Michael found a bottle of whiskey on top of the fridge, and it worked like an antifreeze.
He went for a drive and took the bottle with him. He must have been pushing close to ninety-five on the Interstate when Queen’s “Play the Game” came on and he heard that crazy throbbing synthesizer and Freddie singing all achy about how love was pumping through his veins and driving him insane. The entropy took over and Michael began to shake and tremble, tremble and shake, and his heart started to palpitate and his teeth were clattering like gears in a clockwork skull. He drew back his arm, opened his mouth, and with a great existential roar put his fist through the car radio.
He tried to turn around and drove into a ditch instead. The ditch was about an hour outside of Roswell. If he hadn’t been drunk he would have chosen a nearer ditch, or maybe no ditch at all, but he was drunk and this was his ditch. And because he was drunk, he called Alex.
Alex showed up for him, because showing up was what Alex did now. He showed up wearing a disappointed face, but Michael understood that was his prerogative, given the circumstances.
“This is a low, Guerin, even for you,” Alex said. “It’s nine-thirty in the morning.”
Michael shook his head. “A low? Nah. This is a regular day at the office.”
Alex looked good in his leather jacket. For that and a dozen other reasons, Michael regretted telling him they couldn’t be together because it hurt too much.
“Let’s drive, baby,” he said, getting into the passenger seat of Alex’s car.
Alex gave him a look. He was probably thinking about how much it hurt, too.
Michael found a Lonely Planet: USA guide in the glove compartment. “‘If you’re driving, get off the Interstate and take the back roads,’” he read. “‘Some of the best scenery lies on winding country lanes.’”
“I want to get home as quickly as possible,” Alex said.
“Got somewhere to be?”
Alex didn’t reply.
“Maybe we should go to the Grand Canyon,” Michael said.
“If I’m being a pain in your ass, Alex, tell me, and we can add more lube,” Michael said.
Alex’s hand jerked on the steering wheel; fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic in the other lane.
Michael opened the guidebook again. “‘The southwest is America’s untamed playground,’” he read, “‘luring adventurous travelers with thrilling red-rock landscapes, the legends of shoot-’em-up-cowboys, and the kicky delights of green chile stew.’ The kicky delights, Alex! Author must’ve tried Arturo’s, huh?”
“Do you ever shut up?” There was a muscle twitching in Alex’s jaw. Not the muscle that twitched when he was trying not to smile; it was the muscle that twitched when he was trying not to shout.
“It’s your Lonely Planet,” Michael pointed out.
“Came with the car.”
Michael propped his boots on the dashboard and flipped to another page. “‘Don’t be overly physical when greeting someone. Americans will hug, urbanites may exchange cheek kisses, but most, especially men, shake hands.’ Does that sound accurate to you, Alex?”
“I guess,” Alex said. “I don’t know.”
“I’m not much of a hand-shaker. Or a cheek-kisser,” Michael reflected. “I’m more of a clap-you-on-the-back, kiss-you-on-the-mouth type of guy.”
Alex swallowed. Then he said, “The book is right, most Americans aren’t very physical. I noticed that in Europe. There’s a lot more cheek-kissing over there.”
“One cheek or both cheeks?” Michael asked.
“Whatever you want,” Alex said.
Michael leaned over the center console and brushed his lips over Alex’s cheek. Alex jumped like a frightened rabbit, and Michael had to grab the steering wheel before he ended up in a ditch for the second time that morning.
“What the hell did you do that for?” Alex demanded, fingers pressed to his cheek like Michael had slapped him instead of kissed him.
“You said whatever I wanted.”
“Yeah, Guerin, I didn’t mean—” Alex didn’t finish the thought. He placed both his hands firmly on the wheel at ten and two. “You’re drunk.”
“Not really,” Michael said. It was true, he metabolized his alcohol efficiently. Too efficiently—the buzz never lasted as long as he wanted it to. Luckily the whiskey was tucked snug inside his coat, and he had a bottle of acetone too.
