The Letter Z
THE whole thing is Jared’s fault.
Now, I don’t wanna say I don’t like Jared. What’s not to like, right? He’s cute as hell. He always smiles, never argues. Everybody fuckin’ loves him. He’s probably Zach’s best friend, and he’s practically married to mine. So I better love him too, right? The thing is, he’s just so good. And I know, ’specially after what happened at New Year’s, that he thinks I’m bad. And can I help it if sometimes I just want to punch him in the fuckin’ face for it? Not that I ever would. I mean, Zach wouldn’t know what to do, and Matt would know what to do. And stupid as I may be, I don’t want Matt pissed at me. I may be tough, but I’m pretty sure Matt could kick my ass with his eyes closed. So when Jared smiles at me, I smile right back, and I keep my fuckin’ mouth shut.
Still, I know he’s had a bone to pick with me ever since New Year’s.
I guess I better start there….
MATT and Jared are havin’ a New Year’s party. Started out with Matt sayin’ how they need to stay active in the community and maintain a positive image. What the fuck ever. Jared wasn’t really into it, but then Lizzy heard ’bout it, and you can pretty much guess what happened after that. And ’course if Matt and Jared are havin’ a party, Zach and I gotta be there too.
There’s a few cops and their wives, a whole buncha teachers, some of Lizzy’s friends, and Brian’s too. As soon as we walk in the door, Zach groans.
“What’s wrong?” I ask him.
“I hate parties,” he says. “I don’t know anybody here.”
I can’t help but laugh. “What are you talkin’ ’bout, Zach? We know everybody here!”
“They all rent from us.”
“Who’s that?” He points to a lady across the room.
“Susan Dahlinger. She works at the bakery in the grocery store. Likes action flicks.”
“Ann Farraday. Teaches at the high school with Jared. Likes foreign films. Only one in this town who rents ’em too.”
“Frank Jacobsen. He’s a mechanic at that shop over on Fifth Street. He likes action flicks, too, but his wife likes dramas. Half the time, they compromise by rentin’ romantic comedies. Guess they figure, that way, nobody’s happy.”
I look back at Zach, and the look he’s givin’ me actually makes me blush. Like I’m somethin’ from another planet, or—I don’t know—like I really am an angel just like he says, and he’s just amazed.
“How do you do that?” he asks me. I don’t have an answer for him. I just pay attention, and I know he doesn’t.
Jared comes over then and drags me away. He’s got it in his head now that I’m readin’ more that I should join a book group. He introduces me to a couple of people: the chick who teaches English at the high school, and another lady who’s a nurse. I’m not so sure ’bout a fuckin’ book group to begin with, and he’s found me one that’s all chicks? Sometimes I think Jared doesn’t get me at all. Then there’s times like this when he proves it.
So I’m standin’ there while those two ladies talk to me, and that’s when he walks in.
I know right away this guy’s not from Coda. First, just ’cause I never seen him ’round. And second, ’cause he’s queer. And I don’t just mean queer like me or Matt or Jared or even Zach. I mean queer with a pink flamin’ capital Q. He’s shorter than Jared, but taller than me. He’s thin and has brown hair. His clothes aren’t what you see ’round Coda much either. He’s dressed sorta like an ’80s punk rocker, ’cept with way more class. Like a rich kid’s version of Sid Vicious. He’s definitely got money. He’s a little bit fem. Oh, and one more thing: he’s fuckin’ hot. I see him, and the first thing I think ’bout is how it would feel to take those rich-boy clothes off of him.
He comes in and talks to Jared—and he’s flirtin’ with Jared like crazy, and Jared’s just brushin’ him off. Not like he’s bein’ rude. It’s more like he’s used to bein’ hit on by the guy, and he’s not takin’ it seriously at all, and I’m wonderin’ what Matt’s gonna think ’bout this. And then the guy turns around and looks at me.
Now, I sure as hell don’t believe in love at first sight. But I do believe in lust at first sight. And that’s exactly what this is. For a second, he just looks me up and down, and then he smiles. It’s not just any smile either—it’s the kinda smile that’s an invitation, and there’s not a doubt in my mind that we’re both thinkin’ the exact same thing.
But I’m with Zach.
This whole “relationship” thing is still so new to me.
First guy I ever fooled ’round with was just before I turned sixteen. He and I had a few weeks together, gettin’ each other off ’bout every night before his mom caught us. Never saw him again after that. Eleven years later, I met Zach, and we been together a few months now. But in those eleven years between Bobby and Zach, I never had any kinda relationship at all. Every sexual encounter I had—and I ain’t gonna lie, there were lots of ’em—was quick and impersonal. Mostly just guys I met at clubs. Twice when I was younger, not even twenty yet, I went with the same guy three times. But there’s somethin’ ’bout the third time that makes people think you gotta start talkin’. Both times, it was that third encounter that made ’em start wantin’ to know my name, where I was from. All that bullshit that I had no desire to share. So after that, I had a rule: twice max, with any one guy. Few years later, I decided even that was too much.
