Landis didn’t answer his phone right away when he saw the unfamiliar number. No one called him except Austin, and once Otter had called him to say that both he and Austin were going to be out by the time Landis got home from the diner, and had wanted to know when was a good time for Otter to come down and give him the key. This unfamiliar number was local, too, which was even weirder, because every once and a while Landis got a telemarketer, but this number, this was clearly someone from Antlers.
He answered the phone with a forced “Hello?”
The line was dead for a moment. Then, finally, the voice on the other end said, “Hi, uh, Landis?”
Oh, Landis recognized him. It was a totally different cadence than the smooth as a new jar of peanut butter voice he used on the air, but that was Gabe all right.
“Oh, hi. What’s, uh, what’s up?”
“Well, I was, I was going to…So the thing is,” his voice cracked, and Landis’s heart skipped a beat. He could be in trouble. There was no telling in Antlers. “The thing is, my band is playing in Black Hawk this weekend, and I was wondering if you wanted to, well, come.”
Landis released the breath he was holding.
“Yes,” he said, before thinking. Then he thought, shit, I barely know him, and there’s going to be a lot of new people there, and it’s going to be loud, and why did I just say yes like that?
“I have a ticket for you,” Gabe said quickly. “I can get another, if you want to bring someone.”
This time, Landis actually took a second to think before he opened his mouth. Austin would probably like to see a show. But Landis didn’t want to take Austin. He wasn’t sure why, but it just seemed like, well, like Austin had this way with people that Landis didn’t, and next to him, Landis would just fade away.
“No, that’s okay,” Landis said. “So, where in Black Hawk?” He wandered the apartment for a second, searching for a pen and paper. He came up with a sharpie and an old receipt, and scribbled the name of the venue down, as well as the time of the Saturday night show.
“I know it’s kind of far. Like, kind of really far actually.” Gabe laughed nervously.
“It’ll be nice to get out of town for a change,” Landis said, a little too quickly.
“Well, anyway, I hope I see you there.”
“Yeah, yeah I’ll, I’ll be there.”
The exchange fizzled into forced, disjointed movement towards hanging up. Landis’s palms were sweaty by the time the call finally ended. He felt flushed. He was going out this weekend. With a new friend. He sat back on the couch and stared at T.V., which was off. The last time he made a friend was when he met Austin, and right now, Austin was his only friend who was still alive. And they weren’t the type of friends who went out and did things just to enjoy each other’s company. He figured it was because with Landis crashing on his couch, they already saw too much of each other. Landis fidgeted.
He should have tried to make conversation with Gabe for longer instead of letting things die like that. He could have asked Gabe how things had been going at the station since Credence was taken care of, whether he was feeling better, or if he still had that residual cough.
Landis threw his head back and pressed his hands over his eyes. Why was he like this? Gabe probably thought he was an aloof asshole. He was just too nice, or too starstruck, to question it. Maybe Landis should call him back and tell him never mind. Gabe had only invited him because of some kind of groupie crush, and Landis would just be taking advantage. He groaned. No, that was stupid. That was the lake talking. Gabe liked him. As a friend, genuinely. They knew each other better now, since the thing that happened at The Stag. Maybe at first it had been that kind of puppy love—Landis bristled at his own word choice—admiration, he thought, but now it was a real friendship.
The sound of Austin’s keys hitting the counter startled Landis.
“Hey, you didn’t work today?” Austin asked.
“No, I worked the early morning shift. Got off like an hour ago.”
Austin grunted and sank into the couch next to Landis. He turned on the T.V. and started to flip through the channels before he noticed Landis was clutching his phone in a vice grip.
“What happened?” he said.
“Nothing,” Landis said, too quickly. He set his phone down on the coffee table and folded his hands in his lap. “I’m going out with a friend this weekend.”
Austin’s expression changed completely. He had a mischievous light in his eyes.
“I…” Landis’s mouth hung open. “No,” he said. It wasn’t very convincing.
“Huh,” said Austin. He smiled and turned his attention back to the T.V.
Landis’s double shift on Saturday could not end sooner. Every customer seemed to be ten times more demanding than usual. They wanted decaf, then they wanted soy milk, then they wanted to send back their pancakes because they got cold while they were chatting with their sister, then they wanted to split the check seven ways.