Michael wasn’t drunk, but when he tried to read the article about Roswell in Lonely Planet—silently, to himself—the words didn’t want to do what they were invented to do. They kept breaking formation, reordering themselves, scrambling, decodifying, whatever, generally fucking around.
He closed his eyes.
Michael dreamed about that day in the shed. That day felt like a dream anyway, or a dream within a dream. A good one, in the beginning, with Alex. Even after the door burst open and Jesse Manes stood there, Michael was half-convinced he was part of the dream, too. Jesse Manes was just one more ugly customer in one more insane episode in the endless parade of demented incidents that collected around the lives of humans like limescale. He was a figment from a nightmare who had no business intruding on them, Michael thought. Time ground down and the three of them floated like motes in space. It was just a dream, but Jesse Manes—with his destructor face and his homicidal hammer and his filthy violent mouth—kept coming anyway. Alex screamed, but Michael wasn’t afraid. He stood firm between Alex and his father. It was only a dream, yes, but when Jesse Manes brought the hammer down with a great adult grunt, it was all too real.
He jolted awake with a scream caught in his throat. Blindly he groped for something to hold onto. His hand found a handle and then there was a clicking sound and he realized Alex had just locked the door before he could throw himself out of the speeding car. But, oh, look at that, he was wearing a seatbelt.
“What the hell are you doing, Guerin?” Alex’s voice sounded very loud, and very alarmed. “Are you sick? Do you need me to pull over?”
Michael took a second to re-orient himself. They were driving along one of those winding country roads; Alex must have turned off the Interstate while he was dozing. Nothing but desert and rockscapes, just like Lonely Planet promised.
“I’m fine,” Michael said.
“Is your hand hurting you?” Alex asked.
Michael realized he was cradling his left hand protectively against his chest. Even though Max’s healing job made it a damn sight less ugly, he still missed the scars. They reminded him from where he came; they made sense of his weird catalogue of twitches and flinches, his habit of stretching and flexing his fingers whenever he was uneasy. He wasn’t prepared for the blank slate of a new hand.
“Just a dream,” he said, which was the wrong thing to say, because Alex’s choked-off little gasp meant he understood what—who—Michael had dreamt of. He didn’t want Alex spiraling into another tedious vortex of guilt and self-recrimination, so he followed up with the first line that popped into his head: “It was a sex dream, Manes. We were role-playing, and I said, ‘Alex, let’s play carpenter: first I’ll get hammered, and then you can nail me.’”
Alex recoiled like he’d been bitten. “That’s not funny,” he said.
He sounded close to tears.
The silence between them grew so heavy that Michael thought he’d break out Lonely Planet again. But Alex opened his mouth first: “Remember the fruit game?”
Michael blinked. “Huh?”
“We used to play it in middle school, remember, on field trips? Like on the school bus?”
“I hated the fruit game,” Michael said.
“Let’s play it,” Alex said. “It’s a road trip game, and you’re the one—”
“It’s a kids’ game,” Michael said.
“C’mon, Guerin, let’s play the fruit game.”
“Fine,” Michael said. “I’m a pineapple.”
“No, come on, you know that’s not how you—”
“Okay, fine, I’m a vagina,” Michael said.
“Fine! I mean, when I’m cut open I look like one, because I’m hard and dark and wrinkled in the middle. You can’t eat my center. So I’ll always be alone, even if someone tries to get inside of me to see what’s there. Most people don’t try.” Michael dragged his bottom lip through his teeth. “Outside, I’m too ripe. I might be rotten. I’m the color of a sunset, which is nice, but night comes after sunset, so maybe it’s not so nice to be that color after all? I don’t like night time, too many bad dreams. Anyway, when I’m bitten, I squirt. I’m messy, I’m fucking crying all over the place. If you throw me on the ground, I’m basically destroyed.”
Alex coughed, cleared his throat. “You’re a peach,” he said.
“I like peaches,” Alex said.