Up until Zach, that is.
I know there’s sex, and I know there’s love, and I know if you get lucky, there’s sex and love. That’s what I have with Zach. And I learned over the last few months how much better it is. So up ’til now, I haven’t looked back. But all of a sudden, I’m wishin’ I could do the quick and impersonal thing again, just one more time.
The new guy’s talkin’ to Lizzy now, but he never takes his eyes off me for long. I can feel him watchin’ me. And right or wrong, knowin’ he’s watchin’ me is turnin’ me on. The more I try to tell myself not to think ’bout him, the more I find myself lookin’ his way.
I finally look ’round and find Zach. He’s in the kitchen talkin’ to Matt, and he’s lookin’ right at me. I make my way over to him through the crowded living room. Matt leaves before I get there. I lean against the counter next to Zach, with my back to the guy I’m tryin’ to ignore.
“Having fun?” Zach asks me, and there’s somethin’ funny in the way he says it. Not accusing. More like he’s laughin’ at me. When I look at him, he’s just smilin’.
“Sure,” I say.
“Who is he?” he asks.
“Who?” I ask, even though I think I know.
He gives me a pointed look, still sorta smilin’, and says, “The guy you’re flirting with.”
I feel my cheeks turn red, and I look at the floor. “Don’t know.”
“He’s still watching you.” He doesn’t sound upset, or jealous. He still sounds like he thinks the whole thing is kinda funny. “He’s cute,” he says.
“If you say so,” I say, but I can’t look at him.
“Angelo,” he says in that voice that means he thinks I’m bein’ an idiot, “you think I don’t know by now when you’re turned on?”
Now I really can’t look at him. I feel ’bout two inches tall. I’m embarrassed and I’m ashamed. I feel guilty. I love Zach so much. The last thing in the world I want to do is hurt him.
I’m just ’bout to open my mouth and tell Zach that I’m sorry, when suddenly he says, “Go ahead, Ang.”
I look up to find his eyes on me. “What?” I ask stupidly. Not usually me who can’t keep up when Zach and I are talkin’, but I definitely feel behind right now.
“Go ahead,” he says again, smilin’ at me. “Have fun. Just come back to me when you’re done.”
For a second I just stand there, totally speechless. Is he sayin’ what I think he’s sayin’? Is he serious? Or is this some kinda test? Not like Zach to do that, but I still wonder. “I can’t,” I finally manage to say.
He looks surprised at that. He’s lookin’ at me, doin’ that thing he does, like he’s searchin’ for an answer and if he looks hard enough, it’ll appear there on my forehead or somethin’. And I guess maybe this time it does, ’cause he suddenly gets this look of comprehension on his face.
“We can’t talk in here,” he says quietly. “Come on.” He takes my hand and leads me through the house and then out into the backyard. It’s cold, and the only people outside are a couple of ladies smokin’ on the patio. Zach leads me past them into the yard, where Matt and Jared have a picnic table. He sits down on it so he’s my height. I’m havin’ a hard time lookin’ him in the eyes.
“Angelo?” He waits until I finally meet his gaze, and then he says, “I know you want him. I know he wants you. So, what’s the problem?”
Now I really feel like this is some kind of trap. “I’m with you, Zach.”
He reaches out and grabs one of my belt loops. He pulls me over to him. “I don’t mind.”
I think ’bout that for a minute. We never really talked before ’bout whether we were gonna be exclusive or not. Guess I just assumed we were. “You tellin’ me it’s okay if I sleep with other guys?”
“No.” His gaze on mine is intense, and I know what he’s gonna say next is important. “I’m telling you that here, tonight, it’s okay if you sleep with him.”
“Okay.” I’m kinda relieved actually he’s not sayin’ we’re gonna have a totally open relationship. But it’s not gonna be one hundred percent monogamous either. Some gray area in between. And then I realize what that might mean. “I couldn’t do that for you,” I tell him. “Might not be fair, Zach, but I’m not sharin’ you.”
He smiles at me. “I doubt you’ll ever need to.”
“You won’t be jealous?”
I see him thinkin’ ’bout that for a second. Then, instead of answerin’ me, he asks me a question. “Is there anything that can happen with him that would make you leave me?”
I don’t even have to think ’bout that one. “No!” I grab him and kiss him hard. Wrap my arms ’round his neck, and feel his arms go ’round my waist. “Not ever leavin’ you.”
