AIDEN MCCABE clicked off his tape recorder. Air Force Two was coming in to land, the sparkling Potomac and sprawling Virginia suburbs spooling out beneath the wings. The vice president of the United States pursed her lips expectantly. The weak autumn sun tracked its way through her cabin windows as the plane banked, golden circles moving across the wall, glowing at the edges of her hairdo.
“Is that it?” she asked, like a naughty child waiting to be dismissed after a scolding. Politicians hated giving up information, even when they tried to be genial about it. They lived in fear of saying too much or knowing too little. Aiden made a show of checking down the list of topics scribbled in his notebook.
“I think so…,” he said, the pen in his hand landing on the one question he really wanted to ask her. He’d scrawled a box around it several times. He clicked the recorder back on. “Just one thing. Owen Gateley. Does he still enjoy the confidence of the administration?”
She shifted in her skirt suit. “I think the governor’s situation is obviously very unfortunate. Clearly, the woman in question—”
“… Marcia Flores… has made these allegations, and it’s right that Ms. Flores should be heard, and based on the evidence, I think—”
“But does he have the administration’s confidence?”
“The president has made clear—”
“But you, ma’am. As a woman, do you have confidence in Governor Gateley to represent your party?”
She paused. He could always see that moment someone was hanging between what they wanted to say and what they thought they should. It was something in the eyes. Aiden smiled encouragingly. His gift had always been tipping the balance.
She sighed. “The governor needs to spend time with his family and consult his conscience. And if there’s truth to what’s been said, then, yes. I think Governor Gateley should consider his position in the party.”
Aiden made a note. “So you think he should resign?”
She smiled carefully. “I think he should consider his position.”
The seat belt sign came on, and with it the voice of the pilot, calm and steady: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re beginning our final approach to Andrews Air Force Base. Please stow your belongings and return to your seats in preparation for landing.”
The vice president fastened the lap belt in her chair. “Saved by the bell,” she joked. Her aides hovered in the doorway. Another of Aiden’s reporter skills was knowing when his time was up. He stood and shook her hand.
“Thank you, Madam Vice President.”
“Thank you,” she said, loosening up now the recorder was safely put away. “Did you enjoy the trip?”
“I did,” Aiden said as the Secret Service stepped in to usher him out. “Thanks for having me.”
“My pleasure. And Aiden?”
She smiled that airy, Southern, twice-elected-governor-of-North-Carolina smile of hers. “Off the record?”
“Owen Gateley’s a dirty dog, and it’s past time someone cut his balls off.”
Aiden chuckled. “Thank you, ma’am.”
A slab of a Secret Service agent escorted Aiden back to his seat in the press section. By the time the wheels hit the runway at Andrews, he already had a draft going in his head. Quick baggage claim was one of the many perks of flying with the Air Force, and within an hour he was on the train back to New York. Aiden pulled out his laptop and started to type.
“Embattled Florida Gov. Owen G. Gateley suffered another blow today when Vice President Cathy Ballinger suggested he may be forced from his office, capping a week in which sexual harassment allegations have left this once-rising star of the Democratic Party fighting for his political future. Speaking on Air Force Two, on her return from the G20 Summit in Turin, Italy, Ballinger suggested Gateley ought to consult his conscience. “If there’s truth to what’s been said, then, yes. I think Governor Gateley should consider his position in the party,” the vice president said, further adding to the pressure already….”
Aiden paused. He looked out of the window as the express train zipped through damp Maryland, past fields, towns, and trees. In the last year, this had become his life: speeding between New York and Washington, writing stories, interviewing presidential staffers, officials, and members of Congress. Sometimes he almost forgot the times before: forty grand in debt for a journalism degree, writing copy for advertising agencies on the side, blogging for free, posting for clicks. He didn’t miss it, but he didn’t want to forget it either. He looked around his fellow passengers, the lobbyists and the operatives, and realized how easy it would be to fall into their bubble. Maybe that’s why he still insisted on living in Manhattan, where he could look across the East River and see where he’d come from.
He finished his story somewhere in Pennsylvania, reviewed and edited through Jersey, and sent it to his editor as the city skyline came into view. His phone pinged. Text from Javi.
Aiden picked it up and started to type a reply. Have to—
It pinged again. Don’t say have to work. It’s Friday. Haven’t seen you for—and then a clock emoji.
