Actions

Work Header

Astral Projection

Work Text:

Jay tells Mike that Carla’s appearance fee is an investment, same as the camera equipment that Mike purchased elsewhere and brought home to place into Jay’s greedy little hands. It’s Mike’s ten thousand dollars, so it’s easy for Jay to say they’ll get it back after they’ve made the movie, but Mike understands what he means. Carla is a real actress, if a B-movie one who’s also done some trashy softcore porn. She’s a leading lady they can afford, barely. 

Mike wires her the money after she agrees to fly out to Milwaukee and spend ten days shooting their low budget film. Her audition was two phone calls, during which Mike really did like her voice. It’s weathered and girlish at the same time, reflecting her appeal in general and making her right for this role. Mike is still nervous about trusting a stranger with what’s essentially the success of their entire project, but he knows they were lucky to get her after a mutual friend was able to put them in contact. They’re not going to find another professional who’ll do the whole shoot for ten thousand bucks plus travel expenses and meals. 

Also, Jay is fascinated by her experience as an adult entertainer and is practically vibrating with nervous pervert energy by the time they’re driving to the airport to pick her up. Mike is nothing if not a sucker for enabling and bearing witness to Jay’s fucked up excitement. 

“Don’t be weird,” Mike says, when they’re waiting for her at the baggage claim, scanning the stone-faced crowd for their star. “At least not right away.” 

“What?” Jay says, already not listening to him, craning his neck like a dork. His hair is worse than usual, with the gel he uses to spike his bangs all dried-out looking and harsh, and he’s wearing his old baseball T-shirt with the red sleeves because he thinks it makes him look cute. He’s right about that, but if he thinks this actress from New York is even going to look at him as if he’s a full grown man he’s more insane than Mike previously thought. Jay is twenty-five but could pass for a highschooler, and only a certain kind of doomed person falls in love with him. Mike would know. 

Carla sees them first and walks over looking friendly enough but also like she might be regretting this a little, dwarfed by a puffy coat and pulling a rolling suitcase. She’s tiny, smaller than she looks in her movies, and prettier in person, without makeup. Her hair is sort of ratty and uncombed, hanging halfway down her back, which is appropriate for the role. They asked her not to cut it. 

“I read the script on the plane,” she says. 

Jay laughs, and the way she looks at him makes it clear that she’s not joking. 

“What’d you think?” Mike asks, pretending he’s not panicking about this. In his peripheral vision he can see this information taking the wind out of Jay’s sails. 

“Oh-- It’s good!” She grins like that was the joke. “Don’t worry.” She taps the side of her head. “I’ve got a photographic memory.” 

“Whoa, really?” Jay says.

“Really. I’m not just in this business because I have nice tits.” 

She cracks up when they both look at her like they don’t know how to handle that, or any of this, probably. She has the kind of barking laugh that makes passerby turn and look at them with alarm. 

Mike makes Jay take the wheel for the drive from the airport out to the country, where they’ve booked two rooms at a cruddy Hampton Inn for the duration of the shoot: a suite with a kitchenette for Carla and a cheap double for Mike and Jay. Only when they get there they’ve stuck Mike and Jay in a single with one king bed. Mike goes down to the front desk to complain while Jay hangs out in the suite with Carla, listening to her stories about starring in cheesy horror porn, which he asked her about twenty minutes into the drive and which she seems to have no qualms about sharing. 

“How is possible that you’re fully booked?” Mike asks when the disinterested clerk tells him they can’t switch him and Jay into a room with two double beds. The hotel is in the middle of nowhere, fifteen minutes from the dead farm town where they have secured permission to shoot in several locations belonging to Jay’s family and friends. 

“Cheer competition,” the clerk says.

Mike looks around the silent lobby, seeing no cheerleaders.

“It starts in two days,” the clerk says. “And you’re booked for the whole week.” 

“Yeah, but--” 

“The cheer group is very particular about needing two beds per room. They have four girls in each room. They stay here every year.” 

“Fine. Do you have, like, a cot?”

“They have all the cots reserved.” 

Mike could threaten to take his business elsewhere, but that’s impossible, and Carla at least seems happy with her modest suite. He returns there to find she and Jay both having a grand old time, laughing like reunited friends. He’s not surprised; Jay gets along with everyone and is, in Mike’s biased opinion, possibly the most loveable person on Earth. 

“You don’t have to do that,” Jay says later, when Carla is in for the night and Mike is making a makeshift bed on the floor of their room with hotel towels. 

“We can take turns using the bed,” Mike says.

“I’m not sleeping on the floor.”

“Then I guess I am, the whole time.” 

Jay rolls his eyes but doesn’t tell Mike to get into the bed with him. He’s pink-cheeked from this discussion alone, and Mike has learned a thing or two about lessening his self-torture where Jay is concerned. No way is he getting in that bed. He’ll sleep in his car before he puts himself in that situation. 

“She seems cool,” Jay says when they’ve put the lights out and are tucked into their separate sleeping arrangements. “Do you think she’s really got her lines memorized?”

“We’ll find out tomorrow. When is Tracy coming out?”

“Oh, um. I don’t know.”

Mike sniffs, not surprised that Jay doesn’t know the comings and goings of his supposed girlfriend. She was going to help them with set photography and other logistics, or maybe Jay just wanted to show off for her, acting like a real filmmaker, but now that he’s got another girl on hand to charm with his sweetness he’s less interested.

“I think she’s kind of mad at me,” Jay mutters. 

“What’d you do?”

“Nothing!”

I’ll bet, Mike thinks. That’s probably the issue. 

“Here,” Jay says, kicking the comforter off of the bed, onto Mike. “I don’t need that.” 

“Are you sure?” It’s kinda cold in the room. Mike wishes-- Well. There’s no point in thinking about it. 

“You need it for padding more than I need it for warmth,” Jay says. “I don’t want to hear about how your back hurts the whole time we’re shooting.” 

“So generous of you.”

“Fuck you,” Jay says. Mike can hear that he’s smiling. “I actually think she’s gonna be great.” 

“Me too,” Mike says. He either likes people instantly or has no use for them, and Carla seems like a good one, not just actress-wise but in general. The whole hours-long car trip with her was strangely comfortable, and they hung out in her room for quite a while after getting Culver’s for dinner, talking about the character and the movie. 

Mike wraps himself in Jay’s discarded comforter, burying his nose down deep to try to catch a whiff of him on it, but it mostly smells musty and faintly of cigarettes. Eventually he sleeps, and his dreams are predictably fucked up, like those cheerleaders arrive and crowd into the room, claiming it’s actually theirs. They steal Jay from Mike, dress him in a ripped cheerleading uniform, and Jay tells Mike off when he tries to help. 

“You wouldn’t understand,” Jay keeps saying, his short blond hair somehow pulled into two pigtails that stick up on both sides of his head like devil horns. “You just don’t get it, Mike. This is where I’ve always truly belonged. This is my family now.”

He’s hoping to fuck the cheerleaders, Mike realizes. The fool thinks that if he lets them humiliate him enough he’ll get a prize. Typical.

Mike wakes up in a mood because of this dream, but it fades quickly once they meet up with Carla and get to work. She’s washed and brushed out her hair, and has done her own makeup for the first scenes they’ll be shooting, some moody atmospheric stuff at the creepy old barn that belongs to Jay’s family. His parents come home halfway through and there are awkward introductions in the backyard. Carla tells them they probably haven’t seen anything she’s been in before and they don’t argue with that. Jay is jumpy and loud in their presence and enlists his little brother to help them hold a boom mic. Mike mostly keeps quiet unless he’s directing. Jay’s family is polite to him but they don’t trust him, because he’s from the city, went to art school, and because he hovers in Jay’s life in a way that makes it obvious he wants something from their little sunshine boy, though they can’t figure out what. 

Sunshine is Carla’s nickname for Jay, already, because he’s always smiling and laughs so easily at Mike’s bad jokes and everything else. Mike is Doc, as in Holliday, which makes sense in a way he doesn’t want to think about. 

“So are you guys like best friends?” Carla asks when they’re all out to dinner at a dumpy roadside diner that is right out of Twin Peaks, so of course Jay is loving being there with a beautiful woman, even if Mike is there, too.

“Uhh,” Jay says, glancing at Mike, shy like he’s afraid to make that claim. “We’re friends, obviously. We’re collaborators.” 

“How’d you meet?”

They tell her, and she laughs. 

“It’s romantic,” she says. 

“What!” Jay’s laugh is fake this time. “No, it’s not-- What?”

“Sending movies in the mail before you met in person? Tapes of each other? That’s adorable.” 

Mike feels Jay glancing at him but doesn’t look back. They’re sitting together, across from Carla, and she’s grinning at them in a way that makes Mike nervous when he meets her eyes. She seems smart, like maybe she’s noticing a few things. She wasn’t lying about having all her lines memorized, at least for the first day. 

“Have you guys got girlfriends?” she asks, still grinning. 

Mike shakes his head.

“I have-- Sort of.” Jay squirms in his seat and plays with his glass of melted ice. “I dunno. We’re kind of-- Dating. You’ll meet her. She’s gonna help with the shoot sometime this week. I think.”

“What’s she like?” Carla asks. There’s a look in her eye like she’s making fun of Jay, a little. Mike wants to both egg her on and tell her to leave him alone. 

Jay talks about Tracy. Mike tunes out, mostly. He likes Tracy, but she’s wrong for Jay. She’s way too nice. Jay needs an ass kicker who will put a collar and a leash on him. Otherwise he'll just wander off as he pleases before long.

“You’re unattached, huh?” Carla says to Mike, catching him off guard. 

“I just moved back here,” Mike says, not adding: and Jay had a girlfriend, suddenly. 

“Oh? Where from?”

“Scottsdale.”

Carla laughs loud enough to get most of the people in the diner looking at them, and Mike can’t help grinning, because it is a pretty good punchline. 

“Isn’t that, like, a retirement community? What the hell were you doing there?”

This time Mike looks at Jay, and Jay is the one who doesn’t look back, his startled gaze stranded somewhere on the table between their uncleared plates. 

“Video production work,” Mike says, and he almost laughs. He wishes he’d ordered a beer, but they’re trying to save on production cost, and Carla is working on her third glass of wine.

Jay starts talking about the scenes they’ll shoot tomorrow, desperately enough that Carla goes along with it. The wine seems to have made her edgier. She’ll get bored quickly in a town like this, and Mike isn’t surprised that she’s interested in pressing their buttons for entertainment, though he supposes she couldn’t have known that asking about why Mike lived elsewhere for a while is a sensitive subject. 

On the way back to the hotel Carla jokes about getting a bottle of something and partying in her suite, but they all have to get up early, and she leaves them with a wink in the hallway before heading for her room. 

“Today went really well,” Jay says, kind of forcefully, as if he expects Mike to disagree. 

“A good start,” Mike says. He’s standing in their room’s tiny bathroom, wetting his toothbrush while Jay lingers in the bathroom doorway like he has something else to say. 

“I guess I could sleep on the floor tonight,” Jay says, mumbling and staring at Mike’s shoulder. 

“With me?”

Jay snarls at him. Mike grins around his toothbrush, as sharky as he can, polishing his teeth.

“Nah, I’m fine down there,” he says after he’s spit into the sink. “You keep the bed, Jay.”

“I hope my mom won’t look Carla up online.”   

Mike doesn’t say: I doubt she cares enough to try. Jay’s parents have never taken much of an interest in his work. It’s not really to their taste. 

“Did you hear from Tracy?” he asks instead.

“No. I haven’t-- Should I call her?”

“You’re asking me? I don’t know, how mad is she?”

“She’s not actually mad, just-- I’ll call her tomorrow. Maybe.”

Mike doesn’t dream about the cheerleaders again that night. He dreams about that barn on Jay’s family property, and something terrible being locked away in there, scarier than the monster in their movie. He feels desperate to both unleash this thing and to never have to come face to face with it, and wakes up on the floor, confused about where he is until he hears Jay’s reedy, open-mouthed breathing from up on the bed. 

The shoot goes well that day, and the day after, too. Carla is a pro, and she effortlessly shatters the ice that can sometimes accumulate between Mike and Jay, making Mike laugh more than he usually does and causing Jay to visibly fall in love with her even when her frank descriptions of bad sexual experiences with ex-boyfriends cause him to blush for a whole half hour at dinner. Mike doesn’t mind seeing Jay swoon for her; it only makes him like her more. Jay falls in love with every woman who gives him attention, but Carla feels different, like she’s not taking it for granted and won’t use it to hurt him. Maybe it’s just because they’re paying her to hang out with them, but in some fucked up way this makes the whole thing feel more innocent and safe for everyone involved. 

On the fourth night of the shoot they go out to a real restaurant with silverware rolled in cloth napkins and Carla convinces them to share a bottle of wine with her. She kills most of it and orders a second. Mike hasn’t been properly drunk in almost a week and couldn’t agree more, having had just the taste of a buzz and further encouraged by the way Carla’s laugh makes the podunk steakhouse feel like a place where they could actually party. Jay chews his lip and talks about needing to drive them all home, but it’s a small town and the truth is they could easily walk back to the hotel.  

“I still haven’t met your girlfriend,” Carla says, reaching out to slap Jay’s wrist in a way that Mike suspects will arose him. “Where is she?”

