“What’re you doing?” Yuta inquires at Ten, lifting a brow and then furrowing both together. Yuta’s hair has gotten long, and he can feel his sweaty bangs brush against his brows easily.
They’re in Yuta’s room. In some shitty apartment complex smackdab in the middle of West Mobile. Suburbs, concrete, chain businesses, decorative road trees (that’s what Ten calls them). Ten hates this part of West Mobile. He doesn’t even live here. He prefers Midtown or Downtown Mobile. Of course he does. It’s romantic and green and indie and millennial (and fucking dirty with it’s shitty cracked asphalt that puts your car at risk of a flat tire). But Yuta doesn’t live in midtown or downtown. Yuta lives in fucking West Mobile. And it’s ninety-three degrees inside.
“Takin’ my damn clothes off,” Ten replies, t-shirt almost over his head, tan torso exposed. Yuta can see Ten’s nipples and laughs almost inaudibly to himself. Ten is standing in the middle of the floor, sunshine all around him, with Yuta sprawled on his own full sized bed. It’s almost pretty. If they weren’t in Yuta’s sparsely furnished, cream colored toaster oven of a room. Not even a single curtain to block out the sun. There was an animal printed blanket covering it once, but it’s now on the floor below the windowsill.
They’re in Yuta’s shitty West-Mobile-Not-Midtown apartment bedroom in the middle of August with no air conditioner, and Ten has had e-fucking-nough of it. Apartment maintenance said they were on their way to fix it an hour ago, but obviously they haven’t come yet. They probably received a handful of calls from other tenants. With Yuta’s luck, they’ll be one of the last apartments fixed.
“We’ll die of heat stroke if we fuck like this,” Yuta jokes weakly. He’s exhausted from the heat already, armpits and ribs wet with sweat. Yuta’s shirtless and stripped down to a worn out pair of plaid boxers he’s probably had since 2012. Even his cock is uncomfortable in this weather, in this sweaty fucking fabric. Yuta would rather die.
Ten glares at Yuta once his shirt is on the floor but sits on Yuta’s bed to unbutton his skinnies anyway. “You’re so funny,” Ten responds sarcastically. Yuta can see a bead of sweat roll down the other’s ribs. Ten attempts to peel the sweat saturated jeans from his legs starting by scrunching them up at the knee, but he ultimately gives up and shoves them off with his back flat against Yuta’s bare legs. Ten’s underwear is dragged down with the motion enough to expose a peek of his pubic region.
“I can see your pubes,” Yuta teases, moving his leg to pinch his toes into the underside of Ten’s arm. Yuta catches a glimpse of a smile on Ten’s face. At least he’s not in a totally piss poor mood.
“I’m gonna punch you in the dick,” Ten laughs. But he’s probably serious. “Or would you get off t’ that?” Ten tilts his head back and gives Yuta this glorious smile. He looks so tired, temples sweaty and face flushed.
“Hey, now,” Yuta says defensively. “Probably.” Only kidding. Ten rolls his eyes and pushes himself off the bed, adjusting his boxer briefs.
“We can take a cold shower. That might help,” Ten suggests. “And then we can go somewhere t’ kill time. Your car’s got A/C.” Yuta doesn’t want to comment that it has A/C sometimes.
“Like, shower together?” Yuta raises his eyebrows mischievously in succession. That cheesy line of conserving water and all that. Yuta’s living on a budget! Bills aren’t cheap.
“Get your sweaty ass up and get dressed.”
“Yuta,” Ten whines. “It’s hot. Let’s just go. We’ll get sweaty again anyway.” Fair enough, Yuta thinks. (Rejected.)
Yuta rolls over onto his side, the sheet sticking to his torso and then falling limply. “I really do needa go grocery shopping. Let’s go fuck shit up at Winn-Dixie while I look for obscure food to buy.” Yuta slides out of bed, planting his feet into cheap carpet.
“I guess we haven’t yanked Johnny’s chain in a bit,” Ten says absently as he opens Yuta’s closet door. “What are my sweats doing here?” Ten asks, almost too loudly, pulling them off the hanger with a clatter that echoes through this bare room.
“Taeyong left ‘em here like a month ago…” Yuta says behind him.
“I forgot I left ‘em at his place,” Ten thinks aloud. “Actually, these’re Mark’s.” Ten opens them to reveal the worn tag inside, Mark’s name written in ugly, faded scrawl. “I stole ‘em from him,” Ten explains, bending his torso and stepping inside the legs of the sweats.