He smiles, but asks me another question. “Do you think there’s any chance that what you’ll have with him will be better than what we have?”
“But you still want it?” I don’t have to answer him. He sees the answer in my eyes, and the way I start to blush again. “It’s okay, Ang. I can’t stop you from wanting other people. I certainly can’t stop other people from wanting you. I guess I could take you home and try to make you turn all that energy my way. But really,” he shrugs, “I think you know how to separate sex from your emotions.” ’Course I do. It’s what I did for eleven years. He pulls me close again and kisses me. “Let him have a little piece of you, Ang. As long as the rest belongs to me.”
“All of me belongs to you,” I say, and it’s the truth. ’Cause even if I do fuck the guy, I’m not plannin’ on sharin’ any shred of my real self with him at all. “Are you sure?” I ask Zach.
He smiles. “I’m sure, Ang.” And then he gets sort of businesslike. “Will you take him to our place?”
“No way.” Never took guys home with me before. Sure as hell not gonna start now. “We’ll stay here.”
“Good,” he says. He kisses my forehead and stands up. “Have fun.”
I stay in the backyard for a few more minutes, freezin’ my ass off and thinkin’ ’bout Zach. I’m hopin’ like hell neither one of us ends up regrettin’ this.
I go back inside, and I spot the guy right away. Pretty clear, too, he’s been watchin’ for me. He gives me that smile again—the one that I know is an invitation—and nods his head toward the hallway. Toward the bedroom.
And this time, I smile back.
He waits for me where the hallway starts, and when I get there, he takes my hand and leads me down the hall. Jared’s comin’ out of his bedroom just as we get there, and he practically runs right into us.
“Where’re you going?” he asks, looking back and forth between us.
“To the bedroom,” the guy I’m with says. “You don’t mind, do you, sugar?” It’s the first time I heard him talk, and his voice is light and melodious and a little bit feminine. His tone is teasing, almost laughing. Like the whole world’s a joke, and he’s the only who gets it.
“What are you planning on doing once you get there?” Jared asks.
The guy laughs. “Sugar, you are so cute when you play dumb.” He’s still holdin’ my hand, but he puts his free arm ’round Jared’s waist and pushes up against him. “Why don’t you come too?”
Jared brushes him off, like he’s done it a million times. His cheeks start to turn red, and he looks right at me. “What about Zach?” he asks.
“What ’bout him?” I ask. Not ’cause I don’t know what he’s gettin’ at, but ’cause it annoys me that Jared thinks he’s gotta get involved.
“Have you thought about what will happen if he finds out?”
“He already knows.”
“Yeah, man. He’s in the kitchen. Go ask him yourself if you don’t believe me.”
“I don’t think you should—”
But the guy cuts him off. “Sugar, you know how much I love it when you go all small-town on me, but really. We’re all consenting adults here.” He pushes his way past Jared and into the bedroom, pullin’ me along behind him. I close the door and lean against it, and he steps up close to me.
“I thought you were going to make me wait all night,” he says, smilin’ at me, and I can’t help but smile back.
“I thought I was too,” I say.
“I don’t want to cause any trouble with your boyfriend. Were you telling Jared the truth?”
“I’m not lyin’. He said it’s okay.”
His smile gets a little bit sexier. “Good.” He leans against me and kisses my jaw. His tongue flicks over my ear. His touch makes my pulse race, and I’m already mostly hard. I’m not thinkin’ ’bout anything but what I want to do to him. But then he whispers in my ear, “Does he want to join us?”
Just a few words, but it’s like a slap in the face for me. Not sure why I didn’t think of that. Maybe it would be better. But then I think ’bout seein’ Zach touch some other man, and I know I couldn’t do it. Zach may not be the jealous type, but I am. I push him away just a little so I can see his face. “You can’t have Zach,” I say, and I sound angrier than I meant to.
He just grins at me. “I don’t want him, sugar. Just offering for your sake.”
He leans forward to kiss me, and I pull away without even thinkin’ ’bout it. This is just like the clubs. Same rules. Don’t let them kiss me. Never let them fuck me. He looks a little surprised, but doesn’t push it. He takes my hand again and leads me over to the bed. He opens the drawer on the bedside table. Not the top one, like I would’ve done if I was lookin’ for the lube. He goes right to the second drawer and pulls out a tube, digs way in the back and comes up with a couple of condoms.
“You been with Jared,” I say, surprised.
He smiles over his shoulder at me. “Many times, sugar.”
It all clicks into place now, and I realize what an idiot I been to not figure it out sooner. “You’re Cole.”
“Oh my,” he says flirtatiously, batting his eyes at me and giving me a wicked grin. “My reputation precedes me.”
