MAX was convinced his shift would never end. By the time he finally got out of The Crescent Hotel, the London evening weather matched his mood. It was raining hard again, water seeping down the back of his neck. As Max trudged home, his mind wasn’t on the weather but the sight of Robert’s large frame walking out of the hotel room toward his future. A future that didn’t include Max.
He stopped as he reached the top floor of his building. Robert was slumped on the floor, his back against the front door of the studio apartment. He was the last person Max expected to see, wet and shivering, on his doorstep. The man should be at his reception, celebrating his wedding to his beautiful bride, Evie. Robert’s eyes were closed and he didn’t seem to notice who was beside him until Max knelt down.
“Hey.” Max laid a hand on his arm, squeezing lightly.
Opening his eyes, Robert gave a wan smile when he saw Max kneeling beside him. “Hey.” He had aged five years since their confrontation that morning, his eyes bloodshot and swollen and his skin pale under his summer tan.
“Robert….” Max started to speak, wanting to know if Robert was here for him or here because he had nowhere else to go.
“Not now, Max, please? I’ve just dumped my fiancée at the altar with no real explanation. It’s been just about the shittiest day of my life. I need to sleep and I’d like to sleep with you, if you’ll let me?” He sounded so weary, his Texan accent deeper, and because Max was weak and stupid, he opened the door and let Robert back into his life.
They stripped off their clothes and climbed into the small bed, Max pulling Robert’s head down onto his chest, ignoring the fact that his long and straggly hair was still damp. Robert burrowed into him like he was trying to hide. Max stroked the long line of Robert’s back and kissed the top of his head.
Rain pattered down against the skylight, but Max felt warm and happy in his bed, even as quiet tears soaked into his skin. He tightened his hold on Robert and waited for the storm to pass.
“HEY, honey, do you want a soda?”
His mother’s musical voice penetrated his doze. Max dragged himself out of his stupor to answer, “No thanks, Mom,” and burrowed back down in the hammock, trying to recapture the dream again—the one where Robert had actually returned—instead of the reality.
Reality was that, a year later, Max was back home in Dallas. Max had watched Robert walk out the door and known it was the last time he’d be in the same room as the young actor. Robert was the last man to take Max’s body and, worse, his heart, stomping on it as he ran to his little bride. The bastard had even gone one step further. He’d kissed Max as he’d left, a slow and tender kiss that promised Westley his Buttercup would wait for him instead of running off to marry another prince. Max shook his head. It wasn’t fucking fair. There was no coming back from a marriage. In fact, Max preferred they didn’t look back. At least he had nothing to hang onto then, no images to trouble his dreams. Once his favorite movie, now he hated The Princess Bride for promising him a fairy tale that would never happen.
Reality was Max spending his Friday afternoon off in the hammock in his parents’ backyard. Max had been home just over a year and worked as a day manager at one of the anonymously boring, big-chain, midrange hotels in Dallas. Boring and generic the hotel might be, but Max actually liked his job. He’d been thinking of going back to study hotel management. The empathy that had proved his strength and downfall in London he channelled here into looking after the guests and staff, while keeping himself distant from the stream of good-looking men passing through his doors. He spent most of his time in his own apartment, but he couldn’t resist the occasional invitation from his mom to spend an afternoon snoozing in the backyard or the lure of a home-cooked dinner.
Max closed his eyes and tried to recapture the dream. Reality was fucking shit.
MAX saw Chris just before he left London. It took remarkably little time to hand in his notice and sublet his flat to one of the hotel staff. It was strictly against the terms of the lease, but Max’s landlord didn’t care as long as the rent was paid on time. He’d booked his flight to Dallas before he met Chris for coffee at their usual café.
Chris glanced up at him from reading the newspaper as he slid into the booth they called “theirs.” The cracked and dirty plastic upholstery with the yellow foam exposed seemed almost like home away from home now.
“Jesus, son, you look like shit.”
