Aaron | Saturday, 9:45pm
it was brutal
you’ll never hear from him again
we’re even now
Andrew | Saturday, 9:48pm
Kevin | Saturday, 11:45pm
how did it go?
Kevin | Saturday, 11:55pm
Kevin | Sunday, 12:05am
neil isn’t answering either
that means it went well
or very very bad
Kevin | Sunday, 12:08 am
I assume good
Kevin | Sunday, 11:12am
ok so not good
he said you were an asshole
which is normal but I really thought he’d like you
no more blind dates
a promise is a promise
Andrew | Sunday, 12:02pm
I am screencapping this
Kevin is easy to spot in the bar. Andrew would recognize the back of that head in any crowd, probably, he’s spent that much of the last few years trying to keep track of him. Andrew himself is much harder to see, but Kevin manages anyway; he looks up from his drink, easy laughter in his face, and locks eyes with Andrew. The laughter fades. Quickly. One of those nights, then.
Andrew starts winding through the tables, but Kevin gets to him about halfway across the bar.
“What are you doing here?” Kevin asks.
“Friday,” Andrew reminds him. “Everyone meets here on Friday.”
“Yeah. That’s why I didn’t expect you to come.”
Kevin looks over his shoulder furtively. Andrew follows his gaze and sees the usual suspects—there’s Allison and Renee and...Matt, with his arm around someone Andrew doesn’t actually recognize. It’s a short guy who fits neatly into Matt’s armpit. There’s not much to see, not from Andrew’s angle, but he catches a flash of copper under the lights and a hint of a profile and almost all of the slope of his back and perfect ass.
“Who’s the guy?” Andrew says.
Kevin looks over his shoulder and then back to Andrew, frowning. “Are you kidding?”
Andrew blinks slowly at Kevin: do I look like I’m kidding?
“That’s...Neil,” Kevin says, frowning harder. “Were you on something that night?”
“Neil,” Andrew repeats. Neil of the set-up. Neil of the blind date. Neil upon whom Andrew had sicced his very straight, very dickish twin.
“Yes,” Kevin says, exasperated. “Neil. To whom you were a complete asshole even though he was doing me a favor.”
“Doing you a favor?”
“You think you’re easy to set up?” Kevin snaps. “You think people are just falling all over themselves to get stared at and ignored?”
“I never asked you to set me up. I recall telling you not to.”
“And I recall you ordering an extra-large pizza and leaving it on your counter for a week while you ate it.”
Andrew raises an eyebrow.
“You’re lonely,” Kevin huffs. “Even if you won’t admit to me. Or yourself, who the fuck knows. So I finally come across a guy who’s decent looking and has the thickest skin I’ve ever seen and for whom politeness is a chore at best and you somehow, somehow manage to piss off even that guy. Who I see all the time, by the way, because he’s on my exy team.”
Decent looking, Andrew thinks, is—as far as he can tell—an incredible understatement.
“I’m going to get a drink,” Andrew says. He leaves Kevin staring after him in well-practiced dismay and winds his way to the bar, shoving in between Allison and Matt—and, incidentally, between Allison and Neil.
All three sets of eyes that turn upon him are unfriendly. Andrew ignores the usual two and focuses on the new set—icy blue, set into a face with a sharp jawline, a lush mouth, and a delicate lacework of thin white scars on his cheek that catch the bar’s golden light. The eyes scan him, catch his gaze, and then drift away dismissively. Well then.
“Hello,” Andrew says pointedly.
“Hey, Andrew,” Matt sighs. “This is Neil. He’s our new striker.”
“We’ve met,” Neil says brusquely.
“In a manner of speaking,” Andrew clarifies.
“Oh no. Did he hit you?” Matt asks Neil. “Throw something at you? Slash your tires?”
Andrew says, “None of the above,” at the exact same moment Neil says, “In a manner of speaking.”
Matt laughs uncomfortably.
Andrew tries to catch Neil’s eyes again, but they don’t stray anywhere near him. They are trained resolutely on the glass in his hand, staring so intently that they almost cross when Neil lifts his glass and seals his mouth around the straw. The smooth plastic presses a dent into Neil’s soft, pink bottom lip, sending a sharp spike of heat down Andrew’s spine.