There’s a sort of tongue-in-cheek edge to his flamboyance, and I can’t help but smile. “What’re you doin’ here?”
He puts one hand on my hip. Just that little bit of contact, and my heart starts racin’ again. “I’m in Colorado for the weekend. I hadn’t talked to Jared since last year, so I decided to call, just in case.”
“In case he and Matt split?”
“Can’t blame guy for trying, right, sugar? Jared invited me to the party anyway. I thought maybe he and the big pissed off cop were into threesomes.”
I almost laugh at that—the idea of Matt lettin’ anybody touch Jared. “Not a chance in hell.”
“Oh well,” he says as he steps closer to me. “You’re here. I’m here.” He puts his arms ’round me and kisses my neck. “I hope Jared didn’t say anything that’s going to make you change your mind now,” he whispers as his lips brush my ear.
I shake my head. “Wasn’t Jared told me ’bout you. It was Matt.”
He pulls back to look at me, and his eyes twinkle a little. “I’m sure that was an interesting conversation.”
“He said he caught you with Jared, before they were together.”
He just smiles. “Honestly, you make it sound so tawdry. By the time Matt showed up, we had all our clothes on and everything.” He pulls my shirt off and pushes himself against me. His voice in my ear is soft and sexy. “So tell me, sugar, are we going to talk all night?”
“I hope not,” I say, and he laughs. His hands slide down my back, then around to my belt. “I won’t bottom,” I say. Probably seems kinda sudden, but I figure now’s as good a time as any to say it.
“That’s just fine, sugar,” he says, and kisses my jaw again. I put my arms ’round him, under his shirt. His skin is smooth and soft against my fingertips. He gets my pants unbuttoned, and one hand slides down my stomach, into my boxers. He bites my neck a little, moaning, as I thrust against his hand. His fingers are soft, gently exploring, moving down my shaft.
I’m definitely done talkin’. Besides Zach, I haven’t wanted anyone this much in a long time. I pull his shirt off and push him roughly back onto the bed. He looks up at me in surprise, and I can tell he likes it that I’m bein’ more aggressive now. I climb on top of him. I can’t decide where to touch him first. He’s skinnier than Zach—skinny like me. Our bodies are almost identical, really. We could be brothers. His skin is beautiful, just a little bit lighter than my own, and there’s no hair on his chest at all. I run my hands down his sides and over his soft stomach. He wraps his legs around me and grinds against me, and I lock my mouth over one of his nipples. He moans and his fingers go into my hair. That’s okay for now.
We grind together while I tease first one nipple, then the other. He tries to reach for my groin again, but I push his hands away and hold his arms down. He definitely likes that. His eyes close, and he moans and arches against me.
I move lower on him and unbutton his pants. He lifts his hips so I can slide them down. I’m surprised to find that he has no pubic hair. He’s shaved totally clean. Never been with anyone who shaved before, and it’s crazy sexy. He even smells different from other guys. Not musky. Something sweeter and cleaner. Holy fuck, it’s hot. I spend a long time just runnin’ my hands and my tongue all over that smooth skin. I especially like the way it feels to suck his smooth sac into my mouth. He’s breathin’ hard, moanin’ softly, his fingers in my hair. I push his hands away. “Don’t touch my head while I’m doin’ it.”
“Sure thing, sugar,” and his hands go to my shoulders.
I circle his head once with my tongue first before sliding down his length, sucking him in all the way. His breath catches. He puts his arms out to the sides and grabs hold of the sheets and his back arches toward me. I think for a second he’s gonna come already. But then he gasps out, “Oh my God, you’re good.” He doesn’t talk any more after that, but I’m glad there’s music playin’ in the other room, ’cause he’s not exactly bein’ quiet either.
Not even gonna try to guess how many blowjobs I’ve given over the years, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never given one like this. I’m all over him. My hands are grippin’ his ass, helpin’ him thrust deeper into my mouth. My fingers are slidin’ up and down his crack. I’m so turned on, I’m not sure he’s even gonna need to touch me. I could easily climax just by grindin’ against the bed while I suck him off. Probably would, too, if I didn’t still have my pants on.
I finally feel his muscles start to clench, and he moans out, “Fair warning, sugar.” I actually laugh a little at that, which isn’t easy with a guy’s cock halfway down your throat. He cries out when he comes, and I let him stay deep in my throat until he’s done.
Afterward, I move up so I can look down into his face. His eyes are half-closed, and he grins lazily up at me. “Can I kiss you now?” he asks.
He shrugs a little. He trails his fingers down my chest, into my pants, and he wraps his hand around my cock. “You want the same thing?” he asks quietly, and his grip on me tightens. “Or would you rather fuck me?” Just the thought of getting’ him on his knees in front of me makes my breath catch in my throat, and my erection jumps a little in his hand. He smiles at me. “I was hoping that would be your answer.”
