Stanley had just slammed down the hand brake when the front door opened again, spilling light into the street. Nothing doing. He wrenched the stick into gear and cranked the key in the ignition. He didn't need to see whatever else Dad wanted to throw at him. He didn't need to see Mom's mascara running. He just needed to get out of here.
Then he heard his brother's voice.
His foot slipped off the clutch and his heart stalled.
Stanford was sprinting out of the house. He crossed the sidewalk in two bounding steps and brought his palm down on the passenger side window. He hit the glass again, hammering on it until Stanley dived across the seat and unlocked the door.
His heart restarted, all 360 horses, full throttle. He felt a dopey, half-believing grin spread across his face when Stanford climbed into the car. All the anger went out of him, replaced by hope. That was worse. A raw, desperate, gasping-for-air feeling.
Stanford slammed the car door behind him. “We're talking about this."
Stanley started nodding and almost couldn't stop. Okay, sure. They could talk this through. Stanford was still pissed off, but he was here, and they could talk this through.
"All right," he said. "You got it. How about you and me go to the—"
"Not the boat." Stanford’s voice was choked up tight, his hands clenched into fists in his lap.
"I wasn't gonna say the boat," he lied.
He pointed them inland with a u-turn, barely missing the neighbors' trash cans as he peeled out.
It was a weekday in the off-season, and the streets were quiet once the squeal of tires faded. The storefronts were dark as the car passed through downtown to the residential streets. Houses and apartments were lit up, televisions flickering blue in living room windows. Beside him, Stanford slouched down and stared at the dashboard, winding the length of his dorky bow tie around his fingers.
Stanley headed for the outskirts of town. If they weren't going to the mooring, there was only one other option. The streetlights tapered off until they were only the occasional flash. For a moment he was tempted to floor it. Just go. Fly past the city limit sign and head north to Philly. If he kept the car moving fast enough, Stanford wouldn't be able to jump out—
"You're going to miss the turn." There was a warning in Stanford's voice, like he had read his mind.
Stanley jerked the steering wheel a half-second before he would have overshot the service road. The back end of the car swung wide until the front caught the ruts in the old dirt track. The car straightened out with only a couple of jolts and bumps that lifted him off the seat. He slowed down, letting the car roll about another quarter-mile to the first good spot to pull over.
Stanford's breathing was all he could hear when he turned off the engine. Once the headlights were gone, there was only the moon.
This was the one place in this garbage town he might actually miss. It was theirs. No one else bothered coming all this way to park. There wasn't any view, and if you kept on much further down the service road, you came in whiffing distance of the sewage treatment plant. What it had going for it was being pitch-black and deserted at night. No cops out here, no laws.
The empties from the first stolen six-pack he and Stanford had gotten drunk on were probably still out there, littered between the trees where Stanley had chucked them. This was where they had driven after junior prom, still smelling like spiked punch, Stanford with his panties in a knot about losing their deposits on the rented tuxedos. This was where they had ended up kissing that night. Touching each other. Not just lending a hand like they did at home, but full-on dry humping until there was another stain on the tuxes to worry about. Fogging up the windows. Getting sweaty. Making the El Diablo rock so hard that Stanley had thought they might actually roll it.
He set both hands on the steering wheel and looked out into the black nothing.
"I'm sorry," he said. "It was an accident, I swear."
His shoulders tensed up and his stomach tied itself into a guilty knot as he braced himself to get yelled at again. That would have been better than the skeptical snort as Stanford rubbed his eyes hard under his glasses.
"You just ruined my life, Stanley. Do you understand that? Can you even comprehend what you've done?"
Maybe he was as big a moron as everyone always said he was, because he really didn't understand it. His brother had the biggest brain of anyone he knew. How could not going to one dumb school ruin his life?
All right, he knew he should have come clean as soon as he broke that machine. He had meant to. He would have, if just the thought of even talking about Stanford leaving him for California didn't make him want to puke. He had never meant to mess things up for him. Teasing him, sure, that was fair game. Poking him now and then to keep him on his toes. Ruffling him up because he was so goddamned cute when he was ruffled. But hurting him? No way, no how.
Stanford laughed. It was an ugly sound, the kind of laugh that meant he was trying not to cry. "Don't you even have anything to say for yourself?"
"Yeah." Stanley pushed down the helpless feeling inside him and firmed up his jaw. "Hit me."
"You heard me. Me and you. We step outside and you take a swing."
"I'm not going to fight you!"
"Nope," he agreed. "You're not, because it's not a fight if I don't hit you back. You take a swing, and you keep on taking swings until you're not mad at me any more."
What else did he have to offer? He was good at punching, and he was good at getting punched. Stanford hadn't stuck with boxing past middle school, but he could still mess a guy up if he tried. He had a hell of a left hook, and that extra knuckle was a doozy. This was going to hurt. That was the point.