It was nearing the end of the lunch rush, and Landis hadn’t been on a break in three hours when he looked down from his notepad to see Gabe sitting at his booth.
“Oh, hi!” Landis’s hand went to his hair, pushing it back. “Hi, what can I get you?”
Gabe grinned at him, and Landis felt a little warm. Oh, God. He really hoped that it didn’t show on his face.
“I thought I’d stop by and give you your ticket. If you’re still coming, I mean.”
Gabe held out a folded piece of paper. Landis recognized it as a comp ticket—the kind he gave out to friends when he toured with Paper Museum. The headline band—Gabe’s band—was Kentucky Corpse Reviver. He took it.
“Yeah, yeah I’m still going.” He stuffed it in his apron. “I get off work at four, so, yeah, plenty of time.”
Gabe shot him a bright smile.
“I’ll introduce you to the band after,” he said. “They’re all really excited to meet you. You should hang out with us, after. I mean, we’ll have to pack everything up so it might be a little standing around before we do anything really fun, but we usually hit a couple of bars before we go back to the motel, so, yeah.” Gabe fiddled with his napkin-wrapped silverware. “I mean, if you want to.”
“Sounds fun,” Landis said. “Can I get you anything, though? Or else I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” His mouth twitched up in a smile, and Gabe laughed. Landis felt warm again.
“Okay, pancakes. Like, five pancakes. And uh, water?”
“Okay, tall stack and water.” Landis smiled again, forcing himself to meet Gabe’s eyes. Oh, God, he was flirting. What was wrong with him? His smile twitched, and he looked away, quickly scribbling down Gabe’s order and hurrying off to his next table.
Gabe’s pancakes were done in a flash, and only ten minutes later Landis found himself carrying a tray over to table four, trying to keep his expression natural. He was cute, damn it. During the Credence incident, he had been distracted, but now, not so much. God this was stupid. The whole time he was going to be so weird and Gabe was going to feel awkward, and he was going to have a bad time, and that would teach him to invite Landis anywhere. And that was how it was going to be with every person who caught Landis’s eye for the rest of his life, because that was just how Landis was, now.
“Pancakes,” he said softly. He cleared his throat. “You know, Gabe, you don’t have to…just because you said, earlier, you don’t…”
Gabe looked at him quizzically. Landis tried again.
“You don’t have to invite me to, to hang out with your band. I just don’t want you to feel like you have to.”
“Why would I feel like I have to?”
“Just, I don’t know.” Landis stood there awkwardly. Because he had helped with Credence, because Gabe pitied him, the sad loser who lost everything, any reason. Any reason made more sense than Gabe actually wanting him to come.
“I don’t feel like I have to.” Gabe cut the side of his fork into his stack of pancakes. “Wow, these look really good. Do you want some? You can sit for a second, right?”
Landis’s whole face turned red.
“I have to, I have other tables, actually…”
He hurried away. Over his shoulder, he saw Gabe shrug and take a huge bite of pancake. God, could he chill for one second?
“Excuse me, could I have some more coffee?”
Landis breathed in, and breathed out. He put on his customer service smile.
“Be right with you.”
The venue was larger than Landis had expected. It was a trendy club, and there was a long line of trendy people waiting outside. Landis brushed his hands over his T-shirt and jeans, trying to flatten the wrinkles. The bouncer waved him in with a hand stamp, and Landis made his way to the stage. Yeah, this place was pretty nice. It was a little dive-y, but in the endearing way. Gabe had talked himself down a lot, but this was a far cry from the shitty bars and open mics Paper Museum had started out with.
Landis wandered around with his hands in his pockets. He wanted to go backstage and see Gabe, but he would be in the way, so he stared at the band posters on the walls. He didn’t recognize any of them. All the dates were from the last three years. He had no idea what the indie scene was like anymore.
The show was good. Gabe was good. His band was good. It was loud and high energy, and by the second half of the show Gabe had found Landis in the crowd and every so often, he gave him a conspiratorial wink. He bounced on his toes with every note on the keyboard, full to bursting with energy.
Landis swayed slightly with the music. He tried not to compare himself to their bassist, who was good. Landis had probably been better, but now he was so out of practice that this guy definitely had him beat. He hoped that Gabe hadn’t said anything weird about him to them.
By the end of the concert, Landis’s feet were killing him. He was sweaty and high from the drunkenness and excitement in the room. He waited for Gabe near the stage, not sure if he should go looking for him. But Gabe knew he was here, so presumably when he wanted Landis, he would come get him. Landis leaned against the stage, watching the swarm around the merch table thin out. Maybe he should buy something. Their music was good, and he hadn’t even had to pay for a ticket tonight. He could afford it. Yeah, he would do that.
He was just getting his change back from the woman at the merch table when Gabe tapped him on the shoulder.
“Hey, I’m glad you made it. Come meet everyone.” He grabbed Landis’s hand and dragged him backstage. His hand had a keyboardist’s calluses, and it was warm and firm. They stepped over thick cables taped down to the floor, and a cool gush of air struck Landis in the face. The back door was open, and the rest of the band was packing up the remainder of their equipment. The lead guitarist gave Gabe a funny look as he walked by with an amp.
“Ess, this is Landis.”
Ess nodded at Landis, said “Hey,” and shoved the amp in the back of the waiting van. “He coming with us?”
“Yeah. You are, right?”
“Um, I mean, if…”
“Yeah, he’s coming.”
Ess leaned against the wall and flicked his lighter a couple of times over the end of a cigarette.
“Jessie’s already buckled up, mate. She’s ready to go. And if we don’t leave soon, Q is gonna fuck that girl right here on the floor.”
“Jessie’s backup vocals and drums, Q’s bass. The girl is…who’s the girl?”
“Christ, we’re not famous enough for the fame to get to his head.”
“Tell Q that, mate.” Ess wagged his eyebrows at Landis. Landis wasn’t sure what that was supposed to mean. “So, Landis, Gabe’s told us a lot about you. Care to substantiate whether or not you’re the best bassist in the country?”
Landis’s mouth fell open. He whirled on Gabe, who laughed.
“Your bassist is better than me,” he said. He couldn’t think of anything better to say. “He’s good.”
“He’s also a grade A dick. Sure you’re not shopping for a new band?”
Landis didn’t have time to answer. The van’s horn blasted three times, followed by the shout for them to hurry up before the bars closed.
Gabe led the way outside, Landis in tow, while Ess finished his cigarette. Jessie leaned most of the way out the driver’s window, twisting around to watch them approach. Jessie had black hair shaved close to her head and a face full of freckles. She didn’t look happy.
“I’m hungry, Gabe.”
“I know, I know. They’re coming.”
“Yeah, I know for a fact Q’s getting head in the bathroom, nice try though.”
She slumped back into her seat. Gabe stood outside the van to talk to her, and Landis stood a few paces away, looking around. He knew this would be weird. His palms were sweating. He rubbed them over his jeans.
“What bar are we going to again?” Gabe asked her.
“The, uh, the Twisted Cinch. It’s just down the road and we’d be there in a second if those two didn’t take so long indulging their vices.” Jessie leaned on the horn.
“You know what, we’ll meet you there.”
Gabe grabbed Landis by the hand again and dragged him back through the bar. Landis chirped “Nice to meet you,” over his shoulder. They passed Ess again, who, rather than go outside, started another cigarette.
He winked at Landis as they breezed by, and called after them, “Q beat you to the bathroom, mate.”
Gabe gave him the finger and dragged Landis faster. He muttered under his breath, but Landis didn’t catch a thing he said. They emerged into the guest parking lot, and Gabe ran both hands back through his hair.
“Sorry, I thought they wouldn’t do that.”
“It’s fine. They have…character.”
“Do you want to…You know what? Do you want to just skip the Twisted Cinch and go someplace else?”
Gabe paused. “Well, just us and a bar full of strangers. They’re going to be like that all night, and it’ll only get worse the drunker they get.”
“I…I don’t want to take you away from your friends. I’m already intruding. I should just drive home. Honestly, it was really nice of you to introduce me to everyone. And it was a really good show. I had a good time.” Landis held up the CD he bought. “And the music was good.”