I stand up so he can get his pants off the rest of the way. I don’t take my pants off. Just push them down enough to be out of the way. I put on one of the condoms and spread some lube on myself. He gets on his hands and knees and looks back at me over his shoulder.
I gotta admit, pretty much all rational thought leaves my brain at that moment. I’m just lookin’ at his ass, right in front of me, like an offering. I’m afraid to touch him. I know I’m gonna lose control.
“What are you waiting for?”
My mouth is dry, and I try to lick my lips. “Not sure I can be gentle,” I say, and it doesn’t even sound like my voice. Can’t believe I want him this much.
“No need to be, sugar,” he says, and there’s laughter in his voice. He winks at me. “I’m not as fragile as I look.” He wiggles his ass at me teasingly. I grab his hips, push against him. That first moment when I push past his rim almost undoes me. He leans back into me, pushing down all the way. I stop there, buried to the hilt in him, just reveling in that amazing tightness around my cock.
“Do it!” he hisses at me, and the last bit of my control goes up in smoke. Before I know it, I’m drivin’ into him fast and hard, and he’s givin’ back as good as I’m givin’. He’s panting hard. Our skin is slappin’ together, and the bed is creakin’, and I don’t care if the whole fuckin’ world knows what’s goin’ on right now. I know he’s gonna be sore tomorrow, and he’s probably gonna have bruises on his hips where I’m holdin’ onto him, but I can’t do anything to stop. Somethin’ ’bout him just makes me wild. I think ’bout how it felt to go down on him. All that smooth hairless skin, and the way he smelled, and that’s it. I lose it then, hold him down tight against me while I come.
When I’m done, he pulls away. He flops down on his back and smiles up at me. I lay down next to him, not touchin’, and we both just work on breathin’ regular again.
After a minute, he says, “I still don’t know your name.”
’Course one of my rules is to never tell them my name, but this seems different somehow. “Angelo.”
“Angelo.” He sighs. “I better get out of here. Jared’s big bad boyfriend will rip my legs off if he finds me in his bed. I don’t think it will matter who I’m here with.”
I have a feelin’ he’s right. And I don’t even want to think ’bout what Matt will say to me. I stand up, hold a hand out to him and help him up. We get dressed in silence. I follow him to the door. He starts to open it, then suddenly closes it again and turns around to look at me.
“It’s gone now, isn’t it?” he says in surprise.
“All that tension. I haven’t wanted anyone so much in a long time. But now,” he shrugs, “it’s over.”
He’s right. Whatever I felt with him is already fadin’—like a match that flares bright at first, but goes out too soon. Now he just seems like any other guy. Like we could hang out forever and never fuck again. “Guess so,” I say.
He smiles a little. “Your boyfriend must be a pretty smart guy.” He puts his hand on my arm. “Take care, Angelo.” And then he leaves. Goes back to the party. I see him walk up to Jared, and Jared glances back at me, lookin’ like he wants to punch me.
I don’t care. I don’t gotta worry ’bout what Jared thinks.
I see Zach as soon as I walk back into the kitchen. He’s leanin’ against the sink, talkin’ to Lizzy. His eyes land on me the minute I come into the room. They’re curious, but nothing more. Not angry. Not jealous. Not sad. That’s good, ’cause I can’t take it back now, and I don’t know what I would’ve done if he freaked out on me.
I stop and get a soda out of the fridge and drink half of it all at once. I won’t go to him with Cole’s taste still on my tongue. Then I turn to face him, and he smiles at me.
I step up to him and lean against him. His body is so safe and familiar. I run my hands up his chest, kiss his jaw. He shivers a little, then relaxes and puts his arms around me. All I want now is him. Don’t know if it makes sense, but right at this moment, I want him more than ever. If we were alone, I’d already be undressin’ him.
I put my arms around his waist and have to stand on my toes to whisper in his ear, “How’d you get so smart?”
He laughs. “I’m not sure I am. Jared spent the last twenty minutes telling me what a fool I am.”
I look into his eyes and say, “He’s wrong.”
“You think so?”
I nod. “I know so.”
He smiles down at me, and my hands are startin’ to wander over him. Know there’s all kinds of people ’round to see, but I don’t care. I put one hand on the back of his head and pull him down to kiss me. I love the way his tongue moves over my bottom lip, and the way one of his hands slides up my spine to the back of my neck. I love that it’s familiar. I know he’s gonna do it, but it still turns me on every time. That’s the way it should be.
“Zach,” I say, while his lips are still against mine. “Take me home.”
He pulls back just a little, and now he does look worried. “Is this because you feel guilty?” he asks quietly.
