Mike heaved himself up from the couch and changed the channel again, only to scowl at the TV screen. Again. “If any one of those airheads says, ‘It's got a good beat and you can dance to it,’ I’ll…” Muttering, he dropped back onto the couch, brushing Peter’s knee with his head as he sat. As he could have predicted, within a few seconds, Peter, perched in the lotus position above him on the back of the couch, acoustic in hand, was picking out the song Dick Clark had just introduced and that two mini-skirted teenage girls were rating. That was at least bearable, but within minutes, the commercials came on.
With another grumble, Mike levered himself up. No point trying the other two channels again—only local news and sports and he didn’t feel like either. He turned off the set and sat yet again, and this time Pete’s knee stroked Mike’s temple. Which kinda made the journey worthwhile. Was better than anything on TV, anyhow.
“You should have switched on earlier for the cartoons,” Peter said.
Mike gave Peter a sideways glance. “Don’t feel like cartoons.” Micky watched Saturday morning cartoons.
“Put on a record,” Peter said, not stopping his improvising. He couldn’t hold an instrument without playing it.
“In a minute, buddy. I’m sorta okay with this.”
“Hmm?” Peter looked up.
“This silence,” Mike gabbled. “This silence.” This with a wave of his hand to show he meant the pad, empty then except for the pair of them.
And he was. He kinda liked when things were just him and Peter. He liked how Peter was quieter then, as was he. Without their roommates, Mike didn’t need to keep order or organize, and Peter didn’t need to smooth things or lighten things or defuse things, or whatever. They could just be. Be real.
Peter’s reply meant vague agreement, but the sound hung, a murmur throbbing in the still of the summer afternoon, thrumming through Mike. He half stood, thinking to give the TV another chance, but he sat again, getting in another rub against Peter’s knee.
“You’re…I don’t know.” Peter tilted his head, eyes narrowed and fingers stilling on the strings. “Sure you haven’t been body swapped with Micky?”
“I guess that’s a little joke, about this big?” Mike automatically took the guitar Peter passed him and Peter sank down to occupy the far end of the couch, meaning Mike pushed himself against his arm of the sofa, his legs stretched out. Peter kneeled between them to reach for the magazine Mike had discarded on the side table earlier. Leaning farther forward over Mike, his mostly unbuttoned shirt gaping, he plucked up the glass there and helped himself to a mouthful of Mike’s beer before telescoping back into a cross-legged sit.
Mike tightened a too-loose fret, his reproving gaze meeting Peter’s look of mild inquiry before Peter opened the music magazine, spread it open on Mike’s shins, and pulled Mike’s bare feet onto his lap in one smooth movement. He bent, reading the article and pressing small circles into the ball of Mike’s foot with his thumbs, his actions flowing, seamless, like when he laid his hands on an instrument. Mike swallowed down the purr threatening to break loose from his throat.
Such typical Peter, head bent, hair in his eyes, as he focused. Mostly when he was playing. Absorbed. Still kneading with one hand, he flicked out the other to turn the page. Those long-fingered hands that made water fountain plastic cups look so small when he held them. They even made books look small, especially when he marked his place with a finger when interrupted mid-page, and forgot he had the book in his hand, waving it around, gesturing to explain something. Were those new beads? A necklace? It looked like a topaz stone on a bit of leather.
As if feeling Mike’s scrutiny, Peter looked up. “Better?” he asked, rubbing lower, pressing a spot on Mike’s sole that made Mike’s head sag on his shoulders, had it rolling it in a half-circle.
The twitch Mike gave wasn’t so much to do with Peter’s touch finding a nerve. No, the flick on the raw was the realization Peter was treating Mike like Micky. Suggesting he watch cartoons and now trying to calm him down? Micky often sat on the floor when the other three occupied the couch, watching TV. He leaned against Peter’s legs and Peter kinda petted him, twiddling a finger into his curls or scratching his nails into Micky’s head or massaging the base of his neck. It quieted him for bed, was the logic. And when Micky got too excited, Peter facing him and rubbing his shoulders and the tops of his arms calmed him.
I’m not Micky, Mike wanted to say. But would Peter stop what he was doing to Mike’s feet if he said it out loud? He heaved a sigh.
“Woah. You’re restless today.” And now Peter did stop, his fingers curled around Mike’s foot, thumbs poised, his fingers deceptively gentle, because they zinged with strength and purpose. “Is this because of that chick? Because that sigh was pure Davy. Hey, maybe the body swap wasn’t just one way. What happened in the pad today? Did a bad wizard come by?” He mimed waving a wand at Mike then at two other people, currently absent.
“And that is a very Micky thing to say and do. So, you know, you could be right about the swap thing.”
Their shared smile at Mike’s reply turned Peter’s eyes from toffee to caramel. He bent his head again, running strong knuckles down Mike’s sole. “Amanda. The chick with Toby last night at the Hullabaloo?”
“Ya know, I still can’t believe what she said!” Mike hated when his voice rose like that. It sounded like a yelp.
“She was witty.” Peter shrugged. “I guess the British are. Look at Davy.”
