Meteor barrelled out of the chute, seven hundred and fifty kilograms of pure bovine fury.
Christophe’s heart pounded as he ranged around with the other bullfighters, not too close, not too far from those kicking hooves and twisting back. He had a healthy respect for every bull he shared the arena with. But Meteor was a bull to fear.
Meteor snorted and reared, springing up, bucking and rolling, nearly vertical before he crashed down again.
And on his back, the rider held on. Hand in the air, moving almost smoothly with Meteor. Flashes of bright hair from under his dark hat, a face so composed he was nearly smiling.
Victor Nikiforov, the favourite for this rodeo. For the whole season. The Silver Star, everybody called him.
Christophe had been in the arena with Victor before too. He always drew Christophe’s eye. Not just because Christophe was there to keep him safe, but his skill, his beauty. Even through the rising dust, the clang of the cowbells, through Meteor’s raw power, Christophe could feel the force of Victor’s charisma.
The crowd cheered, a roar that went on and on under the baking summer sun. A bead of sweat escaped the band of Christophe’s hat and rolled down his face as he moved around the churned up ground. He hardly noticed; he was with the bull and the rider for these eight seconds that seemed to stretch out forever. Heating his blood, making his nerves sing, a thrill that nothing else could match.
Meteor jumped, back arching so far, Victor was almost horizontal. The bull twisted and bucked, more frenzied than any other ride this weekend.
Still Victor hung on, silent and calm. In that moment, Christophe wouldn’t have been surprised if Meteor calmed too, resigned himself to the mastery of the Silver Star.
In the next, Victor was flying through the air, the rope falling from his hand, a look of faint surprise on his face.
He thudded to the ground almost underneath the bull’s rampaging heels. The crowd screamed.
Christophe lunged, diving though the dirt. He grabbed Victor and rolled just as Meteor’s vicious hooves crashed down beside him.
Next thing he knew, Christophe was blinking away sweat, heart hammering at his ribcage while he stared into Victor’s shocked eyes. They were chest to chest, lying in the dust, Christophe’s arms tight around Victor.
They looked at each other for long seconds and Christophe thought he could feel the shake of Victor’s heart too, beating against him.
Then Victor slumped, his muscles going slack, his face dropping. “Goddammit,” he said and rolled away.
Christophe picked himself up and watched Victor running for the fence. “Goddammit,” he echoed and ran the other way.
Christophe drained his glass and reached for the pitcher. “Too early for such cheap beer,” he called down the table to the other bullfighters.
“You’re into that artisanal shit?” another man said. Travis, Christophe had worked with him a few times before. “If you show up with one of those lumberjack beards, you know we’ll shave it off you, right?”
The table laughed and Christophe laughed too. “Like I’d hide my perfect face.” He ran a hand over his carefully shaped stubble. then tilted his head to the side and gave the man an appraising look through lazy eyelids. “Especially now I know you need to see it that much.”
More laughter but Travis’s was a little strained. Maybe Christophe should follow up with a bit more flirty needling, just for fun. To blow off steam and, who knew, maybe more. They deserved it. Christophe deserved it.
He was already feeling that post-rodeo let-down, all the adrenaline drained away and real life looming like grey clouds building on the horizon.
“You want the hipster microbrew, you pay for it.” The head bullfighter worked most of the medium to big rodeos, in the west at least, and he always bought the first round of beer and wings when they were done.
“Do they have a barrel-aged avocado lager on tap?” Christophe said. Truth was, he probably shouldn’t spring for even a pitcher of the cheap stuff. Not when he was going to have to be up early to chase down another day job.
Two years of work for that company and they’d just dropped his contract. They’d claimed they were phasing out remote work and if he could just come into their offices four thousand fucking kilometres away, they could squeeze him into their crowded dev pit. Which probably was filled with artisanal beards and ball caps and protein shakes. But the reality was they were downsizing; they didn’t really want him.
The reality was he should probably be working his side job right now. Back home in front of the camera, putting on a sexy show for the men who watched his stream. Chasing big tips instead of big bulls. He’d already missed last night, away too long and his cam audience would drop off.
But he was too tired, too restless. And it was going to take more than noisy bullfighters and sticky hot wings to get his mind off his work situation tonight. He scanned the bar for a likely candidate, someone hot, more importantly, someone fun. Someone who needed a post-rodeo hookup as much as Christophe did. Who would make that adrenaline flow again, an echo of the rush of the arena. Especially the thrill of that near miss with Meteor.
And there, at the bar, was Victor Nikiforov.
Christophe stared, he couldn’t help it. In a room where the loud laughter and the top-forty country swirled around like a dust devil, Victor looked cool and calm. Not like he belonged, not exactly, but like he brought his own bubble of belonging with him and everyone else in the bar was an outsider.
He was dressed like most of the people here. At least he wearing the same type of clothes: boots, jeans, long sleeves, hat. But the jeans were dark new and starched into a sharp crease, the white shirt was perfectly fitted to Victor’s slim frame and pressed so smooth, Christophe couldn’t find a single wrinkle. The dark hat set just so over the sweep of silver hair. And, like Victor meant it to match, the belt buckle with the single silver star.
He was leaning easily, as though his long legs and all too beautiful ass were perfectly displayed by accident. Tipping up a glass of bourbon to show the line of his throat and jaw.
Christophe swallowed hard. That warm curl of what if inside him would usually have him picking up his drink and sauntering over, leaning in with his best smile and his best line in his best deep purr.
But with Victor what if was more like if only. Not that Christophe had ever been rebuffed by Victor; he’d never even made the attempt. Something about that bubble kept him away: one long look, one deep sigh, then on to a more approachable target.
Christophe drew in a breath for the first part of the sigh. Then Victor turned his head.
They locked eyes. The air in Christophe’s lungs stopped, like they were back rolling in the dirt together, away from Meteor’s vicious heels. He froze, twisted in his chair, a little annoyed by his deer-in-the-headlights reaction. Half-wishing—quarter-wishing, really—that Victor would just leave him alone to a normal evening.
But the gaze stretched out until Christophe’s diaphragm got impatient and just breathed for him. Christophe turned back to the table, into the noise, and tried to pick up the thread of conversation. Tried to keep his glance roving around the bar, looking for someone else, anyone else.
But he could still feel those eyes on him, looking at him so deliberately. Not the first time Christophe had stared at Victor in a crowded bar. But the first time Victor had stared back.
Never mind, not tonight. No need to complicate his life even further. Just some drinks with the boys, then find himself someone as tired and wound up as he was. Bang it out, sleep it off.
But instead of checking out the rest of the room, Christophe glanced over his shoulder again. Victor was still looking at him. And, apparently, Christophe was still looking back. His heart thumped, like he was back in grade seven, checking out his crush instead of his math quiz.
Victor inclined his head, raising his glass, and his intention was plain. A royal command.
And obeying it would be a terrible idea. Last thing Christophe needed right now was to get tangled up with someone he might want to keep longer than breakfast in the morning.
But he didn’t look away and neither did Victor.
Fuck it. At least this way he might get over his weird awkwardness with Victor. Christophe left his beer and his wings and his drinking buddies and went over to the bar.
“I should at least buy you a drink for saving my life.” Victor slid a glass of bourbon over to Christophe.
“A free drink I didn’t even get to pick.” Christophe arranged himself at the bar, a nonchalant pose like he didn’t care, not that much, anyhow. Up close, he still felt that bubble around Victor, a cushion of elegant air he wasn’t sure if he could penetrate. Probably for the best. “Good to know the value of your life.”
“It’s the best they have, so it’s what we’re drinking.” Victor picked up his glass. “To Meteor,” he said. “That bastard.”
Christophe clinked his glass against Victor’s and sipped the bourbon. It was good, smooth, with a honey note. “To Meteor. For saving me from cheap beer and cheaper jokes.”
“Maybe we should bring him the rest of the bottle.” Victor drew his hair back from his forehead in a slow gesture that looked like a habit. “He probably wants to toast his victory over me.”
“Bad luck with the draw,” Christophe said. “He’ll win this season again, easy. I thought you were going to make it, though.”
“Me too.” Victor smiled ruefully, “I was glad to draw him, really. The only good thing about an easy win is the prize money.” He took another drink. “Sorry to miss that, though.”
“Season’s just starting,” Christophe said. “Maybe we’ll have another roll in the dirt next weekend.”
“You, me, and Meteor.” Victor shifted, turning so he was leaning on the bar with both elbows. “Maybe you should tell me your name, so I don’t have to keep calling you ‘that hot bullfighter who saved my life’.”
“Christophe Giacometti.” Christophe turned too, mirroring Victor’s body language. He still felt that distance from Victor but he was relaxing all the same, falling into familiar patterns that Victor seemed to share. “But everybody knows me as ‘that hot bullfighter’.”
“With good reason.” Victor looked Christophe up and down. Then he reached out and touched the side of Christophe’s face, two fingers brushing a tender spot on Christophe’s jaw. “You’re bruised, Chris.”
A tingle went through Christophe at the touch and he felt buzzed, tipsy, even though he’d barely drunk enough to loosen up. “You should see the rest of me.”
Victor flashed a smile. “Are you going to tell me which ones are my fault?”
“I haven’t catalogued them yet,” Christophe said. “Maybe you can help me with the tally.” The bruises were a bit of a problem, though. With his dev job gone for now, he was going to have to hit the cam sessions harder to make up the difference. And the banged-up look didn’t appeal to most of his audience. Cover-up and low lighting, that was going to be a pain.
“Another drink?” Victor said.
Christophe shook himself back to the present. Time enough to worry about his finances when he wasn’t drinking — and flirting — with the Silver Star. He pulled up a bar stool and sat down. “Please.”
Victor settled himself too and they sipped and laughed their way through another bourbon. Christophe let Victor set the pace with both the liquor and the flirting but after the second time Victor let his hand linger on Christophe’s shoulder, Christophe leaned closer.
“Couldn’t hear you,” he said and rested his hand on Victor’s back while Victor spoke into his ear, the brim of Victor’s hat brushing Christophe’s hair. He didn’t take his hand away when Victor sat back for another drink.
He was inside the bubble now, he and Victor isolated from the rest of the bar, from everything but the natural progression of a fun evening into a fun night. How many bruises did Victor have on his pale skin? Christophe was going to find them all, kiss them if Victor wanted it soft, press them if he wanted more.
But even while Victor gave Christophe wicked looks from under his eyelashes, while he slid his hand onto Christophe’s thigh, Christophe sensed that Victor was playing a role. Not one he didn’t want to play, more like a public persona he never dropped.
It was probably just as well. Christophe could feel the warning signs, the small scorches the sparks between them left. If there were a tear in that perfect shirt sleeve Christophe could put his finger through, a crack in that perfect smile Christophe could kiss.
But this was no time to fall for someone, especially not someone like Victor. It was time to get out of here. So, slide the hand down Victor’s back, press the knee into Victor’s thigh. “Do you want to see those bruises now?”
“I’m waiting for my boyfriend,” Victor said.
“What?” Christophe reared back, like Victor’s words were a kick from a vicious bull and all Christophe could do was let his body try to dodge.
“He was supposed to meet me here.” Like that was a normal thing Christophe should have expected Victor to say.
Had he completely misread the situation? But no, this was not some mixed signals screw-up. Christophe knew people, he knew how they reacted. He knew when a man wanted to sleep with him. “Are you just fucking with me?”
“No,” Victor said. “It’s fine, we have an arrangement.” He smiled again and put his hand on Christophe’s arm. “We can still hook up but if I just text him that I’m leaving before he gets here, he’ll be so pissy, it’s not worth it.”
“He has to approve me first?” Christophe didn’t pull away again even though he really should just get up and go back to his table. Or leave entirely, get some actual sleep. But Victor was enticing and Christophe really wanted to see what he was like in bed. If he fucked as gracefully as he rode. And a Victor who was already attached was far less dangerous.
“That’s not how it works,” Victor said. “If you really want, we can leave now. But if you maybe want a threeway, he would definitely be into that.”
“Definitely?” Maybe that would take the pressure off, have the sex while reminding himself Victor was not for him. Plus, hot threeway. Possibly.
“Ninety-five percent definitely. At least ninety.” Victor grinned. “You are very hot.”
“You are very correct,” Christophe said. “Okay, if we’re both into it, then sure.” More bodies in the bed, more to take Christophe’s mind off things. More appreciation for Christophe’s skills. And they’ll all be rolling on tomorrow anyhow.
“Good choice,” Victor said. “He can be pissy but in a hot way. In bed, at least.” He picked up his glass, then set it down and pulled out his phone. “Aaaaand he’s not coming.” He looked back at Christophe.
Christophe slid his hand up Victor’s thigh. “We still could.”
“Home, sweet home.” Christophe opened the door to his camper truck and climbed in.
“If you say so.” Victor paused at the threshhold a moment before following.
Christophe sat down on the bench seat in the tiny dining nook and pulled off his boots. “For the summers, anyway.” He stood again—“switch”—and manoeuvred around Victor to let him do the same.
He’d had this set-up for years now, ever since his parents had died. There were enough places to camp or just park with decent wifi for his work during the week. And on most weekends, he drove out to rodeos. In the winter, he found a cheap apartment share somewhere, unless he was out on the coast where it was mostly warm enough even in January. It worked for him, drifting around, completely free, nothing to tie him down.
It wasn’t a space he often shared, though. Especially with someone as fastidious as Victor looked to be.
Victor set his boots beside Christophe’s. “It’s cute, very cozy.” Like cozy was just how he wanted to feel on a hot summer night. “But there’s not a lot of room to entertain gentleman callers.”
“How much room do you need?” Christophe opened the tiny fridge. “There’s beer and”—he pushed the cans around—“nothing.”
Victor stood and drew back the curtain across the sleeping area over the truck cab. “Bigger than I expected. But not much headroom.”
“Move,” Christophe said and turned Victor around and pushed him back a few steps.
“Just like dancing.” Victor leaned against the bathroom door.
Christophe lowered the table and unfolded the seats to make a second bed area. This was where he did his cam sessions, when he had to use the camper instead of a larger space, a hotel or Airbnb. A string of LEDs on the fridge in a makeshift ring light and the camera in the middle. He looped the string over their hooks and turned them on, switched off the overhead light.
Then he looked over at Victor, so cool and unruffled, even in the heat. So elegant, even in his sock feet in Christophe’s tiny camper. So incredibly attractive. And somebody else’s boyfriend.
“Two beds?” Victor said. “Are we having a sleepover?”
“You don’t have to stay.” Christophe didn’t even know what he wanted Victor to answer.
Victor took off his hat and ran his hand through his beautiful hair. Then he stepped up to Christophe and kissed him.
Christophe relaxed into it, Victor’s hands on his waist, and shifted as they made that first-time negotiation of how they’d kiss, how they’d fit together. And they fit very well.
He let Victor walk him back to the dining nook, sat when Victor pushed him, grinned when Victor straddled his lap. Would Victor make a fuss over that beautiful shirt? But as Christophe slipped each button free, Victor just undid the cuffs himself and leaned back to lay the shirt on the counter top.
There was a bruise on Victor’s ribs, just coming up new, and Christophe traced the edges with his mouth until he felt Victor tense. “Sorry,” he said and pulled Victor’s head down for another kiss.
“Be fair, show me your bruises.” Victor reached up under Christophe’s shirt and ran his fingertips over Christophe’s bare skin. “Or you can tell me when I find one.”
This whole encounter, this whole evening, Christophe had felt strangely out of control, although it was hard to pinpoint why. Nothing Victor said or did was forceful or demanding. Or even manipulative. But reality bent around him, shifting the world into the one he wanted. Which, for now, included Christophe.
Christophe didn’t like that. No, he did like it and that was what he didn’t want. To be drawn into Victor’s world, uncharted territory, where Christophe didn’t know the rules or the road.
He wasn’t going to let that happen. Just a hookup, everybody moves along tomorrow, and if they met at the next rodeo, Christophe knew how to nod and walk away.
He stood, twisting Victor off of his lap and onto the seat. “I’ll show you.”
He took his time, teasing at the buttons of his shirt like he was on camera, canting his hip, tipping his head. Bringing up his best cocky grin. Taking back control.
“I expected a few more.” Victor laid one finger on the purpling spot on Christophe’s ribs. “Didn’t you even try to save anybody else?”
“Oh, I’m too good at what I do.” Christophe dropped his shirt and paused with his hands on the waist of his jeans. “I’m the one who beat Meteor, remember?”
Victor’s face clouded and he glanced away.
Oh, shit. Just a rodeo hookup but Christophe didn’t want to ruin it. He pulled the buttons of his fly free, one by one. “You haven’t seen the best bruise.”
“If this is some weird name you call your dick,” Victor said, but he smiled.
Christophe peeled back his jeans. Over his hip was a spectacular bruise: huge, dark, tender. “From yesterday,” he said. “Sorry you can’t claim it.”
Victor reached out and hooked his thumb in the waist of Christophe’s briefs, sliding them down so he could see the edges of the bruise. It was as big as the palm of his hand, fading to green around the margins. “That must hurt,” he said and touched it.
Christophe winced at the pain. “Maybe too much.” There was the ghost of another pain too, a tightness in his chest. Then he realized. Just under Victor’s fingers, hidden by the bruise and the shadows, was his tattoo.
It was a terrible tattoo, really: two wavering linked hearts in black ink. The relic of an old relationship. The old relationship, a man he tried hard not to think about. That stupid night when they’d got drunk at a bar and laughed together. And Christophe had caught Georgi’s face in his hands and said all the things Georgi had been waiting to hear.
They’d stumbled out into the street, arms around each other, and Christophe couldn’t remember now which one of them pulled the other into the sketchy tattoo shop. They took turns gripping each other’s hands, praising each other’s bravery, while the tattoo artist, who wasn’t quite as drunk as they were, rolled her eyes.
Afterwards, Georgi threw up in the alley. Christophe carried him three blocks on his back, Georgi’s leg pressing painfully against the fresh tattoo, before they could get a car back home.
Georgi’s must be long gone by now. Christophe knew he should get his removed, erase that part of his life for good, but it was expensive and he just hadn’t been in the same place long enough for the appointments.
“Sorry.” Victor took his hand away. He looked up at Christophe, deliberately drew back his hair, blinked slowly. “Is there anything else I should see?”
Christophe kept his eyes on Victor, like they’d stared at each other in the bar. This beautiful man in front of you, that’s all you need to think about. Then he stripped like he always did for the men on his cam stream, slowly, smoothly, and the calm came back to him. He always felt the most powerful when he was naked, the most in control.
He slid his briefs away and let his dick free. Didn’t touch himself, just gave Victor a grin. “This is everything,” he said.
“It’s a lot,” Victor said. He put his hand on Christophe’s other hip, curved his fingers back around Christophe’s ass. “Glad I have you all to myself after all.”
Victor’s hair had fallen down over his forehead again. Christophe brushed it back. “He’s not going to show up and try to fight me, is he?”
“He gets around too,” Victor said. “He’s a musician, claims he’s in demand.” He stood and kissed Christophe’s face, running his hands over Christophe’s body, just barely avoiding Christophe’s cock.
“I had one of those too, for a while.” Dammit, it was almost like Victor was trying to make Christophe think about his ex. “But he always came home.”
“Oh, he comes home,” Victor said. “I just have to put up with a lot of talk about his latest.”
“That must be annoying,” Christophe said. He pulled Victor closer, pressing his dick against the front of Victor’s jeans, rocking in against Victor’s dick. Victor’s hands tightened and his breath roughened and Christophe rocked up again. Good, now maybe Victor would focus on Christophe. Too bad if Victor’s jeans got stained, Christophe was past being considerate.
“There was one real bastard, though,” Victor said. “Really broke his heart. He would never tell me what happened, which was weird enough, he usually can’t shut up. He changed his whole look, got all brooding for a while. Wrote some great songs, though. That’s the only one of his exes I’d like to punch.”
“Could you just shut up about your boyfriend for five minutes?” This was already a disaster. Too many old memories, too many new feelings. He should just throw Victor out, toss his boots and hat out after him, then drive away, drive anywhere. Leave his heart behind in this parking lot and go.
“You’re as bitchy as he is,” Victor said. “I don’t usually—“ He shrugged and pushed Christophe back onto the seat and knelt between his thighs. “Tell me when.” And he went down on Christophe, his mouth hot and tight, his eyes closed in concentration.
Christophe kept his eyes open and, frustrated as he was, ran his fingers gently through Victor’s shining hair. Let go. Let go and forget.
And when he came, he nearly did.
Christophe couldn’t move his arm. It was asleep, all pins and needles, and it was going to take a long time to wake up. Also, it was trapped. Under someone who was also asleep. Oh, god, Victor.
He stretched and tugged until Victor rolled away enough for him to get his arm back. He flexed it while he tried to remember how he should be feeling right now. Body: sore from the rodeo, good from the sex, pretty decent sex for a hook-up. Brain: anxious about something, his job, or lack of one. Heart: oh, fuck. He didn’t need his brain to remind him. In fact, if his brain would just shut up and let him get back to sleep and forget about his heart for a few more hours, that would be great.
Then Christophe smelled the smoke.
He rolled up onto his side in time to see the curtains catch. There was something on fire on the stovetop and it was spreading.
“Shit!” He kicked Victor, hard as he could. “Wake up!” He rolled out of the bed. “Wake up, damn it!” He grabbed something from the floor, some piece of clothing, and beat at the fire with it. The mess on the stove dwindled but the curtains were blazing. The cabinets would go next, and what about the propane tank?
“What the hell?” Victor yawned. “Are you making breakfast?”
“Fire,” Christophe yelled. “Get out, we have to get out now.”
Victor banged his head on the ceiling, then scrambled off the bed platform. Christophe dragged him to the door through a cloud of smoke. He fumbled with the handle.
“Hurry!” Victor shouted, like that would make Christophe’s hands work any better.
Finally, the door flew open. They stumbled down the steps and ran across the gravel lot. “Fire!” Christophe yelled. “There’s a fire!”
People were starting to wake up and look out of their campers, echoing the call of “Fire!” The ones parked next to Christophe jumped into their cabs and pulled out, trying to get as far away as possible.
“Does somebody have a fire extinguisher?” Christophe said but it was clearly too late for that, the flames were taking over. Someone grabbed him by the arm and dragged him further back.
Someone else handed him a blanket and he stared at it, was he supposed to go back to sleep or something? They pulled it back out of his hand and draped it over his shoulders.
Which was the point Christophe realized he was completely, utterly naked in a parking lot while everything he owned was burning down. At least that’s what his brain was telling him. He should be having some sort of feelings about it but right now all he could do was stare.
“I guess we’re not having pancakes after all.” Victor had a blanket wrapped around him too. And, somehow, his hat in his hand. Inside were his phone and wallet. He noticed Christophe looking. “Best place to keep them in case you have to make a quick exit.”
Truck, gone. Camper, gone. Laptop, phone, wallet, camera, gone. Clothes, gone. Everything. Gone.
“It was the stove,” Christophe said. Something on there. He could see it, nearly, see himself beating at it as it burned. Something white, a towel?
“Looks like you saved my life again,” Victor said.
“It was your shirt.” Christophe turned to Victor. “On the stovetop.”
