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Midnight at the Belmont

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The table where they sat yesterday is already in use, so Joey takes their coffees and their plate of carefully-selected cookies over to a table near one of the Belmont’s big windows. It’s a low coffee table of rustic, battered wood with a big, squashy velvet sofa placed on either side. Sitting here is perfect, Joey thinks, because they can be comfortable and also Dino could sit opposite him on the purple sofa if he wants to or maybe, maybe, and only if it seems like something he might like to do, he could sit next to Joey right here on this emerald green one.

He arranges everything nicely on the table, toes off his shoes and curls up in the corner of the sofa, comfortable as a cat. Peeping over the back cushions, he manages accidentally to catch Dino’s eye, but he quickly whips his gaze back to the table so that Dino doesn’t think he was being impatient or mooning over him or anything silly like that.

He sips his coffee as he waits, but it’s barely any time at all before Dino comes over and joins him. He plonks himself down in the middle of the sofa right beside Joey, not even showing the slightest hesitation.

“Hi,” he says, shrugging off his jacket and leaving it crumpled behind him on the seat.

“Hi, hello!” Joey says. “Careful with your coffee, sorry, I filled it up super full. And here’s the cookies, I tried to pick good ones but you see there’s… oh my, uhm…”

Joey was expecting to see Dino in his black work shirt as usual but oh boy was he wrong. Under his jacket Dino’s wearing an unzipped black hoodie which is very plain, sure, and fine, but underneath that there’s…

There’s one of the ugliest shirts Joey has ever seen in his entire fucking life. Oy vey.

It doesn’t make any sense, this shirt. It has a swirling pattern of paisleys, which interlock and then flutter apart like a dizzying tumble of autumn leaves. The pattern is done in bright, eye-watering turquoise with explosions of blush pink and burnt orange. Fine colors individually Joey reckons, but all at once? He doesn’t understand. They’re making him nauseous. Who would put these shades together? What is it trying to do, this shirt?

He had some things to say to Dino all ready and waiting in his head, just in case he should see him and dry up on the spot. But now his head is empty. He must’ve fallen quiet for a suspiciously long time because Dino gives him a questioning look, then follows his gaze down to his own torso.

“No?” He says.

“Oh, bubbe… “

“It’s okay, you can say it.”

“It’s very colorful.”

“It’s too colorful?”

That’s kind of a strange question, Joey thinks. “Well, no, I mean, that’s up to you, isn’t it? If you like it then it must be just right,” he says, trying to sound encouraging.

“Not really,” Dino replies. “I’m kind of colorblind. I make mistakes sometimes.” He starts not-so-subtly trying to close the hoodie’s zipper. “Is it really bad?”

“No! No. I mean…. No, it’s adorable.”

“Well,” Dino laughs, “that’s not exactly the look I was going for.” He’s still trying to hook the zipper into place.

“No, don’t!” Joey touches the back of his hand. “Don’t cover it up, I didn’t mean to make you feel bad, I’m sorry. It’s growing on me, truly.” Dino looks at him almost shyly, like he wants to believe him and, oh heavens, that’s distracting. He is so handsome. He has really deep brown eyes but with a little bit of an amber glow to them, like embers. So warm. He really shouldn’t be allowed to go around Cary Grant-ing at people like that. Joey tries to pull himself together. “So colors, they look different to you? That’s really interesting.”

“It is? Well, I didn’t realise it for a long time, of course.” Dean stops messing with the hoodie and seems to relax again. “How was I supposed to know, you know? I mean this,” he indicates his shirt, “I thought this was mostly blue. A little yellow, a little grey.”

“Do you want to know what I see, maybe?” Joey asks.

“Sure,” Dino says, looking down at his shirt again. “It’d be good to know what I’m working with here.”

“Well, let’s see,” Joey thinks for a moment, then points out a particularly prominent orange paisley. “Okay, this one…”

“Which one?” Dino stops him.

“Um,” Joey hesitantly reaches out, and with his index finger touches the place high up Dino’s chest where the offending shape lies. If he didn't know better he could've sworn Dino took a sharp little breath in, but that's silly because Dino just doesn't seem like the kind of guy who goes around taking sharp little breaths in when people touch him. The fabric is soft soft soft against his fingertip, matte but feels almost silky. The muscle underneath it is, um. Extremely firm. “So, what color does this one look to you?” He asks, adjusting his posture a little and straightening his back. This is serious business.

“That one?” Dino says. “Well, I guess that one has a little yellow in it. With some grey. Yeah.”

