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Fix Me In 45

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Zach hates his life sometimes.

It’s almost eleven thirty, and he has no desire to leave the warmth and relative seclusion of his bed. His dog Tiger is cuddled up against his side; Zach has been having an impromptu photo shoot with him since he woke up half an hour ago. The smell of pancakes wafts under Zach’s door, making the growling of his stomach hard to overlook. It’s his mom’s way of trying to drag him out of bed before noon. Zach hates to admit it, but his mom definitely knows how to manipulate him.

The hardwood floor is cold against his feet as he creeps into the kitchen. It’s a dreary Monday morning, Zach’s least favorite day and time rolled into one. That alone justifies Zach’s bad mood, he thinks.

“Morning, sweetie,” his mom chirps from her position at the stove. Zach can hear the false cheer seeping out of her voice. He tries not to let it bother him.

His mom sets a plate of pancakes in front of him and a few minutes later a steaming cup of coffee as well. She is too good to him, Zach thinks, not for the first time. It almost makes him feel guilty for what he’s about to ask.

“So mom…” he begins as he douses his pancakes in maple syrup. Jill sits across the table from him with her own cup of coffee. “Do you think I can maybe skip my appointment today? Please?” His heart sinks as soon as meets her eyes; the look on her face says she’s in no mood for bullshit.

“Zachary, you have to go. It’s good for you. Julie thinks you’re making good progress.” Zach rolls his eyes as he crams his mouth full of pancake. Progress isn’t the word he’d use, but Julie can put a positive spin on anything.

Zach’s been seeing his therapist, Julie Chen, for about two months now. Zach had managed to weasel his way out of two appointments thus far. He has a sneaking suspicion that Julie had caught on and informed his mother of his tendency to play on her sympathies. Damn her observational skills.

“Fine,” Zach grumbles with his mouth full. He will go, but he doesn’t have to like it.

“You better hurry up and eat, we have to leave in 30,” his mom tells him. Zach takes as long to eat as he possibly can just to spite her. He ends up having to chug his coffee and forgo a shower, but that’s okay with him. It’s not like he’s trying to impress anyone.

Zach sits sullenly in the passenger seat the whole ride to therapy, fiddling with the radio and switching the station so much that his mom slaps his hand away. It’s easy to feel like a moody teenager these days, even though he is a 24 year old man. He lives with his parents and his mom still drives him everywhere. The therapy thing only adds to his feeling of inferiority.

“Have fun, sweetie! See you in an hour,” Jill calls as she peels away. He drags his feet all the way to the waiting room.

Zach puts his earbuds in and turns the volume up on his iPod, bouncing around in an uncomfortably plush waiting room chair. The receptionist, Gaby, keeps shooting him dirty looks but Zach is used to those by now. It’s not his fault that his earbuds block out the annoying squeak of the leather.

Julie strides out of her office a few minutes later, accompanied by a man who Zach assumes to be one of her clients. Despite himself, Zach finds his interest piqued. The man is tan, slim, and pretty, Zach notices. Pretty almost like a girl is. He also has bleach blonde, pink tipped hair which might have something to do with it. Zach stares at him, fascinated. He surreptitiously turns the volume down in an attempt to catch the end of their conversation.

“It was so nice meeting you, Frankie,” Julie is saying as she shakes his hand.

“You too. See you next week,” Frankie says, turning to leave and catching Zach’s gaze. Zach doesn’t really bother to pretend he wasn’t staring. He falls back on his signature smirk and jerks his chin up in greeting. Frankie just gives him an odd look before sauntering out the door. It takes Zach a second for his brain to catch up. Oh god, did he accidently just give that guy the sup nod?

“Ready to go back?” Zach starts at the sound of Julie’s voice; he had almost forgotten she was there.

“Uh, sure,” he says distractedly. His feet carry him down the familiar hallway into Julie’s office. Throwing himself into yet another leather chair, Zach kicks his feet up on the coffee table as is his custom. Julie takes a seat behind her immaculate desk as she gives him her usual searching look. Zach raises an eyebrow in challenge.

“Hello Zach,” she greets in that lilting tone, “How was your week?”

“Fine,” Zach bites out. He distracts himself by looking at the framed certificates and the  cliche motivational posters of cute cats and dogs that decorate the walls.

“No one word answers,” Julie reminds him. “Have you been getting up in the morning? Do you think the change in meds we gave you has been helping?”

Something about her voice irritates the shit out of Zach. He’s not in the mood to talk right now. Not about this anyway. 

“Who was that guy?” Zach asks instead, ignoring her questions. The weird thing is he doesn’t think this is a distraction tactic so much as it is genuine curiosity.

“He’s just another client. I’m not legally allowed to talk about him with you. You know that.”

The answer only makes him more annoyed, as do the squeaks that result from his constant fidgeting. “It’s not like I was asking for his life story. Jeez. Just curious.” Zach rolls his eyes. What can he say; authority figures bring out the best in him.

The minutes of the session slowly tick by.  Zach gives as many non-answers as possible; even derailing the conversation for a good fifteen minutes by going on a rant about Kellogg’s that he pulls out of his ass. For some reason he finds himself prying for information about that guy Frankie with offhand comments and questions.

“Why do you think you are so fixated on him?” Julie asks as the session nears its end. She always leaves Zach with some ‘deep’ topic to ponder on for the week. It’s weird that she’s choosing this Frankie guy of all things, Zach thinks.

“I’m not fixated. Just curious. Stop making something out of nothing,” Zach says, feeling defensive. Julie just gets an annoying twinkle in her eye.

“Just something to think about. Keep journaling like you have been, and I’ll see you next week. Don’t think you can get away with this forever, Zach. We’re going to have to dig deep eventually.”

Zach’s out of there as quick as she’s finished her sentence. He gives a quick greeting to Julie’s next appointment, ‘Beast Mode Psycho’ (Zach’s nickname for him) and strides outside to where his mom is already waiting with the car. It’s easy enough to tell her the appointment went fine and zone out with his head leaned against the cool glass of the window.

When Zach gets home he makes a beeline for his room and flops down on his bed, nearly suffocating Tiger in the process. He’s too distracted to even apologize properly. Something about Julie’s question had him thrown for a loop.

Because even now he can’t stop thinking about the stranger, Frankie, the prettiest boy he’s ever seen. And he doesn’t know why.

Zach puts his earbuds in and shuffles under the covers. Drowning out the world around him with a rush of sound and a blanketed cocoon makes him feel better, but there’s no way to clean up the mess in his head.

 


 

A week later Zach struts into the waiting room like he owns the place. He’s wearing his lucky shirt and his favorite pink hat, perched precariously on his perfectly styled hair. And he’s actually showered this time. Taking a seat in his usual chair, Zach puts his earbuds in to avoid suspicion. But he doesn’t turn on the music. He listens carefully, waiting for the exact moment when Julie’s office door creaks open.

Even though he’s been thinking about it all week, Zach can’t figure out why he can’t get the Frankie guy out of his mind. All he knows is that he needs to know more about him. Once Zach Rance decides to put his energy into something, he’s bound and determined to see it through. He draws the line at listening at the door though, but only because Gaby would probably castrate him.

Zach perks up when he hears the door and pulls out his phone, pretending to be captivated by an article about Justin Bieber’s new Calvin Klein photo shoot. It actually looks pretty dope, Zach thinks. He makes a mental note to check it out later.

“So when did you say group was again?” Frankie’s distinctive voice wafts from down the hall.

“This Wednesday at 5:15. We have some great people in the group, you’ll fit right in. And I promise not to bully you too much on your first night,” Julie assures. Frankie laughs at that, and Zach feels the corners of his mouth turn up involuntarily. Frankie’s laugh is contagious.

“Sounds great. Bye Julie!” Zach had been planning to keep his eyes glued to his phone but he can’t help but look up when Frankie comes into the waiting room. Frankie works on settling some financial mumbo jumbo with Gaby, giving Zach an opportunity to study him from the back. His lithe body is clad in a super revealing tank top and shorts shorter than anything Zach’s ever seen a man wear. Zach swallows hard.

He tunes back in just as Frankie’s saying “Thanks, you’re a doll.” He watches Frankie leave. Right before he walks out the door, Frankie looks over his shoulder and gives Zach a wink. Zach’s mouth goes dry. Did that really just happen?

“Come on back, Zachary.” Zach responds robotically to Julie’s voice, following her into her office. He has to remember to focus; he’s on a mission here.

“My week was great,” Zach blurts out before Julie has time to ask. She raises a delicate eyebrow. “Hey, listen, I think those group sessions you mentioned a while ago would help me. Like a lot. I’ve been thinking about it.”

Zach detests the knowing grin that spreads across Julie’s face. “You were so adamantly against those at first. What made you change your mind?”

Zach shrugs. “Just curious, I guess.”

Chapter Text

 

Zach shows up on about twenty minutes early for the group session on Wednesday. It seems like it’s been forever since he has cared what his outfit looks like. Something about tonight had made him be extra meticulous about it.