“It’s not like there was anywhere else to put it,” Victor said. He glanced away. “I may have…bumped the stove when I got up to piss.”
Christophe knew this was where he should yell at Victor but he was just blank. What was he going to do now? What could he do? Stand here until the truck was a burnt out shell and some church ladies brought him old clothes to wear?
“Your insurance will cover it, right?”
“Not fire,” Christophe said. “Not fucking fire.” And the blank space started to fill in with anger. “Everything’s gone, all because I let you suck my dick. Do you have insurance for that? Do you have a new truck for me in your fancy hat? A laptop so I can do my fucking job?”
“I’m sorry,” Victor said. He looked sorry, tired and distressed. “Listen, I’ll make it right. We’ll get you back on your feet. Just, it will have to be after I win at the next rodeo.”
“I guess I’ll just live in this blanket until then.” Maybe a motel would let him stay a few days? Or one of the church ladies would take him in.
Victor sighed. “You’ll have to come along with me.”
Christophe hitched up his sweatpants while Victor opened the motel room door. Even in green leggings and a Budweiser shirt—cast-offs from people at the camp lot—Victor still looked cool and elegant. It was annoying.
“I’ll just wait outside,” Christophe said. If he dawdled long enough, maybe another life-changing event would happen before he had to face reality. Like the wind blowing a winning lottery ticket into his hand. Or an asteroid slamming into the Earth. Or at least he’d be able to drink his coffee. He eased his cup out and passed the tray over to Victor.
Victor flashed a smile back at Christophe as he stepped inside, leaving the door half-open. “Morning,” Christophe heard him say. “Have you eaten?”
“What are you wearing?” a voice said. “Goodwill wouldn’t even take those clothes. Did your hook-up rob you?”
Oh fuck. Christophe froze, almost couldn’t suck in breath. Like he’d been kicked in the gut. By Meteor.
“Funny thing about that,” Victor said. “He’s here.” He swung the door full open.
And there he was. Georgi Popovich. Christophe’s ex. Standing there in front of Christophe again after a year and a half. Like a ghost, just with different hair.
They’d been together a little over six months, but an intense six months, living together most of that time in a tiny apartment in the city. Georgi played the country bars as many nights as he could, trying to break out. Christophe remembered the honky-tonk look he was so careful about.
Now he was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a black leather jacket slung over the chair next to him. Teasing his dark hair up into a pompadour. Full-on rockabilly and Christophe was surprised how well it suited him.
Their eyes met in the mirror. Georgi froze too, his comb halfway through his hair. Then he spun around. “You?” he said.
“Looks like.” Christophe tried to look casual, like he wasn’t churned up and hurting. Like he wasn’t actively hoping for that asteroid to destroy the earth.
Because Georgi wasn’t an ex. He was the ex. The one Christophe had thought was maybe going to be, well, the one. The one who kissed Christophe as soon as one of them walked in the door. The one who yelled at Christophe for drinking milk out of the carton. Who listened to Christophe complain about his job. Who practised his songs at home until Christophe had to buy better headphones to get any work done.
The one who’d said such extravagant things to Christophe, such lush promises of love, that Christophe had said them back. And meant them. The reason for Christophe’s terrible tattoo.
And Christophe was the bastard who ran out on him.
“Why are you here?” Georgi demanded.
“Not for you,” Christophe said.
“Wait, was Chris one of your girlfriends of the week?” Victor said to Georgi.
“Something like that.” Christophe tried to look relaxed, like this was some minor annoyance.
Georgi turned back to the mirror but he didn’t touch his hair. “What the fuck, Victor?” he said. “Did you seriously think you could bring your hook-up back here for another round? And that I’d be happy to join you? Even if you weren’t both dressed like you spent the night in a donation bin.”
Christophe imagined going over and spinning Georgi around, bending to kiss him, messing up his fussy hair. Georgi pressing up against him. Maybe passing him over to Victor before the three of them sprawled on the bed together.
In another life, maybe. In this one, he’d be lucky if he could get across the room without these sweats falling down. And without Georgi trying to stab him with that comb. “It wasn’t on my to-do list,” he said.
“Even so,” Victor said. He gave them both an appraising look. “Now that you bring it up—“
“Victor,” Christophe said. “For fuck’s sake.”
“Why is he still here?” Georgi said.
“So, what happened?” Victor said. “Bad sex? Incompatible shower schedules?”
“I dented his car,” Christophe said. But it had been more than a dent. A collision that only just missed being tragic, the driver’s door caved in, in a car too old for airbags. Georgi yelling at him from the passenger seat while Christophe stared at the steering wheel, too shocked and frightened to move. What if he’d killed them both?
He left the next day. His tattoo had just healed. The bruises from the seatbelt took longer.
He looked over at Georgi, waiting for him to blurt out the whole story. And then he’d see if Victor really did want to punch him.
But Georgi just went back to his hair, sleeking back the sides, even though they were already perfectly smooth.
“Don’t be grouchy,” Victor said, a purr in his voice that probably worked for him most of the time. “I brought you coffee.”
“You always say that like it’s huge favour instead of basic human courtesy. What’s the matter, didn’t Christophe make coffee for you? Or were you too busy for that?”
“Speaking of cars,” Victor said. “Georgi, Chris is coming with us.”
Georgi spun around. “You don’t get to just add people,” he said. “Especially not him.”
“There was an unfortunate and unavoidable accident—“ Victor started.
“He burned down my camper,” Christophe said.
Victor looked miffed but he didn’t try to argue the point. “So we need to lend him some clothes and put him up.” He paused. “And replace everything. After next weekend.”
The anger on Georgi’s face twisted. Now he looked like he had when gigs weren’t coming in and the bills were piling up, when he’d dropped his new phone down a sewer grate, when Christophe had the flu and his fever spiked. “That’s your problem,” he said to Victor.
“I know,” Victor said. He went over to Georgi and put his arm around his shoulders, leaning in to press their temples together. “But I need your help.”
“Victor…” Georgi said. He turned inward, just a little, shifting under Victor’s arm. It was like they had aligned themselves together, both softening, that bubble around Victor opening up to let Georgi in.
Not at all what Christophe was expecting. That this was something real between them. And through all his anger and exhaustion and anxiety a little pain surfaced and made him glance away.
Maybe he hadn’t ended things the best way but now it looked like it had been the smart thing to do. All those nights Georgi spent out at the bars, was this thing with Victor going on even then?
“You’re the only one I can count on,” Victor said to Georgi.
Georgi didn’t answer, just scowled, his shoulders hunching up.
“You know the situation. We can’t just leave him. Everything will be fine after the weekend.” Victor stroked Georgi’s arm with his thumb, pulled him closer.
Georgi sighed and his shoulders dropped. “Okay, for you.”
Victor kissed his cheek. “See?” he said to Christophe. “I told you it would be fine.”
“He’s not driving my car, though,” Georgi said.
Christophe looked at Victor. “Charlene?”
Victor grinned. “Charlene.”
Christophe shifted, trying to get comfortable. Georgi had the front seat back so far, Christophe might as well have been crammed into a tiny airline seat, no room for his legs. And more than half the space was taken up by Georgi’s guitar. The old venue stickers, those bars in the city Georgi used to play, were gone from the case but Christophe could see the outline of where they’d been.
He stared out at the prairie moving past them, blue sky and fenceposts, green fields and the occasional stand of poplars, over and over, like a stock footage loop. The sun beating down, baking them in this oven of a car. And nothing to do to take his mind off it.
Christophe rolled his window down a bit so he could get some air moving. Because of course Charlene had no air conditioning.
“It’s too windy,” Georgi said. He touched his hair, like it was a wig that would blow right off.
“Heat stroke sounds like a fun way to start my new life of extreme minimalism.” Christophe raised his face to the stream of air.
“The only wind is from everybody passing us,” Victor said. “Do the speed limit at least.”
A stench poured through the window, the sweet awful smell of an unlucky skunk. Christophe rolled the window back up.
“I have to baby her,” Georgi said. The back of his head was ruffled up from the airflow, his hair like dark feathers. “If you want to get out and hitchhike…”
“Even walking might be faster.” Victor turned on the radio and twisted the dial through static and more static before he tuned in a station, Top 40 and herbicide commercials. Because of course there was no real sound system, no way to connect a phone.
The car had been fine for city driving, Christophe remembered, even though parking was always an issue. Charlene was an elderly Pontiac, twenty years older than Georgi, but ten years too young to be classic. Long awkward body, sharp and rectangular, two doors, huge headlights, cherry red paint and fading burgundy interior.
Georgi had managed to get the driver’s door replaced, must have found a donor car in a junkyard somewhere. Nothing left of that accident, of Christophe’s presence. But when Christophe glanced down, he saw the faint edges of a stain on the upholstery next to him. “Huh,” he said and Georgi glanced at him.
“It’s nothing,” Christophe said. “Your hair is sticking up in back.”
Georgi’s hand flew to his head, trying to smooth down the ruffles.
“You’re just making it worse,” Victor said.
Christophe looked back down at the stain. He wasn’t about to brush it sentimentally with his fingers, he knew what it was. But he couldn’t help thinking about it.
Back in the city, Georgi wouldn’t even let Christophe drink coffee in the car, he was so fussy about it. But one night when they were out, he couldn’t wait until they got back home so he stuffed Christophe into the back and climbed in after him, pushing Christophe down against the seat, kissing him hotly, grabbing Christophe’s hand and pressing it against his dick. Christophe laughing, not because it was funny, but because it was unexpected.
They were so alive together, rolling and bumping against the doors, pulling at their clothing, moving against each other, too into each other even to speak, just gasp and clutch and come.
About as far from their current circumstances as Christophe could imagine. He shifted and his knees pressed into the seat, jouncing it forward. If he had to be uncomfortable…
Georgi started to turn his head but stopped, tightening his hands on the wheel. He shot Victor a glance. “You’re paying for all the gas. And the food, and the motel.”
“Come on,” Victor said. “Let’s split it, we always do. I won’t even complain about the crappy mileage you get.”
“There’s no way you won’t complain. You’re complaining right now.”
“You can afford it,” Victor said. “How much did you get for that gig?”
“I don’t have any spare cash,” Georgi said.
Victor turned around. “Back me up, Chris. He’s always too cheap, right?” He gave Christophe a smile, that bright Silver Star smile, that prolonged eye contact, that tilt of his head that felt like a light hand on Christophe’s waist.
Only Victor would have the nerve to burn down everything Christophe owned and still try to charm him afterwards. Like he’d spilled Christophe’s drink, oops, let me buy you another, and why don’t we flirt while we’re both here?
The worst part was it was working. Christophe wanted to lean closer, join the game, tease each other while they teased Georgi. It was this goddamn backseat, it was making him react like a horny teenager.
Neither of them deserved his attention, especially not Victor, but Christophe was bored, so bored, and pissed off. Maybe he’d play his own game. Play them off against each other, like he did when he was camming.
It was the best way to increase his take: make the men watching compete against each other for his attention, to be the one to reach the goal he’d set. This much money and I’ll get naked, that much and I’ll use this sex toy. There was a charge in it too, a power he enjoyed.
“I’d say sensible.” Christophe did his best to keep the irritation out of his voice and turn up his own charm. “Prudent. Like an accountant.”
At “accountant”, Georgi’s mouth turned down and Victor’s went up, more than up. “Time to trade in your guitar for a calculator, Georgi.”
“Time for you to shut up,” Georgi said.
“I don’t know who I’d prefer to take advice from,” Christophe said. “Someone who wants us all to die of heat stroke because his hair is more important than the temperature inside the car or someone who set my home on fire.”
“That’s—“ Victor started to say but Georgi overrode him.
“You don’t have to be an accountant to know who should pay for gas,” he said. “But we probably shouldn’t let you near the pumps.”
Christophe laughed. This could be fun. But the fucking camming. Until he got more dev work, he’d planned to work it harder, maybe save up a little. But now that would dwindle away too. His fans would find new faves to spend their money on, if he didn’t get back on and remind them. And his whale would be expecting texts, some pics to keep him sweet, keep him coming back with those big tips. And maybe more. At least he could take care of that.
“We need to stop,” Christophe broke in. “Somewhere pretty.”
“Do you have a camera?” Christophe said. They were parked in a tiny rest area just off the highway. Not what Christophe would call pretty but there were a few spindly trees that would break up the prairie horizon.
“Just my phone.” Victor set his hat on his head and blinked against the sun.
“Better than nothing. Take some pics of me.” Christophe stood in front of the car and rested one hand on the hood. He jerked his hand away. Bad idea, in this heat. On his hip instead, try to forget about everything and just look teasing and cocky. His legs were still stiff from the rodeo and cramped from the back seat, maybe this would help.
“We stopped just so you could take selfies for your boyfriend?” Georgi said. “I thought you had to piss or were sick or something. Come on, get back in the car.”
“It’s not for fun,” Christophe said. This wasn’t something he usually explained to people so it was hard to find the right words. “It’s my side-hustle. Which right now is my only hustle.”
“You’re a social media influencer?” Victor said. “For, what, truck and camper companies?”
“I do camming,” Christophe said. “You know, you stream yourself, guys watch, give you tips.” He shrugged. “It can be good money but too long a break is going to kill it. Obviously, I’m not going to stream anything here but I have this one rich guy fan, we call them ‘whales’, like in Vegas. I send him pics, message him a bit, keep him sweet so he’ll keep me sweet.”
“That explains the professional lighting in your camper. Sexy road trip pics, got it.” Victor pulled out his phone. “Do you have a fake name?”
“Yes,” Christophe said. “And no.”
“No you don’t?” Victor said.
“Yes, I do and no, I won’t tell you what it is.” Christophe shaded his eyes with his hand. The sun was killer, not great for pics or for his headache.
“Come on,” Victor said. “Maybe I’ll leave you a tip if I like the show.”
“There won’t be a show until I can buy a new laptop and camera.” Christophe looked at Victor meaningfully. “An expensive camera. How big is this tip going to be?”
“Just take the damn pictures, Victor,” Georgi said. “You were so bitchy about how long the drive was taking.”
“Okay, Chris, lean against the car,” Victor said. “Good thing my jeans are so tight on you.”
Christophe leaned. It would probably be a while before the hot metal burnt through to his ass. The jeans were definitely too tight and Victor’s white shirt stretched across Christophe’s shoulders so that the buttons were almost gaping. Georgi’s t-shirts would have fit better but, surprise, he’d refused to lend one. “Crop out my feet. If anybody sees them like this, it’s all over.” Cheap flip-flops from a dollar store. He was already getting blisters between his toes.
Victor took a few photos. “Look more sultry,” he said. “Undo your shirt.”
“Flirty,” Christophe said. He ran his hand through his hair. “For this guy, it’s better to tease.”
“Maybe they’re for me,” Victor said. “Your collar is funny. And all those creases, you slouch too much when you sit.” He sighed. “That shirt is never going to be the same.”
“I’m hunched because there’s no room in the back seat.” Christophe tugged out the collar points but they still didn’t seem right.
“My god.” Georgi went over to Christophe. “Stand straight and hold still.” He reached behind Christophe and refolded his collar, then smoothed down his shoulders. He kept his eyes off Christophe’s face, eyebrows drawn together.
He always used to do this, before they went out or when they met somewhere. Fuss over Christophe, groom him, no matter how perfect Christophe already was. After a while, Christophe started leaving something undone—a curl of hair out of place, a speck of lint on his shirt—just to give Georgi something to fix.
Georgi undid a button and straightened the shirtfront. “That will ease the tension.”
Christophe could smell Georgi’s hair product, the same one he always used. His hands were still on Christophe’s shoulders. Like he was going to lean in and kiss Christophe’s cheek, the way he had always finished this ritual. “I’m not sure it will,” Christophe said.
“Shut up.” Georgi reached up and ran his fingers through Christophe’s hair, tipping so close, Christophe found himself shifting his weight, ready to put an arm around Georgi’s waist, pull him in, despite the heat. Despite everything.
But Georgi stepped back sharply. “Undo the last button too.” He turned away, like there was something very interesting on the horizon. “And you should wear more sunscreen.”
Christophe looked at him for a moment, the tension in his shoulders and his stance. Three big strides and he’d be behind Georgi, arms around his chest, chin on his shoulder.
“Pretty soon we’ll all need more sunscreen,” Victor said. “If you’re ready…”
Christophe undid the last button. The shirt opened over his hips, a tiny flash of skin just visible above the waistband. He hit a few standard poses, tried to relax into his cam persona. Not that “Matt” was so very different from Christophe, but it helped to remind him that this was a job he had to take seriously.
“Let me in a few.” Victor flipped open a selfie stick and attached it. “I’m usually more ‘cooly elegant’ but I can do ‘flirty’ this once.”
“I can’t send pics with you to the whale or my social media,” Christophe said. “I have to seem available.”
“For our road trip album, then.” Victor slid in beside Christophe and put his free arm around Christophe’s neck, nuzzling up against his face.
“It’s too hot for this,” Christophe said. But he might as well keep playing the game. So he got into it, tipping up Victor’s chin like they were going to kiss, teasing the buttons on Victor’s shirt. Feeling that thrill Victor still caused in him. And wondering if Victor was the one playing a game right now.
“Get in for a few,” Victor called to Georgi.
“So you can try to convince me later I enjoyed this?” Georgi kept looking out at the fields.
Victor went over to him, standing behind him just like Christophe had imagined himself, arm circling Georgi’s shoulders. “You are enjoying it,” Victor said. “You’d be bored without something to complain about.”
“Maybe you should try being bored for a while, then I wouldn’t have to complain,” Georgi said. He still sounded grouchy but he relaxed a little, leaning back into Victor.
Were they like this all the time, sniping and bickering? Or just because Christophe was in the way? He’d learned early on that teasing Georgi didn’t have the desired effect. Georgi was just a shade too literal, a bit too earnest. And when he was hurt, he sulked.
“I’ll take some just of you,” Victor said. “You and Charlene. Ideas for your album cover.” He pulled Georgi a few steps and Georgi came with him, slowly enough to pretend he was reluctant.
Christophe moved away from the car. They were both in that bubble again, Victor coaxing, Georgi responding. Their own world and neither of them looked his way.
“You should hold your guitar,” Victor said. He fussed over Georgi the way Georgi had over Christophe: undoing the wind damage to his hair, rolling his sleeves up to his shoulders.
And Georgi let him, no more complaints, just stood the way Victor told him to stand, looked the way Victor told him to look. Moody and soulful, even in the bright summer sun. Like this was just a stop on the journey from dusty bar to dusty bar, where he’d spill his heartbreak, guitar on his knees, and a catch in his voice.
Like he’d moved on. Taken everything Christophe gave him and become someone else. But Christophe kept watching, what else was he going to do?
“My band should be in the cover pic.” Georgi put one foot on top of Charlene’s tire, held the guitar up and strummed it.
“You just want to cozy up with your bass player some more,” Victor said. “Chin down, eyes up, look into my soul.”
“Victor, you’re the one who screwed him.”
“Oh, god, I forgot!” Victor laughed. “Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend him.”
“It’s too hot,” Georgi said. “Back in the car.”
“Hey, Chris, do you want to send those photos?” Victor held out his phone.
And Christophe realized. “Fuck.” There was no point after all, no point whatsoever. “I don’t have his contact info. Not until I get into my accounts. Forget it, let’s just go.” Christophe was too tired to even be angry now. No more asking for favours, no letting his life intertwine with these two more than he absolutely had to.
“A week,” Victor said. “A week until the next rodeo, I’ll win, we’ll make it right. Everything will be all right then.” He looked at Georgi, though, not at Christophe. Georgi looked back, frowning. Victor took his shoulders, leaned in and kissed him. “Everything will be fine.”
Christophe looked away.
The bed sagged under Christophe’s weight as he sat. The bedspread looked dingy, probably had never been washed, but he fell back onto it anyway. Anything was better than being crammed into Charelene’s back seat. Even this motel room.
There was a faint damp smell and the carpet was stained. The aircon whined like it was being asked a huge favour just to blow out a little cool air. A gap in the curtains sent a spear of light across the foot of both beds. Queens, the manager had claimed, but that had clearly been a lie. Christophe hadn’t seen the bathroom yet but if the tap wasn’t dripping, he’d be shocked.
“Don’t get comfortable,” Georgi said.
“Like that would be possible.” Terrible bed, terrible situation.
“No,” Georgi said. “Get out, I want some time with Victor.” He went over to Victor, who was hanging his clothes up in the closet, like they were going to be here for a week. Georgi put his arms around Victor, looking back at Christophe like he was daring him to protest.
“If we’d gotten two rooms,” Christophe said. “Shockingly, they have so much vacancy.” He sat up. “Back me up, Victor.”
“Chris can stay,” Victor said easily. He leaned back and pressed his cheek to Georgi’s. “He’s fun.”
Georgi frowned and turned his head away, but he didn’t let go of Victor. Probably trying to work out which one of them he wanted to pick a fight with more.
Christophe was almost—almost—tempted to play along for a bit, just to annoy Georgi. But he was too sore and too tired. “That’s not what I asked.”
Georgi pulled out his wallet and found a twenty. He held it out. “Come back in an hour.”
Like Christophe was a kid getting kicked out by his mother’s boyfriend. But also: “An hour? What the hell?” Georgi had always been elaborate and romantic, he liked to light candles and give massages and exchange long meaningful gazes. Whole evening stuff. But in a crappy motel room after the long fucking day they’d had?
“Fifteen minutes for the sex.” Victor grinned. “Forty-five for the argument.”
Georgi gave Victor a shove with his hip but he didn’t stop looking at Christophe. That same look from under his dark brows, always so intense, whether he was amourous or angry or asking Christophe to put orange juice on the grocery list.
It had taken Christophe a while to be able to hold it without being uncomfortable but he had mastered it eventually. So now he stared back. Holding his ground, not a step back. Not a step forward. No, I will not buy you any orange juice today.
“Feels like I’m the one who should leave,” Victor said.
Fuck it. “Whatever,” Christophe said. He grabbed the twenty from Georgi’s hand, because what else was he going to do? If this was still a game, he was losing. “I see you still always get your way.”
Before Christophe was even at the door, Georgi pushed Victor over onto the bed, the same one Christophe had been sitting on, of course, and straddled him. He pulled Victor’s face up and kissed him with all the same energy he’d put into the staring contest, one hand in Victor’s hair and the other reaching down to pull up Victor’s shirt.
Victor gave Christophe a shrug before he closed his eyes and leaned into the kiss, hands on Georgi’s ass, pulling him closer.
Outside the room, Christophe couldn’t help looking back through the gap in the curtains. Georgi was definitely expecting it, this was all aimed at Christophe, they’d lock eyes again. See, I already have all the orange juice I need. Maybe Victor would wink, ha ha, sorry, you know what he’s like.
But Georgi wasn’t looking and neither was Victor. They were wrapped in each other’s arms, still kissing, and their body language was all inward, completely into each other, like Christophe had stopped existing as soon as the door had closed.
And the kicker was they were beautiful together, bright and dark in the twilight of the room. The gleam of Victor’s torso as his shirt came free, the flush on Georgi’s face as Victor’s hands moved over him.
