Neil startled awake when someone threw a packet of fruit snacks at his face. It hit his cheek with a loud smack followed by an obnoxious crinkle as Neil pawed at his face and fumbled around for the packet sliding off his cheek.
He rubbed at his eyes as he sat up and tore into the snack. Nicky, the culprit, laughed at Neil’s groggy wake up. “Neil, my dove, it’s, like, two in the afternoon. Why are you still sleeping?”
Neil looked outside. “I was up late.” And by late he means he fell asleep around six in the morning after a long night of League .
Nicky laughed, tossing his own fruit snacks in his mouth. Around a mouth of gummy, he smirked and said, “Oh? Andrew?”
Neil yawned, rolling his eyes and speaking around a mouthful of his own snack. The gummy did not mix well with his morning breath. He grimaced but kept eating. “Nicky,” Neil said, “Andrew hasn’t spoken to me in three days. Why do you think I’m on the couch?”
Nicky seemed surprised. “Oh,” he said. “I thought you just didn't like his bed or something.”
Neil was shaking his head when Andrew appeared. He was sleep-rumpled and glaring, wearing Neil’s shirt and sweats, and he went right to the coffee machine. He kept his back to Neil. Neil rubbed a hand over his mouth to hide his smile.
“Um, so you’re fighting?” Nicky asked hesitantly.
Andrew and Neil didn’t say anything in response. As soon as Andrew had his mug of coffee poured and sugared he finally turned to first his cousin, then the counter, then the box of upturned fruit snacks spilled on the counter, then to Neil.
Maintaining eye contact, he picked up one of the packets and hurled it at Neil’s face. Neil took the smack without attempting to stop it. Andrew took a sip from his mug.
Nicky asked, amused, “What did you do, Neil, ignore him while playing games?” Neil often got lost in his gaming, but he had never in his life ignored Andrew because of them. He shook his head. Andrew’s glare intensified. It was still directed at Neil. Neil was still smiling.
“Well, what, you took the last cookie from the cookie jar?”
Andrew flicked his glare to Nicky for one second before returning to Neil. Neil finally decided he should get up and start his day. He dropped his trash and the second fruit snack pack as he rose, stretching his arms over his head and groaning through the creaks in his muscles. “No,” Neil said. “He just finally asked about my scars.”
“Oh,” Nicky said, startled again. He seemed uncomfortable at the casual mention—there wasn’t anything Neil’s scars could be other than the notch of torture—but Neil wasn’t bothered to be talking about them in front of Andrew or Nicky. “Um,” Nicky went on like he had something to say, but he didn’t follow that up with anything.
Andrew slammed his mug on the counter and disappeared back upstairs. Neil listened to his fading stomps before shaking his head fondly and cracking his knuckles. “So, what's for breakfast?” he asked. “Or I guess lunch?”
Andrew sat on the third stair from the bottom and listened to Neil from the other room as he argued with someone named Kevin.
“I don’t want to play League right now, Kevin. Either play Don’t Starve with me or leave me alone.”
Andrew didn’t hear whatever this Kevin said in response. After a pause, Neil went on, “I know there’s a tournament, Kevin, but I’m not going to play it this year. God, fine, just for an hour, all right? Jesus, you’re so annoying. Yes, I’m still going next Saturday. Well, hopefully you’ll get to meet Andrew, if he ever forgives me. Yes, I know how to maintain interpersonal relationships. Well, when I apologized, he hit me, so I don't think that's it. It's fine; he can be mad at me, I don't mind. Can you log on already? I thought this was your idea. Are you streaming?”
Neil’s lingo slowly devolved into whatever sorts of things people talked about when they played League of Legends. Andrew rested his chin on his knees and listened to Neil play.
That night, Andrew poked Neil’s cheek with his finger to wake him up. It was three in the morning and Neil was sprawled on the couch, hair askew and laying flat on his back. The afghan he was supposed to be curled up in was scrunched at his feet, and the pillow his head was supposed to be on was on the floor. Neil frowned but didn’t jolt. After a second, he squinted one eye open, and then the other when he realized it was Andrew.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, his voice thick with sleep.
“Let's go,” Andrew said. He dragged the finger he used to poke Neil’s face to his hair and smoothed a cowlick down. Neil hummed, closing his eyes again. He curled up onto his side, and Andrew tugged on his hair to keep him awake.
“Are we going somewhere?”
“I can come back?”
Neil whined sleepily when Andrew tugged on his arm, but his body didn’t resist as he was hauled off the couch. As soon as he was standing, Neil slumped his body weight on Andrew, his head resting on Andrew’s shoulder. Both of them kept their arms at their side, but Andrew held his body strong and still as Neil left all his weight to him.
“Let’s go,” Andrew said again after a minute, and Neil sighed softly before pulling away and making his way up the stairs.
Once they were settled in bed, Andrew curled around Neil’s back and hands secured on Neil’s bare stomach, tracing his scars with light fingers, Neil said, “I have somewhere to take you tomorrow.”
“Okay,” Andrew said. He kissed a freckle on Neil’s neck.
“Did you watch my stream today? Nicky let me steam us playing Tetris.”
“I can’t believe he didn’t know what a tetris was.”
“Hm.” Andrew nuzzled his nose into Neil’s hair and waited until Neil’s breathing evened out before closing his eyes.
When Andrew left their bedroom and noticed Neil’s outfit for the day, he immediately turned back around and closed the door.
Neil laughed and looked down at himself. “Andrew, what’s wrong? Is it the hat?” Though the wide-brimmed straw hat with the tied black bow on the back was the tamest of the outfit. Neil was wearing a tie-dye muscle shirt, green and blue and black, with a giant red kiss mark over the entire front. He stole a pair of Andrew's armbands, though he regretted that they were black. He had bright red gym shorts over navy blue leggings stopping at his calves, ending with violent pink crocs and black ankle socks. Clenched in his fists were two gallon buckets, empty for now but hopefully filled by the end of the day.
“No,” Andrew said resolutely behind the door. Neil laughed again.
“I have a matching hat for you.”
“It’s going to be fun, I promise.”
“I don’t want to go anymore.”
“Don’t you want to spend the day with me?”
A long pause, and then Andrew opened the door again. He scowled at Neil’s shoes as he asked, “What are we doing?”
Neil held up the buckets and grinned. “Picking wild raspberries.”
Andrew couldn’t understand why there were so many people picking wild raspberries. He couldn’t understand Neil’s excitement, or his shared joy with other random strangers as they trudged through paths manmade or otherwise up on a mountain in the dead of summer, sloughing off tiny pink berries and dropping them into buckets when they weren’t eating them right off the bush. Neil ventured from bush to bush, sharing stupid stories with Andrew in his stupid straw hat. Andrew had worn his because Neil had put it on his head after they left the car, tying the ribbon into a bow under his chin, and Neil had grinned at his glare, and Andrew didn’t take off the hat.
And so they picked fruit, and Neil’s lips were stained pink, and he kept trying to get Andrew to have a bite, just try a berry, you’ll love them, I promise. But Andrew didn’t have a taste until he followed Neil into a thicket with less people, and less people, then no people at all, and Andrew grasped Neil’s sticky, juicy hand and pulled him close and supped the fruit right off his lips.
They did taste very sweet.
“Why are there money slips in this bucket that amount to fifty thousand dollars.”
“Did you really think I took you up that mountain just for the berries?”
“My mom left a cache up there.”
“What the fuck.”
“I got that for you. Hey, can you give me some berries? We need to eat as much of that as we can before Aaron and Nicky get to it.”
“Neil, why are you and Andrew fighting again?”
“I gave him fifty thousand dollars.”
“Haha, wow, it must be pretty embarrassing if you don’t want to tell me.”
“Uh. I guess.”
Two days later, Andrew came downstairs to drag Neil back to their bed at one in the morning, but as soon as he saw Neil sprawled across the cushions, Andrew decided to help himself and sprawl across Neil himself.
Neil groaned at the weight settling on top of him, shifting around until he was flat on his back and Andrew was blanketed atop him, his head pillowed on Neil’s chest under his chin and his arms curled up and under his shoulders, hands squeezing once before sliding down behind Neil’s back and hugging him.
“You know, if you’d stop getting mad, we wouldn’t have to keep making up,” Neil said. Neil's fingers started fiddling with the sleeve of Andrew’s shirt. It didn’t take long for their breathing to sync.
“Stop saying stupid things,” Andrew said.
“I won't have anything left to say.”
Neil huffed, dropping his hand back to his side. Andrew was going to give him two minutes before dragging them both to bed, but Neil leaned down to kiss the top of Andrew’s head and Andrew closed his eyes.
Andrew didn’t know what to expect from Kevin Day, but a pair of overalls over a rainbow wife beater and chipped painted nails was not it. One of the straps on the overalls wasn’t buckled, instead hanging down Kevin’s back and folding the bib in half on his front. He had a chess piece tattooed under his eye for some reason, and he was wearing platform wedges and heart-shaped sunglasses and bright pink lipstick.
“Well, helloo Kevin Day,” Nicky said as soon as Kevin walked up to join the group. Neil nodded in greeting. Kevin nodded back. He did not acknowledge Nicky.
Kevin took no time at all to sus out Andrew. He looked him up and down and said, “You must be Andrew,” holding out a hand that Andrew didn’t shake.
Aaron, from behind them, said, “And you must be kidding me.”
“Jesus, Aaron, aren’t we passed this?”
“I’m actually talking about him being friends with Neil and not at all how he’s dressed. Who’s the intolerant one now, Nicky?”
“What’s wrong with Neil?” Nicky asked, but Kevin just gave Neil a disparaging look and Andrew was bored with this conversation already.
Kevin had somehow convinced Neil to come to this stupid county fair, and apparently they had done it every year, but Neil had yet to explain what they did at this fair every year. It didn’t look like the pinnacle of fun, with its rusted rides and creepy carnies and cotton candy and vomit next to every available trash can. The only thing Andrew was vaguely interested in was the homemade root beer at one of the stalls, but they hadn’t stopped at it on their way in. They didn’t even buy any tickets, which Nicky had bemoaned immediately. But Neil promised he could go on rides as soon as they met up with Kevin.
Kevin, apparently, was going to cut right to the chase. “Did you train?” he asked Neil point blank. Neil rolled his eyes.
“I don’t know how you expect me to train for this, Kevin. It’s just for fun.”
“It’s not just for fun, Neil. Jean and Jeremy have beat us every year, and honestly, my pride can’t handle much more of this.”
“Maybe you just need to loosen your throat muscles better.”
“I’m not the one who’s holding us back! You need to loosen your throat muscles.”
“Why do you think I’m with Andrew? Obviously it was so I could use him for training so we could win this year.”
“Sorry, hold on, wait,” Nicky said. He held up his hands and actually moved to stand in between Kevin and Neil as if they were having a real fight. “Stop. Stop. I need you to explain to me right now what the fuck you are talking about.”
Kevin, utterly unimpressed with Nicky, looked down his nose at him and said, “The hotdog eating contest, obviously.”
“Oh my god,” Nicky said, his hands still up, his tone breathless. Even Andrew blinked in surprise, and Aaron choked from behind them. “Oh my god, what. Oh my god, Neil—”
“Did you just say you’re sleeping with my brother to help you train for a hotdog eating competition?” Aaron sputtered, and Neil turned to him and shrugged with an innocent smile on his face.
“Actually, I implied that it was me sucking his—”
“Stop,” Kevin said, and Nicky once again exclaimed and actually did a little bounce on his feet. “Stop it. We’re winning this year, Neil.”
“I hope for your sake, we do.”
“This isn’t a joke, Neil. I cannot tell my father we’ve lost for the third year in a row.”
“Okay, Kevin. It starts in an hour.”
“You should be practicing.”
Neil looked to Andrew with raised brows, expectant, and Andrew turned to walk to the root beer stand.
Nicky was screaming.
Nicky and Aaron watched with rapt and disgusted interest as the contest began and Kevin immediately started shoving raw dogs down his throat. Neil was also bent over the table, munching on his own and following each hotdog with a swallow of water. There were ten participants and Kevin kept a steady glare aimed at two of them, who glared good naturedly in return.