"That is insane." Stanford said, shaking his head. His voice was still too high, but it had a sort of tired sound to it that was edging out of angry beyond belief and into everyday Stanley, that's stupid.
The feeling of desperate hope came back. It was heavier on the first than the second, but it was enough to make him try again.
"Then I'll do something else. I'll call those jerks at West Coast Tech and explain things. I'll find you another college, a better one, and I'll get the cash together to get you there—"
He pressed on, gripping the steering wheel. It felt like if he let go, he might just fall off the edge of the world.
"I'll do whatever it takes. I'll sell the El Diablo. I'll get another job. And if you still want to take off across the country without me, I'll..." He paused, having to close his eyes for a second to stop them from stinging. "...I won't stand in your way."
Even he didn't know if he was telling the truth about that last part or not. Dad always accused him of lying like other people breathed, said he took after Mom that way. The man wasn't wrong, but Stanley could count on his fingers the number of times he had lied to his brother. He had hardly ever needed to. Until now, when his mouth wouldn't work right and his head was filling up with crazy thoughts.
Like how he would do anything to keep Stanford with him.
Like how being apart from him would feel like having half his body chopped off.
Like how he didn't know if he could make it on his own.
Stanford looked out the window and ran his hand through his hair. He didn't say anything for a long time. Then, finally, he sighed and his voice went soft.
"Stanley, you knucklehead."
Relief slammed into him so hard it nearly knocked his lungs out of commission. He swallowed over a sudden lump in his throat.
"Yeah.” His fingers dug into the steering wheel for an instant before he pried them loose and reached for his brother. "I know."
Stanford was still cranky and stiff when Stanley wrapped his arms around him. It was like trying to hug a rack of coat hangers. He could almost hear the complicated gears and gizmos whirring around in his brother's head, trying to wind him up again. He held on tight, his face pressed into the side of Stanford's neck where his skin was soft and smelled like home. He kissed him there, and then on his cheek.
It got him maybe half an inch. That was how far Stanford agreed to turn his head, but it was in the right direction. Stanley kissed him on the mouth this time, keeping it short and careful. When Stanford didn't shove him off, he went in for another one. The hey, go with me on this press of lips melted into an oh yeah, followed pretty quickly by a want it, gimme special.
Stanford eventually reached back for him, his hands skimming Stanley’s sides before his fingers bunched up his t-shirt. Stanley heard him swallow and felt his ribs push out as he breathed in. His tongue nudged past Stanford's lips and slid inside for the kind of slippery tangle that made goosebumps pop up on his neck.
That got him a shiver. There was a matching set of goosebumps just under Stanford’s collar. He found them with a wandering fingertip, then put his mouth there, fighting the urge to bite.
"I'll make it up to you, Sixer," he said quietly. "You'll see."
Stanford exhaled, his breath warm on Stanley's cheek. "You'd better."
He waited until he was sure Stanford wasn't going anywhere before he loosened his grasp. His hand drifted up and down Stanford’s back for a while, following the slouching curve of his spine and venturing lower on each pass. He copped a quick feel off his ass, then switched to his thigh, where a little slow back and forth rubbing worked its magic. By the time his palm brushed over Stanford’s dick, there were definite signs of life.
“Fooling around isn’t going to fix things,” Stanford pointed out. He sounded serious. He was also spreading his legs.
Stanley paused, turning his hand and running two knuckles along Stanford's zipper. "Is it going to make things worse?"
Stanford seemed to think about that. Then he took off his glasses and put them in the glove compartment for safekeeping. "No. I guess not."
That was all Stanley needed to hear. He was hard the second Stanford tugged his undershirt out and touched his bare back. It was always like that. None of the fumbling half-starts and nervous excitement of fooling around with a hot girl. Just a click and spark and everything suddenly purring. When he started kissing Stanford again, he couldn’t make himself stop. He leaned in and kept leaning in, getting a knee on the seat for purchase, his teeth cutting into his lip with the force of every kiss. He didn’t want to take his hands off him, out from between his legs, out of his hair or out of his shirt once he had those stupid little buttons open.
By the time his t-shirt dropped into the footwell, he knew there was no chance of making it to the back seat. That was always a bad idea, one that inevitably led to Stanley setting off the horn with his hip or nearly neutering himself on the gearstick. Right now, he didn’t care, not with Stanford wiggling under him, pants half down and shirt half up, swallowing back little moans as they got horizontal. Stanley wasn’t ever going to let him up, wasn’t ever going to let him go, wasn’t going to do anything but make them both feel good again.
Stanford pushed his hips up, breathing hard, and met his eyes in the dark. I'm still mad at you, said the hand digging six bruises into Stanley’s ass. Don’t go, said the arm locked around the back of his neck.
It wasn’t I forgive you, or at least not yet, but he would take it.