He’s wearing a cheetah print hoodie over a black t shirt and he’s actually wearing jeans for once. Zach maintains that he’s not trying to impress anyone, but the fact remains that this style is a drastic departure from his typical garb of polos and golf shorts.

A disgruntled Gaby informs him that group is downstairs, the first room on the left. Zach didn’t even know this godforsaken place had a downstairs. He descends them slowly, feeling more and more like he’s walking straight into a trap with each step.

The group room is mostly empty save for a circle of chairs. Just like in the movies, Zach thinks. He takes a seat in the chair closest to the door, just in case he needs to make a run for it.

After a few minutes of sitting and scrolling his phone absently, Zach finds himself thinking longingly of the leather chairs upstairs. He looks up sharply when he hears someone approaching.

“Howdy, partner,” Beast Mode Psycho greets, sitting down next to him. Awesome. “Fancy meetin’ you here.” For some reason Zach had failed to realize that going to group meant having to interact with clients other than Frankie. Mentally berating himself for not thinking things through (for about the thousandth time), Zach reaches to accept the other man’s proffered handshake.

“Caleb, right?” Zach asks.

Caleb nods. “Better known as Beast Mode Cowboy. But that is my God given name.” Zach barely refrains from rolling his eyes. It’s going to be a long night. “And you are?”

“Zach,” he reminds him. “How many people are in this group usually?” He tries his best to keep the fear from showing in his tone. Luckily, Caleb seems to be oblivious as they come.

“Eh, anywhere from six to ten, on a good night.”

“And we’re all Julie’s clients?”

“Affirmative. Old girl must have her hands full with all of us crazies,” Caleb chuckles. “Oh shit, Amber’s here!.”  He hurriedly shucks off his jacket to reveal bulging biceps that even Zach grudgingly finds impressive. “Just follow my lead, okay?”

A second later a model looking girl struts into the room, choosing a seat on the opposite side. Caleb stages a loud conversation with Zach about the gym and how many reps and how much he’s been bench pressing lately. Zach tries not to laugh at how obvious Caleb’s being while Amber applies lip gloss, looking supremely unconcerned.

The rest of the fruit loops, as Zach has decided to christen them, filter in over the next fifteen minutes. Zach amuses himself by trying to guess why each of them are here. An unpleasant feeling twists in his gut when he realizes they’re probably doing the same thing to him.

Of course, Frankie isn’t there yet. Zach wonders if the bad karma has finally caught up to him.

Julie walks through the door at precisely 5:15. A hush immediately falls over the group, causing her to smile in a self-satisfied way that has Zach mentally banging his head against the wall.

“Hello, everyone,” she says. “Hi Julie!” echoes throughout the room. Zach blanches. Did they travel back in time to kindergarten?

Sometimes Zach thinks Julie is secretly a robot. A beautiful, empathetic, no-nonsense robot. Hey, it would explain a lot.

Seating herself at the front of the room, Julie beams like they should consider themselves lucky to be there or some such ridiculous thing. “We have a new client with us today,” Julie informs them, gesturing to Zach. He can suddenly feel every one of their eyes on him. As much as he enjoys being the center of attention, Zach sure as hell isn’t enjoying this.

In an absurd, Saved By The Bell-esque moment, the door bursts open to reveal an out of breath Frankie. He looks good, simply put, and gives off a distinct aroma of hairspray and some unnamed perfume that Zach wants to bottle up and take home with him. Where the fuck did that come from? Zach mentally and physically shakes himself. Get it together, Rance.

“Sorry I’m late,” Frankie huffs out as he sits down in the last vacant chair. “I would explain but I think you’d rather not know.”

Zach is grateful that everyone seems to have lost interest in him completely and have now taken to gawking at Frankie and his sparkly skinny jeans. A trail of glitter that follows Frankie’s path across the room glistens gaudily on the otherwise hideous carpet.

“No problem, Frankie. You’re just in time. Let’s go around and introduce ourselves,” Julie says, “Three things are required. Your name, why you’re here, and what you get out of coming to group. Caleb, can you start us off?”

“Sure thing, Miss Julie.” Caleb nods at Zach and Frankie in turn. “Welcome. I’m Caleb, known as Beast Mode Cowboy around these parts. I’m here because I want to learn how to be happy without a woman.” Caleb’s eyes flicker to Amber who seems suddenly fascinated by the glittery carpet.

“And?” Julie prompts, giving Caleb a look.

“And, I got a restraining order from my ex. Might’ve violated it a time or two.” Caleb shrugged his muscled shoulders as if to say, “what can you do.” Zach blinks. Apparently the  “Beast Mode Psycho” nickname wasn’t far from the mark. “Group is great cause I get to hang out with my peeps here.” No one looks too pleased to be considered one of Caleb’s peeps. Zach can understand why. The guy is a lot to take in.

It takes Zach a few seconds to realize everyone is staring at him again. Oh fuck, Zach thinks. He didn’t sign up for this shit. Well, technically he did but that was neither here nor there.

“Oh. Uh, I’m Zach. Rance. Shit you probably didn’t need to know that,” Zach rambles. He chances a glance at Frankie, who appears to be biting back a smile. Looking at Frankie was a big mistake. Zach feels his cheeks heating up.

“Haha..uh, is it hot in here or is it just me?” he jokes, tugging at his collar.

 Frankie full on giggles at that and Zach’s confidence level rises exponentially. Regrettably, this also activates his frat boy persona.

“I’m 24, big time gators fan, and I love dogs.” Zach pauses for a second as he realizes he sounds like he’s reading his E-Harmony profile. Not that he has one of those.

“I’m here cause my mom made me. No really. As for what I’ll get out of this…” Zach shrugs. “You tell me.”

He looks to Julie for approval. Her conspiratorial wink tells Zach he doesn’t have to worry about her exposing the real reason for his presence here. In fact, she probably understands the why more than he does.

“My name is Nicole,” the nasally voiced girl next to Zach starts, “and I’m here to work on my anxiety issues. I get my best support from all you guys.” She smiles sweetly. Zach can practically feel a cavity developing.

Zach valiantly attempts to focus as each client introduces themselves, making mental notes so he can nickname them later. He tries to keep his eyes from searching Frankie out too often, but he can’t help himself; it’s almost magnetic.

He learns that Christine is a chronic liar, Cody has daddy issues, Amber has depression, Victoria is a snotty bitch, and Devin has anger problems in addition to a few charges under his belt. Zach vows never to cross the man right then and there.

After what seems like an eon to Zach, Frankie’s turn comes, giving Zach the perfect excuse to, uh, appreciate his appearance. He pretends like he hasn’t been waiting for this the whole time and prays that his traitorous mind won’t call bullshit on him.

“Bitch, I’m Frankie,” is his iconic opening line. Zach’s resulting laugh comes uncomfortably close to a giggle. Frankie grins as the group calms down and even does a mini curtsey in his seat. This guy is hilarious.

“I’m 28, huge Justin Bieber fan, and also love dogs,” he declares in a spot on imitation of Zach’s own frat boy voice. Frankie’s antics have the whole room breaking into giggles. Even Julies seems charmed. “Oh, and I’m single.” Frankie winks at no one in particular. Or at least that’s what Zach tells himself to avoid premature cardiac arrest.

“I’m here because…” Frankie’s voice trails off and for a brief moment his features twist with sadness. It breaks Zach’s heart to see, and he doesn’t even know the guy.

“I’m here because my…to put it vaguely, I’m having situational depression issues,” he finally gets out. Frankie’s normal peppy tone returns a second later.  “I can’t wait to get to know all of you. I’m a people person.”

The smile on his face is bright but Zach can’t help but notice that it doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

 


 

Two hours later,Zach is more than ready to get the fuck out of the satanic hellhole of a group room, and even  more importantly, get his ass out of literally the worst chair he’s ever had the displeasure of sitting in.

 Julie had spent the session routinely prodding the clients into “opening up, so you can begin to heal” which basically meant a bunch of crying, or in Devin’s case, yelling. He had stormed out halfway through group, “a real life rage quit”, as Caleb described it. His exit was followed by a discussion about how much progress Devin had made.

 Zach doesn’t understand this place, and he has a headache.

He doesn’t want to endure Julie’s hard hitting therapeutic bullshit in front of these people. They do seem like good people though, Victoria being the obvious exception. He’s just not sure if he’s ready to lay his life on display like that. To be dissected like some high school laboratory frog.

Luckily for Zach, Julie had kept her promise not to interrogate him or Frankie yet. The one highlight of the night was Frankie himself. He had managed to make Zach laugh more during these two hours than he had all week. Considering the subject matter, this was quite the feat.

“Zach, are you with us?” Zach jerks out of his thoughts back to the present.

He nods vehemently. “Yeah sorry, just thinking. What’s up?”

“As I was just saying, you and Frankie had an excellent first group session. And yes, you’re all free to go.”

Zach nearly cries with relief; he’d been concerned that they were trapped in some sort of time warp. Resisting the urge to jump up and down, Zach books it out the door, up the stairs, and into the warm Florida night.