“Huh,” Joey says. “See, to me it’s orange, much golder than yellow,” he gently outlines the top curve of the paisley as he speaks. “Like, start with yellow but then add, uh, add a kind of a heat to it?” He glances up at Dean’s face to see if he’s looking at him like he’s a crazy person. He’s not. He’s definitely looking at him, but not anything like that. He tries to maintain his focus. “It’s like when you close your eyes in the springtime and you’re surprised that you can feel the sun all warm on your eyelids. Because over the winter you’d forgotten what it felt like. That’s this one.”

“Oh,” Dino says, looking down at the point where Joey’s touching him. “Okay. It doesn’t look warm like that to me.” He seems to be thinking. “What else?”

Joey slides his finger down to a small but vibrantly turquoise part of the pattern that sits a little lower on Dino’s chest. He feels very daring. “This one,” he says, gently tapping it as he thinks, “um, let me see. This one, well, it’s like bright blue but with some green. It’s like diving into a swimming pool, a real deep one. Too deep to stand up. That’s this one, mm-hm. And the water goes woosh! Right up your nose.”

Dino honest-to-god giggles, meeting his eyes. Oh god, Joey’s in so so much trouble.

“Okay, it is blue then,” Dino says, “but so blue it kind of hurts, is that right?”

Joey holds his gaze, a slow smile spreading across his face. “Yeah, that’s exactly right.” He finds himself looking at Dino for a few beats too long, then lets his hand fall away and settle in his lap.

Dino nods and shifts in his seat in such a way that it brings him a fraction nearer. “You’re good at this, Joey. Kind of a niche skill, I gotta say.”

“Oh, thank you! I’ll take ‘niche’, that’s another way of saying ‘super special’, yes?” Joey beams at him. “I just think color’s important, is all. So important. Like a language, or languages even, so many different combinations and inflections, all the stories it can tell.” It occurs to him that all this might just sound like silliness to Dino. “So, no one ever did this before? Tried to explain them to you?”

“I don’t think anyone ever thought it was worth the effort, honestly.”

“Oh, Dino! That’s terrible.”

Dino laughs softly. “I managed thirty-one years without, I don’t do so bad at dressing myself.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean it to sound like that, I…” Joey starts, crestfallen, then realises. “You’re teasing me.”

“Maybe a bit.”

Joey purses his lips together in a funny little pout. He reaches over and breaks a piece off his cookie, ignoring Dino as he nibbles on it, eyes downcast. “I’m not gonna help you anymore, nope. No sir.”

“Aw, c’mon Joe, please? I like your colors.”

“Nope. And it’s ‘Joey’, thank you.”

“Sorry, Joey,” Dino winces. “You did tell me that before, I’m sorry I forgot." Dino falls silent for a moment, waiting for Joey to look at him again. Eventually he does, peeping up through his thick eyelashes. "You don’t like 'Joe', huh?” Dino asks.

“It’s what my dad calls me. He’s the only one who ever does and I don’t mind it really, I don't, I know he doesn’t mean anything by it, it’s just. I would rather not.”

“I get it. I’m sorry I called you the wrong name, Joey.”

He sounds truly sincere and Joey can’t help but smile. It's good that Dino obviously cares about getting it right.

“It’s okay,” he says, taking a sip of his coffee and clutching the cup close as he snuggles into his corner. “I just prefer ‘Joey’, it feels more like me.”

“Sometimes people call me ‘Dean’ and I don’t go for that so much either. My folks, they’re Italian and I’m proud of it. I like my Italian name. Someone tries to call me something different, I wonder what’s behind it, you know?”

“Mm-hm, I know. My Grandma Sarah, she always called me Joey, right from when I was little. And I want to keep being the person she saw. I don’t want to be the person my dad sees.”

“Who does your dad see?”

“Well. Joe’s kind of a disappointment to him, I think.”

“I can’t imagine you being a disappointment to anybody.” Dino shakes his head.

“Really?” Joey’s voice cracks with incredulity. “You seen me?”

“Sure,” Dino says, “and I see nothing for anyone to be disappointed about, not a thing.”

Joey’s lower lip finds its way between his teeth. He’s a little overcome and not quite sure what to do with the compliment. “Thank you,” he says, very quietly. “He’s not around much anyway, my dad. He’s an entertainer, works on the big cruise ships so I don’t see him a whole lot. And then sometimes he is in New York and I find out about it from a tweet.” He shrugs.