“Oh god,” Jay says, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He’s had just two and a half glasses of wine, but he almost never drinks and is a lightweight. He’s never been drunk around Mike, which at this point Mike has to assume is intentional. 

“Aww, trouble in paradise?” Carla says, petting Jay’s wrist. Mike chugs wine and tries not to sputter with laughter at the thought of Jay getting a boner under the table. He wonders if Carla knows what she’s doing. She usually seems to. 

“It was never exactly paradise,” Jay says. “I think-- I’m a perfectionist, and. That fucks up all my relationships. It’s like--” He glances at Mike as if in the hopes that he’s not hearing this. Mike is staring down into his wine glass, doing his best not to smile. “It’s like as soon as one little thing goes wrong I write the whole relationship off,” Jay says, rushing this out. 

“Oh boy,” Mike says, stabbed in the heart because Jay is talking about him, too, or actually. “Are we gonna-- Is it psychoanalyze Jay time? Did we finally make it to that magical hour?”

Carla laughs hard at that, which makes Jay snicker and blush, diffusing the tension a little. 

“Never mind,” Jay says, shrinking in on himself. “I’m just pathetic, is all.”

“No, no,” Carla says. She picks up Jay’s hand between both of hers and fucking kisses it, which finally does make Mike laugh hard. “What?” she says, beaming and holding Jay’s curled up hand to her cheek. “Shut up! He’s confiding in us.”

“In you, maybe,” Mike says. “Jay doesn’t tell me shit.” 

“You guys are so weird.” 

Carla giggles and puts Jay hand down gently, as if she understands the gravity of giving him physical affection. Jay looks stunned, like he’s just now realizing that he spoke of his love life in front of Mike. He touches the stem of his wine glass, then pushes it toward Carla.

“You can have the rest,” he says. “I gotta-- I’ll get sick.”

“Off wine?” Carla says, boggling like that’s impossible. “Aw, honey. We’re gonna-- Maybe not tonight, ‘cause I know we gotta shoot early tomorrow, but on the last night we’re gonna tie one on together, all of us, for real. Your girlfriend can come, too.”

Jay huffs and curls his shoulders in toward the table, already suffering. He can’t have five minutes of fun without five hours of self loathing. Mike thinks of touching him-- Just his back, or his shoulder. He doesn’t, because Jay would launch out of his seat like a cartoon character, overstimulated. 

The walk back to the hotel takes the edge off, and Mike feels mostly sober by the time he’s brushing the stain of the wine off his teeth. He can see that Jay is still feeling spinny and strange, unaccustomed to booze and possibly to the touch of a woman. Mike isn’t sure if he and Tracy have even fucked. The whole thing seems off in Jay’s usual way. 

“I’m gonna take a shower,” Jay says when Mike is done in the bathroom. 

“Sure,” Mike says, fully aware that Jay needs to beat off after getting his wrist stroked and his hand kissed. “Take your time.”

Jay slams the bathroom door shut without looking back to glare at him. 

Mike stretches out on his back on the floor, on top of his towels and the comforter. He’s in a good mood due to the wine and the sight of Jay half-drunk, also the thought of him trying to work up the nerve to deal with his boner in there while Mike lurks on the other side of the door. Poor Jay, Mike thinks, reaching into his own boxers once he hears the shower turn on. He probably beats off three times a day at home, overflowing with his particular brand of relentless sexual angst, and now it’s been four whole nights of abstaining, unless he’s been doing it in the shower the whole time like Mike has. Mike really doubts it. He has a feeling it’s probably going to take Jay a while to get off in there, even worked up as he is, because he feels cornered by Mike’s proximity.

The concept is so hot that Mike is done in just a few minutes, creaming up his boxers while he shudders on top of his towel bed. He’s still thinking about Jay even after he’s spilled himself to the mental image of him in there, wincing and making making sad little grunting noises of stress because he’s stripping his hand over his wet dick too desperately and probably not even letting himself think about Carla. He’d consider that too unprofessional. Mike would spend every last dime of his already almost-gone inheritance to know what Jay jerks off to. It can’t be as simple as putting Carla over that table at the restaurant and fucking her in front of Mike, a concept that would probably be comical even to Jay, if he allowed himself to think of it. Mike is laughing, anyway, but then his good mood starts to crash, and he gets up to change into clean boxers. 

He realizes what made him suddenly depressed when he stretches out on the towels again: he did spend pretty much every cent he had on trying to get access to Jay’s secret thoughts, though he knows Jay will never tell him any of the good stuff. This is the closest Mike will get, so he bought in anyway. 

Mike pretends to be asleep when Jay finally emerges. It feels like he was in there for an hour, but Mike doesn’t want to make fun of him. He knows Jay was expecting it and he doesn’t like his jokes to be predictable. He keeps his eyes closed on his pillow and listens to Jay puttering around the room, sighing in a way that makes it seem like he knows Mike is awake and listening. It’s such a thrill just to be closed up in a room with Jay and intruding on his bedtime routine that Mike hates himself, but what else is new. The room smells like Jay’s shower, cheap soap and even cheaper shampoo. Mike drifts to sleep and dreams that he’s nuzzling his face against the side of Jay’s warm throat, then his cheek, his burning ear. The scent of Jay’s freshly scrubbed skin comes to him so vivid and real that he wakes himself up with a jolt, afraid he’s risen in his sleep like a lust-crazed zombie to actually do it. Jay is safe, though, up above him on the bed and out of reach. 

Two days later, Tracy finally shows up. Mike has no idea when Jay called her, and he’s visibly flustered by her presence, though she’s laid back as hell and instantly hits it off with Carla. They like the same music, apparently, bands Mike has never heard of. He’s been way behind the times when it comes to bands since he was a little kid, when he learned he would be picked on for this, but he can’t help what he likes and how dorky it usually is. 

“You guys are really doing this,” Tracy says, like she didn’t believe it until she watched them shoot a scene and saw that Carla can really act. “I’m proud of you,” she says to Jay when he dawdles at her side, adjusting a lens. She rubs his back, maybe to get his attention, and he fumbles the lens while Mike and Carla stare at them too intently and in what probably seems like a conspiring way. 

“Yeah, we’ll see,” Jay says. “I’m, uhh. I’m optimistic. Having Carla makes a huge difference. I just wish I’d written a better script for her.”

“We wrote the script together,” Mike says, like Jay actually forgot that. 

“Exactly.” 

Jay smirks, then cracks up at the stunned look on Mike’s face. Mike is the last person who should be stunned that sunshine boy can be savage, too, but it knocks him over like a rogue wave every time. 

“Jay!” Tracy says. She looks sincerely annoyed. She’s definitely seen the savage side of him a time or two herself. 

“I’m kidding,” Jay says, grinning. “Mike knows I’m kidding.”

“I’m not known for my writing,” Mike says. Jay did write most of this particular script, at least conceptually. 

“Well-- Me either, obviously,” Jay says, sputtering, and the way he starts to get red makes Mike forgive him entirely. It’s a trick Mike wishes he could learn, but people have to be born with it like Jay was.

“It’s a good script,” Carla says. She shrugs. “I like it.”

“Yeah,” Tracy says. “I’ve read it,” she adds, and Carla nods. She and Tracy are both having a cigarette from Carla’s pack, which Mike knows Jay must hate: both that his girlfriend is smoking and that she’s sharing something with Carla that he’s unwilling to do.  

“I said I was joking!” Jay says, and he turns his back on all of them to take refuge in the equipment. 

Tracy joins them for dinner at a Chili’s by the highway, and Mike knows it’s not a good sign that she sits beside him in the booth instead of Jay, who sits across from Mike and makes a big deal about paying for the meal. 

“I have money, too,” he says, to Mike, who reached for the check first. 

“You do?” Tracy says, and Carla laughs in a way that Mike knows will make Jay furious, though not at Carla. 

“I mean, I may not have a rich grandfather who hated everyone else in my family,” Jay says, scribbling on the check. “But I have a fucking job. A real one.”

“I don’t have a rich grandfather either,” Mike says. “Not anymore!”

Jay looks up, eyes wide, and Mike snickers at his expression of frantic regret. 

“I’m sorry,” Jay says. “Shit. I didn’t mean-- I was trying to be-- That was stupid, I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Mike says, enjoying this opportunity to be the cool guy in front of the girls. “I knew what you meant. I didn’t earn it.” Which is why I gave it all to you, he doesn’t say. For your fucking movie, and this girl we’re paying to flirt with you and do what we say.

“I wish someone would leave me a shitload of money,” Carla says. She finished three glasses of wine during the meal as usual. Everyone else had sodas. 

“Would you retire from acting if you inherited a fortune?” Tracy asks. 

“Hmm, nah,” Carla says, leaning back in the booth, thoughtful. “But I’d be pickier about the roles I take. No offense.” She leans over to bump her shoulder against Jay’s, grinning. 

“I’m not offended,” Jay says, looking like he wants to flip the table. 

“Me either,” Mike says, and he feels like the king of Chili’s when Tracy and Carla laugh at the dry way he delivered that, like a joke at Jay’s expense. 

Mike isn’t sure what to expect from Jay when they get back to the hotel room, but it’s the first time in a while that he’s buzzing with anticipation for whatever’s to come, unafraid. Jay and Tracy had some kind of antagonistic-seeming conversation in the restaurant parking lot while Mike and Carla played the old Pac-Man machine in the restaurant’s front lobby and let them have their moment. 

“Sorry I was an asshole today,” Jay says when they’re alone together in the room, which was not on Mike’s list of expectations. Jay sits on the bed, shoulders slumped, and toes off his Converse without untying them. Then he flops onto his back, making his t-shirt ride up to expose the dark blond hair on his pale belly, and groans in a way that makes Mike’s dick pulse in his jeans, dumb with hope. 

“Did you guys fight?” Mike asks. He keeps his distance, though he’s standing kind of awkwardly near the door, watching Jay roll onto his side and tug his shirt down. 

“Yeah,” Jay says, his cheek pressed to the mattress. He pulls his knees up toward his chest and clamps his hands between them, which is even hotter than the other thing he was doing. There’s no way it’s intentional. When Jay tries to flirt, things go down in flames and even Mike finds him unattractive. 

“What’d you fight about?” Mike asks, fake casual as he crosses the room to root around in his equipment bags for nothing in particular. 

“She wanted to be here for the whole shoot, like. For me and her share a hotel room and stuff. I was like, we didn’t budget for three rooms and Mike can’t share a room with the star! That’s fucking insulting. And creepy. Then she asked why you can’t just stay with my parents or something. Then she asked why me and her can’t stay with my parents, and I was like, do you take me seriously or not? I’m fucking working. This isn’t a vacation, and my parents don’t like her. I didn’t tell her that, though. She thinks all I care about is work. Maybe that’s true.” 

Mike nods to himself, keeping his back to Jay and hoping this info dump will continue. 

“How come your parents don’t like her?” he asks when Jay says nothing else. Jay is still curled up in a ball on the bed when Mike turns around. 

“Are you kidding?” he says, lifting his head. “She smokes and she has tattoos.” 

“Well, your parents are fucking--” Mike stops there when Jay’s eyebrows go up. “They don’t like me either,” he says, instead. 

“Or me,” Jay says. He sits up and smiles, pretending he doesn’t really think so. “But that’s not the issue. If my parents liked her, she’d be the kind of person I’d fucking hate. They-- You know what they’re like.”

“Yeah.” 

“Now she’ll probably break up with me. Or maybe she just did. She was like, why did you even tell me to come here? And I said I didn’t, because it was her idea.”

“Jesus, Jay, you can’t throw things in people’s face like that.”

“I know, I know! I’m fucking terrible at this, I know that!” 

Mike walks to the bed and stops short of sitting down beside Jay, opting to stare down at him instead. Jay puts his hands between his knees again, sitting with his legs hanging over the side of the bed. 

“It wasn’t meant to be,” Mike says. 

“I’m never gonna get this right. I feel-- Fucking-- Never mind. You don’t understand. It’s easy for you.”

“Yeah, me and my many successful long term relationships.” He’s never had one, not even a regular girlfriend in high school. 

“You know what I mean!” 

Mike shrugs instead of admitting that he does, and shifts his gaze away from Jay’s, not wanting to think about all the people he’s fucked. In Jay’s presence, it feels like a list of crimes he’s committed. He’s almost positive that Jay was a virgin until Tracy, and he wishes he could ask if that’s somehow still the case, but Jay would hate him if he did. 

“Tomorrow’s another day,” Mike says, stretching out on his towels, which are presently at Jay’s feet. 

“The gore stuff,” Jay says, because that’s what they’re shooting. Tracy was supposed to help with that in particular, but Mike doubts they can now count on her to help design and then clean up their bloody mess. “Shit,” Jay says, certainly thinking the same thing. “Well. We can get my brother to help. He’ll love it.” 

Jay’s brother is twelve years old, but a twelve year old boy turns out to be exactly the kind of help they need with throwing fake blood around their set and then cleaning it up, and the darkness that shadowed the previous evening is gone by the time they’ve wrapped for the day. If Jay is still bothered by his fight with Tracy, it doesn’t show. He’s giddy all throughout the shoot and afterward at dinner, barely eating for how much he’s talking about what they’ve got to get done tomorrow, then the next day. Then they’ll have their photography session with a friend for the promo shots, and Carla will fly home to New York. 

Mike is filled with a kind of irrational dread as he realizes how close they are to completing the shoot. He doesn’t dread the months of editing to come; like Jay, that’s his favorite part of making movies. They’ll be together in Jay’s apartment, where Mike has been living on Jay’s couch since he came back to town, within their own little two person world while they work. He likes Carla a lot, but he’s not going to be upset when it’s just him and Jay again. It’s more like he’s afraid of getting there and not having her with them to diffuse anything that might go wrong. There’s something about having her around that makes it easier for them to snap back together after any friction, like she’s a literal personification of their shared ambition. 

“Did you see the one I did about the fortune teller?” Carla asks when they’re sitting with her by the glowing hotel pool on the second to last night of their stay. There are cheerleaders everywhere until ten o’clock, when they have a curfew and bring their shrieking noise inside, still audible through every thin wall. 

“You mean Circus Freak?” Jay asks. Carla grins and points her cigarette at him. 

“Sunshine remembers the titles of my movies better than me,” she says. 

“I tried to find it,” Jay says. He sits up straighter on the lounge chair he’s perched on, happy as ever to be a little know-it-all. “But it’s out of print. It looked good.” 

“I don’t about good,” Carla says. “But it has my best death scene. It’s nasty. I loved that character, actually. I had this whole backstory for her that they didn’t bother to show.” 

“What was it?” Mike asks. 

“Oh god, I don’t fuckin’ remember. Something about all her past lives. I’m kind of psychic myself, you know.” She takes a drag, observing their reaction to this information, then flashes her scream queen smile while smoke streams from her nose. “Want to know your futures?”

“Absolutely not,” Mike says. 

Carla snickers and flicks ashes onto the pool deck. She turns to Jay and lifts her eyebrows.

“Sorry,” Jay says. “I don’t really believe in that stuff.” 

“I do,” Mike says, in her defense. “Which is why I don’t want to know.” 

“Aw, cheer up, Doc. It’s not as bad as all that. I promise.” 

Mike is tempted enough to believe in the supernatural that he’s a little spooked by this, and they call it a night soon after, heading back to their rooms. In the morning they’ll shoot their final pick-up scenes. 

“Don’t forget!” Carla says, turning back at the end of the hall to shout this at them. “Tomorrow night we’re gonna hit the bottle shop and have us a wrap party!” 

“Can’t wait,” Mike says, sincerely. He’s been dying to get blasted all week. “You’re gonna drink with us,” he says to Jay as they head inside their room. “Right?”

“Ugh,” Jay says. 

“You gotta! It’s contractual. No-- It’s for luck. Our movie will tank if we don’t celebrate properly. And that includes you.” 

“I can celebrate without ending up with my head in a toilet.”

“Yeah, me too. Just let me teach you how to hold your liquor.” 

Mike has heard the story, from a mutual ex-friend, about the one time on record that Jay got really trashed. Apparently he cried. This was years ago, and Mike has been burning with jealousy for not having been there ever since. He can barely sleep for the idea of what’s to come: not for their filmmaking career or whatever Carla sees in her psychic vision of the rest of his life, just for the opportunity to see Jay’s guard come down, even if it has to be chemically lowered. It’s not that Mike wants to see him cry. He just wants to see something real from him, unpeeled and tender, and to be there to protect it.

In his dreams that night, he’s not protective. He’s the monster and Jay is the fortune teller, slipping behind red curtains in the dark to evade Mike’s pursuit, keeping out of grabbing range with his secret knowledge still locked away inside him.  

You don’t understand, Mike thinks as his monster-self, probably the same way the monster in Carla’s movie did: I just want to consume you entirely. It’s an act of destruction, but also of love.

The mood when they film their final scenes is on the grave side, maybe just because of the sense of finality, but by sundown they’ve all loosened up and the giddy relief of finishing at least one stage of a project has Mike feeling lighter than he has in years. As soon as the equipment is safely stowed in Mike and Jay’s room they make for the small liquor store in the weatherbeaten strip mall across from the hotel, the only one in town. Carla is even more wild-eyed and gung ho than Mike, which makes him feel absolved and a little in love with her, finally. It’s not the way he loves Jay; nothing is. But he feels accepted, understood and unleashed by someone who can fling him guiltlessly into whatever happens next. Jay trails them through the aisles, humoring them with nervous laughter and pink cheeks. 

“That looks serious,” Jay says when Carla selects an expensive bottle of brandy for the occasion and says it’s her treat. 

“This is no time for wine coolers, Jay,” Mike says, practically bouncing on his heels for how excited he is to get back to Carla’s suite and start drinking. “Leave it to the experts.”

“You’ll love it, Sunshine,” Carla says, and she touches Jay’s cheek on the way to the register, then turns back to wink at Mike. 

Mike picks up a six pack of ginger ale so Jay can ease into it with mixed drinks, and a six pack of beers for himself, so he can taper off if the brandy starts to make him too out of it. He wants to remember all of this: the lingering warmth in the air as they walk through the hotel parking lot with their purchases, the cheerleaders crowded everywhere at full volume and making Jay squirm closer to him in the elevator, and the way Carla is grinning to herself like she has some kind of plan. They’ve talked about how they’re going to visit her in New York, and Mike imagines a wild coke binge, full Saturday Night Live castmember in the 80s style, and Jay somehow being down to tear up the town along with them. 

In the meantime he’s grateful that Jay accepts a cup full of brandy with ice and ginger ale and joins them in toasting the movie, the ambient teen girl noise mostly shut out once they’re in Carla’s room, as all the cheerleaders seem to be assembling outside by a bank of awaiting coach buses, dressed in their uniforms and departing for the big competition. The timing feels right. Mike doesn’t even put ginger ale in his drink, or ice. The quality of the brandy is really too good for that, though he does wince as it’s going down.

“That’s not bad, actually,” Jay says, observing his fizzy mixed drink with only mild suspicion, and Mike’s hopes for the evening shoot through the roof. 

“I love motel ice machines,” Carla says. She falls onto the room’s dingy little couch in a dramatic, sprawling posture, her drink sloshing in its cup. She holds it against her breasts, which are straining against the white tank top she wore in her final scene. Mike thinks it’s sweet that she hasn’t changed, like she wants to hang on to her character for a little bit longer.

“This is technically a hotel,” Jay says. He’s standing in the middle of the room like an anxious boy at a middle school dance, eying her. “But I guess it’s motel-adjacent.” 

“Jay’s already drunk!” Mike declares gleefully, wishing it were true. He drops onto the couch, taking the other side and leaving a spot in the middle for Jay, who goes to sit on the end of Carla’s bed instead. “What the hell is so good about ice machines?” Mike asks her. “Aren’t they kind of nasty, like. They never get cleaned?”

“Oh, probably. But that’s part of why I love them. They’re so scummy and cozy at the same time. Like this tucked away little oasis of sin support.”

“Sin support!” Mike says. He taps his cup against hers while she giggles. “That’s fantastic, actually. I see what you mean.”

He realizes he’s showing off his better-with-women skills a bit too much, because Jay has gotten quiet and is looking at them mournfully from the bed. When Mike sips from his cup, Jay does the same, holding his gaze. 

“What’s next for you two?” Carla asks.

“Editing,” Jay says.

“I mean after this whole project. Have you thought that far ahead?”

“Not really,” Mike says. “We’re trying to get work filming weddings. But it’s not easy to start out. Our friend does wedding photography-- The girl who’s doing the promo shoot for us tomorrow. She’s trying to help us get contacts and stuff.”

“It’s not what we really want to do,” Jay says. “So it’s hard to get motivated.”

“And Jay already has a real job, the one he was bragging to you about.” 

“It’s retail,” Jay says, his lip curling. “I wasn’t bragging.”

“Full time, with health insurance! And they act like you’re their son.”

“So you’re just living off your riches for now?” Carla says, stretching her leg across the couch to nudge Mike with her foot. She changed into some tiny jogging shorts when they got back to the room, and the sight of her thighs makes Mike forget what the question was. 

“He’s living on my couch,” Jay says, with sarcastic resentment that’s not entirely fake, Mike suspects. 

“The riches are gone,” Mike says. He finishes his drink, and Carla scoots over to his side of the couch with the bottle before he can ask for a refill. “Thank you kindly.” 

“The riches are invested,” Jay says. “In this movie.” He looks nervous and drinks. “I’ll take more, too,” he says, and Mike thinks it’s just an excuse to pop off that bed and join them on the couch, but he returns to the bed after Carla has added a heavy pour of brandy to his cup.

“Well, hey,” Carla says, lifting her cup up over her head. “Thanks for enriching me! I’m sure it’ll be great. I didn’t know what to expect, you know, before I met you guys-- But you seem like you know what you’re doing.” 

“That’s the first time we’ve ever heard that!” Mike says, which finally manages to get a laugh out of Jay. 

The alcohol has them all loose limbed and laughing a lot soon after that, and Carla relocates to the bed to sit against the headboard, beckoning Jay to sit beside her when she declares that he needs a refill. Mike stays on the couch, pleasantly drunk after two and a half drinks. The sun has gone down and the hotel is quiet, the cheerleaders off tumbling in some gym across town. 

“No, actually, hey,” Carla says when Jay has her talking about what it’s like to film sex scenes in softcore porn, again. “My first partner scene on camera was how I realized I’m bisexual.” 

“Same here,” Mike says, and Carla laughs hard, throwing her head back to thunk it against the headboard. Jay snickers uncertainly and darts his eyes away when Mike meets his gaze. “Part of that is true,” Mike says, because he’s actually never met another bi person who’s just said it like that, and when else will he get the chance? 

“I knew it!” Carla says, slapping her thigh so hard that Mike can imagine the red hand print on her skin. Jay can probably see it. He’s staring in that direction, then huffing and looking up at Mike. 

“What?” Jay says. He’s the drunkest of the three of them, due to inexperience and trying to impress Carla by accepting her generous refills. “Wait-- Which part?”

“Which do you think,” Mike says, staring Jay down with the rim of his cup pressed to his bottom lip. He needs more brandy, but he’s a little afraid to approach the bed right now, where Carla has the bottle within reach on the bedstand. He gets up with a grunt and goes for a beer instead. 

“What?” Jay says again, softly, sounding lost. “You-- Are?”

“I could tell,” Carla says. 

“Uhh,” Mike says, laughing and keeping his back to them as he pops open a beer. “How?”

“I told you, I’m fucking psychic!”

Mike snorts and turns back to grin at them, then takes a long pull from his beer. Jay is sitting forward slightly, his lips parted as he studies Mike for some kind of sign that he’s thinking he missed. 

“How do you know?” Jay asks, sloppy enough in his drunkenness to think this is a clever way to ask if Mike has been with a guy before. 

Mike rolls his eyes.

“How do you know you like women?” he asks. “It’s not contingent upon experience.”

He realizes only after this is out of his mouth that it’s the kind of statement that might make Jay go full nuclear the way he did last time they fought, when he came back at Mike with every weapon he had, but Jay just sits there looking confused and blinking. 

“He’s got experience,” Carla says, with a glint in her eyes that makes Mike think she might be a psychic for real, because she looks like she knows what she just said isn’t entirely true, or at least that there’s some drama to unpack within it. “He’s the one with a girlfriend.”

“We’re probably breaking up,” Jay says, to derail what this conversation might have become. Mike is proud of him for still being sober enough to dodge it, though also disappointed, even if it was about to lead to another fight. 

“Awww, no!” Carla says. “I loved her!” She scoots over to put her arm around Jay and draws him against her. The neckline of her tank top has slipped lower and her bared cleavage is right there on Jay’s shoulder while she rubs at his arm, trying to coax him into relaxing against this onslaught of affection. “I’m sorry, Sunshine. I hope it wasn’t ‘cause of this movie. That would curse everything.”

“No,” Jay says. He’s staring at Mike like maybe he actually is about to fire some serious artillery at him. “It’s not ‘cause of the movie.”

“Jay’s parents don’t like her,” Mike says.

“Fuck you,” Jay says. Mike can see him stiffen under Carla’s arm, then he leans against her like it’s his revenge. “I don’t care what they think. I don’t.”

“What’s the trouble, then?” Carla asks. She’s still rubbing his arm. Jay took his shoes off when he scooted back onto the bed, and Mike can see his toes curling in his socks. “You can tell us,” Carla says, and she ups the ante by smoothing her finger down behind Jay’s ear. Jay’s shoulders twitch, then his thighs, but he’s looking at Mike like his annoyance with him is his only focus, as if Mike is the one trying to tease a reaction out of him. 

“Gimme some more,” Jay says, pushing his cup toward Carla’s chest. 

“Ooh, okay, that’s the spirit!” 

Jay stares down into his cup before drinking, and he’s frowning in Mike’s direction again when he swallows more brandy. Then his face gets soft and he sighs, tilting his head back onto Carla’s encircling arm and closing his eyes.

“I’m a total fuck up freak,” he says. “Is the problem, with me and Tracy. Was, I mean. ‘Cause she’s sick of me.” 

Mike wants to scream: you don’t even like her! He holds it in, because something is happening. Jay keeps squirming and sighing like he wants to give in and like he’s close to letting himself do it. Carla is an expert in this kind of thing, Mike can tell. If Jay is a block of ice, she’s going to sculpt him into the sparkling centerpiece of their evening, and then he’ll finally melt. 

