Kevin hears him coming. Chiron makes the same waking sounds every morning, though Kevin would absolutely never tell him that unless he wanted Chiron to disappear for another month. The difference is Kevin’s pretty sure he knows that Chiron’d come back now. That morning after that first night—not the first night Chiron stayed over but the first night they got up to much—Kevin woke to an empty bed pretty sure he’d fucked the whole thing up and they’d never see each other again. It happened again like six months later, after Chiron told Kevin what it was really like sometimes with his mom, but that time he was only gone for a week and when he came back he didn’t say much but what he did say was right, like he’d been taking the week to think.
And it’s not like he’s gone in between, too. It’s not like Kevin hasn’t been trying to get him out of Atlanta and down to Miami, but Chiron has business up there, business Kevin can’t fuck with or even think about too much because of Kevin Junior. Not fucking with or thinking about Chiron isn’t an option, so until Chiron gets his head out his ass and moves down for good, they’ve got this don’t ask don’t tell thing going on. And that’s fine. It’s fine.
“How long you been fryin’ that shit?”
Chiron in the morning is a sight to behold, for real. He’s not pulled together yet. He doesn’t have his battle armor on or whatever the fuck. Kevin’s not a poet, though Chiron in the morning does make him want to write poetry. That or laugh forever when he does shit like this, like stare at the pan as though it’s gonna bite him.
“You only fry ’em twice."
“Oh, only twice, huh.”
“What do you care, you know you a garbage disposal, man.”
Chiron comes closer and sniffs. Kevin wants to wrap his arms around him, only that might actually be dangerous with this much hot oil around.
“The fuck is this?”
“I’m trying something new,” says Kevin. “But the ones I had looked more yellow than this.”
“Tryin’ to give everyone a heart attack, I see you.” Chiron slides past Kevin and reaches down a glass. His boxers ride down and Kevin almost gives up on the whole experiment right there.
Instead he shakes his head and says, “You’re the health hazard here.”
Chiron goes all still and quiet, then he fills his glass with water from the tap. He leans against the sink to drink it, watching Kevin. When Chiron first started spending Kevin’s off days down here, Kevin went out and got some instant coffee because he figured a dude who hates green tea probably goes for harder stuff. But Chiron doesn’t drink coffee either. He drinks water, basically. Water and Kevin Junior’s leftover 2%, but only when he knows Kevin Junior’s done with it.
“I mean, standin’ there all sexy and shit,” says Kevin, because he’s getting pretty good at reading Chiron’s silences, and this isn’t one of the good ones, this is one of the ones where Chiron’s probably off in his head counting the ways the two of them shouldn’t work. “This early in the morning. Who do you think you is?”
Chiron finishes his water, but he’s smiling a little. Kevin goes back to the pan and the sizzle almost makes him miss what Chiron says next, which is, “I’m here.”
Kevin glances over. Chiron clears his throat, and says to the floor, “I mean, real talk, I don’t know what I’m for half the time, but I know I’m here.” He looks up at Kevin, and then away again. Holding Chiron’s gaze is like trying to catch a fish with your bare hands.
“You right,” says Kevin. He turns off the stove. “Here we are.”
Junior’s at that age where he doesn’t want to be seen with them, and that’s cool, Kevin can respect that, Kevin was a pain in the ass himself once upon a time, but the way Junior’s looking at the girl selling buñuelos is something new. Like, damn, was Kevin ever that obvious?
“Oh my God, Dad,” Junior groans when they’re back in the car. “I said pretend you don’t know me.”
“How am I supposed to do that when I’m the one payin’ for your food?”
Junior throws his head back against the seat. Kevin’s starting to think Samantha’s been letting him watch too many of those teen shows on that one channel, the one with the rich white girls and vampires.
“Chiron would,” says Junior. “He gives me the money and waits outside.”
“Come on, Kev,” says Kevin. “You know how I feel about that.”
Junior doesn’t say anything, he just pushes some buttons on his phone and the car is suddenly rocking with heavy bass. Kevin lunges for the volume control, which he sometimes still confuses with the track skip. It makes his family laugh like hyenas but cars’re so fucking complicated these days, even used ones with impossible to scrape off bumper stickers that make Kevin look like a suburban housewife driving around. The other night out of nowhere Chiron said, “Maybe Becky needs rims,” and Kevin’s still laughing about that.