“Yessss,” he shouts. He turns around when he hears Frankie’s adorable giggle behind him.

“You really don’t like therapy, do you,” Frankie says, more of a statement than a question.

Zach shrugs. “Like, it’s not really my thing. But, who knows, I could learn to like it.” Zach realizes too late that he had been raking his eyes up Frankie’s body during that last sentence. All this therapy must be getting to his head.

Zach isn’t sure if Frankie noticed, but he finds himself grateful that the dim light of the sunset might help disguise his embarrassment.

“Are you really from Florida?” Zach asks on a whim. “No offense, but you don’t look… the part.” Frankie is about to answer when two loud honks interrupt him. Zach gets this weird urge to apologize. For a fucking car.

“Is that you?” Frankie asks, looking down the street. Sure enough, Jill is waving to him cheerily from the car. Annoyingly punctual as always.

“Ugh, yeah that’s my mom. I gotta go. It was good meeting you, Frankie.”

“You too, Zach.” Frankie pulls Zach into a hug before he knows what’s happening. It’s a fucking amazing hug and Zach doesn’t even try to pretend it isn’t. Maybe he is making progress after all.

“See you Monday!” Frankie calls as Zach gets in the car. Zach shuts the door before he can really process Frankie’s parting words.

“How was group Zachary?” his mom asks instantly.

“Later mom, I’m thinking,” Zach mutters. Frankie must have remembered him from the glances they shared in the waiting room. For a moment Zach allows himself to imagine an alternate reality where Frankie has a random fixation on Zach to match his own. Maybe they’re best friends. Partners in crime. Some kind of…team. Ride or die.

It’s just a stupid daydream though.

Just one self-deprecating thought is all it takes to set him off. Zach feels himself slipping back into the now familiar icy pool of depression and resentment. Sighing heavily, Zach idly watches the pink clouds roll by through the smudged glass of the car window.

“It’s a fever dream,” he tells himself. Someone like Frankie wouldn’t want to get close to a sad sack mama’s boy, already washed up before he’s 25. The sooner he accepts that the happier he’ll be.

Jill, sensing her son’s inner turmoil, turns up the radio to give him a chance to have the illusion of time to  himself.

It’s Zach’s favorite song playing on the radio and he’s too caught up in his own head to notice.

Zach falls asleep with a cloudy head and a pessimistic heart, and wakes in the middle of the night with glitter on his pillow, glinting softly in the light of the moon.

Chapter Text

 

Zach wakes up the next morning with dry throat and Tiger’s ass in his face. Grumbling about their lack of boundaries (which he not-so-secretly loves), he pulls on a pair of sweatpants from his closet (aka the floor) and moseys his way into the kitchen.

Jill seems happy and surprised to see him. “Zach!” she exclaims, “it’s 9:30 and you’re already out of bed! I didn’t even have to bribe you.” Zach looks on, mildly horrified. His mom is typing madly on her phone; he wouldn’t put it past her to make a Facebook status about this

 Zach fishes the honey nut cheerios box out of the cupboard as he groans internally. He really should have thought to check his phone before emerging from his lair. Now his mom will ramble on for weeks about how proud she is of Zach and how much god damn progress he’s making. The thought sickens him.

“We never got to talk about group last night,” Jill buzzes, bustling around the kitchen to grab mugs of coffee for them both. Zach sighs loudly. He’s had enough of today already.

It was nice; we talked about our feelings, blah blah blah. There you go, Sparknotes version.”

Jill narrows her eyes. “Don’t take that tone with me Zachary Rance. I’ve been worried sick about you for months. Just tell me one thing about group and I’ll call off the onslaught.”

 Zach tears his eyes from his soggy cereal. “Okay, deal,” he agrees.

Great .Now he has to think of something to say. The perfect anecdote. Oh, who is he even trying to fool.

As his character dictates, Zach blurts out the first thing that comes into his head. And who dominates his thoughts these days?

“I met this guy Frankie who…” Zach trails off. What can he say about Frankie without sounding, well, gay? Because he’s not. He guesses ‘Frankie smells good’ and ‘Frankie gives oddly sensual hugs’ are both out of the question.

“And?” his mom prompts.

“And nothing. He’s a cool guy, that’s all.” Zach shrugs again. He’s going to strain his shoulder if he keeps this up

Jill looks a little disappointed but recovers quickly. “That’s great sweetie. It’ll be good for you to make new friends since you never hang out-“

“Yeah, I get it mom. Drop it,” Zach snaps. He hates being rude to Jill, hates the hurt look she can’t seem to conceal. This particular topic is just something he doesn’t want to discuss.

“I’m sorry mom, I love you. I’m gonna go…work on my stuff in my room.” Zach tells her. In reality, he’s going right back to bed. But she doesn’t need to know that. Zach isn’t heartless enough to burst his mother’s bubble twice in the same morning.

He pulls the covers over his head and tries to forget that everything will be the same when he wakes up.

Zach falls in and out of sleep. The alarm he had set earlier chimes annoyingly in his ear ten minutes before noon. Any later and his mom would’ve come to investigate. He drags his hands down his face and groans. Will a day ever come when he won’t utterly dread the mere thought of getting through the day?

He gets dressed in a rush and tries to look like he’s been ready for hours when he meets him mom in the kitchen. Jill glances away from her laptop for a second to raise an eyebrow at his shorts (the pin up girl patterned ones, as they happened to be the only ones clean) but makes no comment.

“Can you do some grocery shopping today? I have work to do,” she says, eyes seemingly surgically attached to the screen. Zach suspects that ‘work’ is code for ‘Facebook and Twitter.’ He’s not sure why his mom got a Twitter but it disturbs him. As long as he gets to take the car though, he’s not going to complain.

“There’s a list on the counter.” Jill gestures vaguely with her head to a piece of pink stationary which Zach stuffs in his pocket.

“Okay, be right back.” Zach snatches the keys off the key rack and heads out the door, his mood bolstered slightly by this tantalizing taste of freedom.


 

Blank Space is Zach’s jam. He blasts it in the car, feeling like a basic white girl. He also sings along. Badly.

“Boys only want love if it’s torture!” Zach wails, tapping the wheel violently, “don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn yaaaaaa.” He turns sharply onto the street where Walmart is and happens to glance at someone jogging on the side of the road. Zach does a double take. It’s Frankie.

It’s a no brainer for Zach to honk and pull over in front of the jogging man, rolling down the windows and waiting for Frankie to catch up. He also turns the radio down. No one needs to know what he listens to in the privacy of his mother’s car.

 A second later, Frankie trots up to the passenger side and continues to jog in place.

“Hey Zach!” he all but coos, looking pleasantly surprised at who the driver is.  “Fancy meeting you here!.” He’s wearing, well, he’s not wearing much, Zach notices with a jolt. Frankie’s abs glisten in the hot Florida sun and the gym shorts he’s wearing leave little to the imagination.  

“Uh…” Zach stutters.

“Just doing my workout routine,” Frankie explains when Zach continues to sit there dumbstruck.

“Try not to get sunburned,” Zach says stupidly. Frankie’s tan is perfect. Zach doesn’t wonder offhandedly if Frankie tans naked; that would just be weird. Frankie laughs. How the fuck he can talk and laugh while jogging is beyond Zach.

“As entertaining as this is, you should probably move out of the way.” Zach glances over his shoulder to see a line of cars forming behind them, one of them choosing that precise moment to honk.

“Oh fuck, you’re right. Uh, just wanted to say hi. Hi and bye!” He takes off, watching Frankie wave in the rearview. Zach watches him for so long he almost misses the turn into the parking lot. No wonder his mom hardly lets him use the car.

For some reason, Zach feels an adrenaline coursing through him. He tells himself it’s because of his own reckless driving and because he nearly got murdered by a hoard of angry Wal-Mart shoppers.

Zach meanders through the store, not paying enough attention to what he’s grabbing off the shelves. His mom will probably yell at him for getting the wrong brand but he can’t bring himself to care. Frankie keeps flashing through his head in his jogging get-up, making makes Zach wish Frankie worked out at a gym instead.

When he gets home, Zach spends a few hours playing video games. He wastes the rest of the day goofing off with his brother and his dog. It’s not a bad day. He doesn’t have the urge to do anything productive but at least he manages to wait until ten before retiring to his lair for the night.

It’s been awhile since Zach has worked out so he decides to do some sit-ups and pushups. Exercise is supposed to give you endorphins, right? Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t have to go to therapy twice a week. They just don’t.

Zach lies down and plays with his phone for a while. He fusses with his pillows before closing his eyes and relaxing. Zach loves sleep. When he’s asleep he doesn’t have to think about anything. Sleep is his one safe haven these days.


 

It’s pitch black in his room. Zach shudders as he steadies himself, lining himself to sink into the sweat slick body beneath him.

It’s been so long since he’s been this close with someone.

He can’t help the deep groan that falls from his lips as he pushes himself into her, trying to go as slow as he tenderly kisses her neck. Hands grip his ass and force him deeper without warning. “Fuck,” Zach curses. She’s so fucking tight around him and she fucking wants it rough.