“Freak is the best thing to be,” Carla says, stroking Jay’s hair. “I was a circus freak in a past life. I’m sure of it.”

“Yeah, well, I’m one in this life, only there’s no circus.” 

“Baby, that’s what you think. What’s so freaky about you, anyway?” 

Jay groans and turns his face toward hers, then seems startled when he sees how close she’s looming. He leans across her to reach for the bottle, either for an excuse to untangle himself or because he needs another drink to get his courage up. Mike says nothing and keeps as still as possible, channeling the energy of an unseen alligator lurking in the reeds, watching. 

“I don’t have a name for it,” Jay says when he flops back under Carla’s arm with his drink refilled high enough that Mike is a little worried he’s going to end up puking. “I’m just-- I don’t-- I can’t, like. Enjoy things, the way other people can. I don’t think.” 

“Like what?” Carla asks, and then, wisely, she adds: “It’s the biggest load of bullshit that everybody’s supposed to like the same things. You just gotta find your things.”

“I’m talking about sex,” Jay says, mumbling. He sips from his cup and looks down at her boobs with something resembling grief. “I know what I like, um. But then. I think too much.” 

Mike had been holding his breath all through that, high and tight in his chest. He exhales as silently as possible, wanting a swig from his beer bottle but not daring that much movement. 

“I see,” Carla says, tapping her chin with one fingertip. “A lot of people have that issue, Sunshine. I bet I could help, actually. It happens on set a lot, the nerves and the overthinking. I’m like a sex whisperer when things get like that. I can get anyone to calm down and have fun.” 

She’s a genius for bringing this back around to the softcore shoots that Jay has been drooling to know more about all week. He looks up at her and stops playing with the hem of his shirt, curious and calmer already. 

“Oh?” he says, with such fake-innocent wonder that Mike has to swallow a laugh. “Like-- How?”

“Mhmm, well. You’ve been directing me all week, right? Let me return the favor, and we can do, like-- A rehearsal. Like sex as a table read, only instead of running lines we can run tests on what you like.”

Jay stares at her, transfixed. Mike can see the indents of his tense fingers on the paper cup of booze, but he doesn’t look terrified, just interested, edging toward amazed. 

“Like this,” Carla says, reaching for Jay’s hand. She puts it on her cleavage. Jay just watches it happen, his mouth dropping open. “Item number one: squeezing tits. You into it?”

Tracy has big ones, even bigger than Carla’s, and Mike had assumed that was one thing that drew Jay’s eye. Now he’s staring open-mouthed at Carla’s, spreading his fingers out but otherwise not moving. His ears are red, then the back of his neck, and he seems like he’s already panicking while she waits to see what he’ll do, a kind of pity creeping into her expression as she understands that she’s already short-circuited him.

Mike just wants to know if Jay even remembers he’s in the room, too, watching this. He knows that Carla is fully aware of his presence and that she’s probably got plans for him, too, but she doesn’t look in his direction at all, wisely.

“I dunno,” Jay says, yanking his hand back. He sits up straighter, his shoulders shifting under her arm but not quite shrugging it off. He’s still staring at her chest, and he clamps his hand between his thighs like he needs to restrain himself. “It’s, I mean-- I guess.” He drinks more booze and looks up at her face, with effort. “I just fucking freeze,” he says, quietly and in such audible pain that Mike’s whole body flinches. Jay doesn’t see it, doesn’t look up. 

“Hmm, okay. Part of this test should be to see what gets you hard, however you freeze up or not, so. Take your pants off, doll. Here-- I’ll get rid of mine, too.” 

Carla laughs as she squirms out of those tiny shorts, and it’s an airy, tension-clearing sound, making Mike suspect she’s always had full control over her sometimes wild reactions. She’s wearing pale blue briefs that have a dramatic V shape, high cut on her legs. Between that and the sight of Jay letting her unbutton his jeans, Mike is getting hard in a way they’ll both be able to see, if they ever look over at him. His mouth is dry, but he still doesn’t dare a sip from the sweating beer bottle that he’s holding in a death grip. He keeps his lips pressed in a thin line and his gaze locked on Jay’s crotch as Carla helps him wiggle his jeans down, revealing a pair of faded plaid boxer shorts that his mother probably bought for him in high school. Jay is soft inside them, as far as Mike can see. 

“The time of the night for pants is over!” Carla says, tossing Jay’s onto the floor, and for a moment Mike is afraid she’ll tell him to take his pants off, too, and remind Jay he’s there in the process, but she’s too smart for that. She rolls back to Jay’s side and puts her hand on his belly, first rubbing him overtop his t-shirt and then sneaking her fingertips up under the hem to stroke his skin. Jay is motionless except for a kind of twitchy energy that Mike can see moving through him from his toes to the trembling tips of his spiked up bangs. He’s watching Carla’s face, breathing shallowly through his parted lips and letting her perform her experiments. If not for the booze, Mike would be rock hard just for this, dripping. He’s halfway there anyway, tenting his jeans. 

“Um,” Jay says when Carla reaches up higher under his shirt. The way her hand moves beneath the fabric makes Mike think she just pinched his nipple. She gets the idea and slips her hand back out when Jay cringes all over and makes a face like he’s sorry, but no. 

“Okay,” she says, patting his belly again. “You want me to go lower? Or you could touch me--?”

Jay exhales in a pained sniff and looks down at her crotch, then up into her face again. He curls his free hand into a fist at his side and bites his bottom lip, still holding his drink like a lifeline. Mike is ready to spring up off the couch and do something if Jay bursts into tears, which is rapidly looking like it might happen. He’s not sure what he’ll do, exactly. Something. 

“You’re okay,” Carla says, nudging his cheek with her nose. She gives him a kiss there and he makes an appreciative noise under his breath. “When you’re doing trial and error, the error result is as good as a success. It’s a process.”

Mike has to hold in relieved laughter, because she sounds like a scientist character in a porno, wearing a white lab coat over panties and a bra. It works perfectly: Jay relaxes into his next exhale and nods slowly, turning his face back to hers. 

“Here?” she says, hovering her hand over his dick, which is still soft inside his boxers. Mike can just make out the shape of it, and he finally takes a gulping drink from his beer when Jay and Carla are both staring at where her hand might descend onto his bulge. “Yeah?” she says, settling the tips of her fingers down with the lightest touch. “Good?”

Jay is biting his lip too hard; Mike wants to tell him to stop. His shoulders jerk when Carla moves her hand on him, and then his right knee comes up hard, knocking her whole arm away.

“Sorry, sorry!” he says, his hands slapping against his face in a way that sounds like it hurts. He pulls his other leg up, too, and draws his knees together while Carla rubs his shoulder and tells him it’s okay. 

She turns to look at Mike, finally, with a heartbreak question on her face, asking him if she should stop or if he’s going to help. He doesn’t know how to reply. 

“It’s too weird,” Jay says, pressing his palms into his eyes. “I’m sorry. It’s-- Just--”

“Shh, shh, nothing’s wrong.” Carla sits up a little straighter and takes Jay’s cup of brandy from him. Hers is empty on the bedside table, beside the bottle. She drinks from Jay’s cup, then brings it to his lips and prompts him to take a sip, too. He does, obedient and staring up at her worshipfully while he swallows. This seems to settle him again, and he gives her a shaky smile when she strokes his hair. “Let’s try something else,” she says, softly. “Okay?”

She throws back another swallow from Jay’s cup, turns to set it beside hers on the bedstand, and that’s when she finally looks at Mike in a way that Jay will notice, too. Jay follows the line of her gaze and presses his lips together when his eyes meet Mike’s, reminding Mike of how he sometimes tries to hide his teeth, usually after he’s beamed or laughed hard without thinking. 

“Oops, Mike’s still go his pants on,” Carla says. “Take ‘em off and c’mere, I need your help with something.”

Mike expects Jay to put a stop to this before he can even stand from the couch, but Jay just lies there looking dazed, watching to see what Mike will do. It’s almost enough to make Mike’s eyes burn or his stomach empty, this sense of opportunity suddenly weighing down on him, making him responsible for whatever happens next. He’s had just enough to drink to fight off the worst of his fears, and he slugs from his beer again when he stands, thinking about throwing the bottle against the wall after he’s drained it. He drops it onto the couch instead, not wanting to scare Jay with anything too dramatic yet. When he has to contain a belch that sort of comes up anyway, Carla smiles like he’s being charming and Jay stretches his legs out, unfolding himself for Mike's approach.

Mike walks to the bed slowly, unbuttoning his jeans and keeping his eyes on Jay, waiting for a sign from him that he should be the one who stops this. Jay looks tense and nervous but safe enough for now, cuddled up against Carla’s side and watching Mike strip out of his pants. Mike’s boner was obvious even when he had his jeans on. Poking out against the front of his boxer shorts, which are as old and ratty as Jay’s, he might as well be aiming it in their faces. Jay’s eyes go there, then back up to Mike’s, his brows lifting. 

“Come on,” Carla says, holding her arm out when Mike reaches the end of the bed. “I wanna try something.”

Mike crawls onto the bed. He doesn’t know what to do except move toward Carla’s outstretched hand, which is hovering over Jay’s chest. Jay is still soft, but his thighs are twitching like he’s feeling something and it’s a lot, close to too much already. Mike walks forward on his knees, until he’s hovering over both of them. 

“You two should give each other a little kiss,” Carla says, tucking her face close to Jay’s like she’s going to join in. “For me. Please?”

Mike imagines her hearing this from sleazy directors all the time, both as part of a sex scene she’s shooting and not. Most of the softcore stuff she’s done is girl on girl. He flicks his gaze to hers just briefly and doesn’t see anything malicious there. If she’s getting revenge on someone, it’s not them. 

He shifts his gaze to Jay’s, and once he has he knows he can’t hesitate for even a second without fucking this up, so he’s already moving down onto him, trying to keep breathing while he angles his mouth in against Jay’s parted lips. He closes his eyes and kisses Jay like he doesn’t know how to do it, his heart hammering and his dick pulsing fat drops of precome into his boxers when he feels Jay gasp against his lips. Jay’s are soft and uncertain, but he’s not moving away, and his breath smells like everything Mike wants to drink down to the last drop, consequences be damned. 

Mike keeps his eyes closed and presses his tongue into Jay’s mouth, not sure if Jay is letting him do it or if he’s just frozen again. Jay feels warm, pressed against Mike’s front as he drops down lower, covering Jay’s tense, shivery body with his own like armor. He pulls back just a fraction to check Jay’s eyes, which are swimmy and stunned. When Jay touches Mike’s bicep, his fingertips sneaking up just under his t-shirt sleeve, Mike swoons back onto him and kisses him more deeply, confidently, in a way that will ruin him if Jay doesn’t kiss back. 

Jay makes a little noise of irritation, maybe at himself, then presses his tongue out timidly, asking for more. Mike leans more of his weight onto Jay in response, burying him with the full force of the kiss he’s wanted since the first time Jay busted into orgasmic laughter at one of his jokes on the phone. Mike’s dick throbs like a second heartbeat, and he knows Jay can feel how hard he is. He groans into Jay’s mouth and licks behind Jay’s teeth when he feels Jay getting stiff, too, his hips stuttering upward to press his cock more firmly against Mike’s grinding thigh. 

“That’s it, Sunshine,” Carla says, and Mike jolts without breaking the kiss. He’d actually forgotten she’s there. She’s stroking Jay’s hair, still snuggled up behind him while Mike tries to get more of him in his grip. Carla smells good, and Mike could kiss her, too, for arranging this so expertly, but he doesn’t want to stop kissing Jay long enough to do anything. “That’s what you like,” Carla says. “One thing, anyway.”

Jay flinches at that and pulls free from Mike’s mouth, panting into the space between their faces. Mike’s gratitude shifts to annoyance and he feels some animal thing wanting to growl at her for interrupting. He ducks his face down to Jay’s throat and gives the side of his neck a wide, wet lick, afraid it might be his last chance. Jay’s skin tastes even better than Mike hoped it would, finely sheened with sweat and clean under that, hot with his flush.

“Looks like everything’s working just fine,” Carla says, squeezing Jay’s arm when he’s peering up at Mike, who has pulled up onto all fours to give him a second to breathe. “He’s so hard for you,” Carla says, whispering this into Jay’s ear like a secret and staring at the tent in Mike’s boxers. “And you’re-- Mhm.” She kisses Jay’s cheek and Mike looks down between their bodies to see the shape of Jay’s erection straining up toward him. There’s a wet spot on his boxers, already. “Fantastic fucking news,” Carla says, nuzzling at Jay’s face. “You’re not frozen anymore, babe. Not all of you, anyway. Do you want to touch him? Feel how hard that big dick got for you?”

Jay still has his hand on Mike’s bicep, and his grip tightens with this invitation. He peels his gaze up from Mike’s tented boner and looks into his eyes. Mike can’t help himself: he dives down to kiss Jay again, and grins against Jay’s mouth when he huffs in surprise. 

“Say something,” Mike says, pulling back to check Jay’s face. His eyes are wide open but he seems so hazy, like he’s sleepwalking through this. 

“Yeah,” Jay says. He turns to Carla. “I’ll-- What you said.”

Like they can only speak through her? Mike supposes he’ll take it, if that means Jay is going to grope his cock and god knows what else. 

“Take ‘em off,” Carla says, tugging at the hem of Mike’s boxers. “Your shirt, too. You’re not shy, are ya?”