Aiden thought about it. He guessed it had been a while. He and Javi had gone to high school together, newspaper nerd and theater nerd respectively. Then Javi went to Columbia, where he’d decided Wall Street was more lucrative than Broadway. Aiden was comfortable these days, but back when he was writing for HuffPo, Javi had literally payed his rent a few times.
Screw it. Corrections on the story could wait until tomorrow. He was due a break after being stuck in the hotel with the press corps all week.
Aiden texted back. Sure. Where?
Yasss, Javi texted. Not sure. Come over at 9?
K, Aiden replied. His train rumbled into the Hudson Tunnel as he checked his watch. He’d have just about enough time to drop his bags, shower, and change.
Javi lived in one of those glassy, rich-people towers on the West Side Highway, where the lobby decor looked like some kind of upmarket conference center, and the doorman squinted suspiciously, even after Aiden was buzzed up. He rode the elevator to the twelfth floor and knocked at Javi’s door. To his surprise, it wasn’t Javi who opened it. A muscular man in a towel, steaming wet and dripping slightly, stood on the threshold.
The stranger grinned, showing perfect white teeth. “Hey, man.” He held out a hand, and Aiden shook it, trying not to stare at the expanse of rippling torso. “Casey.”
“Aiden. Is Javi here?”
“He’s in the kitchen,” Casey said, pushing the door open wider. “Come in. I’m just changing.”
Aiden followed Casey inside and watched his wide back retreat into Javi’s bedroom. He found the man himself sitting at the breakfast bar with their friend Patrick.
“Aiden!” Javi exclaimed, already pouring him a drink.
“Whothefuckisthat?” he asked under his breath as he leaned in to kiss Javi on the cheek.
“Javi’s boy toy,” Patrick said. “Hi, sweetie.”
“Hi,” Aiden said, and they hugged. He turned back to Javi. “Since when?”
Javi shrugged. “About a month.”
“You kept that quiet.”
“He’s living here,” Patrick said, making Aiden choke on his first sip of vodka soda.
“Just temporarily, until he sorts a place out. He just moved from LA.”
“He’s an actor.” Patrick enunciated both syllables of the last word very carefully.
Aiden sighed. “Javier.” Even more than most of them, Javi tended to look for love in the wrong places. Hot and needy seemed to be his benchmark.
“It’s not like that. He’s sweet.”
“What’s he been in?” Patrick asked. “Apart from you?”
Javi ignored the last part. “I don’t know… he’s starting out.”
“Well, I don’t blame you.”
Javi changed the subject. “How was Turin?”
“Good,” Aiden said, leaning on the kitchen counter with them. “Pretty boring.” It had been, in fact. He’d sat in on a couple of ministerial meetings, done a few interviews, talked some background with foreign officials. Big international conventions weren’t all they were cracked up to be. But he had to brag a little, so he added: “I interviewed Cathy Ballinger on the way back.”
“Look at you,” Javi exclaimed.
“How was she?” Patrick asked. “Fabulous? I love her.”
Casey emerged from the bedroom, smelling of Javi’s expensive cologne and somehow looking even sexier now that he’d pulled on a T-shirt. He draped himself over Javi’s shoulder. “Who’re you talking about?”
“Aiden writes for The Times. He interviewed the vice president today,” Javi explained.
“No shit. That’s awesome.”
Aiden smiled. “Thanks. Javi says you’re an actor?”
“Sure, man. Finding my way.”
“What kind of acting is it you do?” Patrick asked archly. Casey seemed oblivious.
“Theater, dance, commercials, TV… gotta be broad, you know?”
“Uh-huh,” Patrick replied.
Javi grabbed the bottle of vodka on the counter, eager to cut off this stem of conversation. “How about we go and sit in the other room?” he asked.
They did, and four or five drinks later, Aiden was starting to feel drunk. Patrick was monologuing about something, and Aiden leaned back on the couch, enjoying the expensive upholstery and the lights of Jersey City across the Hudson. It was good to be back. There’d been half a dozen emails waiting for him, invitations to parties, or proposals for drinks. Some reporters were itinerant spirits: they liked hitting the road, drifting on from place to place. That wasn’t Aiden. He needed a home to come back to, and the people who made it one.
Javi stood up to get more ice. “One more, and let’s head out. Patrick, tell Aiden that story about your eye.”
