“Andrew, I don’t know why you’re being so weird about this. Just eat a piece of watermelon. You love watermelon.” Nicky held the piece of fruit closer to Andrew’s face.
Andrew kept his attention on the wall behind Nicky’s shoulder. “I don’t like anything,” he said.
Nicky scoffed. “You’re being ridiculous.”
“You’re being pushy.”
“I just don’t get it!” Nicky threw his hands up, the piece of melon still pinched between his fingers. “I literally bought this for you because you love watermelon so much! Why won’t you eat a piece?”
Andrew said nothing, and Aaron, sitting on the couch beside him, frowned. Aaron mused, “You know, it is a little weird. You do love watermelon.”
Andrew’s undivided gaze on the wall suddenly turned deadly. His eyes narrowed. He started tapping his fingers on his thigh.
Aaron asked, “What’s your deal? What’s going on?”
Andrew had no choice. He stood up, walked to the bowl of freshly cut melon surrounded by pools of watermelon juice and an assortment of black seeds, and plucked a piece of the fruit. It was dark red and glistening and sweet on his tongue.
It tasted like ash. Like a dirty little secret. Like a mistake.
Andrew ate another piece, and Nicky and Aaron watched him with suspicious eyes. He would have stared them dead in the eye and eaten the whole bowl if Nicky hadn’t realized what he was doing and swooped in to save some melon for the rest of them.
Neil was smiling when he opened the door for Andrew that night—after ten p.m.—but it slowly faded at the look on Andrew’s face as he pushed his way into Neil’s dorm.
“What’s wrong?” Neil asked, and Andrew stood in the middle of the room and crossed his arms.
Neil stared at him, frowning. He hummed in thought when he realized Andrew would say nothing and started circling Andrew slowly, evaluating his body language and expression and trying to figure out what was wrong. When he was back in front of Andrew, he leaned in and took a deep breath. Though he kept his face near Andrew’s neck—but not touching—his body softened in understanding.
“Ahh,” he said, and Andrew tensed. “Did you eat watermelon?” Neil asked, his tone teasing.
Andrew pursed his lips. He should have brushed his teeth. Neil straightened out of Andrew’s space and quickly smothered a smile. Andrew still saw it. He glared. “Andrew,” Neil sighed. “Just because I’m allergic to watermelon doesn’t mean you don’t have to eat it. Nor does it mean you can't kiss me. I don't think it works like that.”
Andrew’s fingers started tapping on his folded arms. He was still glaring. Neil, giving in to the urge to laugh, leaned in and kissed Andrew’s cheek. He nuzzled his nose into Andrew’s cheek until finally Andrew uncrossed his arms and gripped Neil’s biceps, pushing him away but not letting go.
Neil cocked his head. His eyes sparkled with mischief. “Why did you come over then if you’re not going to kiss me?”
“We can do other things.”
Neil snorted. “Oh, so you won’t kiss me when you eat watermelon, but you’ll put my dick in your mouth?”
Andrew said nothing, sliding his hands down Neil’s arms in an attempt at seduction, but Neil just shook his head and stepped back. He seemed to be having a hard time not laughing at Andrew. Andrew should just infect his mouth with his watermelon kisses out of spite for this whole night. He should not have let Nicky goad him into eating the melon.
Neil said, “Looks like nothing tonight, then. Unless you want to watch some streams with me?”
Andrew crossed his arms again. “No,” he said.
Neil sucked in his lips and bit down on a smile. “Don’t pout. I just don’t know why you came over if you knew we wouldn’t be doing anything.”
Andrew was not pouting. “Shut up,” he said.
They both stared at each other in silence—Neil fighting a smile and Andrew fighting the urge to punch that smile—and it was very quiet and a little awkward. The light from Neil’s desktop computer was the only thing illuminating the room, and Andrew’s attention snagged on the list of streams Neil had been browsing before Andrew had knocked. They were mostly horror games.
Andrew slid his attention to the bed. The dark brown blankets were tucked in but a little rumpled, as if Neil had laid on top of them at some point today. The room was very warm. Andrew wanted to lie down. He was annoyed.
Neil drew in a deep breath and blew it out obnoxiously in Andrew’s direction, and then he didn’t fight his laugh when, with a loud huff, Andrew turned around and left. He slammed the door behind him.
“See you tomorrow, Andrew!” Neil sing-songed, and Andrew thought about carving his name into the door, just so Neil would remember he had knives and he wasn’t afraid to use them.