Mike snorts, again thinking of how many times she must have heard this or similar in her career. She grins at him like she knows he understands. 

“You’re the boss,” Mike says, sitting back onto his knees so he can pull off his shirt. His chest is on the soft side but broad and hairy enough that it still has the affect he wants: big, strong man who can easily handle the person who’s waiting for him to grab them. Jay is staring, holding the hem of his own shirt down as if he’s prepared to say no to any requests to expose himself. Mike doesn’t need that yet, though he does feel weird being the only naked one when he takes his boxers off and lets Jay really have an eyeful. 

“Damn, Doc,” Carla says. “You could do porn with that thing.” 

“Jesus,” Jay says, in seeming agreement, under his breath. His legs shift around as if he’s considering how he might hide the boner that’s poking up straight toward his belly now, the wet spot on his boxers spreading wider. 

“Soo,” Mike says, not sure if he should touch his dick or not. His cheeks are flushed, but that’s mostly from the booze. “What now? You want me to dance or something?”

“No,” Jay says, and Mike laughs. He catches Jay’s eye and for a second it’s like they’re back to being their normal selves, with Jay’s eyes brightening because Mike laughed at something he said. 

“C’mere, Doc,” Carla says. She’s giggling and pouring more brandy while she sort of hoists Jay upward with her other arm, which is still tucked around his back. She handles him like he’s her little puppet, and like she’s going to pull the strings while he has his first gay sex experience with Mike. Jay is willing and easy in her grip, looking relieved to be passed between them like a toy, and it seems so obvious now that Mike can’t believe he didn’t think of it himself, though how could he have? They didn’t know any women who would have been willing to do this for Jay, until Carla. “Go ahead,” she says, lifting Jay’s wrist after she’s thrown back another swallow of brandy. 

She brings Jay’s hand to Mike’s dick. Mike keeps as still as a statute, so afraid that Jay won’t want to keep it there that the heat of his touch hits him belatedly, like a boomerang. Jay’s fingers curl around the shaft as if he’s gripping the throttle that’s going to shoot them all out of the room, almost meanly, but Mike doesn’t mind. He’s been wanting Jay to grab him by the dick and jerk him around for years-- Literally, as opposed to how he’s otherwise been doing it since they met. 

Mike groans and bucks into it, remembering how drunk he is when he stares down over the expanse of his naked body and watches Jay cluelessly but enthusiastically jacking his dick while Carla stays propped up behind him, keeping him in place. She drops her chin to his shoulder and kisses his neck. 

“Do you like it?” she asks, honey-sweet and hugging Jay against her. “You could put your mouth on him,” she says, because of course Jay isn’t going to say he does like it, even stupid drunk and swooning in close for the suggestion that he could taste Mike’s dick. “He could put his hand on your head, to show you how he likes it.” 

Mike wants to kiss Jay again more than he wants his dick sucked, but it is a marvel to see him close his eyes and lean in to bump his lips against the sticky head, and they both moan for the contact. Mike threads his fingers through through Jay’s hair and cups the back of his skull-- gently, and because he wants to, not because she told him to. The feeling of Jay’s breath on his dick is everything, the pinnacle of his whole life, and there’s no way he’ll be able to fully appreciate what this means in the moment, but he’s going to fuckin’ try. 

Jay responds to the feeling of Mike’s hand on his head by opening his soft, puffy, cocksucking lips to do what they look like they were designed for: not just for anybody, but for Mike. He’s not as shy about it as Mike has many times envisioned, but he’s just as sweet as Mike made him in his imagination, lapping at the head and letting his eyes flutter shut when he tries to get more than a couple of inches into his mouth.

“Holy shit,” Mike says, exhaling this along with the breath he’d been holding. He massages his fingers into Jay’s scalp, and the slight movement feels even more intimate than watching his cock slide shallowly in and out of Jay’s soaking wet mouth, maybe because it’s their secret, something Carla won’t notice while she keeps her eyes where the main action is. 

“There you go,” she says, petting Jay’s arm and managing to sound like she really just wants him to do his best, as if this is not a sex thing for her, and maybe it isn’t. Mike won’t hold it against her if it’s just a power fantasy, and he can’t imagine her finding two more eager chumps to play it out with. He moves his thumb down to Jay’s ear and brushes it along the rim. Jay sighs around his dick for that, and shudders. Mike moans and does it again, spreading his knees for more traction when he feels his balls pulling up tight. Jay’s mouth gets wetter, or Mike could only be imagining that he can judge its wetness accurately right now, feeling like he’s going to come for the first little cough Jay gives against the inward push of his too-deep dick.

Jay pulls off with another cough and wipes at his mouth. He stares at Mike’s fat cockhead, wet with his spit, and seems shocked for a second. Carla sees that and takes over, guiding him to lie back again, into the comforting spoon of her body, which requires nothing from him. 

“You look so cute,” Carla says, touching Jay’s slick bottom lip. Jay lets her do it but doesn’t turn in her direction. He’s breathing hard, staring at Mike’s balls. “Let’s get rid of these,” Carla says, pushing at the waistband of Jay’s boxer shorts. “Poor thing, you’re shaking like you’re gonna come. Do you want him to take care of you?”

“Mike,” Jay says, calling to him as if for help. 

Mike is on it, settling over Jay and grabbing his chin, tilting his face back to kiss him deep. Between the two of them they manage to get Jay’s boxers off with their eyes closed, still kissing. Carla is humming to herself, moving away, but then she’s back and holding a washcloth. 

Only then does Mike notice there’s been a stack of them on the bedstand this whole time, beside the bottle of brandy. She planned this, then. It would make Mike leery if Jay wasn’t nosing at his jaw, trying to get kissed again. What could be wrong with anything in the world, if Jay wants to kiss him? Carla smiles and hands him the washcloth, which she’s dumped some of the brandy onto. 

“Use that for sanitation,” she says. “Then give him a kiss where you know he needs it.” 

It takes Mike a second to catch on, and he doubts Jay heard any of that. He’s licking at and nipping at Mike’s throat like a hungry little animal, his teeth catching against the stubble there. He’s squirmy and determined in Mike’s arms, clinging to him with one hand clamped on his shoulder and the other cupped around the back of his neck, keeping him close. 

Mike arches up out of Jay’s stranglehold so he can get a look at his dick. The boxers are tangled around Jay’s left ankle, and his cock is still drooling for Mike, now onto his belly. Mike has seen him shirtless before, but he’s still shocked by the amount of hair on his chest. In his fantasies, Jay has only a dusting of blond like the fine hair on his arms. His actual pubes are wiry and dark like the hair that trails down from his stomach, and his dick is bigger than Mike expected, though Mike’s hand makes it look small. Jay gasps and arches into Mike’s grip on him, pinching his eyes shut like it hurts to fuck Mike’s fist and looking in general like he’s needed this for a long time. Mike shoves his other hand up beneath Jay’s pushed-up t-shirt and finds a nipple to tug on, checking to see if Jay will like having his A-cups played with when it’s coming from him. Jay just looks mindless, tossing his head against Carla’s shoulder and then away, lifting his hips to hump into whatever friction Mike will give him. 

“You can’t be serious,” Mike says when Carla presents him with the brandy-damp washcloth again. 

“Why not?” she asks. “He’ll love it.” 

“Wh, what?” Jay says, blinking heavily when he lifts his head. 

“Lift your legs up,” Mike says. He lets go of Jay’s dick, pulls his hand out from under his shirt, and takes the washcloth. This feels like a dare, and he thinks Jay will love it, too. 

Jay huffs in confusion but obeys, now taking orders from Mike, too. He holds his legs up and back without Mike even needing to nudge him into position. Some guys will do anything once their dick gets hard enough, and Mike has always thought Jay might be one of them, but he never dreamed it would be like this: Jay holding the backs of his knees and waiting to see what Mike will do to him, chewing on his bottom lip with the taste of Mike’s cock still buzzing on his tongue. Carla moves back just enough, watching with placid satisfaction as Mike brings the washcloth down to rub it over Jay’s exposed hole, swirling the alcohol around. Jay gasps and flexes, stunned again. His eyes are huge, but he’s still holding his legs out so Mike can do this to him, his mouth hanging open and his gaze locked on Mike’s. 

“There,” Mike says, throwing the washcloth aside. “Now you’re ready-- Ready?”

“Oh my god,” Jay says. “For what?”

“Show him, Doc,” Carla says, reaching over to stroke Mike’s hair. “I bet you’re good at it.” 

Mike has actually never done this to a guy, or to anybody’s ass, but he lowers his mouth down between Jay’s legs with confidence anyway, because Carla is a psychic, practically a witch. She can bestow this talent upon him, like lending him some of her power. He licks the taste of brandy from Jay’s clenching hole, and groans against it for the feeling, the flavor of booze making him instantly drunk off of this, too, in the best and most reckless way. Jay is making breathy noises, cursing in astonishment as Mike tongues at him in what feels like a love language. This is sacred, he thinks, letting his eyes fall shut. Someone is stroking his hair-- Carla, probably. He stretches out on his front and gets comfortable, wants to feel Jay’s desperate ass grinding against his face all fucking night. 

“Jesus,” Jay keeps saying, breathy and small and far away. Mike feels close to him all the same, with his tongue spearing into the heat of Jay’s squirming body. “Jesus, god, fuck--”

“That’s so good,” Carla says. “Isn’t it, baby?”

“Mhmph--!” Jay says, and then he makes a sobby sound that causes Mike to lift his face at last, to check on him. 

Jay looks wrecked and desperate. Carla is holding one of his legs for him, against her chest, and it’s hotter than Mike knows what to do with. He makes himself stop casually humping the mattress, too close to feeling like he’ll come already.

“He likes that, getting opened up,” Carla says, shifting Jay’s leg so he’s even more wide open for Mike to plunder. “I have something-- You could use your fingers, stretch him out a little. You wanna try that?” she asks, more softly, speaking to Jay. 

“Shuh, sure,” Jay says. He lets go of his other leg, which is still spilled out, his knee bent. His hand is twitchy like he wants to jack himself off while they watch.

Mike would fucking love that, but Carla has some other plan. Mike is almost too drunk to understand it until she leans away from Jay and reaches not for the brandy but for for the drawer on the bedstand, her other arm still locked around Jay’s shaky shoulders. There’s lube in the bedstand, somehow, and she smirks when Mike stares at it, slowly comprehending.

“What do you have that for?” Mike asks, because how long has she been planning this?

“For this,” she says, tossing the lube in Mike’s direction and lifting a fat purple vibrator out of the drawer. “It travels with me when I’m in a place like this. No offense. Do you wanna use it?” she asks, waggling it near her face. “Or would you rather use that?” 

She nods to Mike’s dripping erection. He feels incredibly outmatched, but he’s never minded that, in bed. 

“Only need this,” he says, grabbing the lube. “If you want?” he says, to Jay, who is pawing at his own chest, his hand up under his shirt. 

“You’re gonna--” Jay says, blinking. He shifts in Carla’s grip, his hand sliding out from his shirt and flopping on the mattress. His dick is so hard that Mike’s aches in sympathy just for the sight, or because he’s in the same state. “Fuck me?” Jay finally says, having worked up the nerve or found the words. 

“Uh-huh,” Mike says. “If, if you--”

“Use your fingers first,” Carla says, before Mike can stumble into doubt. “And, here,” she says, grabbing for the brandy. She passes it to Mike and grins when he drinks from it directly. “Don’t swallow!” she says, and she laughs when Mike obeys, holding the burning booze in his mouth. “Swish it around,” she says. “To clean your mouth, ya know. And then spit.”

She grabs one of the empty cups and provides that. Mike does as she asked, feeling dumb for thinking he wasn’t her puppet, too. 

“Good!” she says, like he’s done a backflip for her. Mike wipes his mouth, then takes another drink from the bottle, swallowing this time. “Now you can kiss him again,” she says, placing the cup of spat-out brandy on the far edge of the bestand, behind the washcloths. 

Mike thinks that’s the best idea he’s ever heard, and he has to suppress the urge to whine happily when Jay reaches for him as he’s sinking back down onto all fours, onto Jay. He plunges his tongue into Jay’s mouth this time, and Jay sucks at it like he wants to be more drunk, his arms winding around Mike’s neck. Mike keeps drifting into the ease of it and then remembering he’s in heaven with every swipe of Jay’s hot little tongue against his, and it’s as hard to believe as any dream, even as he feels it all over and sinking deep into his bones. Carla watches them make out for a while, then tickles her fingernails over Mike’s back in a way that makes him shiver and look up. 

“He needs to come,” she says, like Jay might explode if he doesn’t get off soon, which Mike could kind of taste on Jay’s mouth, now that she mentions it. Jay is panting and holding on to Mike like he wants to climb him, his knees pressed in tight against Mike’s sides and his dick smearing precome onto Mike’s belly. “I bet you could set him off with just your fingers.” 

Mike looks at the lube, which is still in his hand. Jay’s grip on him eases, and he looks feral when Mike checks his eyes again, his fat pupils nearly blacking out the green. 

“You need--?” Mike says, leaving it at that, his voice rougher and deeper than he even meant it to be. 