“Why, thanks, Chris. You’re so good for my ego.” Max slumped down on the seat, looking for the waitress to take his order.
“He did a real number on you, didn’t he?” Chris looked angry.
Max was touched by his concern. “It was my own fault…,” he began.
He jumped as Chris slammed his fist down on the Formica table.
“Too fucking right it is! Are you a total fucking moron? What did I tell you? What were my rules?
“‘Don’t look, don’t touch, and definitely don’t fondle the merchandise,’” Max quoted obediently.
“They were rules two, three, and four. What was rule number one?”
Max pressed his lips together. He wasn’t a fucking child, and he didn’t need to be pulled over Chris’s knee in public for a spanking.
“The first rule, Max. After the last fucking time you got yourself into this state? What was the first rule?”
“If they’ve got a dick, don’t offer them a seat in the cubbyhole.”
Chris tapped the table with his fingernail. “And what did you do?”
“Invited him into the cubbyhole.”
“And what did he have?”
“A big, thick dick. It was just a shame he didn’t get the chance to shove it into my cubbyhole.” Max said crudely, but he was unable to prevent the flush at the memory of exactly where he had shoved it.
Rolling his eyes, Chris said, “And did you ask him before or after he checked in?”
Max glared at him. “It wasn’t like that. He asked for a drink.”
Chris sighed. “There’s a fucking bar, Max. Most people have a drink in the bar. You don’t have to fuck them all.”
“I didn’t, I don’t,” Max protested. But he had. He fucked Robert ’til the man was a boneless mess beneath him. He shivered.
“No?” Chris gave him the fish-eye. “Do you even bother to say hello? Or do you just go straight for the fucking?” His voice was rising and Max saw the couple in the next booth look over.
“You wanna say that slightly louder, Chris? I don’t think my mom heard you.”
“Sorry.” But Chris didn’t sound sorry. He sounded pissed.
“Look, I’m sorry, I know I’m stupid to keep doing the same thing.”
Max stopped when his plate of eggs and bacon was put in front of him. Rosie, the elderly waitress, was the same one who had served them since they discovered the café in the railway arches.
She looked at him critically. “You look like death, luv. Been burning the candle at both ends, have we?”
He gave her a wan smile. “Something like that.”
“You need to find a nice boy of your own to settle down with,” Rosie told him.
Choking on his first mouthful of eggs, Max reached for his glass of water. Through the tears streaming from his eyes, he saw Chris cracking up.
“He’s not so good at understanding the part about finding a man of his own… Ow! Fuc….” Swallowing the curse, Chris clutched his bruised shin, newly decorated by the toe of Max’s sneakers.
Rosie patted Max on the shoulder and left them alone.
Chris glared at Max. “That fucking hurt, dude.”
“Tough.” Max forked more eggs into his mouth. He swallowed and said, “I’m going back home.” When Chris didn’t say anything, Max looked up. “Say something.”
Shrugging, Chris pushed his empty plate away. “What is there to say? I think it’s a good thing.”
“Uh-huh. You’re fucking up here, son. Go home. Screw up over there. Your mom can look after you instead.”
“You’re all heart,” Max said drily.
Chris’s face softened. “Go home, Max. Let your momma look after you and get some perspective. You’re an intelligent guy stuck in a dead-end job. That’s why you keep doing these stupid things. Go back to school and get a real degree. Do something with your life.”
Max grinned at him. “I’m gonna miss you, y’know?”
“Gonna miss you too, fucker.” Chris sat back, letting out a satisfied belch. “I’ve been thinking of going home too. It’s time I went somewhere that can cook a steak without incinerating it.”
“Thought you hated the thought of going back to Hicksville?”
“Yeah, well, America’s a big country. One or two places are even civilized; somewhere there must be a place for me. And at least they understand what I’m saying. I get sick of having to repeat myself to these hoity-toity nonces.”
Laughing at Chris’s appalling upper-class English accent, Max picked up his empty coffee cup and waved it at Rosie. Today was a day for changes. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing.