To the cute punk kid who loaned me a dollar to get a movie yesterday--I'd love to get a drink sometime, and pay you back. If you want to too, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
xoxo the tall guy renting Die Hard for his dad
Gabe carefully affixed the note to the wall outside the video store, layering packing tape over it until it was a stiff, crackling bubble emerging from the brick. It was a long shot, but the kind of long shot he had to do or it was going to haunt his dreams.
It was already haunting his dreams. He'd dashed into the store to rent the movie for Papi about fifteen hours ago and he'd spent six of those asleep; in those six hours, he'd had two dreams about the punk kid.
He smoothed the tape down and shoved the roll into his backpack. He had time for a cup of coffee before he had to be at work. Maybe even coffee and a scone, if he felt like living large.
Gabe worked at Nail Palace, which was exactly what it sounded like. Manicures, pedicures, eyebrow waxes. Gabe had been hired based on his dedication to bringing threading to the masses, but he'd moved to the pedicure chair a year or so ago. Faces were boring. Feet needed love.
"Good morning, everybody," he called as he walked in, balancing his scone on top of his coffee cup. "Let me see all your happy faces."
"It's too early for happy faces," Thanh said, shaking her head. Her name tag said Daisy, for the benefit of the lazy, but Gabe tried to make a fucking effort to not be an asshole. "It's too early for you."
"I didn't choose the morning shift, the morning shift chose me." Gabe checked the schedule at the front desk and made a face. "And it chose me for four back-to-back this morning. Ugh."
"And you'll bat your eyelashes at them and rake in the tips."
"I never flirt with the clientele."
"You don't have to," Min chimed in. "You do things to their feet in the bath. I've heard the sounds they make, Saporta. I've got my eye on you."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Gabe took his coffee to his station and sat cross-legged on the floor by the chair. "I'm just good at what I do."
"You're fishing for compliments again." Sun shook her head and went to the back for fresh towels. "Nobody likes you, Gabe."
"Mean to me." He climbed up into the chair and leaned back, closing his eyes. He wasn't tired, not really; six hours was a pretty good night. And he could do his job on three.
The morning went by quietly. He got into the zone, cutting and filing, shaving calluses and applying polish. It was soothing. Calm. His father still didn't understand how he could spend his day doing this without ending up bored out of his mind, but it was a hell of a lot better than medical school.
At least they weren't having that fight anymore, the school fight. Gabe should thank hashem for small favors.
"Are you taking lunch, baby?" Sun asked, while Gabe was cashing out his last appointment of the morning. "Can you pick up for everybody?"
"I'm on it--" Gabe caught himself as the shop door opened again. "Or, I'm on it in a little bit."
His stepmother smiled cautiously and hung her purse on the coat rack. "Can you take a walk-in, Gabe?"
"Any time for you, Ilana." Gabe wadded the handful of cash from his morning tips into his pocket and jerked his head toward the rack of polishes. "What are you looking for today?"
"Can you do the little flowers?"
Gabe mentally pushed lunch back another fifteen minutes. "Of course."
"Your father says hello."
"Is he working late tonight?"
"No, he'll be home for dinner."
"Great. That's great." Gabe thought about slamming the cash drawer on his fingers to see if that would make the conversation less awkward. "Okay, well, let's get you in the chair."
Gabe usually chatted his way through his appointments, but he and Ilana never had much to say. Once they exhausted the weather and everything funny Diego had said that day, they lapsed into silence and he concentrated on her feet.
She'd chosen a dark slate blue; once that was on, he added delicate, stylized daisies in white with golden centers. Simple and clean, requiring just enough concentration to shut up his brain and let the world narrow down to things that made sense.
By the time he finished, Thanh had gone and picked up lunch for the shop. "I got you pasta with no cheese, Mr. Vegan," she said, placing a container on the counter by his station. "Is that right this time?"
"You win the planet."
"With bread and a cookie. Still too skinny."
"Thanks," Gabe said, dragging his hand through his hair and squinting at the clock. "You're a lifesaver." Plain pasta, bread, and a cookie. He was going to crash and pass out cold by the time he got off shift. He'd grab a coffee on his way to Rob's apartment and hope it all balanced out.
Coffee didn't quite cut it, but Rob had vegan lasagna and a bag of weed, so it wasn't a loss. They smoked and listened to music and talked about bullshit for a few hours until they both fell asleep on Rob's bedroom floor.
When Gabe woke up, Rob was still asleep, his face shoved into a pile of dirty laundry. Gabe put a towel over Rob's head and crawled over to the desk, pulling Rob's laptop down to the floor with him. He changed Rob's desktop background to a kitten and logged in to his email.
Two spam messages, six from his community organizing mailing list, a concert notice, and a message from email@example.com. He clicked that one first.
hi die hard dude.
You don't owe me a dollar, but I'd be into getting a drink. When & where?
ps don't bother renting What We Do Is Secret, I was 100% disappointed
Gabe stared at the screen and put his head down on the carpet. Oh, fuck. Punk kid actually saw his note. Apparently on some level he hadn't really thought that would happen.
When he managed to lift his head again, there was another message from nightmarez.
pps rad email address. that's hole right? you have good taste in movies and music!
Gabe rolled onto his back and kicked his feet against the floor. Cute punk was into his taste. This wasn't the kind of luck he was supposed to have in his life ever. But never spit into a gift horse's eye, or whatever.
He pulled the laptop onto his chest and hit reply.
Are you free Friday evening? I get off work at 5. We could get coffee? Or whatever you're in the mood for.
It is from Hole, yes! I bet we'll have lots to talk about. :) :)
He stared at it for a few minutes, then deleted the smiley faces. They were probably too much. Except without them, the message seemed cold. He added one back in and hit send before he could think about it too much.
"What are you doing on my computer?" Rob mumbled. "Fuck you, dude, if you changed my passwords I'll kill you."
"I didn't change your passwords. Go back to sleep."
"I've gotta be at work in like an hour. Fuck."
Gabe looked over the edge of the screen at him. "Is there a show tonight?"
"Yeah, but it's gonna suck."
"Will you sneak me free drinks?"
Rob sighed and put the towel over his face again. "You're going to get me fired."
"That wasn't a no."
"Yes, Gabe. I'll sneak you free drinks."
"Then I'm in." Gabe stared at his email for another minute, wondering if punk kid--P; what did that stand for? P--was sitting there with his inbox open, too, breathless and waiting to reply.