For a few moments, Christophe could pretend he was watching a stream, some porn he’d chosen specially to stab him in the heart while he jacked off. This fucking hot-sad-frustrated-angry mashup of an emotion.
Then he went to the motel office to get change for the vending machines and settled down on a plastic chair to stare out into the parking lot.
The sun was finally down, the sky a fading purple, when Christophe came back to the room. He’d had enough of the parking lot, the stale chips, the mosquitoes. Whatever Georgi and Victor were in the middle of, Christophe didn’t care.
The lights were off, except for the bathroom. The shower was running and the door was open. And the room smelled like sex, somebody else’s sex, more than the stuttering aircon could handle.
Georgi was already in bed, a sleep mask over his eyes. When Christophe shut the door, not entirely quietly, he rolled over, facing away from Christophe.
Christophe sat on the other bed and kicked off his awful flip-flops. He wondered if they really had argued, after or during. If Georgi had used that move, that curl of his tongue and rhythm of his fingers that always made Christophe bite his lip and clench the bedsheets in his hands. Afterwards, Georgi always used to roll towards Christophe, not away. Spoon around him, starfish over him, no matter how hot the room was.
Victor came out of the bathroom, a towel barely wrapped around his slim hips. “Did you see the sights of…where are we?”
“I saw the parking lot.” And now he was seeing Victor, a much better look than last night, when they’d been cramped in the camper. His long pale limbs, still a little damp, and just as elegant in the threadbare motel towel as he had been standing by the bar buying Christophe drinks. Just as poised as he’d been on Meteor’s back.
The towel opened over Victor’s thigh as he shifted his weight. “If you want some company, I recover pretty fast.” He winked at Christophe, completely ridiculous.
And completely magnetic. The goddamn Silver Star. Even now, Christophe was still drawn in by that charisma. Was seconds away from springing up, pushing Victor back into the bathroom, back into the shower, that whole bare perfect body pressed up against his own. Found himself rising to his feet, looking Victor up and down.
The other bed creaked and the sheets rustled resentfully. And even though that made Christophe want it more, out of spite, he talked himself down. Just don’t get involved, you don’t need more trouble than you already have. “Can’t risk the motel burning down.” And he walked past Victor and shut the bathroom door.
By some miracle, there was hot water and even a dry towel. Christophe stood under the shower, willing it to relax him, wash away the dirt of the trip, the frustration of the day. The image of Georgi and Victor together in the darkened room.
“Fuck.” He wrapped his hand around his dick and braced against the wall. But he wasn’t going to think about them, together, separately. Anything else.
None of his usual material was doing it, though. But maybe…
He closed his eyes. Started building up a scenario. A what-if starring Thomas, his cam whale. Probably as real a name as “Matt” but he’d been a nice guy so far, not like some of the others. He’d suggested they meet sometime, when he was in the area, but he hadn’t pushed it, hadn’t acted like he expected it. And what if he offered to take Christophe away from it all?
Not something Christophe would really consider but for the moment, it was appealing. An older man, self-assured. Christophe had never seen a picture of him, but for this fantasy, at least, he was strikingly handsome.
Christophe waiting in an opulent room, not a bedroom. A library, maybe, with shelves of books and leather armchairs. Buffed and manicured, wearing only a silk robe. Completely at ease.
The door opens. Thomas can’t disguise the admiration in his eyes. Strong as he is, in front of Christophe, he’s helpless with desire.
Christophe guides him to a chair, sits him down. Slips off the robe and waits for a moment, enjoying the way Thomas stares, takes in every bit of Christophe’s bare skin, but doesn’t reach for him.
Then Christophe kneels in one fluid motion and sucks him off so skilfully Thomas can only scar the leather with his fingernails, can only groan and gasp, he’ll do anything for Christophe, give him anything he wants. But all Christophe wants is this.
And Christophe came, ejaculating onto the tile, the shower water running into his open mouth, suddenly so tired his knees threatened to buckle.
When he opened the bathroom door, Victor was in bed too, his hair a fall of silver over the pillow. Just as Christophe turned off the light, he saw Georgi roll towards Victor.
Christophe slept with his back to them.
“Another day driving and then we’ll be home.”
Christophe turned his face into his pillow, maybe everything would go away for another half hour of sleep. But the lights were on and Victor was still talking.
“You can stay with us until the rodeo. Our couch is definitely better than these beds. Between last night and that mattress in your camper, my back is never going to be the same.”
Christophe sat up, stretching. A couch didn’t sound much better, not if he were still stuck with Georgi and Victor. But at least he wouldn’t be trapped in the car with them as well. He blinked and looked around the room. Georgi wasn’t there, just Victor standing in his underwear at an ironing board.
“Sorry I didn’t have a fancier mattress for you to destroy,” Christophe said.
“Dry cleaning is always better,” Victor said. “But when you’re on the road…” He smoothed his jeans out and sprayed them with starch. Then he carefully pressed them, moving slowly, a look of concentration on his face.
Was he going to iron everything before repacking it? Christophe glanced over at the closet and there, along with Victor’s outfits, was another ironing board hanging on the wall, another iron on a shelf. “Did you really bring your own iron with you?”
Victor didn’t speak until he’d finished with that pass. “Of course. Would you use a motel iron and board on your clothes?” He looked at the crumpled jeans and shirt at the end of Christophe’s bed. “I’ll freshen those for you next.”
“I’m good,” Christophe said. A pained look flickered over Victor’s face but Christophe ignored it, just struggled back into the too-tight clothes. He ran his hand over his face, he was getting messy, but Victor probably had some involved forty minute shaving ritual with hot towels and a straight razor. Of course I brought my own towel warmer!
Instead, Christophe just scrunched some water into his hair, okay to look a bit more tousled for a few days. The more fussy Victor and Georgi were, the more casual Christophe wanted to be, just to push back a bit. Actual casual, not his usual carefully constructed casual. Though those flip-flops were still way past casual and into trashy. He slid his toothbrush into his pocket, all the packing he needed to do.
“I’m going to get some air,” he said. “That starch smells worse than the carpet in here.”
And just outside the door was Georgi. He was standing in the shade of the second-floor walkway, jacket draped over one shoulder and a paper cup of coffee from the motel office in his hand. Probably the same pot Christophe had seen there last night. Probably the same pot from three days ago.
Christophe stood beside him and looked out into the same parking lot as last night, Charlene in front of them, one other car at the far end, the highway beyond that. The air was still cool, a few clouds blowing in the sky.
They were quiet as the traffic noise dopplered past. Georgi didn’t turn away, just sipped at his coffee. He was as fresh as the morning: uncreased, smooth shaven, his hair perfectly lofted. Just a smudge of purple under his eyes; he’d always shown it when he didn’t get enough sleep. Christophe wondered if Victor had ironed Georgi’s clothes too.
“He’ll be a while yet,” Georgi said. “He tells me I fuss too much but he’s the one we’re always waiting for.”
“He looked about half done. Unless he’s going to shine his boots too.”
“You never know.” Georgi set the coffee down on one of the plastic chairs and took a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket. He shook one out, tapped it, clicked his lighter three times before it caught.
Christophe turned and watched the smoke curl away from Georgi’s lips. All so familiar, the way he tipped up his chin whenever he inhaled, the way his eyes half-closed as exhaled. Out on the balcony of their apartment, huddling into his winter coat at minus twenty-one. Christophe yelling at him to stop letting in the cold.
“You told me you quit,” Christophe said.
Georgi blew another plume of smoke into the air. “You told me you loved me.”
Christophe laughed before he could help himself, a choke of surprise. “Touché.” After a moment, he held out his hand and Georgi passed him the cigarette. He took a shallow drag and held as long as he could before coughing out the smoke.
They shared it back and forth for a few minutes, not speaking. And it came back to Christophe with a pang, how it felt to be happy with Georgi. The quiet moments and the loud, the spats and the reconciliation. The sweetness of that look Georgi would give him, the softness in his eyes.
And he had to know. “Georgi, were you with Victor too, while we were together?”
“No,” Georgi said. “We were broken up.” His voice was soft, a little sad.
Broken up. What had Victor said about it, back in Christophe’s camper? Christophe would have paid more attention if he’d known. “But you went back to him.”
Georgi shrugged. He dropped his cigarette and ground it out on the sidewalk. “I always go back to him.” He turned, his whole body, and looked at Christophe. He didn’t seem angry or annoyed. Just tired.
Christophe turned too, so they were face to face, standing a little closer than friends. “I’m sorry about Charlene.”
“Are you?” Georgi said. He was looking at Christophe so intently, that locked-eyes gaze again. Like he used to.
A flush of longing rose in Christophe. Like it used to. Fuck it. He leaned in, tentatively, like a nervous teenager.
Georgi leaned too, not quite there, but breath-close, his lips parted.
“Do you still drink so much orange juice?” Christophe said.
“Too much sugar.” Georgi moved closer.
This couldn’t possibly be covered by whatever arrangement Georgi and Victor had, could it? And Christophe wasn’t planning to get between them. But what if he and Georgi could give it another try?
They were past the event horizon now, it was going to happen. Christophe closed his eyes.
The door banged open and they jumped apart.
“What are we waiting for?” Victor said. “Let’s drive.”
They stopped for lunch in a small town. “Don’t order the beef dip,” Victor said.
Before Christophe could finish his limp fries, Georgi stood and walked out of the café.
“Was it something I said?” Christophe asked. After that near-kiss by the motel, he’d climbed into the back seat without protesting, kept his head down, and tried not to engage with either of them. It was all still awkward but with a different energy now and he couldn’t tell if Victor had noticed it. “Is he going to drive away without us?”
“Take your time.” Victor pushed the fries around his own plate. “He’s going for a haircut.”
“Here?” Christophe had seen a sign in a house window on their way into town, Barb’s Hair Salon, Perms $40! Not the kind of place he imagined Georgi having that precision pompadour trimmed. “Is there a secret underground hipster barber?”
“No matter where we stop, he’s got some amazing stylist he has to visit.” Victor shrugged. “Maybe it’s not just his hair he’s getting done but I’ve stopped questioning it.” He seemed unconcerned about Georgi’s possible hook-up. Maybe their arrangement was actually working for them.
Not that it was any of Christophe’s business. “He’s pretty high maintenance.” Christophe finished the last of his coffee. It had an odd taste, probably the water here, but at least it was caffeinated.
“I don’t know how he can let so many different people touch his hair.” Victor shook back his own shiny silver hair. “You find the perfect stylist, you lock them down, you don’t see anybody else.”
“So you’re monogamous after all.”
“When it comes to hair care.” Victor picked up his hat. “Let’s stretch our legs, he’ll be a while.”
They strolled down the wide main street, slowly, under the mid-day sun. There were a few businesses with weathered signs, a small box-shaped church. A couple of trucks going by and a some people out on foot.
A woman waved. Small-town friendliness, Christophe thought, until she crossed over to meet them.
“I saw you ride Hornet last year,” she said admiringly. “It was beautiful.”
“It was a good ride,” Victor said. His posture and his voice changed slightly, more like those first moments Christophe had spent with him in the bar. That gracious public persona, the Silver Star.
“Too bad about Meteor,” she said.
“He’s the best.” Victor answered easily but his shoulders tightened inside his beautiful shirt.
“So are you, though.” She pulled her phone out of her bag. “Would you mind?”
Victor posed for the selfie, arm loose around her shoulders, that famous smile on his face.
“You’ll win next weekend, though,” she said, smiling down at the photo instead Victor standing in front of her.
“All I can do is hold on.” Victor took Christophe’s arm and steered them both away.
“Must be nice to be a fancy bullrider,” Christophe said. “With fans everywhere.”
“Listen, don’t worry, we’ll make good on your stuff, okay?” Victor said. “The money from the rodeo will be enough. Probably.”
Probably. Nice. “Let’s hope you don’t draw Meteor again.”
Victor’s forehead creased. “It’s no fun winning if he’s there and I don’t ride him.”
“Don’t you need the cash for more white shirts?”
“Can’t wear last season’s white shirts this season.” Victor tilted his hat down over his forehead. “And the ranch always needs money.”
“You own a ranch? Together?” This was more involved than Christophe had thought. He shaded his eyes with his hand, no hat, no sunglasses, the sun was getting to him. He spotted a bench in the shade of a building, beside a tiny enclosed green space—one skinny birch tree, a few bushes and flowers—that must take a lot of watering in the prairie summer. “I’m dying in the heat, come on.”
They sat and Christophe stretched his legs out in front of him, then folded them back so he didn’t have to look at the dirt under his toenails.
“It’s our family ranch,” Victor said.
More than just involved then. And a bit weird. “Are you”—he hesitated—“cousins?”
Victor laughed. “No. Well, third cousins, maybe. Half the town is.” He took off his hat and ran his hand through his hair. “The short explanation is that Georgi and I grew up in the same place. Our families had adjoining properties. And we’ve been together, off and on, since we were in high school. Sometimes more off than on.”
He settled the hat back onto his head. “A few years ago, my dad and Georgi’s aunt, she raised him, merged the ranches for financial reasons. A year after that, they merged the families. For other reasons.” He grinned. “So it’s a tangle. We’re not actually related but it does sound a bit ‘family saga’.”
A much more complicated situation than Christophe had considered. He should definitely be looking for a way out, distance himself as much as he could. If he could do that and still get his money back. Still… “A family ranch sounds nice. A place to go back to.”
Victor looked out in front of him, at the patch of green, then down at the toes of his boots, still shining through the dust. “We’re the same age,” he said. “But I always looked out for Georgi when we were younger. Still do, he still needs it, he gets too worked up. Gets hurt too easily. That guy I was telling you about, I don’t know what he did, but Georgi was really heartbroken. He took a long time to recover.”
Christophe looked at a small purple flower, already wilting in the heat, and made what he hoped was a sympathetic noise. He’d thought Georgi would have told Victor about him by now. That they’d settled it all while Christophe was staring at the motel parking lot, eating stale vending machine chips.
And he’d thought he was okay now, over Georgi, their whole situation, despite the tension. But the guilt was still twisting his gut. If he could do it over again, he’d end it a better way. Or not at all. He rested his hand on his hip, over the bruise, over the tattoo.
“I’m still angry,” Victor said. “And, honestly, jealous. Georgi came back to me but I wonder if he would have stayed if that asshole hadn’t run out on him. That’s why we have this open arrangement now. It’s messy but it works. It keeps us together.” He turned towards Christophe.
One more surprise. Christophe hadn’t expected Victor to open up like this. He seemed like someone who went through life deflecting, keeping his true thoughts and feelings to himself, or maybe just to whisper in Georgi’s ear in the darkness. But he’d shared with Christophe. Probably he’d regret it later. Probably he was warning Christophe away, don’t get attached.
Christophe’s heart thumped and he knew it was too late for that. Too late to convince himself he didn’t want to be there for Victor, not just for some fun in a camper truck or a motel shower. But to put his arm around Victor and pull his head onto Christophe’s shoulder and give him someone to lean on.
He turned to Victor. “Don’t worry, I can take a hint.”
Victor looked at him, his face serious. Not the studied graciousness he’d put on for the fan. Not the frown of concentration as he bent over the ironing board. Just an honest puzzle in his blue eyes. “Can you?” he said and leaned in.
Christophe let the kiss happen, his hand finding Victor’s face, his forehead bumping Victor’s hat brim. If they weren’t on a street corner, he’d pull that hat off and toss it away, haul Victor into his lap. Put some creases into that shirt. Make Victor forget his own name.
But they were on a street corner and so Christophe couldn’t help feeling all of that kiss, couldn’t miss the way he sighed into it, into Victor. Slow and warm and his heart squeezed sideways in his chest.
When Victor’s phone chimed, Christophe was almost glad.
“Cockblocked again,” Victor said. “He’s at the car.”
“Then let’s go,” Christophe said.
“Let’s stay for karaoke,” Christophe said. They’d stopped early, in the small city where the next rodeo was going to be, so Georgi could make some arrangements for a gig. And they’d stayed on at the bar for supper.
He’d been drinking here last season with his bullfighter pals after the rodeo. Hopefully again this year, if he could get new equipment in time.
He leaned back in his chair. “I’m not looking forward to crumpling myself up in that back seat again.”
“We need to get back on the road,” Georgi said. “I’m not paying for another motel.”
“We need to have some fun,” Victor said. “Come on, you want to sing, right?”
“I don’t do karaoke.” Georgi pushed his empty plate away. “You know that. You both know that.”
“It would be like advertising for next week.” Victor leaned towards Georgi. “We want to hear you. Right, Chris?”
“I do.” Christophe looked at Georgi. I missed hearing you sing, he wanted to say. Maybe that showed in his face, because Georgi looked down at the table. “Do I want to hear Victor sing?”
“Definitely not,” Georgi said.
“Sure you do.” Victor drew back his hair. “It doesn’t matter what you sound like, anyhow, it’s how you look. The image, the flash.”
Georgi turned on him. “You’re saying you could be a successful singer, even though you sound terrible, because you’re pretty?”
“Because you don’t pay any attention to your image, right?” Victor reached out to touch Georgi’s hair.
Georgi jerked back. “And you’d still have fans gushing over your beauty if you got thrown every time you rode?”
“Ouch!” Victor said. “Too soon.”
“Just once I wish your ego would be as bruised as your ass,” Georgi said.
“Probably even Meteor gets his hair done before he tries to kill me.” Victor scooched closer and put his arm around the back of Georgi’s chair. “Don’t bite my head off because I said I wanted to hear you sing.”
Christophe toyed with his water glass while they bickered. They seemed comfortable, even affectionate with each other, like this was an argument they always had, just for the pleasure of it. He could chime in on one side or the other, stir things up a bit. But would they even hear him?
And that was the issue, wasn’t it? It didn’t matter which of them he liked more, wanted more. Didn’t matter if he couldn’t choose between them because they would always choose each other. The sooner he was out of their lives the better.
But for now, he was stuck. He had to find a way to take his mind off this situation, at least for a while. “Why don’t you both just sing?” he said. “And see who’s most popular?”
They both turned to Christophe and stared, like that was the most ridiculous idea ever.
“But it’s a while until karaoke starts,” he continued. “There’s a pool table. How about some cutthroat?”
“We should leave,” Georgi said. But he sounded less definite than before. Maybe he was as tired of sitting on his ass in Charlene as Christophe was.
“We’ll have to play for money,” Victor said. “Otherwise it’s not fun.”
“Don’t think you’re going to reduce your debt this way.” Georgi looked over at Christophe and smiled. “Christophe plays better than you sing.”
Christophe smiled back. It was entirely possible this wouldn’t take his mind off anything at all. But at least it would be fun. He pulled a dollar from his pocket, left over from his vending machine allowance, and flipped it onto the table. It clinked against the side of Victor’s plate and rattled as it settled. “As much as I can afford.”
“You’re on,” Victor said.
When they got to the table, Victor leaned against it, braced on one hand, head to one side. “Also, I look really good playing pool.”
“Just shut up about your image!” Georgi shoved him. “Besides, I look better.”
Christophe laughed. “If we want to have a side bet over who’s hottest, I have a couple quarters left. But since you’re so glamorous, Victor, why don’t you break? I’ll go last.” He racked the balls and went to stand beside Georgi.
Victor lined up. “Tell me when you’re done admiring me so I can take the shot.”
“We could wait until his back cramps up,” Christophe said.
“He practises posing.” Georgi leaned on his cue. “We’ll be tired of him before he’s tired of us.”
“Nobody gets tired of me.” Victor pulled his arm back.
“Call-shot, right?” Christophe said.
Victor frowned. “Sure, of course, just let me play.” He broke and the balls scattered, two into the pockets. “Seven and two! Lucky!” He straightened. “Who’s hot now? Okay, I’m highs.” He missed his next shot but posed like he’d run the table. “Beautiful.”
“I think he’s calling you,” Christophe said to Georgi.
Georgi gave Christophe a look, surprised but pleased, his eyes crinkling in a smile, and Christophe had to stop himself from giving Georgi’s butt a swat as he went to study the table.
Christophe could tell Georgi was trying not to pose, only Victor would be that vain, but he was completely conscious of how he looked, how he moved. And he looked good. Casual but purposeful, calling the nine ball and sinking it easily. “I’ve got lows,” he said and put the six away just as gracefully. He missed on the twelve, though, and stepped back with a sigh.
Only two balls left in the mids. “Are you two ganging up on me?” Christophe said.
“No, but it’s an idea.” Victor hooked an arm around Georgi’s neck. “Does he look good enough for that?”
“It’s your clothes I’m wearing,” Christophe said. “But my hotness doesn’t depend on branding.”
“When you say ‘brand’ to a cattleman—“ Victor started.
“Just let him play,” Georgi said. “And you’ll see.”
Christophe studied the table, it looked good, he could definitely make at least three balls, two of Victor’s, one of Georgi’s. He sank the twelve off the cushion, then the fourteen. Feeling good, the cue moving easily, his eye tracing the trajectory of the balls. “Four off the one into the corner pocket.” But he wavered and hit the cue off-centre. “Shit.” He rolled his shoulders. “This shirt is too tight.”
“Feel free to take it off.” Victor put a hand on Christophe’s back as he came up for his turn. “I’m flattered by the attention,” he said. “Or are you letting Georgi win on purpose?”
“That would be a first,” Georgi said.
“I respect you both too much to let you win,” Christophe said.
Victor managed to pocket the one but that was all. “I’m being generous.”
“Also a first.” Georgi stepped up to the table and bent over, lining up a shot.
Victor tucked himself in beside Christophe, insinuating himself so smoothly that Christophe’s arm was around his shoulders before Christophe realized he was doing it. “I set up the table for this view,” Victor said. He reached out with his cue and poked Georgi’s ass, leaving a light spot of chalk on the dark denim. “Lift it up a bit more.”
“Asshole.” Georgi turned and glared at both of them. “Thirteen in the side pocket.” He made the shot, then sunk the eight as well. “Ten off the four in the corner.” He looked at Christophe with that grocery list gaze. “Your last ball. You’re going down.”
“Hey, why should Chris have all the fun?” Victor said.
Christophe knew he should be adding his own smart remark, turn it back on Victor, or challenge Georgi. But his mouth dried up and he couldn’t look away. Because he was thinking about it. About pushing Georgi back against the pool table, unzipping those perfect jeans, and sucking him off until he couldn’t stand. And about Victor sliding in beside them, kissing Georgi while he gasped, tangling his fingers in Christophe’s hair, waiting for his turn.
The tops of Georgi’s cheeks went pink, like he could read Christophe’s mind. The way Victor pressed against Christophe’s side made Christophe think he definitely could. Oh, fuck. “We’ll see,” Christophe managed and Georgi turned back to the table.
And scratched, jumping the cue ball right off the table and clattering on the floor. “Goddammit!”
“Don’t worry,” Victor said. He pulled away from Christophe and hugged Georgi from behind. “You get a lot of points for that ass.”
Georgi sighed but he leaned back against Victor, hand on Victor’s arm.
They looked so good together, Victor’s condescending cowboy elegance, Georgi’s manicured rockabilly chic. So annoying and so beautiful, Christophe wanted to knock their heads together, then embrace them both.
Better not to think about that. “Spot a ball each,” Christophe said and pulled the eight out of the ball return. “Can’t get rid of me that easily.”