“If that’s his technique, I fear for you,” Nicky joked to Andrew, watching Neil chomp through his fifth hotdog. Andrew slipped a knife out of his band and Aaron hastily slapped it away from Nicky, apologizing to a parent who happened to see Andrew’s weapon.
“Jesus Christ,” Aaron reprimanded as soon as the blade was hidden once more.
“He can’t save you now.”
“Shut up. Why is your boyfriend like this.”
Andrew looked back to Neil and saw soggy bread crumbs all over his face and around his mouth, and he was trying to eat two hotdogs at one time. Water and drool dripped in thick strings down his chin and onto the table. Kevin was also trying to shove two hotdogs in his mouth, staring Neil dead in the eye as if forgetting he was competing against different nemeses, and Neil pushed Kevin’s face away from him. Neil choked on one of his dogs and started gagging, but it seemed he kept his food down.
Andrew had never been more disgusted in his life.
“I don’t have a boyfriend anymore.”
“I’ll take him off your hands,” Nicky said, for all intents and purposes swooning at the men piling hotdogs down their gullets. “This is literally the best thing I’ve ever seen. Where has Neil been all my life?”
This “Neil” in question had just turned and vomited, barely making it in the can the judges provided for him. Kevin smacked him on the back, but it was not a comforting pat. Andrew could hear through the crowd that Kevin was calling Neil weak and useless. Neil glared at Kevin but nonetheless turned and grabbed another hotdog.
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” Aaron said, putting a hand over his mouth.
If Andrew wasn’t already vegetarian, he probably would be now, watching as Neil Josten, gamer, pole dancer, ex-runaway and gangster’s son, stood beside a man with heart-shaped sunglasses and swallowed down whole chunks of hotdogs at a shitty county fair, meeting Andrew’s gaze through the crowd and winking at him with wet bread and vomit on his face, gagging on the food, but not giving up.
Kevin sauntered around the fair afterwards, cradling his giant plastic hotdog trophy in one arm as the group of seven (Jeremy and Jean, the nemeses, having joined them) walked around the fair. Only Nicky and Aaron went on any rides; Andrew afraid of heights and the rest having just eaten pounds of hotdogs for fun.
Neil kept trying to hold Andrew’s hand and Andrew kept slapping him away.
“I’m never touching you again,” Andrew said.
Neil grinned. “How about a kiss?”
“I’m never kissing you again.”
“Not even for good luck?”
“I don’t believe in luck.”
“I’ll kill you.”
“Not before next week, I hope.”
“Why?” Nicky asked. “What’s next week?”
Neil turned to walk next to Nicky, finally relenting to Andrew’s attempts to keep Neil away from him. “Well, next week I finally get to perform with heels at my pole class, and I thought Andrew might like to see.”
Andrew tripped. Aaron cursed. Kevin licked powdered sugar off his fingers from eating his funnel cake.
Nicky choked. “I’m sorry. What did you just say?”
Even though Neil was standing next to Nicky and far away from Andrew, he still turned and met Andrew’s eyes when he answered. “I said I’m wearing heels at my next pole dancing class.”
Nicky literally sunk to the ground then, and Jeremy tripped over his collapsed body. “Neil, please,” Nicky begged. “I feel like you’re wasted on Andrew. Can’t you be in love with me instead? I’ll even kiss your hotdog water vomit mouth. Right now.” Nicky puckered his lips, and Neil rolled his eyes.
“Sorry," he said. "Just Andrew, I’m afraid.”
“I’m afraid,” Aaron grumbled, and the group of six left Nicky on the ground as they ventured to another part of the fair, Andrew and Neil still separated by too many people, but Neil was smiling, and Andrew didn’t leave, even though he hated this place and all these people and Neil, gamer, pole dancer, ex-runaway and gangster’s son and third place winner of a hotdog eating contest, most of all.
Neil and Andrew were sitting cross-legged on the bed, two cards in their hands and five in between them. The door was locked. The lamp was on. It was ten at night.
Neil was in a t-shirt, boxers, and socks. Andrew was in even less.
Neil set down his hand first and revealed his flush of spades.
Andrew laid down his two-pair in silence. Neil smiled, holding out his hands in a gimme gesture and waiting for Andrew to place his right hand in his.