No reply came by the time Rob kicked him in the ankle and told him to go away so he could get dressed, though, so Gabe logged off and told himself to worry about it later.
The bands playing Rob's bar that night--Rob's in the sense that Rob was the secondary bartender, which wasn't really any sense at all, but Gabe thought of it as Rob's because Rob was the person he knew and therefore the important one--did indeed suck. They were awful. But Gabe only had to pay for half of his drinks, and there were hot people in the crowd that he could ogle silently from afar, and even bad music was better than nothing. Better than being at home and bored and thinking too much in his bedroom that still had his high school-era posters hanging in it.
"Are you going to go dance, or are you going to sit here and be creepy?" Rob asked before the headliner, when he was swapping Gabe's beer for a cold, free one.
"I'm not being creepy."
"You are, though." Rob flicked him on the nose. "You've been checking out the girl in blue and the guy in the pants all night."
"The guy in the pants. That's specific."
"Oh, you know which pants I mean."
"I'm going to start making you pay for your drinks, man."
Gabe frowned at him. "Is this supposed to be blackmail?"
"No? It's supposed to be being your wingman."
"I'm deeply flattered. Go away."
Rob flipped him off and walked away, and Gabe turned his attention back to his beer. Fucking Rob.
When he got home that night, he fell into bed with his shoes still on and slept through until 11 in the morning. It was glorious.
There was a note taped to the coffee maker, in his father's handwriting, requesting that he either be home for dinner or come to meet Diego at the office for lunch at 1:00. He could still make that, which meant they could have lunch and dinner together and Gabe could push back feeling guilty about being a bad son for a few more days.
He took his coffee back to his room and turned his laptop on, tapping impatiently at the edge of his desk through all the start-up routines until he could get into his e-mail. There had to be a message from P by now. There just had to.
friday at 5 sounds great. name the location and its on
im staying in the northwood apartments if you know where that is?
Gabe took a gulp of coffee that burned the roof of his mouth, cracked his knuckles, and replied.
I do! That's just a few blocks from where I work. Nail Palace, on 7th by Richardson. There's a bunch of coffee places nearby, or we could get dinner if we're hungry. I'm vegan, though, so that makes everything weird.
He stopped, staring at the screen and wondering if that was too much, too out-there. He'd had that problem before.
He couldn't think of how to rewrite it on half a cup of coffee, though, so finally he just added Looking forward to seeing you, Gabe and went to shower. He needed to look good to see Papi at work on a day he'd slept through half of, and looking good meant blow-drying his hair and attacking the circles under his eyes with concealer.
Things hadn't always been this weird with his dad. He knew that for sure. But that was life, that was him: things that weren't weird to start with ended up that way. It was a law of nature.
When he got back to his desk, a fly was circling his cold coffee and there was a reply from in P in his e-mail.
you do nails? that's rad. see you there. & I'm not Gabe, you're Gabe :)
It took Gabe a few re-reads to get the joke, but when he did, his heart turned a full somersault in his chest. Cute and punky and gender-ambiguous and with a weird sense of humor. Destiny had been with him in that video store. Destiny had left his wallet a dollar short that night.
If he crossed his fingers and was a good boy and wished very hard, maybe destiny would see that he got laid.
Lunch with his dad was a crashing return to earth. No cute punks at Diego's office, just his stepmother at the reception desk, the two quiet assistants who both referred to him as niñito, and sandwiches from the deli a few blocks away, which he picked up on his way over because he knew Ilana would have called in the order. They were a good family that way, if good could translate to predictable. Or, less unkindly, stable. They are a stable family, the way Gabe and Ricky and Diego alone weren't, the way they pretended they were with Mama until she couldn't pretend anymore.
Deep thoughts over a fucking bag of sandwiches. This was actually worse than the days of the college fights, when at least he could channel his energy into shouting about how he wanted to transform the world instead of just into chewing.
"You were out with Rob last night?" Diego asked, wiping his mouth carefully. Gabe stared at his father's napkin, how the mayonnaise blurred the lines of the red and white checkerboard printed across the front. What a waste, patterned napkins. Nobody would ever notice that they weren't plain white. Or better, recycled-fiber tan. He should stop by the deli and ask if they'd considered changing their source. It would be cheaper not to custom-print stuff that was just going to be thrown away, and--
"Gabriel?" Diego prompted. "You were out with Rob?"
"Yes." Gabe forced himself to snap back to the office, his father's desk, the question at hand. "Yeah, there was a show and he was tending bar, so he got me in."
"Bands that you know? Your friends?"
"No." Gabe tugged a sprout out of his sandwich and pinched it between his fingertips. "No, I didn't know these guys. They were more thrash, I guess. And they weren't very good."
"Well. At least you did not pay for it, then. No money wasted."
"Just my time, right?"
The words came out more sharply than he intended, and Diego blinked slowly. "If you feel it was wasted, who am I to argue?"
"Forget I said it. Never mind." Gabe made himself take a bite, chew, and swallow before he spoke again. "I'll be home for dinner tonight, but I'm hanging with Rob tomorrow night and I have a date after work on Friday."
"Yeah. I'm meeting someone for coffee."
"You have not gone on a date in a very long time."
Gabe shrugged and tore another sprout of his sandwich. "I haven't met anybody I liked in a long time."
"Tell me about this person."
He really appreciated his father's care with pronouns, even with things all weird between them, even though he was beginning to suspect they were going to be perma-weird, which sucked but what was he supposed to do about it, his life choices were what was making it weird and that was his life, it wasn't like he could just--
He took a breath. Focus. This office, this desk, Diego's question. "I actually don't know much about them. We met at the video store? It was like something out of a movie. I was a dollar short and they gave me one."
"You are also saying they." Diego took a sip of his drink, making the ice rattle. "You do not know if this person is male or female?"
"Or neither, or in-between, no. They present as, like. Ambiguous. Androgynous. And they just signed their e-mails with a P, the letter, so I don't know."
Diego's brow furrowed a bit. "But you find them attractive and pleasant?"
"Yeah. Very. On both counts, I mean. Very attractive, very pleasant."
"That is what's important, of course."
"Yeah." Fuck, for a minute it felt like it used to, before Gabe was a disappointment, when he was just a high-strung teenager having a sexuality crisis in technicolor in his father's living room. Diego gamely rolling with everything Gabe threw at him, even when Gabe was literally throwing things. (Pillows, mostly. Once or twice a book. One time, a dish, and the crash when it met the wall scared him so badly he swore on the spot it would never happen again.)