Michael opened his mouth and came up with nothing. So he shrugged. “Your turn, Manes.”
“Okay. I’m… Hmmm.” Alex drummed his fingers on the wheel. “Okay! I’m—long. I can feel myself growing old. One minute I’m yellow as a Crayola sun, the next minute I’m brown and black and spotted and mushy. I’m sweet, and I’m good for you. Oh, and some people like me in bread.”
“Banana,” Michael said, sighing.
“Now you go again,” Alex ordered. Then he smiled. “Isn’t this fun?”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Yeah, Alex, I’m having the time of my life. I… am a thing with many discrete sections. You really have to dig your fingers into me if you wanna know me. To open me—sometimes knives are used. I don’t like that, I hate being severed and dissected. When I’m cut, I bleed everywhere. It’s disgusting, really really disgusting. The bleeding.”
“Guerin.” Alex exhaled through his nose. “What are you saying? That nobody has ever tried to know you? That nobody wants to? Because I don’t think that’s fair. I told you that I wanted to get to know you, properly, and then I told you when I was ready to be in a real, grown-up relationship with you. You were the one who went off and dated somebody else. You were the one who said we couldn’t be together, because it hurt too much to look at me. But I still want to know what’s inside of you, okay? I don’t look away, Guer—”
“I was just playing the fucking fruit game,” Michael said.
“Can you bring up the GPS on your phone?” Alex said. “I think I made a wrong turn somewhere.”
“Yeah, where are we? None of this looks familiar at all.” Michael took out his phone and opened Maps. “Uh, Alex, you definitely made a wrong turn somewhere. We’re more than a hundred miles west of Roswell.”
“You wanted to go to the Grand Canyon,” Alex replied blithely, his eyes on the road.
“What?” Michael gaped at him.
“I don’t have anywhere to be, and you said we should go to the Grand Canyon.”
Michael stared bemusedly at Alex’s serene profile. Alex Manes was not spontaneous. Alex Manes adhered to strict timetables. Alex Manes most definitely did not take unplanned trips to the Grand Canyon because his drunk ex-lover found an old Lonely Planet guidebook in the glove compartment and said hey, maybe we should go.
“You’re serious,” Michael said, awestruck. “Fuck, Alex.”
“You always complain about how uptight I am.”
“I’m not complaining now,” Michael said.
“‘Plan carefully to avoid the worst of the crowds. Visit resort areas, popular restaurants, and top sights on weekdays.’ What day is it, Alex?”
“It’s Tuesday, Guerin.”
“Huh. Well, that’s good, I guess. For the crowds.” Michael put Lonely Planet down. “I’ve never taken a family road trip before.”
He knew what he was saying. What those words meant. You are mine. My family. But he hadn’t foreseen their impact.
Alex was already crying when he reached across the console. “Michael,” he said, raggedly.
“Pull over,” Michael ordered.
“You’re sure you’re not drunk? I don’t want you to be drunk.”
“Oh baby, I’m wasted, but this condom in my pocket doesn’t have to be,” Michael said, grinning.
Alex groaned. “That’s it. Game over.”
“We’re just getting started.” Michael crawled into the back seat to join him. He kicked his boot off so he could straddle Alex’s lap with one leg out of his jeans. He shed the rest of his clothes haphazardly, his jacket tossed to the side, his shirt unbuttoned and hanging off his shoulders. Then he pushed Alex’s sweater up and opened his jeans and god, it had been so long since he’d felt Alex against his skin. He wrapped his hand around Alex’s cock, and the answering groan made the heat pool low in his belly.
“Want you,” he said, bringing his mouth close to Alex’s ear. “Gonna let me ride you, Alex?”
He hadn’t been kidding about the condom, and Alex produced a tiny bottle of lube from his backpack that Michael might’ve mistaken for hand sanitizer. They were rushing headlong into the kind of spontaneous sex he liked best, until they hit a speed bump: when Michael reached back to start opening himself up, he realized it might take a while. A long while.