When Victor had added his ball, Christophe studied the table. He could stare at them after the game, for now, he had to concentrate. He wasn’t going to lose, especially with the cue ball in-hand. He could see the next three shots: three, eleven, five.
And they went in just that sweetly, like all he had to do was whisper and they’d go where he wanted. An easy win now, three more balls to sink yet, but laid out so well, it was a sure thing.
And yet. He took a longer look. Why should he be the only one without a chance to show off? Show Victor and Georgi he was more than just a pretty face and a glorious ass. He could set up a fancy combination shot but he’d have to… “Eight ball in the side pocket.”
“That’s your ball,” Georgi said.
“I know,” Christophe said and sank it.
“You are trying to throw the game,” Victor said. “I’m keeping my dollar if you do.”
“Don’t spend it yet,” Christophe said. The table was nearly perfect, he could absolutely pull this off. He crossed to the other side. Yes, definitely. “Four in the corner,” he said. “Fifteen off the rail, off thirteen in the other corner, thirteen in the side.”
“What the hell!” Victor turned to Georgi. “Can he really do that?”
Georgi looked over at Christophe. “I’ve never seen it.”
Christophe didn’t bother answering. He took a deep breath. He’d made his claim, now he had to back it up. He was going to have to use a massé shot, hard with this long bar cue, but do-able.
He got close to the table but it was too far to lean. He hoisted one knee up on the edge and raised the cue so it was almost vertical. That damned tight shirt, it was binding his shoulders, pulling up over his belly.
“This is the stuff you should be streaming,” Victor said. He had his phone up, probably taking a video. “I’ll be sure to tip you for this later.”
“Shut up,” Christophe said. He looked back at the table, took a deep breath, and made the shot.
The cue ball curved over the table and Christophe found he was twisting his body the same way like it would help. Curve just enough, please strike just right. The ball kissed the four and sent it towards its pocket, then tapped the fifteen into the thirteen.
“Come on, baby,” Christophe said. “Come on.” The four dropped into the pocket and half a second later so did the fifteen.
But the thirteen stopped short, a breath away from falling.
“God fucking dammit.” So close, so fucking close. Maybe if a big truck drove by it would drop. But no.
“Oh, too bad,” Georgi said. “That was amazing.”
“I rescind my tip.” Victor stepped up to the table and easily sunk the ten. “But you do get the fifty cents for being hot. After I collect my winnings.”
Christophe handed Victor the dollar. Georgi rolled his eyes. “I should just deduct it from what you owe me,” he said but he paid up too.
“It’s all in the flash.” Victor clinked the coins together.
“How did you do that?” Georgi said to Christophe. “The curve.”
“Want me to show you how?” Christophe pulled the cue ball over. “Come here.”
Georgi looked at Christophe for a moment, then went over to the table.
“It’s like a spin shot,” Christophe said. “But you have to hit it from the top.” He raised his cue so it was nearly perpendicular to the table, tapped the ball, and it rolled in a curve. “You try.”
Georgi set up and took a shot but the ball spurted out and banked against the opposite cushion instead of curving.
“Maybe move your elbow higher. Like—” Christophe pulled Georgi’s arm into position. “The angle…” He stopped, arm circling Georgi, standing half behind him. They were so close together now, Christophe could feel the warmth off Georgi’s body. And the tension in him as they both stilled. Waiting to see which way he’d shift: towards Christophe or away.
“Move your head a little, Georgi,” Victor said. He was across the table, phone up again. “And, Chris, fix your hair.”
Georgi jerked away. “This isn’t a romcom pool montage.”
Christophe’s shoulders fell. Fuck Victor, seriously. Was he doing this on purpose?
“Come on, let’s film one,” Victor said.
“We’re playing for money,” Georgi said. “So rack.”
They played a few more games and Christophe won them all. Georgi stayed out of his way and Victor’s too. Christophe didn’t press it. Maybe they were back to square one now, Georgi pissed at both of them.
“Almost karaoke time,” Victor said. “And I’m out of change.”
“We’re leaving,” Georgi said. “We’re late already.” He turned to Christophe and Christophe braced for some barb about how he’d slowed them down or maybe hustled them for six whole dollars.
But Georgi just held out his car keys. “Do you want to drive?”
“Take it easy with her,” Georgi said. He leaned forward, poked his head into the front seat. “Don’t jerk the accelerator. She likes it smooth."
“I will,” Christophe said. “I won’t. Don’t worry.” Georgi had to fuss, he knew, but it was almost nice, a familiar exchange they’d had many times before.
Christophe had never wanted to admit it, but driving Charlene was fun. She handled like a boat, had no modern driving assistance, and the seat didn’t go back far enough for his legs. But she had her own style and he’d loved taking her around the city, showing her off, as long as he didn’t have to parallel park.
She didn’t really have the guts for the highway but he enjoyed cruising her along anyhow. And, best of all, he wasn’t doubled up in the back seat. As long as they didn’t get stopped; he had no ID at all.
But they were collecting tailgaters on the single lane highway. Christophe sped up a little.
“Don’t push her,“ Georgi said. ”They can wait."
“If that were me back there, I’d be thinking of ways to murder you." Victor said. “Let’s take the shortcut.”
“It’s not shorter," Georgi said.
“It’s not faster when you’re driving,” Victor said. “But when normal people drive.”
Christophe kept glancing in the rear view mirror. Victor was right, he could feel the irritation from the cluster of cars behind them. Maybe there would be a spot to pull over for a moment and let them pass.
“Last time we took that gravel road, the windshield got nicked.”
“We’re running late already,” Victor said. “I’d like to get in before dark. Come on, we’re nearly at the turnoff.”
Christophe looked in the rear view at Georgi. “It’s your car, it’s up to you. I’ll drive where you tell me to.”
Georgi looked surprised. Then he leaned forward and smiled. “Okay, take the turnoff.”
They bumped down the side road. Christophe slowed down before Georgi could tell him to. It had been a while since he’d driven on gravel like this and he had to get used to it again, the extra slip under the wheels, the steep drop off from the shoulder.
It was the same farmland passing by here but without the traffic piling up behind him, Christophe had a bit of attention to spare for the wide green fields, the birds wheeling across the blue dome of the sky, the fences that loped along beside them.
Victor fiddled with the radio tuner, dialling through static and adult contemporary and more static. Georgi stopped humming melodies to himself and leaned forward to tell Victor to turn it off, he was working on a song.
Their mild bickering rolled over Christophe, as soothing as the prairie rolling past their windows, and he glanced over to sneak a look at Victor’s face as he turned around to talk to Georgi.
A flash of brown in his peripheral vision. He wrenched the wheel. A deer bounded past, barely missing the car. And they were skidding in a spray of gravel, rattling off the side of the road, bumping through the ditch, crunching to a halt over some stones at the edge of the field.
Christophe sat frozen. His heart hammered in his chest. He could feel his hands gripping the steering wheel. His foot still pressing down the brake pedal.
From beside him, a voice. “Is everybody okay?” Victor.
Behind him. “Okay, I’m okay.” Georgi.
He flexed his fingers and pried them off the wheel. Pulled back his foot. “Fine.” He tried to get move but the seatbelt held him there. He fumbled with the release, where was it, how did it work, why were his hands so useless.
Then the door, pawing at the handle. It creaked open and he pulled himself out. Legs wobbly, he held onto the door, looked back.
Victor was out, pulling his seat forward, hand into the back for Georgi to grasp.
When Georgi climbed out, he crashed into Victor, hugging him close, forehead pressed into Victor’s shoulder. Victor put an arm around Georgi and held on, eyes closed. Just breathing against each other, like they were the only ones there.
Christophe looked away. He crossed around in front of the car. A bad scrape on the side, crumpled fender, huge chip in the windshield, cracks starring out from it.
“Another dent,” Christophe said. “I’m sorry.”
Georgi turned and Christophe braced himself. He was going to get it now, he deserved it, whatever Georgi yelled at him.
But Georgi barrelled into him, arms around Christophe’s chest, warm breath against Christophe’s ear. “You idiot,” Georgi said and squeezed him tighter. “You goddamn idiot.”
Christophe clutched at Georgi, leaning into him, pulling him close. Hands on Georgi’s shoulders, tight like they’d been around the steering wheel. A flood of relief, his knees shaking again. “It’s your fault for letting me drive,” he said and Georgi choked a laugh into his neck.
Then Christophe felt a hand on his shoulder: Victor, circling him from behind, all three of them warm together, until Christophe’s breath slowed and legs were solid again.
“Thank god you missed that deer,” Georgi said. “It could have been bad.”
They looked at the damage. Besides the scrapes and dents, the car was caught over a rock, they’d never be able to move it themselves, assuming it would run.
“It’s okay,” Victor said. “We have insurance.”
“I didn’t set the car on fire,” Christophe said.
Georgi poked at his phone, held it up in the air. “I don’t have service.”
“Neither do I,” Victor said. “And I can’t see a house from here. We’ll have to stay here tonight. At least it’s warm enough.”
“At least Georgi won’t have to pay for another motel,” Christophe said.
Georgi rolled his eyes. Victor laughed. “Hell of a way to save money.”
Christophe smiled. This whole fucking terrible situation. Which, somehow, didn’t feel so terrible right this moment. He put his hand on Victor’s shoulder.
“Are you hurt?” Georgi came over, his forehead creasing. “Can you move your arm?”
“I’m fine.” Victor lifted his left arm, slowly. His jaw was set but he grimaced and stopped halfway. “I’ll be fine.”
“That doesn’t look fine,” Christophe said. It looked stiff and painful.
“You can’t ride like that,” Georgi said. “You can’t hold the rope.”
“I have to,” Victor said. “It will be okay by the weekend.”
“I won’t let you.” Georgi grabbed Victor’s other arm and pulled him away from Christophe, down by the trunk of the car, both of them facing away. His voice was low but Christophe could still hear. “We can use my money, the studio money.”
“No,” Victor said. “You saved that up, nobody expects you to use it.” He put his hand on Georgi’s back. “You’ve got all the songs ready.”
“It’s the only way,” Georgi said.
“We’ll see, okay? Wait and see.”
Christophe wanted to step up, to interject. He could wait, he didn’t need the money yet, it didn’t matter. But he was so clearly on the outside, a stranger. And too rude to even walk away until he couldn’t hear them.
Victor turned and called to Christophe. “Help get the things out of the trunk.”
The sun was sinking below the horizon now, the heat of the day finally beginning to fade.
“We’ll be fine for the night,” Victor said. “It won’t get too cold and we have some emergency gear.”
Christophe pulled out blankets, bottled water, an electric lantern and hauled everything to the space Victor picked out at the edge of the field.
Georgi walked slowly around Charlene. “Try not to put any weight on her. I don’t know how much damage that rock did.” He trailed his hand along the side of the car. “You’ll be okay,” he said. “You’ll be fine.”
“The way my luck is going,” Christophe said, “it figures I’d end up sleeping on the ground in someone else’s clothes.” He looked for the best place to sit, not that there was much difference.
“Let’s build a fire,” Victor said. “Cheer us up.”
“The farmer’s already going to kill us,” Georgi said.
“We can’t be killed twice,” Christophe said.
“You haven’t met my aunt.” Georgi handed Christophe a folding spade. “Scrape a circle in the soil, about three metres across, so the fire can’t jump. It’s not too dry right now but I’m not taking a chance on your bad luck.”
Christophe grinned and started clearing a space. Georgi went to the car and came back with some fire logs. He squatted and clicked his lighter until the starter caught.
They settled at the edge of the circle, the breeze to their backs. The light was fading from the sky, orange fading into red, purple streaking into black.
It was beautiful. Peaceful. And fucked as he was, as they all were, Christophe felt the whole world take a breath and let it out with a sigh, relaxing into the stillness of the night.
“Want some more pics for your whale?” Victor said to Christophe. “Your sexy fireside look is really working for you.”
“I should.” Christophe ran a hand through his hair. He’d almost forgotten Thomas. It had been too long since he’d been in touch, he was going to need some quality content to make up for it. But that life seemed so far away.
He posed for a few, stretched out by the fire, giving the camera his best flirty look. But it was a relief to settle back and look into the flames, watch the smoke rising up into the dusk, breathe the night air. No room for Matt around the circle.
“When did you start doing that, the camming?” Georgi asked.
“About a year ago.” Christophe shrugged. It wasn’t something he talked about, except with other people in the business. He could hear the question in Georgi’s voice, not when, but why.
Georgi didn’t press him. Victor either. They just sat, relaxed, silent, so unlike the trip up until now, that Christophe started to wonder if they’d both been knocked on the head during the crash.
But he felt it too, in the flicker of the flames, the crack of the sparks as the fire settled. The circle that drew them all together, like they were the only three people in the world.
“I was having trouble getting steady dev work,” he said. “I needed to supplement. I mean, I’m pretty, so.” He leaned back on his hands. “It’s hard work, it’s not always great work. But there can be a lot of power in it too.” He looked at Georgi. “You’re a performer, you understand.”
Georgi didn’t answer but he nodded, that same look on his face as when he was working out a tricky melody or some difficult lyrics.
“What kind of stuff do you do?” Victor stretched out his leg and bumped his foot against Christophe’s calf. “Maybe you could send me a video?”
“If you want to see, then log onto my feed and tip me like everybody else.”
“I’ll tip you right now.” Victor held out his hand to Georgi. “Give me a twenty.”
“Wow, another whale.” Christophe turned to Georgi to share a Victor, right? look with him.
But Georgi’s eyes gleamed in the firelight. “What will you do for forty?”
“My toys were destroyed in the fire,” Christophe said. “Unless you’re prepared for all emergencies.” Not just the fire that was throwing off sparks now. If they were in a nice hotel room, instead of out on the bare prairie, he could give them such a show. Control them both completely, before they even realized it.
“That wasn’t on the emergency checklist,” Victor said. “But I’ll add something for next time.”
Next time. The moment stretched out between them all, quiet and comfortable, and Christophe felt an ache in his chest. Not a bruise from the seatbelt, but a longing he couldn’t keep himself from feeling. He didn’t want to play Georgi and Victor off against each other, he didn’t want to control them. And he didn’t want to choose between them.
He wanted them to open up and let him in.
He turned to Georgi. “Play something,” he said. “I haven’t heard you for so long.”
Georgi didn’t reply but he looked back, that familiar intense gaze, like a weight settling onto Christophe, heavier and heavier.
“It’s not karaoke,” Victor said. “Come on.” He smiled at Georgi.
Georgi stood and got his guitar and leather jacket from the car. He settled himself cross-legged by the fire and strummed for a while, tuning up before he started to play.
A long intro on the guitar, looking down at his hands. Then he raised his head and began to sing. A sad song, full of heartbreak and longing. He didn’t look over at either of them, just out at the dark horizon. Just up at the stars.
Christophe had never heard this song before. Never heard Georgi sing this way. With the country music, he’d always had an authentic voice, never an overproduced hat act. But this was another level: now he sounded like himself. Easy and tender and broken. His music floating like the breeze, changing the air around them.
Victor tensed up, Christophe could feel it even if they weren’t touching. So this must be one of those songs, one that Georgi wrote after Christophe left him. Because Christophe left him.
Christophe wrapped his arms around his chest, like he was cold, like he was trying to keep the ache inside from spilling out. Trying to push the regret back down deep where he’d hidden it. He’d tried to justify the way he left, the way he ran. But he owed Georgi so much more. And Victor, who clearly didn’t know. Christophe owed him too.
The song finished. None of them spoke. But Georgi looked at Christophe and Christophe looked back, almost finding the words, I was wrong, I’m sorry, you’re beautiful.
But before he could get them out, Georgi looked away. And the moment was gone.
Georgi bent over his guitar again. After a minute, Victor moved over and leaned against Christophe, pulling a blanket up to cover their legs. Christophe put his arm around Victor’s shoulders and they sat together as the fire burned down, listening to Georgi sing for them.
Christophe pulled his knees up, curling into himself. He bumped into Victor and straightened out again. The ground was hard under the thin camping pads and there wasn’t room to stretch unless he wanted to roll off onto the dirt.
We have to share, Victor had said. It’s going get chilly. So they were three men with two mattress pads, two blankets, and, by Christophe’s count, six rocks on his edge alone.
Victor claimed the middle, unsurprisingly: the most pad, the most blanket, the most attention. Neither Christophe nor Georgi argued.
Christophe could hear Georgi breathing, that little catch that wasn’t quite a snore. Victor was drooling on the folded sweatshirt Christophe was using as pillow. At least they could sleep.
He turned onto his back, tugging the shirt out from under Victor’s face, and looked up at the sky. The stars were spilt across the sky like grains of sugar on a dark tabletop. He couldn’t remember ever having seen so many, been so completely in the dark.
He woke up to Victor crawling out from beside him by the wavering light of his phone, stumbling out behind the car to piss.
While he had the chance, Christophe stretched out across the pad, rolling onto his side for a few moments of comfort. Sinking down again, from this dark half-wakefulness to darker sleep.
Then Georgi turned into his arms.
Christophe pulled him closer, arm around his waist, and Georgi nestled in, fingers curling around Christophe’s arm and his breath on Christophe’s face. He was still asleep, the relaxed warmth of his body so familiar against Christophe. Christophe pressed a kiss against his forehead, good night, sleep well, as he drifted off.
A rustle nearby and Christophe started, dragged up to reality. The light of Victor’s phone played over his face and he rolled back guiltily, trying to disengage from Georgi’s sleepy clutching.
But Victor spooned up behind him, closing his hand over Christophe’s hip and nudging his calf between Christophe’s, tugging the blanket to cover him. “Warm me up too,” he said and pressed his cold nose against Christophe’s cheek.
Christophe leaned back into Victor, stretching slowly against him. Victor nuzzled the back of Christophe’s neck, kissing and rubbing his scratchy cheek against him. He worked his hand under Christophe’s arm, onto his chest, teasing at the buttons of his shirt. Georgi sighed and moved closer, pushing his knee up over Christophe’s thigh, so Christophe’s leg was compressed between Georgi and Victor. Like he was the middle piece of an interlocking puzzle.
Christophe craned his head back and Victor found his mouth in the darkness. They kissed slowly, seriously, and Christophe woke into it bit by bit, out of the dreamy haze and into the heat of their bodies together.
Then Victor reached past him, his arm sliding along the top of Christophe’s, to put his hand on Georgi. Georgi breathed deeply and Christophe felt the tension come into him as he woke up. His hand felt for Christophe and pulled his head back to face Georgi.
Their noses bumped once, then they were kissing, softly, finally, Christophe pulling Georgi closer while Victor pressed into him from behind. A shiver went through Christophe, desire, satisfaction, and he woke up completely.
Oh, shit. He broke the kiss, turning his head because there was nowhere to move away to. “Sorry, I didn’t mean—” Way to fuck it all up. The Christophe specialty. “Georgi, it’s me.”
Georgi combed his fingers through the beard on Christophe’s chin, then gave it a tug. “Don’t you think I know that?” He caught Christophe’s mouth again and Christophe rocked into him, turning half over top of him, his body pressing Georgi down against the pad.
He never thought he’d have this again, even if it was just a chilly night on the hard ground. Even if it was a mistake, his mistake. Georgi’s mistake.
“Wow, I’m here too.” Victor leaned his weight on Christophe’s back, kissing his neck, his face. Victor’s mistake too.
And so much for giving them a show, Christophe was the one losing control, overwhelmed by the pair of them taking him down. Taking turns with his mouth, pulling at his clothing, two sets of hands all over him. Is this what they always did, when they hooked up together? Pull some poor sap into the middle of their dysfunction and drown him?
Or was it just Christophe they wanted to drown? Either way, he was gone, lost, too far down to find the surface now.
Victor tugged at Christophe’s jeans, trying to pull them down his thighs. “Goddammit, these are tight.”
“Whose fault is that?” Christophe lifted his hips and peeled them open himself.
Georgi slid his hand down Christophe’s abdomen, over his hip, down under the denim, just missing Christophe’s cock, like he could see exactly where it was but wasn’t going to touch it yet. “Take them off all the way.”
“I’ll freeze my ass off,” Christophe said but he bumped his way out of them. They pushed him back down and he lay there, cold in the night air, but hardly even registering it any more, just Georgi’s hands trailing up and down his thigh, just Victor’s mouth on his belly.
“I’m going down on him,” Victor said. “So don’t get in the way. I don’t need a head injury as well.”
“No, it’s my turn,” Georgi said. “How many times have you blown him already?”
“I did lower his IQ about twenty points Sunday night. But I think he likes being stupid.”
“Do I have to suck my own dick?” Christophe said but he was laughing, a pulse of joy in the midst of every other frantic feeling, and he reached out for both of them, hands on their backs.
“Can you?” Victor said. “Is there video?”
Georgi just wrapped his hand around Christophe’s cock, bent down, and took the head into his mouth.
Christophe gasped. Tried to keep his hips still but receiving a blowjob with decorum wasn’t really in his wheelhouse. Especially when Georgi did that trick with his tongue, around and then the flutter. “Oh my god.” He’d been missing that for sure.
“Oh, must be the swirl,” Victor said. “At least let me…” He got his hand in around the base, squeezing, then working up and down along with Georgi’s mouth, while he kissed Christophe’s shoulder.
Christophe moved both hands up, one on each of these beautiful men, and rested them, lightly as he could, on the back of their necks, fingers reaching into the hair at the nape. “So good,” he choked out, the most articulate feedback he could muster. “So good, you’re both so good.”
By the time it was too late, Christophe couldn’t get any words out, but Georgi pulled back just in time, his hand joining Victor’s, and Christophe arched his hips and came over his own belly, breath hissing out between his teeth and pleasure spasming his body.
“Nice one, Georgi,” Victor said. “Of course, I helped.”
“Helped or tried to push me off?” Georgi said. He reached over Christophe for Victor, leaning too hard on Christophe’s chest but there was nothing Christophe could do about it.
“Oh fuck,” Christophe said when he could speak again. “That took ten years off my life.”
“Stupid and a reduced life-expectancy,” Victor said. “You’re turning out to be a real prize, Chris.”
“A few more,” Christophe said. “And our IQs will be the same.” He fought the wave of sleep that came up over him. “Give me a minute and I’ll return the favour…s.” He ran his hand down Georgi’s chest, then splayed his hand over Georgi’s dick, pressing against the front of his jeans.
Georgi groaned and pushed into Christophe’s palm. Christophe turned toward him, searching for his mouth. God, he didn’t want to give a fancy blowjob right now, he just wanted to pull Georgi up, roll him on top, hands on his ass, and rock into him until he came in his pants. Then do the same to Victor, but get him underneath instead, grinding him down into the mattress while he wrapped his legs around Christophe’s thighs.
“Hey, you have two hands,” Victor said. He rolled up to Christophe and pushed against his hip. Christophe reached back for him, hand on his ass, pulling him closer.
“It’s hard to coordinate when I’m so stupid,” Christophe said.
Georgi reached across Christophe, arm curling around his waist. “Victor, let’s sandwich him.”
“Here? I’m game,” Victor said. “I didn’t think you would be. I’ll have to go to the car. Don’t let him get you off.” He got up, chilly air rushing in to fill his place, and turned on the lantern.