His hands find narrow hips as he plunges in again and again, deeper and faster each time as fingers thread through and tug at his hair. Breathy gasps and moans tell him he’s doing something right.

After forever and no time at all Zach dimly recognizes the telltale signs. He’s thrusting erratically, breath ragged as the pleasure threatens to spill over the edge. “I’m close,” Zach whimpers, kissing her sloppily. But something is different. Something that has to be stubble scratches at Zach’s jaw and he finally hears a clear voice.

“Come on, Zach, baby, come with me,” in a bitten off moan. Zach pulls back from the kiss but can’t stop seeking out the heat and pressure of the other’s body. A ray of moonlight falls on the bed; Zach is definitely fucking a man. And it’s Frankie.

He looks completely wrecked; sex hair, swollen mouth, legs spread wide open with for Zach as his hand works over his cock. Zach can’t even think; Frankie’s body spams around  him, his face contorting with his orgasm. Zach follows Frankie’s command as he comes hard inside of him, filling him up, and his mind going blissfully blank.


 

It’s still dark when Zach jolts awake in a panic. What the fuck was that?  He’s covered in sweat with a raging hard on, thoughts consumed with how Frankie’s o-face looks. Which he must have imagined, right?

Zach’s breathing heavily just as he had been in the dream, but that’s the only thing that’s the same. He’s alone in his bed and he definitely hasn’t come yet. The urge is uncontrollable, to reach his hand into his boxers and fist his dick roughly. It would only take a few strokes.

He shoves his boxers down and groans quietly when his hand finds his cock, starting right off pumping it hard and fast. For a moment he tries desperately to imagine a skinny blonde girl writhing beneath him but his mind keeps magnetically returning to Frankie. The way he had taken it all and wanted more, the way he said Zach’s name when he was close, how fucked Frankie was for him. Zach comes at the thought; pleasure coursing through his dick as his cum coats his hand and stomach.

It takes a few moments for Zach to come back to himself. The sweat is cooling uncomfortably on his body and he’s starting to feel sticky. Zach is grateful he keeps a box of tissues close to his bed.

 He isn’t even done cleaning himself up when the guilt sets in, starting with his thoughts and spreading throughout his satisfied body like a virus. This has never happened before. He’s never dreamed about fucking boys, never gotten himself off to the thought of one. This doesn’t change anything, Zach tells himself. He’s not gay, not even a little bit.

Zach’s head spins with these thoughts even as he feels himself drifting off to sleep.


 

Friday and Saturday pass in a haze. Zach does his best to avoid thinking about the dream. Actually, he just pretends it never happened and pushes it into the deepest corner of his mind. If he ignores it long enough it will be gone completely.

It’s just something his brain cooked up, he reasons. Everyone has crazy dreams sometimes. They don’t have to mean anything.

Zach is dreading going back to therapy though, even more than usual. How is he supposed to look Frankie in the eye after that?

By the time Sunday night rolls around, Zach is antsy as fuck. He just wants to let loose and forget his troubles. Fuck the coping skills Julie was always going on about, Zach wants to get drunk, dammit.

He scrolls through his contacts to a particular number that he hasn’t used in forever. He tries not to think about why as he presses the call button. After a few rings, he picks up.

“Zach Attack! What’s up my man?”

“Hey Logan,” Zach says, “Let’s get fucking wasted.”

 

Chapter Text

“Moooooooom!” Zach hollers after he gets off the phone.

“I’m right here, Zach, no need to shout.” Jill steps into the hallway with her reading glasses on, looking peeved. Zach probably should be buttering her up rather than irritating her right now. Woops.

“I was just wondering, can I use the car tonight? Please?”

“What for?”

“Just a sleepover at Logan’s,” Zach doesn’t like lying, so he normally just fudges the truth a bit. This is close enough to the truth, he figures. He’s going to Logan’s house and he’s sure he’ll end up passing out at some point.

“Aren’t you a little old for sleepovers?” his mom asks with folded arms.

“Never!” Zach declares. “Uh, it’s just been forever since we’ve bro-ed out or whatever.” He gives her his puppy dog look in desperation, trying to look innocent.

His mom sighs. “I don’t know Zach…You have therapy tomorrow.”

“Pleeeeeeease,” Zach begs, holding the ‘e’ sound so long he annoys even himself. “I’ll get there on time and everything, I promise.”

“Alright fine,” Jill finally relents. “I better not get reports from Julie tomorrow about how you showed up reeking of cheap beer.”

‘Vodka it is then’ Zach’s brain supplies snarkily. “Thanks mom, I love you!” Giving Jill a quick hug, Zach dashes back to his room to throw some shit together in an overnight bag. He doesn’t need much but a change of clothes and a toothbrush so it doesn’t take long.

Zach is so beyond ready to let loose with his bros from his college days. Logan even said he would invite a few smokebombs. Who knows, if Zach plays his cards right, he might even get lucky.

 


 

10 PM finds Zach on Logan’s doorstep wearing the tackiest clothes he could find on such short notice and a cocky expression.

“Brooo!” Logan greets, pulling Zach into a manly one armed bro-hug with some unnecessarily violent back pats involved. It feels like Logan’s trying to burp him or something.

“What’s crackin’ bro? You ready to get turnt up?” Zach crows, instantly slipping back into his frat boy persona. It’s natural for him to put up a front around these guys. It makes him feel like he’s back at Zeta Beta Tau, partying like a rockstar by night and blearily copying off someone else’s homework by day. Sometimes Zach longs for those simpler times.

Zach follows Logan into the house he shares with Erik and Michael, who are already busy playing a practice round of beer pong in the living room.

“Can I get a tight vagina please?” Michael is saying, gesturing for Erik to rearrange the cups. “You call that tight? Now I just feel bad for you, bro.”

That draws an incredulous laugh from Zach and Logan snorts loudly at their antics, clapping Zach on the back yet again. At this rate Zach won’t be surprised if he has a hand shaped bruise there in the morning.

Their house is a typical bachelor pad complete with jarringly patterned couches and a seemingly omnipresent aroma of stale weed mixed with various colognes. Big Sean’s newest song is bumping from a slightly crappy set of speakers next to the flat screen. Several empty beer cans are already beginning to form a pyramid in the corner of the scuffed up hardwood floor.

There aren’t very many people there yet, but Zach knows all too well how parties go. Everyone is bound to show up at once and then there will hardly be any room to stand let alone dance.

Zach’s finds his inner musings interrupted by an unnecessarily loud victory scream from Michael. “In your face dude!” he yells while Erik begrudgingly chugs the remaining cups. “Wanna play teams next?”

“Be my partner?” Logan asks in an annoying sing song voice. Zach shrugs.

“Maybe later dude,” he says. He should’ve known better than to refuse the offer though.

“C’mon, don’t be a faggot,” Logan shoves Zach’s shoulder a little too roughly. “I’ll make you a side drink.”

Zach feels sick at his words but follows Logan into the dingy kitchen anyway. God, his friends are assholes.

The side drink Logan ends up making him is a disgustingly strong rum and coke. Logan makes one for himself as well and gestures for Zach to toast him.

“Drink up, bro,” he advises, “You’ll have way more fun if you just relax! Take a day off from thinking with that tiny brain of yours.” They down the drinks together, Zach absurdly pleased that he can still chug a stiff drink without so much as a change in expression.

The rush from the liquor goes straight to his belly, the familiar pleasant tingling sensation lightening his mood and lowering his inhibitions. “Let’s get this party started, dude!” Zach slaps Logan on the back so hard that he chokes on his own spit and Zach relishes in a private feeling of triumph.

Zach and Logan end up losing the first game but totally dominate in the second. It’s always taken Zach a few drinks to start performing well in any sort of drinking game, and tonight is no exception. He makes shot after shot, even making up a impromptu victory dance when he sinks the last cup.

“Suck on that, bitches,” he boasts, thumping himself on the chest. It makes him feel vaguely like a gorilla. Okay, no more of that.

The doorbell starts ringing off the hook around 10:45 , eventually forcing them to put up a sloppily written sign that reads ‘come the fuck in’ to avoid running to the door every five seconds. Michael busies himself with writing a waiting list for beer pong while Zach plays DJ for a while, blasting everything from Tyga to Childish Gambino.

 Made brave by the alcohol, he unashamedly checks out every hot girl he sees. He approaches a few of them and tries to improve on his flirting skills. Surprisingly, he’s not too discouraged after being rejected three times in a row. His game is just super rusty, that’s all. Or maybe they’re just not drunk enough yet.

When midnight rolls around the house is packed, the guys to girls ratio a little too steep for anyone’s liking. Zach is five beers in and finds himself doing shots of cheap vodka with his bros in the kitchen.

“Let’s drink to the cut that never heals, the wetter it gets, the better it feels!” Logan slurs lewdly, causing a raucous burst of laughter from the males in the room. They clank the shot glasses together and it barely burns at it slides down Zach’s throat.

Zach’s pretty fucking drunk already. And he’s horny, after refusing to touch himself for days.