“Uh-huh,” Jay says, nodding once. “Please-- just. Ah, god, Mike--” 

“Shh,” Mike says, sharply, because hearing Jay say his name like that might make him come untouched, which would be embarrassing. He gives Jay another peck on the lips. Carla has moved away, almost to the edge of the bed, but she’s still close and watchful. 

Mike has never fingered anyone with lube before. He’s never actually been with a guy in any capacity, though he got close enough once that he scared himself, because he was already in love with Jay and that guy wasn’t him. He uses too much lube, probably, but Jay won’t know that or care. He’s already moaning just for Mike’s slicked fingers brushing over his hole. Mike wonders what that brandy felt like, if it’s still burning or tingling in a way that feels good or weird, and if it made Jay drunker to have it smeared onto him there.

He wonders if they’ll ever talk about this, and then shoots away from that line of thought like he’s been electrocuted and pushes his middle finger into Jay, slowly but without stopping. 

“Oh god,” Jay says, curling into himself in a way that makes Mike pause. Then Jay presses his hips down with a grunt, throws his head back and starts to come. 

“Whoa,” Carla says, like she didn’t trust her own prediction until she saw it come true. 

Jay moans, and Mike finger-fucks him through it, watching him with wet-mouthed wonder as Jay’s cock keeps spurting, painting his fuzzy belly with come. Mike doesn’t want to pull his finger out, so he leaves it there when Carla tells him to lick Jay clean, and feels Jay clenching crazily around it while he obediently licks the come off of him. 

“Good boy,” Carla says, petting Mike’s hair. Mike laughs against Jay’s stomach when he feels him flinch for hearing Mike get praised. It’s fucking cute that he’s still able to get jealous while Mike laps up his come and digs his finger into him a little deeper. “Let him have a taste now,” Carla says when Mike lifts his head, as if Mike wasn’t already surging up to press his newly salty mouth to Jay’s, having finished licking up and swallowing down all his come. 

Jay’s arms wind around Mike’s neck again, so Mike stays like that, kissing him, while he works a second finger in. Jay grunts, frowns, and bites at Mike’s bottom lip. He sputters a single tired laugh when Mike makes an answering noise of surprise, because that bite was stiff. 

“Too much?” Mike mutters.

“Jesus, no,” Jay says, squeezing up around the inward press of Mike’s second finger. “Your, yours-- Ah, fuck. They’re so big.”

“You’ve noticed, huh.” 

“Mike--” 

Mike kisses him again and fucks into him nice and steady with two fingers, his dick so hard it hurts. He can’t be in a hurry, though. As soon as he gets it inside Jay he’s going to come like a virgin. This is new for him, after all, every part of it. Jay is terrain he never thought he’d cross, even while he wasted all his energy wanting it. 

“Take this off, Sunshine,” Carla says, reinserting herself just enough to tug at Jay’s sweaty, bunched-up t-shirt. “There we go,” she says, petting his hair when he’s naked underneath Mike, speared on his fingers and looking at her like he’d forgotten she was there, helping him let himself have this. “I’m gonna take a shower.” She winks at Mike, then rolls off the bed, grabbing the vibrator that she’d left on the bedstand. “It’s waterproof,” she says, holding it up and beaming like she’s in a commercial. Then she blows them both a kiss and she’s prancing off toward the bathroom with it, shutting the door behind her. 

Mike freezes, afraid that Jay will wake up from this good dream without her there to serve as its narrator. Jay’s ass gets extra tight around his fingers when they both turn from where they watched Carla disappear and stare into each other’s faces. 

“I need to come so bad,” Mike says, his voice shaking with the honest weight of this. “We can do whatever you want.” 

They hear the shower turn on in the bathroom. Jay makes a noise like he’s dying and milks at Mike’s fingers with his ass. Mike groans. He lets his eyes fall shut for how full his cock is and how urgently he needs to empty it, then opens them again to study Jay’s.

“Do it,” Jay whispers. “I want it.” 

“I love you,” Mike whispers back, still shaky.

“Jesus,” Jay says. He frowns deeply, so himself again that Mike stops worrying that he’s too drunk to understand what he’s asking for. “Not now.”

That’s enough to make Mike last longer than he might have otherwise, but he still takes his time working his dick into Jay’s skittish, clutching body, because he wants this to last for a million reasons, not least of which is that he’s afraid of what comes next. Jay makes broken, weepy noises and winces a lot but keeps telling Mike he’s okay and not to stop, pulling his hair if he takes too long to comply. He’s bossy as shit with Mike’s cock inside him, no longer needing anyone to tell him what to do. His fingernails dig into the meat of Mike’s shoulders, and it feels so good to be hurt by him, though it makes no sense. Mike just knows he’s addicted, and that he’ll do anything Jay wants for the rest of his life, though he knew that long before he was throbbing balls-deep inside the perfect heat of his tight little ass.

“You like that?” Mike asks, because he’s going to make Jay talk before he gives him a single thrust. “Hmm?” he asks, bumping Jay’s jaw with his nose when Jay just squirms on his cock and tosses his head around, testing himself against the feeling of how full he is, his heels slipping against Mike’s sweaty back. “Tell me,” Mike says, sharply enough that Jay finally looks at him. 

“What?” Jay is breathless and red all over. The shower is still running in the bathroom; Mike has no idea how long it’s been since she left them alone with this. Time feels like taffy, stretchy and sickly sweet. 

“You want me to fuck you hard?” Mike asks, trying a different approach. “‘Cause I will. I could make you scream loud enough to scare her.”

Because maybe Jay needs to be reminded that Carla is still here, enough to get him to be nice to Mike again?

Jay huffs and slides his too-tight grip down to Mike’s biceps, curling his fingers in until he’s leaving nail marks there, too. 

“I’m not gonna scream,” he says, whispering. “No matter what you do.”

“You wanna bet?”

“Mike, just--” 

“What? If you ask for it, I’ll give it to you. You know that.” 

Jay wrinkles his nose like it’s distasteful for Mike to mention that harsh truth, even while he’s speared open on Mike’s dick. 

“Fuh--Fucking do it,” Jay says. “It feels really good, um. So, I-- I want, yeah--” 

“Want me to pound you?” Mike asks, too in love to leave him stranded. 

“Mhm-hmm,” Jay says, nodding madly. “Yes, yeah-- Oh--fffuck--!”

Mike pulls back onto his knees to brace himself and gives Jay the sharp, shallow thrusts he was asking for, a kind of fearsome power he’s never known before trembling down the length of his spine when he feels his balls tighten beyond the point of no return. Jay keeps going crazy for it, spitting curses and snapping his ass up against every thrust, until they’re not shallow anymore, because Mike is lost to it and fucking into him hard, falling forward to plant his hands on the mattress while he lets himself use all the force he has left to unload into Jay with a gut-clearing groan.  

He’s legitimately dizzy as he spills the last of it in weak pulses, slumping down onto Jay in a way that he’s not sure will be welcome. They’re both dripping sweat, blood-hot from their faces to the place where they’re still connected, Mike’s dick unwilling to let this end until he’s dribbled his entire soul out into Jay, apparently. He’s whining from the intensity of it, he realizes, and he makes himself be quiet as he struggles up onto his elbows and locks eyes with Jay for the first time post-nutting in him. 

“You’re hard,” Mike mutters, because he can feel it against his belly now that he’s come, the shape of Jay’s prick pressing into him in a straight, insistent line. It’s enough to give Mike’s overstimulated dick one last pulse of interest inside Jay’s ass. 

“Yeah,” Jay says, also muttering. He looks toward the bathroom. The door is still shut, the shower still running. 

“Could you come while I’m still in you?” Mike asks, like it’s a dare, and though he’s already uncomfortable in the tight confines, too sensitive. 

“I don’t think so.” Jay grunts and squirms up onto his elbows, bringing his face to Mike’s in the process. “You’re heavy,” he says, softly enough that Mike wants to think it’s an endearment. 

“I’ll get off,” Mike says. He tries to laugh at the accidental joke-- Ha ha, he just did! It comes out as a kind of defeated exhale, and he pulls out of Jay, watching him wince for the feeling of all that come beginning to leak out once Mike is free of him. “Can I suck your dick?” Mike asks, before Jay can say something weird or awful. They’re both still drunk, but it’s a different kind of drunkenness now that they’ve fucked. Everything will be different now, Mike supposes, studying Jay’s face as he seems to need a moment to puzzle out that question. 

“I guess-- Wait,” Jay says, as soon as Mike moves. “No, um. Put your fingers back in?”

Mike groans and kisses him for that. Jay opens his lips for Mike’s tongue with a grunt, his legs spreading for Mike’s hand. They don’t need lube this time. Jay is all wet, soft and open. Mike’s fingers slide in easy, and they both sigh for how good it feels. 

“God,” Jay says, letting his head fall back while Mike feels how well-fucked he is. “How, why-- Mmph--! Why’s that so good? Nhn, yeah-- There.” 

“Here?” Mike says, rubbing his fingers in the same spot, firmer. 

Jay groans, frowns, grabs his dick and comes with a whimper, only shooting a few week spurts this time. Mike doesn’t lick it up again. He kisses Jay’s jaw while he pants through it, then his throat. Jay’s heart is going crazy, his pulse frantic against Mike’s lips. 

Mike gropes for the stack of washcloths while Jay recovers, his eyes closed and his hands resting on his chest as his breathing evens out. He looks angelic, his lips parted just enough to show the gap in his teeth. Mike wants a picture. He takes another swig from the bottle of brandy before shifting back over to wipe the come from Jay’s belly. 

Jay lets Mike do that, then snatches the washcloth from him, pulls the mussed blankets up over his naked body, and presumably mops at his ass under there. He’s turned away from Mike, who waits for Jay to say something about the fact that Carla is still in the shower with her vibrator. It seems like she left them alone together an hour ago, but it might have been closer to ten minutes. 

“Want some more of this?” Mike asks, still holding the neck of the brandy bottle. 

“No.” 

“Want me to get lost?”

“No.” Jay sounds even more offended by that question, as if Mike is stupid for asking, but he doesn’t turn back to look at him. 

Mike thunks the bottle back onto the bedstand, wipes his dick clean with a washcloth, then snaps out the light beside the bed. 

“What are you doing?” Jay asks. 

“I’m tired,” Mike says. He lifts the blankets to slide his legs underneath and scoots up behind Jay. 

“It’s her room.” 

“So what? She can kick us out if she wants to.” 

Jay sniffs like that’s ridiculous, and he’s tense when Mike pulls him in close, wrapping both arms around him and tucking his legs in to spoon him. He relaxes a little when Mike kisses his shoulder and reaches down to rub his belly. Mike can feel Jay scheming to say a million life-wrecking things, the options fluttering through his panicked nervous system while Mike holds him, but then he just falls asleep in Mike’s arms. 

Mike is dozing, too, when Carla finally comes out from the bathroom. He turns to look at her and she waves, as if they’ve spotted each other from opposite subway platforms. She’s got a towel wrapped around her tiny body, and her wet hair hangs dripping around her shoulders. 

“Is your key in here?” she asks, whispering from where she’s squatted on the floor to dig around in the pockets of Mike’s jeans. “I’ll sleep in your room.” 

“You don’t have to,” Mike says, groggy. 

“Shh!” She stands holding the key card to their room and nods to Jay. “Don’t wake him.” 

“You-- Okay.”

Mike will deal with this in the morning. He buries his face against Jay’s shoulder again and closes his eyes while Carla gets dressed in the dark and slips out of the room. 

“What?” Jay says, his voice thick and uncomprehending when the door clicks shut quietly behind her. 

“Nothing,” Mike says. He hugs his arm tighter across Jay’s scrawny chest, emotions trying to well up inside him, too soon. “You’re fine,” he says. And then, because Jay is asleep again already. “You’re not a freak. You’re perfect.” 

Jay breathes out through his lips in his sleep, his body slack and warm within the protective curl of Mike’s all around him. Jay slots in just right, like he was designed to hide inside the shelter of Mike’s bigger dimensions, and that’s the least surprising thing about all of this. 

Mike has some horror movie dreams involving cheerleaders, but doesn’t remember them when he wakes up to a way too bright morning and the sound of the room’s door opening. Jay is still under his arm, rolled onto his stomach with his face buried in the pillow, passed out. Someone is entering the room.

Mike turns to tell housekeeping to come back later, but it’s Carla, making an apologetic face as she slips back into the room. 

“I gotta do my makeup for the photo shoot,” she says, not even whispering. “It’s in an hour from now, babes. And I think it’s a thirty minute drive, yeah?”

She’s memorized their shoot schedule, too. Mike nods and sits up, wincing at the pain in his temples and at the points of his jaw. Jay twitches awake but leaves his face hidden in the pillow, his shoulders pulling up toward his ears. Carla disappears into the bathroom but doesn’t shut the door. 

“Hey,” Mike says, as softly as he can with his voice all scratchy and his entire body throbbing with brandy-flavored pain. He touches Jay’s shoulder. “We gotta get dressed, uh. Unless you want to cancel the shoot with Lynn.” 

“No.” Jay doesn’t lift his face, just cringes away from Mike’s touch. “We have to. Carla’s flying home tonight.” 

“Yeah. So. She’s here, in the--”

“I know!” Jay looks up at Mike, glowering and clearly in several kinds of pain. “Get, just-- Bring me my clothes.” He looks queasy, and his eyes soften. “Please?”

“Yep.” 