He started walking toward his car, and Gabe followed.
“No, don’t go. Come on, have a couple of drinks with me.”
“I…I can’t. I don’t have a place to stay tonight, and I have to drive home.” Landis fished for his keys in his pocket.
“Well, wait a second.” Gabe touched his hand again. Landis didn’t remember him being this…tactile. “Have just one drink with me and we’ll get coffee after and you’ll be good. I can’t let you go home yet. You came all the way out here to see me and we haven’t even gotten a chance to talk.”
Landis paused. His stomach felt all fluttery. It was just so nice to be on the receiving end of so much attention. Austin and Otter tended to focus on each other, although they were good friends. But Gabe always looked right at him, no matter who else was in the room.
“Okay,” he said. He continued to his car, Gabe following.
Neither of them knew the area, which meant the first bar they came to wouldn’t necessarily have been their first choice. It was actually more of a club. The music throbbed in Landis’s chest. He ordered a mint julep, which he knew would make him tipsy, but he really didn’t feel like beer. Gabe ordered a Manhattan. They both laughed.
“Gross,” said Gabe.
“I’m gross?” Landis was flushed and played with his napkin. “My drink doesn’t come with a maraschino cherry.”
“You can get it without the cherry.”
“But you didn’t.”
Gabe grinned. Landis shifted on his barstool. The music pounded through him, vibrating the stool under him. Gabe looked sweaty and tired and disheveled, and it looked good on him. He made himself look back at the bar.
Their drinks came without either of them saying much of anything. Gabe downed his in a few minutes and ordered another. Landis took his time on his.
“I’m really glad you came,” Gabe said. He shifted, leaning in so Landis could hear him. “I was worried you would think I was like, networking or something, but I just, that’s not what I wanted.”
Landis smiled, slightly.
“I didn’t think you were networking.”
Gabe’s second Manhattan took him a little longer. His face was red, but his eyes were alert and present. Landis wanted to kiss him. Fuck. He stared in his mint julep and tried to think about anything else, but they weren’t talking, and the music vibrated through them, and Landis wondered whether this was a complete failure. One of them should be saying something. He looked up at Gabe, and Gabe was looking at him. Like, studying him.
Landis tried not to look away.
“What?” he said, smiling.
“Nothing. Finish your drink.”
Landis shrugged and tipped back the last few swallows. Gabe was almost done that Manhattan. He flagged the bartender down and paid for all three drinks. The bartender left with Gabe’s credit card, and they were alone for a second. Landis’s heart pounded.
“I want to go back to your motel,” Landis said. He couldn’t believe he had said it even as he forced the words out.
Gabe looked a little dazed.
“The rest of the band will be another couple of hours, so…” Gabe trailed off. The bartender returned with his card. Landis got out his keys.
Landis was going to kiss him. He was fighting his brain the whole way to the motel, fighting the voice in his head that said Gabe found him repulsive. He fought the impulse to back off and play it safe. The alcohol helped, bloating his confidence. He was going to do it. He was going to kiss him, and see what happened, and if it was bad, he would drive home and cry on the couch, and it wouldn’t be anything particularly out of the ordinary.
Gabe swiped them into the room and plopped down on one queen bed. Landis dropped his keys on the bedside table. Gabe was saying something about the T.V. Landis stood over the bed in front of him. His hands were shaking. Fuck.
“Um,” he said, and his voice cracked. Gabe returned his attention to Landis.
Landis couldn’t make himself do it. He was frozen.
“Um,” he said again. “Um, fuck.” He sat down on the bed next to Gabe. They were closer to eye level, and Landis could smell the sweet alcohol and sweat and aftershave, and Landis really, really wanted him. He hadn’t understood how bad it was until now. He wasn’t used to wanting people. That sort of passing attraction to a well-dressed stranger, sure, he felt that, but this was fucking heavy and hot in the pit of his stomach.
Gabe quietly looked at him. Landis thought he saw recognition in his eyes, but maybe that was wishful thinking.