“What is this? An Ann Brashares novel?” Yuta jokes (dryly), elastic in cloth snapping against Ten’s hips as he speaks.
“You actually read Ann Brashares’ shit?”
“You actually know who I’m talkin’ about?” Yuta jabs back.
“Never mind that! Search through your musty ass closet for one of the forty Guy Harvey t-shirts you own, and put it on already.”
“Okay, at least I don’t wear my work uniform shirt under a hoodie t’ class.”
Ten scoffs. “I’m innovative, and you’re tacky. There’s a difference.” Ten turns around to face the shallow closet and peers in for a moment. His eyes widen as if he’s found something. “Here, just put these on,” he commands, handing Yuta a terribly old pair of khaki cargo shorts.
“You tryna get me beat up in front uvva Winn-Dixie?”
“Put your britches on like the big boy you are,” Ten chides.
“You’re bein’ a drill sargeant today, dude,” Yuta tells him, taking the shorts from Ten. Ten’s face visibly falls and his shoulders slack.
“I’m sorry,” he groans, defeated. Ten sighs. “This heat is gettin’ to me, dude.” He runs his fingers through his sweaty hair. “You know I don’t mean it,” he tells Yuta, wrapping his hand around Yuta’s wrist. “Not that that’s an excuse, ya know.”
Yuta smiles at Ten, at the touch, at the ugly shorts he honestly doesn’t mind wearing. “I know, I know,” Yuta coos. “I was just messin’ with you.”
Yuta yanks one of the few shirts he has hung up off the hanger. It’s worn soft, tile grout hardened in flecks on it from the time he tiled his parents’ kitchen floor with Johnny a few summers back. There are stains on it Yuta can’t remember getting, the hem may be a little moth-eaten, and it looks dirty. But it’s been through the washer so many times that the fabric is probably twenty washes away from falling apart at the seams. He chucks it at Ten, who catches it in his hands and pulls it over his head. Yuta watches as Ten sticks his head through the collar, arms finding their respective sleeves, and Yuta goes for it.
“Yuta!” Ten squeaks and falters at the quick jabs in his armpits. Ten’s reaction was jerky, arms barely succeeding in making through the arm holes. Yuta snorts, the shirt pooled around Ten’s neck and on his warm shoulders, arms ridiculously bent at Ten’s sides with his wrists in the sleeves. “You’re so evil,” Ten whines, and it’s a childish whine like that of a toddler’s. And Yuta laughs harder.
“Payback,” Yuta explains, moving even closer to Ten to pull the shirt down onto Ten’s frame gently. Yuta pats his hips.
“For what?” Ten scoffs. “Showin’ you my glorious pubes?”
“For actin’ like Taeyong,” Yuta jokingly replies, sticking his tongue out.
“Put that back in your mouth before I snatch it out,” Ten quips, pinching Yuta’s nipple with deft speed. Yuta shrieks and swats at Ten’s arm. “If Taeyong does what I do for you then we got a conversation t’ have.” Ten brushes past Yuta towards the door. “Now let’s get goin’.”
“I haven’t even put a shirt on yet.”
“Then fuckin’ put one on!” Ten yells from the hallway, out of sight. “Quick like a bunny!”
“Stop talkin’ like your grandma!” Yuta shouts from his closet, finding a faded shirt he bought from a Gulf Shores’ tourist shop in 2010. He’s pretty sure he was with Ten when he bought it. They were only around fifteen at the time. Johnny’s parents drove them all down to the beach for a weekend. Yuta is glad it still fits, but it’s extremely sun bleached now.
“My grandma doesn’t speak English, you idiot.” Ten’s voice is coming from the kitchen now. Ah, that’s right. Neither does Yuta’s. “You’ve met her, like, three-hundred times.”
“You’re right.” Yuta pauses. “Stop talkin’ like Johnny’s sixty-five-year-old manager.”
“I’ll have you know Ms. Kerry is a delight,” Ten shouts. Yuta pulls the shirt over his head and makes his way the short distance to his little kitchen, a very sweaty Ten leaning forward on the counter looking at his smartphone screen coming into view. “Ready t’ go?” Ten asks, looking up and over his shoulder at Yuta.
“We could just walk Grelot instead of takin’ the car,” Yuta says to Ten as he manually unlocks the door of his 2002 Saturn. Yuta’s boss’s son Chenle gets a kick out of the car year every time Yuta picks Chenle and his friend Jisung up from the restaurant. (“I can’t believe your car is older than Jisung!”)