Aiden reached for his drink and turned his attention back to Patrick. “Go on.”
“So, this guy’s fucking me, right?” Half of his stories seemed to start that way.
“What guy?” Aiden asked. “You gotta ground the story in facts.”
“Okay, Pulitzer Prize.” He shrugged. “I don’t know. Some Grindr guy.”
“So, you didn’t know him?”
“Well, I know him now.”
“True,” Aiden conceded.
Javi shouted from the kitchen. “Dave!”
“What!” Patrick shouted back.
Javi came in holding a new bowl of ice. “You said his name was Dave. Dirty Dave. You texted it to me.”
“Will you let me tell the fucking story?”
“Go, go.” Javi freshened Aiden’s drink and sat beside him.
“So,” Patrick began again. “This guy’s fucking me. And I’m going to cum when Oliver—”
“Wow, two guys,” Aiden said. He and Javi exchanged a sly smile.
“No, Oliver’s his cat,” Javi said.
“Since when do you have a cat?”
“Not my cat. My sister’s cat. Anyway—”
Aiden interrupted. “You let your sister’s cat watch you have sex? That’s pretty messed up.”
Patrick crossed his arms. “I know what you’re doing. You two”—he pointed at them accusingly—“are the fucking worst. You do this double act thing, and you think it’s cute, and it’s just really—”
Javi was laughing. “Okay, okay. Finish the story.”
Patrick glared at them.
Aiden held up his hands in mock surrender.
“I wanna hear,” he said.
Patrick gave them a skeptical look but took a breath. “Fine. Oliver jumps on the bed just when this guy’s about to cum, the guy’s like, what the fuck, gets surprised, and jerks it right into my eye.”
“Oh, shit,” Aiden said.
“Hurt like a fucker.”
Javi nodded sagely. “It stings.”
“And I’m doing this all on my lunch, so I go back to the office with beet-red eyes, and everyone probably thought I was smoking pot.”
“What’s more scandalous?” Aiden pondered. “Smoking pot at lunch or fucking a stranger?”
“He wasn’t a stranger,” Patrick said. “He was”—he waved his hand at Javi vaguely—“whoever you said.”
“Could’ve been worse. He could’ve cum on the cat.”
“Or in its eye,” Javi said. “Imagine the vet visit.”
Aiden glanced at Casey, who’d been sitting mutely through the whole thing. “I think Casey is disgusted by us.”
Casey stirred at his name. “Huh? Oh, nah, man.” He smiled drunkenly. “I’ve had tons of dudes cum in my eye.”
Javi stood up abruptly. “Let’s go!”
The club was Javi’s choice, which meant it was loud, overpriced, and overbearing. Aiden couldn’t fault the eye candy, though. Patrick quickly disappeared, leaving the rest of them dancing. Eventually Casey signaled he needed to go pee.
“Drink?” Javi shouted into Aiden’s ear.
Aiden nodded, and they threaded their way off the crowded dance floor. Javi flagged down the ripped dude tending bar and ordered three more vodka sodas. Aiden wasn’t looking forward to how his head would feel tomorrow, but he supposed bailing wouldn’t make it any better at this point.
“Do you hate him?” Javi shouted over the music.
“He seems sweet!” Aiden replied, though he’d seen this movie a few times before. Javi was at least self-knowing enough to look a little abashed.
“And you’ll look after me when he breaks my heart?”
Aiden chuckled. “Of course!”
They looked at each other for a second. Javi’s face was unreadable. There wasn’t anything between them, not like that at least. Then again gay friendships sometimes had layers, Aiden thought, that his straight friendships didn’t. They’d had sex twice: once, very drunkenly, the first Christmas they’d been home from college, and then again after Javi’s thirtieth birthday, just to make sure. They loved each other; they didn’t need to be in love with each other.
“Still hear from Chris?” Javi asked.
It had been a few weeks since Aiden had texted with his ex-boyfriend. He shrugged. “Occasionally.”
Javi squinted at him. “But you’ve been with guys since Chris, right?”
“A few!” Aiden lied. Two in seven months, if he was truthful. Maybe not a lot by Manhattan gay standards, but breaking up was a process and he’d mostly needed space. The guys he’d been with since weren’t all that inspiring.
Casey came back from the bathroom. “What’s up?” he asked as Javi gave him his drink.
“Talking about Aiden’s love life,” Javi said.