“You must be joking.” Mike’s Davy impression would have fooled no one.
“That’s my line.” Peter’s imitation was better. He was still pressing, now at the base of Mike’s big toe. Mike had no idea what it was supposed to be doing. Didn’t much care. He twisted for his glass and took a gulp of beer.
“More?” he asked, holding it out to Peter. “While the kids are out?”
Peter took it and swigged. And that was another thing. The way they shared glasses or cups. Or bottles or cans. Or plates. Or— Peter placed the glass on the end table near him and resumed his massage. Mike frowned. Did Peter think Mike was drinking too much, or something? Because—
“What was it she said? That we were only a half pouch of good grass and nothing on telly away from making out?” Peter cradled Mike’s foot to him and shook his head. “Telly.”
“Telly,” Mike echoed, as if the silly word was the focus point of the sentence.
“Well, you showed her who you’d rather make out with, huh?”
“I guess.” Mike found he’d folded his arms across his chest. He brought up a hand and touched its fingers to his lips.
He wasn’t proud of what had happened, of what he’d done, even if the English chick—Amanda, Peter had said—had been asking for it. Mike had offered her his chair – a scarce commodity at the night club, but she’d perched on the arm instead. Deliberate positioning herself to be taller. Higher up. It had been easy to pull her down onto his lap, to slide one hand into her long blonde hair and use the other to cup her face and so position her for his kiss. She hadn’t struggled or resisted. Much. She’d wanted it. Had stared at his mouth, daring him on. He could still taste her lipstick.
“D’you think you’ll see her again?” Peter, head bent to his task, dug his thumbs in. Hard. Just for a moment, but it registered.
“I don’t know, man.” Mike curled his toes around Peter’s thumb, like a baby gripping a finger.
“She’s here at the beach with Toby for the rest of the summer. Secondment, from her magazine with the sister publication here.”
Mike knew that as well as Peter did, knew that their neighbour Toby had offered her spare room to the Londoner, hoping to gain points at the stupid magazine she sometimes sold articles to, where she wanted to get on staff. What he didn’t know was the reason for the private smile curving Peter’s lips. Didn’t know…if Peter liked Toby. It struck him that Toby and the newcomer looked a bit alike. Acted a bit alike. Did Peter—
“She looked a good kisser.”
“What?” That startled Mike from his musing. “Man, I’m not gonna kiss and tell! I never asked you about Valerie.” He didn’t know why that broke free.
“Do you want to ask about Valerie?”
“I guess I mean it looked a good kiss. We all thought so.”
“Y’all th… You were watching? You were watching.” They…tended to, with Davy mostly the subject of observation. “I guess I should just be relieved y’all didn’t have binoculars and do a running commentary. Or record the score in a book.” Micky again.
“Maybe it was you, then. That you’re a good kisser. I thought so with the second one.”
Mike jerked free and crossed his legs, a bookend to Peter. He hadn’t realized anyone had witnessed that second kiss, later, when he’d walked the blonde to her door after they’d given her a ride home. He’d almost accepted her invitation in. Okay, so he’d promised the guys he’d be the driver yesterday, but they could have walked home from the girls’ or Pete could have driven them the rest of the way. He hadn’t drunk much.
It’s all Davy’s fault for going home with Toby. Toby, who’d driven herself and Amanda there, had made the rest of them promise to look after her guest when she and Davy’d split. Mike didn’t quite understand that relationship. Sure, Toby had gone through the Davy-infatuation stage common to most girls, worse in local ones, and had come out the other side, far as Mike could see. And yet the pair of them had a ‘friends who sometimes hook-up’ deal going on. Which meant Peter couldn’t be sweet on their neighbour, could he? Not with Davy in the mix?
Mike gave up pondering it and shook his head. “I guess we just don’t have no secrets in this place.”
“No. Not really.” Peter tugged at Mike’s other foot. Mike resisted, making Peter pull harder, so that when he won the tussle, he was now closer. He didn’t resume his work, however. Just studied Mike. “What, Michael?”
“Nothing. Well, just, don’t you think it was a weird thing for a chick to talk about, that it’d be hot to see two guys making out? That she’d pay good money to see?” He tried to stem the tide that had burst free. “I didn’t know chicks thought about that sort of stuff, man!”
“Why not? I think about two chicks making out. Don’t tell me you haven’t. It’s hot, man.” Peter closed his eyes for a few seconds, the smile back. “Remember how Davy got, over the Harrison twins? The things he imagined?”
“Well, yeah, I guess.” At least that made Mike grin. A little. “And the nearest he got was different days. Except for that one night when they discovered what he was up to.”
“Huh, yeah. Good thing his black eye healed relatively quickly.” Peter closed the neglected magazine. “They sure were livewires, Amanda and Toby together. Could be an interesting summer. She said she’d have a supper party when she was sorted out.”
“You sure seemed to have a nice long talk with her,” Mike said slowly. “And seems you remember everything she said.” Oh. Not Toby. The new chick. Mike knew his duty as a roommate. As a band mate. As a good buddy. “See, me and her, it wasn’t. We weren’t. Aren’t.” And left it there. Peter would understand.