I shake my head. “No.” And it’s the truth. Maybe I should feel guilty, but I don’t. I take a deep breath, make myself look into his eyes and say those words. They usually catch in my throat, but tonight, it’s easier than it’s ever been. “’Cause I love you, Zach.” The light and happiness in his eyes when I say it is worth everything. “Can’t even tell you how much.” I kiss him again. “Take me home, and I’ll show you instead.”
He smiles down at me. “Okay.”
I was worried the drive home would be weird, but it’s not. When we get there, I take him back in the bedroom. We undress each other, and then I put my arms around him and say, “Make love to me, Zach.”
He smiles. “Anything you want, angel.”
He pushes me back on the bed. We don’t hurry. He touches me everywhere, kisses my stomach and my chest and my neck. Then one hand slides down my back, over my ass, and his fingers push against my rim.
And suddenly he stops. He pulls back and looks down at me in surprise. “You didn’t…?” He lets the question trail away, but I know what he’s askin’. I always bottom with Zach, not ’cause that’s what he expects, but ’cause that’s what I like best with him. It’s the most intimate thing in the world. It’s when I feel closest to him. I’m not surprised he assumed that’s what I’d done with Cole too.
“You’re the only one in a long time, Zach. Almost five years.” I pull his head down and kiss him, my arms tight around his neck. I trace my tongue over his lips. “This, too, Zach,” I say, with my lips still touching his. “Only you.”
And I can see in his eyes that it means a lot to him. He takes one of my hands and kisses my palm. “I love you so much, Angelo.”
“That ’specially, Zach. Only you. Ever.”
“We’re okay, right? You and me?”
He smiles down at me. “Angelo, we’re absolutely perfect.” And then he proves it.
TWO months later, Zach and I are in our dinin’ room, workin’ on a puzzle. It’s what we do most nights after dinner. I have a beer, and Zach has a glass of wine. We turn on some music—we have this completely ridiculous playlist we made special, half his music and half mine, and if you thought Asa and Cocoon couldn’t live next to Pantera and KoRn on an MP3 player, I guess Zach and I are here to prove you wrong. And if it happens that I actually know every single word of half of Ellis’s songs, I’m not admittin’ it to Zach, any more than he’ll admit to me that he listens to my Green Day CD when he’s cleanin’ the house. Don’t ask me why. That’s just the way we are.
So we’re sittin’ there like always, workin’ the puzzle together, when Matt and Jared show up. We haven’t seen ’em in a few days, and I’m happy to see Matt. I’m not so happy to see Jared. My encounter with Cole didn’t change anything between me and Zach at all, but it definitely fucked up my friendship with Jared. It’s not like he’s an asshole or anything. Not really. But somehow he’s a little more uptight with me now, and the smiles he gives me aren’t quite so genuine. I try to pretend like nothin’ happened; like I don’t know that he’s still a little bit pissed. But even now, after two fuckin’ months, things between us are weird. I know it annoys Zach and confuses Matt, who has no clue what went down, but I don’t know how to make it right.
They come inside, and Zach comes out of the kitchen with beers for both of ’em, and we all sit down in the livin’ room. I can tell Jared’s excited ’bout somethin’.
“What’s up?” I ask him.
“Next week’s spring break,” he blurts out, all in a rush. ’Course that doesn’t matter to anybody but him. He’s a teacher, so it means he gets the week off.
“And?” I say, ’cause there’s obviously more.
“I think we should go to Vegas.”
“Next week?” Zach asks.
“Yeah! I found a great deal on rooms, and if we drive instead of flying, it won’t cost us much at all. It’s only about twelve hours if the weather’s good, and between the four of us we could easily drive straight through.”
“I’d have to close the store,” Zach says.
Jared’s smile gets bigger. “No, you wouldn’t. We can leave early Monday morning and be home by Thursday night.” That means Zach and I won’t miss any of the nights when we’re actually showin’ movies in the back half of the store. “And during the week, we got that covered. We—” Matt suddenly smacks him on the back of the head. Jared looks a little sheepish, but goes on, “I already talked to Lizzy and the moms. They said they would take care of everything.”
When we were in Denver, Zach and I covered the store ourselves. But now that we show movies on weekend nights, too, it’s turned into a lotta hours for two people. We have part-time employees who help on the weekends, during the shows, but it still makes for a hella-long week. So a couple months ago, Lizzy volunteered to help. She decided she might like to work a few hours a week, just to get away from doin’ the mom thing all day, every day, and ’course Zach let her. But for some reason, after that Jared’s mom Susan decided she’d like to help out too. And then Lucy, Matt’s mom, decided to come along and keep Susan company.