Neil slowly peeled off the armband, rubbing his warm hands up and down Andrew’s now bare skin. They both ignored the goosebumps that rose in response. Once Neil had massaged them away, he lifted Andrew’s arm and dropped a quick kiss on the inside of his forearm before dropping his arm and picking up the cards.
He dealt them another hand, and then flipped the flip, turned the turn, and dropped the river. Neil: nothing. Andrew: three of a kind.
Andrew pursed his lips in consideration before gesturing to Neil’s boxers. Neil raised a brow but moved to his knees anyways. Andrew also raised to his knees, so Neil and Andrew were now flush together, one without a shirt and one still clad. Andrew slipped delicate fingers first up Neil’s stomach under his shirt, dancing and teasing, before sliding them down to the band of his underwear. He slowly slid them down to his knees, staring straight into Neil’s hooded eyes.
“Can we kiss yet?” Neil whispered, his voice thick with something dark and wanting.
Andrew shook his head, his fingers flitting over the tip of Neil, the base of him, tugging at the curls, following his happy trail up his stomach. Neil shivered, and then Andrew pulled away and Neil shifted to slide the boxers the rest of the way down. He tossed them onto the floor beside the bed as Andrew gathered the cards and dealt a new hand.
Two more deals and Neil was down to a t-shirt and one sock and Andrew only had one armband on. Neil was on his back with his arms stretched above him, panting, and Andrew’s fingers were thrusting inside him in time with his head bobbing over Neil’s dick. He hummed, and Neil started shaking and gasping, his hands now sliding up his own chest, pushing his shirt to his collarbone before sliding back down and curling his fingers in Andrew’s hair.
“Can we fuck now?” he breathed, and Andrew sucked one last pull before popping off and removing his fingers. Neil was reaching for Andrew as soon as he rose, helping him prepare, and then Andrew was turning Neil on his side and pushing in and Neil put his own fingers in his mouth and moaned. “Fuck,” he said, almost a whine, and Andrew started moving in earnest, and going, and going—they hadn’t cleaned up their last hand, so cards were stuck to Neil’s back and Andrew’s thigh and one slipped into the dent created by Andrew’s knee, and Andrew hadn’t kissed Neil in five days after the hotdog eating contest but he was ready now. He twisted Neil, grabbing one of his legs and propping it against Andrew’s shoulder and holding the other one to his hip, and then Andrew leaned down, Neil panting short breaths on his face, and whispered that they could kiss now, so Neil smiled crookedly and wrapped his arms around Andrew’s neck and pulled him down.
At first they were sloppy little nips—they couldn’t coordinate because Andrew hadn’t stopped moving, but soon their kisses were longer, and deeper, and Neil was gasping into Andrew’s mouth, and breathing little moans every time Andrew pulled away and pressed forward again. Neil’s tongue licked the roof of Andrew’s mouth and then followed it out to his upper lip, ending on a little bite and pull. Andrew retaliated by sliding his tongue against Neil’s and pulling back in long and slow teases before he left lingering smacks on Neil’s lips, and then his jaw, and then his neck, and then he started fucking Neil hard into the mattress, Neil’s nails digging into Andrew’s back, his leg slipping off Andrew’s shoulder and moving down to his elbow so that Andrew was now holding both of Neil’s legs.
Everything was wet with sweat and so very hot and it didn’t take much longer for Neil to gasp and spill on his own stomach and Andrew to pull out and finish himself with his hand, adding his own mess to mix with Neil’s.
Neil was breathing hard, a dazed mess flat on his back and staring at the ceiling, an idle hand smearing the mess on his stomach and sliding it up to his pecs and collarbone. Andrew was breathing hard and sitting back on his knees, too over-sensitive to touch Neil right now but thinking about their kiss and annoyed at the card stuck on his calf.
“What the fuck,” Neil gasped, sliding his hands back down and reaching for Andrew. Andrew reached back for him. He tangled their fingers in their sticky mess and tried to catch his breath, but staring down at a drowsy and boneless Neil, Andrew didn’t think he ever would.
When Neil pulled out his box with the heels in them, Andrew gestured for him to put them on.