He swore and pulled at his own hair in frustration. “I haven’t done this in a really long—well, you know how long it’s been.”
Alex ran his palms over the straining muscles of Michael’s thighs. “Shouldn’t do it like this, out here— anyone driving past will know,” he said. Hands steady, voice decidedly not. “Should really—find a hotel… but shit, Guerin, you were never into denial, were you?”
Michael threw back his head and laughed. “You know I always get what I want, baby.”
Steam was coating the windows. He licked a stripe up his palm and took Alex’s cock in hand again. Alex shivered and dug his fingers into the long, heated expanse of his back. “You think it feels good like this,” Michael mumbled, flicking his wrist just slightly, “it’ll be even better in my ass, gonna be so tight, Alex—”
“Just kiss me,” Alex pleaded, tilting his face up, and Michael obliged. There was no build-up; he kissed Alex with everything he had. He ground his stubble into the tender skin around Alex’s mouth, he bit at his lips till they were red and swollen. He would never get his fill of this, not if he spent the rest of his life kissing Alex. And he hoped he would. Spend the rest of his life kissing Alex. Even though it hurt when he opened his eyes and saw the last ten and a half years had still happened and history hadn’t been irradiated by the heat of a kiss.
He wrapped his arms around Alex’s neck and rested his face against his shoulder and said please.
When Noah stabbed him in the jugular, Michael hadn’t died, though he believed he’d come pretty close. This wasn’t based on anything Max had said; it had to do with the knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door vision he’d had while he was lying there unconscious, bleeding out.
It was his mother. He saw her again. He was very small, clambering up onto her lap. She ran her fingers through his unruly curls, and then she said, not unkindly, that his family couldn’t help him; they were truly lost.
“That’s okay, Momma,” Michael said. “I’m the navigator.”
His mother planted a kiss in his hair and whispered, —You have such a good little heart.
“Is that what you wanted to tell me?” he asked.
—No, I am here to tell you something else.
“Can I ask you something first?”
“Are you alive, Momma? You feel like you are. And I can hear your heart beating,” Michael said, holding his mother very tight.
—No, my love, I am not, she said. I died.
“Is that what you wanted to tell me?”
—Yes, but I want to tell you something else. I want to tell you this. That no matter what happens, I want you to persevere. Do you understand?
Michael looked up at his mother. “Yes, I think so,” he said. “What you’re saying is that something really bad is going to happen and you want me to be strong.”
His mother put her arms around him and smiled and said, —You see?
“It’s scary to be in the world sometimes,” Michael remarked. He was in the driver’s seat now; after fucking himself on Alex’s cock with the steely precision of a racehorse jockey, he’d finally reassured Alex that he wasn’t drunk anymore. “You know? We spend all this time trying to figure it out, and some things are just so impossible that we’ll never understand them. I’m grateful for family, I guess.” He took his right hand off the wheel and put it on Alex’s knee, noticing for the first time that his knuckles were bruised. Was it only this morning he’d put his fist through the car radio, because Freddie Mercury had made him ache? What a stupid fucking thing to do. He went on: “I mean, I don’t really understand family, either, but I do understand that I have one now. And it’s good to know that even when you don’t understand the world, and the world doesn’t understand you, your family exists. Like, there are people who just sort of have to deal with you, even if they basically hate you.”
“I think I know what you mean,” Alex told him.
“Well, you’re kind of my only family right now,” Alex said. “How scary is that?”
Michael snorted. “Truly terrifying.”
“It was even scarier while you were dating Maria, and I wasn’t sure if…”
Michael fought down a queasy pang of self-disgust. “That’s the dealing-with-people-even-if-you-basically-hate-them part of family.”
“I never hated you, Guerin.”
“It’s okay if you do. Did. Do.”
“It’s okay, Alex. I hated you too. Not all the time, but sometimes.”
“Fine, I might’ve hated you a little. Once or twice.”
“See?” Michael smiled wryly. “That wasn’t so hard to admit.”
He patted Alex’s leg.