Andrew was kissing along the rugburn on Neil’s shoulders the next night when Neil squirmed his body into the bend of Andrew’s curling around him. They were now spooning on the floor next to Neil’s bed, and Andrew’s lips were on his skin, and Neil was sweaty and sated and warm, and Andrew thought maybe he should leave but instead dropped heavier kisses on Neil’s shoulder and neck, the only sound in the room his mouth and their labored breaths winding down.
“What the fuck are you watching?” Nicky asked, staring at Andrew’s phone over his shoulder from behind the couch. “Are they any good?” he followed up once he noticed that Andrew was watching a stream of someone playing Bloodborne.
“No,” Andrew said.
“How come they’re not showing their face?”
“Because they’re ugly.”
They both watched soundlessly as the streamer died on screen and said, only once and very gravely, “Fuck.”
“Why are you one of only ten people watching? Do you know him? This—” Nicky squinted at the name on the bottom of the screen—“kneeljawzten?” The ‘ten’ in the name was the number ten. Andrew leaned away from Nicky, who was rolling his body over the back of the couch to sit on it.
“No,” Andrew answered once Nicky was settled and turning on the TV. Andrew turned up the volume on his phone.
Neil’s face and chest were buried in the pillow he had clutched to his chest while Andrew gripped his hips behind him and kissed along his spine.
“Why are you so bad at video games,” Andrew murmured, nibbling at the back of Neil’s neck. One of Andrew’s hands slid around Neil’s hip to the front of him, and Neil thrust with Andrew’s hand, moaning softly.
Neil chuckled into the pillow. “Why are you my biggest fan?” he countered, breathless. He let go of the pillow and pushed up so he was on his hands and knees, and Andrew pushed forward and leaned down so his chest was fused with Neil’s back. Sweat was slick between them. Andrew licked behind Neil’s ear before biting his earlobe.
Neil’s skin was flushed. Andrew reached his free hand down to rest on top of one of Neil’s hands. Neil linked their fingers. Andrew didn’t let go.
Andrew was eating lunch with Aaron and Nicky when Neil came into the same restaurant. He walked in with a group of four other people, and Andrew stared at them as they added their name to the list and sat in the lobby to wait for a table.
Andrew’s seat was in direct line of sight of the lobby, so when Neil sat down and lifted his head, he looked right at Andrew. Andrew watched as Neil’s eyes lit up in recognition, and then Neil smiled at him. Andrew did not smile back.
They stared at each other until Neil’s table was called, and Neil saluted Andrew with two fingers to his temple before following his group of people away. Andrew returned to picking at his sandwich. He felt warm.
“Andrew?” Nicky prodded.
Andrew looked up to find Aaron and Nicky staring at him expectantly. He raised an eyebrow. “We’ve been talking to you, asshole,” Aaron said. They returned to talking about whatever they had been talking about—Andrew immediately tuned them out again as soon as he heard Aaron mention Katelyn—and finished his sandwich.
As they were leaving the restaurant, Andrew caught sight of Neil’s table while Nicky was paying. Neil looked up when he felt Andrew’s attention. He was in the middle of taking a drink, and when he caught Andrew’s eye, he winked. Andrew mimicked Neil’s salute from earlier, and Nicky and Aaron saw him. “What are you doing?” Aaron asked.
“Do you know them?” Nicky asked.
Andrew dropped his hand. Neil looked down, smiling into his cup. He returned his attention to his table. Andrew turned around.
“No,” he said.
Andrew was on his back in Neil’s bed, staring up at Neil as he braced his hands on Andrew's chest and slowly lowered himself onto Andrew's dick.
Andrew sucked in a breath once Neil was seated, and Neil let out a soft fuck, his eyes closed and head tilted to the side. Andrew's hands, holding onto Neil’s waist, slid to the front of him and smoothed their way up Neil's chest, mapping out scars and smoothing over goosebumps. They had kept Neil's reading lamp on, casting shadows on half their bodies and bathing the other half in a sickly pale yellow.
Neil started moving, and he stared down at Andrew with hooded eyes, his fingers curling and uncurling on Andrew's chest. It was too dark and Andrew was too distracted to focus on the bright blue eyes that usually pinned him in place and stilled the breath in his lungs. He stared at Neil's eyes anyways, fighting the impulse to close his own each time Neil rose up and took him in again.
But Neil only worked a few more thrusts before he suddenly collapsed and fell forward onto Andrew with a heavy exhale. He hadn't finished, and he was shaking with equal parts need and, Andrew realized with each panting breath Neil puffed in his ear, exhaustion.
"Sorry," Neil wheezed. "Just give me a minute."