"I hope your date goes well." Diego wrapped the second half of his sandwich in its paper and set it aside. "And seeing Rob. Are you going to work on music? You have not in some time, I think."
"It's been a while, yeah. I've been busy. Rob's been busy." Gabe bit his lip and looked down at the remains of his own sandwich. "But we might play around with some stuff. I don't know."
"That's good. You seem happier when you are being creative."
Gabe shook his head, feeling a weird, unhappy smile twist his mouth. "You're the only dad I know who's just as bummed that I'm not an artist as he is that I'm not a doctor."
"Seriously. You'd be happy if I did medical school. You'd be happy if I did a band. But activism and working at the nail place--"
"I do not look down on your work."
"But you're not happy about it, either."
Diego sighed and tossed his cup into the trash can. "I worry about your finances, and the health of your heart."
"We've had this fight like a hundred times."
"I am not fighting."
"Neither am I."
Diego wiped his mouth and dropped his napkin into the trash as well. "My lunch break is almost over. I will see you at dinner?"
"Yes. I'll be there." Gabe swept everything from his lunch together into a messy wad and shoved it into the bag the sandwiches had come in. "Is there anything you want done around the house? I have the afternoon free."
"If you could run the dishwasher and gather the laundry hampers, I would appreciate it."
"I'll just go ahead and do the laundry, too."
"Thank you." Diego looked up at him for a moment. "I love you very much, you know."
"I do know. I love you too." Gabe rubbed his knuckles over his eyes. "I don't mean to be this difficult. I just can't seem to help it, I guess."
"I understand the feeling." Diego turned to his computer. "Make sure you wash an outfit for your date. Is this a person who would appreciate a button-up shirt, or a t-shirt advertising a band?"
"Band shirt, definitely."
"One of the ones in a bright color, then. They make you look very joyous."
Papi was good at ending things on an up note. Gabe actually smiled as he stepped toward the door. "Yes, sir."
Friday was a disaster at work; it was hard to concentrate on anything when he was counting down to 5:00. His hands were twitchy, and Sun had to cover for him twice while he went out back and jogged up and down the alley to try to calm down.
Min asked him after the second time if he wanted a cigarette to steady his nerves. He explained that nicotine was a stimulant, so it would do the opposite, and somehow that turned into a ten-minute argument between all the staff and customers in the room. They were all going to be in deep shit if Lia, the owner, found out. Which she would. She found out everything.
"What is your problem?" Sun finally asked, exasperated. "You got a hot date tonight?"
"As a matter of fact, I do," Gabe said loftily, re-ordering his polishes. "So all of you can just sit there quietly and be jealous."
"Cute girl?" Thanh asked.
Min shook her head. "Cute boy."
"Cute person," Gabe corrected. "We're getting coffee. It's very casual. Not a thing."
"Are we going to meet her?"
"Them." Gabe pointed his bottle of Opium Jazz--what did that even mean, and how could it be expressed by blue?--at Min. "And maybe. It depends on how nice you all are to me the rest of the day."
"Oh, I knew it was a trap." Sun shook her head. "A trap to get out of working."
"I don't mind working. But ordering lunch from somewhere that serves something I can eat besides plain pasta would be a good start."
He ended up with a portobello mushroom sandwich, which was totally a win, and magnanimously agreed that they could all get a glimpse of P before Gabe left. Part of him wasn't sure P would even show up; people got shy, or just changed their minds, or realized they didn't want to meet some random weirdo who semi-stalked them with a note at the video store. Sure, P had e-mailed him, but that didn't necessarily mean anything.
Gabe tried to be a big believer in expect the worst and never be disappointed. Unfortunately all of his natural inclinations ran exactly opposite, so he spent a lot of time feeling not only disappointed, but stupid. He assumed this was why his father despaired of him.
His nerves got worse as the day wore on; he actually had to take the polish off his 4:00 and start over, which was humiliating and lost him a tip. Not to mention making the rest of the staff give him half-pitying, half-smug glances. He knew those looks. Those were "you're going to be on Lia's shit list and we're not and we'll probably throw you under the bus for the cigarette argument, too, you know" looks. He would probably do the same thing in their shoes. Except not, because he tried to avoid talking to Lia if at all possible.
He forced himself to take his time and focus on his 4:30, digging his fingers into the soft skin above his elbow when he felt his mind start to wander off. Bounce off, that was more accurate, it was never wandering, it was zigzagging off the walls like one of those bouncy balls kids could buy out of the machines at family restaurants, the kind that were like deadly little missiles put in the hands of tiny berserkers, and--
Pinch. Focus. This customer, this pair of feet, these nails, this ugly green polish. It wasn't 5:00 yet.
And then it was, and the punk kid came through the door.
P was super-punctual; they walked through the door just as the clock ticked over to 5 and Gabe's 4:30 appointment handed him his tip from her seat at the drying counter. Gabe almost dropped the dollar bills when he heard the door chime.
"Hey," P said cautiously, stopping between the door and the counter. "Gabe, right?"
"Yeah." Gabe was suddenly really aware of himself; too tall for the space, too big, looming over the furniture and the women seated at the drying counter. Clumsy in jeans and the clunky shoes that hurt his feet when he wore them all day, but that looked really cool, and he wanted to look cool for this date, for this person. He wanted P to think he was cool.
Because P was definitely cool, with their undercut and floppy bangs with streaks of red dyed through them and hints of just-grown-out blue around the ears. Skinny jeans, sneakers patterned in hand-drawn purple bats, and an American Nightmare t-shirt that had to be homemade because Gabe was pretty sure that Wes Eisold would never give permission for a photo of him looking that pretty to be printed on anything ever.
P was still staring at him, eyes wide and an uncertain smile playing around their lips. Gabe blinked, trying to pull himself back into his head. "Hi. It's great to see you. Right on time."
"Yeah. I actually got here early, but I walked around the parking lot a few times. Just... I didn't want to make you feel weird by coming in and hanging out." P glanced around the shop. "Nice. I like it."
"I just work here. It's not mine."
"I know. But it's nice. I would get my nails done here."
"Make an appointment any time, honey," Min said, waving from her chair. "We're always welcoming new people."
P grinned and waved back. "I'll keep that in mind, thank you."