“Hey, Boyd,” Andrew says. “Go away.”
“Neil and I need to catch up.”
“We really don’t,” Neil says around his straw.
“Um,” Matt says again.
“Go away, Boyd.”
Neil says, “It seems like you guys need a moment alone. Matt, I’ll see you later.” And then, he’s gone, ducking under Matt’s arm and spinning away, quickly lost in the dense press of bodies around them. Andrew watches the people fold around him and then, frustrated, turns back in time to catch a shit-eating grin spreading across Boyd’s face.
“What?” Andrew snaps.
“Oh, he does not like you.”
The delight in Matt’s voice would probably get Andrew acquitted if he stabbed him. Andrew ignores him in favor of catching the bartender’s attention.
“You know,” Matt says cheerfully, “I’ve never seen him react like that to anyone. He keeps to himself a lot, but that was ice cold. You must have really pissed him off. You know. In a manner of speaking.”
Andrew | Friday, 8:14 pm
what did you do to him
Aaron | Friday, 8:22pm
why do you care?
Andrew | Friday, 8:24 pm
Aaron | Friday, 8:25 pm
uh the usual
Andrew | Friday, 8:25 pm
Andrew | Friday, 8:28 pm
argued with everything he said
ranked everyone in the restaurant by hotness
gave him a 2.5 / 10
told him I was being generous bc of whatever sob story was behind the scars on his face
made him pay
told him he might as well suck my dick since I’d come all the way into town
did he come back for more?
look I did everything right
wrong, but right
we’re still even
The games nights Matt and Dan host have never risen above the level of tolerable for Andrew. He likes board games, but he does not like the giddy incompetence that seems to pass for ‘fun socializing’ and gets worse as the night ages and the bottles empty.
Still, Neil will be there. So Andrew goes, fortified with a bottle of his favorite scotch, steel-toed boots, and a positive attitude.
The group this night is Matt, Dan, Allison, Renee, Jeremy, Kevin, Neil, and Andrew. Eight people, four of whom look surprised to see Andrew strolling into the living room through the arched entrance. “Andrew!” Dan says. “You came!”
“It appears that way,” Andrew says.
“This is great,” Matt says. “Now we have an even number. We can play pairs games.”
Allison says, “Okay, but no couples teams. I refuse to lose to the labradoodle and Sporty Spice again.”
Andrew pays only peripheral attention to the conversation, more intent on grabbing a stocky glass and a mostly-full box of Cap’n Crunch cereal from the kitchen. He flat out ignores the dining chair someone has dragged over for him and climbs over the back of the sofa instead, wedging himself shamelessly in between Neil and Jeremy. Jeremy moves, shuffling six or so inches to the right to accommodate the intrusion, but Neil stays stubbornly put. Andrew can feel the flex of Neil’s thigh against his own as he shores up his position, plants his feet in the ground, and readies his muscle to resist any kind of shoving from Andrew’s direction.
“See?” Andrew says, gesturing for Matt’s attention with the box of stolen cereal. “He likes me.”
Andrew can feel Neil’s whole body twitch, they’re pressed that close together. He thinks, for a moment, that Neil is going to relent and move over, but he only sits up straighter and says, “Let’s do this.”
“Great,” Dan says, “Heads Up?”
“Sounds good,” Allison says. “I pick Dan.”
Both Matt and Kevin’s heads start to swivel towards the couch—towards Neil, Andrew is pretty sure, both of them wanting to include the new guy, or maybe Neil is some kind of games beast and they just want to win—so Andrew says, “I pick Neil,” before they’ve settled their painfully obvious eyes-only conversation about which one of them gets the prize. Kevin’s face does something complicated where it passes through shock, disbelief, suspicion, realization, exasperation, and eventually lands on smug satisfaction.
“Jeremy,” Kevin says, announcing his own choice.
“Fools,” Matt crows. “You’ve allowed Renee and I to form the dream team.”
“Renee is the dream,” Allison tells him, “but I suppose you being there does make it a team.”
“Um, fuck,” Matt says, panicked. “That lady shampoo with, like, sage and coriander and shit.”
“Herbal Essences?” Renee tries.
“Yes! That. Okay, the stuff they used to sell at the mall to treat acne? It had, like, the wash and then, uh—the stuff that stings and you put on a cotton ball and then a cream.”