“And you hate that I’m bisexual,” he added.
“I do not,” Alex said.
“You kinda do though. It’s so… disorganized. You hate disorder.”
“Why are we so fucked up?” Alex rubbed his forehead unhappily. “What kind of couple—"
“Oh, so we’re a couple now.” Michael pounced on the word.
“I mean—” Alex blanched. Abruptly he turned his head and stared out the passenger window. Michael looked too, but all he could see was mountain. They had to be getting close to the state line, he thought.
“What kind of couple what?” he prompted.
“Like… The big moment is ‘I hate you’ instead of ‘I love you.’” Alex slumped in his seat.
They crossed the border into Arizona.
“Was being a soldier like being on an extended road trip?”
“Well, I did want to see the world.”
“You weren’t patriotic when we were kids. You said America was stupid.”
“It still is.”
“As far as I’m concerned, Project Shepherd only confirmed that the military is a fucking cult. Not a good place for… sensitive people.”
“Is sensitive a euphemism for gay?”
“No, it’s a euphemism for good. The military is a cult and it’s not a good place for good people.”
“That’s just your memory of me, Michael. Rose-tinted. Even at seventeen, I wasn’t particularly sensitive, and I wasn’t good either. I always knew I could kill someone.”
“If it came down to it. And, over there, it did.”
They got a motel room in Flagstaff because it was getting late and they both agreed it would be stupid to see the Grand Canyon when it was too dark to actually see it.
When Michael got out of the shower, Alex was on the bed, naked. He’d taken off his prosthetic leg and he was gripping his cock with one hand and the fingers of his other hand were buried inside himself.
“Wow,” Michael said. Suddenly hoarse and suddenly hard. He dropped his towel and stalked towards the bed. “Are you telekinetic, too?” he wanted to know. “’Cause you’ve made a part of me move without even touching it.”
Alex groaned, and his fingers stilled. “You and your stupid fucking mouth, Guerin. You just killed my boner.”
“Did I?” Michael lay down and rested his chin on Alex’s thigh for a better view of what he was doing. Alex was, despite his words, still very much hard. Michael pushed his hand off his cock so he could take him into his mouth instead.
Alex hummed with satisfaction, his eyelids beginning to droop. “Much better use of that stupid mouth of yours,” he murmured.
“Careful, Manes,” Michael cautioned, pulling off. “You really gonna give me shit when I’ve got my teeth on your dick?” To prove his point, he plunged back down, gently scraping his teeth over Alex’s most delicate bits.
Michael just looked at him, mouth full of cock. Wouldn’t I?
Alex arched his back and moaned. Sinfully.
Michael switched gears. He yanked Alex’s left leg over his shoulder and slithered forward to eat him out. Wishing he could fix everything gone wrong between them with a single rapturous fuck, knowing he couldn’t, and trying anyway.
Alex sobbed. He always sobbed when Michael’s tongue was inside of him like that.
Michael pressed closer, saliva and lube dripping down his chin. He worked two fingers in alongside his tongue, ears attuned to the rich variety of whimpers, curses, moans, and pleas falling from Alex’s lips as he sped up his ministrations. The musk of Alex and cheap motel soap filled his nostrils.
“Close—” Alex cried out, high-pitched, desperate. Michael growled his approval, chafing stubble against tender skin. He wrapped his left hand around Alex’s cock, because he was fucking ambidextrous in bed—
And Alex came and—
Some of it landed in Michael’s hair.
A lot of it.
Alex was trembling from his orgasm, but he was howling with laughter, too. “Oh my god, oh my god, I—you—” Michael had never known Alex to laugh like this, mirth rippling through his body on an endless feedback loop of untethered hilarity.
“It’s not that fucking funny, Jesus—” except it was, and secretly he was thrilled to be the cause of it. The butt of it. Whatever. He couldn’t stop laughing, either, not so discreetly grinding his cock against the tangled bedclothes, wanting to get off and wanting to wait. Because it would be so much nicer if Alex could come again when he finally fucked him.