"We're going now," Gabe said, a little too loudly by the way P glanced at him. "I'll see you all tomorrow afternoon."
"You work weekends?" P asked softly.
"I'm low in the pecking order."
"Makes sense." P followed Gabe down the sidewalk. "I don't think I ever actually told you my name, did I?"
"You signed the e-mails P, so I've been thinking of you as that."
"It's short for Pete. Well. Peter. But I prefer Pete. I'm Pete."
"Pete." Gabe held his hand out. "Nice to meet you."
"It's not meeting me again. I'm still the same." Pete smiled faintly. "Or maybe not. Maybe I'm turning into a boy before your very eyes."
Gabe knew that smile and tone of voice. That was someone bracing themselves for "now you're going to fuck up and I'm going to have to be nice about it." Like when people assumed he was Catholic, or Mexican, or played basketball, or... whatever.
"How do you identify?" he asked politely. "And what pronouns do you prefer?"
Pete's eyebrows rose. "Did you take some classes, or read a book?"
"Classes. So, both. Lots of books." Gabe wrinkled his nose. "I've got a bachelor's in queer studies."
"No shit at all."
Pete's laugh was soft. It made Gabe picture wrapping it around his hands like a blanket. "I identify as, well, Pete. I'm just me."
"Your gender identity is Pete?"
"If that's a problem, you can pretend I answered genderqueer. That's just as accurate, I guess. It doesn't matter."
"It's not a problem." Gabe shook his head. "And pronouns?"
"They or he. Whatever."
"I've been using they in my head."
Pete smiled a little. "Really?"
"Really. I mean, I didn't want to make assumptions. Assumptions suck."
"You're being too perfect. A fairytale prince."
"That impression won't last, believe me." Gabe glanced up and realized they'd come to the end of the block. "Do you want coffee or food? There's a great Thai place on this block, but there's a coffee shop with mad good scones if we go a couple of streets up that way."
"Indie coffee shop?"
Gabe clasped his hand over his heart. "Of course."
"Lead the way."
Gabe turned and resumed walking, trying to check his stride so he didn't leave Pete behind. "So, you don't sound like you come from Jersey?"
"Chicago." Pete sidestepped to avoid a puddle, drawing Gabe's eyes to their shoes again. They really had hand-decorated the whole visible surface. So cool. "I'm here with my band."
"No shit? You've got a band?"
"Yeah. We're recording with this local guy. He's really cool. Letting us use the space at cost and he's producing for us and it's just really good."
"What's his name?"
"Oh!" Gabe grinned and clapped his hand against Pete's shoulder. "I know Geoff! He's good people. And a good musician. You guys will have a great time with him."
"We've been recording about two weeks now, and it's really good. We've laid down some stuff that I like a lot."
"What kind of music? Hardcore, right?"
"Sorta?" Pete made a face. "We don't know how to label or whatever. Queercore, post-hardcore, pop-punk-ish. I don't know. We're just us, too. That's my fault. I can't ever do anything the right way."
"I'm into that." Gabe wondered if his voice sounded sincere or creepy. He really couldn't tell.
But Pete smiled, so that was probably good.
Coffee stretched into three hours, a lot of refills, and a lot of scones. They really did a number on the scone supply. Gabe couldn't help it; the orange-cranberry ones were like delicious vegan candy, and Pete looked impossibly fucking cute with chocolate-chip smears around their mouth.
They talked about everything. Pete had watched Uruguay's national team in the world cup, which put them about three steps ahead of most people Gabe met on the subject of his home country.
"That must've been hard," they said back at the beginning of the evening, tearing bits off scone number one. "Coming to a new country when you were so little."
"Easier when you're little than when you're older, actually." Gabe squished a cranberry between his fingers before eating it. "My parents both spoke English really well, they went to university in Uruguay, but still, culture shock, right? I was four--running into brand-new stuff every day was totally what I expected from the world. And my brother was, like, not even a person yet, he was still larval, so he just grew up into it."
"What does your brother do?"
"He's back in Uruguay, actually. Teaching English, doing photography on the side." Gabe looked down at his coffee and tried to keep his voice light. "He is by far the preferred son."
Pete flicked crumbs at him until Gabe looked up again. "I know how that feels."
"You have a little brother who's something cooler than a rock star?"
Pete rolled their eyes. "I have a little sister and a little brother, and both of them get good grades and don't cause trouble and don't climb out the basement window to go see bands, or cut class to go skateboarding, or have to be on mood stabilizers, so yeah, they're cooler than rock stars as far as Mom and Dad are concerned."
"You gotta be your own person. I believe that."
"I believe it, too. Mostly." Pete shrugged. "It still sucks to disappoint your parents, though."
"I hear that."
They moved away from the topic of family by mutual, silent decision, talking about books and music and college experiences and shows they'd been to for the rest of the time. Pete's cell phone buzzed a little after eight, a text message lighting up the screen, and they gave Gabe an apologetic glance after reading it.
"My band is looking for me. I think they're afraid I ditched them and ran off to join the circus."
"Tell them you were kidnapped by a tall, dark, handsome nail tech."
Pete giggled. "I told them I had a date. I guess they expected it to not go this well."
"So this did go well? I'm not imagining it?"
Pete stopped laughing and looked at him with an utter earnestness that made Gabe's breath catch. "I think it went really, really great."
"Maybe we could hang out again."
"Yeah." Gabe nodded and crumpled his napkin in his hand. "Yes. I'd like that a lot."
"I'm tracking a lot next week," Pete said, rolling their fingers like they were imagining a guitar under them. "But you should send me your schedule, and if I can get away, I'll come by the shop? I'll bring coffee. And food."
"The way to my heart is to feed me. It's true."
"Sometimes clichés are rad." Pete drank the last of their coffee and shoved their phone in their pocket. "E-mail me?"
"And... whatever. Anything. I like talking on e-mail. I'm better in writing than in person."
"I can't imagine that's true."
Pete looked at him for a minute and then smiled as they got to their feet. "You're six feet of sweet talk and sweet jeans."
"Six-four and a half," Gabe said. "The last four inches are really important."
Pete grinned. "I'm not going to touch that tonight. But definitely say it again to me sometime."
Pete showed up at the shop on Wednesday with coffee for Gabe and a giant bag of baked goods for everyone else. "I didn't know coffee preferences," they said apologetically. "Write them down for me and I'll get them next time."