“What kind of sandwich?” Christophe tried to get a glimpse of Georgi’s face but the light bobbed away before he could. He pulled Georgi closer, better enjoy this while he could, these moments with Georgi, with Victor too. While they were in this other world, alone under the stars.
“The kind you don’t have to coordinate.” Georgi touched Christophe’s face, caught the corner of his mouth with his thumb. Then he shimmied off his jeans, bumping and arching, trying to stay under the blanket.
Victor came back and set down the lantern. Christophe watched him strip before he ducked back down beside him. “Just don’t fall asleep,” Victor said and pulled Christophe up onto his side, facing him. “He’s a good size for this,” he said to Georgi.
Georgi rolled up behind, arm around Christophe’s waist, and Christophe let them both settle around him, their bare skin against his, let them move and position him, spill a drop of chilly lubricant on his hip as they passed it back and forth.
Let them both fuck his closed thighs at once, one arm under Victor’s head, the other reaching behind for Georgi’s ass, while they thrust at him together, their arms around Christophe and each other. Their set piece, of course, and he wondered how many men they’d practised on.
Victor looked into his eyes once, in the dim lamp light, serious with concentration, and when he dropped his eyelids, Christophe kissed him, his heart thudding like it had at the rodeo, staring at each other on the dusty ground. He felt Georgi’s mouth on his back, gasping out his warm breath with every push of his hips.
And, tired as he was, he got it up again, his cock hard against Victor’s abdomen. They both reached for him, not as coordinated now, and fumbled him higher and he came again before either of them were done.
When they didn’t come together, Christophe was almost surprised. First Georgi rocking up against this back, every muscle pulled tight, silent while he shuddered. Victor was a minute longer, arm across Christophe to clutch Georgi’s shoulder, a long drawn out oh like a howl in the night.
They rolled apart and Christophe lay on his back, pins and needles in his arm, sweat cooling on his forehead, three men’s semen smeared over his belly and thighs. “Does anybody have a wet wipe?”
Then sleep pulled at him again and this time he didn’t resist, drifting off with their laughter around him.
Christophe woke to a buzzing in his ears. He tried to brush away the bee. He couldn’t see it, but he could still hear it.
Then he blinked and looked around. He was alone on the pad and the sun was already bright and hot. Georgi was crouching by Charlene’s side mirror, shaving with an electric razor, and teasing at strands of his already-perfect hair. There were three bottles of product lined up on the hood of the car.
Victor was standing in his underwear and hat, dampening his shirt with water from a bottle and carefully trying to smooth out the creases. Beside him, the legs of his folded jeans were pressed between two roller bags.
A laugh bubbled in up Christophe and he stretched, lazily, satisfied, even though he was stiff and sore. He scratched his belly. And itchy, from not cleaning up last night. Oh well, not the most debauched wake-up he’d ever had. Good thing he was hot just tumbled out of bed.
He struggled into his jeans and walked out a ways to piss. He could still feel the echo of last night in his body, warm and happy, like the tail end of a dream. But that was all it was, right? A hookup, circumstantial, just something that happened under the stars. Better keep things light, he had to keep from getting any more entangled with these two.
His mouth was dry and when get got back to the car, he looked around for water. He found a few bottles, but they were all empty.
“What the hell.” He waved a bottle at Victor.
Victor sighed and rolled his eyes, like Christophe had demanded he produce espresso and a fresh-baked croissant instead a little drinking water. “You’re asking a lot,” he said. He handed over the half-full bottle, tipping his head to one side as he looked at Christophe. “You should probably use that on your hair, though.”
“I look good messed up,” Christophe said. He took a few swallows, then casually went over behind Georgi so he could steal a glance at himself in the mirror. Sadly, not the artful I woke up like this he was hoping for. But he was too thirsty to waste water on styling.
“That flat on your back in the barn all night look is working for you,” Victor said. “But maybe not so much straw.”
Christophe felt the back of his head and pulled out some blades of grass. And his neck was itching. Probably mosquitoes this time.
“Hold still.” Georgi went behind Christophe and started raking at his hair, first with his fingers, then a comb.
Christophe hesitated, then let himself relax into it, into Georgi’s arm resting on his shoulders, into Victor’s morning sarcasm.
Georgi squirted some product into his palm and ran both hands through Christophe’s hair, then circled him, smoothing here, pulling a curl around his finger there. “Best I can do.” He started to lean up to Christophe, then stopped. “Use the razor,” he said and let go.
Christophe sighed before he could stop himself and went to shave his unkissed cheek.
A scrape of gravel and a horn as a car stopped by the field. “Need some help?” the driver called.
“I’m not dressed,” Victor said. “So…”
“Always waiting for him,” Georgi said to Christophe. He went over to the car and got in.
“What should we do while we wait?” Victor pulled on his shirt, buttons undone, and posed himself for Christophe, head tilted and hands on his hips.
“You should have saved some water to brush your teeth,” Christophe said. “What would you do if I wrinkle your shirt?”
“Why do you think I keep it so nice?” Victor said.
Christophe laughed. Hands off, he told himself. They were playing with him, that was all. Just a filling for their sandwich. Because they were stuck with him for now. “I don’t want to get yelled at when Georgi gets back and we’re not packed up.”
“I’m the only one he yells at,” Victor said. “Okay, okay.”
The finished dressing and started packing up the gear.
“What’s the ranch like?” Christophe said.
“It’s pretty busy, not huge, but we treat our cattle well. We go for the grass-fed market, so they’re more expensive to raise. But they have a better life, first.” Victor folded up the mattress pads and sat on one, legs stretched out in front of him. “Better leave everything on the ground. If we leave a fingerprint on Charlene, Georgi will see it.”
“God, sorry again about the accident.” Christophe lowered himself down beside Victor. “I feel terrible about Charlene.” He glanced at Victor. “Oh, and your arm.”
“Wow, so compassionate. But a deer on the road at dusk, we’re just lucky we didn’t hit it. When we report about the fence, we’ll say Georgi was driving, so remember that.”
“I may have some speed-related demerits on my license,” Victor said. “And I don’t need to get yelled at by my father any more than I have to.”
“What I’m hearing is that people yell at you a lot.”
“You’ll see when we get to the ranch.” Victor smiled at Christophe. “And don’t worry, you can stay as long as you like.”
“You’re late!” a man yelled as they hopped out of the tow truck cab into the yard. He was short, balding, and angry. “There’s work to be done. And why didn’t you total that damn car so we’d finally be rid of it?”
Victor grabbed the man in a hug. Neither he nor Georgi seemed fazed at all by the tirade, just happy to be home.
“This is Chris,” Victor said. “My father, Yakov.”
Yakov snorted. “What did you do to get stuck with these two idiots?”
Victor looked at Georgi and Georgi looked at Victor. They both looked at Christophe.
Christophe waited a few seconds, long enough to enjoy the consternation on their faces. Then he smiled, as charming as he knew how to be. “Just unlucky, I guess.”
A young woman came from one of the out-buildings and waved at them. She was short and cheerful-looking, with an auburn ponytail under a cap.
“My sister, Mila,” Georgi said. “She’s a brat.”
“You better get your butts in gear,” she called. “We’re tagging for flies and Aunt Lilia’s waiting for you.”
Now they seemed fazed. “Come on,” Georgi said. “I’m not suffering more than I have to.”
They settled up with the tow truck and took Christophe across the yard into the big house. Christophe hadn’t seen any cattle yet, just some equipment and a few buildings. The house looked old but sturdy, with a wide porch and two storeys.
The wood floors creaked as they walked through the hallway and Christophe got a glimpse of comfortable furniture, family pictures. No particular style but everything felt calm and welcoming.
“We spend time up here too but we have rooms in the basement,” Victor said.
Their suite was small but self-contained, with a kitchen and living area, nicer than some of the places Christophe had spent the winter.
“I’ll put some clothes out for you,” Georgi said. “Make yourself at home. There should be some food but we’ll eat dinner with the family about one.”
Christophe dropped onto the couch, the most comfortable seat he’d had since his camper went up in flames, and tried to stay out of the way while Georgi and Victor dropped their luggage and fell back into their bickering.
“There’s time to shower,” Victor said. “I’m all icky.”
“There isn’t time to breathe,” Georgi said. “Twenty minutes for your ridiculous shower, twenty minutes for your hair, forty minutes of me getting yelled at.”
“I’m getting yelled at now.” Victor shrugged. “But I guess I can’t leave you to face it alone.”
They retreated into the bedroom, the door swinging nearly closed, and Christophe tuned out the words of their argument. He could still hear the muffled cadence of it, like a duet. Were they putting extra effort into their performance for his benefit?
“See you, Chris,” Victor called as they banged out the door. “Feel free to use as much of Georgi’s shower gel as you want!”
Georgi smacked Victor in the shoulder. But he smiled at Christophe. “Use anything you want.”
When they were gone, Christophe took a deep breath. It was—he looked around—10:47, according to the clock on the microwave. Back in the real world, after the odd timelessness of the road.
Better pull himself up off the couch while he still could. He rummaged in the kitchen and figured out the coffee pot. Drank some tap water, ate some yogurt. Then into the shower.
The hot water felt amazing. He used Georgi’s shampoo, Victor’s conditioner, and both shower gels. He ended up smelling like a combination of cucumber and lilac. He couldn’t get all the dirt off his toenails, though.
Georgi had put out his own clothes for Christophe. The jeans didn’t really fit much better than Victor’s had but it was fantastic to put on a shirt that didn’t pull at his shoulders.
He looked around a bit while he drank his coffee, not snooping, just curious. Everywhere, he could see the ongoing struggle between Georgi’s meticulousness—fussiness, Christophe had always said—and Victor’s more slapdash approach to every part of life except his appearance.
He caught himself smiling over it, over them. And he lacked the energy to make himself stop.
Was there a phone? No landline that he could see. A laptop on the coffee table but there was probably a password. His real life could wait a while longer.
He spread-eagled on the bed, finally something big enough to stretch out on, and dozed. If he drooled, hopefully it would be on Victor’s pillow.
Christophe was just starting to wonder if they’d forgotten about him when Victor stuck his head through the door.
“Sorry we’re late.” Victor looked tired and dishevelled and not in a good way. He didn’t stop to change his shirt, just hurried Christophe up to the dining room.
The family were just taking their seats when they arrived. Victor steered Christophe to a chair beside Mila, who smiled at him. A blond boy was carrying out bowls and platters of food, looking as grouchy as Yakov at the foot of the table.
“My brother, Yuri,” Victor said. “Quite the little steer rider, it’s adorable.”
“Shut up, loser,” Yuri said. “I hope you get kicked in the head.” Victor just laughed.
“You look better,” Georgi said to Christophe. He and Victor were across the wide table. “Did you—” He broke off and sat up straighter in his chair.
There was a ripple all around the table, a silence and attention, turning towards the door, as a tall woman walked in.
Georgi’s aunt Lilia. No wonder Victor and Georgi had been in such a rush. He could feel the force of her personality: exacting, authoritative. She sat down at the head of the table.
Georgi introduced Christophe and she greeted him, not effusively, but kindly enough. Then she nodded and the meal began.
The home-cooked food was heavenly after two days on the road. Christophe didn’t try to insert himself into the conversation, just let all the talk swirl around him while he ate: ranch business, people they knew, a little rodeo gossip.
And for all the jabs at each other, Yakov’s dourness, Yuri’s insults, the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. Victor and Georgi’s bickering fit right into the family chorus. Even Lilia’s acid remarks were respected, not feared.
“The food is wonderful,” Christophe offered into a slight lull. Yuri’s face lit up and Christophe was glad he’d said something. “Do you do most of the cooking?”
“Everyone else sucks at it.” Yuri tossed his head and the resemblance to Victor was striking, just a scowl instead of a smile.
“The hydraulics on that squeeze chute are completely shot,” Mila said. She rotated her arm and grimaced. “That took twice as long as it should have.”
“You’ll have to make do,” Yakov said.
“The whole system—” Mila started but both Georgi and Victor talked over her and Christophe couldn’t untangle all the threads.
A prickle of tension seemed to run around the table, everyone looking at each other.
He turned to Lilia with a faint feeling of apprehension, like she knew something he’d done that he shouldn’t have, even if he couldn’t think of anything worse than excessive shower gel consumption. Although running out on Georgi probably qualified. Did she even know they’d been together? Did anyone here?
“What do you do?” she said.
“Freelance work,” he said. “Mostly programming and development.” Victor was trying to catch his eye and Georgi was trying to catch Victor’s eye and Christophe wished he’d never told them about the whole camming thing in the first place. “And bullfighting at the rodeo in the summer.”
He turned to Yuri. “Sorry, they pay me to keep Victor from getting kicked in the head.”
“How much would it cost for a butt in the ribs?” Mila said. “Then maybe he’d stay home and do his share of the work.”
“Where do you live?” Lilia asked.
Now Victor didn’t seem so eager to wink conspiratorially.
“In the city,” Christophe said. Well, he had a mailing address there, at least, and some storage. Maybe he was going to have to live in that tiny locker after all. When he’d been living with Georgi, it had been Georgi’s place he’d moved into. And stayed six months longer than he’d planned. He glanced down at his plate. The cabbage rolls Georgi made for him a couple times, must have been a family recipe.
“You have family there?”
Christophe couldn’t tell if Lilia was being polite or if was evaluating him for something. “No,” he said. He usually didn’t volunteer more but he found himself elaborating. “I lost my parents when I was eighteen, I’ve been making my own way.” He smiled, didn’t want to look like he was fishing for sympathy. “I travel around a bit, I like the road.”
“What do you drive?” Mila asked.
“Speaking of driving,” Victor said, a little too loudly, “we’ll need your truck next weekend.”
“You really must have been kicked in the head,” she said.
Christophe leaned back in his chair. There was a flash in the corner of his eye and then a cat was in his lap, biting into his last cabbage roll. “I was eating that,” he said. The cat was fluffy, with beige and brown colouring, beautiful and greedy. Its tail flicked up into his face.
“Yuri,” Yakov boomed. “You’re supposed to keep that animal out of here during meals.”
Christophe managed to scratch the cat’s head a few times before Yuri bundled it away. Maybe there would be time to make friends later.
Georgi pushed the bowl of cabbage rolls over to him. Christophe took two more.
“Do you want to see the ranch?” Georgi said.
Christophe smiled at him. “That would be nice.”
“I’ll show you the cattle later,” Georgi said. “We’ve got to fix some sections of the fence before we move them into that pasture.” They were in an old pickup, bumping down a dirt lane. Georgi talked a bit about the ranch, the cattle breed, topics Christophe had picked up a bit about on the rodeo circuit.
“Have you been working here your whole life?” Christophe asked. “You were living in the city when we met.”
“I wanted to get away then.” Georgi pulled up by a leaning fence post. “But I came back.”
They got out of the truck. Georgi was dressed for work: long-sleeved shirt, jeans that had seen some better days. The wind tugged at his hair, ruffling it up.
It made Christophe want to back Georgi up against the side of the truck, ruffle him up some more, then smooth him down. Instead, he took the pair of gloves Georgi handed him and helped him get equipment from the truck bed.
Georgi lifted out the fence post and dug out the hole, smoothing and tamping the dirt. He put on the slide hammer, a heavy steel tube with handles, and Christophe helped him set the post in. Then Georgi pulled up the hammer and let it fall, driving the post into the ground. “There’s good feed on the other side, so the cattle always try to get in here.”
A few more strikes with the hammer and Georgi stepped back, satisfied. “Move back to the truck before I stretch the wires,” he said. “In case one snaps.” He put on the stretcher and started ratcheting.
“No wonder your arms are so nice,” Christophe said. “Do you maybe have some wood I can watch you chop after this?”
Georgi laughed as he pounded in a staple. “We could pitch some hay.”
“I’m fine as a spectator.” It felt so easy right now, warm in the sun, working together. Like it used to be. Before Christophe ran away.
Why didn’t you tell Victor that it’s me? he wanted to ask. But maybe not so much that he wanted to hear the answer. He’d be leaving soon anyway, should keep this light, not dig himself in any deeper. If there was anything to say, better to keep it until then.
They got back into the truck and drove slowly along the fence. Georgi looked out the window, watching for downed poles and breaks in the wire.
“Tell me about your band,” Christophe said.
Georgi lit up, glancing at Christophe with a smile before he turned back to the fence. “They’ve been backing for me for about a year. We’re going to do some recording, the studio’s booked for next month.” He told Christophe more about their music, their chances.
Georgi had always hoped to make it big, maybe this time it would happen for him. “You sounded great last night,” Christophe said.
A flush came up on Georgi’s cheeks and he didn’t say any more until he stopped the truck again. He turned to Christophe, hands still on the wheel. “Are you happy with the work you do?”
Was this about the camming? Georgi didn’t sound snarky but maybe this was a prelude to suggesting Christophe could find other work, more respectable work. Fuck that.
“Moving around so much,” Georgi said. “Working by yourself all the time. It seems lonely.” He glanced down. “You’re always rolling on.”
Christophe didn’t know what to say. Because it was. It was very lonely. So transient and uncertain. And it hit him like the heels of a bull crashing down onto his chest: he hated that. Hated it a lot.
“Sorry,” Georgi said and turned away.
“I’m good at what I do,” Christophe said. “All of it, dev, camming, bullfighting. And there’s satisfaction in that, even in a camper truck.”
They got out of the truck and walked to the back. Georgi stopped close to Christophe, his hand on the tailgate, looking him in the eye. That old intense stare.
“You’re too good at what you do,” Georgi said. And he went to fix the fence.
Christophe sat down at the small dining table in the suite. Since he’d been in here before lunch, another chair had been pushed under it. From a different set but it didn’t look too out of place.
“Did you get the hamburger from the big kitchen?” Victor pulled bowls and spices from the cupboards, vegetables from the fridge.
“I nearly got caught.” Georgi handed over a paper-wrapped package. “Next time you do it.”
“Lilia would kill me.”
“She’d kill me too.” Georgi leaned against the counter so Victor had to reach around him to get into the refrigerator.
“Yeah, but she’d skin me first.”
Christophe smiled and rested his chin on his hands. Watching them pick at each other was soothing. Right now, at least, there was no tension in the air, just an at-home feeling.
“Yuri has a roast on.” Georgi glanced at the ceiling with a wistful look.
“Do you usually eat with the rest of the family?” Christophe asked. Lunch had been fun, if noisy. And the thought of roast beef was making his mouth water.
“Most of the time,” Victor said. “But I’m not eager for them to find out about our current cashflow situation.”
“You should fry the onions first,” Georgi said.
Christophe looked over at the coffee table. He should really ask to use the laptop now, get his life moving again. See about credit cards, driver’s license. Make contact with Thomas.
Then Victor plonked a cutting board and a cucumber down in front of Christophe, then some carrots and a knife. “I’m macerating the onions,” he said to Georgi. He added a salad bowl and bag of greens to Christophe’s pile.
Christophe started chopping. It was nice to have a bit more elbow room to work; the camper was pretty cramped for much cooking.
Georgi came over and leaned on the table, picking up bits of cucumber and eating them.
“Hey.” Christophe looked up at Georgi. He held the eye contact, daring him.
“Needs salt,” Georgi said. He reached, slowly, for another piece.
Christophe caught his wrist. “You’re plenty salty.”
Victor turned around and grinned. “And you’re plenty cheesy.”
“So what are you, then?” Christophe said. “Don’t say sweet.”
“Delicious.” Victor struck a pose, like he had at the pool table. Sophisticated, sexy, hands covered in raw hamburger. “And rare.”
“The Silver Chef.”
“Speaking of cheesy,” Victor said to Georgi.
“Speaking of rare,” Georgi said. “I’m not sure I can handle smelling that roast again. But I’ll try. If Yuri didn’t lock up all the cheese this time.”
He left and Victor turned back to the counter. “Don’t stare at my ass,” he said, “or you’ll cut yourself.”
Christophe laughed and went back to his slicing. His life could wait a little longer.
After supper, Georgi left for a rehearsal, guitar in hand and humming to himself.
Christophe looked at the laptop again but Victor picked it up. Fine, Christophe was too tired anyway, leave it for tomorrow.
“Forget cleaning up,” Victor said. “Want to watch something? There’s beer in the fridge.”
Christophe joined Victor on the couch. Pretty comfortable, big enough for three if they were friendly. “Anything’s fine.”
Victor set up the stream to the TV, a sitcom Christophe had seen most of already. Victor too, seemed like, since he started chatting as soon as he sat back.
“What do you think of the ranch?”
“It’s great,” Christophe said. The word sounded colourless and trite. The ranch — being here made Christophe feel real. Grounded. Not virtual, like his dev work. Not an act like his cam work. In a quiet way, it was part of what he got from bullfighting: boots on the ground, blood in his veins. “It feels solid, real. Dependable.”
“Solid.” Victor looked back at the TV. “I don’t know about dependable. And the family will make you crazy.” He shifted on the couch and Christophe remembered his shoulder injury.
“A good place to come back to.”
Victor looked thoughtful. Then he relaxed back against the cushions. “You might be right.”
“It feels good,” Christophe said. “The family crazy.”
“You might change your mind after a while,” Victor said. “But that’s why we do the rodeo, to ride that crazy away.” He paused. “I’m probably good to ride for one more season.”
“It depends.” Victor didn’t say any more and there was something in his face that kept Christophe from asking. After a minute, Victor turned back to Christophe. “You’re welcome to stay here as long as you like, it’s fine. Anyway, it will take a while to get you set up again, even after the rodeo.” He smiled. “And now that you know how to fix fences…”
“One more line for my résumé.” It was tempting, to stay here for a while, feel that solidness, learn more about the ranch. More about Victor. A few more days of belonging somewhere.
Victor got up and went into the bathroom. When he came back, he sat right next to Christophe, shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh.
Christophe put his arm around him and they settled in against each other. Solid. Real.
“We’ll definitely pay you back for the camper,” Victor said. “But I’m not sure how to pay you back for saving my life.” He dropped his head on Christophe’s shoulder. “I could suck your dick.”
Christophe laughed. “If I had a blowjob from every cowboy whose life I saved…”
“You’d be a lot more relaxed.”
“I’m not relaxed?” Was that how he seemed? “I’m not the one ironing my clothes twice day.”
“You’re relaxed right now,” Victor said. “And we haven’t really seen each other at our best this week. But you’re uptight and you should be easygoing. It’s more attractive.” He looked up. “It feels more like the real you.”
Christophe opened his mouth to protest but he couldn’t. Of course he’d been uptight. This week. Last week. Last month. Last year. That was life. “If I’m too attractive, it wouldn’t be fair.”
“I’d still be hotter than you.” Victor yawned. “Okay, I can blow you after this episode.”
Christophe caught the yawn. Stretched out his arm, pulled Victor closer. “I think this is a two-parter.”
“You’re drooling on each other,” Georgi said.
Christophe reached for Georgi, he was in the wrong place, should be closer. But his arm was pinned, he was trapped under something. He blinked and Georgi was standing in front of the couch, looking down at him. Victor was sprawled against him, mouth open and breathing loudly. The sitcom was still playing, on an entirely different season now.