“Yes. Okay, this is an office supply store and it’s named after what you put into a st— fuck, little metal bendy things.”
Renee barely manages to tip the phone forward before the buzzer sounds and the round ends. “Seven points,” she tells Allison, who smugly jots the number down next to her and Dan’s eight.
“You’re up,” Matt says, grinning at Andrew.
Andrew takes the phone Matt hands over to him and looks expectantly at Neil, who’d used the excuse of being on the same team to relocate to the floor on the other side of the coffee table.
“You guess this round,” Neil says with the barest degree of a nod.
The press of the phone to Andrew’s forehead is cool as the countdown music plays and then stops. Neil’s jaw sets, his shoulders straighten, and he gets this intensely focused look on his face that is, quite frankly, unfairly attractive.
Neil says, “Blue spray bottle, makes things stink less.”
Neil nods. Andrew tips the phone forward.
“Candy. Two sticks. Caramel.”
“Twix.” Nod. Tip.
“Mall store, ear piercing, jewelry for tweens.”
“The other one.”
“Claire’s.” Nod. Tip.
“Battery bunny with the drum.”
“Douchebag polos with the dumb embroidered flag.”
“Tommy Hilfiger.” Tip.
“B-list tennis shoes. Not old but…”
“New. New Balance.” Nod. Tip.
“Water, blue bottle, not Aquafina.”
“Dasani?” Nod. Tip.
“Beer, green bottle.”
“Cap’n Crunch.” Tip.
The ominous ten-seconds-left music starts.
“American company, makes cars and appliances.”
“Not Honda, but...”
The countdown music beats closer to zero with an ominous frenzy. Neil says, “Really thick lubricant.”
“Vaseline,” Andrew says quickly, tipping the phone forward. He hears the ding of victory with not even a full second left of their time. He pulls it away from his head to watch as it ticks through their correct answers and doesn’t notice until he looks up to give their score that everyone in the room is staring at him. “Twelve,” he tells Allison. “Kevin, you’re up.”
The smug satisfaction on Kevin’s face has grown into a brilliance that could light a stadium. He leans over to take the phone from Andrew, leans far more than necessary, really, and says quietly, “I knew you two would be good together.”
Andrew tosses the phone into Kevin’s lap, plants his palm on Kevin’s annyong face, and pushes him away.
“How did you get here?” Andrew asks Neil. Technically, he asks Neil and Kevin, since he’s the one who inserted himself into their corner of the kitchen and interrupted some conversation about the racquet weight Kevin wants Neil to start using.
“Uber,” Neil says shortly.
“We came together,” Kevin adds. “But I might, uh.” His eyes dart to the other side of the kitchen, where Jeremy and Renee are deep into something involving a lot of fluid hand movements.
“I’ll take you home,” Andrew tells Neil.
“Oh, will you,” Neil says.
“I have my bike and a spare helmet.”
“Motorcycle,” Kevin says. “Not a BMX.”
“Not necessary,” Neil says dismissively.
Andrew says, “I don’t mind.”
“Not interested, then.”
“What if I let you drive?”
Kevin’s eyes roll towards the ceiling and fix themselves there, his lips moving silently as he tries to read some kind of secrets of the universe that will allow him to endure this conversation.
Neil, for his part, looks at Andrew as though he’s just grown a second, even stupider head. “Great,” he says, slowly. “I’ll take the bike. You take an Uber.”
Andrew doesn’t really do regret. But this is an exception. There’s some tiny spark in Neil that draws Andrew towards him. He wants to fan it, build it to a flame, and warm his hands over it.
Also, Neil is extremely hot and Andrew wants to taste his sweat.
He supposes he could tell Neil that his identical twin subbed in for him (for reasons) and is a heterosexual asshole, but he’s not sure that would get him anywhere. Andrew made this bed and now he has to lie in it. He could have been lying in it with Neil already, if he’d sucked it up and gone on one stupid blind date himself, but it’s too late for the easy way. This will be all uphill. Andrew plants his feet at the base of the slope and leans his weight into the first step of the climb.
Andrew | Wednesday, 10:07 pm
what is Neil’s phone number
Kevin | Wednesday, 10:07pm
why do you care?
