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Learning Curve, or, Tab

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Northwestern's standing fags-and-their-hags-committee and the vicious, militant straight girls had hooked up for V-day that year and somebody asked somebody else who called Rodney's house and to whom John said, "Oh, sure--I'll work your afterparty."

"Are you insane?" Rodney hisses.


John rolls his eyes.  "Are you honestly still freaked by the club scene?" he asks, and shuts the car door, hitting the lock button on the remote so that there's a tiny two-beep sequence that startles the low bass in the night air. 


They're those kind of adults now: they have reasonable car insurance and family health coverage, a mortgage and a joint checking account and they had to get a fucking babysitter to make this party. 


As far as Rodney understands the particular constraints of post-adolescent social rules, these are all indications that John shouldn't look as comfortable as he does wandering through the packed parking lot and toward the doors of Cherry Pie--where through the glass darkly, Rodney sees gyrating bodies and smoke and strobe lights.  It's like he's having a fucking flashback to his first time at the Boom Boom Room.


He turns and glares at John.  "Is this some feeble attempt to relive your youth?" he demands.  "Are you having a mid-life crisis?  Because if you need an updated plane--we can do that."


John beams.  "Yeah?"


Rodney frowns.  "No, not really."  His expression darkens.  "Do you know how expensive that thing was?"


John waves it off distractedly, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket and jogging the last few steps up to the club, bouncing on the balls of his feet at the door until Rodney catches up.  And when Rodney does, John just smiles at him, low and lazy and it's like there was an actual wormhole, somewhere between the car and the doorway of the club because John looks twenty-six again, all golden with California sun and bright with his youth and breathlessly beautiful in the shivery, metallic lights of the club.


"Into the rabbit hole," John says, smiling at Rodney.


Rodney can't help but smirk that that, watching John's long fingers wrap around the door handle.  "You know, that's actually the exact thing I thought the first time I went into that fire hazard you worked at during your master's."


"Yeah?" John asks, and leans in to press a wet, sultry kiss to the left corner of Rodney's mouth, and he makes such a purring, self-satisfied noise at that Rodney has to reach up one gloved hand, cup John's cheek and bite John's lower lip, enough sting to make John groan and let Rodney in. 


"See, you're acting younger already," John breathes against his lips when they break apart, and before Rodney can hit himfor being a jackass, John's ducking through the door, and the music that pours out into the night shakes the entire parking lot.


*Rodney's barometer of domestic tranquility is based largely on his father's state of mild intoxication and his mother's neuroses running the show.  To this day he doesn't know what the fuck Jeannie thought she was doing, getting married as young as she did to a guy who plays the ukulele, and being so sure that she was doing the right thing that Rodney played fucking New Kids on the Block at her wedding and she'd only laughed and laughed and been more in love.


He's got a little perspective, though, with a lot of years and wrong turns and car fights in his personal history now, where John said he didn't want to talk about it and Rodney pushed too hard and John got out and fucking walked home


They did the irresponsible, uncontrollable sex thing; they did the tragic pining and carefully coded war mail dance.  John came back from Bosnia to their happily ever after and it somehow morphed from something huge and romantic to something very small and ordinary.


They have a blond wood kitchen table, fiestaware china, heavy and brightly colored, a stack of letters and bills and mail and cards.  They have an answering machine without a cheesy message and PTA meetings, two cars and two jobs.  They've cut down to two or three nights a week now, slow, lazy sex, where they know each other so well that touching the curve of John's back is topography Rodney knows better than his own body.  They have Joanna (who was kind of an accident) and Andy (who was definitely an accident) and they sometimes peek in on the little bastards late at night and are overcome with grateful awe that they are the only two guys in the world who could accidentally adopt two kids.


The point is Rodney teaches and John works in Chicago and they have boring, mundane suburban lives, and the memory of John all glittering, slick with sweat and lit red by overhead bar lights, tasting fizzy and sharp like what Rodney imagines citrus must be like, swaying to a beat in the club is part of a life they've left behind--traded in.


*The club is pounding and red like the interior of a heart.  Rodney can feel the walls perspire and thinks, "Oh God, so we've come full circle," when he sees the head of the V-day committee all but fall ass over tits to drag John behind the bar, her smile huge and her eyes bright in the overhead strobe.  Rodney learned long ago not to be jealous of the way people take an instant shine to John and want a piece of him; Rodney's got his teeth in him and he's not letting go.


John looks over his shoulder, flashes Rodney a big smile, and shrugs off his jacket, tossing it under the bar and suddenly he's on and Rodney's twenty-nine all over again, looking for fucking Charlotte Abbot at the Boom Boom Room in Pasadena.  Rodney can't help it, and a smile crawls over his face because he sort of gets this now--and hell, it's for a good cause.


John's in his black t-shirt, his hair is a tragedy like it's always been.  He's got a few new wrinkles around his eyes and a couple of scars and a metric ton of stories about eating Balkan squirrels and this whole other, vanilla life--it's weirdly sexy to see John shimmying drinks, laughing at the drunks already passed out on his bar, to be mixing and schmoozing and tucking five dollar tips into the V-day jar with a knowing wink.


Rodney should have known the moment John said, "Oh, hey, so the girls from the V-day committee called me up--apparently she's in one of your higher levels."  That hadn't translated into, "So I'm gonna reprise my role as an almost-hooker for one special engagement on behalf of vaginas all throughout Illinois this Valentine's Day," but it turned out that's totally what it meant.


Like John could resist the siren call of an organization that called itself Vagina Day--Victory Against Violence Day--like John could say no to bright-eyed girls at all.


What the hell, Rodney thinks.  He can afford the good beer now, so he sidles up to the bar and watches John work it like he istwenty-six, and maybe possibly one of those twinks that are thataway, further down the alleyway.


"Jesus," he hears somebody curse low under their breath, low under the music, next to him, and when Rodney turns to look, he finds somebody looking at John, eyes heavy with want and Rodney can't help but smile at that, jealously possessive and feeling an illicit thrill at it.  He's bad enough that when John comes over he reaches out until he catches John's left hand, all shiny with a boring gold band--something else out of their alter egos--before he slips his fingertips just under John's shirt, feels the softening midsection there and just smiles in response to John's raised eyebrow.


"That's not on the bar menu," John shouts over the music, and Rodney bursts out laughing as John smacks away Rodney's hand.  "Keep it clean, buddy."


"In that case," Rodney says, "gimme a beer--a good one.  None of that horse piss."


John's eyes shine.  "I don't know--you look like you work for the university.  You sure you can afford anything off tap?"


"Money's not an issue," he says, and he makes sure it's an utterly filthy leer, looking John up and down.  He can't believe he's the same guy who picked up his kids from their alternative-learning Montessori school in a fucking Jetta earlier today.


"I'll keep that in mind," John says, leaning in close so that Rodney can read the exact curve of John's mouth, and the moment's broken when John turns away to grab Rodney a real live Molson.


And then some other boozers on the other end of the bar call him away and Rodney is left admiring the profile John cuts in the bar lights, listening to the half-drunk women in the corner talk about how fucking amazing the production had been, their toasts to Eve Ensler and their vulvas, their uproarious laughter.  It's kind of insane, and the music goes tribal--how fitting, Rodney can't help but think--as Rodney listens to them talk about their bodies like moons, waxing and waning, heavy with blood and history and sex, and Rodney kind of misses women at that moment, watching a booth of them toward the back of the bar flash their shining hair and smooth, even skin, stretch their delicate necks.  Women are beautiful. 


John--John is interesting.  Rodney never met a woman he found as interesting as John, and that's another trade-off: smooth legs for math games, the taste of sweet skin, that soft crease between the thigh and the red folds around a clit for John's angular hips, the delicious scratch of John's five o'clock shadow when Rodney kisses him, when John goes down on him.


And since Rodney's a guy and a pervert it's the image that sticks with him:


John in his club clothes, high and sparkling, skin sweaty and shining in the alley lights, hands splayed on Rodney's hips and lips obscenely wet and tight, stretched around Rodney's cock, on his knees in the dark.


Rodney met John when he was twenty-nine, with exactly one major relationship under his belt, just two weeks after it ended and while Rodney was attempting to stalk and coerce his ex into going to a wedding with him.  If there are auspices none of them had been on duty that night.


He knows that his whole life post-John is just a screenplay-in-progress for a gay romantic comedy after cock on cock stops being cutting edge.  They're When Harry Met Steve: quirky and vanilla and too lucky, improbably hilarious crap and it was a story of longing and long kisses.  Fatalism seems unwilling to darken their doorstep, and Rodney can't decide if that's because John is charmed (Rodney has a working theory about this, equations and all, that he hides from John because he's not prepared to be mocked for the rest of his life) or if she's waiting until she can take both of them out at the same time.


The thing that Rodney can't seem to shake though, is this idea that they've been so lucky, and that even with all of that, it's so fucking hard.


All the things he loves are all the things he hates, too: coming home because there are people to come home to, picking up milk on the way back from his office, calling ahead, keeping promises, weighing the pros and cons of all his decisions against what it might mean for John, for their family.  It's the kind of life he thought would elude him and that saying about marriage like the walls of a city is true, everybody on the outside is desperately peering inward and everybody trapped on the inside is trying to get out.  But Rodney sabotages his attempts to leave so he figures he must not want it enough.