“I don’t drool,” Christophe said. He yanked his arm out from under Victor and flexed it. “It’s never going to work right again.”
“All these fake injuries,” Georgi said. “Malingerers.” His voice was warm and he smiled.
Victor yawned and stretched. He winced and his hand went to his shoulder. “Just to get you to do all the work.”
“I already do.” Georgi went into the bedroom and came back with a pile of bedding. “Sorry the couch isn’t long enough for you, Christophe.”
“It’s fine.” Christophe knew he’d be left out here, he wasn’t expecting anything different. No room for three in that bed, not to sleep.
Victor got up and leaned his weight on Georgi, arm around his neck. There was a red mark on his face from Christophe’s shoulder.
Christophe kicked his ankle. “You still owe me.”
Victor wiped his mouth. “Are you sure we didn’t?”
“Do you have everything you need?” Georgi said. He pulled Victor into the bedroom and shut the door behind them.
Christophe looked at the closed door for a few moments. Then he started making up his bed.
“You say you can ride,” Georgi said to Victor at breakfast. “So let’s see you ride.”
“I’ll be fine.” Victor lifted his injured arm. He didn’t wince but the corners of his mouth were set.
Georgi turned to Christophe. “Do you think he’ll be fine?”
It was too early in the morning to get in the middle of these two. “Maybe he should give it a day first?”
“Of course I can ride,” Victor said. “Come on.”
They didn’t actually have a bucking bull here, did they? The way this week had gone, Christophe wouldn’t be surprised if Meteor turned out to be part of the family too. He gulped the rest of his coffee and tagged along.
Outside, the sun was already hot and bright. Christophe took a moment to look at the horizon, take a breath of the air. He could see the cattle moving in the far pasture. He rolled his shoulders, loose, relaxed, even without Victor’s blowjob.
There was no Meteor, just a mechanical bull in one of the outbuildings. A good quality bull with a full cushioned area, perfect for practice.
Victor climbed up and took the rope in his hand. “Let me have it.”
“Okay, show me.” Georgi started a program, a medium setting. The mechanical bull twisted and swayed.
“Seriously?” Victor rocked along with the bull, shifting his weight, right hand in the air. “This is for half-lit city people Saturday night at the bar. Turn it up.”
“Then you’ll be fine.” Georgi didn’t touch the panel.
“He looks okay,” Christophe said. Victor looked good, in fact. Graceful and elegant, even his work clothes crisp and perfect. That long sweet line of his back, extending with his raised arm. Even after all Victor’s fuckery, he was still the Silver Star, and he made the breath catch in Christophe’s chest.
Georgi turned up the difficulty. And the bull tipped Victor off onto his ass.
“I’m just warming up.” Victor picked up his hat and got back on. “Go again.”
Georgi started the same program. Victor lasted a few seconds longer. But the rope slipped out of his hand and over he went.
He sat in the cushioned area, squeezing his hat between his fingers. “I can use my right on the rope,” he said.
“In competition?” Georgi said. “You balance is off already, you’re holding yourself differently. With the left up, you’ll be worse.”
“You’ll just hurt yourself more,” Christophe said. He should be worried about his own situation, he knew that. How he was going to cope without cash to set himself up. But idiot Victor. “Get out of there.”
“What are we going to do?” Victor said. He hoisted himself out and went over to Georgi. He was frowning, serious, they both were, the same worry on their faces.
Georgi sighed. “I’ll have to do it.”
“It’s been years,” Victor said. “Can you?”
“I’ve practised with you.” Georgi’s eyes flicked over to the bull. “I don’t know.”
“If you get hurt.” Victor put his hands on Georgi’s shoulders.
“What else can we do?” Georgi said.
“You don’t have to,” Christophe said. “I can wait, I’ll make do.”
They both looked over at him, a little startled, like they’d forgotten he was there.
“I said we’d pay you back,” Victor said. “And we will.”
“Let me try,” Georgi said to Victor.
Victor pressed his forehead to Georgi’s for a moment and Christophe felt almost guilty for the rush of longing that welled up while he watched them together.
“Okay,” Victor said. “Get up there.”
Georgi started out on a medium program. He did fine, good grip, good form, lasted the full eight seconds and more.
“Looking good,” Christophe called. This was a surprise, Georgi clearly had some decent experience riding. Even if he wasn’t the Silver Star.
Victor changed up the difficulty. Georgi stuck to the bull as it whipped him around, his face grim and his gloved fingers clenching tight around the rope.
“You’re doing great,” Christophe said. “Hang on!”
But Georgi went flying into the cushioned corner.
“Watch your balance,” Victor said. “Use your thighs more. And shift your grip a little lower.”
Georgi nodded. He smoothed down his hair and got back on.
They went again and again, Victor raising the difficulty and using the panel to add more bucking. Georgi was getting better, lasting a bit longer. After every fall, Victor had more critique: his seat, his grip, the way he clenched his knees, the way he ran a hand over his hair before raising his arm.
Victor wasn’t exactly a sweet person, but this seemed excessive. “Come on, Victor,” Christophe said. “He’s doing great.”
They didn’t look over, though, and Georgi just nodded at all Victor’s criticism, just got back on to be thrown one more time.
What did they think Christophe was going to do if they didn’t pay him back immediately? Sue them? Rustle their cattle? Tell Lilia?
Georgi went over again, bouncing off the cushioned side like a ball on their pool table. He sat up, discouragement all over his face, both their faces. Victor went over to him and leaned over the side, talking to him in a low voice.
Christophe wanted to go over and put his arms around both of them. Hold them up under whatever was weighing them down. Break this fucking tension.
“Let me have a turn,” he said instead.
They both looked up.
“It will give Georgi a break to write down all those notes.”
Victor looked back at Georgi for a moment. “All right,” he said, finally. “Let’s see you ride.”
Christophe borrowed a glove and settled himself on the bull. It had been while for him but he usually did a few bar rides every year for fun. The bull started to move. After a few awkward jerks, he caught the feel of it again, the shift and the flow.
Victor switched to an advanced program. Christophe clenched tighter on the rope, gripped harder with his thighs. Here it was, the fight against the bull twisting beneath him, the excitement of holding on as long as he could.
But it was Victor trying to throw him off, playing the control panel.
“Hang on!” Georgi called and Christophe did, a few seconds longer. Then he was tumbling through the air, bouncing off the cushion, laughing as he fell.
“I needed that.” He pulled himself up, back against the side of the cushion. Blood was pumping through him and he sucked air into his lungs. “Better than coffee to wake up.”
“Did you use to ride?” Georgi said. “You never told me.”
“When I was younger,” Christophe said. “I was good, too. I love the rush.”
“Why did you stop?” Victor leaned over the side, resting on his elbows.
“Didn’t like the competition, really. And bullfighting — people think it’s lesser, if they think about it at all. Just a bunch of rodeo clowns. But you get that rush over and over again, facing down bulls all afternoon instead of an eight-second ride.”
“Saving idiots who let themselves get bucked off,” Georgi said.
“You won’t need saving,” Christophe said. “You’re not an idiot.” Not an idiot, but out of practice. What if Christophe didn’t get there in time to drag Georgi out of the way? “Seriously, though, I can wait for the money, I can get by. You might have to put me up for a while but I’ll figure it out.”
They looked at each other, then back at Christophe. “It’s not your truck,” Georgi said. “Not just your truck.” The worried look was back on his face.
“It’s the ranch,” Victor said flatly. “It’s been a bad couple of years.”
“The land’s mortgaged,” Georgi said. “Plus a couple of bank loans. And last year, we lost half the herd to fog fever.“
“We’re still rebuilding the herd,” Victor said. “And this year, all the handling equipment is breaking down, we need new winter shelters. Plus trying to get certified for grassfed. If we can deal with all of that, we should be fine, next year we’ll make some profit. Everybody’s doing what they can. But there’s no evil moustache-twirling mortgage holder to marry Georgi off to, so. We need to win.”
“Well, shit.” What else was there to say? Everything seemed so settled here, so permanent. The house, the cattle, the land. The family. The idea that it could all go away, it made Christophe feel sick. Sick and helpless. Maybe the best thing he could do was leave them alone.
“Come on.” Georgi turned to Victor. “I’ll go again.”
“You should have reminded me before.” Victor handed Christophe the laptop. “I added a user account for you and the pics we took.”
“Time to get life started again.” Everything piling up in the cloud. Only four days but it felt like he’d been offline for months.
“We don’t have a good camera but if you need to do a session or whatever, there’s a webcam on the laptop.”
“In your space?” Christophe glanced around the suite. “What about Georgi?”
“We talked about it.” Victor didn’t grin, didn’t make some flippant or sarcastic remark. Just held Christophe’s eyes. “It’s fine.”
“You talked about me?” Christophe’s heart squeezed and he felt a stir of unease.
“Self-centred much?” Victor put his hand on Christophe’s arm, gave it a squeeze. “We talked about you. Make yourself at home.”
Christophe’s stomach flipped. They’d talked about him. And Victor was here, close and friendly still. Maybe it was fine. Maybe it could all be fine, all three of them.
He set down the laptop and took Victor’s face in his hands, brushing the corner of Victor’s mouth with his thumb. “Maybe I will.”
“Might be worth getting yelled at to stay here a while longer.” Victor put his hands on Christophe’s hips. “But we’re vaccinating and I’m the best one with the syringe.”
“Sexy.” Christophe leaned in for a kiss, just one, warm and clinging. Victor sighed into it, his hands slipping down, and it was all Christophe could do not to toss him onto the couch and climb on after. But he let go. “Thanks for the warm up.”
“Like you’re not always ready to go.” Victor flashed him a smile, then left Christophe alone in the small apartment.
No more putting it off. Christophe sat down on the couch and opened the laptop. He logged into his password manager site and checked all his accounts. Too many red badges everywhere: junk emails, social notifs, reminders about his bills.
What if he just closed the lid and went out to watch the calves being vaccinated? Maybe lend a hand himself, learn how to handle them.
But he wasn’t on some dude ranch holiday. He was broke, he was homeless, and he had to start dealing with reality. So he buckled down, got in touch with his bank about new cards. Sent out some feelers about dev work. Priced a new computer, trying to ignore the knots in his stomach.
Looked at rental listings in the city, which was even more depressing than the computer. Maybe some second-hand camping equipment instead, for when he left the ranch. It was still summer. Would be better than a share with five random housemates, anyhow.
Then, finally, he logged into his cam account. Some messages, wondering where he’d been. He’d better give them something, at least. He couldn’t do a real session without a decent camera and it was completely the wrong time of day. But he fixed his hair with Georgi’s pomade, tousled just exactly so, and undid a couple shirt buttons. Another of Victor’s shirts today, but a little more room around the shoulders. Put a teasing smile on his face and recorded a short message.
It felt odd to slip back into that persona, to be Matt for a few minutes, posturing and teasing, promising. But it was satisfying too. Pleasure in doing something well, in at least acting like a person who was confident and secure about life.
He put it up on his profile on the cam site, on a couple of his social accounts. A placeholder. Until he had his real life back.
The pics from Victor were on the desktop and he flipped through them. A little more cowboy than he’d prefer for Thomas. And when he looked at the shots: leaning alone against Charlene, with those goddamn flip-flops on his feet, he could feel Victor and Georgi there with him. See just where they’d been off-frame. Victor, teasing, ridiculous with his phone. Georgi, sulky, pretending not to pay any attention.
And the ones they took together. Victor looking a little too professional to be sexy but still fun to have beside him. A selfie Victor had taken of him and Georgi together, Victor with a sparkle in his eyes and Georgi looking dark and brooding, even though Christophe knew he was just grouchy.
Fuck it. Fuck it all to goddamn hell. He should just delete them all. Instead, he dropped them on his remote file storage.
And then there was nothing left but the whale.
Thomas had left one message, a response to the last pics Christophe had sent. Appreciative but reserved, as usual. Not gross and demanding, like some whales had been; he didn’t spend too much time on those guys, no matter how much cash they’d tipped him. With Thomas, though, it was like a game, trying to win more enthusiasm from him, almost better than the money.
Sorry, baby, he wrote, I lost my phone, but I’ve been thinking about you. He added some of the car pics, his feet cropped out. He wasn’t about to tell Thomas the Sad Tales of Christophe Giacometti, nobody would want that, but maybe he could get a new phone out of him. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Thomas was probably in the city right now, though. Would he ask again to meet?
Nice as Thomas was, Christophe wanted to be done sucking up to whales. The cam sessions were fine, even if they were hard work. With whales, though, there was no off time, he always had to tend to them, had to keep being Matt all day long. But he had to grab whatever he could so he could get by.
So he sat and waited, in case there was a reply. Maybe he should take a few pics here. Shirt off, jeans unbuttoned? The angle, if he put the laptop on top of the living room shelves, it might work.
The door opened and Georgi walked in.
“Sorry.” Georgi stopped just inside the door. “I’ll go.”
“No, I’m done.” Christophe closed the laptop. “I‘m not going to do a real session in your living room anyway.”
“You could use the bedroom. Or there’s some space in the building with the mechanical bull.” Georgi picked up a coffee mug from the kitchen counter, set it back down again. “We could get a camera, set you up in a room there maybe.”
“It’s fine,” Christophe said. “It won’t matter if I take this week off.” He set the laptop on the coffee table. “I’ll find a place after that.”
“You’re welcome here,” Georgi said. He took the same mug and put it into the sink. “As long as you like.”
Warmth bloomed in Christophe’s chest. He hadn’t expected this, not from Georgi. Sure, Victor had said so, but that was Victor, who knew what he would say? “You sure?”
“We’re sure.” Georgi looked over at Christophe. “We talked about it.”
Christophe’s heart throbbed, one great push of happiness running all through his body, more exhilarating than making a trick shot, than riding a killer bull.
“Come here,” he said and held out his hand.
Georgi sat down beside him and Christophe put his arm around Georgi’s shoulders. They just sat together for a while, not speaking, breathing against each other while the refrigerator hummed.
“You’re not out vaccinating?” Christophe said, finally.
“I was doing irrigation checks.” He didn’t elaborate.
“It was great to hear about your band.” Christophe looked down at their thighs pressed together, at Georgi’s hands in his lap. “Maybe I can come to one of your gigs.”
“We’re playing a dance at the rodeo this weekend.”
“Good,” Christophe said. “Okay.” He took a breath, deep, held it for a second. “Georgi, I’m sorry.” He tightened his arm. “I’m so sorry for running out on you. And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you that before now.” There was huge relief in finally saying it. In meaning it.
Georgi didn’t move, closer or away, but he tensed a little under Christophe’s arm. “We were fighting a lot,” he said. “I overreacted about Charlene.”
“I don’t know,” Christophe said. Maybe he was making this worse by bringing it up now. “I’m not trying to excuse myself. Just…I was scared. Of staying in one place, being settled. It’s a huge cliché but”—he looked at Georgi, at his profile, eyes turned down—“I was in love with you and it scared the shit out of me. So, like an asshole, I left you before you could leave me.” He paused. “And you might have, eventually. Back to Victor. But I should have told you instead of just taking off.”
Georgi picked up Christophe’s hand and curled both of his around it, bending Christophe’s fingers back and forth. “Victor is part of me,” he said. “No matter what. I had to face that. But I want you too. Still.” He turned to look at Christophe. “You’re both assholes.” He smiled. “I guess I have a type.”
I want you. Christophe’s heart squeezed. “So should I try to be less of an asshole or more?”
“Depends on if I need new album material.” Georgi swung himself up and over Christophe’s lap, straddling his thighs, hands on his shoulders. “Right now, I’m set for years.”
Christophe rested his hands on Georgi’s hips. “I want you too,” he said. And he could have him, right? See Georgi once in a while after this was done. And Victor too. They could be casual, they had their arrangement. Seemed like Victor was okay with Christophe, more than okay.
But could he be casual with them when he wanted so much more? He stroked his hands lightly up Georgi’s sides, back down, looking into Georgi’s eyes. Plucked at the hem of his t-shirt, just enough to get his fingers underneath and onto Georgi’s skin.
Georgi touched Christophe’s face, thumb stroking at his cheekbone. He pulled Christophe’s collar back, reaching under it and teasing at the brush of hair over Christophe’s breastbone.
All the tension twisted in Christophe, like strands of a rope: desire, love, fear that he might not get what he wanted, fear that he just might. This long moment, looking at each other, caught, together.
Then Georgi leaned down and they flared into a kiss, pulling at each other’s clothing, toppling onto the couch so they could tangle together, rock up against each other.
Christophe got Georgi’s shirt off over his head, pressed him down, raked and sucked at his bare skin. Not the time to be gentle, he wanted to devour Georgi, be devoured, possessed, possessing.
Georgi arched his back and grabbed at Christophe, twisting his hair in his fingers until it hurt. Breathing hard, eyes squeezed closed. Feet hooking over the back of Christophe’s legs.
Christophe peeled back Georgi’s jeans, enough to get in there, to rub his face on Georgi’s abdomen, to hook his fingers in the waist of Georgi’s underwear. And then he stopped.
On Georgi’s hip: two hearts in black ink, linked together. Still there, that terrible tattoo. The same as Christophe’s.
He rubbed it with his thumb, like he had to make sure it wouldn’t erase. “You kept it,” he said. “I never thought…”
“At first it was to remind me what a bastard you were,” Georgi said. “But then it was just to remember.” He stroked Christophe’s face. “Victor wanted me to get it lasered but I said I needed the pain for my music.”
“I still have mine too.” Christophe pressed a kiss on the tattoo. “There’s no laser that could get rid of you.” He crawled up the couch and settled on top of Georgi so they could kiss, wrapped around each other.
The door clicked open and they both surged up. Christophe lost his balance and crashed onto the floor.
“Hi,” Victor said.
Christophe froze, his heart hammering in his throat. Like Meteor was bearing down on him again and this time he couldn’t roll away.
“Jesus Christ, Victor,” Georgi said. He sat up and ran his hands through his hair.
“You should put something on the door.” Victor crossed his arms, tipped his head to one side.
“Sorry.” Christophe tried to move. Better get up, better get out. Why had he thought this would be all right?
But Georgi clamped his hand down on Christophe’s shoulder, stay there.
Victor smiled. “Leave, watch, or join?”
Christophe stared at Victor, at the tension in his smile, at the question in his eyes. He felt Georgi’s hand tighten, sensed his whole body shifting. While they both waited for Christophe to answer.
Christophe thawed all at once, sagging back on his elbows, giddy with relief. It really was okay.
He looked up at Georgi. He wanted time with just the two of them, to reconnect, make up the past. Then he looked over at Victor. And even more, he wanted to be part of this, the three of them together.
“Your choice,” Georgi said.
No, no choice at all. Christophe leaned up and kissed his cheek. “You’re beautiful,” he said. Then he turned and held out his hand to Victor. “And so are you.”
“We really are,” Victor said. He crossed over and took Christophe’s hand, let Christophe pull him down and kiss him.
Then Christophe pushed Victor up onto the couch, beside Georgi. He sat back on his heels and looked at them. The contrast they made: light and dark, clear and stormy. Felt his heart squeeze until his chest ached.
“Did you just want to watch?” Victor asked. He put his arm around Georgi and leaned in, mouth on Georgi’s cheek, but his gaze still on Christophe.
“Not this time,” Christophe said.
“Come on, bedroom.” Georgi stood, trailing his hands over both of them, his eyes shining with emotion.
“Okay, bedroom,” Victor said. He looked at Christophe. “Bedroom.”
Christophe laughed. Maybe he’d be laughing for the rest of the day. “Bedroom.” And he followed them in.
“How much time do we have?” Victor said.
“Enough time for candles,” Georgi said and started to light them.
“Another fire hazard,” Christophe said but he flipped off the overhead so they could see the warm glow on the dresser, the bedside tables. Right now, he’d let them burn down his life as many times as they wanted to, as long as he ended up here with them.
“Enough time to spitroast me,” Victor said. “I never get to do that.” He slid his hand around Christophe’s waist and leaned into him. “Chris can fuck me.”
“You’re so greedy,” Georgi said but his voice was fond.
“Oh, I don’t mind,” Christophe said. A long, slow fuck, looking at Georgi in the candlelight, Victor straining gladly between them. His breath caught and he couldn’t wait any longer. He turned to Georgi. “But I didn’t get to play with you long enough.”
“There’s time for that too.” Georgi pulled Christophe onto the bed and Victor climbed on after. “Watch your arm,” Georgi said to Victor.
And they all tumbled together, kissing and touching. Their moves were little awkward but not the atmosphere between them. It felt so right to Christophe, they wanted him, they were glad he was there. Stay as long as you want. Now maybe he could.
Christophe ended up in the middle again, turning his head for their mouths and losing track of whose hands were where. Losing track of everything except the ache in his chest, Victor and Georgi in his arms.
“Always in these tight jeans.” Victor pulled at Christophe’s buttons. “Next time, take them off before we start.”
Next time… Christophe moved his hips, maybe that was a better angle, thumbed the first button open himself. But Georgi pulled him up into a kiss and Christophe couldn’t do both things at once.
Victor managed the rest of the buttons and bent down, mouth sliding down Christophe’s belly, fingers brushing up the length of his cock.
Christophe arched his back, fingers tightening on Georgi’s shoulders. That laugh still bubbling inside him, shaking his throat as he gasped.
Victor stopped. “What the hell is this?” He ground his thumb into Christophe’s hip. “What the fuck, Chris, that was you?”
The tattoo. Visible now through the yellowing bruise. Christophe felt everything skid, spin, like they were careening off the road again, nothing he could do to prevent it.
Victor let go of Christophe entirely. Got off the bed. Stared at Georgi. “This is him?”
“Victor,” Georgi said. He moved back too but not before Christophe felt him tense. Felt the distance between them all, three separate people again.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Victor said. His face creased, twisting between anger and pain.
“You said you talked about me,” Christophe said. “I thought—“ But nobody even looked at him.
“I was too pissed off,” Georgi said. “With both of you. And later…” He shrugged. “What was I supposed to say? I told you he was my ex when you showed up with him.”
Victor crossed around the end of the bed, over to face Georgi. “I thought he was one of your flings.” He looked fucked up, tired, ten years older, even in the candlelight. But even so, Christophe could see it, they were turning towards each other, together. “So, what?” Victor said. ”Are you going to leave me again?”
The colour drained from Georgi’s face. “I’m not going to leave you. I’m never leaving you.” He stood and reached for Victor. Victor jerked away.
And Christophe lay on the bed, crashing, sinking, corroding with the shock and the despair. He was never part of this, he was never on the inside. Just something for them to fight about. So good at pitting men against each other, so that all they saw was each other.
He rolled off the bed, no room for him here. Fastened the jeans, buttoned the shirt. While they argued with each other. Stay as long as you like. Which was not a second longer.
“I’ll message you where to transfer the money,” he said and strode out of the room, out of the suite, and slammed the door behind him.
Christophe got out into the yard and just kept walking, the gravel biting at his bare feet. Fuck that, he’d walk barefoot all the way to the city if he had to, anything to get out of here.
The door banged open behind him. “Don’t go,” Georgi called. “You don’t have to go.”
“Let him,” Victor said. “It’s what he does best, right?”