Andrew | Wednesday, 10:09 pm
I will break into your apartment and get it off your phone myself
might as well just tell me
Kevin | Wednesday, 10:10 pm
fucked yourself this time didn’t you
this is gloating
I see why you like it so much
Neil is my friend and I won’t betray his trust like that
Andrew | Wednesday, 10:15 pm
Kevin | Wednesday, 10:19 pm
[Shared Contact: Neil Josten]
Andrew | Thursday, 3:04 am
how was your uber?
Andrew | Thursday, 3:33 am
this is Andrew
Neil | Thursday, 7:41 am
Andrew | Thursday, 10:55 am
Neil | Thursday, 10:58 am
why are you texting me
Andrew | Thursday, 10:58 am
Neil | Thursday, 10:59 am
I assume kevin is how
Andrew | Thursday, 10:59 am
he would never betray you like that
Neil | Thursday, 11:00 am
what do you want?
Andrew | Thursday, 11:01 am
an honest review of the quality of your experience with Uber
Neil | Thursday, 11:03 am
too much talking
ask me for my honest review of this conversation
Andrew | Thursday, 11:04 am
did he offer you water? mints? snuff?
Neil | Thursday, 11:06 am
control of the spotify channel
Andrew | Thursday, 11:04 am
what did you pick
Neil | Thursday, 11:06 am
Andrew | Thursday, 11:06 am
too loud to talk over
Neil | Thursday, 11:07 am
seriously what do you want
Andrew | Thursday, 11:08 am
Neil | Thursday, 11:10 am
go get some
Andrew | Thursday, 11:11 am
who would I go with?
no one else can offer me the disdain you do
Neil | Thursday, 11:15 am
don’t sell yourself short
I’m sure you inspire negative feelings in all sorts of people
Andrew | Thursday, 11:16 am
but usually boring
Neil | Thursday, 11:16 am
have you tried being less of a dick?
Andrew | Thursday, 11:17 am
too much work
Neil | Thursday, 11:18 am
Andrew | Thursday, 11:18 am
when is your next practice?
Neil | Thursday, 11:20 am
Andrew | Thursday, 11:21 am
I want to see Kevin yell at you
Neil | Thursday, 11:25 am
Andrew | Thursday, 11:26 am
when is your next practice?
Kevin | Thursday, 11:28 am
tomorrow at 6p
are you coming?
The thing is, Andrew had been really good at exy when he was younger. He’d played in Juvie and then in high school. Something about the way his mind works allows him to be in a strange sort of harmony with the ball; there was never a moment when he didn’t know exactly where it was, what direction it was traveling, its speed, who’d be the next to sweep it up in their nets. One of the few ways his tendency to dissociate allowed him to be paradoxically immersed. He’d dropped it after he graduated, though, not wanting or willing to get swallowed by collegiate athletics and the demands of performative teen spirit. Then he’d met Kevin, belatedly realized this tall asshole was basically obsessed with the sport, and spent the last several years giving Kevin only enough participation to keep him on his toes. It’s been a glorious eleven months since the last time he’d geared up and stepped into the goal. He’d been able to stop 85% of Kevin’s shots then, but this is the longest he’s ever gone. He’s probably rusty.
He watches about fifteen minutes of practice before he accepts the sad reality: he’s going to have to get on the court if he wants Neil’s attention. The stares he’d gotten when he showed up, unbidden, had lingered but dispersed at Kevin’s first sharp whistle. The only one looking at him now is Kevin, who keeps sneaking cunning glances at him.
Resigned to his fate, Andrew catches Kevin’s eyes the next time they flash his way. He nods and braces against his thighs, pushing himself up from the uncomfortable metal bench and stretching out his back.
Kevin has already reached the bottom of the seats, jogging from across the court in the time it takes Andrew to amble down the nine or ten steps.
“We have extra gear your size,” Kevin says. “It’s in the locker room. Trojans duffle.”
“It has been a long time,” Andrew reminds him.
“I know.” Kevin grins almost feverishly. “Let's see if you’ve still got it.”
“And if I do not?”
“Then I’ll be right about two things.”
The gear goes on like familiar battle armour. Andrew realizes, with some chagrin, that he’s missed it—the feel of the straps tight against his skin, the exoskeleton of his chest plate, the way the helmet frames the world. He stares at himself in the mirror for a minute, cataloguing the way it changes the shape of him. It changes the way he holds himself. His fingers tighten on his familiar, battered racquet and then loosen. He huffs out one rough breath, tugs the helmet off, tucks it under his arm, and heads out to the court.
And finally gets Neil’s attention.
Kevin says, “Alright, scrimmage. Andrew’s going to man our second goal.”
The others, either more familiar with Andrew’s sporadic participation or not familiar enough to give a shit, respond with a range of anticipation and dread. Neil, though. His head snaps over and locks onto Andrew. His eyes narrow and then widen as he takes in Andrew’s equipment.
And then, they narrow again. Andrew’s seen a shadow of this look. Yesterday. During Pictionary.
Deny him, a giddy part of his brain whispers to him. He will love it.
Problem: Neil is too good to shut out of the goal. Give Andrew a month of practice and conditioning and he knows they’d be toe-to-toe, battling over every shot.
Put them on the same team and give them a couple of months to work each other out, and they’d be deadly. Throw Kevin into the mix and you have an unstoppable offence/defense, front line/last line machine. They could plow through the intramural leagues.
Today, right now, Andrew blocks only three of the twelve shots Neil takes on the goal—fewer even than those he denies Kevin. Exy or no exy, Andrew hits the gym regularly. His apartment is a fourth-floor walkup. He’s not in peak shape, but he’s not a potato either. The bigger advantage is in his familiarity with Kevin’s playing style. Andrew knows it like the back of his own hand—when a ball hits Kevin’s net, Andrew could close his eyes and see the play unfold across his eyelids. But Neil is different. Andrew tries over and over to predict what Neil will do when he gets the ball, but he’s wrong every time. He’s wrong and misses a shot. Is wrong and misses another, and then another.
It’s not until the fifth shot hits the plexiglass behind him almost eight feet from where Andrew had predicted it would that Andrew realizes why he can’t anticipate Neil yet. Neil is driven by instinct. Andrew is pretty sure that Neil’s body moves before his brain knows what the plan is. It’s more like dance than it is sport, the way Neil occupies the court. Even his body slams have a sense of flow to them.
Something must be really wrong with him. Now he’s going to have to spend the rest of his life in deep denial about having ever romanticized exy of all fucking things.
Andrew | Friday, 10:27 pm
he barely yelled at all
Neil | Friday, 10:30 pm
seemed to me like you were too busy trying to keep up to be bored
Andrew | Friday, 10:31
Neil | Friday, 10:32 pm
Andrew | Friday, 10:32
should I bother asking when the next practice is?
or are you going to lie again
Neil | Friday, 10:34 pm
Andrew | Friday, 10:34 pm
Neil | Friday, 10:36 pm
you started it
Andrew | Friday, 10:37 pm
Neil | Friday, 10:37 pm
you 🤜🤛 me
Andrew | Friday, 10:39 pm
yes Neil I got it
I was so wrong about you
you are an old soul
Neil | Friday, 10:40 pm
how old is your soul?
Andrew | Friday, 10:41 pm
some days, 3 months
other days, 300 years
Neil | Friday, 10:41 pm
Andrew | Friday, 10:43 pm
ah what asshole
Neil | Friday, 10:43 pm
Andrew | Friday, 10:48 pm
bachelor reruns on tv
make fun of straight people with me
Neil | Friday, 10:49 pm
just tried to imagine a gay bachelor
not sure if horrified or intrigued
Andrew | Friday, 10:49 pm
vodka sodas for everyone
poppers instead of roses
instead of families you meet each other’s straight friends
Neil | Friday, 10:49 pm
. . .
Andrew | Saturday, 12:35 am
helicopter number 3
$50 says she pushes him out of it
Neil | Saturday, 12:36 am
this is a train wreck
this is the second worst date I’ve ever seen
obviously it can’t top ours
but it’s trying
Andrew stares at the racks of protein bars with bleary eyes. He’s closer to the sunrise than he is the sunset, but it’s still a couple of hours away. Too early, certainly, to be contemplating preparing his own breakfast. CrossFit gyms pay reasonably well, but it only barely makes up for dealing with these fanatics at ass o’clock in the morning. The protein bar idea had seemed good in the car, but now that he’s in the supermarket with all of the wrappers jostling for his attention, his indecisiveness is stretching into that theoretically saved time.
