Joey never made a habit out of lying. He’d omit facts (or avoid them altogether. Sometimes it was better that way). He would dress up the truth, or weave long tales from simple stories, but he’d never tell a lie. It went against all he stood for. It went against his heritage, his pride. Everything.
So when Kevin asked him: “Do you like me?”
Joey found himself, if momentarily, stuck.
Because if there was one thing that Joey had learned in his lifetime, it was that the truth tended to throw people. Especially Kevin, too used to his brothers telling him all sorts of bullshit to know what to do with it.
“Oh,” Kevin said, after a moment.
He looked prepared to continue, and, for a second, Joey felt a very real fear lace through his body. But instead, Kevin pressed his lips together and let the matter slide. Joey breathed.
Kevin visited him a week later. He actually snuck in past his grandmother (she had never been fond of the Donnellys) and appeared at his bedroom door. Joey had been in the middle of a porn flick, and, goddamnit, he really needed to get that lock looked into.
“What the fuck, Kevin,” Joey ground out, aiming for dignity with his shirt and jeans bunched in his lap and a fedora on his head.
Kevin pointed. “That your fap hat?”
“Y’know,” Joey said, “it isn’t that hard to knock. Try it sometime, you’ll like it.”
But it was difficult to have this conversation when there was a woman bouncing around onscreen and being graciously loud about it. Joey made a pointed effort in holding Kevin’s gaze (he could still see in his peripheral though. Definitely did not help.)
“Joey!” They froze at the sound of Gramma Ice Cream coming up the hallway. “That better not be the Donnelly boy. Joseph! What’s that noise?”
“Get the fuck in here, you asshole,” Joey hissed, holding his clothes with one hand and gesturing furiously with the other.
Kevin darted into the room, no further prompting needed, and slammed the door shut after him.
The situation tipped into the surreal, with Kevin on his bed, half tangled in his sheets, and him half-cocked with a bunched up pair of jeans and shirt to hide his shame. He should have kicked Kevin out, not invited him in. At least the chick onscreen was having the time of her life.
“What the fuck’re you doing here anyway.” Joey said. If he brought his knees up, maybe he wouldn’t be so exposed…
Kevin settled in. “Bored,” he said, “and the others are playing hockey with Jenny.”
“Why aren’t you playin’ hockey with Jenny?”
“Who is this chick anyway?”
It took Joey a minute to figure out what Kevin was talking about. “I don’t know! Some chick?”
“Yeah?” Kevin said, as if Joey had given him a more complete answer. He nodded to the screen. “She your type?”
“Does it really matter, Kevin?” Joey said, “my dick is in my hand, her tits are going everywhere, does it really fucking matter?”
Kevin shrugged. “Just askin’.”
“Five minutes,” Joey said, “can you give me, like, five minutes?”
“I can give you a hand.”
“Five minutes,” Joey repeated after a pause. He brought up a hand, fingers spread in a literal demonstration.
Kevin stared at him as if he was an idiot and Joey wondered when, exactly, the tables had turned.
Kevin leaned his weight on an elbow and brought up his own hand to copy the gesture. “I can give you a hand,” he repeated.
“That’s cute,” Joey said. He ignored how his heart thudded in his chest, and the way heat flooded his cheeks and crept down his neck. “Is this something you and your brothers do?”
Joey was relieved when Kevin shot him a revolted look. He didn’t like how the conversation stacked against him, leaving him unsure where to go. Words were his forte, damn it. He didn’t ace all his essays in high school to have Kevin turn him into an idiot who couldn’t string them together.
Silence settled across the room and even the sound of the video seemed to fade out as Kevin shifted his attention to Joey's folded legs.
“Who said?” Joey asked.
The answer was disarmingly simple. “You did. Last week, when I asked,” Kevin clarified.
“I was sorta hoping you’d take that as a- a,” Joey gestured with this free hand. “Vague—look,” he said, frustrated. “Let me put some clothes on and we’ll head out, a’right. We’ll,” Joey waved his hand. “Play hockey. With Tommy. And Jenny.”
“But I don’t want to play hockey.”
Only Kevin could manage to turn a whine into something coy, head canted and voice low as he looked at Joey through his goddamn lashes.
Joey inhaled sharply when Kevin moved to touch his thigh, fingers light enough to be ticklish.
“What’re you doing?” Joey asked.
“Reciprocating,” Kevin said as he dragged his hand against skin and settled it against Joey’s knee. “You have a problem with that?”
“Can’t I say do,” Joey said.
“Have you ever—?”
This was the thing about Kevin: it was difficult to take him seriously for extended periods of time. As Joey stared at his face, at the lines of his features – angled and sharp – he could feel the heat of the moment slip away.
All of a sudden, the woman on the screen came to a sharp focus, the thrumming in his chest faded, taking with it his erection and the flush of excitement hot on his face.
Joey breathed and felt his body unravel as the air escaped him.
“Hockey,” he said, not even bothering to be embarrassed as he reached across his bed to turn off the TV.
“Five minutes, all right? And you’re sitting on my boxers.”
“Right, sorry,” Kevin mumbled as he scooted off the bed to stand to one side.
Joey stood, making a point as he dressed. It wasn’t as if Kevin hadn’t seen a dick before. He had three brothers.
High school finished a year ago. College hadn’t exactly been for Joey, so he made a living doing odd jobs around the neighborhood.
“What was wrong with your apprenticeship?” Tommy asked as he stacked away the dishes.
Joey shrugged. “On second thought, mechanics isn’t my thing.”
“I thought you were training to be an electrician.”
He shrugged again. “Electricity isn’t my thing either.”
Tommy squinted at Joey. “What were you doing here again?”
“Waiting for Kevin.”
“Yo,” Kevin called.
Joey turned in time to see him leave the Donnelly’s shared bedroom and still in the process of pulling on a shirt. He watched as Kevin tugged the material down, just short of having it reach the top of his jeans before he dragged his focus away.
“Hey,” Joey said as he slid out of the kitchen chair.
“What’re you doin’ here so early?” Kevin asked. He scrubbed a hand over his face as he spoke, before he ran it through his hair. Probably the closest he ever came to combing.
“Shall I just leave you to it then, Joey?” Tommy asked. Sometimes Joey wondered why he liked the Donnellys so much.
“Eat your breakfast, Kevin,” Joey instructed.
Kevin looked between the two of them before he shrugged and made his way to the kitchen. But not before pausing at the table to drop a kiss to Joey’s cheek. It happened faster than Joey could comprehend, and he was left to gape at the back of Kevin’s head as he looked for a bowl.
“So,” Tommy started, and not even Joey could ignore the implication this time. “Kevin’s the one I should be leaving it to then?”
“What was that about?” Joey demanded as they plowed through the streets.
“What was what about?”
“Don’t even bother playing dumb with me,” Joey said as matched Kevin’s stride. “Since when did you go around being—doing—that?”
Kevin didn’t answer, and Joey watched as he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans, head low as they cut through the stream of morning commuters. He knew Kevin enough to recognize that he had buckled down to avoid a confrontation he didn’t want. Which, maybe, fair enough. Joey sighed, filed the event away and didn’t press the issue.
“She’s into you, y’know.”
Kevin glanced up from his pinball game just to pass him a look. “So?”
“So?” Joey gestured to the woman. She sat at a corner table with her friend, stealing glances towards them and smiling. “Go for it!”
“What about her friend?”
Kevin swore when the ball fell between the flippers. He slapped the glass pane with the flat of the palm before he turned to Joey. “I’ll do it if you go for her friend,” he said.
For the first time in his life, Joey found himself scrambling for a response only to turn up nothing.
“Thought so,” Kevin said as he fished out another quarter.
“I like you.”
“I like you,” Kevin repeated.
Joey opened his mouth and closed it. He gestured, and then dropped his hands.
“Oh,” he said, “okay.”
Joey was going mad and he knew it. They had established mutual like. And yet, weeks later, nothing had been done about it. They had acted as usual, gone out as usual – both by themselves and in the company of the other Donnellys – they had ample opportunity to be alone. Ample.
“Why haven’t we done anything?” Joey asked.
They were at a pizza joint. Joey’s fingers were sticky with sauce and cheese, and Kevin had just polished off his third slice.
“We’re having pizza,” Kevin said.
“I realize this, Kevin,” Joey said while he wondered why, of all people, it had to be him. Tommy was the competent brother and it wasn’t as if he was any less good looking. Jimmy was all right in that unpredictable way of his and Sean was— well, everybody loved Sean, why couldn’t he?
This entire situation of Joey not knowing where he stood, or if he was going to get his dick wet, or if there was something else that he should know about and he would deal with it, whatever it was—
“This is a date,” Kevin said, cutting through Joey’s thoughts. “We’ve been going out on dates.”