“You’re the one pushing him away,” Georgi said.
And there it was. Even storming out after him, they were still fighting with each other. He was just one more thing for them to argue about: which music to listen to in the car, whose turn it was to clean the bathroom, if they should fuck Christophe.
“You don’t need me for this,” he said and kept walking. “Fight all you want, just leave me out of it.”
“Don’t worry,” Victor said. “You’ll get your money from me. But that’s all.”
“Fuck the money,” Christophe said. “I don’t want your money, I don’t want anything from you.” He pulled open his half-buttoned shirt, Victor’s shirt. Turned around and threw it on the ground. He’d leave here naked, nothing from either of them.
“Christophe, don’t,” Georgi said. “You said—”
“What is going on?”
They all wheeled to look at Lilia. She was standing on the steps of the house, arms folded, expression perfectly neutral. Mila came out behind her.
Christophe froze, shocked, like someone had thrown a bucket of cold water over him. He probably looked at least that stupid. He picked up the shirt and tried to slide it on casually, to make his fumbling fingers work the buttons. “It’s nothing,” he said. “A difference of opinion.”
“Christophe, please stay,” Georgi said.
Lilia turned to Georgi. “You owe him money.”
“I do.” Victor’s shoulders sagged and the flare of anger died out of his face. “I owe him money,” he said and he just sounded exhausted. “And I owe him my life.” He turned back to Christophe. “The money’s all I can repay.”
“Forget the money.” Christophe flashed on those brief moments with Victor, rolling out from under Meteor’s crushing hooves. One more grapple pulling them together. One more wedge pushing them apart.
“Christophe,” Georgi said. He was standing close to Victor now, his hand gripping Victor’s arm. Mussed up, tense. Eyes full of pain. Maybe he’d get a good song out of it at least.
Christophe looked at Georgi, at Victor beside him, and regret twisted inside him, wringing his guts. He was never going to close that circuit, one hand on each of their shoulders. Never going to belong. “I can’t stay here,” he said. “I have things to do.”
Christophe stared out at the ranch bumping by. He could see the herd in the distance, spread out grazing. The sections of fence he’d helped Georgi fix. Probably; it was hard to tell from here.
He glanced across the truck cab at Mila, one more person whose life he was complicating. “Sorry you’re stuck with me,” he said.
“I had to go into town anyway,” she said. “Pick up some equipment.”
“The ranch must be hard work.”
“It is,” she said. “They’re hard work too. You probably made the right choice.”
He laughed, one rueful snort. One way to look at it. Probably the best way. “How far is it from here to the city?”
“There’s a bus,” Mila said. “Lilia gave me some money for you.”
“I don’t need—”
“Don’t make me tell her that you wouldn’t take it, I don’t need to be in trouble too.” She took the corner from the lane onto the road in a spray of gravel. “She’ll make Victor pay, not just the money.”
He was going to have to accept it. He couldn’t imagine going against Lilia, even if he never saw her again. It was relieving, actually, not to have to hitchhike and starve on principle. When his life was under control again, he could send it back her.
She’d gotten the whole story out of Victor, the part about him destroying everything Christophe owned, anyhow. She’d probably guessed the rest.
They pulled up at a service station. “Bus should be by in about half an hour, if it’s on time,” Mila said. She gave him some cash and a smile. “Next time, just let Victor get kicked in the head.”
“Maybe you can kick him for me,” Christophe said and got out to wait for the bus.
The city was stifling and dirty, hotter somehow than the ranch. Christophe was just in time to go to his storage locker, charm the attendant into unlocking it for him, and get his passport and an old backpack.
He made it to the bank before they closed and picked up his new credit card. The balance he was already carrying was bad enough but, fuck it, he had to deal somehow.
A cheap-ish Airbnb for a few nights. Some clothes that fit. Nice clothes, fuck that too. Clothes that didn’t belong to anyone else. That made him look good, better than good. Fashionable but like he didn’t care about that. A pretty city boy.
Then he went to buy a new phone. When they transferred his number, a notification popped up right away. A text. From Georgi.
A thrill went through Christophe as he stared at the screen, at Georgi’s years-ago face. A goofy pic Christophe had caught of him at home eating pudding, a spoon halfway to his open mouth. He’d never deleted the contact. Apparently, neither had Georgi.
“I still need your card,” the salesperson said.
Christophe sagged against the counter. He put his card in the reader and tried to remember his new PIN. Too tired for this, too tired for everything. Too tired for Georgi and Victor.
Grappling with just one of those idiots was hard enough. Dealing with them both was exhausting. And they had taken everything from him. Burned him down, stripped him bare.
Maybe it was time to lean into that. Start over, leave the rodeo behind too. Stay here in the city, or, better yet, back to the coast. Or head out east. A new life. A new Christophe.
He swiped Georgi’s message away unread. Then he texted the whale.
Christophe gave his name — his cam name — at the hotel restaurant and went to wait at the bar. He ordered a martini, top shelf gin. Probably there wasn’t a bottom shelf here anyhow.
The room was cool and calm and, when he sipped his drink, he felt cool and calm too. Apprehensive. A little excited. He’d never met one of his whales before. But Thomas was the first one who’d made him consider it, even before this whole clusterfuck week.
Christophe turned in towards the bar, so it didn’t look like he was scanning the room. His phone vibrated, maybe Thomas was delayed? But it was Georgi’s face back on Christophe’s screen, always raising that spoonful of pudding, never getting to eat it.
“You’re not going to get to eat this pudding either,” Christophe said.
“Matthew?” someone said.
It was moment before Christophe realized that was him. Not used to that name in public. And Thomas was the only one who called him Matthew instead of Matt.
He turned, trying not to look embarrassed. If Thomas had heard him muttering about pudding…
But it was a server. “Your party has arrived.”
Christophe put his phone into airplane mode, no more interruptions, no more Georgi and Victor jamming a stick into the spokes of his life. Or a spoon. He tipped down the last of the martini, super suave to gulp like that, but he needed it. He took a deep breath. Matthew, confident, flirty Matthew. “Let’s go.”
Thomas was waiting at the table and he watched Christophe walking toward him. Better make himself worth watching, a shade of a strut, not arrogant, just sexy.
“I’m so glad we could meet,” Christophe said.
Thomas was nearly smiling now, the corners of his mouth relaxed. So far, I approve, at least that’s how it seemed to Christophe. “So am I, Matthew,” Thomas said and held out a beautifully manicured hand.
Christophe took it, firmly but lightly. Asserting himself just enough to be confident, no more. He made eye-contact, smiled a little more than he meant to. Because damn.
He didn’t have to pretend any admiration: Thomas was very attractive. Dark hair shot with grey, deep-set hazel eyes. Strong features. A few lines on his face but looking fit and healthy. Probably fifty, stern when he had to be, smiling when he wanted to.
And in the pressure of that cool palm was a definite spark, a small jolt of attraction between them.
Thomas didn’t try to hide his own reaction. “Good,” he said. “Sit down.”
Without that spark, would he have rescinded his invitation? Not told Christophe to get out, no, Christophe didn’t get that vibe from him. But maybe he would have apologized for the inconvenience and paid for Christophe’s meal at the bar. Thomas wasn’t a man who would waste anyone’s time.
“What do you recommend?” Christophe put one hand on the menu but didn’t open it. Probably not a good idea to lead with personal questions. Even “how long are you in town?” might seem like Christophe was making assumptions. Of course, he was making assumptions, they both were. But he could already tell that wasn’t how to play this.
“I’ll order for you, if you like.” Thomas didn’t look around, didn’t even seem to make a sign, but a server appeared at their table. “Something light, I think.”
While they waited for the wine to arrive, Thomas studied Christophe. “You’re very attractive in person,” he said. “Poised, that’s good.”
Meets expectations, good. Like this was a performance review. Or an audition. A bit of an effort for Christophe to keep that poise, he was still exhausted. “Thank you.” No compliment back, that would be too presumptuous. Besides, Thomas clearly knew his own worth. But Christophe let his eyes show his admiration and that was no effort at all.
Thomas began to talk about a book he’d read, popular science, astronomy. He was lucid and interesting about it and it wasn’t a chore for Christophe to put in a question now and then.
“What was the name of the book again?” Christophe asked.
“I’m not expecting you to read it,” Thomas said.
“Are you forbidding it?”
“I’m not interested in ignorant young men. But conformity isn’t interesting either.”
Christophe smiled. “Then I should have ordered for myself.”
“Good judgement is always appealing.” Thomas sipped the taste the server offered him and nodded his approval of the wine. “If you do want to know more, I’ll give you some recommendations.”
Christophe lifted his glass. A Riesling, very dry with apple notes and a mineral flavour. Challenging and complex. A lot like Thomas, actually.
While they drank and ate, Thomas moved from one neutral topic to another, all of them interesting, none of them personal.
No need for Christophe to talk around questions he’d rather not answer. Or, worse, make something up he’d forget the details to later. No need to prop up Thomas’s ego, not more than an extra sparkle in Christophe’s eyes over the rim of his wineglass.
“Another bottle?” the server asked.
Thomas looked at Christophe, waiting for him to choose.
“No,” Christophe said. “Thank you, it was lovely but sufficient.”
“All things in moderation?” Thomas said.
Christophe sat back and gave Thomas his best look, that lazy sensuality that always made men lean in to find out more. But restrained. Moderate.
And Thomas did lean in, smile almost at three-quarters, an answering look that made Christophe very curious about what he was like in bed.
Christophe was killing this audition so far, he could tell. So was Thomas, actually.
“Matthew,” Thomas said. He used the name like it was a title. Not pretending it was Christophe’s real name but not derisive, like it was fake, either. Other whales had pressed to know more, like their attention gave them the right. Thomas never had. Maybe he never would. “You’re a pleasant dinner companion. But I need to know, do you have anyone in your life, a romantic partner?”
“No,” Christophe said, almost before Thomas had finished speaking. Before he could let himself feel a pang. He tried to slow himself down, free and easy. “No one right now.” Just another move in this game they were playing, another step down a road they both knew.
“I’d like to spend some time with you,” Thomas said. “Let’s see how we suit each other.” His forthrightness was very appealing. He needed control, Christophe could tell. Probably not in a sexual sense. But to know exactly what he was getting.
Which sounded perfect. “I’d like that,” Christophe said.
“Good,” Thomas said. “I have a room upstairs.”
It was a suite, luxurious, with indirect lighting, a full bar, beds Christophe would never be afraid to sleep in, climate control he couldn’t even hear. But a black light would probably turn up just as many stains as any cheap motel room.
After tonight, maybe a few more. Christophe stood for awhile, looking around, looking casual. What would Thomas’s next move be?
But Thomas was waiting too, looking at Christophe.
Not the scenario Christophe had fantasized about. But this was better, more balanced. More forthright. “Let’s sit down,” Christophe said. “I’d like to kiss you.”
“All right,” Thomas said. They settled on the couch, turned towards each other.
Christophe leaned in and they kissed, slowly, taking time to learn each other. Thomas slid one hand along Christophe’s jaw, cupping the back of his head. Christophe wanted to swing himself up and straddle Thomas’s lap, rock into him, pull him apart. But instead, he focused on the kiss, the slide of Thomas’s tongue, the cling of their lips. The sparks between them, promised by that first clasp of their hands.
Then Thomas moved back, his hand still on Christophe. “Why don’t you undress?”
“You’ve seen it all before,” Christophe said. “It’s you I want to see.”
Thomas smiled. But he didn’t move, except for his thumb on the nape of Christophe’s neck.
So Christophe stood up, might as well do it properly. He unbuttoned his shirt, not overtly giving a show, but deliberately, looking down at Thomas’s three-quarter smile.
He draped the shirt over a chair and waited for a few seconds, letting the tension build higher. Then he started on his trousers, every movement easy, no too-tight jeans to struggle out of. No more dirt underneath his toenails.
“Are you okay?” Thomas leaned forward on the couch.
Was Christophe being awkward? Had he screwed up his manscaping? He looked down. The bruises, various stages of purple, green, yellow. He hadn’t even thought about trying to cover them. The rodeo seemed so far away right now.
“Just an accident,” he said. “Nothing to worry about.”
“Not a risk-taker?” Thomas said.
“I’m not,” Christophe said. And he wasn’t going to be. No more diving through the dust under the hooves of an angry bull to save some stuck-up cowboy. No more shortcuts down gravel roads. No more drama. Not when he could have this comfortable room, these cool eyes on him. A perfect life, at least for a while. Until one of them was finished with the other.
“You’re beautiful,” Thomas said. He reached out and brushed his finger over the tattoo on Christophe’s hip. “But this spoils you,” he said. “It’s so badly done. Let me have it removed for you.”
Everything crumbled — the serenity of the hotel room, the security of Thomas’s admiration, the new life Christophe was building up around him — all collapsing into a sinkhole. And all that was left was a need so great, his whole skin felt scraped and raw.
Christophe jerked back. He picked up his shirt. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re lovely. And a week too late.”
Christophe ended up in a bar. It should have been a quiet, dingy room, with a few broken-down regulars drinking alone and the bartender wiping glassware, serving Christophe a double bourbon, leave the bottle, and listening to him tell his tale of woe.
Someone singing in a dusty corner, an old guitar on his knee, crooning all the sad, sad songs Georgi serenaded them with by the fire. Breaking Christophe’s heart. Again.
But this bar was noisy, happy, filled with half-lit laughing people. Pushing around him, dancing to country music that wasn’t much more than pop rock with a twang. Trying to catch his eye. Just like that first night in the bar with Victor. There was even a mechanical bull at the end of the dance floor.
Christophe got some bourbon anyway and carried it to a small table at the edge of the room. Tossed back the first double. It burned his throat and he coughed. He sipped at the second, staring down at the laminated table top. No water rings, no old scratches. No flowers or candles.
Just empty. Blank. Numb. Lost two good things in one day. Ran away from them, be honest. But there it was. Tomorrow, he’d start over.
He turned his phone back on. No message from Thomas, of course there wouldn’t be. The two from Georgi were still there. Didn’t matter, Christophe wasn’t going to get what he wanted, that wasn’t how things worked. Better to delete, block, move on.
But he tapped in anyway. Because maybe…
We’ll get you the money for sure, somehow. Victor says he’s going to ride too. Better not count on either of us winning the rodeo though.
The second text just said: I’m sorry.
And Christophe was back down that sinkhole, crushed by the debris falling down after him. But even a sinkhole was an act of nature. And this was an act of Christophe. He’d let himself be drawn into the whole glorious mess of Victor and Georgi. Let himself start to fucking care about those annoying, bitchy, beautiful, high-maintenance men. Victor’s flash, Georgi’s intensity. They stirred him, separately, together. And they soothed him: chopping vegetables, pounding fence posts.
If he couldn’t have them, both of them, he’d rather be alone. Looked like he was going to get that wish.
He didn’t want to think anymore. Couldn’t, the ache in his chest was too much. He could get blind drunk, that would work. Probably end up doing something even more stupid.
Or— He drained his glass and went over to the bull to ride.
He settled himself, rope in his fist, and nodded to the operator. He moved with the bull, easily. Too easily. One of those sexy programs they used in bars: low difficulty and rhythmic, designed to make the rider look hot.
Usually, Christophe would be only too happy to play up, arch his back, put on a show. And he was drawing attention. But he focussed on the rock of the bull instead, the shift of his centre of gravity.
“Harder,” he said. Somebody catcalled. Christophe ignored it. “Too easy,” he said to the operator. “I can ride, try to throw me.”
“We don’t usually—“
“I can ride.” Christophe stared. If he had to jump off the bull and hit the controls himself, he would.
The operator shrugged and switched the program.
Medium level, felt like, needed more skill, more sway and roll. But it still wasn’t enough. “More,” Christophe called. “Make it harder.”
The difficulty went up and now Christophe could feel it, that same jerk and twist, like he was back at the ranch, holding on while Georgi cheered and Victor tried to throw him. But he wasn’t laughing now.
The bull bucked hard and Christophe flew off, bouncing against the cushioned edge of the mattress. “Again,” he said and climbed back on.
They went again. He tightened his grip, clenched his thighs. Fought against the motion of the bull until he went up and over the head, the soft horns folding against him as he tumbled.
“Let someone else have a turn,” the operator said but the crowd yelled out to let him ride.
So Christophe rode. Pitting himself against that unpredictable bucking, like it was something worth doing, for as long as he could. Finding his balance, his style.
His arm ached from holding it in the air, his fingers were burned from the rope. And every time he fell, he remembered the rope slipping through Victor’s fingers, remembered Georgi tumbling down. Thought about them there on the rodeo ground, crushed under the heels of the bull without Christophe there to protect them.
Hold on. Why didn’t he hold on? One more ride, get back on. One more try.
He had to make one more try. Even if it was too late.
Christophe scanned the crowd outside event registration. This was one of the bigger rodeos of the season and it always drew a lot of competitors. He kept moving, kept looking, heart bumping against his ribs, he couldn’t stop now.
He ran his hand through his hair. He was still rumpled from the bus ride out but he didn’t want to waste any more time. Or nerve. New shirt, new jeans, new boots. New hat. New balance on his credit card. New Christophe.
Someone called to him, Travis, another bullfighter. Christophe waved and headed the other way, couldn’t let himself be caught. Dodged between people, bumped into a few more.
Maybe they weren’t here after all. Maybe they were actually showing some sense.
And then he saw them. Together, of course. Georgi frowning, raising a cigarette to his lips, the first time Christophe had seen him smoke since the motel. And Victor, his hat tilted down to shade his unhappy face, arm around Georgi’s shoulders, bending in to talk to him. In their own world together, like always.
And so beautiful together. Christophe’s gut twisted. This was it, his one chance to go all-in. No more running away. No more trying to protect himself. He set his shoulders and walked over.
“You’ll be fine,” Victor was saying. “Your hair won’t even get spoilt.”
“You’re not riding too,” Georgi said. He took another drag on his cigarette, a short nervous puff.
“We’ll have a better chance.” Victor looked stubborn, they both did. Like always.
“Hi,” Christophe said.
They looked up. Georgi shifted, moving forward, then stopped. The cigarette fell from his fingers. Victor tightened his arm around Georgi’s shoulders. And they both stared.
“You’re a few days early for your cash,” Victor said. His face was set, voice neutral, not even sarcastic. Like Christophe was here to foreclose on a bank loan, nothing personal, just business.
Georgi didn’t say anything. His face was anything but neutral, though, he could never hide his feelings. Sad, worried, hurt, his mouth twisting. And he didn’t move out from under Victor’s arm. But his eyes met Christophe’s with a gleam of longing that gave Christophe a spark of hope. And a sharp thrust of pain, because this was going to make it worse if he had to walk away alone.
Christophe drew himself up, straight and tall. “I’m here to ride.”
Georgi sighed and the furrows on his forehead deepened. “That’s fair,” he said.
Victor’s face didn’t change. “So you’re here to beat the Silver Star.”
“No,” Christophe said. He stepped closer, heart pounding, blood rising, close enough to reach out and touch them. But he kept his arms at his side. “I’m here to ride for you.”
“What?” Victor said.
“For you,” Christophe said. “For the ranch.” He took a deep breath. “For us. I know I ran away, but I came back. I’m back.”
Georgi’s face was changing, his cheeks flushing, the corner of his mouth creeping upwards. But he kept glancing over at Victor.
Victor’s face was still nearly expressionless. Except for the pain in his eyes. “He came back,” he said to Georgi. “If only you could win a rodeo buckle for basic human decency.”
“Victor,” Georgi said.
“I guess you need to choose.” Victor dropped his arm, moved away from them both.
“How can you even ask me that?” Georgi took a step towards Victor, but Victor jerked back. “How many times do I have to tell you I’m not leaving you again?”
Christophe felt like he was crumpling, crushed under a heavy weight. Teetering on the edge of that sinkhole. But he stood his ground. He had to make them hear him, understand him.
“I’m here for you,” he said. No poise or elegance now, all his words tumbling out of him like groceries spilling from a torn bag. “Not for me. You can have all the cash for the ranch, to fix Charlene, to buy fancy shirts. Whatever you want it for.”
People were starting to turn, to stare. Christophe didn’t give a fuck about anybody, anything else. He was going to keep them from riding no matter what, even if they turned their backs on him. “To protect you, both of you. Victor, you’re injured. I won’t let you get hurt any more. Georgi, you can’t risk yourself, what about your music?”
Christophe’s heart surged, he felt so high, so unstoppable, thundering like Meteor over the rodeo ground. “Victor, I didn’t come here to make Georgi choose between us and you damn well know that. There is only one choice and you both have to make it. I want in, both of you, all three of us together. This isn’t some exchange, I’m riding for you no matter what you say.” His heart hammered in his throat, his gut clenched. “But will you let me in? Even if there’s only room for me on the couch.”
And then he waited, eyes back and forth between the two of them, for them to choose.
Victor looked stunned, red coming up in his pale cheeks like he’d been slapped. Georgi’s eyes welled up with tears and his mouth curved into a smile. He stepped up to Victor, put his arm around his waist, kissed him on the cheek. “Victor,” he said.
Christophe tried to catch his breath, tried not to hope too much. The moments ticked by, the smoke from Georgi’s cigarette curled up into the air.
“I guess we could see if that room will fit a bigger bed,” Victor said. And he smiled, flushed like sunrise, warm and golden now instead of silver. “Okay?” he said to Georgi.
“You already know that.” Georgi reached out to Christophe, tears rolling down his face. He looked so happy, it made Christophe’s heart turn over.
And Christophe stepped in, all-in, joy rushing through him, and put one arm around each of their shoulders. Closing the circuit.
Victor’s arm went around Christophe, pulling him tightly, Georgi’s too, and they all pressed together, chests heaving and Christophe blinking his stinging eyes.
The little crowd around them cheered and Christophe knew this was going to end up on social media. At least Victor would be happy to go viral.
“Christophe,” Georgi said, “if you run away again, we’ll track you down and beat the hell out of you.”
Christophe laughed. “That’s fair. But you won’t need to. I promise.” He kissed Georgi’s cheek, then Victor’s. ”Unless you need more material for sad songs.”
“I have enough for the rest of my life,” Georgi said. He pushed his face into the crook of Christophe’s neck, breathing against him.
“This is going to be messy,” Victor said.
“More messy than it already is?” Christophe grinned. “I used both your shower gels, you know.”
“We can work out the details after the rodeo,” Victor said. “And get your own damn signature scent.”
Christophe took a deep breath. “Don’t you need to talk about it more? To be sure?”
“We already did,” Georgi said. “Before the fight. About asking you to stay with us. Victor even measured the bedroom.” He pressed his cheek against Victor’s. “And we hashed out the fight afterwards, more or less.”
“Always messy,” Victor said. “Chris, are you sure?”
“You never listen to anything anybody says, do you?” Christophe crushed them both closer, wrinkling Victor’s shirt, ruffling Georgi’s hair, feeling their hearts thudding against him.
“Finish up so I can upload,” someone called to them.
“Oh, god, how do I look?” Victor said. They disengaged, most of the way, anyhow. Georgi’s hands went immediately to check his hair and Victor started smoothing down his shirt.
Christophe laughed, free and easy, warm and happy, filled with everything he would ever need. “Let’s go register.”