It's a horrible thought, but it's one of those things that slaps you in the face when you're in your forties and you drive an almost-station wagon.


Rodney's kind of glad he's in this miserable club, though, because watching John mix drinks and top off beer and flirt people out of their hard-earned money on behalf of the campus women's organizations is really, really hot, and maybe Rodney just needed to be reminded.


All of these things that he thinks are the sum of their life together are really just byproducts.  Their quiet cul-de-sac existence happened because they liked one another unreasonably, because their bodies fit together like a duet, hands dancing across the white keys of a piano, and because Rodney still worries he doesn't know exactly what love is, but knows that it must, must, must be smaller than the breathless span of whatever he feels for John.


On the next pass over, John smiles at Rodney and Rodney says, "Hey, when's your break?"


*"Oh my God," Rodney gasps.


"Do you think maybe this is the actual sign of a midlife crisis?" John huffs into his ear.


"Oh my God--why--why are you talking?" Rodney moans, and he digs his nails into John's shoulder, tightens his leg, wrapped around John's thigh and jerks his hips into John's again, feels their cocks slick with pre-come and lined up through their hastily unbuttoned pants and shudders, full body.


John hisses, and bites down hard on Rodney's shoulder, where he knows it'll leave a dark purple mark, which Rodney thinks is kind of juvenile but mostly mind-bogglingly sexy, to know that he's going to be walking around for the next week wearing John's teeth in his flesh.


"We're having sex in a bathroom in a--oh fuck--bar, Rodney," John manages to say, and he shoves Rodney around until they're jammed into the corner of the handicap stall, Rodney's shoulder's bruising against the cement blocks as John just lays it into him, rolls his whole body into Rodney's.  They must look fucking obscene, illegal in every state, even the ones that legalized gay marriage and fly rainbow flags--they could burn down buildings from sheer proximity, Rodney thinks, dazed and on the knife edge of an orgasm, the cold bite of a zipper against his skin grounding him.


"Fuck fuck fuck," Rodney moans, and he's going to leave a necklace of desperate half-moon wells of blood on John's back at this rate.  He grinds his heel into the back of John's leg and babbles into John's mouth, slick and sloppy against his own: no finesse, no familiarity, just fucking, skin on skin, knuckles burning from where John's laced one of their hands together, slammed them against the wall to help maintain their precarious balance.


John slams against Rodney one, two, three more times before he gasps and comes, all over Rodney's stomach, staining the edge of his shoved-up shirt, slicking Rodney's stomach and the thought that when they wobble out of the bathroom everybody in the goddamn club is going to see what they've been up to in here is so fucking hot Rodney says, "Ohshit" and comes all over himself.


It takes a few minutes of leaning against the wall and mumbling before they stagger out to the sinks with balls of toilet paper and try to clean themselves up.  And when they see the sniggering twentysomething twinkette of the evening wink as he leaves the bathroom, they stagger back into the stall and feebly try to make themselves look like they didn't just act out totally slutty grainy porno in a bar bathroom.


"That was not married sex," John says to Rodney, eyebrows raised.


"And it was the best not married sex I've ever had," Rodney says back, dabbing at his shirt and glaring at John, who shrugs helplessly.


"I wasn't, you know, aiming or anything," he apologizes, and looks at Rodney for a long time before he leans in to kiss him, just as dirty as before, tongue fucking Rodney's mouth, and thank God they're both old and tired and parents now, or else they'd end up going again, and the way Rodney's luck runs they'd end up breaking the fucking toilet or something.  When John finally pulls away with a lewd swipe of his tongue, Rodney pants:


"Okay, you're forgiven."


"Almost-hooker get up got to you again, huh," John says, and it's all bright mischief now, twenty years too young. 


"What can I say," Rodney admits.  "I'm weak to your cockteasing ways."


"That's kind of a compliment, Rodney," John says, and winks before adding, "That'll be twenty, by the way."


Rodney smirks and leans in to murmur into John's mouth, "Add it to my tab."


*They get home just after three and give the frazzled babysitter an outrageous amount of money.  Rodney points out if John had just kept his damn tips instead of donating them into the V-day fishbowls of crunched up dollars and quarters and dimes they could have just turned out his pockets and paid her in booze-stained fives.  John points out Rodney's kind of an asshole, and that he still owes John twenty dollars for services rendered.


It's already Saturday so they don't bother setting the alarm.  Joanna and Andy haven't set anything on fire getting their own breakfasts for almost three months now, so they take a long shower together and crawl into their bed in old sweats and figure their kitchen can take one for the team.  They curl around one another, and Rodney drops a lazy kiss on John's eyelid before he falls asleep, one hand over John's heart and the other on his hip, and later, when afternoon is coloring all the skies white gold, he will wake up and John will still be there.