Landis pushed his hair back, nervous, and leaned in just slightly, because maybe Gabe would lean in slightly, and then maybe kissing him wouldn’t ruin everything. He looked down, close enough that looking down meant staring at Gabe’s neck, and his lips parted, just a little. Gabe’s chest rose and fell, and Landis felt that maybe Gabe was breathing a little heavier. He looked up into Gabe’s eyes. Really close. Heavy lidded. Lips also parted, just a little.
Landis kissed him. Gabe’s lips were hot, and soft, and Landis hadn’t kissed like this in a long time. One hand hovered above Gabe’s chest, hesitating to touch him. Landis kissed him more, slowly and gently, waiting for Gabe to kiss him back, getting more and more anxious every second that he didn’t. Landis pulled back.
Gabe’s eyes were wide. His mouth hung open.
“Sorry,” Landis said.
Gabe leaned into him, kissing him deeply, more skillfully than Landis had kissed him. He was used to kissing, to touching his tongue to his partner’s teeth, to biting, to moving his hands into Landis’s hair and balling them into fists. He breathed heavily, and so did Landis. Landis’s hand finally found Gabe’s chest. His heart was going crazy, beating up against Landis’s hand like it wanted Landis to dip his fingers in and pull it out. Landis moaned softly, and Gabe’s mouth attacked him, drawing out the moan into a whimper.
Landis flushed. The sound was desperate and sexual, and Gabe responded in kind. Gabe leaned most of his weight into Landis, forcing Landis onto his back. Landis tried to keep up with kiss after kiss, but found himself getting lost, breaking rhythm. Gabe’s hands moved down Landis’s sides, and Landis breathed in sharply. Shit. He really wanted this. He blinked his eyes a few times, feeling them sting. Gabe actually wanted this.
Landis snaked his arms around Gabe’s head and sank his hands into his hair, twisting it around his fingers while Gabe moved his kisses down to Landis’s neck. He planted dozens on the side of his neck and his adam’s apple before he pulled away to readjust. Gabe climbed over him, straddling him while Landis caught his breath. Gabe sat on Landis and twisted Landis’s T-shirt in his hands, drawing it up his chest and exposing his stomach. Gabe ran his hands down Landis, over the fat Landis had only just gained back, over the trail of pubic hair that began at his belly button, down to the start of Landis’s jeans.
Landis made a low groan in the back of his throat and jerked up his leg at the light touch. Shifting up against Gabe felt good, and he wanted to grind up against him. He was so red. His face was burning hot. Sitting over him, Gabe took off his shirt and tossed it aside. The way he was looking at Landis turned him on even more. God, if they kept going like this, soon Landis was going to get hard, and Gabe was going to feel it, sitting where he was.
Gabe lingered over the pubic hair peeking out of Landis’s pants before sliding his hands back up over Landis’s stomach, stopping over his nipples and dragging his hands back down again. He laughed a little, nervous.
“So, what do you want to do?” he asked.
Landis had no earthly idea. It was a little much to ask Gabe to fuck his lights out, which was the only phrase coming to mind.
Landis squirmed under Gabe, which felt really, really good.
“Kiss me more,” he said.
Gabe leaned over him so their stomachs rubbed together, hot skin on hot skin. He kissed him on the lips, more gently this time, and rolled his hips down over Landis, rolling circle after slow circle. Landis got lost in kissing him. He didn’t even realize he was rolling his hips up into Gabe’s, too. Gabe breathed hard and moved to sucking on Landis’s neck, which made Landis cry out softly.
“God, ah, Gabe,” he said. He squirmed, feeling himself getting hard, knowing Gabe could feel it too. Gabe grinded down against Landis’s dick and Landis felt the extra pressure of Gabe’s erection against his. Fuck, this felt good. He kept thinking about what it would feel like to have Gabe inside him, stretching him and rubbing the head of his dick over his prostate over and over and over. He couldn’t ask. No way. No way Gabe had lube on him, and anyway they didn’t have more than an hour left before the rest of Kentucky Corpse Reviver came back to the motel room, rowdy and drunk.