None of ’em have regular hours—they just show up whenever it suits ’em. I think they like bein’ able to hang out and gossip with whoever comes in the store. Zach tries to pay ’em, but only Lizzy ever bothers to clock in or out. Truthfully, it’s sort of a ridiculous setup, and at first I hated havin’ ’em ’round. Lizzy talks too much, and the moms just make me nervous. But it saves Zach money, and it gives us both a break from the store now and then.
Jared’s still sittin’ there, with a grin from ear to ear, waitin’ for an answer. Matt’s obviously amused more by Jared’s enthusiasm than by the idea of Vegas, but I know he’ll do whatever Jared wants in the end. Zach’s thinkin’ ’bout it, but I can’t tell if he really wants to go or not.
And me? I feel like a kid who just found out Santa’s comin’ twice this year. I’m so excited, I can barely hold still. I never been to Vegas. Never been anywhere, actually, ’cept when I was in third grade and my foster family took me with ’em to Yellowstone. Other than that, I never even been out of Colorado. Jared could’ve said he wanted to drive to Kansas to sit in the middle of a fuckin’ cornfield, and I would’ve been game. Still, I hate to look like a wide-eyed kid, so I’m doin’ my best to play it cool and act like it’s no big deal.
“I guess maybe we could go,” Zach says, but he sounds skeptical. Then he turns and looks at me. Guess my poker face isn’t as good as I think it is ’cause as soon as his eyes meet mine, he smiles, and then he says to Jared, “We’re in.”
We leave on Monday morning at five o’clock. Zach and Jared are both grumpy and complainin’ ’bout it bein’ too early. Matt and I ignore ’em. We stick ’em in the back seat of Jared’s Bronco and they’re both asleep again before Matt and I even finish our first cup of coffee.
Matt and I end up doin’ most of the drivin’. I take the first leg. He takes over next. Zach and Jared wake up, and one of ’em pulls out a game of travel rummy.
“Watch out, Zach,” Matt says, glancin’ back at them in the rearview mirror. “Jared cheats.” I laugh, ’cause Jared seems like such a fuckin’ Boy Scout. I’m sure Matt’s jokin’. But then he looks right at me and says, “I’m serious. He cheats.” Jared throws the cap of his Dr Pepper at him and actually hits him for once. “Hey! Don’t mess with the driver!” Matt snaps. “You want to end up in the ditch?” And I think he’s halfway serious ’bout that, too, and now I’m really laughin’.
“Honestly,” Jared says innocently, “Matt caught me cheating one time, and he’s never let me live it down.”
“Are you saying you only cheated one time?”
“I said you only caught me one time.”
“See?” Matt says triumphantly. “You can’t trust him.”
“What’s that?” I ask. “The lesson of the day?”
“Sure is,” Jared says. “Brought to you by the letter C.”
“C for ‘cheater’?” Matt asks.
“C for ‘clever’.”
Eventually we switch off, and Matt and I get in the back seat. He leans back and goes to sleep in ’bout five seconds flat. He can always do that. I think they teach it in cop school. I can’t sleep. Not that there’s much to see, but every bit of it’s new to me. I feel like if I close my eyes, I’ll miss somethin’.
We get to Vegas, and it’s a good thing I’m not drivin’ ’cause we’d definitely end up in an accident. I know my eyes are ’bout to pop out of my head. I’m tryin’ to stare everywhere at once. We find our hotel and wait our turn at the check-in desk. “I have you down for two rooms, each with one king bed. Is that correct?” the lady asks us, not even battin’ an eye at the fact that she’s sayin’ that to four guys.
“Yes,” Jared says.
“No,” Zach says. Matt and Jared’s heads both whip in his direction in surprise. I look the other way so they can’t see me blushin’. But Zach doesn’t blush at all. He just says, “We need two beds in our room.”
Our rooms are on the same floor but not exactly close to each other. We take our bags up then meet back downstairs.
“Dinner first,” Jared says. “What should we do after that?”
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Zach says. “Whatever Angelo wants to do.”
I have to shrug. “Don’t even know what there is to do,” I say.
We all look over at Matt, and he shrugs too. “The times I was here before, my friends and I spent all of our time gambling or going to strip clubs.”
“Are you serious?” I ask.
“Of course. What else would you come to Vegas for?”
I shake my head and say jokingly, “You disgust me, Matt.”
He gives me that half-ass smile he uses instead of a real one, with one eyebrow up, and says, “What’s wrong with gambling?” and I have to laugh.
“I never gamble when I’m here,” Zach says. “I can’t afford to.”
“I don’t gamble either,” Jared says.
“You guys know why Jared doesn’t gamble, right?” Matt says to Zach and me. “It’s because he can’t cheat in Vegas.”
Jared just smiles and doesn’t say a word.