Stumbling into the living room, Zach joins a group of guys and girls who have transformed the living room into a makeshift dance floor. Skrillex is playing on the stereo system and Zach starts grinding with a girl dressed in a sparkly silver dress. She smirks over her shoulder at him, huge brown eyes and ice blonde hair.

Zach feels so fucking good, like he’s on the top of the world. The thrum of the bass makes him feel invincible; it’s enough to have him wondering why he was so upset in the first place.

After a few minutes of dancing the girl whispers to him that’s she’s going to go outside for a cigarette. Zach feels flushed and sweaty, and like he needs another drink for sure. He runs to the kitchen to throw together a substandard white Russian before returning to the living room, eyes alight with the thrill of conquest, body thrumming with synthetic energy and liquid courage.

 Zach spots a rare empty seat next to a blonde smokebomb with a bitch beer clutched in her manicured hand. She’s pretty hot and her standards look low enough. Zach plops down next to her with as much finesse as he can manage, almost spilling his drink all over her miniskirt.

“Hey, babe,” he says, doing his best not to slur his words, “What’s your name?”

“Kendra,” she says in a sultry voice.

“I’m Zach. I saw you sitting over here, you looked a little lonely.” Zach’s pick-up lines are notoriously pathetic but she must think he’s hot or something because she giggles anyway.

“I was, a little.” She’s humoring him, Zach realizes. He might just have a chance here.

“Soooo whaddya do for a job?” He takes a too big gulp from his white Russian but Kendra is too busy applying lipstick to notice.

“I’m a personal masseuse,” Kendra all but purrs, putting a hand on his thigh. Zach blinks. Holy shit, this might just happen. If it ends up panning out though, he needs to be prepared.

“Wow, that’s like, really sexy.” He notices her drink is almost empty and downs the rest of his white Russian in a single gulp. “Do you want me to get you another one of those?”

“Sure,” she giggles and Zach grabs the bottle from her, rushing out of the living room in search of Logan.

He finds him chatting up a girl who hardly looks old enough to be there. “Dude, help,” he mutters, pulling Logan away. Logan glares at him, his eyes unfocused.

“I was just about to score, Zach, thanks. What the fuck do you want?”

“There’s, uh, a hot girl out there and I think she wants to fuck, dude. She’s like down.”

Logan grins at him and gives him another series of proud back pats. “Fuck yeah dude! Plow that little slut. You can use Erik’s room, it’s not like he’s gonna score tonight.”

Logan presses some condoms into Zach’s hand and wishes him luck, pushing him off with a “go get her, bro! Show her what Zack Attack can do.”

Zach finds himself nervous despite all the alcohol in his system. He downs two more shots of vodka in quick succession for courage, ignoring the stares he gets from lookers on. Then he blunders back into the living room and sits back in the same spot.

“Where were we?” She asks, hand already starting to play with the inseam of his jeans. Zach gulps

“Wanna, uh, go hang out in my friend’s room for a bit?” he asks tentatively, not really in the mood to get a drink thrown in his face. Which isn’t really possible, considering he completely forgot to get her another Smirnoff Ice. She seems to have forgotten too and offers her hand.

“Lead the way, Prince Charming,” she says. Zach can’t believe his luck. He can hardly believe this is real life right now. It’s probably been six months since he’s slept with a girl and now he gets a slam piece like this chick. Fuck, what was her name again? Zach decides to just stick with pet names for the time being.

His brain feels like it’s sloshing around in his skull and he can hear Jay Z reverberating throughout the house as he shuts Erik’s bedroom door. The second he turns around the girl drags him to the bed with surprising strength. With a jolt he realizes she reminds him of the girl he thought he was fucking in the dream the other night.

“Kiss me, Zach, I want you to.” Zach obliges, kissing her sloppily and thinking about how much he doesn’t like foreplay. He’d rather just slide her mini skirt up and fuck her until he finishes if it’s all the same to her.

The last thing he remembers thinking before he blacks out is, “I’m the fucking man. I got this all figured out.”

 


 

Zach groans as he’s involuntarily awoken by an alarm that isn’t his. The cottony, disgusting feeling of his mouth is second only to the obnoxious pounding of his head. 

He opens his eyes blearily to see the girl from last night in front of him, pulling on her miniskirt and giving him a look that he might interpret as disdain. Apparently he hadn’t even managed to take her top off.

Zach can hardly remember anything after he’d taken her into Erik’s room. He has vague recollections of French-tipped finger nails scraping down his back as he pounded into her and her exaggerated moans of pleasure reminiscent of the ones from cheesy pornos.

He had overdone it on the drinking, that much is obvious. At least he had used protection, he reasons. There is a used condom flopped halfway over Erik’s bedside trash can. Gross.

Zach feels around the bed for his phone. He had completely spaced setting an alarm so he could get to therapy on time. Already knowing that he will regret what he sees, Zach punches in the passcode.  11:15. He’s already fifteen minutes late. And there are 6 missed calls. Why the fuck is his phone on silent anyway?

“Gotta go, sweetie,” the girl chirps, apparently having finished getting dressed. “I had, uh, fun. By the way, who’s Frankie? She your ex? You said her name an awful lot last night.” Zach’s cheeks burn; he doesn’t even know how to answer so he just pretends he didn’t hear.

After dropping that bomb, she saunters out the door, leaving him to sulk on Eric’s bed feeling shittier than he has in a long time.

Great, just great. He came to Logan’s to help himself forget his problems and now he has a whole slew of them. Typical. Zach had realized long ago that he thrived on chaos and that he wasn’t satisfied unless his life was a mess. To put it bluntly, Zach is a masochist.

Well, Zach thinks bitterly, at least he got what he wanted.

Zach halfheartedly pulls on his pants and boxers. He picks up his phone, finger hovering over the number for therapy for a few seconds until he finally presses down.

“Hey, this is Zach Rance. Can you tell Julie I’ll be there in like five minutes? Yeah. Thanks.”

Next, he calls his mom.

“Zach Rance!” she screams as soon as she picks up. Zach winces at the volume.

“I know, mom, I know. I promised. I’m sorry, okay? We can talk later, I’m on the way to therapy as we speak.”

Jill calms down enough to wish him good luck with his session, but not before reminding him that he “has a lot of explaining to do.”

Zach sighs heavily as he starts the car.  He’s not sure how much longer he can keep explaining these things away when he doesn’t understand them in the first place.

Chapter Text

Zach drums his fingers nervously on the steering wheel the whole drive to his therapy session. He snorts. Therapy session. More like his impending doom.

Fogginess continues to permeate his mind so he guesses he is still a bit drunk from last night. He wants to blast Taylor Swift to take his mind off things, but his headache can barely tolerate the quiet hum of some innocuous easy listening song playing softly on the radio.

Zach realizes belatedly that he left his overnight bag at Logan’s (god only knows where) so he has no way of making himself look presentable. He doesn’t like what he sees when he checks his reflection in the rearview mirror; bags under his eyes, hair greasy and askew.  He looks kind of dead inside if he’s being honest.

To his credit, he does make a valiant attempt to pull himself together. He finds a grey beanie in the glove box that he jams on his head and douses himself with some cologne he discovers in the center console. Much to his chagrin, he now smells like an alcoholic version of his dad a few years back when he was going through a mid-life crisis. The comparison isn’t too off the mark, Zach figures. It seems like more people in his generation go through a quarter life crisis, though.

Rushing clumsily into the building and through the waiting room, a breathless Zach falls into the chair in Julie’s office. It takes her a few seconds to stop typing on her computer and acknowledge him. A small punishment, he supposes, for his tardiness and less than professional appearance.

“Hey Julie, uh, sorry I’m late,” he says, voice sounding sheepish even to his own ears. “Traffic was-“

“Don’t try to play games with me, Zach.” Julie dramatically turns her swivel chair towards Zach and fixes him with the most piercing stare she’s ever given him. Zach almost feels like he’s going to burst into flames in his seat. He deflates under her gaze and sighs heavily. There’s no sense in arguing with her at this point; even though the thought appeals to him, his muddled brain would likely not cooperate.

“I’m not going to ask about the sordid details of your night. But can you give me a general idea of what happened?”

Zach massages his temples as he speaks, not really wanting to look Julie in the eye right now. “I dunno. I was feeling restless. Just like, stir-crazy, you know? So I called up Logan and we partied. Then I overslept. That’s basically the gist of it.”

“You haven’t spent time with your old college friends in months. What was different about last night?”

Zach groans, messing with the way the beanie sits on head. “I don’t know, okay? I’m impulsive. I’m irrational. I don’t think things through.”

“And you wanted to forget something,” Julie suggests. Zach looks up at that, and he hates the knowing look Julie is giving him, like she can see straight into his soul. He doesn’t like that. Zach’s blood boils to think that this stupid woman assumes she knows more about him than he does.

“I’m not trying to hide anything, ok? What the fuck are you implying? What the fuck is the right answer for this test you’re giving me?” His voice is growing louder by the second, and he gets up to pace back and forth in the tiny office. “Just tell me so I can’t get the fuck out of here. I’m over this.”