“You’ve gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’ me,” Ten replies, rolling his eyes before his tugs the car door open.
“It might be cooler t’ walk than drive, t’ be honest.” Yuta plops into the driver seat, hot air inside of the car almost suffocating him, temples and upper lip starting to sweat. The concrete of the apartment complex parking lot makes it feel that much hotter. Yuta would probably burn the bottom out of his flip-flops if he stood on the pavement long enough.
“Oh my God. Your A/C is out, ain’t it? Fuck!” Ten cries.
“It works! It does! Just, like, sometimes...” Yuta gets quiet at the last sentence and cranks the car. He hopes the sound of the engine drowns out his voice. Yuta actually is amused at Ten for complaining about the hot weather seeing as how much he complains about how cold it is when the temperature starts dropping to the low seventies at the end of September during a good (bad?) year.
“Let’s just take the car,” Ten sighs. “I really don’t feel like gettin’ hit by a West-Mobile-Mom SUV while tryin’ t’ cross over t’ Hillcrest on foot.”
“That’s the spirit!”
“If I die from heat exhaustion, please tell my family I died inna freak accident.”
“Okay, Drama King.”
“You’re supposed to say you wouldn’t live without me!”
“Maybe you should leave your car at the Precision if you wanna get the air fixed,” Ten tells him as they make the four minute drive from Yuta’s apartment complex to the Winn-Dixie shopping center. Ten’s hair is blowing wildly in the wind, and Yuta tries to keep his eyes on the road instead of weirdly admiring the way Ten looks.
“Do I look like I got car fixin’ money?” Yuta laughs. “I couldn’t even afford textbooks this semester.” And it’s too late anyway. They already drove by the turn into the Precision Tune’s parking lot. “Not even sure if they fix air conditioners there.” Yuta thinks it might just be an oil changing place. It’s been in that same spot for as long as Yuta can remember though. Yuta thinks he’ll have to move away once all the nostalgic buildings and locations are replaced with something else new and unfamiliar. It’ll be unbearable to look at.
“They do,” Ten replies absently. “Got mom’s fixed a while back there. Surprised they could even fix her piece of junk,” Ten laughs weakly. “She’s had that car since, like, 2000. And it was old when she bought it. I remember going t’ the lot with her when she got it.”
“I can’t believe you remember that,” Yuta says to him as he turns into the Winn-Dixie parking, the flow of air declining and settling Ten’s hair back.
“Of course I do.” Ten turns to Yuta and smiles. “I remember the next day she came and picked me up from pre-K in that new car. She took you home with us. My first sleep over,” Ten tells him, running both hands through his hair and then patting it down. “We known each other that long now, huh? Damn, I really can’t believe it.” And Yuta begins thinking back to a time that looks and feels blurry at the edges in his mind but still so vivid. What the trees looked like that low from the ground. Images of recurring settings at specific times of day. Ten’s parents meeting Yuta’s parents for the first time. And an unsolicited, almost intrusive thought of back to a time when they, Ten included, hated hearing their parents speak their native language and broken, accented english in public and in front of their friends, an unfair shame he regrets now as a better, open minded adult. Yuta feels weird thinking about the past--not that he hates it. But Ten has been a constant part of it since his earliest memories. And now he’s an adult with. And Ten is still here. Yuta really can’t remember a time before he knew Ten and can’t imagine a future without him.
“You sayin’ I’m hard to be friends with?” Yuta holds the steering wheel with his left and punches Ten with his right as he parks sloppily next to the cart station in the parking lot.
“Somethin’ like that,” Ten tells him smiling, sticking his tongue out and gripping the car door handle. And on instinct, on feeling, Yuta leans towards him before Ten presses the palm of his hand into Yuta’s face.
“There’s a Trump supporter parked right in front of us, lover boy,” Ten says, back now turned to Yuta frozen in place as Ten gets out the car. Yuta turns his head slowly to the opposite car, and sure enough a salt-and-pepper haired man and his bright blonde son are sitting in the front seats, a Trump sticker unattractively stuck on the front windshield (which Yuta thinks may be violating some sort of traffic law). Yuta smiles at them before killing the engine.