Victor looked him up and down. “You’re wearing that to ride in?”
The emotional high carried Christophe through until he looped Victor’s rope around the first bull’s chest and climbed up onto its back. Then he realized fully what he’d agreed to.
It shifted under him, snorting and swearing, nothing like a docile mechanical bull. He remembered facing this one — Peanut Brittle — down more than once. That didn’t help his nerves at all.
But he’d already faced Victor and Georgi today. He could deal with one little bull too. He signalled for the gate and Peanut Brittle charged out into the ring.
He tried to remember all Victor’s advice — find your centre of gravity, move around the vertical line of your arm, keep those thighs gripping — but it was Georgi’s don’t get hurt that looped through his brain while he held on.
Peanut Brittle jumped and twisted and jerked, fighting hard against Christophe. Christophe fought back, felt the hat fly off his head, the rope strain against the palm of his glove.
Finally, the buzzer sounded. It was half a second more before he remembered to let the rope fall, jump away from the bull, run for the fence.
“You suck!” Travis called after him but he was grinning.
Peanut Brittle kicked up Christophe’s new hat, tearing and trampling it, taking out his frustration on it.
Christophe caught his breath on the fence while he waited for the bull to be corralled. He’d stayed on and Peanut Brittle was no slouch, he’d done his best.
Victor and Georgi came up behind him. “That was an ugly ride,” Victor said. “Next time—“ He started on a stream of advice.
Christophe looked down at Georgi and they both rolled their eyes. “Shut up, Silver Star, we’ll miss the score,” Christophe said. He reached down and tipped Victor’s hat forward.
The numbers flashed up on the board and the crowd cheered. Not bad, not bad at all. Christophe relaxed a little as they went to watch the rest of the riders.
And at the end of the round, he was through to the final.
“Second or third place is still good money,” Georgi said. They were waiting for the final to start, a slight delay while the scoreboard rebooted, and they were all getting a bit jittery.
“I’m glad you believe in me,” Christophe said. He was already riding first and there were some good riders to beat. He’d drawn Steak Sauce, an unpredictable bull. But it was fine, it was good. He’d ridden Peanut Brittle, he could ride Steak Sauce. He had to.
“Steak Sauce twists to the left a lot,” Victor said. “He hasn’t been too active this weekend. You might need to ginger him up for some extra points.”
“I’ve seen him often enough.” Christophe leaned to one side, hand on his hip, grin on his face. A cocky pose. A confident voice. “I’ve got this.” He slung an arm around each of them. “I’ve got you.”
“I hope you haven’t used up all your luck winning us back.” Victor flashed a smile.
Christophe laughed and felt himself relax. “That was your luck.”
“That was all our luck.” Georgi hugged Christophe just as they called his name.
Christophe felt almost settled on Steak Sauce’s back, jostling together in the chute. He could do this: win the money, save the ranch, save his men, happy ever after.
He signalled and Steak Sauce stormed out, rearing and bucking. Christophe swayed, hand in the air, thighs gripping like Victor kept telling him.
Steak Sauce leapt and Christophe nearly overbalanced. But he caught himself in time. He was feeling it, more confident than before. Maybe it wasn’t enough to win, though. Should he dig in his heels to make the bull madder?
Then Steak Sauce twisted to the left. Christophe felt his balance tip, his hand loosen, and then he was flying through the air, thudding onto the ground, rolling in the dust.
Someone caught his arm and dragged him away. “Are you hurt?”
He staggered to his feet and hauled himself out of harm’s way. Not hurt. Just finished. Done for. Failed.
He panted against the fence, sweat stinging his eyes. What was he going to say to Georgi and Victor? It would have been so easy to go back to them after a good ride, a winner. He’d talked them into this, made them promises. Let them down.
Fear jolted through him and he stood up. He could feel that ice in his gut, that pull in his feet. Get out, get out now, while you can. Don’t stay around to be rejected. He could bolt now, before they got here.
He took a breath, watching the bullfighters, looking for his chance to run across.
Then he grabbed the fence rail, squeezing it tightly with both hands, one gloved, one bare. You won’t go, he told himself. The only promise you made was that you wouldn’t run away.
He boosted himself over the fence just as they ran up to him. “Steak Sauce twisted to the left.”
“You’re not hurt?” Georgi brushed at the dust on Christophe’s shirt.
“A little sore,” Christophe said. “And a lot sorry.”
“You’ll just have to pull in bigger cam tips.” Victor put his arm around Christophe’s shoulders, squeezed. “We’ll figure something out.”
They all leaned in against each other for a few moments and at the bottom of Christophe’s dejection was a glowing coal of happiness. He was here and they wanted him, win or lose.
“Write a sad song about it,” Christophe said to Georgi and they went to watch the rest of the round.
The next rider was bucked off too, just a few seconds into his ride. The third lasted nearly six before he went flying.
“The ring is cursed today,” Georgi said.
“No,” Victor said. “Maybe we’re in luck after all.”
The whole stadium seemed to lean forward and hold its breath as the last bull and rider jostled in the gate.
“He’ll last,” Christophe said. “He beat you twice last year. And he was second last weekend.”
“A bull’s not ridden until you ride him.” Victor gripped his knees, more tension on his face than Christophe had ever seen before.
The gate opened, Georgi clutched Christophe’s arm in a painful grasp, and they all stared down as the bull juked and reared, the rider swayed and bounced.
And fell, crashing into the dirt, one second short of a ride.
The crowd yelled. Georgi’s fingers dug into Christophe’s arm. A surge of energy carried Christophe to his feet, he couldn’t believe it. They were back in. He was back in.
“Another round!” Georgi said. He grabbed Christophe around the neck and reached past him to pull at Victor too.
Victor banged Christophe between the shoulder-blades. “You get to ride another bull.”
“Oh, shit,” Christophe said. But he was smiling.
“It’s Meteor,” Christophe said. He still had the piece of paper crumpled in his fist. He’d known as soon as he reached into that coffee can who he was going to draw. And his heart had been crashing ever since.
“You had that look on your face,” Victor said. His own face was serious, his smile looked forced.
“We’re old friends,” Christophe said. “He’ll be nice to me.” Just like all the times before when Meteor had politely not tried to murder Christophe in the ring.
“You don’t have to go through with this.” Georgi wasn’t even trying to smile. He fumbled for his pack of cigarettes, scowled, shoved them away again.
“You really know how to psych a man up,” Victor said. He put his arm around Christophe’s shoulders. “Just hold on.”
“You don’t want to lecture me about my thigh grip?” Christophe said. “My terrible balance? The length of my fingernails?”
Victor took off his hat, his beautiful hat, and set it on Christophe’s head. “Just hold on.”
Georgi nudged Victor out of the way and changed the angle of the hat, tilting it up. Brushed a piece of hay off the front of Christophe’s shirt. Kissed him on the cheek. “Be safe,” he said.
Happiness surged over Christophe, drowning out the apprehension. All the words he wanted to say stuck in his throat. So he just reached out for them both, one swift hug.
Then he went out to ride.
Let me make it out of the chute, Christophe thought. Let me make it a few seconds at least. He was riding last this time and the crowd was amped up to see Meteor, already cheering and calling. Christophe was just amped up. His heart hammered, his gut seethed. If he got out of this without pissing himself, it would be a miracle.
But he wasn’t running, not from Victor and Georgi, and not from Meteor.
He looped the rope around Meteor, dropped onto his back. Underneath him, Meteor snorted and danced, an immense mass of muscle and meanness.
Christophe rested his hand on Meteor’s shoulder for a moment. “We’re in this together,” he said. Then he nodded and the gate man opened the latch.
Meteor burst out, rearing up, bucking back, leaping and contorting. Christophe jounced, slipping, grasping.
Then the fear melted away, no room for it, for anything else between them. Time stretched out like a dream, like slow motion. The sound of the crowd faded away. Just the clatter of the cowbells and the huff of both their breaths.
Christophe’s body responding automatically, lift on the rope, keep the butt down. Hand in the air, leaning for balance. Christophe and Meteor moving together, wild and graceful, riding the storm.
Then Christophe felt the shift, over too far, he was starting to go, hold on, he was tipping, beginning to fly, the buzzer was sounding, hold on, hold ON, and he was soaring through the air, thumping into the dirt.
The crowd screamed. He sucked in breath, coming back to himself. Scrambled away. And he could tell, he didn’t have to look to see he’d done it, held on long enough. He’d ridden Meteor.
They’d done it, champions together. He blew Meteor a kiss. Thank you for the dance. Definitely the last one, though.
He waved to the crowd, touched his hat, Victor’s hat. Then he left the arena, collecting backslaps and cheers as he went but not stopping until he found what he was looking for.
What he’d always been looking for.
Victor and Georgi crashed into him, yelling and grabbing him, throwing him off balance so he had to grab them back to keep from falling. To know this was real, this rush of exhilaration and energy and joy.
“You did it,” Georgi kept saying, “you did it!”
“I hope the song you write will have better lyrics,” Christophe said. He kissed Georgi, then Victor too. “Oh god, I was terrified.”
“You looked amazing out there.” Victor pulled his hat from Christophe and put it on his own head. “I’m jealous.”
“I’m retiring from bull riding,” Christophe said. “So don’t worry your pretty head over me outshining the Silver Star.”
“If Victor’s a star, you’re the sun,” Georgi said. “Bright and golden.”
“Cheese alert,” Victor said but Christophe just grinned and held them both tightly, like he could never press them close enough, like his heart was so near to overflowing he might write a song too.
And not just his heart. He trailed his hands down both their backs, felt them shift a little closer. “The ceremony’s not until tomorrow,” he said. “But I want my prize right now.”
“The smell of spray starch really gets me going,” Christophe said. The hotel room was small and plain, better than that crap motel they’d shared, but only just.
He only got a glance at the room before Georgi pushed him back against the wall, leaning up and kissing him, sweet and hot at the same time. Fingers stroking Christophe’s face like he was relearning the shape of it.
Christophe pulled him closer, hands sliding down Georgi’s back. He was still so high from the ride, from the victory. From these two. He opened his eyes to reach for Victor.
But Victor was already across the room, his jeans folded neatly over the back of a chair, hanging up his shirt. He drew his hair back from his forehead before he slid off his underwear.
Then he held up a shiny metal butt plug. “It’s my turn to ride.”
Christophe clutched at Georgi’s shoulder, a laugh rising inside him. He was afraid if he started, he wouldn’t stop. “I’m only surprised you didn’t have that in already.”
“Let me,” Georgi said. He kissed Christophe’s cheek and went to Victor. Victor bent over, hands on the small desk. Georgi slicked up the plug and slowly worked it in, hand stroking Victor’s bare hip. The whole time, Victor looked across at Christophe.
Christophe stared back, watching Victor’s face straining as the plug inched into him, watching Georgi’s hand soothing him through it. Could these two be any hotter? Another time, another day, Christophe just wanted to watch them together.
But not today. He took off his rumpled shirt, scrambled out of his dusty jeans. Went over and pulled Victor up against him, skin on skin. Kissing him, reaching down to press two fingers to the base of the plug. Feeling Victor shudder with it, bite at Christophe’s lip.
Christophe turned to Georgi. “Why do you get to still be dressed?“
“In a minute.” Georgi was taking some small electric candles from his suitcase, setting them around the room. He turned off the rest of the lights and smiled, looking happy in the soft glow.
“You’re both so prepared,” Christophe said. “Come here.”
Georgi kissed Christophe softly, then Victor. Hands on their cheeks, eyes gleaming as he looked at them. “You’re both so beautiful,” he said, a rough edge in his voice. “I’ll never write another sad song.”
“What about the sad song of me not getting laid?” Victor hooked a finger in the waistband of Georgi’s jeans.
Christophe slid his hand up under Georgi’s t-shirt, stroking the soft skin of his back. Georgi shivered and Christophe’s breath caught. He pulled Victor closer too, had to have his hands on both of them. “I didn’t think I’d get to touch either of you again.” His heart ached in his chest, so happy that it hurt him.
“If this gets any more emotional, I’ll lose my wood,” Victor said. But his voice was warm and he took a lingering kiss from each of them. Then he started on Georgi’s jeans, darting out his tongue to lick at Georgi’s mouth each time he pulled a button free.
Christophe slowly pulled up Georgi’s shirt, trailing his fingers over the bare skin he revealed. Georgi had always loved to be undressed, unwrapped like a present.
When he got the shirt over Georgi’s head, Georgi’s hands flew to his hair, smoothing it out. Christophe looked at Victor and they grinned at each other.
Victor slid Georgi’s jeans and underwear down to his ankles, give him a push so he rocked back against Christophe’s chest while he stepped out of them.
And Christophe remembered another thing Georgi had loved. He shifted and picked Georgi up. Georgi moved into like he always had, helping Christophe with his weight. And Christophe tossed him down onto the bed.
Georgi stared up at him, eyes dark now, stretching out the moments until Christophe would bring his weight down on him.
“Me too!” Victor said, bright and eager like this was a rollercoaster he was in line to ride.
“Pick a mood, guys.” Christophe scooped up Victor, but he was more gangly and they were less practiced. Christophe staggered a little, and dumped Victor down beside Georgi.
“That was less elegant than I hoped,” Victor said. He propped himself up on his elbows.
“Is someone going to get back up and throw me?” Christophe said. He looked down at the two of them sprawled there, naked and ready for him. And he was so ready for them. If he could last long enough not to embarrass himself…
“Just come here,” Georgi said.
Christophe crawled in between them and they kissed for a while. Turning back and forth so he could have both their mouths, touching them while they touched each other.
“Lie back,” Georgi said. He started kissing his way down Christophe’s body. Trailing down his neck, over his chest. Sucking at Christophe’s nipple while he traced circles over his belly, never quite touching Christophe’s cock.
Which was throbbing by now, so turned on, too much right now. Christophe raised his hips, trying to get his cock under Georgi’s hand, he couldn’t help it.
“Don’t make him come before he fucks me,” Victor said. He pulled Georgi’s head up and kissed him. But his hand went back to Christophe too, trailing up and down the inside of his thigh.
“You’re not helping.” Christophe captured Victor’s hand and kissed the palm, tracing the creases with his tongue.
“Did you want me to fuck you too?” Georgi asked. He stroked Victor’s hair.
“Every day but you two still owe me a spitroast.” Victor thumbed the corner of Christophe’s mouth, turned to kiss Georgi’s hand. “Unless Chris is too tired to fuck a man properly.”
Tired and sore, bruised by bulls and the hard arena ground. But nothing was going to stop Christophe from doing what they asked him. “Thought you were going to ride, but since you’re lazy…”
“So lazy,” Victor said. “Come on, get up.” He rolled off the bed and pulled Christophe off after him.
Georgi stripped off the covers. “On the corner?”
Victor lay down on his back, angled across a bottom corner of the bed. “Do you want to take the plug out?” he said to Christophe.
“Yes,” Christophe said. “Yes, I do.” He hooked Victor’s feet over his shoulders and eased out the plug, watching how Victor’s mouth fell open, how his eyes fluttered almost closed. He set the plug down and ran his finger over the crease of Victor’s thigh. “Are you ready?”
“Let’s go,” Victor said. He was tense, nearly shaking. “I’m so done with waiting.”
Christophe took the condom Georgi handed him and got himself ready. Georgi stroked Victor’s hair, pulling it back from his forehead.
Victor looked up at Georgi. “You know what I can take, give me as much as you can.” Then to Christophe: “Don’t be afraid to go hard.”
Christophe was almost shaking too, his heart pounding, his breath speeding. He pulled up Victor’s legs and slowly pushed inside him, that tight heat around his cock. Victor squirmed around him, gasping softly. “Good?” Christophe said.
“I hope you fuck like you’re not pretty,” Victor said. He tipped his head back and took Georgi’s cock into his mouth, deep as he could at that angle. He looked so pleasured already, filled up, his face and shoulders flushing pink.
Georgi put one hand under Victor’s neck, supporting him. And held out the other to Christophe.
Christophe took it, held tightly for a moment. Then he pulled Victor’s legs around his waist and started to fuck him. Slowly at first. Watching Victor’s face, Georgi’s cock sliding between his lips. Looking into Georgi’s eyes, almost needing to look away, there was so much emotion in them.
But Christophe didn’t look away. Just tried to say everything with his own eyes, with his body. Going harder into Victor, listening to him groan with it, feeling him shiver. Seeing the red creep into Georgi’s face, the way his thighs tensed while Victor sucked him.
Victor reached back and curled a hand around Georgi’s ass, holding tight. The other reached out for Christophe’s hand on his calf.
It was all too much, the three of them moving together, joined together, here together. Christophe bit his lip while he tried to last. Make it last, hold on, hold on.
Georgi’s breath stopped. Christophe knew that sign, the silence of water just about to boil. He put his hand on Georgi’s cheek and felt his jaw pull tight. Georgi turned his face into Christophe’s palm, mouth open. And then Georgi was gasping, jamming his hips, eyelashes fluttering against his cheeks. Coming hard and Victor was taking it all.
Georgi sagged, leaning against the bed. He scooped Victor’s head up and kissed him, then leaned over and kissed Christophe too, that faint familiar taste on his lips.
Christophe caught the back of Georgi’s head, keeping him there. Losing himself in the push of Georgi’s tongue into his mouth, the pull of Victor tight around his cock. Hold on, hold on. He fumbled down for Victor’s dick but Georgi was already stroking him.
“Go hard,” Victor said and Christophe did, feeling Victor arch his back with every thrust, feeling the bed shake, Georgi’s fingers twist into his hair.
“Oh, fuuuuuuuuuck,” Victor choked out, all his muscles pulling tight as he spasmed, the arch of his body gleaming with sweat. His eyes half-closing as he shook and swore and dug his fingers into Christophe’s wrist.
You did it, Christophe told himself. You finished your ride. And he let himself go, coming harder than he had in years, maybe ever. The throb of pleasure and the beating of his heart. The arms around him and the bone-deep certainty that this was the first time, not the last.
He caught a glance of himself in the mirror, his ruffled hair and his ridiculous orgasm face, and he slipped into a laugh. Kept laughing while he slowly pulled out, while he got rid of the condom.
While Victor pulled him down half on top of him, while he yanked Georgi down with him. Laughter shaking through Christophe and he couldn’t stop, not even when Victor heaved and he thumped onto the floor.
Victor and Georgi laughed too, too far gone giggling to help Christophe so he had to haul himself back onto the bed. He lay back beside Victor, squashing him over into Georgi. Drifted a little as his breathing slowed and they all were quiet.
The air was close, too warm and full of sweat and sex. Christophe pushed his damp hair up off his forehead. Heat or no heat, he rolled up onto his side and put his arm across Victor’s chest, hand on Georgi’s shoulder. “I’m glad you let me in,” he said. “I don’t want to be anywhere else.” Not in a trailer, not in a fancy suite. Just in this far too small bed with his heart overflowing.
Georgi lit up and he put his hand over Christophe’s. “I’m so glad you came back.” He kissed Victor’s cheek. “So glad I have you both. The sun and the stars to light my days and nights.”
“Oh my god,” Victor said. “So sappy. Say something normal, like”—he ran a hand up both their thighs—“I’m glad you’ll put both your very satisfying dicks inside me whenever I want.”
Georgi slapped Victor’s leg. “Don’t be so crude!”
“You don’t like having your dick complimented?” Victor said. “What if I write a song about it?”
“It’s going to be a sad song because you’ll be cut off from the real one!”
Christophe started laughed again, wincing because he was so damn sore, but he couldn’t stop. He was in for it now. And still so happy to be.
“We’ll talk everything out when we get home after the weekend,” Georgi said. “How it will work, how we all fit.”
“I thought we fit just fine.” Christophe grinned. “Going by Victor’s reaction.”
“I can take more,” Victor said.
“Definitely going to be messy,” Georgi said.
“As messy as your hair?” Christophe reached up and rumpled it.
“How bad is it?” Georgi rolled out of bed and stood at the mirror, trying to pull it all back into position. “Dammit.” He went into the bathroom.
Victor kissed Christophe languidly. “We might have time for another round while he works on it.”
“Get your guitar, Georgi,” Christophe called. “I’ll gag Victor with his underwear and you can serenade us.”
“I’m into it,” Victor said.
“Fuck, the dance!” Georgi yelled. “I’ll be late for the sound check.” He rushed out. “Dammit, my outfit.” He pawed through the closet. “I’ve got to shower. So late.”
Victor got up. “Give me two minutes in the bathroom and I’ll get your outfit ready for you.” He closed the door behind him while Georgi checked his phone.
Christophe sat up, arms behind his head, enjoying the show. He was definitely going to be last on the bathroom priority list and not just for today.
Victor came back out and set up his ironing board. “I’ll pick you something, just go get ready.”
Georgi kissed Victor on the cheek and darted into the bathroom. Then he stuck his head back out. “You’re both coming to hear me play, right?”
Victor looked at Christophe. “Can you swing dance?”
Three Months Later
“Why do I have to have three times the pain?” Victor asked. He looked up at Christophe and Georgi, then back down at the tattoo artist. His voice was light but there were tight lines around his mouth.
“Because you’re three times the ass.” Georgi leaned his shoulder against Christophe’s.
Christophe put his arm around Georgi, careful not to bump their hips together, and watched the needle move over Victor’s bare skin, listened to the buzz of the machine.
“You mean my ass is three times as hot,” Victor said.
“We agreed no comparisons,” Georgi said.
“Just so neither of you will feel bad.” Victor closed his eyes for a moment. “You’re enjoying my suffering.”
There were several remarks Christophe could make right now but he just wanted to listen to their bickering, feel the undercurrent of affection in it, the soft soundtrack of his life.
“You’re not the only one in pain.” Georgi said.
I’m tired of looking at those crappy tattoos, Victor had said one day at breakfast.
Did you want us to get them removed? Christophe asked. It was the first time Victor had mentioned it but maybe he didn’t like being reminded of the past.
It’s nearly three months now, Georgi said. I have a better idea.
So here they were and when he looked down at Victor, Christophe still felt the needle going into his own skin, the rush of the pain and the rush of Victor and Georgi watching him be marked for them. Of watching Georgi experience the same thing.
“If I wanted to hurt you, I would have tattooed you myself.” Georgi slipped his fingers over Victor’s hand, gently so he wouldn’t shake the table, and Victor curled his fist around them.
“I thought you did do them yourself.” Victor took a deep breath. “Stick and poke with ink from a pen.”
Christophe laughed, hugged Georgi tighter, managed to keep from reaching out for Victor.
And then the tattoo was done: three wavering linked hearts in black ink on Victor’s hip, exactly the same as the ones on Christophe and Georgi.
“Now I look as terrible as you two.” Victor smiled, that beautiful sunrise smile.
“No comparisons,” Georgi said and Christophe could hear the tears threatening in his voice.
Christophe’s own heart was full, so full he didn’t know how to tell them. He just put his hand over theirs, fingers tangled like their lives were tangled.
“Where next?” Victor said. “Karaoke?”
“Don’t take advantage of my emotional state,” Georgi said.
Christophe laughed, moved so he could put an arm around them both. “Let’s go home.”
Thanks for joining us on this ride! 💕