"You are a doll," Sun said approvingly, and Gabe knew Pete had officially won a backup party of women who could take an eye out with a nail file at twenty paces.
"Is now an okay time?" Pete asked Gabe softly. "I can gift and run."
"Now is great. I don't have an appointment for an hour."
"But you need to be ready for walk-ins, right?"
Gabe took a sip of coffee and gestured at his chair. "Have a seat and take your shoes off. You just became my walk-in."
Pete laughed and toed their shoes off, then stripped their socks and tucked them away inside the toes. "My feet are probably really gross. Fair warning."
"I'm prepared." Gabe set his coffee aside and waited for Pete to climb onto the chair. "Crank up the massage setting. Enjoy yourself."
"Right in front of your coworkers?" Pete grinned. "Kinky."
"You have no idea." Gabe sat down on his stool and watched Pete swing their feet slowly in the bath. "Spa pedicure, right? Let me upsell you."
"Absolutely." Pete nodded solemnly. "I want fancy toes, too."
"Silver starbursts." Pete nodded seriously at Gabe's exaggerated gasp. "With glitter."
"You're going all out."
"Well, I'm kind of hoping to impress this guy I like."
Gabe hid a smile against his upper arm and reached for a towel. "I bet he'll be really into it."
"I hope so. He's awesome. I can't stop thinking about him."
Gabe could feel the other techs watching them, all with big indulgent smiles like they wanted to adopt them both and keep them in a big terrarium. It was charming and they should not be encouraged. "I bet he can't stop thinking about you either."
"I wonder if he wants to take me out to dinner after he gets off work tonight. And I say he's taking me out because I need to pay for the pedicure he's going to give me so he doesn't get in trouble, but I know he wants it to be a gift."
Gabe cleared his throat, not looking up from Pete's feet. "How did you know that?"
"I've spent a lot of time thinking about him, like I said. That's the kind of guy he seems like... to me." Pete was quiet for a moment, until Gabe picked up the nail file. "I just thought dinner and the pedicure might balance out."
"That sounds perfect." Gabe looked up at him and smiled. "I mean, I bet it would sound perfect to him."
"You're really cute."
"So are you." Gabe reached for a towel. "I'm going to massage your feet now."
"Should I try to stay quiet?"
"If you don't want the others to get ideas."
"Okay. But I want you to get ideas. Lots of them." Pete wiggled their foot until Gabe looked up. "I have very sensitive feet. Very."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"You should maybe write it down." Pete's eyes were wide and earnest and this shade of whiskey brown Gabe didn't think he would ever get out of his head. "Very sensitive. Erogenously sensitive."
"I can't say anything else or I would be harassing you in the workplace."
"I definitely will not forget." Gabe wanted to marry Pete in Canada, right away. A nice Jewish ceremony with no pronouns and a chuppah printed with punk lyrics.
He pressed his fingers carefully against the sole of Pete's foot and grinned as Pete muffled a squeak. Oh, yes. He had plans for dinner and maybe after.
Pete took him to dinner at a tiny Vietnamese place that Gabe didn't even know was there, which was embarrassing given that this was his home turf and all. Pete seemed happy to have found something new, though. They sat and grinned at Gabe the whole meal.
"Do I have something on my face?" Gabe asked, holding his napkin over his mouth. "I mean, I know my eyebrows are funny, but not that funny."
"Your eyebrows are great." Pete shrugged and kicked their feet, still grinning. "I just like looking at you."
"We're like teenagers. Total puppy love."
'Those things don't go together. Teenagers are vicious and puppies are gentle."
"Puppies are bitey sometimes."
"But not in a mean way."
"No, that's true." Gabe wasn't sure if they were both talking about the same thing. He sipped his pho and tried to think of a new topic. "So, what are your friends up to tonight?"
"Geoff took them to a show in New York."
"They'll be gone, like, all night." Pete stared at him, wide-eyed. "Tomorrow we'll all be totally shitty at recording. Including Geoff."
Gabe was still stuck a few steps behind. "Why didn't you go?"
Pete made a face Gabe hadn't seen before, sort of a snarl that he thought was maybe also a smile. Pete curled his lip and showed his teeth but his eyes were smiling, it was weird and amazing. "I wanted to see you."
"More than you wanted to go to a show?"
Pete's face smoothed out. "Are you saying you would've picked the other way around?"
"No. Well, not unless Geoff was buying."
"Okay then." Pete took a sip of Coke and stared at Gabe for a moment. "They'll be gone, like, all night."
Pete sighed. "The apartment will be empty? We'll be alone? Should I draw you a map to my junk?"
Gabe almost choked, but in at least a couple of imaginary worlds, he played it cool. "Do you keep your junk in the usual place?"
Pete nodded. "And I don't lock the doors."
"Your metaphors have defeated me."
"Pay for dinner and come over to suck on my toes."
That one was no problem at all. Gabe took a shaky breath and waved for the check.
The apartments Pete's band was staying in were truly questionable. Gabe studied them from the sidewalk and ran through a half dozen possible comments before deciding on, "Cool."
"Roaches the size of dogs, dude. I'm going to keep one as a pet and train it to fight to defend me."
"I know. I'm kidding. The roaches are normal size and this place looks better on the inside. I promise."
Four people splitting a one-bedroom reminded Gabe of college and a few road trips to festivals he'd taken with Rob back in the day. "Nice," he said, turning a slow circle in the living room. "Uh, one on the couch, one on the floor--"
"Two in the bedroom." Pete toed their shoes off and waved their arms. "Roomy, yet cozy. It's perfect for the mood we're trying to get on the record. If we weren't pissed off and sore all the time, it wouldn't sound right."
"Suffer for your art."
"Exactly." Pete sat down on the couch and tossed the pillow aside. The cushions were half-covered with a stained bed sheet and a Fighting Illini blanket. It was not a sexy setup.
Pete stretched their legs out and wiggled their toes.
"Oh," Gabe said. "You were serious."
"Are you not into it? I just guessed"
Gabe gestured vaguely, staring at Pete's toes. They were tiny and cute, the nails bright with purple polish and silver glitter swirls, because Gabe gave his clients what they asked for. He remembered Pete's little sighs when Gabe rubbed their arches, and how they wiggled their toes against Gabe's fingers, all innocent.
"Seriously," Gabe said, "what gave it away?"
"Lucky guess off dedicated pedicure master, I swear." Pete smiled at him. "Come over here and make out with me."
"On the couch or on the floor?"