Mike vaults out of bed, wondering if Jay is looking at his ass or balls. The night before feels very vivid but also like something that happened to another, luckier guy. He’s not going to benefit from it at all, he fears. Even the memory might just end up killing him. 

They dress in miserable silence while Carla does her makeup. She emerges from the bathroom looking beautiful and guilty. 

“Everybody all right?” she asks, half-wincing like she expects them to hate her.

“We’re fine,” Mike says. “Just hungover. Nothing a little greasy diner food won’t fix.” 

He wants to laugh at himself, or throw himself off the hotel roof. Carla laughs nervously and glances at Jay. 

“Thanks for waking us up,” Jay says. All business, of course, though he’s got bags under his eyes. His hair is a disaster, but adorably so. It will look good for the photo shoot. Mike is afraid to look in any reflective surface and find out what shape he’s in. “Sorry we overslept.” 

“No problem, Sunshine.” 

Carla falls into step with Jay as they all head for the door and slings her arm around his shoulders, giving him a softly scrutinizing look. He smiles at her, looking a little wobbly but mostly determined to get on with his life. 

Mike drives to the photoshoot location, and Carla sits up front with him. Jay is quiet in back, but every time Carla engages him he answers cheerfully. Mike only contributes to the conversation when he feels like he has to, so they won’t think he’s already heartbroken. If Jay tells him it’s over again-- friendship-wise, business-wise, anything --he won’t run away and try to protect his pride. He tried that last time and only ended up more ruinously obsessed with Jay from a distance. He’ll get down on his knees and beg this time, but he’s not looking forward to any approximation of that. 

The photoshoot goes fine. Most of it is work that Carla has to do, in character, and she’s great as usual. They take a few photos with her after Lynn has helped them clean up a bit, having laughed off their unprofessionally hungover state. She expects it from Mike and thinks it’s funny on Jay, because she knew him back when he refused to drink at all. 

“Jay used to have a crush on Lynn,” Mike says when they’re driving back to the hotels with Carla, who will fly back home in seven hours. He’s not sure what they’ll do with their remaining time with her. Another orgy? Anything’s possible. 

“Aww,” Carla says, after pausing to allow Jay to refute that. He’s sitting in back again, looking out the window like he didn’t hear Mike’s stupid comment. “She’s very pretty.” 

“The feeling wasn’t mutual,” Jay says. 

Carla glances over at Mike like she’s asking how she should reply to that. Mike shakes his head and keeps his eyes on the road. He has no idea. 

As soon as they get back to the hotel, Jay asks Mike if he can borrow the car, saying he has an errand to run. Mike gives him the keys and doesn’t dare ask what it is. He watches Jay drive away, wondering if he’ll ever come back. If Jay steals his car, Mike won’t tell anyone. He follows Carla to the pool, where a handful of cheerleaders are frolicking. Carla puts on her sunglasses, stretches out in a lounge chair and lights a cigarette. Mike sits on the chair beside hers and leans forward with his elbows on his knees, feeling like he’ll puke. 

“Ready for food yet?” Carla asks. 

“Definitely not.” 

“Where do you think he’s headed?”

“Fuck if I know. To Canada, maybe.” 

“I’d tell you not to despair,” she says, offering her cigarette. “But you know him better than me.” 

“But you’re psychic,” Mike says glumly, no longer believing this the way he did the day before. He accepts the cigarette and takes a long drag. Smoking is something he associates with living out west, where he spent a lot of time getting blackout drunk in bars and walking home with women he didn’t know. Only it wasn’t home, wherever he went. 

“How long have you been in love with him?” Carla asks when he passes the cigarette back.

“Pretty much since we met. No-- Before that. When I saw him on video. Or when I heard his voice, maybe, before that. I didn’t think of it as love back then, though.”

“What’d you think it was?”

“Uhh. An unhealthy combination of admiration and hatred, mostly.”

Carla laughs hard at that, and Mike smiles for the first time since Jay said ‘jesus, not now.’ 

“Yeah, that sounds about right,” Carla says, muttering this around the end of her cigarette. “I can’t give you advice about love, Doc.”

“Why not.”

“I’m no good at it. He loves you, too, though, at least.”

“At least? That’s a good way to describe it. He needs me. He-- Admires me, maybe. Sometimes. He also detests me and wishes he could keep me on a choke chain.” 

“I think that’s regular old love, babe.” 

Mike grunts and stretches out on the lounger, squinting at the pool. It’s sparkling with sunlight and girls in bikinis. If they’re bothered by a pair of vampiric-looking smokers watching them, they don’t show it. 

“Is he going to be okay?” Mike asks, after they’ve been comfortably quiet together for so long that he’s not sure she’s awake behind her huge sunglasses. 

“Are you asking me as a psychic?” 

“No. Yes-- I don’t know. I want him to not hate himself. Mostly because he takes it out on me.”

“Now that’s love,” she says, pointing her cigarette at him. “Not what you said, but how he treats you. He knows you love him enough for the both of you. And he’s jealous. Because he wants to love himself, too. You’ve cracked the code for that, and he hasn’t.” 

“That’s fucking insane.”

“Well, yes. That’s why I’m no good at this stuff myself. I’m way too sane for it.” 

She pulls her sunglasses down and grins at him, holding the stub of her cigarette at the corner of her bright red lips. Mike lifts his hands to frame the shot that he wish he was getting. She laughs and pushes the sunglasses back up.

Jay returns an hour later and finds them at the pool. The cheerleaders have departed for lunch, or maybe they’ve gone home for good, their competition concluded. Mike is half asleep on his lounge chair, getting sunburned. Carla has been pacing around on her cell phone, talking to her agent or something. When she sees Jay approaching she hangs up and walks over to give him a hug. 

“I gotta go make a few more calls,” she says. “Then we can get some lunch together, yeah?”

“I already ate,” Jay says. He’s also changed into clean clothes and maybe washed his face. “But we can do whatever you want.”

He seems to hear what he’s said in the context of the night before and flinches visibly, his ears going red. She pats the top of his head, kisses his cheek, and tells them to come get her in her room when they’re ready to drive back to Milwaukee. They’ve already paid for another night in both rooms, having known that a place like this wouldn’t allow a late check out, even for a fee. 

Mike stares up at Jay when she’s gone, his hand shading his eyes so it doesn’t look like he’s glowering. Jay sits on the lounger where Carla had been and stretches his legs out, staring in the direction of the pool but not really looking at anything. 

“Where’d you go?” Mike asks. 

“To my parents’ house.”

“Uh. Why?”

“To call Tracy. I broke up with her. Or-- I made sure we were broken up, already.”

“Why?”

“Why?” Jay turns to snarl at him. “Because-- If we weren’t-- I cheated on her!” 

He curls his shoulders inward and sinks deeper into the lounger. Mike just stares at him, afraid to hope but doing it anyway. 

“But I didn’t tell her about that,” Jay says, mumbling. “Obviously. I like girls-- I do. But I can’t make myself calm down enough to enjoy them.” 

“Did you enjoy last night?” Mike asks, heart in his throat.

Jay gives him an angry look, as if they agreed to never discuss that. 

“It’s all a blur,” he mutters. 

“Bullshit.” 

“Fine-- What, what do you think is going to happen? Now you can just fuck me whenever you want?” 

“Do you know why I left town?” Mike asks, bolting upright with the shock of hearing Jay actually call it what it was, out loud. He’s surprised when Jay sits up and turns toward him, too, as if he’s bracing for a physical confrontation. “After we fought?” 

Jay says nothing, breathing through his nose and keeping his eyes hard. Mike knows he feels guilty every day. He let Mike sleep on his couch that first night he showed up at Jay’s door, no real questions asked. They both just knew he was home and proceeded accordingly. 

“Do you know why I came back?” Mike asks. “Or are you that fucking dense?” 

“Why-- well, you were going through some, something--”

“I’m in love with you,” Mike says, preparing to die if Jay says again that he doesn’t want to hear it. “I didn’t even think I was into guys until I met you. It’s like you altered my brain chemistry just by existing. When you smile at me I feel like the world is not shit. Do you need me to continue?”

Jay looks dumbstruck, red-faced. He lowers his head in Mike’s direction the way he sometimes does, which Mike always wants to view as gesture of submission.

“I don’t know how to react to anybody being in love with me,” Jay says, staring at his shoes. “It’s always seemed fake before.”

“And now?”

“I guess-- This feels real.” He keeps on staring at his feet, shuffling them around. “I can’t mess this up, though. When you were gone. It was like I was dead.”

“I’m not gonna leave you again.” Mike can’t fucking believe Jay doesn’t know this by now. “Not ever. No matter how bad you treat me.”

“I’m not gonna treat you bad!” 

Jay looks up, finally, frowning at Mike like this is unfair. 

“No?” 

“No!” 

Mike reaches over to take Jay’s wrist in his hand. Jay flinches at first, then lets Mike stroke the delicate bones on the underside, his thumb moving over pale skin, blue veins. Jay exhales, his fingers twitching. He looks troubled but resigned, as if he really is most afraid of losing Mike again, for real, and not just some prideful, useless thing that’s already gone. 

“I want you,” Mike says, in a way that Jay can’t mistake for anything but what it is. 

“Now?” Jay squeaks. 

“Yeah. We have a hotel room.”

Mike releases Jay’s wrist and stands, staring down at Jay in a way that he knows will make him look handsome and imposing, in this light. He still hasn’t showered, and he’s pretty sure Jay didn’t make time for one at his parents’ house, so they both smell like that brandy-soaked bed where they fucked for the first time. Jay gapes up at Mike like he’s thinking about it, too, amazed and in half-disbelief. Then he presses his lips together and stands. 

They march to their hotel room in silence. Mike isn’t sure how this will go. He thinks Jay might just want to follow his lead, but once he’s on his back under Mike he might start calling the shots again. When they walk into the room, the bed has been made with tight perfection by housekeeping, with no evidence that Carla slept there the night before.  

Mike takes Jay by the shoulders and spins him around so they’re facing each other. It’s different to kiss him while sober, with his heart slamming in his chest and Jay’s lips shaking against his. Jay licks at him too eagerly, trying to seem brave. Mike pushes him onto the bed and climbs on top of him. Jay is nearly hyperventilating, his eyes all spinny. Being back in a bed with Jay spread out underneath him makes Mike feel drunk again, though not quite confident.

“Did you like it when I fucked your ass?” he asks. 

Jay makes a pained, whimpery noise. He chews his lip. Mike just stares, unblinking, waiting for an answer.

“Yeah,” Jay says, so soft it’s barely a word. He fidgets, touches Mike’s arms, then drops his hands back to the mattress.

“Did you like sucking on my cock?”

“Ah. Yeah. Uh-huh.”

“Liked using that slutty mouth to make my dick feel good?”

“Jesus--”

“I know you liked it when I licked your little asshole. Fuckin’-- Loved it, more like.”

“Oh my god.” Jay closes his eyes, swallows noisily, and peeks up at Mike. “I can’t, like, believe this is happening.”

“What’s happening, Jay.”

“My dick’s so hard,” Jay says, breathing this out like he might cry about it.

Mike kisses him then, roughly.

“You need it again already, don’t you?” Mike says, reaching up under Jay’s too-big t-shirt to find a nipple and pinch. Jay winces for it, then arches like he wants more. “Hmm?”

“I don’t know,” Jay says, thrashing his head back and forth. He closes his eyes and huffs. He’s so cute when he’s overwhelmed, and he looks scared when he meets Mike’s eyes again. “I never thought it would feel like that,” he says, quiet like it’s a secret. “With, um. With another person.”

“With a guy, you mean? With me?”

“Nuh, no-- I dunno. With anyone.”

“How’d it feel, Jay?” Mike strokes up and down Jay’s sides, making him shiver and squirm. Just the thought of being able to touch his skin like this in the future is going to make Mike cry if he dwells on it too much. He’ll keep acting cool about this for as long as he can. “Tell me.”

“You know-- You were there.”

“I wasn’t the one with a cock in my ass. Tell me what it felt like for you.”

Jay sighs and rubs at his face, like he can wipe away how turned on he is. He grunts when Mike gives him another, harsher nipple pinch.

“Go on,” Mike says. “Answer me like a good boy.”

Jay’s pupils expand for that. Carla is a genius for knowing he’d like it. Mike owes her so much. From where he’s currently perched, he feels like he owes her his fucking life.

“Ah, it felt-- Really, um. Intense. Like you, just. Had control of me.”

“You liked that, huh?”

“Yeah-- Mike.”

“What?” Mike asks, because Jay just whined his name out like a complaint.

“Why are you making me talk?” 

“‘Cause I love your dorky little voice. Take these off.” Mike tugs at at the sagging waistline of Jay’s jeans. “Gonna show you who’s in control again.”

Jay exhales and nods once, a tiny gesture of submission that makes Mike’s dick fatten even more in his jeans, a reminder that he needs to take his pants off, too. He feels like he’ll go out of his mind with want and a sense of sick victory before he can even work his dick back inside Jay’s still freshly fucked ass. He wants to live in there, wants to spend whole weekends staying warm inside Jay’s willing little body while Jay cries about how much he loves it. Mike is shaking with the intensity of having something he wants this much stretched out on offer underneath him. He’s almost scared of how good it will feel this time, sober and sure that he’s going to fuck Jay just right, the way he needs it.

