Mickey stubbed his cigarette on a patch of pastel cement wall before dropping the butt into the receptacle below. He headed toward the automatic doors, nearly colliding with several pieces of luggage, and cursed under his breath.
The airport was buzzing with sunburned American tourists readying themselves for their flights home. A line of white taxi cabs with green lettering coiled around the sidewalk like a snake at rest. Mickey glimpsed Eduardo’s dark elbow jutting out from an open taxi window. They nodded a greeting to each other before Mickey went inside to meet Ian by Customs.
Mickey was hit with a burst of cool air. Sweet relief. While he didn’t miss Chicago’s harsh winters, Mexico’s oppressive heat was another level of hell. Mickey couldn’t drink enough beer to combat all the sweating.
He ran his hands through his dark, damp hair, the anxiety moving up from his stomach to his chest. When he’d sent Ian that postcard with nothing but a burner phone number written in inky chicken scratch, he had no hope Ian would call. After all, why would he contact his on-the-lam ex-boyfriend when he had his shit together? And yet, Mickey waited. He’d hoped -- despite not wanting to, despite not wanting to cling to someone he couldn’t have. Mickey was never sure if it was part of his genetic makeup or just a curse, but he wasn’t one of those people who could move past the greatest love of his life. He could fuck other men, sure. But love other men? No way.
Mickey dipped his head, his eyes trained on the glossy tile floors, careful not to make any eye contact with airport officials. He’d been staring so long at his sneakers he didn’t notice the man sidle up to him until he felt a firm grip on his shoulder.
“I could’ve been anyone,” Ian said, looking at Mickey with wide green eyes. “The Feds.”
Mickey wrapped his arms around Ian and nuzzled his neck. He whispered, “I’m not worried about the Feds. Just wanted to make sure you got here okay.”
Ian inhaled deeply. “I can handle myself. I had a good teacher.” He patted Mickey’s back. “Let’s go.”
Mickey grabbed Ian’s duffel bag and dropped it into the backseat of Eduardo’s cab. He tapped the car roof with his fist. “Vamos.” Ian climbed into the backseat, Mickey in the front.
When they were a mile outside the airport, Mickey lit up a cigarette.
“Hey, no fuma,” Eduardo said.
“Fuck that,” said Mickey before taking a few drags and handing it off to Ian. “So, no issues?”
“I did what you said.” Ian blew out a plume of smoke before he dropped the cigarette butt out the open window. “I got a passport from Svetlana.”
“What name she give you?”
“Ian Reddington,” he said with an amused expression.
Mickey laughed. “I’m so glad you’re here, man.”
“Me too, Mick.”
Eduardo dropped the guys off in front of a casita with a salmon exterior and a teal door. Mickey passed Eduardo a few bucks, but he waved him off. “No es necesario.” Mickey shrugged, grabbed Ian’s bag, and said goodbye.
Ian jutted his chin at the cab as it kicked up dirt and dust and traveled down the gravel road. “A friend?”
“Yeah, we got each other out of a few scrapes,” Mickey replied.
Ian nodded, but his face had that look like he was already starting to doubt his decision to come here. Mickey felt a twinge in his chest. He had never been a boy scout, and Ian had never judged him for it. But, they were getting older, and the criminal shit wouldn’t sustain Mickey anymore. He was determined to do whatever he had to keep Ian with him. Even if that meant turning into an actual, fucking boy scout.
“Not like that,” Mickey elaborated. “I lent him some money. He paid me back and hooked me up with a job at the bar. That’s all.”
“Okay,” Ian said.
Mickey bit his lower lip. “Are we going to stand around and chitchat all day or are we going to …?”
Ian grabbed Mickey by the sleeve of his shirt and pulled him in close. “What do you think?” Then he kissed him.
Ian watched Mickey’s bare chest rise and fall with each breath. Mickey's head rested comfortably on the pillow. He was blissed out and sleeping. Ian could hear waves lapping, breaking on shore. Dusk was settling in. Pink and purple blended together to make way for darkness. Ian exhaled long and slow, his body spent from sex and travel. It hadn’t been a good year.
His meds had failed him and in turn, he’d lost his job. He’d called out sick too many times. Or just not shown up. And he couldn’t get a reference to find a new EMT position. And so, he wound up volunteering at Trevor’s homeless shelters -- turned out that he and Trevor were better as friends than they were as boyfriends, and the work was far more rewarding than he ever imagined.
Trevor had paired up Ian with Joey -- a shit-talking piece of Southside trash who was completing 100 hours of court-ordered community service at the shelter. Joey was sixteen with dark hair and a scowl. He was also skittish, the product of an abusive home. Joey was Mickey incarnate. And when Ian had learned that Joey was also gay, but in complete and utter denial, Ian made it his personal mission to be Joey’s savior. And his friend. He took him to White Sox games and helped him pass his classes. He introduced him to other gay kids and even made him attend a “queer rights rally,” as Mickey would say, in downtown Chicago. He also found him a legitimate job at the Kash n Grab. Ian knew what it was like to be a big brother, but he never really knew what it was like to mentor a troubled kid. It gave him a new sense of purpose. Until Joey was shot and killed by his father after the old man caught his son and another teenage boy in bed together.
That was almost Ian and Mickey. That could’ve been how they ended up.
It was the reason Ian was here. Because, as Ian painfully understood, life could end in an instant. Nothing was guaranteed and good people, even the best people, could be denied their happiness because of the hatred in another. And so when Mickey contacted him, Ian didn’t think twice about his next step. It was a sign, not from God because Ian wasn’t religious, but from his subconscious that he would regret not being with the only man he’d ever truly loved.
Ian rose from the bed and quietly opened the sliding doors. He stepped outside onto a tiled patio and inhaled the sweet sea air. He walked to the water’s edge, revelling in the way the sand felt under his toes. He glanced back at the house, amazed at the life Mickey was building here. Sometimes, Ian thought, to find paradise you have to traverse hell. And that’s what he and Mickey had done.
He closed his eyes as a breeze caressed his skin. Ian wasn’t sure how long he stood there but eventually Mickey’s arms made their way around his waist.
Mickey pressed a kiss to Ian’s neck and then said, “I hate to even fucking ask, but how long do you plan on staying?”
Ian turned to him. “Why? You looking to get rid of me?”
“I’m serious, man. This way, I’m prepared.” Mickey’s voice hitched just slightly, and he squinted at the dying sunlight.
Ian glanced down as an ocean wave carried a starfish to his feet. He scooped up the creature and threw it back into the sea. “I don’t have a return flight if that answers your question.”
Mickey stared at Ian for a second, disbelief shadowing every feature. He opened and closed his mouth several times, but the words weren’t there.
Ian draped his arm around Mickey’s shoulders and the two stood there, staring at the horizon.
“Come on,” Ian said, steering Mickey away from the water, “I’m hungry.”