"Dang, you move fast." Pete tucked their feet up under themself on the couch. "Come and get them."
Gabe crossed over to the couch and sat down, studying Pete thoughtfully. "Any hardcore boundaries?"
"Let's keep it above the waist the first time out the gate, Speed Racer."
Gabe stared at them blankly for a moment. "But..."
Pete frowned, then laughed out loud. "Oh! God. Sorry. Above the waist and below the ankle. When we get there."
"Dude, don't laugh."
"I'm not. Not at you." Pete reached for his hands, threading their fingers with Gabe's and pulling him closer. "I was laughing at myself for being dumb."
"You're not dumb."
"I'm kind of dumb."
"Nope. Refuse to believe it." Pete tucked their face against Gabe's neck and breathed in slowly. "You smell nice."
"And you should really, really, really kiss me now."
"I guess I've been stalling for a while, huh?"
"I'm about thirty seconds from freaking out, I'm not gonna lie."
Gabe turned his head, caught Pete's chin gently in his hand, and kissed him, making it as slow and soft and lingering as he could. He wanted a movie first kiss. A fucking swell of violins first kiss.
Pete grinned up at him. "Hi."
"You call that a kiss?" They were still grinning. "I'm going to teach you all kinds of things."
Pete's band mates got home around two AM. Gabe had Pete's feet in his lap and his fly undone, Pete's toes curled against the damp fabric of his boxers.
Pete smiled blissfully at the others. "Gentlemen."
"We've talked about this," one of the guys said. "Bedroom, door closed, so we have the option of giving you privacy."
"Privacy is a construction of small minds."
"Consent isn't, and I do not consent to seeing your paramour's wang."
"Gender-neutral relationship descriptors for great justice," Pete said, curling their toes again and then pulling their feet away slowly. "Patrick is a saint. Guys, this is Gabe. He's a dude and a he and I like him."
"We'll do introductions in the morning," presumably-Patrick said. "I'm also a dude, and it's late, and I'm tired, and I bet at least one of you jizzed on my blanket."
Gabe realized the other two guys had silently filed off to the bedroom and closed the door. "Should I, uh, go?"
"Up to you," Pete said, a little wistfully. "It sucks to have two people trying to sleep on this couch, and you're so tall, it would be worse for you."
"What are you, six-two?" Patrick asked.
"Six-four and a half," Gabe said automatically.
"The last four inches are my favorite," Pete whispered, and laughed when Gabe blushed.
Gabe took lunch to his father's office again the next day--Indian takeaway this time, which was a nice change of pace. He sat with his legs crossed under himself and picked at his chana masala, listening to Diego talk about his phone call with Ricky that morning. Ricky was apparently still being the awesome son.
"How is your person?" Diego asked suddenly.
Gabe looked up, choking a little. "What?"
"Your person that you are seeing. You did not come home last night."
Gabe felt another blush rising up his face. "I did. Just not until, um, 2:00 or so, I guess."
"You are an adult, Gabriel, you don't have to account for your whereabouts to me."
"I know. Just. It's embarrassing." Gabe shrugged and pushed his food away. "My dad knowing about my sex life."
Diego raised an eyebrow. "Perhaps I thought you were playing cards, until you said otherwise just now."
Gabe made a face at him. "Pete is fine. I like them a lot. They're... we're... we're really compatible."
Gabe shrugged again. "I know it's not the kind of relationship you want me to have."
"You make so many assumptions about what I do and do not want."
"Am I wrong?"
Diego put his fork down with a sharp click. "Yes, Gabriel, in fact you are wrong. The kind of relationship I want you to have is one in which you are happy. You are happy with Pete. I do not know at what point you began to think of me as so harsh and judging."
Gabe opened and closed his mouth. "I don't think you're harsh, Papi."
"Then why do we have this conversation over and over again, about how you believe I am unhappy with you and refuse to listen when I say otherwise?"
"How can you not be unhappy with me? You must want your oldest son to be successful and able to support you in your old age and to give you grandchildren and all of that stuff and instead I'm a queermo who paints toenails and gets arrested at rallies and wants to spend the rest of his life with a person who doesn't have a uterus."
Diego stood up, walked around Gabe to close the door, and then came back to him, holding Gabe's face in his hands. "Listen to me very closely, mijo. I will say these things again, as often as you need to hear them, but I would prefer if you listened this time and I did not have to say them again because you believe me. Sí?"
"Successful is a meaningless term. I want you to be happy. I want you to live a good life and be happy and yes, I would like you to be financially secure, but there are more important things. I am proud that you fight for the rights of the oppressed. There is no higher calling than this. You have only been arrested once, and they did not give you a permanent record, so please stop talking as if you are a hardened felon. And children are a blessing but not a requirement for me to love you." He stopped for a breath and patted Gabe's cheek gently. "Besides. You and Pete can adopt."
Gabe laughed, the sound broken roughly by a sob. "Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves."
"Adoption is a blessing. Read the Torah."
"I am not going to read the Torah."
"Ah, you are stubborn." Diego kissed Gabe's forehead and stepped away. "When will I meet this person, by the way?"
"You want to meet them?"
"Very much. I want to meet everyone you are in love with."
"We haven't gotten to the in-love part yet, Papi."
"Yet." Diego smiled. "You said it yourself. Bring them to dinner at the house, sí? Soon?"
Gabe rubbed his neck and tried not to smile back. If he started smiling it was going to turn into a big, goofy, weird grin. "I'll talk to Pete. See what they think. If they're ready."
"Excellent. Very good. Mijo?"
"I love you."
"I love you, too." Gabe wiped his eyes. "I've gotta get to work. I'll see you tonight?"
"Only if you and Pete aren't playing cards." Diego lifted his eyebrows again meaningfully. "You are welcome to play cards at the house, of course, but you must be very quiet so as not to wake Ilana..."
Gabe put his hands over his ears and bolted from the office.
He did end up at the apartment with Pete again that night instead of going home after dinner; it wasn't on purpose, it just kind of happened, mostly because Pete leaned across the table and said that they'd hidden condoms all over the apartment as part of some kind of elaborate prank on Patrick, but which could be used for other purposes as well.
"Patrick is bi but a late bloomer, which is totally rad, I just like to tease him sometimes," Pete explained while they walked back from dinner. "Joe is our token straight cis dude, and Andy is pansexual but currently celibate as a life choice. He re-evaluates it every two years. I bet you anything someday he's going to settle down with a nonsexual life partner and grow organic soybeans in Wisconsin."