“I think we should change the subject,” Dino says, eyes dark.

“Oh, oh sorry. Other people’s families are boring and I do rattle on. I’m so sorry…” Embarrassed he grabs another piece of cookie to nibble on, just to have something to do with his hands.

“No, no, it’s not that. It’s just that I don’t want to say anything bad about your dad.”

“Oh!”

“Here, how about this.” Dino says. Very gently he takes hold of Joey’s free hand and brings it over to his own stomach, placing his fingers against the blush-colored paisley lying there. “Tell me about this one, huh?”

Joey looks down at his hand lying there utterly dwarfed by Dino’s. His chewing slows to a stop. Beneath the fabric he can feel Dino's tummy hot against his fingertips. He swallows, and tries hard to recall this thing he thinks might be called ‘speaking’. The words fall out on their own.

“The scent of pink roses, this one.” Joey keeps his eyes on it, he can’t look up. Dino’s still holding onto his hand. “That’s all I can think of. Roses, gone a little over, petals about ready to drop. Breathe too hard and they’ll just. They’ll slip off.”

He knows Dino’s looking at him very intently now, he can feel it. But still he can’t look up.

“I smell roses right now,” Dino says quietly. “Is it you?”

“Bubble bath,” Joey nods.

Dino leans forward a little, then pauses. “Can I?”

Joey’s gaze flicks up and immediately meets Dino’s smiling brown eyes. He looks so good, so safe. Joey isn’t even quite sure what it is he’s asking to do but he knows that whatever it is, he wants him to do it.

“Mm-hm.”

The sofa creaks ever so slightly as Dino leans closer. Without touching him at all, he moves into the space between Joey’s neck and his almost-bare shoulder. Joey can feel the air shift against his skin as Dino breathes in. He smiles.

“Yeah, it’s definitely you. S’beautiful.”

The scent of Dino’s cologne is mixing with his roses, and when Joey closes his eyes he pictures sunlit pink blooms twining over fresh forest wood. Inside his mouth the rich taste of chocolate lingers. Within Dino’s hand, his own is warm as a glowing coal. He might cry. Then,

“OOF!”

From nowhere Sonny flings himself over the back of the couch and thuds down into the seat next to Dino, jostling them both as the cushions reverberate with aftershocks. Dino’s grip on his hand breaks.

“Hey, Baby,” Sonny says, way too loud, “what’s a fella got to do to find a spare extension cable around here? I asked the Boss but they’re busy and ooh, sweet, cookies. You eatin’ this, Kid?”

As he’s speaking he breaks a piece off Dino’s cookie and chucks it in his mouth.

“Hey!” Dino says, whacking Sonny on the arm. “Yeah I am eating it, get your own.” Sonny treats him to a cookie crumb grin and Dino elbows him in the ribs. Joey blinks at them both like he just came out of a trance.

“I, um. I’d better be getting back to work,” he says, tugging his sweater up to sit better on his shoulder and fumbling his shoes back on. How did he end up so undressed? “I’ll get that cable for you Sonny, first thing, and… oh!” So rude, he nearly forgot. “Thank you Dino, for the coffee and the snack. They were delicious.” Glancing at the table as he stands up, he realises that Dino’s cup is still full of tepid coffee and his cookie, apart from the bit Sonny stole, is still sitting on its plate. “Don’t forget yours, it’ll be cold. Sorry, shall I get you another?”

“No, no,” says Dino. “This one’s fine, I don’t mind it a little cold. I must’ve gotten distracted.” He looks up at Joey with a secret little half-smile and Joey’s internal thermostat shoots up so high he thinks he could probably reheat Dino’s coffee just by touching the cup. Sonny’s looking at them, eyes twinkling.

“Did I interrupt something?”

“No! Um, okay, so I’ll just go over, yes. Over there. Hm.” He makes to leave but then stops, running a hand over his hair and turning back to Dino. “You’re staying though, right?” He blurts. “For a little while?”

“I’m not going anywhere,” he says. “Not for a couple hours, at least. Sonny, you want some help setting up?”

“Shit, yes. I got so much to do, I was late as fuck and, Jesus Christ, if you know who the patron saint of bi-fucking-amping is then send up a prayer for me, will ya? My wires have turned into a fucking gordian knot.”

Joey hurries off to rummage around under the counter for the spare extension lead, earning some exasperated protests from Nico for getting under their feet. Dino gathers his stuff and heads over to the record player with Sonny, neither of them noticing the sleek black car that pulls gleaming onto the sidewalk outside.