It took Joey a full minute to collect himself.
“So,” Joey said as he leaned forward against the table. “All this time, all the,” he gestured, “circumstances where we happened to be together… those were dates.”
“Yeah? If you want?”
“Was there any point in time you were thinking of mentioning that to me?” Joey asked.
“I thought you knew.” Kevin frowned. “They don’t have to be, if you don't want—”
“Kevin,” Joey said. He spoke with more patience than he felt Kevin deserved. “How this dating thing works is that there is a mutual agreement, alright?” He used both hands for emphasis. “A mutual agreement as to when the two parties begin to see each other exclusively. You can’t just expect the other person to know, okay. It fucks up anniversaries. And you can’t just… you can't just redact them either,” he added.
“All right,” Kevin said. He fiddled with a napkin. “Do you want to go out with me?”
Joey knew, as a constant in the Donnelly’s life, that Kevin had exactly one girlfriend. Joey also knew that Kevin wasn’t a virgin and that they had broken up because Kevin wasn’t as affectionate as she had wanted him to be. Or something. Or maybe it was about money. Joey wasn’t too sure.
And it wasn’t as if Joey craved it – affection – he enjoyed it, but had always dealt with it as a matter of tolerance. (Somewhere along the line, society drilled into men that even casual affection was wrong wrong wrong.)
They had been official for two weeks.
They hadn’t told anybody. And by that he meant that it hadn’t been mentioned to Ma Donnelly. Joey was certain that he would have a better standing with her than any of baby Sean’s girlfriends, but he wasn’t ready to reckon with that force quite yet.
Tommy and Sean seemed to know, if their stupid faces were anything to go by. Jimmy would have to be introduced to the concept slowly. Over time.
The fact of the matter was: for the person who had offered to ‘lend a hand’ when Joey was having personal time, Kevin seemed oblivious to him otherwise.
Not that Joey wanted to walk down the streets hand-in-hand. Yet. Maybe.
“Hey,” Kevin said as Joey sat beside him.
They were back at Joey’s grandmother’s for movies. She had already retired — thank God — and had left them together on the couch.
In the dark.
Joey grabbed a handful of popcorn and stuffed it in his mouth as he brought his legs up and rested against Kevin’s shoulder.
“You’re heavy,” Kevin told him.
Joey now understood why Kevin’s ex was Kevin’s ex.
“Y’know,” Joey said, “when I signed up to be your boyfriend, I didn’t think that this was going to be it. Movies.” A pause, “alone.” Another pause, “in the dark.” A third pause, “at opposite ends of the couch.”
“What d'you mean?”
“I mean—” Joey said. He had aimed for patience, but the pretense fell apart. There was way too much honesty – and honesty was a completely different thing than truth, and this was both – in his voice, something Joey was mortified to realize, but he couldn’t rein it in now that it had tumbled out. “Don’t you want me?”
Joey had always been the one to tag along. Always been the one to be left behind. Had always been the, what, sixth— Sixth goddamn wheel, his rightful place being after Jenny. What if Kevin hadn’t wanted him at all?
A touch at his shoulder started Joey from the train of thought.
“I’m sorry,” Kevin mumbled.
Kevin moved and tucked himself against him. A solid weight that, in Joey’s opinion, should have been there the whole time.
“Hey,” Kevin said.
Kevin shifted again and pressed his lips against the skin just below Joey’s ear. “I do like you, you know.”
Kevin’s words were steady, only audible over the movie due to proximity. Joey glanced half-heartedly to the TV, not really registering the scenes that flicked across the screen as Kevin slid his mouth against the curve of his neck.
Please, don’t let the moment be ruined, Joey prayed. Not when his entire body had eased into a mellow sort of relieved pleasure.
“But you said you didn’t like it.”
Kevin withdrew, visibly confused. “At your place, remember? And that day at my place, and then after, when you got all pissy about it. And then when you tried to get me to hook up with that chick. Then when I told you I liked you.”
Joey wanted to cry. He really, truly did. Instead, he scrambled to his knees on the couch. He grabbed Kevin’s shoulders, gave him a little shake and ignored the stupid look on his face.
“Listen. Our anniversary is on the 26th of March,” Joey said. “We’ve been officially – officially – dating for two weeks. Touch me. Okay, touch me all you fucking want, and if you don’t, I’m going to make you from now on, all right? This is ridiculous,” Joey clambered into Kevin’s lap. “This is the dumbest relationship I’ve ever been in.” And then Joey kissed him.