"That sounds nice."
"Right? I might be into it, too, I think."
Gabe stopped and looked at them for a long moment. "No. You're never going to be a live-on-a-farm-quietly kind of person."
"No?" Pete grinned at him. "You know that much about me already?"
Gabe knew he should smile back, should make it a joke, but he couldn't. "I feel like I know a lot about you. I feel like I know... I mean, I know I don't know everything, but I feel..."
Pete's smile faded. "Trust me, if you knew everything, you wouldn't like me anymore."
"I don't think that's true. In my gut. In my heart." Gabe put his hands over his chest. "In my throat. I don't even know. I just look at you and think, there is nothing Pete could tell me that would make me flinch."
Pete put their hand over their mouth. "Oh."
"It's scary. But it's awesome, too? I don't know. I'm freaking you out right now."
Pete nodded slightly, then dropped their hand. "But I like it."
"I really want to go back to the apartment and do things that need condoms, but I also want to kiss you, right here on the sidewalk."
Pete nodded again and stepped in close. "Please."
Gabe wrapped his arms around them and pressed his mouth to theirs. Pete's lips were chapped and they had just enough stubble growing in to scratch. It added texture to the kiss, made it something Gabe would feel all night.
"Things that need condoms," Pete whispered. "I'll kick Andy out of the bedroom. C'mon."
"Boundaries?" Gabe asked in Pete's ear while Andy gathered up his bedding.
"Tell you in a minute. Andy, just go."
"You're sexiling me, Pete, you don't get to dictate anything else." Andy huffed and picked through his duffel bag. "Where's my copy of Dune? Did you take it?"
"No, I didn't take your Dune. I bet it's in the living room already. Go look for it out there."
"Have good sex," Andy said, backing toward the door. "Have safe sex. Have quiet sex. Please. I'm asking."
"Bye." Pete shut the door and turned to Gabe. "Take your pants off."
"Not quite yet." Gabe reached for them. "I want to make out with you first. And to talk about, like. Stuff."
"Stuff we like and don't like." Pete took his hands and walked in close, rising up on their tiptoes to kiss him. "Well, I like oral and I like fingering and I don't like anything bigger than that inside me."
"I like stuff inside me." Gabe could feel how hotly he was blushing, actual pain in his skin. "I like, um. Fisting. And stuff. I'm sort of... I mean, I like that."
Pete's eyes widened a little. So did their grin. "That's rad. What do you not like?"
"I don't like being teased after I come."
"Got it." Pete kissed him again. "Lie down with me."
Gabe stretched out with them on the air mattress, laughing breathlessly as Pete slid their hands up under his shirt. "Tickles."
"Mmm." Pete kissed Gabe's neck and licked the curve of his collarbone. "That's not the plan."
"There's a plan now?"
"I'm going to suck your dick and finger you." Pete looked up at him through their bangs. "Any objections?"
"None." Gabe sucked in a breath as Pete's hands slid south and into his jeans. "Zipper. Zipper."
"It's cool. I got this."
Pete's hands were small and warm and really good at Gabe's dick, easing it out the fly of his briefs instead of pulling them off entirely. "I like being able to smell the fabric," Pete said, just above a whisper, while they rubbed their thumb in a slow circle over the head. "Shove my face against it and just breathe how it smells, how it smells like you, sweating in it all day. Is that gross? I like it."
"Not gross. Not... oh god. Please. Please, Pete, don't tease me."
"You said don't tease after. I'm just starting."
"I know, but..." Gabe's hips jerked as Pete licked along his shaft. "You're killing me."
"I'm not. Promise." Pete kissed the base of Gabe's dick and then sat up, leaning over to dig in their own duffel bag. "Lube and extra condoms, I'm totally prepared, no Boy Scout jokes please."
"None." Gabe bit his lip and watched Pete tear open the condom packet. "You want me to..."
"I told you, I got this." Pete put the condom between their lips, ducked their head, and slid it onto Gabe with their mouth. Gabe thought that was only something from porn, not something that people did in normal life. Pete was actually magical.
Pete pulled off slowly and reached for the lube, squeezing a line of it down two of their fingers and slicking them up thoroughly. "Spread your legs a little?"
Gabe did as he was told, closing his eyes and letting his head fall forward, chin to his chest, as Pete took him in their mouth again. Pete's fingers pressed against his opening, steady and firm, and Gabe gasped roughly before he made himself relax and let Pete in.
"Fuck," he choked, turning his head to the side, eyes still squeezed shut. "Fuck, Pete. That feels so..."
Pete hummed around him softly, their free hand patting Gabe's thigh. Gabe wanted to look, wanted to see what Pete's mouth looked like stretched around him, but he was pretty sure that if he did, he would lose control of himself. He wanted this to last. He wanted it to last all night, all week, forever.
Pete pressed their fingers deeper, working them inside Gabe with sharp little thrusts. Gabe's hips jerked again and he threw his arm over his mouth, biting down on the curve of his bicep to keep from crying out. Pete's band was in the next room and the walls were really thin. He needed to be quiet.
Pete pulled off again. "Don't worry about making noise," they said, breathless and throaty. "The guys all have their headphones on, I guarantee it. They know what's up."
"Oh, fuck," Gabe groaned. "I can't fucking take it."
"Just imagine what it's going to be like when I fist you for real." Pete kissed Gabe's hipbone. "When I get all the way inside you."
"You would do that?"
"Oh, yeah. I want to hear you when I do that. See how hard you get. You're going to get really hard." Pete scraped their teeth over Gabe's belly. "Right?"
"Fuck. Right." Gabe arched up, trying to get Pete's attention back on his dick. Pete laughed and licked at him, then went down again, and Gabe stopped trying to think at all.
He did his best to tease Pete just as much when it was his turn, to drag things out and make them gasp and beg, but he couldn't concentrate on it. Watching Pete twist on the mattress, the flush rising under their skin, that was way too distracting. And when he shut his eyes to stop seeing it, the noises Pete made were even worse--little whimpers, desperate moans, and cursing, in this deep, ragged voice that made Gabe's whole body tingle. Pete. Being with Pete. It was too much to try to be cool.
Afterward, they moved from Pete's air mattress to Andy's so they could cuddle without lying on sweaty sheets.
"So we should do that a lot," Pete said, resting their forehead against Gabe's chest. "Every day, I think."