Dubiously, Andrew reaches for a shiny Cookies & Cream bar.
“Not that one,” a voice says.
It’s familiar, but it still surprises Andrew when he turns and sees Neil standing there in tiny running shorts and a hoodie at least two sizes too big. He blinks. Mirage? Hallucination? Maybe he’s actually still asleep and this is a dream.
“It’s waxy,” Neil says. “It coats your mouth for hours.”
He doesn’t look nearly as fucked by the hour as Andrew feels. His weight is settled easily on his feet. His left hand is jammed in his hoodie pocket, his right down by his side with a basket dangling loosely from two of his fingers. He has no fucking right to look this good at five-something on a Wednesday morning.
“Are any of them good?” Andrew asks. His voice is rougher than he’d known it would be, sandblasted by exhaustion and hours of disuse.
Neil’s eyebrows do something Andrew memorizes to figure out later, once his brain is working. His eyes dart away from Andrew and towards the racks. “Um,” he says. “Yeah, so, this one—” he grabs something in a papery wrapper and offers it to Andrew. “Nuts, fruits, chocolate, grains. It should hold you for a few hours.”
Their fingers brush when Andrew takes the offered bar. Neil’s are warm from their recent swaddling in his hoodie. When they linger, Andrew indulges in one stroke of his index finger over Neil’s knuckles.
Neil pulls his hand away and clears his throat. “You’re up early.”
“Work,” Andrew says. “CrossFit people are insane.”
“You’re up at five in the morning to do CrossFit.”
“Doesn’t that make you CrossFit people?”
Andrew points at Neil sternly with the protein bar. “You shut that mouth or I’ll shut it for you.”
He maybe imagines the slight flush that rises up Neil’s neck. The lighting is bad. His eyes aren’t awake yet. Neil makes a vague noise in the back of his throat and then blatantly changes the subject. “Why are you here?”
“I thought we had already covered that.”
“No, I mean, at this store.”
“I usually come here.”
“Because it is close to my house,” Andrew says slowly. “Do you know something about this place that I do not?”
“No,” Neil says, frowning. “You said you’d come all the way out here.”
“That night,” Neil says with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“Angelos,” Neil says. His eyebrows draw together. His voice gets chillier, sharper. “Actually, what you said is that I should at least suck your dick since you’d had to drive all the way out here.”
Angelos. It’s less than ten minutes from Andrew’s apartment. It’s forty-five from Aaron’s, though. Andrew closes his eyes very tightly and counts one-thousands until he gets to three.
“I am sorry about that,” Andrew says stiffly. “That isn’t—wasn’t—okay.”
“Yeah,” Neil says. “Did you move or something?”
“Look at the time,” Andrew says, raising his bare wrist. “I’d better get going or I’ll miss all the good CrossFit.”
He leaves a confused Neil chewing his bottom lip in the middle of the aisle.
Andrew | Friday, 6:02 pm
call me mean names
Neil | Friday, 6:04 pm
what kind of mean names?
Andrew | Friday, 6:05 pm
well if you’re taking requests
Neil | Friday, 6:12 pm
Andrew | Friday, 6:12 pm
what kind of dinner could be better than a free pass to talk shit to me?
Neil | Friday, 6:15 pm
do you know kev’s friend jean?
Andrew | Friday, 6:16 pm
Neil | Friday, 6:16 pm
dinner with jean
Andrew | Friday, 6:23 pm
is he taking you to a french restaurant
to impress you with his french
Neil | Friday, 6:25 pm
I speak french
I wouldn’t be impressed
Andrew | Friday, 6:30 pm
of course you do
Andrew | Friday, 10:09 pm
Andrew | Saturday, 1:42 am
Neil | Saturday, 1:43 am
go to sleep dumbass
Andrew | Saturday, 1:43 am
how was your ~date?
Neil | Saturday, 1:46 am
why do you care?
Andrew | Saturday, 1:48 am
Neil | Saturday, 1:48 am
Andrew | Saturday, 1:49 am
Neil | Saturday, 1:49 am
you wouldn’t give him poppers?