Neil said, “No.”
Andrew said, “Why.”
“I want them to be a surprise.”
“Why did you pull them out.”
“Because I’m wearing them tonight and you’re coming with me.”
“I asked for a private class, just for me and you. You don’t even have to dance. You can just watch.”
Andrew frowned at the shoes. He drummed his fingers on his thighs, and then stood up and walked to the door.
Neil said, “It’s not for two more hours.”
“Why did you pull them out,” Andrew asked again, sounding more annoyed this time.
Neil grinned, and Andrew walked up to the bed and smacked the box to the floor before stomping out of the room and slamming the door.
Dan had tried to talk to Andrew when they first arrived, but Andrew just sat against the back wall and faced the mirror and stared at the pole that Neil had walked up to. For a whole hour, Dan taught Neil a new routine and helped him through his twists, and Andrew’s eyes flitted back and forth between watching Neil through the mirror and watching the back of him in person. Whenever their eyes met, Neil would smile. Andrew would stare impassively back.
Dan seemed uncomfortable at first with the silent observer, but eventually, when it became clear Andrew was literally going to do nothing but watch, she thought of him as background noise and didn’t even acknowledge his presence. After an hour, Dan eventually said it was time for the big show, and Neil flashed one last smile to Andrew before leaving through the door leading to Dan’s house and presumably changing into his heels.
Andrew did nothing to prepare for the show other than to sit a little straighter against the wall.
He hadn’t smoked for a long time, but he suddenly craved a cigarette.
Neil smoothed his sweaty hands down his shorts one final time and then entered the studio. Dan immediately wolf whistled at him.
“Damn, Neil! Good thing you do wear a shirt when the other girls are here or I’d fear for their safety.” Neil, having never bared his chest to Dan before, smiled awkwardly and felt his face flush. He stole a glance at himself in the mirror: no shirt, scars on full display. He had taken a minute inside to apply eyeliner and glitter on the bridge of his nose and sparkled through his hair, just like he’d had Allison show him how to do, though he couldn’t remember how to do the eyeshadow so opted to not apply any. He was wearing tiny orange shorts, stopping midthigh but not suctioned to his skin, light and breezy, and bright orange stilettos with thin ribbons that tied up his calf. The shoe had a black heel and a black base and tiny little spikes lined up on the back of the stiletto and curving up the back of his heel. He finished the outfit with a lacy black choker clasped around his neck, and as soon as he could bear the sight of himself, he turned to look at Andrew.
Andrew remained sitting and held perfectly still, taking in Neil in all his glory. He stared for a long time, his eyes flitting over all of Neil, from tip to tail, but he was too far away to take in the minute details. He slowly unfurled himself from the wall and prowled slowly through the poles toward Neil to get a closer look, staring longer at his eyes and the sparkles in his hair and sliding his gaze down and tracing the lines of ribbons on his calf, the curve of the shoes, the shape of his thighs.
Dan cleared her throat. “Yikes, guys. This is very uncomfortable for me, and I do this for a living.”
Neil, having the spell now broken with Dan’s voice, turned to her and grinned. “Just wait until I start dancing.”
“Ugh.” But Dan was smiling, and she moved to get out of the way and start the stereo as Neil took a few practice lunges and twirled once around his pole. When he noticed Andrew settling to lean against one of the poles in Neil’s vicinity, Neil said, “I don’t think that’s a good spot to be.”
Andrew crossed his arms, leaning further into the pole.
Neil said, “Um, seriously. I might kick you.”
“Okay,” Andrew said. He held Neil’s gaze as if trying to tell him something, but Neil didn’t know what he was trying to say.
“Oh my god, I’m gonna barf,” Dan said suddenly, and Neil turned to her and smiled awkwardly.
“What great work ethic you have. Remind me how much I’m paying you, again?”
“I didn’t realize I should have charged for this private sex show I’m about to witness.”
Neil rolled his eyes at Dan’s dramatics and, after flashing one last warning glance at Andrew for standing too close, gestured for her to start the music.
When Neil immediately dropped into a crouch with his back against the pole, one hand above him holding the pole and the other pushing his legs open and splayed, Andrew realized this was the biggest mistake he’d ever made in his life.