Julie just looks at him sadly, completely unfazed by his outburst. “Why haven’t you been hanging out with your old friends? There must be a reason.”

“What does that have to do with anything?!” Zach yells. His head is pounding, his stomach is queasy, and he feels like he’s about to pull his own hair out in frustration.

“Maybe they don’t accept you for who you are.”  That’s the sentence that finally sends Zach over the edge, all the thoughts and feelings that he’s kept locked up inside rushing to the surface like vomit. Word vomit, that is.

“They don’t give a shit about me, okay? They don’t fucking care what I value or what I want to do with my life and they didn’t notice I was depressed. They’re fucking assholes.” Zach doesn’t remember sitting down or putting his head in his hands. He can feel a few tears leaking out of his eyes that he angrily brushes away. “I used to think I wanted to be like them. Hook up with hot smokebombs every night. Fuck around and party and be that frat guy I acted like in college. But that was an act, plain and simple. I don’t know who I am anymore.”

Zach didn’t know that last part was true until it left his mouth.

Julie gives him a few minutes to collect himself, to slow his breathing; he presses the heels of his hands into his eyes to force the tears to stop coming. He feels pathetic for crying over dumb shit like this. It shouldn’t even matter to him.

“I’m glad you realize that, Zach. I think you’ve known it for a long time but you just didn’t want to admit it to yourself. Admitting it out loud is a big step. I think now that you’ve opened up you can finally begin to heal.”

Zach mouths her classic catch phrase along with her and quirks a small smile, some of his good humor returning. He looks up at the clock and is surprised to find that the session is nearly over. Apparently time flies when ranting like a madman about your repressed feelings.

“I’ll let you leave now, so you can go and get cleaned up,” Julie says, looking amused for the first time that day. Zach rubs the back of his head self-consciously.

“Uh, thanks. And sorry for yelling at you,” Zach says awkwardly.

“Happens all the time,” Julie assures him with a smile. “I’ll leave you with this thought for the week; if you don’t like your old friends, maybe you should try associating with different people. People whose company you enjoy. You might learn something about yourself.”

Zach feels like she’s trying to imply something again but he lets it go and shakes Julie’s hand, making his way out of her office. It surprises Zach to see Frankie sitting in his favorite chair; usually his appointment is before Zach’s so he’d thought he’d avoid seeing him today.

The only good thing about that awkward hookup last night is that Zach doesn’t feel weird towards Frankie at all. He guesses his most recent humiliation trumps the previous one somehow.

Frankie looks up from his phone. “Zach!” he exclaims, sounding startled. “Are you okay? No offense babe, but you look like hell. Rough night?” His gaze lingers over Zach’s red rimmed eyes and Zach hopes he can’t tell he’s been crying.

Zach’s cheeks burn as he nods; surprisingly he’s more embarrassed at being called babe by Frankie then by him seeing Zach in this debauched state.

Frankie’s eyebrows draw together like he’s considering something. “Hey, so, I obviously had to reschedule my appointment today so I’m going in there next. But do you maybe want to grab a cup of coffee or something after? My treat.”

“Yeah, that sounds awesome!” Zach blurts without thinking. He hopes he didn’t sound too overly enthusiastic. Frankie just laughs though, like he thinks it’s cute.

“Frankie, are you ready to come back?” Julie’s standing in the doorway of the waiting room, not looking surprised in the slightest to see the two of them talking like old friends.

“Yeah, just one second.” Frankie stands up and draws Zach in for one of his signature hugs, which Zach finds himself melting into. He already feels better than he has all morning.

When Frankie pulls back his nose is wrinkled adorably. “You should really take a shower during my session though. You smell like vodka and you’re way too young for a mid-life crisis.” Frankie follows Julie back to her office but not before throwing a wink over his shoulder. “You can pick me up in an hour!” He hollers.

Not for the first time, Zach wonders what the hell he’s getting himself into.


By the time Zach gets home his mom seems to have forgiven him for the most part. She sits him down at the kitchen table over coffee and a bottle of water that Zach chugs down as if his life depends on it.

She listens intently as he explains that he’s just going through a rough time and is still trying to figure things out. The hug she envelops him in afterwards is bone crushing. He doesn’t mention the part about what Julie would refer to as a “breakthrough” during his session today. The last thing he wants to do is give Jill false hope.

Zach retreats to the bathroom and turns the shower on so hot it’s nearly scalding. He strips off his dirty clothes and steps into the spray, noticing the heat turning his skin pink. The water pressure feels good on his back, working away some of the tension that seems omnipresent at this point.

Zach uses a ridiculous amount of body wash to rinse away the stench of the party.  He only wishes that showers could wash away guilt and shame just as easily.

Truthfully, he just wants to forget about the whole thing. The fact that he had blacked out makes it easier to push it out of his mind. Zach hasn’t had a serious relationship since he was in Junior High. His college bros would always to brag about getting pussy and being studs. They’d compare numbers as if it was some sort of game. It’s different for Zach, though.  Hooking up with random strangers has a way of making him feel disgusting and used the next morning.

Zach steps out of the shower feeling completely refreshed, almost like a whole new person. Maybe, just maybe, he’s starting to be.

He chooses his clothes meticulously, bypassing his ironic hipster apparel which he doubts Frankie would appreciate. Eventually he decides on a simple button down and acid wash jeans. He nearly has a panic attack when he gets too much gel in his hair, but it turns out to be an easy fix.

He can’t shake the feeling that he’s dressing up for a date or something. This definitely isn’t a date though, right? Dudes totally get coffee together all the time. Nothing weird about that.

Still though, he can’t stop the churning in his stomach. He has an odd feeling it has less to do with his hangover and more to do with fucking butterflies in his stomach at the idea of hanging out with Frankie.

Finally. With no therapy bullshit to get in the way of Zach getting to know Frankie like he’s been craving.

He tries to picture it in his mind; he and Frankie sitting across from each other at a tiny circular table in Frankie’s favorite coffee shop (which Zach has a sneaking suspicion is Starbucks), just chatting and bro-ing out.

Bro and Frankie don’t seem to fit right in a sentence together though.

When Zach visualizes it, he can’t help but imagine Frankie brushing his arm with his fingertips or maybe hooking their ankles under the table, ruffling his hair. Friends just don’t do that kind of stuff together.

Zach thinks that maybe he wishes it was a date. And that’s what scares him the most.

Chapter Text

 

Zach has no idea how he gets his mom to let him use the car to pick Frankie up, especially after the ‘masseuse incident’ as he’s started to refer to it in his head. Possibly the whole manipulative thing he has going on for him. That, and her soft spot for her sons.

Jill had eyed him suspiciously at how well he was dressed. The only other reaction he got was pursed lips as she dropped the clunky key ring into his outstretched hand.

That’s how Zach ended up here, his family’s old red suburban idling in the parking lot of his least favorite place on earth.

Frankie saunters out of the building a few minutes later looking unnaturally happy for someone who just had a therapy session. Zach finds himself smiling goofily when Frankie spots the car and bounds over, his mood showing in his step. Zach quickly schools his expression as soon as Frankie touches the door handle.  Frankie bounces into the front seat, his good mood nearly killing Zach’s bad one through sheer proximity.

“So,” Frankie gushes, slightly out of breath, “Did you have anything in mind?”

“Uh, not really dude. Whatever floats your boat,” Zach finds himself saying. Okay, since when did he start using weird old people phrases like that? Something was wrong with him.

Frankie’s eyes gleam with excitement. “Good, because I have the perfect place. You’re going to love it.”

“Sweet sauce.” Yep, something was definitely wrong with him.

Zach backs out of his parking space (or two parking spaces, oops) and drives off, trying to give off the impression of a responsible driver. “Wait, where are we going?” So much for that.

“That part is a surprise. Just follow my directions and you’ll see soon enough.” Great, Zach hates surprises. Or does he love them? Frankie is making him question himself in more ways than one. He can’t deny the little thrill of excitement thrumming through his body. Or maybe that’s some sort of after effect of the hangover? The world may never know.

Zach follows Frankie’s directions as best as he can considering the circumstances. It’s obvious Frankie knows where he’s going but he also gets distracted easily by pretty much everything imaginable.

“Oooh, Zach, look at that adorable Pomeranian!” he squeals at one point. “Oh yeah, you should have turned right there…. Okay, flip a bitch, then left turn at the adorable dog.”

Frankie directs him to a strange treehouse-looking structure about 20 minutes away. Zach has never been here before and he eyes the place dubiously as he turns off the car.

“We’re here!” Frankie announces. “C’mon Zach!” He grabs Zach’s hand and leads him up the teetering staircase to the front door. A trippy looking sign declares that this place is called “Dark Sky Paradise.” Zach blanches. He hopes Frankie hasn’t brought him to some sort of acid-trip haven.