Andrew | Saturday, 1:55 am
no poppers for jean
Neil | Saturday, 2:00 am
Andrew | Saturday, 2:00 am
[Incoming call: NJ 🔥🍑🖕🏻🤬]
“I don’t understand,” Neil’s phone voice says.
“What do you not understand?”
“You, asshole. Why are you being like this?”
“Uh. Friendly? Interested? Not repulsed by me? I don’t get it.”
Andrew brings a hand up to cover his eyes. He squeezes his temples, then drags his palm slowly down the rest of his face. Evenly, he says, “I contain multitudes.”
“Multitudes,” Neil says in the flattest voice Andrew has ever heard.
“Yep. I am extremely complicated.”
“What did Kevin say about me?”
“After the horrible hour and a half we spent together.”
“He didn’t say anything.”
“Right,” Neil drawls. “You just had a dramatic change of heart for no reason.”
“Would you believe me if I said I had multiple personalities?”
“I can say I—was not really present. In the moment.”
“Mindfulness,” Neil says flatly. “Your defense is that you didn’t do enough woo-hoo meditation before you showed up for dinner.”
“If you say in a manner of speaking I will find you and microwave everything you love.”
“Yeah. Shit explodes in microwaves.”
Andrew closes his eyes again, this time against a powerful wave of affection. He keeps them closed for courage and says, “I like you.”
“The bar,” Andrew says. “When I really got a sense of you.”
“Bloody hell,” Neil huffs. “We spend an hour and a half staring at each other over a table and you are revolted by me, but ninety seconds in a bar wins you over?”
“Multitudes?” Andrew offers.
“Were you possessed?” Neil asks. “Did a demon take over your body? Did someone strap a bomb to someone you love and threaten to blow them into pieces if you were anything other than awful to me?”
“The demon,” Andrew says thoughtfully, “might be the closest thing to the truth I can give you.”
“You could give me the truth-truth.”
He could. He doesn’t want to. Neil’s ire is one thing—his disgust is something else. When he does eventually have to tell him, he at least wants to be looking Neil in the face and be close enough that he can grab ahold and not let Neil leave until he’s said everything he has to say.
Slowly, Andrew says, “I can give you other truths.”
“What does that even mean?”
“I learned to play exy in juvie.”
The silence at the other end of the line still has a sound. A rustling, staticky noise that could be Neil moving, or distortion on the line, or Andrew’s own heartbeat screaming at him. Then, a long exhale. “Okay,” Neil says. “This time.”
Renee’s birthday party starts Friday at seven and promises to run well into the next morning. Andrew rides his motorcycle the twenty or so minutes over. Kevin, Neil, and Jean all show up together, Kevin and Jean book-ending Neil with their soaring heights. Andrew watches Neil’s eyes skim the crowd, flitting easily over each person until they finally connect with Andrew’s.
He’s out of his usual baggy clothes and into something that actually fits him. Andrew knows the lines of him from the couple of practices he’s attended. From watching Neil peel his gear away from his sweaty, clinging shirt. Without the padding and the rigid plates, in skinny jeans and with the close-cut lines of the lavender shirt that forms to the muscles in his arms and back when he shrugs out of his bomber jacket, Neil feels closer. More touchable. Andrew desperately wants to touch him.
He takes another sip of whiskey about it and keeps his distance. If he’s right about the subtle shifts in the last week of texting, a couple of phone calls, and one conversation in the parking lot outside of the practice stadium that he thinks could have lasted for hours if it hadn’t been cut short by Matt’s enthusiasm for post-practice beers, then Neil will migrate to Andrew at some point.
And if he doesn’t, if he’s still too wary, then Andrew will go to him.
In the meantime, Andrew follows Neil with his eyes as he moves around the groups and clusters of furniture, as aware of him as he is of the ball on the court. He catalogues the few casual touches Jean smoothes over his arms and back, catalogues even more closely Neil’s general lack of response to them.
Andrew isn’t worried about Jean. Jean isn’t right for Neil. And anyway, Neil’s eyes find him over and over and over again. At some invisible breaking point, Neil turns back to Jean, Allison, and Kevin, excuses himself, and ducks into the kitchen. He must take some circuitous route out, because Andrew doesn’t spot him again until he’s only a few feet away. He’s tucked both of the glasses in his hands close to his chest for safety, hugging them out of the way of the occasional outflung arm or tipsy step backwards in his path.