They grew serious and quiet later, when Alex lay back with two pillows under his head and a third under his hips. Michael knelt between his legs, rolling on the condom. He was feeling a great many things at once, too many, so he gripped the base of his cock and tilted his head up and tried to slow his breathing. He saw glimmering motes of dust suspended around the light bulb on the ceiling.
Then he looked back at Alex.
Michael found himself sucked, with a great rush of blood, into a vortex of association where the Alex in front of him—dark eyes, dark hair, a palimpsest of all the Alexes he had known over the years, the mortal weaponry of acetone and alcohol and lube on the table beside him—became the accelerated collision of time and desire, the coalescence of all the spinning particles of need, like the motes of dust around the light bulb, brought into being by Michael’s overwhelming, near-suicidal love for him. In this dim hotel room, Michael thought maybe he had walked through the looking glass, into death itself, Alex’s and his own, because it seemed unreal that they still got to have this, after everything.
Died and gone to heaven.
He knew all the secret parts of Alex’s body and they were just as he remembered them, the cock, the hair, the hole. He slipped his hands under Alex’s thighs and entered him like a fucking piledriver.
Alex jolted and whimpered. So fantastically tight around him. Michael began to thrust deep and hard. Alex moved his hips in time with him, rocking him in and out. “Feels good,” he sighed “Feel so good inside me.”
This was everything, Michael thought. All he’d ever wanted to do was give Alex everything. He bent his head and they shared a fuzzy kiss. A long groan escaped him. “Alex… Fuck, you feel so good,” he mumbled, printing wet kisses on his collarbone and neck, working up to his jaw. “So fucking hot,” he added in a low growl as he nipped his earlobe.
But he didn’t speed up. He was waiting, waiting, pinning Alex with long slow strokes as Alex twisted and tightened beneath him and finally cracked. “Oh, come on, Michael, please—”
“What was that?” he asked, propping himself on his elbow and smirking down at Alex’s flushed, frustrated face. Brushing his knuckles over the length of Alex’s cock.
“Please,” Alex repeated, half-glaring, half-laughing, squirming up to meet his hand. “Please, Michael—”
“You want it?” he purred. He wanted Alex to want this, wanted him to beg for it.
“You want me to make you come again, Alex?”
Alex puffed out his cheeks. Michael thought exasperation and arousal were a beautiful combination on him. “Yes,” Alex said through gritted teeth. “Yes.”
“All you had to do was ask,” he said sweetly.
His fingers found Alex’s cock and he started jerking him roughly. A few hard thrusts coupled with a deft stroke took Alex over the edge, and he came with a sobbing whimper, dragging his nails across Michael’s back. Alex’s muscles clenched deliciously around him; Michael rumbled something obscene into his ear and came, too.
Alex stroked his hair, massaging his scalp as he shuddered through it.
For a long time, neither of them moved.
Then, regretfully, Michael pulled out and rolled to one side. He lobbed the condom in the general direction of the trash and wiped his hand on the duvet. When he turned back, Alex was still lying on his back, panting. There was a small pool of cum on his stomach, gleaming wetly in the fluorescent light. Michael hummed and settled between his legs again. He began licking away the mess, cleaning him with broad strokes of his tongue.
“Ohhh.” Alex exhaled.
Mess dispensed with, Michael dragged himself back up. He wrapped his arms around Alex and pressed loud sloppy kisses to every bit of skin he could reach. Shoulder, bicep, cheek, chin. Alex giggled and squirmed a little, too tired and sated to fend him off properly.
Michael squeezed tighter. “Thank you,” he said fervently.
“For what?” Alex smiled at him. “The sex?”
“No. Well, yeah, that too. But—for everything, honestly. When I got up this morning, I never would have…”
“Me neither,” Alex said.
He’d been scraped raw by the events of the day, Michael had; he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop any tears, should they come, and he was getting the sense that they might. He kissed Alex’s brow. “I was feeling off today,” he rasped, low and sultry. “But you… definitely turned me on.”