Landis moaned pitifully, and finally Gabe unzipped his pants and pulled them down his thighs. Landis looked away, biting his lip, while Gabe did the same for himself, kicking his pants to the floor. Gabe straddled him again, and this time Landis shuddered as Gabe sat against him, their dicks pressed together. Gabe rocked forward, experimenting. Landis called out, biting his fingers to muffle the sound. Gabe was completely hard, so hard he was leaking precome down the shaft of his dick and onto Landis’s.
“Fuck,” Landis said. His voice came out strangled. “Fuck, Gabe.”
Gabe resumed grinding on him, grinning broadly down at Landis. Landis groaned into his hands. Gabe moved his hips faster, then stopped, suddenly.
He moved down the bed, crawling backwards, until his head was level with Landis’s dick.
“Oh,” Landis breathed, as Gabe licked up the shaft. He popped the head of Landis’s dick in his mouth and sucked. “Oh, oh, fuck.”
Landis arched his back, and Gabe fed more of his dick into his mouth, fitting most of it inside before sliding back off, almost releasing Landis entirely. Landis felt himself grow instantly harder, his dick swelling in Gabe’s mouth. Gabe bobbed his head slowly, salivating, getting used to Landis’s size. He moaned around Landis’s dick, and Landis gasped, jerking one leg into the air. Gabe gently pushed Landis’s leg back down, holding him against the bed by the thigh. Landis whimpered.
He was going to come embarrassingly soon. Fuck, he wanted Gabe to fuck him. He looked down at Gabe, flushed, drooling around his dick, and grabbed his beautiful curly hair, running his hands shakily through it.
Soon after, Gabe popped Landis’s dick out of his mouth. Landis protested, but Gabe started stroking him with his thumb, which was good in its own way. He slid up next to Landis, his dick glowing pink and dripping against Landis’s thigh.
“Hey, so this is kind of crazy to ask,” Gabe said bashfully, “but do you want to do like, anal?”
“Yeah, God, yeah.”
Gabe spat in his hand and poked his fingers against Landis’s asshole. Landis whimpered, spreading his legs wide. He pulled at his own hair as Gabe worked on him, breathing heavily. Gabe had just barely fit two fingers side by side inside him when Landis moaned, “Now, please. Please, Gabe.”
Gabe wasn’t so sure. He curled his fingers experimentally, bumping against Landis’s prostate, and Landis cried out.
“Please, please, please,” Landis said. He couldn’t articulate exactly what he wanted to say. He wanted to beg for Gabe’s dick, to beg Gabe to thrust into him, to take him hard, because he was too turned on to wait. He bit his tongue, saying only “Please” as Gabe lined himself up and pushed the head of his dick up against his asshole.
It was already a tight fit, and Landis bit his hand trying not to squeal like a stuck pig. Gabe rubbed his thumb soothingly over Landis’s dick, trying to ease Landis’s obvious pain with pleasure. Landis arched his back, gasping for breath, willing himself not to come yet.
Eventually Gabe worked himself all the way inside.
“You’re really, really tight,” he said, strained, as he started to move his hips.
Landis managed a dazed “Uhuh,” and Gabe experimented with moving a little faster. Landis whined. His dick throbbed. He watched it twitch against his stomach, ready to come, and willing himself not to, not yet, not when this felt so, so good.
Gabe worked up a good rhythm, and the pressure against Landis’s prostate was ecstatic. His toes curled, and he mouthed Gabe’s name, embarrassed but unable to help himself as he came hard. Gabe kept up his rhythm, clutching at Landis’s hips and pulling him down on his dick as Landis rode out his orgasm.
“You can keep, keep going,” Landis said between breaths.
Gabe thrust a few more times, but he didn’t last long before he came, too. He pulled out and came onto Landis’s stomach, red-faced.
“Don’t be, ever.”
Landis propped himself up on his elbows, still catching his breath.
“I can…Let me get you a towel.” Gabe sprang from the bed, and Landis heard him mutter a series of panicked “Oh my Gods” as he searched the bathroom.
Landis lay back on the bed. Gabe’s bandmates would be back any time now, but all he wanted to do was lie there. He chewed on his nails and worried about whether things would be awkward now. Gabe threw a towel onto his stomach, and Landis cleaned himself up.
Gabe laughed, that nervous laugh he did that Landis liked.
“Wow,” he said.