Jay pushes his boxers down along with his pants, then lets Mike pull his shirt off, too. Mike sits back on his knees and palms his cock through his jeans while he scans his eyes down Jay’s otherwise soft body to his rigid cock, which is pink and stiff against Jay’s belly. His prick looks fucking pretty against the rest of his skin, blood hot and solid. It twitches once for Mike’s hungry, appraising stare, then again.

“We don’t have any lube in here,” Mike says.

“I’m still wet from last night,” Jay says, under his breath like he’s ashamed.

Mike rips his own jeans open. He dives down for another kiss while still working on them, reaching down to feel between Jay’s ass cheeks with his free hand. Jay grunts against his lips and pants more than kisses back, his thighs spreading wider when Mike strokes his hole. It feels puffy and soft, not as wet as Mike hoped, but when he sneaks a fingertip inside he moans in approval, feeling the slippery remnants of the lube they used last night. He gives Jay’s bottom lip a possessive bite when he realizes that’s his come still in there, too, like a dirty secret.

“Ow,” Jay whispers, because Mike’s lip bite got too rough.

“Shhhh,” Mike says, hovering his face just over Jay’s so their noses bump together. “Relax. Fuck, you’re still so tight. I’m not gonna fit back in here without some lube.”

Jay whines and clenches around Mike’s finger as it breaches him more deeply, careful and slow. For a long time they just kiss while Mike tests how much friction Jay can take, making him moan and gasp. They both give each other astonished looks of gratitude whenever they come up for air. It seems they’re getting away with something unsanctioned. Mike groans and hides his face against Jay’s throat when Jay grabs his dick and tries to guide him into place, tugging at the shaft and pushing Mike’s finger out of him to make room for his cock. 

“You’re so greedy for it,” Mike says, with his lips pressed to Jay’s ear. “Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

“You’re the one who-- Mph. Go get something. For-- The lube.”

“What-- From her room?”

“There’s got to be something in the bathroom!” 

“Toothpaste?” Mike suggests, and he smirks at Jay’s answering look of disgust. 

“Don’t be stupid-- Please, just. Hurry?”

Mike gives him a gentle, unconsidered peck on the lips that takes them both off guard. Jay pushes him away, toward the bathroom. Mike gets all the way out of his jeans and boxers as he stumbles in that direction, and leaves his t-shirt on when he searches the bathroom counter for anything lube-worthy. He feels his anxiety closing around him as soon as Jay is out of his line of vision, like if he doesn’t locate something sufficiently slick in the next two seconds Jay is going to run out the door, naked if he has to. 

“There’s nothing!” Mike says, bereft. “Unless-- Shampoo?”

“I found something!” Jay shouts back, sounding similarly panicked.

Mike races back into the bedroom and grins when he sees Jay kneeling on the floor near their equipment bags, holding a tiny tube of burn cream.

“I forgot,” he says, standing so fast that his erection bounces in a way that probably hurts. He’s that hard. “I, uh. I packed the first aid kit.” 

“Of course you did.”

“Every shoot should have one! It’s professional.”

Jay seems to hear himself and looks for a moment like he’ll faint, then flings himself back onto the bed and rolls onto his front, looking back over his shoulder at Mike like he’s posing for a nudie magazine, though he’s surely not thinking about his pose at all. It wouldn’t be so perfectly hot if he was. 

“Let’s do it like this,” he says, his face on fire while he waits for Mike to move. “Okay?”

Mike just nods, his voice and all his cocky porno dialogue snatched away by the way Jay is looking at him, like he needs to be saved from his own flagrantly exposed nakedness before it burns him alive. Mike can help with that: he gets onto the bed, wearing only his t-shirt, and covers Jay’s smaller body with his own, crawling up over his back and kissing his shoulders, his neck. Jay exhales and deflates beneath him, except to snap his hips up for more when Mike’s cock drags against his ass crack. 

“Jesus christ, I’m gonna fuck this ass every day,” Mike manages to say when he’s sinking back inside, slick with burn cream, his thighs clamped tight around Jay’s lifted hips. 

“Yeah,” Jay says, soft and sincere with his eyes shut against the mattress. He sounds so satisfied already, just for the shape of Mike filling him up again. 

The burn cream isn’t as slippery as the actual lube was, but Mike doesn’t mind going slow. He absorbs every little noise Jay makes for him with an answering sound that’s closer to cooing at him than he’d like, but he can’t help it. He feels so good with his arms hugged around Jay’s surrendered body and his dick nudging into Jay in a steady grind that has them both drooling and moaning. It’s absolutely unhinged and comforting at the same time, the way he’s always wished sex could be. 

“Goddamn,” Jay says when Mike is fucking him harder, both of them up on their knees and losing their patience, their heads hanging down while they give in to the gravity of it. “Fucking, fuck-- Yeah, oh-- Keep, right there-- please--!” 

Mike growls in answer, crushes his arms around Jay’s ribcage and nails him in that same spot, over and over until he’s coming, too, for the way Jay shouts and lets himself spill while Mike keeps slamming into him. Mike recovers from his own climax enough to grab Jay’s dick and milk it in his fist before the last spurt. Jay whimpers and bucks up against him, sensitive and shaky. 

They tip over onto their sides, still connected and similarly breathless from the sudden velocity of finishing like that after working up to it like they had all the time in the world. Somewhere, Carla is either making her phone calls or done with that and wondering what they’re doing. Probably she assumes they’re either fighting or doing this: clinging to each other in the aftermath as the pure bliss of getting off together fades into whatever they’ll have to do next.

“We came at the same time,” Mike says, because he wants to be congratulated. “I’ve never had that before, uh. Have you?”

Jay snorts like he knows Mike is fishing for a confirmation that Jay never had anything resembling good sex before him, last night. He reaches back and cups his hand around Mike’s hip, sweetly at first, and then to push him out. 

“C’mon,” Jay says. “She wanted to get lunch. We’re still-- Working.” 

Jay turns onto his back and lets Mike crowd up at his side, his dick flopping onto Jay’s leg, wet and messy like Jay’s ass, which is now hidden against the starched bedsheets they’ve defiled. Mike knows now is not the time to stare down at Jay dramatically and try to will a love confession out of him, but he’s doing it anyway, at least somewhat enjoying the way Jay keeps trying and failing to stare back at him with matching intensity. 

“I missed you,” Mike says, because maybe he can get Jay to admit at least that much. 

“When I was at my parents’ house?” 

“No, Jay. Not then. Well-- Actually. Yeah, but you know what I’m really talking about.” 

Jay sniffs and rolls toward Mike, so he can stare at Mike’s collarbone instead of up into his eyes. Mike strokes his back, using this as excuse to cuddle him closer. 

“We can’t, like, tell anyone,” Jay says. Of course this is what he wants to talk about first. “My parents--”

“I know, I know.” As if Mike wants to explain this to his own father. “Mine, too. It’s fine.” 

“It’s--” Jay winces, pressing his face to Mike’s chest as if for comfort. Mike tries to give it: he kisses the top of Jay’s fluffy head and hugs him tight. He knows it’s not that simple, but he’s not going to let any amount of complications ruin this. 

“It’s fine,” he says again. “We have the perfect cover.”

“Yeah.” Jay grins up at him. “But-- The movie’s not just a cover. It could also be good.” 

They take turns in the shower and dress in the cleanest clothes they have left before packing up all the equipment. The time to check out of the hotel and drive Carla back to Milwaukee for her flight is rapidly approaching. Jay seems to be in less of a hurry than Mike would have suspected, and he’s looking at Mike from across the room like he has something to say when he’s zipped up the last of their bags. 

“Are you gonna think less of me now?” he asks. “‘Cause I-- ‘Cause we--”

“Jay. I’m in love with you. You could spend the rest of your life nonstop kicking me in the balls and I wouldn’t manage to think less of you.”

Jay grins and adjusts the hem of his shirt, staring down at his feet.

“Hey, Mike.”

“What.”

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life nonstop kicking your balls.”

“Well, that’s a relief. How about you spend the rest of your life allowing me to empty them into and onto your person?”

“Ew,” Jay says, wrinkling his nose and aiming his grin at Mike.

“You loved it,” Mike says, meaning either his comment or the actual ball-emptying. Either one applies.

They pack the car and head for Carla’s room, approaching with sheepish energy, as if she’s going to tease them for fucking again, or falling into the roles she suggested for them after she performed the one they wrote for her so excellently. She smiles when she opens the door, and Mike is sad to see her luggage packed and ready to go, stacked in the foyer.

“Hope you didn’t forget to clear out the bedstand,” he says, pointing, when it’s too tense between the three of them to not make a joke about it. 

“Oh no,” she says. “Everything is accounted for. Only-- You two should have the rest of this.”

She fetches the brandy where Mike hadn’t noticed it was sitting on a small phone table in the suite’s main sitting area. The sight of the bottle is startling, like proof that he can continue living in the world where he fucks Jay. 

“I know you’re hungover,” she says, presenting the brandy to Mike. “But, like, save it or something. For your anniversary.” 

“For the movie premiere,” Jay says. “Will you come?”

“I’ll see if I can! Save me a shot and a front row seat.” 

Mike knows already that she won’t come to whatever dinky premiere that they manage to put together at a local bar or in a friend’s backyard. They’ll probably never see her again, unless they pay her to star in another project. Still, she feels like one of their oldest and closest friends as they drive back to the city together, Mike at the wheel and Jay in the front passenger seat, Carla in back with her luggage. They’re all laughing a lot, not talking about the night before but about everything that waits for Carla back in New York: an audition for a terrible teen soap opera, a mouse she’s been trying to kill for the crime of living in her kitchen walls, and a guy who wants her to help him promote his club for free, for ‘exposure.’ 

“I’ve been exposed,” she says. “I can do that without anybody’s help.” 

At one point she told them she’s been on her own since she was sixteen. They didn’t get into why. Mike can see Jay admiring her for how self-sufficient she is. She doesn’t even have a roommate, and she proved to them the night before that she’s not afraid of anything. 

“We did it,” Jay says when they’re pulling into the hourly parking lot at the airport, signs directing the way to various types of departures and a plane roaring into the sky overhead. “We really pulled it off.”

He’s talking like the movie is already polished, sold and successful. Or maybe he’s not talking about the movie at all. Mike reaches over to put his hand on Jay’s leg, and he grins when Carla leans forward between their seats and puts her hand on top of his. Jay snickers and adds his hand to top of this stack. 

“You guys are gonna go far in this business,” Carla says. She pulls her hand back and cackles, not telling them which business she means. 

“We couldn’t have done it without you,” Jay says, so he must be talking about the movie. Mike snickers anyway, until Carla smacks his shoulder. Jay’s ears are red when Mike dares a glance at him, but he seems calm and even content, like he’s thinking about this scandalous secret he has now, the most grown-up and least responsible thing he’s ever done. 

They help Carla check her luggage, and then it’s just her standing there with her purse and her coat, looking back and forth between them like she’s actually sad to part with them, too. 

“Thanks for a good time,” she says, throwing her small arms around both of them at once and pulling them together, her chin coming to rest between their shoulders when they hug her back. “It was an adventure,” she says. “Beyond my wildest imagination, actually.”

“I doubt that,” Mike says. 

“Well, maybe not my wildest. But I didn’t expect you guys to glow so much.” 

Mike wants to ask what that means. Maybe it’s some kind of psychic lingo, like an aura. She just falls back onto her heels, rubs their shoulders one last time and turns to go. 

Jay stands watching until she’s around the corner, headed for security. He looks upset when he turns to face Mike. 

“Why are you looking at me like we just dropped our daughter off at college?” Mike asks, because he can’t resist making fun of Jay when he gets openly emotional about something.

“I’m not,” Jay says, but he is. His lip is practically wobbling. “I just. I feel like I should have asked her about the rest of my life. Even though she doesn’t really know.” 

“I’ll tell you about the rest of your life.” Mike wants to throw an arm around Jay as they head back toward the parking lot, but he settles for bumping their shoulders together when they fall into step and head in that direction. 

“I don’t want to hear your version,” Jay says. 

“What! Why not?”

“‘Cause your version would be, like-- Like you said, before.” 

“Before?”

“About me and your balls,” Jay says, muttering this under his breath. 

“Oh my god,” Mike says, almost shouldering Jay into a wall for how hard he laughs. 

Jay shoves him and tells him to shut up, but he must have meant for that to be funny, at least a little, because he looks very pleased with himself. By the time they’re buckled back into the car Mike wants to kiss him so badly that his stomach hurts, and he’s grinning all the way back to Jay’s apartment, smug as shit, because once they’re inside together, he will.

 

*

They do see Carla again, eventually. The movie is not a hit, but other things they make are. In the basement of the house they buy together a decade after filming their feature with Carla, they have a dedicated screening room with a massive, wall-mounted flat screen. Under it there’s a handmade banner strung with wooden tiles that spell out FREAK SHOW. It was a gift from Carla, sent by mail a couple of months after she returned to New York, with a note that she had a dream that this banner was hanging in their house when she came to visit them, so she had her artist friend make it for them. Watching Jay unpack it, Mike wasn’t sure how he’d react, but he beamed and held it out for Mike to read like he was proud to be officially inducted into the circus he’d been hoping to run away with all along. 

Since then it’s been on display in every placed they’ve lived, and when people ask about where it came from they just say it’s a long story and an inside joke. You had to be there.

 

 

**