Ten and Yuta make their way together to the cart station instead of (intelligently) taking one from inside. Yuta steadies the buggy with both hands on the bar so Ten can get in safely. Ten grips Yuta’s shoulder and sets himself inside, knees bent. Yuta isn’t sure why they do this every time, and it’s not that Ten is completely opposed to walking (or maybe he is), but it’s become a routine--maybe even a tradition. The buggy isn’t scorching, thank God, but only because it’s probably only been outside for less than ten minutes.
“God,” Yuta strains out, “why’re you heavy just inna buggy and not anywhere else in any other situation?”
“Grocery store witchcraft,” Ten explains.
Ten throws back his head and laughs, soft locks naturally splitting apart at the middle of his scalp as he does so. Ten is really easy to admire, Yuta thinks.
“Do you wanna get food after this?” Yuta asks Ten as he pushes the buggy over an almost rugged terrain of asphalt that makes the blood in his fists vibrate.
“Would I like to get food after we go grocery shoppin’ for food to eat? Yeah, sure.”
“Hey, look,” Yuta says to Ten, pointing at the far end of the shopping center, “Little Caesar’s.” And Yuta is only doing this to pull Ten’s leg.
“I’d rather fuckin’ kill myself, Yuta,” Ten deadpans. Yuta knows this. Hungry Howie’s is Ten’s savior, after all. Many days of their first few years of university were spent at the one near campus. Always broke and only able to afford this. They lived off Hungry Howie’s for days. Yuta bets all the managers recognize Ten readily. “You know I’d suck Hungry Howie’s dick in a back parkin’ lot.”
“We could go to the restaurant,” Yuta suggests as they come up to the automatic doors. The restaurant meaning the one Yuta works at as kitchen help, a small Chinese buffet tucked away in what Yuta guesses could be considered an outlet mall.
“Why don’t we go t’ mine? Mom’s workin’ today, too. She prob’ly wants t’ see you. She keeps askin’ about you. And all us ate Chinese take out last night,” Ten explains to him.
“Yeah, we can do that. I need to see my mom-in-law I guess,” Yuta says, the automatic doors swishing open. Haha, his mother-in-law! A funny joke because he spends so much time with Ten and his mom “adores” him. And even if Yuta is joking, it feels accidentally serious when he says it. And maybe something about needing to win her favor buried in the pit of his chest.
They’re greeted when they walk in only with a few glances, and Yuta can only assume this is the pissy-old-person shift of the day. Yuta always feels weird when he walks into this store. He was so used to how it looked before; it hadn’t changed for years. Somehow, it still retains some of its former nostalgia, but for the most part it's a Very Aesthetically Updated Winn-Dixie.
God, though, it feels so great in here. Yuta is so thankful for real, genuine air conditioner.
“I always feel so weird comin’ into this one,” Ten tells Yuta from his buggy as Yuta pushes him along through the front of the store. “The one in midtown looks so different from it, and I’m so used to that one now. It’s like ceiling is too high for the shelves or something. This one feels… normal.”
“And normal makes it weird?”
Ten reaches his right hand up to touch the fingers of Yuta’s left hand and then grab them, back still turned to him in the buggy. “Of course it does.”
Yuta snorts. “Okay, sure. Where to first?” Yuta asks, referring to the aisles.
“I need coconut water so bad,” Ten groans. Yuta gags. “Very sexy,” Ten tells him.
“Coconut water tastes like ass,” Yuta comments, maneuvering the buggy towards the assumed aisle anyway.
And Ten manipulates his voice to utterly mock and destroy Johnny. “‘How do you know what ass tastes like?’”
“HOLY shit,” Yuta exclaims. “You’re really good at imitatin’ him.”
“I’ve had fifteen years of practice,” Ten sighs, hands still lingering on Yuta’s, unbothered. “That goofy ass straight brain of his...” Ten dramatizes vehemently, voice sounding falsely emotional.
“It’s unfortunate, I know, but we have to accept him for who he is.”
And Ten’s fingers release Yuta’s and fall into his lap, and it’s almost jarring and very immediate. And then Yuta sees why but smiles big at that very reason anyway.
“Speak of the Devil!” Yuta says, smiling.
“Hey!” Johnny says brightly, looking always handsome even in a goofy deli apron. “What’re y’all doin’ here?”
“We came t’ see our fav big sexy, obvi,” Ten says from the cart. “But really, which aisle is coconut water again?”
“That way,” Johnny points. “But don’t you think you should get outta buggy?”
“Wow, Johnny you jus’ lost your cool points,” Ten tsks him, shaking his head to the right and left. “Race us. I’ll get out if you win and you’ll restore some points.”