Frankie opens the door and Zach is instantly blown away by the sheer size of the place. The lighting is all blues and purples, making Frankie’s hair glow brightly. They seem to be in some sort of large greenhouse complete with exotic plant life and a mini waterfall. Zach spots several customers sipping iced coffees from elaborate crazy straws. Zach honestly doesn’t know where to look first.

“Here, I’ll show you around,” Frankie suggests, perhaps sensing how overwhelmed Zach is. “The main area is a greenhouse, as you can probably tell. From here you can see the mosaic on the far wall. Hence the name.” From far away, the mosaic depicts a stylistic sky scene comprised of every shade of blue, pink, and purple imaginable. Zach follows Frankie closely as he leads them to the far side of the room. He feels like a deer in purple headlights.

“This stage is for when they have live music acts or open mic night,” Frankie explains, gesturing grandly.   “The cool part is you can really see the individual art from here. They’re all done by local artists.” What from far away had been a turbulent sky, Zach can now see each tile is a strategically placed individual work of art.

“Holy fuck,” Zach says, eloquent as always. Frankie laughs, amused by Zach’s reaction.

“I’m glad you like it. Don’t worry, I saved the best for last.” Frankie’s hand finds Zach’s again as he leads him through an open door to an outside seating area. The whole place is surrounded by a fantastical rose garden, reminding Zach of Alice in Wonderland.

“I feel like the mad hatter is gonna pop up any second now,” Zach says. Frankie giggles.

“I think that’s you.” Frankie reaches to mess with Zach’s hat with a fond look, causing Zach’s cheeks to heat up.

“Does that make you the queen of hearts?” Zach almost dies of embarrassment when he realizes what he said but Frankie seems unconcerned.

“Baby, for you, I could be,” he says, winking dramatically for effect. Zach can’t help the crazy laugh that bubbles out.

“This place is insane! I love it,” Zach declares. His nerves from before don’t seem to be relevant in a place that seems so far removed from reality.

“Perfect. So where do you want to sit?”

Zach considers this for a moment. “As much as I love the rose garden, I think I’m gonna go with air conditioning or I’ll get us kicked out for taking my shirt off.”

“It would be worth it,” Frankie says mischievously, but he’s heading back inside before Zach can really process it. Frankie finds a table next to a spiky red plant that looks like something out of Harry Potter.

“Are you sure this thing isn’t going to come alive and strangle me?” Zach asks as he sits down. Frankie’s eyes light up.

“Like the venomous tentacula?” He asks excitedly.

Zach scrunches his eyebrows. “What?”

“Nevermind.”

Their waiter comes by a few minutes later to deliver some fancy looking menus. Zach’s never been to a coffee shop with actual menus before. It turns out they also do brunch items, and Zach’s not quite sure what the protocol is here.

“What are you getting?” He asks Frankie after perusing his for a few moments with little of it actually registering in his brain.

“Just a 20 oz iced skinny dark sky mocha no whip with extra ice, a pump of white chocolate, 3 shots of espresso, and a pinch of nutmeg,” Frankie rattles off in one breath.

Zach stares at him.“Oh. Is that all?”

 Frankie’s grin is reminiscent of the Cheshire cat. “I’ve perfected my coffee order over the years, it’s kind of second nature by now.”

“I can tell.” Zach goes back to frantically scanning the menu. “What the fuck is a “Macklemore?”

“Oh, that’s like a Bob Marley, but white.” Zach’s pretty sure his confused face is funny because Frankie laughs again.

“Yeah, they have some interesting names here,” Frankie says vaguely, gesturing to fancy menu mounted on the wall. Zach sees a few notable names such as the Michael Jackson Mocha and the Ariana Grande Latte.

“How do you know this place?” He asks incredulously, scanning the atmosphere of the café with wide eyed wonder. It just doesn’t seem like the type of place you happen across.

 Frankie looks contemplative for a few moments before answering. “This place is actually owned by Big Sean, my brother in law.” Frankie finally says, looking apprehensive to say the least. Zach’s jaw drops.

“Oh my god, Big Sean owns this place? NO way,” Zach gushes, trying and failing to hide his enthusiasm. “He was on last season’s Big Sister, that crazy hit reality show. A really good amateur rapper. And he had a showmance with…”

“Ariana Grande.” Frankie finishes for him. “She’s my amazing little sister. She and Sean had a showmance they called “Seaniana.” What a crazy time.”

“I’ve been trying to be a rapper for like a year,” Zach admits. “You should have told me you have connections!”

“You’re trying to be a rapper?” Frankie asks, trying to dodge the accusation. “Rap something for me right now. I’m a great judge.”

Zach racks his brain for a suitable rhyme to spit, before realizing that the only one he remembers is one he wrote in his first year of high school. “I’m drippin Sawagoo, I’m drippin Sawagoo!,” He crows, trying to emulate the tone of popular rappers. As soon as he finishes, Frankie collapses into a pile of giggles on the table.

“What?” Zach pouts, feeling secretly offended that Frankie didn’t recognize his obvious talent. Frankie recovers a moment later, still wiping his eyes for stray tears.

“I’m sorry Zach. I was just overcome by your brilliance and had to let it out somehow.” Zach doesn’t quite buy the excuse but decides to let it go for now.

“I’m sorry for keeping it a secret.” Frankie says apologetically. “Sometimes people just try to capitalize and take advantage of fame. I had to be sure I could trust you first.”

“And what made you decide to trust me?” Zach asks curiously. Frankie gives him a stare so intense Zach would have thought he was camping. He tries his best to make himself look innocent and Frankie laughs, a truly musical sound to Zach’s unusually sensitive ears.

“It was the way you talk to me Zach.” Frankie explains, looking unbearably earnest. “And the way you looked at me when you first saw me. Like you could see into my soul or something.” Frankie shakes his head. “Ah, that sounds crazy. Sorry if I just freaked you out.

“Not in the slightest,” Zach says, surprising even himself. Frankie’s admission seemed to have loosened some repressed thoughts in his own chaotic mind. “When I first saw you, I had like, this weird obsession with you. Julie wouldn’t stop hounding me about it for weeks.”

Just then, the waiter shows up, asking politely to take their orders. Frankie had decided on the Frankie Grande Latte (a secret name for his ridiculously complicated drink) and Zach had decided on the Justin Bieber Macchiato. It was a regular caramel macchiato spiked with a shot of whiskey and a spot of energy powder. Zach truly appreciates this café’s sense of irony.

Frankie’s eyes light up when Zach rattles off his drink order. “Good choice!” he gushes, obviously enthused. I love Justin soooo much. All That Matters is a modern classic. You kind of remind me of him if I’m being honest,” he confesses.

“What? No way,” Zach says incredulously. “Man I know that guy’s Calvin Klein pictures were photoshopped but he’s still hot as fuck. You know, for a guy.”

Frankie looks peeved at that but seems to recover quickly. “Never. Insult. Justin. Bieber. In. Front. Of. Me,” he says dramatically in his best imitation of Hagrid’s voice. Zach laughs all the way to the bank and the conversation ends naturally at that point.

“So Frankie, you’re not from Florida are you?” Zach asks after he has recovered from his Zachattack laugh attack. Frankie shakes his head.

“Well, technically I’m originally from here. But I moved to New York a long time ago so it feels like it’s my real home now.” Zach nods in understanding as the waiter drops off their drinks with a quiet announcement. Zach takes  one drink of his Justin Bieber Macchiato and nearly throws up.

“DUDE, what the fuck is in this thing?” he whines as he tries his best to get the taste out of his mouth.

“Whiskey and energy powder. Can’t you read?” Frankie teases, nudging his foot against Zach’s under the table. Zach’s body comes alive at the small point of contact. He almost wants to tease Frankie back and see how far the other man will take the flirtation. He’s self-conscious though, so he just pulls his sneaker back and tries to return to the conversation as though nothing had happened. Luckily, Frankie doesn’t seem to notice.

 


 

“You still gonna go to group therapy?” Frankie questions, just as Zach is about to drop him off at his ridiculously lavish home.

“Yeah, probably. I think I have more to get out of it.” Zach reasons as he shrugs his shoulders. “Dude, your house is like, super nice. Why don’t you have a car again?”

“Well I just moved here a bit ago from New York,” Frankie reminds him with a laugh. “There wasn’t exactly a need to have a car there. We will just have to go car shopping together! You can give me pointers.”

Zach smiles unnecessarily wide at the implication that they would hang out again. He genuinely ended up enjoying Frankie’s company and the subtle flirtation he constantly displayed.

“Better get inside,” Frankie says, leaning in for a hug. Zach makes sure it’s extra tight, and is pleasantly surprised when he feels Frankie’s soft lips brushing his neck. It makes a shiver run through his body that no words can describe.

“Bye Frankie,” Zach calls as he exits the car. Zach can’t help but watch Frankie move gracefully on the long winding path leading to his front door. If Frankie noticed the extra attention, he never said a thing.

