it quite like that, but..."
"Yeah, my cousins are good," said Richie. "My cousin Carlos, I've been getting to know him. We only met a couple of times before, when we were kids. He's been taking me out, helping me get settled in here."
"No," said Richie. "But he knows and he doesn't care. All of them probably know, but we don't talk about it. Except with Carlos, we talk about it sometimes. We talk about a lot of stuff."
"It sounds nice," said Patrick. "And you're feeling pretty settled now?"
"Yeah, I am," said Richie. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
"It's a good thing," said Patrick. "Really, it is. I was kind of...I was worried you might be lonely, there. I'm glad you're not."
"You were worried I might be lonely?"
"Why is that so hard to believe? You left everything you knew behind to head out there and have a clean slate. When I left, I was going back to a place I knew, a place I felt safe. You were...this is really brave. And yeah, okay, I was worried you might be lonely."
"I'm a little lonely," admitted Richie, "but it's a good kind of lonely. It's space to breathe."
"And are you?"
"Yeah," said Patrick. "Are you breathing?"
"Yeah," said Richie, and laughed a little. "It feels good. Everything here is new, you know? Even the stuff that's familiar is new."
The only reason Patrick didn't bite his lip at that was because Richie could see his face. For a moment he missed old fashioned phone calls. And texting. They hid so much. He was pretty sure his uncertainty still showed, but at least there was nothing specific to call him on.
"So tell me about it, then. Have you been horseback riding yet?"
"What?" said Richie, laughing again. "You know I'm in a city, right?"
"So?" said Patrick. "It's Texas. Doesn't everyone ride horses there? Isn't that a, you know, thing? Don't they give you a test at the border or something?"
"They let me into the state without proving I can ride a horse," said Richie. "I haven't even seen a horse yet."
"You need to talk to cousin Carlos about that. I'm pretty sure you're missing something pretty fundamental in your Texas acclimation there."
"Yeah, maybe," said Richie. "Maybe I will. Maybe I'll send pictures."
"You do that," said Patrick.
"As long as you promise not to show everyone else."
"I won't lie to you," said Patrick. "I can't make that promise. I would show everyone I know that picture. I would post it on my instagram. Twice."
"Twice," said Richie, grinning at him. "You sure you could still love me after that?"
"Pretty sure," said Patrick. "Almost positive."
This time he was glad Richie could see his face. It was saying everything he wasn't.
"Here, try this," said Dom, holding a forkful up to Patrick's face as they sat at his kitchen table. "So are you still doing this thing?"
Patrick had to chew and swallow before he could answer.
"It's only been four months," he said. "What do you mean 'still'?"
"Tell me what you think of the sauce first."
"It's good," said Patrick. "Did you think we were going to give up that easily?"
"What does 'it's good' mean?"
"It's good means it's good," said Patrick. "I'm not sure how much clearer I can be."
"Fine," said Dom, taking another bite himself, then jotting something down on a scrap of paper. "I didn't think you were going to give up, I just thought...."
"You thought what?" said Patrick. "What did you think?"
"I thought one of you would have given in by now. Long distance is a rough road."
"It's not about giving in," said Patrick. "We're not...it's not like that. We're not being stubborn."
"We're not," insisted Patrick. "Things are going well for him out there, and things are going well for me here. It's not what we would have expected, but it's what it is."
"Well, that's very pragmatic of you."
"Also skype sex is surprisingly hot."
"Ah, there it is," said Dom. "Still, it can't be better than in person, can it? I know you better than that."
"Of course not," said Patrick. "But it's...definitely satisfactory."
"Satisfactory, hm," said Dom. "And what does satisfactory mean?"
"What are we doing here, writing a dictionary?" said Patrick. "Satisfactory means I have no complaints, not at all. I know he's in Texas for the foreseeable future, but we're still...."
"In a relationship," said Patrick. "It's actually kind of amazing. We tell each other everything now. I don't know why it's easier than it used to be, but it's like...I don't even know. It's more intimate. We're more comfortable. I don't bullshit him."
"Okay, try it now," said Dom, holding the fork up again. "I added something."
"What? Okay," said Patrick, eating it right from Dom's hand. "It's...good. I honestly can't tell the difference."