Alex kicked him out of bed.
Michael laughed and went to the bathroom to wash his hair again.
“So. This is the Grand Canyon,” Michael said. “It’s kind of a dump, isn’t it?”
“You’re kidding, right?” Alex said, shocked disbelief writ large across his features.
“Yeah, j-k. It’s pretty fucking cool.”
“I was gonna say, there’s only so much alien snobbery that I’m willing to accept…” Alex flipped to the relevant page in Lonely Planet. “‘No matter how much you read about the Grand Canyon or how many photographs you’ve seen, nothing really prepares you for the sight of it. One of the world’s seven natural wonders, it’s so startlingly familiar and iconic you can’t take your eyes off it. The canyon’s immensity, the sheer intensity of light and shadow at sunrise or sunset, even its very age, scream for—’ shit!”
A powerful gust of wind had snatched the guidebook from his hands and sent it tumbling over the edge. Michael reeled it back in with his mind, grabbing it out of the air and pocketing it safely.
“Guerin!” Alex hissed, glancing nervously at the other tourists scattered along the outlook. “Someone could have seen—”
“Nah, they’re all too busy staring into the abyss,” Michael said. And it was a pretty sick abyss, even a snobbish alien like him could acknowledge that. The Canyon had some of the cleanest air he’d ever breathed, and the visibility was so sharp, so clear, it almost hurt his eyeballs. And all those layers of geological history the river had carved out—it made him feel better, seeing them exposed like that, layer upon Paleozoic layer. There was something vulnerable and truthful about it.
Casually, he sidled up behind Alex and put his arms around him. Alex didn’t flinch or stiffen, just leaned back into his chest a little. Michael rested his chin on Alex’s shoulder. “It was nice last night,” he said into his ear.
The wind blew his hair into his eyes. Alex reached back and slid a hand into his tousled curls. “It was nicer than nice,” he said.
Michael nodded. Hope was his worst vice, worse than alcohol and acetone and sex put together. Forlorn hope, hope in extremity. Innate rebellion against the inevitable dooms of suffering, death, and despair. Senseless hope…
He kept his grip on Alex’s middle loose, easy, and tried not to feel afraid as the wind buffeted them from all sides.
After stopping for Navajo tacos—homemade frybread with green chile toppings—they were on the road back home again, Michael behind the wheel. He couldn’t seem to stop touching Alex. Hand roving fitfully up and down his thigh, squeezing his knee, inching dangerously close to his dick, then drifting back down. Alex grinding his teeth, half-hard in his pants. Had Michael realized, he would’ve pulled over and sucked him off. But he didn’t, and his hand continued its restless patterns. Or he was plucking at Alex’s fingers, trying to hold his hand but unable to just hold it without fidgeting. Alex put up with him for a while, until they crossed the state line into New Mexico, but then his patience cracked.
“What’s going on, Guerin?”
Michael pushed his hair back from his forehead. He was sweating; he turned down the heat with his powers after his fingers slipped on the buttons. “What’s gonna happen now, Alex? When we get back?”
“We eat something and crash out?” Alex suggested. “Maybe my cabin, ’cause the bed’s bigger, but we can go to the airstream if you’d rather.”
“So we’re, like, doing this doing this.”
“How else would you want to do it?”
“I’m kind of shitting myself, all right?” Michael snapped.
“Too much green chile?” Alex inquired solicitously. A laugh in his voice.
“No, Alex, I’m metaphorically shitting myself.”
“Scared, yeah,” Michael admitted. “All my entropy—it’s getting loud inside my head again. There’s this like crazy throbbing synthesizer, and… And I keep imagining things, imagining the worst, like… Nothing’s fixed, you know, just ’cause we had sex and looked at a big hole in the ground.”
“We agreed we were family,” Alex reminded him. “That’s—something—fixed, isn’t it?”