Zach pulls the car away from Frankie’s, peering into the rearview to watch him open the door.  To his surprise, Frankie pauses and watches Zach drive away.  Zach feels a blush coming on.  He feels happy and…maybe, just maybe, like he’s done something right for the first time in a long while.  The whole way home, a spot on Zach’s neck seems warmer than the rest.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: Let The Good Times Roll (Only Sweeter)

Zach ends up arriving home that afternoon after his “date” with Frankie feeling happier than he has in a long time. He can’t wipe the grin off his face. What he wasn’t counting on was Jill’s suspicion of his change of heart.

“Why are you in such a good mood all of sudden, Zach?” She asks, looking on skeptically as he chases Tiger around the house in a hyped up frenzy. “Are you on drugs?”

“Ugh, no mom. Why is it always about drugs with you?”

“Well I did find that icky pipe in your room a few years ago.” Jill says with a wrinkled nose. Zach rolls his eyes.

“Marijuana is a plant not a drug mom.”

“I won’t have this argument with you again Zach. You come home from being out with the car and then you become Mr. Sunshine? Of course I’m going to want an explanation.” Zach rolls his eyes again. He thinks he would be happy if they stayed that way.

“I just had coffee at this awesome coffee place,” Zach explains casually, fixing his gaze on Tiger’s beautiful brown eyes. Not at all reminiscent of Frankie’s.

“Ooh, was it good?” Jill squeals.

“It was delicious.” Zach lies. “You probably wouldn’t like it though.”

“I think I can decide that for myself Zach Rance,”

No she can’t, Zach thinks grimly. He will never reveal the location of Dark Sky Paradise to his mom even if his life depends  on it. It’s kinda weird, but he’s started to think of it as his and Frankie’s special place. A safe haven from the real and imaginary complexities in his life.

His mom ruffles his hair and tells him to try to do something productive today for once.

Funny how Zach’s good mood passes through his body even quicker than that Justin Bieber Macchiato.

 


 

The rest of Monday and Tuesday pass in a boredom-thick blur. Zach wonders why he didn’t ask Frankie for his number. They had a great time hanging out and were going to do it again. Right. Right? Good thing Zach didn’t have too long to agonize over it since they had group therapy together on Wednesday. Not that he had a crush on Frankie or anything gay like that. Zach just liked the guy, and he happened to be gay. So sue him.

Time seems to pass like molasses as Zach waits to see Frankie again. At least he’s not kidding himself that he’s  excited for group anymore. That would be way more embarrassing that anticipation to see his new friend.

Zach happens to arrive half an hour early to group on Wednesday. Something about this place has a way of breaking his habit of perpetual lateness.

Frankie is lounging on a picnic table in a covered area outside the building, wearing shiny blue sunglasses and popping his gum. From his posture you would think he was seated on a throne rather than some outdated piece of outdoor furniture.

Zach ignores the way his eyes immediately seek Frankie out and taken in his appearance. Frankie beckons him with a polished finger and Zach finds himself bounding over regardless of his desire to display at least a minimal capacity for chill.

“Frankie, hey! You’re here early dude. I love your sunglasses. Wow I can even see myself in them,” he winces after looking closer. “Fuck, I look like shit.”

Frankie laughs. “Oh, hush. You look adorable as always.” Adorable. Adorable? Zach frowns at his reflection before deciding that there’s no need to stare at himself. Not when Frankie’s around. “Wanna go for a quick walk or something? We still have time.”

“Yeah, that’s a great idea!” Zach agrees before Frankie has even finished talking. Frankie smiles fondly up at him and grabs Zach’s hand to pull himself up. “Wanna just walk around the block?”

“Sounds good to me,” Zach follows Frankie to the sidewalk, feeling a bit like a puppy with the way he’s trailing him. There’s something comforting about following Frankie though. Zach almost feels like he could do it for the rest of his life.

Frankie leads the way down the block. For some reason, the path he’s taken is making Zach’s head start to feel fuzzy. They pass by a hole-in-the-wall college bar and Zach’s mind goes blank for a second. His heart stutters in his chest. He even stops walking for a minute, causing Frankie to look back in concern.

“You okay, Zach?” he asks, looking confused. Truthfully, Zach is just as muddled as he is. Something about this walk makes him feel on edge.

“Uh, yeah, I’m fine,” he laughs nervously, forcing one Jordan-clad foot in front of the other. “I’m just feeling kinda weird.”

“I always feel kinda weird. It’s the best part of being me!” Frankie jokes. Zach smiles despite the feeling in his chest. This is why Frankie is the best. He can cheer Zach up any day of the week.

“Oh yeah, that reminds me…” Zach starts, trying to think of a bro-like way to phrase his sentence. “Do you think I could, like, get your digits, dude?” He winces internally as soon as the sentence comes out of his mouth. Digits, really? What the fuck is it about this guy that makes him sound like more of an idiot than usual?

Frankie giggles. “Sure, dude,” he says, putting emphasis on the second word. Zach doesn’t have a moment to wonder why before Frankie expertly snags his phone out of his back pocket and starts typing his number in maniacally. Zach blinks, trying to reconcile with the fact that Frankie essentially just grabbed his ass. This dude has no concept of personal space whatsoever. Not that he minds, if he’s being honest.

They make it back to group with five minutes to spare and not a second lapsing in their conversation. Zach feels decidedly less dread than last week as he descends the stairs into the group room which is inhabited withthe same froot loop dinguses as before.

 “Welcome, Zach, welcome, Frankie,” Julie greets warmly as soon as they enter the room. Zach does his best to avoid her piercing gaze.

“So tonight, we’re going to focus mostly on our new clients since they avoided the chopping block last week. Frankie and Zach.” Zach tries not to panic at her words. He’s not in the mood to be interrogated. He doesn’t understand where his head is at right now. “We’ll start with you, Frankie,” Julie declares. Zach refrains from sighing out loud in relief. Maybe if Frankie takes long enough talking (god knows that guy can talk) then there won’t be enough time for Julie to rip his head a part piece by piece.

“What do you want to know?” he asks airiy, sweeping nervous brown eyes around the room.

“How are you, really?” Julie asks. “Is there anything new in your life?”

Frankie clears his throat. “Speaking of something new. I have this friend. He seems really cool and he’s cute.”

Zach blushes. He doesn’t know why. There is no way Frankie is talking about him. Frankie must have scores of guys in his life queuing up for his affection. He probably isn’t even a blip on Frankie’s radar.

“Is that right?” Julie asks, her interest piqued. “Tell us about him.”

“He reminds me of someone from my past.” Frankie sighs. Zach notices that dead, stone-like look return to Frankie’s eyes. “So it’s hard to be around him. But he’s a great person. And I think I like him,” Frankie admits. The room is immersed in silence. Caleb looks particularly stunned, like he has never heard a gay man talk openly about his affections before. His eyes are as wide as baseballs as he stares at Frankie, waiting him to continue speaking.

“Is that someone from your past a person who you find it hard to let go of?” Julie questions.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever completely let go of him.” Frankie admits. “He was too big a a part of my life. And now….” He trails off. No one dares question him again after that.

“What about you Zach? What is new in your life?” Julie asks, turning to face him. Zach freezes. He feels like every cell in his body has suddenly gone immobile. His throat is dry and he can’t seem to recall how to arrange words together into sentences.

“i…I…” he stutters. He can feel his breathing start to accelerate, heart thumping like a wild rabbit in his chest.

“Are you okay?” Julie asks. Zach catches a glimpse of Frankie’s face, all concern and affection. He can’t handle that expression right now.

“I’m fine,” he chokes out, even as he drops his head and holds it in between his hands, trying desperately to calm his rickety breath.

“I think you need to step outside,” Julie orders sharply. It’s far from a suggestion. “Call your mom if you can’t calm down.” Zach rises shakily to his feet, grateful for an excuse to exit the stifling room. He’s not sure why this is happening. For some reason, the bar that he and Frankie had passed on their walk earlier keeps echoing through his mind. He almost feels like he’s forgotten something important. Something that could change his life.

 


 

Zach sits outside, watching the sky transform from light to pure darkness. In that moment he wishes that he smoked or had some other way to occupy his thoughts. He satisfies himself by scrolling mindlessly on his phone, reading status updates. So and so is happy. So and so is married. So and so just got pregnant. He wonders why no one ever mentions their struggles on social media. He guesses they think that if they appear happy to the world they will be happier in their own lives. Zach knows now that’s the biggest lie they could tell themselves.

“Zach?” Julie’s voice pulls him back to reality with a single word. Zach looks at her numbly, trying to decipher the chaos in his head.

“What do you want,” he says. He hates how broken his voice sounds. Like a kid whose dog just got hit by a car in the street.

“Do you want to talk?” Julie asks. Something about the look on her face reminds him of his mom. The way she would be extremely understanding whenever Zach really needed her to be there for him. He thinks that look is what makes him say yes. Even though he thought he never would.

 


 

Zach walks out of Julie’s office twenty minutes later. His heart feels about 30 pounds lighter, even though his face is streaked with tears. He wants to see Frankie, to tell him that he’s okay. That will just have to wait for tomorrow though. For now, Zach is free. A repressed memory has been excavated from the cobwebbedn corners of his mind. That seems like more than enough progress for one day.