“What is this?” Andrew asks, taking the glass Neil hands him.
“Mostly drain cleaner. A shot of bleach. And a little bit of rat poison, for the flavor.”
Andrew doesn’t fight the pull at the corner of his mouth. Drily, he says, “Cheers,” and tips his glass towards Neil before taking a sip.
“Vodka soda?” he asks.
“You know what this means,” Andrew mocks lightly. “You want to keep me for the next round.”
“The producers made me do it.”
“Uh huh. Does Jean think you’re here with him?”
Neil blinks. “What?”
“Has he figured out that you’re not into him?”
Neil huffs a laugh against the rim of his own glass. “I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”
“Well,” Andrew says, laying one hand flat on his chest, “I have to make sure you’re here for the right reasons.”
“A lot of Bachelor humor from you tonight,” Neil observes. “Interesting.”
“I am reminding you of the good times,” Andrew says solemnly.
“Sure,” Neil snorts. “Listen, I—”
Whatever his next words are, they’re drowned out by a commotion of some sort at the front door. Neil’s mouth closes mid-word as he turns to see the cause of the ecstatic squealing echoing through the room. It’s Allison, mostly, already buzzed, throwing her arms around a woman with short, wavy dark hair. The woman laughs and hugs her back and Andrew realizes, suddenly—both horrified and incredibly fucking amused—who it is.
“Katelyn!” Renee calls from across the kitchen. “You made it!”
Where Katelyn goes, Aaron follows.
Andrew spots him first, he thinks, because he knows what he’s looking for--the blond head that takes Katelyn’s coat and slips it onto a hanger. Neil is only watching with one eye, his attention divided between the commotion and whatever it was he was going to say to Andrew. But then, Aaron turns to face them full-on and Neil inhales and takes an actual half-step backwards. Their eyes catch and hold, Aaron’s widening as Neil’s narrow. Aaron breaks first and looks away.
Andrew knew he would.
Neil turns back to Andrew, astonishment blooming all over his face, from the parting of his lips to the shape of his eyebrows to the gleam in his eyes.
“You were saying?” Andrew prompts.
“You motherfucker,” Neil breathes.
Andrew takes another sip of his vodka soda and lifts his eyebrows inquisitively, humming “Hmm?” around the rim of the glass.
“You. Mother. Fucker.”
“You’re a little impressed.”
“Yes. I can tell because you look turned on.”
“You…” Neil says. He huffs to a stop, takes a deep breath, and starts again. “You are so fucking lucky that I think this is hilarious.”
“Dinner at Angelos again?” Andrew offers. “Or will you have traumatic flashbacks?”
Neil laughs, loud and bright, roughened by his disbelief. His throat works. His eyes burn. Andrew gives in—he reaches out and curves his hand around Neil’s waist with a hummingbird’s delicacy. Neil leans into it, filling Andrew’s palm with skin and his heart with helium.
Andrew has never been smoother than he is when he tugs Neil closer; he comes easily, relaxes into the splay of Andrew’s hand on his lower back, and shoots another glance at Aaron. “I hope you know that I will make him pay for that.”
“I know,” Andrew says. “It’s hot.”
Two vodka-sodas later, Andrew pulls Neil around the corner of Renee’s apartment building and crowds him up against the rough, terracotta wall.
“Wait,” Neil says, even as his arms drape over Andrew’s shoulders. “Shouldn’t Aaron kiss me first? Do you want to go get him?”
Andrew shuts him up with a kiss, something that starts soft and capsizes under the wave of desire that crashes over Andrew when Neil opens to him, at the taste of the slick, silky skin of his parted lips, at the low sound Neil makes when Andrew presses Neil’s shoulders harder into the wall and slides his hands into Neil’s back pockets to pull him closer.
“Andrew,” Neil mumbles into Andrew’s next full breath. Andrew kisses the side of his mouth, his chin, the gentle slope of his cheek. He’s almost migrated back Neil’s mouth when Neil mumbles his name again.
“Do I still get to drive the motorcycle?”