"You want to take me back to Chicago with you?" Gabe winced. "Sorry."
"Don't be sorry." Pete shifted so they could look up at Gabe's face. "I would love to take you back to Chicago with me."
"I don't know if I really want to leave here. Not for good. But I want to be where you are."
"I'm a nomad." Pete's lip curled up away from his teeth in that snarl-smile again. "Me and my band. We're everywhere."
Gabe tried to approximate the same face. "I miss being in a band. I mean, a band that actually exists and does things. Me and Rob are still writing music, but we've got no guitarists, so..."
"I can find you guitarists." Pete kissed Gabe's neck. "I've got, like, a dozen guitarists in my back pocket. Just say the word and they're yours."
"Lucky guitarists, getting to live that close to your ass."
Pete bit him lightly. "I'm serious."
"You think I should just grab some random guitarists and tell Rob we're doing this for real again."
"Yeah." Pete rolled onto their back and looked up at the ceiling, groping around until they found Gabe's hand and could grip it tightly. "Write songs that aren't bullshit. That aren't heteronormative. We'll drive around in a van and preach the revolution. Rock-star activism."
"And whenever we run out of money, I set up a card table and do nails until we can buy a tank of gas?"
"Exactly." Pete squeezed his hand. "What's more punk rock than that?"
Gabe closed his eyes for a moment, listening to himself breathe. Listening to Pete breathe. "It's a nice dream."
"It could happen. It doesn't have to be a dream. Why not?"
Gabe took a deep breath and held it until he could feel his heart pounding in his chest. "My dad wants to meet you."
Pete went still for a moment, then rubbed their thumb over the back of Gabe's hand. "Oh?"
"He wants you to come over for dinner. You don't have to if you don't want to."
"What does he know about me?"
Gabe turned his head and looked into Pete's eyes. "Everything."
Pete's mouth twisted a little. "And he still wants to meet me?"
Pete was quiet for a minute, then squeezed Gabe's hand again. "Should I bring a gift?"
"You don't have to. But if you want to, wine or dessert or something, I guess. He'll be so impressed by your manners, he'll start planning our wedding right then and there."
"We're gonna hyphenate. Just so you know."
Gabe wondered if it was normal to feel like you could fly while you were lying on the floor. "Come to dinner Thursday night."
"And come to the shop first and I'll do your nails special."
"If you do that, will you be able to keep your hands off me?" Pete moved closer again and let Gabe pull them into the crook of his arm.
"Only one way to find out."
Gabe opened the door and grinned. "You brought cake."
"You said a dessert." Pete frowned at the cake box in their arms. "I hope you all like chocolate, because this is, like, triple chocolate with chocolate chips. I have wine, too, it's in my backpack. It's cheap wine, though, so if your dad is a wine snob, tell me now and I won't give it to him."
"We all love chocolate. And Papi is the opposite of a wine snob. He'll drink anything."
"Oh, good." Pete rose up on their toes and kissed Gabe's cheek. "Hi."
"Hi." Gabe tugged them inside. "How was recording?"
"Fine. Patrick was mad that I was leaving early, but I told him I was in love and he got all stuttery and told me to get out."
Gabe laughed and took the cake so Pete could get the wine. "Is love, like, his weakness? Is he a supervillain?"
"He's a superhero," Pete corrected. "And a late bloomer. Okay. I'm ready. Let's do this."
Diego and Ilana were setting the table when they walked in. "Ah, Gabe," Diego said, putting the silverware in his hand down on the table. "There you are. And this must be Pete?"
"Hi." Pete held up the wine bottle. "I brought booze. Don't worry. This won't be awkward."
"Meeting Gabe's friends is never awkward." Diego circled the table to shake Pete's hand and take the wine. "I am Diego, and this is my wife, Ilana. Welcome to our home."
"It's nice to meet you," Pete said, waving to Ilana. "I hope the wine's okay."
"They brought cake, too, Papi." Gabe set the cake box on the table. "This is officially a party."
"Cake and wine. I'm all class." Pete put his hands in his pockets. "Can I help with anything?"
"You're our guest," Ilana said firmly. "Make yourself comfortable, that's all you need to do."
"I'd really like to help."
"Gabe can show you where the wine glasses are," Diego said. "The nice ones, please, mijo. We want to impress your person."
"I'm totally impressed," Pete said softly enough that only Gabe could hear. "Really really impressed."
Gabe guided him to the cabinet where the glasses were kept, then stopped, looking down at Pete's feet. "You wore sandals."
"Of course." Pete wiggled their toes. "I wanted your dad to see your good work."
"Gabe is very talented," Diego said. "Come, let me see, please, Pete."
Gabe stood by the cabinet and tried not to blush while Pete held their foot up in the air and Diego studied the red polish and gold foil stars Gabe had applied. "Very nicely done," Diego pronounced. "He will take very good care of your feet, you know, Pete."
"I know." Pete grinned. "I can't wait to hear his music, too. I bet he's as good at that as he is at polish."
"Pete," Gabe muttered, waving his hand.
"Ah." Diego smiled. "You have convinced him to make music again? You are absolutely my favorite of all of his persons."
"He's going to write queercore and we'll tour together and start a revolution."
Gabe's face hurt again from blushing too hard, and his heart was jumping into his throat. "I'm gonna--" he muttered, and fled to the kitchen.
He splashed water on his face and kicked the baseboard. "Shit."
"I do not know what queercore is," Diego said from behind him, "but I am so glad you will be making music again, mijo."
"It might not work out. I don't know. Rob might not want to, we might not find a guitarist."
"Doors are opening for you. Don't slam them without a reason."
Gabe shook his head and turned around. "I'm not disappointing you?"
"Not in the slightest," Diego said firmly. "And even if you were, it would be completely balanced out by the delightful person you have brought home."
Gabe started to smile. "They are pretty great, huh?"
"They are charming. Let's join them before my wife has them dyeing her hair."
"They would, you know. And she would look great."
"Perhaps next time."
Gabe followed him back to the dining room and returned Pete's questioning look with a smile. "It's cool," he said.
Pete crossed over to him and kissed his cheek. "Good."
Gabe sniffed at their mouth. "You've already gotten into the wine?"
"Ilana and I wanted to make sure it hadn't gone bad."
"Wine doesn't go bad, it--" Gabe stopped himself. "You're messing with me."
Pete nodded and kissed him again. "Better get used to it."