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Drastic Maneuvers

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“Oh my God, I’m so ugly,” Zach whines. “So, so ugly.” He’s staring at himself in the bathroom mirror, supposedly getting ready to go out for the night but really just staring. “We can’t go out. I can never go out again. Not like this.”

“Shut up, it’s not that bad.” Jesse comes up behind him and presses a soft kiss to his neck. “Anyway, you weren’t this upset about it last time. Or the time before. Why now?”

“Because I’m old now,” Zach says. Jesse rolls his eyes and walks over to hang his damp towel on the rack. Zach watches through the reflection in the mirror and when Jesse doesn’t contradict him (why isn’t he contradicting him!?) Zach starts to make low whimpering noises. Hearing the whine as only a dog can, Noah runs into the room and barks at Zach.

Zach drops to his knees and runs his hands through Noah’s fur. “You still love me, don’t you, boy? Don’t you? You don’t care that I’m ugly now.” Zach looks up at Jesse as he walks past, heading back out of the bathroom. “Go on without me,” he says melodramatically. “Noah will keep me company in my infirmity.”

Jesse nudges Zach in the side with his toes, not hard enough to hurt but just hard enough to knock him off balance. “I’m going to get dressed. And then you’re going to get dressed. And then I’m leaving, and you’re coming and you’re going to smile and laugh and be charming no matter how bad you look.”

“You admit it!” Zach screeches. “You admit that I look hideous.” He sticks a long leg out to kick or trip Jesse, but Jesse has enough grace to hop (twirl) over it and land unscathed.

“Get up!” he says to Zach in a scolding tone. Then he walks away, into their bedroom.

Zach makes a face at Jesse’s back and then looks at Noah, who tilts his head quizzically. “You really are the only one left who loves me, Noah.”

Jesse sighs deeply, but it’s the sort of sigh that’s really just trying to mask a chuckle. He starts rifling through the closet, throwing two piles of clothes on the bed, one for him and one for Zach. “My boyfriend is a drama queen.”

“I don’t understand why you don’t appreciate the gravity of the situation,” Zach calls, still sulking on the bathroom floor. “You’re the one who has to be seen in public with me. What will your friends say? What will your family say?”

He waits a minute, but Jesse doesn’t respond. Another long minute passes and Zach starts to feel the emptiness of not having someone to constantly pay attention to him and humor him in his anguish. He wonders if Jesse really has decided to go out without him. What a jerk.

He waits another few seconds before finally calling out “Jesse?” He scoots forward towards the bathroom door, not yet willing to stand up and walk when he’s in the depths of despair, but also curious as to why Jesse isn’t responding anymore. He looks at the dog that has sprawled out on the bathroom floor next to him. “Noah, go find Jesse.” Noah perks his ears at his name but then droops them back down and closes his eyes.

Zach sighs and pushes himself up off the floor. “Some help you are,” he chides. He takes a moment to rub the top of Noah’s head so he’ll know Zach isn’t really mad. After all these years Noah’s getting old, and taking care of Zach’s neuroses is hard even for a dog. Zach wanders out into the bedroom. The piles of clothes are still on the bed, so he knows Jesse hasn’t left, but Jesse isn’t there. He goes out into the hall and down to the living room, but still no Jesse.

“Jesse?” he calls again. “Did you leave me because I’m so ugly?”

“Yes,” Jesse replies, laughing. “I left you and ran off to the far away land of down the hall. How did you ever find me?” Zach grins and goes towards the sound of his voice, coming from the spare bathroom.

“What are you doing in here?” Zach begins, thinking that he and Jesse were just in the bathroom and Jesse’s not nearly enough of a primper to need a second go-around. Then he stops and just stares.

“Trying to make them even,” Jesse replies. His voice is remarkably calm, but Zach can see Jesse’s eyes in the mirror and, more importantly, see how panicked they are. Jesse is freaking out.

Zach is freaking out too. He grabs Jesse’s shoulder and gently spins him around to look more closely. “What have you done?” he asks so, so softly.

Jesse shrugs in that casual way that’s not really casual at all. “I thought it would help. You, I mean. Obviously not me because,” he gestures in a sort of general way around his face. Zach stares for a moment in a combination of amazement and horror, trying to grasp what has just happened. Then he pulls Jesse forward into a tight hug.

“You idiot,” he whispers, pressing his face against the side of Jesse’s head. “You complete idiot.” There’s no disguising the tone of wonder in his voice, because no one has ever done anything like this for him.

“Does it really look that bad?” Jesse asks in a small voice, already knowing the answer. Zach pulls back to look at Jesse’s face. After a second he laughs, smiling, and nods.

“Yes, it looks awful. I’m sorry. I love you, but it does. Did you not realize it was going to look awful?” He takes Jesse’s head in his hands and places two gentle kisses on his face, each one in the place where half an eyebrow used to be. “I can’t believe you shaved your eyebrows for me.”

“Just half of them,” Jesse says softly. He shakes his head after a second and then continues, trying to sound tougher than Zach knows he really is. “Anyway, it got you to shut up about how ugly you are.” He holds up a finger. “And not one word about how ugly I am now. You know I’m delicate.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Zach says. He’s looking at Jesse in that strange way he sometimes does, a sort of surreal way that looks like maybe he doesn’t think Jesse’s real or can’t figure out how the life has now is his actual life.

“What?” Jesse asks with a weak smile.

“Thank God you don’t have enough hair to give yourself a bowl cut,” Zach says. He starts laughing and then Jesse is laughing, and there they are, two grown men, each with half of their eyebrows missing, holding each other in a tiny spare bathroom, laughing.