Yuta takes his stance and grips the handlebars. “I’m wearing flip flops, so you might win.”
“I’m not doin’ this while I’m at work!”
Johnny sighs. “I have t’ get back. Text me later if y’all wanna meet up tonight.”
“We’re goin’ t’ mom’s if you wanna come around five,” Ten tells him. “I’ll text the others. We can all do somethin’ after.”
“Gotcha!” Johnny says, running off back to his station with a wave.
“Come on, Ten, tell me what you want before we leave,” Yuta says to him, pushing the cart around the store for the final time. They’ve been here for almost an hour and a half, and Yuta’s growling stomach is practically a sentient monster at this point.
“For this gallon of milk t’ stop crushin’ my fuckin’ balls, Christ,” Ten replies, adjusting himself in the cart as best he can, legs as far apart as it will allow. Since Ten takes up most of the room in the buggy, all of the groceries have to be placed between his legs.
Yuta rolls his eyes. “What do you want me t’ buy for you?”
“I want yams,” Ten states weirdly confidently.
“Ms. Kerry taught me a recipe!” Ten says, taking out his iPhone to show him the text messages from Johnny’s sixty-five-year-old manager Ms. Kerry.
“You have her number?” Like, Ten is sociable. And Yuta really can’t judge him, but this is a little weird. A twenty something year old Thai guy being besties with some old white southern lady from backwoods Alabama, learning the value of friendship and how to cook fucking yams.
“We’re friends,” Ten responds, pulling his phone back towards himself.
“How did that even happen?” Yuta laughs as he makes his way absently to the canned vegetables aisle. He’s been in here so many times walking there is almost auto-pilot.
“Remember when we came when you were hung over once?”
Yuta closes his eyes and forces air out of his nose. Honestly, Yuta doesn’t even remember that night, only that he was hung over enough (or still drunk enough) to throw up at seven-thirty a.m. in a Winn-Dixie restroom. He’s surprised the associate who cleaned it doesn’t resent him. “Yeah.”
“We started talkin’ while you were throwin’ up your toenails in the bathroom,” Ten explains. Yuta was born and raised here, just like Ten was, and he’s known Ten all his life. But Yuta really isn’t sure where in the fuck Ten learned any of the idioms or phrases he uses. Ms. Kerry probably isn’t helping Ten’s vocabulary either. “And have been friends ever since. I’m wonderful, apparently.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Yuta says, smile on his face, as he reaches to run a hand through Ten’s hair.
Ten announces in Thai that he’s here with Yuta, and Yuta only knows the translation because of how long he’s known Ten and how many times he’s been to this same restaurant with him over the course of their friendship. Yuta remembers coming here almost everyday after school with Ten since elementary school. The restaurant hasn’t opened, seeing as it’s only a little after eleven a.m., and it doesn’t open until twelve-thirty during the week. But some of the employees are still running around or taking their break in a booth in the far back corner. Ten’s (mom’s) restaurant always feels extremely homey, even if it’s decorated in decor Yuta can’t say is anything he can relate to culturally. But Ten is kind of like home.
There’s an old family photo in a large, gold painted frame above the register counter, and Yuta stares at it for the entire time they walk to a booth. Ten’s family look dressed up and handsome, and then there’s fifteen-year-old Ten with his terribly dyed, straightened hair and ugly band tee looking like Panic! at the Disco just ruined his fucking life (they did).
“What?” Ten asks, peering at Yuta suspiciously.
“Remember your scene phase?”
Ten scoffs. “Remember your Sperry phase?” Ugh, don’t even fucking remind Yuta of that boat-shoe terror.
Yuta narrows his eyes. “That’s a low blow.”
“I can blow lower,” Ten says at a very normal speaking volume, sensually even, and Yuta snaps his neck to the register counter to make sure no one important heard.
“Please don’t say shit like that with your mom in the building,” Yuta pleads, closing his eyes. Ten only laughs mischievously and presses his back against the booth seat opposite of Yuta. They’re still dressed in their nasty clothes, not yet having showered even after going back to Yuta’s apartment to unload groceries. They smell musty and almost like sour laundry.
“She’s in the kitchen. She can’t hear me,” Ten tells him. Ten raises his legs and presses his feet into the booth seat on either side of Yutas thighs, slouching halfway down the seat.
“Livin’ life on the edge, I see,” Yuta says playfully, raising his eyebrows.
“It’s always an excitin’ life with you,” Ten tells him.