We get out onto the Strip and start walkin’. First intersection, there’s a bunch of guys handin’ out little cards. One of them shoves one in front of me, and I hear Zach say, “You don’t want that,” but it’s too late. I already grabbed it, and when I turn it over, I ’bout drop it.
“What the fuck?” I ask. “They can’t hand out pictures of naked chicks!”
“Apparently,” Jared says to me, “they can.”
I hand it to Matt. “Think they meant to give this to you,” I say, and he just laughs.
They decide we’re goin’ to New York, New York for dinner. Jared wants a hot dog. Zach and Matt give him a hard time ’bout comin’ all the way to Vegas just to get a fuckin’ hot dog, but he’s made up his mind. I could care less where we go or what we eat. It’s all new to me. I’m so busy lookin’ ’round I’m not watchin’ where I’m goin’. I keep bumpin’ into people, and I’ve totally lost track of whatever the others are talkin’ ’bout. I know they’re laughin’ at me a little. At this point, I don’t even care. In the end, I grab onto the back of Zach’s jacket and just trail along behind him like a little kid, with my eyes huge and unbelieving.
“Is that a roller coaster?” I ask when we get to New York, New York. I don’t get a chance to ride roller coasters very often, but I fuckin’ love ’em. “Can we ride it?” I ask.
“Hell, yes!” Jared says, but Zach looks skeptical.
“We better do that before we eat,” he says, and he already looks a little bit green. So we ride the roller coaster first. I ’bout have a coronary when I see how much it costs, but we do it anyway. Twice. Then we have dinner and a couple of drinks.
“What now?” Jared asks.
“The Bellagio,” Zach says, lookin’ at me. “Now that it’s dark, I want Ang to see the fountains.”
I got no clue what fountains he’s talkin’ ’bout or how they can be that interesting, ’specially in the dark. But I follow ’em back north and we stop at The Bellagio. There’s a little manmade lake in front of it and they all stop and lean against the stone railing there, just starin’ at that stupid lake. I try to see what’s so great ’bout it. I mean, yeah, the hotel is kinda cool, but I’m thinkin’ the one behind us with the Eiffel Tower stickin’ up out of it looks more interestin’. And I’m wonderin’ if the fountain he’s talkin’ ’bout is inside or what.
Like he’s readin’ my mind Zach says, “Just wait.”
So I wait.
Shoulda known Zach knew what he was talkin’ ’bout.
The fountains start, and I’m in awe. It’s that stupid song out of Titanic, and I always thought it was cheesy before. Kinda hate to admit that those fountains might make me change my mind. But there’s jets of water with lights in ’em, and it’s like they’re dancin’. Don’t know how somethin’ so simple can be so beautiful, but it is. Even after it ends, I’m just starin’ at that lake. I turn to find Zach smilin’ down at me.
“This is my favorite part of Vegas,” I say.
“It’s the only thing you’ve seen.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I tell him. “It’s still my favorite part.”
Eventually we get back to the room. I strip down to my boxers and T-shirt and lay down on one of the beds. The others all slept on the drive over, but I didn’t. I’m exhausted.
At home, I still fall asleep in my own bed most nights. That’s why Zach asked for two beds. He was tryin’ to make sure I still had space if I needed it. Bedtime is when that stupid bird in my chest acts up the most. At some point in the night I always wake up and wander into Zach’s room, like a little kid crawlin’ into his parents’ bed when he’s scared. Half the time I don’t even remember doin’ it. Sometimes, I come home late from my job at the grocery store so tired I don’t even get undressed. I just fall down on my bed and fall asleep fully clothed. Then I wake up after a bit and leave a trail of clothes down the hallway from my bed to his. He always wakes up enough to pull me against him. He fits against me just right. We usually drift off again for a while. An hour or two later I might wake him up by pushin’ back against his groin, or goin’ down on him. Or he might wake me up as he pushes me onto my stomach and pushes into me. However it happens, it’s my favorite part of the day. We make love almost every morning.
I’m layin’ there, half-asleep. Zach turns on the TV, sits on the foot of my bed and starts to rub my feet. That’s another thing nobody’d ever done for me before Zach, and I’d had no idea how good it could feel. If my eyes weren’t closed already, they’d be rollin’ back in my head. He massages the right one, then the left while he watches TV. Then he trails his fingers from my toes up to my knees. A second later I feel his lips brushin’ the inside of my ankle. I don’t open my eyes, but I smile.
“What’re you doin’?” I ask.
“I think I love your feet,” he says quietly, and I have to laugh.
“You’re so weird.”
“Maybe, angel. But not for this.”
He kisses my ankle again and starts to work his way up. He’s almost reached my knee by the time I fall asleep.