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“He ain’t here,” Darius said as soon as he opened the door. Earn swore under his breath, trying master the spike of anxiety and anger that roared through him. He’d blown up Alfred’s phone with messages, trying to tell him that their interview with Q100 had been moved to two o’clock, but had no response. Now Alfred wasn’t even at home for Earn to pick up.

Darius was still at the door, looking at him with hooded eyes. He smiled when he saw that Earn was staring at him. “Come on,” he said, gesturing him inside. They weren’t headed to the living or the kitchen. Earn had never been in this part of the house before and wasn’t sure he wanted to be. Darius led him to a bedroom that looked straight out of Pinterest, the kind of place he’d catch Van looking at when she thought he wasn’t looking.

(Then he’d check out what she didn’t want him to see, and then get sucked into the nightmarish world shabby chic meets cool minimalism, and waste a perfectly good hour that way.)

The room was cute, but he didn’t understand what he was doing there. Darius plopped down on the bed and grabbed a vintage-looking cigar box from the bedside table and the shoe dropped. This was Darius’ bed. This was Darius’ room. Earn’s brain felt like it was about to crawl down his spine. Which is why when Darius offered him a blunt, Earn took it.

It was good stuff.

A few drags in and Earn felt his body relax. He was stretched on Darius’ bed and he didn’t fucking know what he was so worried about. Paper Boi being a no-show on in an interview meant to make him a crossover hit? Who gave a fuck? Maybe the fans will like it, showing that he hadn’t sold out. Earn didn’t know. He was done guessing what people wanted.

He felt Darius’ hand brush against his stomach, under his shirt. Creeping with intent. He probably thought he was being slick. Earn wasn’t surprised, exactly. He’d had guys try things on him, and he’d tried some things back. His roommate in Princeton, for example… But he was straight. He was mostly straight. He was, like, fifty-one percent straight.

But if Darius wanted to give him what felt like the world’s laziest handjob, Earn wasn’t in the position to say no to that. He wanted more, wanted it faster, but also, the contentment had sunk into his bones, fastened itself to his joints. He couldn’t move if he wanted to, and he didn’t want to.

What he wanted was to get some Korean barbecue and bite into something hot and sweet and savory and luscious, letting the char and glazed fat crackle against his mouth as his eyes roll up into heaven, into heaven, that was bristling with warrior angels whose arms were heavy with guns. One cocked right at his head and Earn groaned and dared it to release but --

He came to, still in Darius’ bed. Darius was long gone, and no one answered when he called. Earn grabbed his clothes off the floor and dressed. There were twenty messages on his phone, at least five of them from Van, asking him if he’d picked up Lottie from daycare. Shit.

He scrambled out of the room and down the hall, hitting the walls as he did so. The TV was on in the living room, Darius lying supine in front of it. The screen flashed a picture of a tangle of cars and tractor trailers and then a blonde woman with shiny, red cheeks came on again. “They dumped ten-thousand pounds of lube into Spaghetti Junction,” Darius said, with a jaw-cracking yawn. “Sounds funny until you realize people gonna die because of it.”

“Yeah,” Earn said, checking the time on his phone. He still had thirty minutes to get to Lottie’s daycare. “If you see Alfred, tell him to go fuck himself.”

Darius dismissed him with an airy wave. “Anytime.”

Outside, the air smelled like smoke and exhaust, but Earn breathed it in. Something slotted into place and he felt good.