Victor sees Georgi before Georgi sees him. He doesn’t wave, just waits until Georgi’s eyes find his in the crowded bar.
“What are you drinking, Gosha?” he says, instead of hello.
Georgi holds out his hand and he doesn’t sit until Victor has clasped it. “It’s good to see you,” he says and it sounds like he means it. “Happy Birthday.”
“Beer?” Victor says and Georgi nods, dropping his wet jacket over the back of his chair. He’s thinner than the last time Victor saw him, four years ago, when Victor choreographed a program for one of Georgi’s students. The lines around his eyes were there then but the grooves that run beside his nose down to the corners of his mouth are new. His hair is still thick and dark and Victor touches his own thinning temple before he can stop himself.
“How long are you in town?”
“I’m back,” Victor says. “I missed the rain.”
“Both of you?” Georgi says.
“No.” Victor shrugs. He wants to get this reveal out of the way as easily as Chris got him out of the way: one earnest talk, one comforting embrace, one pitying look as he closed the door for the last time, promising to take care of shipping Victor’s things. At least Victor won’t have fucking cat hair all over his clothes any more.
“I’m sorry, Vitya.” Georgi reaches halfway across the table, then stops, draws his hand back.
Their beer arrives and they toast and drink.
“I thought there would be more people here,” Georgi says.
“Don’t tell me you have a big party planned for your fortieth,” Victor says. “I don’t need any more bad luck.”
Georgi looks down at his beer, rubbing his thumb through the condensation on the glass. “I’ve had a lot of luck,” he says. “Good and bad.”
Victor realizes he can’t remember if it’s been two or three years since Georgi’s wife died. Can’t remember if he did more at the time than let Chris sign both their names on a card. He reaches over and touches Georgi’s wrist, a quick brush of his fingers. “You’re having good luck this season.”
Georgi looks up again and they talk for a while about the skaters he’s coaching, about the people they both know, about the rain.
Victor’s phone vibrates. A message from Chris, the third one today. I hope you’re doing okay. Like Victor is still Chris’s to fix. He’s going to be an earnestly friendly ex. Not like Yuuri, who hasn’t spoken more than ten words to Victor since that all broke apart.
Victor pushes away his beer. It’s weak, ineffectual, unworthy. “Gosha,” he says. “Let’s get drunk.”
Georgi looks at him for a long moment. Then he pushes his glass away too. “I have a bottle at home.”
“Sit on the couch,” Georgi says. There’s nowhere else to sit, no kitchen table, no easy chairs.
Victor lets himself down onto the block of beige upholstery and it hardly gives beneath his weight. The flat is tiny and bare, nothing on the walls except the chill coming off the windows. Silent except for the sound of the refrigerator and the rain lashing against the pane.
He’d been to a party at Georgi’s old place once, when he and Chris had been in town for a while, and he remembers the big gold-framed mirrors, the overstuffed red chairs, the warmth of the rooms. The way Georgi smiled every time he saw his wife’s face.
Georgi sets glasses and a bottle of whisky down on the low table. It’s a good single malt, much too good to get drunk on. He pours out and they drink.
When the third shot hits Victor’s gut, he sags back against the unforgiving cushions. Inside his chest, he feels something swing open, a window or a door. “I’m fucked,” he says. “Fucked up. Completely.” He drinks another shot of the smoky whisky.
“Life is fucked,” Georgi says. “We’re all fucked.”
“In this world where love is never enough,” Victor says. “Where I’m never enough.” Where he’s supposed to hold things in, to hint and allude, or to process and examine. Always saying too much or too little. Always guessing what’s expected of him. “I can’t figure out what they want.”
He slams his glass down on the table. “Chris always asking me what I meant, he had to talk everything out, like we were always negotiating some contract, like fucking lawyers. Like lawyers fucking. And he broke up with me the same way, like I was a client he didn’t want to handle any more.”
“He always was a smug bastard,” Georgi says. He slams his glass down too. “Fuck him.”
“And Yuuri,” Victor starts. His ribs constrict and he pulls in a breath. “I still don’t know what happened. What we did wrong, what I did wrong.” The hurt bubbles up inside him. “I loved him so much, I still do.“ He clenches his hands, digging his nails into the palms of his hands. “We loved each other but it still didn’t work.”
Georgi pours another round. “I tried it once, for a few months.”
“Tried what?” Victor holds the glass over his nose, breathing it in like he can still appreciate anything about the whisky except the burn in his throat.
“Dated a woman from Germany, she lived here for work.” Georgi tosses back his glass. “Disaster. They’ll never understand you, Vitya. You’ll never understand them”—he touches his forehead—“here. Even when they’re here.” He presses his fist against his heart.
“I never thought you’d be the one to tell me love isn’t enough.”
“Sometimes it is,” Georgi says.
Victor turns to look at him and the pain on Georgi’s face goes through him like a knife. He wants to turn away again but he’s caught, pinned like an insect on a card. So instead, he puts a careful hand on Georgi’s shoulder and gives it a careful squeeze. And with the other, he fills their glasses. “Tell me about her.”
“She was so beautiful,” Georgi says. He leans closer and the stories spill out of him, how they met, how they married, how they bickered over fruit in the grocery store. A rambling memory about Worlds in Nice that doesn’t seem to have a point except for the way it makes Georgi’s mouth curl upwards even though his eyes are shining with tears.
He turns to Victor, their knees bumping, and clinks their glasses together. “We only get one grand passion in our lives.”