“Yeah?” Casey asked. “You single?”
Aiden didn’t appreciate this tangent. He forced a smile. “About eight months.”
Javi gestured expansively to the crowded bar, as if true love waited behind every corner instead of heartbreak and herpes. “He needs to get out there again.”
“Yeah, man,” Casey said. He squeezed the top of Aiden’s arm appreciatively. “You’re hot. Got that whole Clark Gable–sexy reporter thing.”
Aiden blinked. Clark Gable?
“He means Clark Kent!” Javi shouted, dragging Casey back to the dance floor. “You coming?”
Aiden inclined his half-empty glass toward the bar as if he was getting another drink. “In a minute!”
He wasn’t getting another drink. Suddenly he needed a break from them for a second. Maybe it was just the booze, but Javi had irritated him. He knew how serious things with Chris had been. How much it had hurt by the end. Pointing him at a room of cruising dudes wasn’t helping. It was brushing him off. He looked back at them dancing, Javi’s hand on Casey’s wide bicep; Casey’s gripping his ass. He watched them grind hips for a second, imagined them fucking. Christ, he was horny.
Aiden turned back to the bar and downed his drink. Maybe Javi irritated him because he struck too close to the bone. The bartender glanced his way expectantly. He didn’t want another, but alone at the bar wasn’t a good look either. He decided to pee, figuring it would help fill another half hour before he could reasonably go home. The bathroom corridor was crowded and loud, requiring him to elbow through. Finally, he found his way blocked by a wide back in a white polo.
“You in line?”
Polo turned around, a passing spotlight catching his fair hair.
“You in line?”
“Oh,” Polo said. “No.” In a sea of tank tops and too-tight T-shirts, his shirt and slacks made him look like a suburban golf instructor.
“Just lurking in the corridor,” Aiden deduced.
Polo mimed cupping his ear, which was shapely but looked a little small on his head given how severely he’d cropped his hair. He looked a little flustered. “I didn’t…?”
Fuck it, Aiden thought. He was drunk and single and horny, and he could flirt with Polo here. He used the excuse of speaking into his ear to press his body closer. “I said, ‘you’re just lurking in the corridor.’” Against his own, Polo’s chest felt wide and hard. Not so suburban after all.
Polo smiled tightly but didn’t step back. “I guess.” He nodded.
“What’s your name?” Aiden asked.
Polo answered, but Aiden didn’t hear. He pointed to his ear, and now Polo leaned in, so close that his stubble grazed Aiden’s cheekbone. His breath was hot in his ear, and Aiden was so distracted he missed the name again.
“Nice to meet you,” he said anyway.
Polo leaned back against the painted breeze blocks. “You too,” he said, polite and unreadable. It occurred to Aiden he might be some straight guy here with a girlfriend or something. He seemed out of place. But then, straight guys in gay bars were very reliable about telling you they were straight, often loudly and repeatedly.
Aiden tossed his head toward the main dance floor. “You, uh, want a drink?”
Polo leaned in again. “I don’t drink!”
Christ, Aiden thought. No wonder he looked out of place. He laughed. “How are you even here?”
Polo shrugged. “You come here a lot?” he asked. Something about his expression implied that would be unfortunate.
“Not really,” Aiden said. At least he wasn’t lying. “First time in a while. My friends dragged me out,” he said, before realizing how lame that sounded. “Are you here alone?”
Something hot and heavy collided with Aiden, and it took him a moment to realize it was Patrick drunkenly wrapping himself around his shoulders.
“Heyyy.” Patrick grinned.
“Hey!” Aiden exclaimed, thinking his timing couldn’t be worse.
“What’s up?” Patrick asked, and then, seeing Polo, stuck out his hand. “Patrick!”
Polo shook it. “Hey.” He smiled at Aiden politely. “’Scuse me,” he said, squeezing past them and vanishing into the crowd.
Patrick watched him go. “He’s hot. Who’s that?”
“No idea,” Aiden said, watching him disappear with a frisson of regret. Patrick stumbled heavily into the wall. Aiden helped him right himself. “Time to go?”
Patrick hiccupped. “Yeah.”
He dragged Patrick out and put him in a cab. There was no sign of Javi and Casey. He rode the subway home and crawled into bed, dreaming drunk, lustful dreams of men in crowds and white polo shirts crumpled on his floor.