He tries not to laugh about it now. He tries to stay stern.
“It’s not like I’m treating him like my butler or something,” says Junior. “He likes to wait outside.”
“You asked him that?” says Kevin. It took years before Chiron would go anywhere with Junior alone. “They’ll think I kidnapped him or some shit,” he said to Kevin, and Kevin said, “The fuck you talkin’ about? No one looking at you would know you ain’t his daddy. Anyone ever think Juan kidnapped you?” and Chiron was quiet but later he gave Junior a half-hug goodnight, which was progress. Now the two of them are constantly going places, like the beach or the movies (they both like car chase bullshit that makes Kevin want to gouge his own eyes out).
“No, I didn’t have to ask,” said Junior. “I don’t know if you noticed, Dad, but your boyfriend’s kind of socially awkward.”
“Okay, that’s not,” Kevin begins, but then he doesn’t know where to go from there, because the thing he knows he should object to is “socially awkward,” but it’s been years since Chiron was anything close to just Kevin’s boyfriend, if he ever was in the first place, and these days Kevin can’t stop thinking about it. Kevin’s met Paula five or six awkward times and then four or five less awkward times. Teresa's always been cool, hosting Easter every year since Junior was a little kid. Chiron and Samantha get along, though Sam has this unfortunate habit of drinking a glass of wine and then asking really personal sex questions that make Chiron cough and find an excuse to leave the room. And most important of all, Chiron has been fucking raising Junior alongside them practically this whole time, not that he would see it that way. When Junior needs a whooping (though they don’t do that, they do stern talks because Samantha has views), Chiron kind of fades into the background like he doesn’t want to intrude. It drives Kevin crazy, but it also kind of makes him want to go down on Chiron right there in the living room.
“You’re tryin’ to distract me,” says Kevin, because Junior is staring at him now. “I think we need to have another talk.”
Junior flails around a little in his seat. “Dad, come on, we get sex ed like once a week.”
Kevin turns the music all the way off. “Son, you are the best thing that ever happened to me but you don’t wanna know what happens if you bring home a baby. So yes, we are gonna talk.”
Junior mutters something.
“I said,” says Junior, “you sure you still remember how it works?”
This time Kevin can’t contain it. He laughs so hard they nearly drive off the road.
“You tryin’ to get me drunk?” Chiron asks for maybe the third time. “Seriously, though?”
“I don't gotta try,” Kevin says, for maybe the third time. “You are drunk.”
Chiron doesn’t slur or gesticulate or none of that when he’s drunk, he’s just more likely to meet Kevin’s eyes. He’s gotten better at it in general, but when he’s drunk it’s almost unsettling.
“So where’s the food,” Chiron says.
“It’s in the bag,” Kevin says. “You’re holdin’ it. Damn, you a lightweight.”
“Already knew that,” Chiron says, opening the bag. “This a sandwich?”
They’re sitting on the curb outside a tiny place Kevin’s been coming to since he started working at Jimmy’s. It’s open late so it tends to draw in cooks and drunks both, on the way home or on the way to the club.
Tonight they were the old dudes at the club, showing up early, leaving early, ordering four drinks between the two of them. Kevin finished up most of Chiron’s second rum and coke, but only because Chiron already had his hand on the back of Kevin’s neck, one finger tapping out the beat of the song on Kevin’s pulse, and that was a sure a sign as any that he was hammered.
“Yo,” Chiron says, his mouth mostly full, “this is good.”
“’Course it’s good,” Kevin says. “I wouldn’t do you like that.”
“But you’ll do me some other way, right?” says Chiron.
“Whenever,” says Kevin. Then, because he can still feel the beat of the music in his neck, he adds, “Forever.”
Chiron gives him a long look, then he shrugs. “Sure. Forever’d be good.”
Nights like this, Kevin can feel his whole life in a heartbeat, like there’s a tidal breath in and out that brings it all back around. He can’t remember the first time he met Chiron. It’s like he was always there. It’s like he’s always gonna be there.
“We’ll be 90,” Chiron says out of nowhere like he can read Kevin’s mind. “Still doin’ this shit.”
“Here’s hopin’,” says Kevin.
They walk back to the car smelling the ocean the whole way.