"Philistine," said Dom. "So it's actually better long distance?"
"It's different," said Patrick. "You know how badly I fucked things up before. It's...giving each other this space but still being together is working for us, I think. For now. I haven't fucked it up again yet, anyway, so that's something."
"I'm not doubting you, I'm just curious," said Dom. "You should do what works for you. And then you can write a book about the joys of skype sex. Is there a word for that? Something like sexting? Cybersex sounds way too 90s."
"Just skype sex, I think," said Patrick. "Maybe I should coin one."
"For your book."
"Fuck off," said Patrick, grinning at him. "So to answer your question, yes, we're still doing this thing."
"Fuck," said Patrick, jerking himself so hard he was barely even looking at the screen anymore. It didn't matter. The visual of Richie with his knees up, fucking himself on his fingers and then on a fake cock, was burned into his brain forever. Not just the act itself but the slick of sweat on Richie's thighs, the paler skin where his fingers gripped it too tightly, the angle of his throat and the sweet, desperate look on his face. He would have that forever.
"Oh God, oh fuck," said Richie, smacking sounds and the creak of his bed following, and Patrick spilled over his fingers, hot and sticky, his heart beating in his throat and his eyes pressed closed as he rode out the wave of it.
They flew open again the moment he came back to himself, locked on Richie's body again. He touched the screen with one fingertip and left a smear on it, but he didn't care. It was like a piece of him was there and that was enough. His fingerprint was on Richie's body.
Richie came with a muffled, choked cry, trying to be quiet but failing. Patrick could see his body contract and tremble, see his chest shake with heaving breaths. He was still a little quivery himself, and they came down together, breathing slowing, bodies relaxing again.
It was quiet, comfortably quiet, for a long while after that.
"I miss you," said Richie finally, looking away from the screen, and Patrick struggled to say anything at all.
"Wait, hang on, let me get comfortable," said Patrick, pulling his shirt off over his head. "Things ran late at the office. We're supposed to deliver a rough model on Monday, but—"
"No don't," said Richie. "I want to talk to you and I can't…Patrick put you shirt back on. I need to say something."
It turned out Patrick had been almost dead on with his timeline. Six months, two weeks, and four days, and here it was. The big decision.
"I'll be honest," he said when Richie didn't continue right away, "I was kind of hoping if I kept getting naked I could keep you from telling me to pack my things for Texas."
"You'd still do that? You'd come?"
"I said I would," said Patrick. "I told you a long time ago I would. But I have to admit right this second is not an ideal time. We could...just until we finish this project. I don't want to leave the team in a lurch."
"You were a little drunk when you said you'd come," said Richie. "I wasn't sure. And things have changed
"Yeah, sure," said Patrick. "But not that. I said it and I meant it and I still mean it. I love you, okay? Still."
"Yeah, okay," said Richie. Then, after a moment, "Hold off on the packing."
"In the good way or the bad way?" Patrick's heart was suddenly pounding, and he had to focus to make sure he was catching everything Richie was saying because even if those words were 'It isn't working', he needed to hear them correctly.
"Carlos is moving to Austin next month," said Richie. "He's lived here his whole life. He said he needs to get out and experience something else. And how could I argue with that?"
"So, Austin then," said Patrick. Austin wouldn't be bad. Lots of opportunities in Austin. Really good gay scene.
"Because I was right. Coming here was the right thing to do. Meeting new people. Seeing new places. Getting to know family the way I have. I needed this."
"I could tell," said Patrick. "You've seemed...good. Really good."
"You too," said Richie. "You've seemed really good. And things are going really well for you there, right? With this project, and you said you have more stuff in the pipeline, good stuff."
"So what are we saying, then?" said Patrick. "I'm not sure what we're saying here. You don't want me to come to Austin?"
"I'm not going to Austin," said Richie, smiling at him like he was indulging an idiot he was inexplicably fond of. "Carlos is moving to Austin. Me....I'm ready now, Patrick."
"You're...what?" said Patrick. "You're ready?"
"I got what I needed, here," said Richie, "and I know what I have there. When Carlos goes, I go."
"Idiot," said Richie, kissing his fingertips and pressing them to the screen. "You stay put. I'm coming home."