Andrew, his arms crushed between them, maneuvered until he was able to circle his arms around Neil's back. He asked, a little breathless himself, "What the fuck." They'd done this before, and Neil had always had enough stamina to get them where they wanted to go.
"Sorry," Neil said again, chuckling sheepishly into Andrew's neck before he dropped a soft kiss. "My pole dancing class started again today and I forgot how much it took out of me. Just give me, like, ten more seconds."
Andrew, whose hands had been rubbing slow circles on Neil's ribs, suddenly grasped Neil's shoulders and pushed him up. "What?" he asked.
Neil shifted into a more compromising position, and Andrew smothered a moan. Neil did not.
"Um," Neil said, and then moved again. "Well—ah, fuck—I am...shit." He lost his train of thought as he leaned back, his hands now braced on the bed behind him with his head thrown back while he rocked atop Andrew. Andrew didn't want to interrupt Neil when he got like this.
But Andrew needed answers.
Andrew sat up, startling Neil out of whatever blissed out state he had been in, and pushed them both forward until Neil was on his back and Andrew was over him.
"Pole dancing?" he asked lightly, trailing fingers under Neil's lips.
Neil was panting and wiggling desperately under him. He kissed the tips of Andrew’s fingers but didn't take them in his mouth. "Yeah. How else do you think I got these legs?" Neil wrapped those legs around Andrew’s waist. Andrew held his breath, trying to concentrate.
"Pole dancing?" he asked again, with a pointed thrust, and Neil, already so out of breath, wheezed with laughter anyways.
"Jesus Christ, why are you...so stupid?" Neil laughed again, and wrapped his arms around Andrew's head, and combed his fingers into his hair, and held Andrew to his chest until they both finished, Neil laughing and breathless, Andrew boneless on top of him.
Andrew scoured Neil’s Twitter and his Twitch accounts (the only social media Neil had) and couldn’t find any pictures or video evidence of Neil pole dancing.
He didn’t know Neil’s group of friends or where to search, and he’d rather die than pull up Facebook to find a local group that put on pole dancing. He sat at his kitchen table and thought up his next move to get photographic evidence of Neil doing something with a pole. He needed it.
“Andrew, why are you googling ‘pole dancing in my area’—Jesus, whoa, calm down!” Nicky backed away from the point of Andrew’s knife after reading from Andrew’s phone behind his shoulder. Nicky needed to stop doing that.
“You’re googling what?” Aaron asked from the couch. Andrew brandished his knife at Aaron, too, but Aaron just stuck his tongue out in response.
When Andrew came over the next night, Neil let him in with a rushed kiss to his cheek and an apology that he had homework he needed to finish.
Andrew sat on the bed. “Why didn’t you text me?” he asked. He watched as Neil settled back in at his computer and put on his headphones. He had a document open on his computer with only one paragraph written.
“My phone is dead,” Neil said, opening to the video he had paused. “And I was in the zone.”
“How many pages?”
Neil settled into work and Andrew watched him for a while, listening to the sounds of the video Neil was playing through his headphones, the clack of the keyboard, the crack of Neil’s knuckles when he paused to think.
Andrew lay back on the bed, staring at the ceiling. His shoes were still on. Neil said, very quietly, “You don’t have to stay.”
Andrew closed his eyes.
He woke up hours later to Neil taking off Andrew's shoes and shoving him under the comforter, and Andrew rolled closer to the wall and waited for Neil to get into bed beside him. He was still waiting when he fell asleep.
When Andrew woke again, it was to the sun warming the blanket on top of him. He twisted out of the cocoon he had rolled himself into and looked around Neil’s room. The computer was off, and the bathroom door was open with the light off, and the chain on the door was engaged.
He sat up, looking to the window, when he heard movement on the floor beside the bed. He saw Neil asleep on the floor, his face pillowed by his backpack and cuddled into a baggy sweatshirt. Andrew stared at Neil for a minute before slowly laying back down at the edge of the bed. He pillowed his face under one of his hands and watched Neil sleep until Neil roused a few minutes later. Andrew had never seen Neil wake up before, so it was interesting to watch his eyes snap open in fear, only to clear away as Neil exhaled slowly.
Once he was moderately awake, Neil turned his head and looked up at Andrew. He didn’t say anything, just studied Andrew’s face as Andrew had been doing while Neil slept.
“You’re so stupid,” Andrew whispered.
“I know,” Neil whispered back.
When Andrew came home in the same clothes he had been wearing yesterday, Nicky whooped and Aaron glared.