“Maybe.” Michael was breathing hard. “I just—what’s gonna stop us from making the same mistakes all over again, huh? I fuck up and you walk away. That’s what we do, Alex.”
“That’s what I see us doing, right now, in my head. I’m picturing…”
“… what?” Alex sounded small, like he was afraid to know the answer.
Michael stared out through the windshield, at the Interstate unspooling before them. He couldn’t look at Alex. “There’s an image of us that I have in my head.”
“Are you gonna trap me with some complex astrophysics metaphor?” Alex joked feebly.
“No,” Michael said. “It’s actually really basic. I imagine us like a vacant house.”
They were like one of those fucking houses, he told Alex. A typical middle-class home that used to be inhabited by a typical middle-class family, but then one night the family just up and disappears and never comes back. Everyone wonders what happened to them, but no one finds out. And eventually they stop caring. Everyone’s like, whatever, dramaaa.
The house is seized by the bank and put back on the market for a pretty good price. It sits there for a while, unsold. Then a young couple buys it. They move in. They’re happy. Have kids. Eat toast. Everyone’s pretty nice to each other.
But then. Well. Something happens.
They start acting like their moms and dads. Which they swore they’d never do, but they can’t help it. They say things like [bleep] you and [bleep] my [bleep] and [bleep bleep bleep]. Everyone’s sad; they cry and move out.
The house is put back on the market. And it sits there for a while, unsold. Then someone else buys the house.
“And you’ll never guess who,” Michael said. “It’s you. That’s right, Alex, you buy the house. And you move inside, thinking to yourself, hey, fresh start. This won’t be like the last one.”
“And it’s me, too,” Michael went on. “Every time we come back together, I think maybe we can really build something, the two of us. And I’m sure it won’t be like last time, ’cause I’ll never do that again. But then, well, I do. Or you do. We both do. No matter how hard we try. Even though we think we know better. Even though it hurts. We do. Over and over.”
“Maybe…” Alex wiped his eyes on his sleeve. “Maybe this is the time we learn. Maybe this is the time it’s different.”
“Maybe,” Michael said.
“We’re family,” Alex insisted. “That means we keep trying.”
“I’ve been trying, for ten and a half goddamn years.”
“You have, but I haven’t,” Alex said.
Michael gripped the steering wheel tightly.
“This is the first time I’ve ever stuck around to fight for you. For us. What if you let me do the trying for a while?”
There was a blockage in his throat. He couldn’t swallow. Squinting into the sunset, he bit down on his bottom lip till he tasted blood. “Hurts,” he croaked, and that was the only world he could manage.
“Like a bitch,” Alex agreed softly. “Michael…”
His airways cleared. “I think I’m too old to become a better person,” he said. “I want loving you to be enough. Is it? Tell me it’s enough.”
“It’s enough,” Alex told him.
“Really?” Michael said skeptically.
“Really,” Alex said. “And you’re already a good person, Michael. A good man.”
“Stop it, you are. And… twenty-eight isn’t too old. We’re both trying to be better, together. That’s something. Not everybody tries, you know,” Alex said.
“Wake up, Alex,” Michael crooned. “Wake up, darlin’. We’re almost back.” He jostled Alex’s head where it rested against his shoulder.
“Oh.” Alex yawned. “Your place or mine?”
“Mm. Tell you what, let’s flip a coin.”
“A coin?” Alex rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
Michael grinned. “Head at my place, tail at yours.”
“Guerin, you’re such a—” Outraged, Alex broke off.
“You know what? Two can play at this game,” Alex said. Even in the dark, Michael could see his eyes sparkle. “I’m in, Guerin. Do it. Flip a coin.”
“Yeah?” Michael laughed delightedly. “As you wish, Private. Lemme just…”
He pulled over to the side of the road and rummaged in his pocket for a quarter.
“Okay,” he said. “Here we go. Remember: head at my place, tail at yours.”
Michael flipped the coin.
He absolutely did not use telekinesis to influence the laws of chance.
He did not.
“Tail at yours it is, then,” he announced.