And he now knew that he’d never hate anyone or anything more than he hated Neil Josten.
That night, they lay side-by-side in bed, Andrew on his phone and Neil propping his head against Andrew’s and looking at the screen with him. After Neil had finished his routine, Andrew made him do it again while he recorded it, and then he started snapping pics of Neil, saying nothing at all, either standing close to his face or gesturing for him to pose and standing back or forgetting to take a picture and just staring at his legs.
One time Neil laughed and Andrew took a picture. Dan had left the room a long time ago. After a while, Neil started messing around on the pole, purposefully trying to show off and saying things like hey, hey, Andrew, hey, Andrew, check this out, watch, watch, hey, watch me do this, and then he’d climb up the pole with just his legs or hold himself up with just an arm or spin really fast or spin really slow, and Andrew watched him the whole time, and when it was time to leave, Neil bent over to take the heels off and Andrew leaned down and untied them for Neil himself.
“What a sight this is,” Neil mused, lifting up his one heeled foot and putting it on Andrew’s shoulder, the stiletto digging into his skin. Andrew immediately slid his palms up Neil’s calf before squeezing hard, once. When Andrew met his eyes this time, Neil knew what he was asking. “Maybe later,” Neil said softly, and then Andrew untied his shoe and slipped it off, kissing Neil’s knee before standing up.
And now they were in bed, and Andrew was going through the pictures he took of Neil, applying filters and studying them to see which he liked best, and Neil was offering his opinion, and then before Andrew could put his phone away for the night, Neil grabbed it and opened the camera and snapped a quick selfie, neither of them smiling, but Neil looked very soft, and Andrew looked very warm, and Andrew didn’t delete it even though he was glaring at Neil when he took his phone back.
Nicky was out for the night and Aaron was with his girlfriend and Andrew had gone to the bedroom a few hours ago, so Neil was alone when he heard the first firework go off. He paused his stream and looked out the window and wondered why there were fireworks tonight—was it the Fourth? He didn’t think so—and then when another went off, Neil went in search of Andrew.
He found Andrew sitting in the middle of the bed playing Cribbage on his phone, and Andrew looked up when Neil walked in. Neil pointed outside at the next firework boom, so Andrew dropped his phone and stood up to follow Neil outside. They had to walk far out into the yard, and then the sidewalk, and then the middle of the street, to see the fireworks through the trees.
Neil hadn’t walked out with shoes or socks on, and it didn’t take long for the asphalt to poke into his soles uncomfortably and then chill his skin.
But Andrew was a solid weight beside him, warm and real, and he didn’t mind the pain or the chill, so he looked over to Andrew and smiled, the lights from the blasts coloring his face red and gold and blue. Neil shifted his weight on his feet, trying to alleviate the discomfort, and Andrew, after a pause and a sigh, moved to stand in front of Neil, his back to the fireworks, and wiggled and pushed until Neil’s bare feet were on top of Andrew’s socked ones, standing chest to chest, cheek to cheek.
Smiling still, Neil asked in a quiet voice, “Do you want me to describe them to you?”
Boom. “That one was green.”
Boom. “That one kind of looked like a starburst, and then it rained down. It’s still raining. Still raining...and it’s gone.”
“But the color?”
Boom. Neil brought his arms up and hugged Andrew, swaying them slightly. He said, “That one was blue and looked like Saturn.”
Boom. Andrew placed light hands on Neil’s hips. Neil didn’t say anything. “And that one?” Andrew prodded.
Neil closed his eyes. “It was all of them.”
“All of what?”
Boom. Boom. Boom. “What about those?” Andrew asked. His nose was by Neil’s ear. His breath was warm.
“I don’t know,” Neil whispered. He wondered if Andrew's feet hurt. They listened to the finale, Andrew’s back to the fireworks and Neil’s eyes closed, and then when the night was still and quiet and crackling with the remnants of explosions, Neil said, “It’s nice out here.”
“Will you stay with me? Just a little longer? I don’t want to go back inside yet.”
Andrew dug his finger into Neil's hips. “Fine,” he said.
Neil smiled. “Fine.”