“Where the fuck have you been?” Aaron asked.
“No, Aaron,” Nicky said. “It’s who the fuck have you been.” Nicky frowned. “No, wait. It’s who have you been fuckin.’” Nicky laughed and Aaron’s eyes narrowed further.
Andrew ignored them both and went to shower. He turned the water as hot as it would go and focused on the stream scalding his skin and turning him red. He didn’t want to think about anything. He wanted to forget about Neil sleeping on the floor. He wanted to forget sleeping in Neil’s bed all night, falling asleep to the sound of Neil typing, waking up to Neil taking off his shoes and tucking him in.
But Andrew never forgot anything, so he would always remember the swell in his chest when he saw Neil that morning, and the smile on Neil’s face, and the day he met Neil and said they could fuck around and it wouldn't mean anything.
“Why are you going through my phone?”
“Why am I the only number saved on your phone?”
“I talk to everyone else on Discord.”
“Why do you only have two pictures and why is one of them me.”
“You mean you don’t want to ask why I have a picture of Matt cosplaying as a Little Sister from Bioshock?”
“Why do you have a picture of me with a cat filter.”
“Delete it if you want.”
“Do you not have parents?”
“No. What’s wrong?”
“Who burned your face? Who cut you?”
“Are you all right? What’s up with you today?”
“What? You’ve seen my scars a million times. Why do you suddenly want to know about them now? Or are you ready to tell me why you keep your armbands on while we have sex?”
Andrew left without an answer. Neil didn’t follow, but he never had before. Why should tonight be any different? They did what Andrew always said they would do: get off and go home. When they first started this, Andrew hadn't intended to sleep with Neil; he'd never gone that far with a partner before. He didn't know what was different this time, why it was okay to let Neil that close. He didn't like to think about it.
It was after twelve, and it was a warm spring night, and Andrew walked back to his dorm alone, and no one was awake for him when he opened the door, and Neil had texted him goodnight with a picture of his feet wrapped in fuzzy socks, and Andrew threw his phone at the couch, but it just flopped sadly to the floor without a sound.
Instead of going to Neil’s the next night, Andrew dragged Nicky and Aaron to Eden’s Twilight where he proceeded to drink and drink and drink and drink and drink and—
“—Andrew, Jesus, we’re almost home, I’m going as fast as I can.”
Andrew’s hand was on the door handle in the backseat and Aaron was flung across his body, trying to stop him from opening the door and toppling out of the car.
“Nicky, lock the doors,” Aaron said, still holding all his weight over Andrew.
“They are locked!”
Andrew fumbled until he found the window button and started to roll it down.
“Andrew, stop. Nicky, lock the windows, too. Andrew, seriously. What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“Let me out,” Andrew said. He recognized this street. He’d walked it every night for the past five months. He needed to walk it again.
“Should I stop?”
“He’ll probably be pissed if he vomits in his own backseat. Since when does he get drunk?”
Nicky pulled over. Andrew tugged on the door handle over and over again until Nicky relented to turning the car off and letting him out. Andrew stumbled his way out of the car and scrambled into the dorm building and marched up to Neil’s door, Aaron and Nicky following hesitantly behind him, not saying a word. He slapped and knocked on Neil’s door until it opened and Andrew finally relaxed. He sighed softly and leaned forward to rest his forehead on Neil’s chest. He kept his arms at his sides and Neil, startled by Andrew’s presence, placed steadying hands on Andrew’s shoulders.
“Hey,” Neil said, and Andrew slumped all his body weight onto Neil. He was ready for bed now. “What’s wrong?” Andrew shook his head. He started listing to the side and Neil had to catch him with one of his arms. Andrew relaxed into that, too. This was much better than anything else he’d done all night. All week. All his life.
“Who the fuck are you?” Aaron asked.
“Sh,” Andrew said.
“I’m being quiet,” Neil said, but his voice was a lot softer than it had been when he said his own name, and it was closer to Andrew’s ear.
“Aaron,” Andrew clarified. His face was still pressed into Neil’s chest. He took a deep breath.
“Aaron?” Neil asked.
“And I’m Nicky. And hopefully you know Andrew, or else this will be super embarrassing.”
“Is everything okay?” Neil asked, presumably to Nicky or Aaron because his tone wasn’t as soft as it usually was when he talked to Andrew. Andrew fumbled around for one of Neil’s hands, the one he'd had on Andrew’s shoulder that he dropped as soon as Andrew swayed into his other hand. Andrew tried to link their fingers together but he couldn’t coordinate himself enough to get them linked the way they should be. Neil did not help, so Andrew nuzzled his nose up to Neil’s neck and muttered curses into his skin.