“We’ve both had ours,” Victor says. A lifetime of pain for those few years of happiness with Yuuri. Worth it, absolutely worth it.
“To pain,” Georgi says. “To passion.”
“To the rain,” Victor says.
They both sprawl back, as far as the terrible couch will allow. The air feels thick, hazy, warm around Victor like Georgi is warm beside him. Victor’s phone vibrates in his pocket and he throws it on the table without even looking at it. Birthday wishes, check-ins from Chris, job offers, he doesn’t care, none of it matters. Nothing except the whisky and the rain and someone beside him who understands.
“Do you remember,” he says and he slips back through the years until he and Georgi are adolescents together, skating, training, bitching at each other. Getting drunk a time or two, not properly like today, but high and silly and a little mean. And once… Victor laughs. “We hooked up that time. After that girl dumped you, the older one, with the hair.”
“They all had hair,” Georgi says. “You had hair.”
“It’s not that thin!” Victor stops himself from touching it this time.
“No,” Georgi says. “I meant, your hair then, you know.” He gestures, like he’s flouncing a shimmering silver waterfall over his shoulder, exactly like Victor used to do. “It was pretty.”
“I’m still pretty.” Victor bumps their knees together again, then turns to look Georgi in the face. “So are you.”
Georgi turns too and they’re silent for a few moments, breathing warmly on each other’s faces. Then Georgi reaches up and puts three fingers on Victor’s temple, his thumb sliding over Victor’s cheekbone.
“Have you ever since?” Victor says.
“I hope you’d remember if we had,” Georgi says.
“With a man.” Victor doesn’t move but his eyes follow the lines on Georgi’s face, those deep grooves by his mouth, the crinkles around his eyes, the dent between his eyebrows.
“Vitya,” Georgi says. “How many people did you ask to go out with you tonight before me?”
“None.” Not the first person he considered, but the only one it felt right to ask. “Who else would I share this bad luck birthday with?”
Georgi leans in and they kiss, slowly, almost without heat, Georgi’s hand sliding up into Victor’s hair. When they move apart, Georgi’s cheeks are wet. He drags his sleeve over his eyes.
Victor brushes Georgi’s jaw, one teardrop that escaped. “Sexy.”
“I haven’t been with anyone,” Georgi says, “since my wife.”
“Oh.” Victor sighs. He presses his forehead against Georgi’s for a moment, then sits back. “Should I get a car? Or kill the bottle first?” He picks up his phone to check the time, 12:08.
“It’s my bad luck birthday now,” Georgi says. He puts his arm around Victor and kisses his cheek. “Who else would I share it with?”
The bed is as uncomfortable as the couch, narrow and unyielding. Victor is expecting the sex to be awkward. They’re drunk, they don’t know each other’s moves.
And it’s nothing like Yuuri’s desperate grasping in the dark, nothing like the new things Chris always made them try, laughing or cursing. Georgi almost doesn’t have any moves, he’s basic. Maybe that’s just because Victor isn’t a woman.
But it’s honest and it’s good with Georgi, warm like a log fire burning down, with an occasional burst of sparks. When Victor goes down on him, he touches Victor’s face gently and chokes out Victor’s name when he comes. And he brings Victor off with care and attention, kissing him over and over until Victor sighs, spends, feels the knots in his shoulders loosen.
Then, forty, drunk, and heartbroken, they go another round.
“I have to be at the rink in half an hour.” Georgi hands Victor a cup of tea.
Victor sits up, grimacing at the ache in his hip and the throb in his head. He slurps the strong tea and blinks. The rain is beating against the window and it won’t be dawn for hours yet.
Georgi sits down on the side of the bed with his cup. “I don’t have the head for liquor that my father had.” He takes a sip. “Or maybe he was just more stoic about it.” He looks like Victor feels: tired, sore, ill. But easy too, like he’s relaxed into his pain instead of holding it tightly.
“Are you going to take your hangover out on your skaters like Yakov always did?” Victor swings out of bed and gathers his clothes.
“He must have been hungover every day then.” Georgi takes Victor’s cup. “Where are you staying? I can drop you if it’s nearby.”
“I’ll get a car.” Victor hesitates, then hooks his free arm around Georgi’s neck, pressing their cheeks together. “Happy Birthday, Gosha.”
Georgi presses back. The dregs of the tea tip onto Victor’s shirt and they jump apart. “It’s a bad luck year,” Georgi says.
Victor showers at his hotel. He climbs into the comfortable bed and dozes for a while, drinks a litre of water, another cup of tea. Swipes away more messages. Orders breakfast and doesn’t eat it.
Time to get on with it. He should call an agent about finding a place to live, make some business decisions. Find a rink to work from.
Instead he goes to a banya and sweats the whisky out of his body, sweats the thoughts out of his head. He chats with old men. He gets a massage and a manicure.
And then he goes shopping.
When Georgi comes down the hall, Victor eases to his feet. His ass is asleep from sitting on the floor and his head is still aching.
Georgi stops for a moment, looking at Victor. Then he takes the handle of Victor’s suitcase and pulls it inside, all the way into the bedroom.
“I brought you something,” Victor says. It’s a mirror with a silver frame, a small mirror for a small room.
“It’s lovely,” Georgi says. He pulls out a toolbox and Victor watches him hang the mirror by the door.
Then Georgi goes to the window and pulls the curtain back on the twilight, looking out at the rain.
Victor goes to stand beside him. “I didn’t miss the rain,” he says. He puts his arm around Georgi’s shoulders.
Georgi leans in, relaxing against Victor. “It’s your turn to cook.”