“Uh,” Andrew heard Nicky say, and then clear his throat. Aaron was muttering savagely under his breath. Neil was standing a stalwart statue for Andrew, not reacting to anything he was doing to him other than to steady Andrew and let him be close. “Wow," Nicky continued. “Okay. So, uh, yeah, everything is fine. Andrew just wanted to see his boyfriend, I guess.”
Neil hummed, and Andrew moved his face out of Neil’s neck and rested his cheek on Neil’s chest instead, facing the other way from his cousin and brother. He was still trying to hold Neil’s hand. Neil still wouldn’t help him.
“I can help you get him home, if you want,” Neil offered, and then he took a step forward as if to walk Andrew out, so Andrew gathered what strength he had left and pushed Neil back into his room. He waved a flippant hand at his family without looking at them and then closed the door to whatever they would have said. There was no follow-up knock.
Now it was just Neil and Andrew, alone in his room, staring at each other. Andrew suddenly didn’t feel as light and dizzy as he had moments before. Now he just felt sick and tired and he wanted to lie down. He moved to Neil’s bed and collapsed face first into his pillows, and he heard Neil sigh.
“Let’s drink some water, Andrew,” Neil said as he started to remove Andrew’s shoes.
“No,” Andrew said, not moving his face out of the pillows. “Sleep.”
“Fine,” Neil sighed again, and then instead of tucking Andrew in he just grabbed a pillow Andrew’s face wasn’t in and settled on the floor. Andrew lifted his face to watch as Neil curled into a ball on the floor, facing his bed.
“No,” Andrew said. He patted the mattress beside him.
“No,” Neil said. He closed his eyes as if he’d fall asleep once he did.
Andrew said, “Why.”
Neil smiled. “Yes.”
Andrew patted the mattress again. Neil turned around. Andrew said, “I’ll sleep on the floor.”
“No one is stopping you.”
Andrew decided he didn’t want to sit up again so he rolled off the bed, and when his body smacked the ground with a hard thunk, he moaned and hoped he wouldn’t vomit. He held in his nausea as he curled up behind Neil, resting his forehead on Neil’s spine and curling his hands between them.
“Why did you drink so much?” Neil asked.
And Andrew had meant to answer, to ask about his scars again, about his parents, about why he woke up scared, but Andrew's tongue was thick and his eyes were closed and he didn’t remember falling asleep but he did.
Andrew woke up to a dry mouth and a sore neck and no Neil. He was on the floor in a jacket and jeans and his shoes were by the door and Neil wasn’t there. His body hurt and his head hurt and he couldn’t see Neil in front of him where he was supposed to be.
There was a click of a glass above him, and Andrew slowly rolled onto his back to find Neil sitting on the bed smiling wryly down at him. His palm was around the glass of water he set on the nightstand. He said, “Good morning, starshine.”
Andrew grimaced. “Why are you here,” he said. He threw an arm over his eyes to block out the bright light of day, and he heard Neil snort.
“I live here. Why are you here.”
“I want breakfast.”
“We’ll get breakfast.”
Andrew had thought Neil would say no, or ask what happened last night, or hesitate to go to breakfast. But Neil never did any of those things. Andrew said, face still covered by his arm, “I want to watch a bad video game.”
After a small pause, Neil said in a quiet voice, “We can watch bad video games.”
"I want to see you pole dance."
"We can watch my pole dancing videos. They're on Dan's phone."
“I want you to text me when I can’t come over.”
“You can always come over.”
“Don’t ‘always’ me.”
“Don’t tell me this is nothing and then knock on my door at two in the morning for snuggles.”
“I don’t snuggle.”
“Tell that to the snot on my hoodie. Oh, wait, you’re wearing it.”
Andrew moved his arm and looked down at the jacket he woke up in. It was bright orange and said “Code Camp 2018” and was not something he’d ever wear willingly. “Where’s my jacket?” he asked.
“It was the combination pillow and blanket I used last night after you stole both my pillow and only source of warmth.”
“You could have grabbed a blanket off your bed.”
“Sure, why don’t you try telling a drunk, angry Andrew to just let go for two seconds so I can grab a blanket off my bed.”
Andrew glared up at Neil. Neil glared down at Andrew. “My back hurts,” Andrew said.
“Don’t sleep on the floor, then.”
“Sleep on the bed with me, then.”
Neil was still glaring, but his eyes looked warm. “Fine,” he said.
Andrew covered his eyes again. “Fine.”