Talking to Al could get
exasperating. Only when I was tired or irritatedor he was freakishly happy about something. With my luck, it made sense that all of those conditions were fulfilled when I broke down and agreed to meet him for lunch. For starters I wasn't hungry, so we went to his favorite fast food place which always smelled as if grease and dead dreams were the only components in the air molecules. But o one else ever seemed to notice. I'd bet Van would've he had an extra sense for that kind of thing.
Never mind. Not gonna think about Van.
Anyway, after going on and on about something good that had happened to him, Al was happily munching on a fry slathered in barbecue sauce, blissfully unaware that I was falling apart. I tore a napkin into tiny pieces and then lost myself in the happily hopeless task of making them go back together.
I jumped, white napkin shreds bursting into a small volcano of confetti. They landed in my hair mostly, but a few settled back on the table. I hunched my shoulders and gathered the napkin shreds back up. The last thing I need was a waitress glaring at me for making a mess.
did this place even have waitresses? I'd gotten used to eating out with Van. He was too much of a secret snob to eat out anywhere that didn't have waiting staff people. It was cute, in a kind of stupid way.
"Earth to Cayn!" Al waved the only surviving napkin in front of my face. It was covered in ketchup and barbecue sauce fingerprints, which was probably why it had survive my shredding craze. "Are you asleep or something?"
I just shook my head. "Just thinking. I had a late night." Very late. I'd only slept about an hour, and then after I'd gotten Van back to bed, I'd just sat on the back of the couch and stared at the wall. It had burned up my thoughts until about six or seven o'clock, when I'd heard Van start moving around. "
I should have said goodbye."
I jumped again, knocking some of the napkin-fetti out of my hair. "I slept over at
somebody's place last night."
The waggling eyebrows nearly made me choke on my own breath. "Getting back into the game at last, eh?" Al waved a fry grandiosely in the air. Oh god, he was going to give me dating advice again. "It's about time. Like I've been telling you, a new girlfriendor a lot of themis the best thing to get your mind off the Colossal Bitch."
Needless to say, Aud Rose finally breaking it off had not done anything to improve Al's sparkling opinion of her. "It's not like that."
"Fine, so not a girlfriend. A one night stand is still better for you than moping around."
"I said it's not like that!" Unfortunately for me, just the words 'one night stand' were enough to conjure up relevant images. Van, sprawled out on his bed, wearing nothing but that predator's smile and a tangle of thin sheets. Oh god. "Stop saying it is."
Al made a huffing noise, blowing the paper from his hamburger towards me. "You're being so touchy about it
Okay, I get it. She's got class, huh? You've got your eye on a real lady."
Before I could give myself a mental beating, I nodded and murmured, "Yeah. She oozes class." Then I didn't bother to correct either of us, for a lot of reasons. One, he would definitely not shut up until I at least pretended to pursue this subject, and two, he might actually be able to help if he just went on with the assumption that I was talking about a girl. It was brilliant
He sucked at the straw poking out of his ugly yellow paper cup. "First off, what's she look like?"
so tall," I began, indicating Van's height and frantically trying to think of ways to describe him as vague and feminine as possible. "Sort of thin and whippy, but muscular. Hhhm
she's a runner. On some track team or other."
"Shut up." I blushed in spite of myself. It wasn't easy to say 'she' and 'her' when I meant Van. He looked kind of androgynous, but still. "She's got short black hair that's kinda wavy and
" How could I describe a man's face and make it sound like I was talking about a woman? "Heart-shaped face, round cheeks, and a cute little nose the turns up at the end and wrinkles when
when she's concentrating on something. Killer blue eyes that'll make you trip over your own feet from across a busy street." I was getting caught up in making this sound good. The worst part was, it didn't take any effort at all, and I hadn't made anything up.
"Okay, I'm sold. She sounds hot, in a classy kinda way." Al looked out the window next to our booth, then back at me. "Why didn't you say goodbye to her this morning?"
I wanted to just say it was complicated and steer away from the subject, but part of me really wanted advice, and it wasn't like I could go talk to Van. "She kind of
" Dammit, it was hard to use the wrong pronouns! "
threw herself at me."
Al flicked a bit of napkin-fetti at me. "When a beautiful woman throws herself at you, Cayn, you drop to your knees and thank god right then and there. Any guy would. Especially guys like us, I mean come on, man!"
There was an opening. Invite him to whine about his lacking love life. It'd be so easy
! "What if I just want to be friends?"
"Something is wrong with you."
"Maybe she's just not my type! Did you even consider that?"
He shrugged. "I might have, if you hadn't looked so besotted when you were describing her. I mean, 'heart-shaped face'? That's too sappy for a person you just want to be friends with, dude. And that thing about her eyes. You looked like a lost man just talking about this chick."
This wasn't helping at all. I should have known that asking for advice would only make me feel worse. I scooted out of the booth ad started to mumble a goodbye.
"Atta boy. Now that I've opened your eyes to your true feelings, you can go back there and sweep her off her feet!" Al gave me an avuncular wink he shouldn't have known how to employ, then waved in a much more normal manner that was even more disturbing. God if he'd only known. I shouldn't have lied.
I staggered out of the restaurant and onto the crowded sidewalk, feeling drunk and hungover at the same time. After twenty minutes of alternately walking and running, I found myself standing in front of Van's apartment building. I had to talk to him, didn't I? It wouldn't be fair to just leave him hanging, not after all the damn mixed signals. I had tried to get him to back off, but I probably hadn't seemed very convincing. He was just so damn overpowering.
Bypassing the boring way up, I scaled the building to the window he always left open for me. Sometimes he left notes for me there, and once or twice a cookie or something in a bag, but there was nothing this time.
The apartment seemed empty, and way too quiet. I crept down the hall, listening for
anything, really. He didn't have work or school today. Was he still in bed? Had he left just to escape memories of last night? Worry swung a baseball bat at my knees and head. If he was that upsetVan did incredibly dangerous stupid things when he got really upset.
As I passed the bathroom, the door creaked open, letting out a cloying wave of steam. Van stepped out, dripping and holding a ratty green towel around his waist. He looked up at me and froze, one hand still on the doorknob.
I stumbled back into the wall opposite him, physically incapable of looking away. My jaw dropped slowly to the carpet as I watched tiny rivulets of water caress every curve of muscle, finally collecting at the towel that hung very loosely about his hips. The hand gripping the towel flexed slightly, shifting the fabric so that it slid to expose some of his left hip. I swallowed without picking up my jaw. His other hand released the doorknob to reach up and rub the back of his neck, sending more drops of water coursing down his arm. His hair lay in wet clumps of curl, framing his face so
"Hi." He spoke softly, with only a tiny bit of shyness. As though standing in front of me, wet and almost completely naked, was a comfortable, acceptable position to be in. "I wasn't expecting you.
My brain tapped me on the shoulder and whispered something but it was too quiet to compete with the roaring in my ears. Continuous not-blinking had made my eyes feel sore and dry, and cast a glamour around Van's
entirety. Somehow, I managed to say hi. I sounded like a reanimated fish.
"Hang on a second or two, I'll go get dressed and make some tea."
Certain departments of my decision-making spat up alarms and demands that I reach out and stop him, keep him in the hallway. Pull him closer and find out if he'd really been serious last night
I mentally stomped on all of it and flattened myself against the wall, making room for him to pass.
The hallway wasn't that narrow, but somehow, he still managed to brush up against me and make it look unintentional. He kept walking to his room as if he hadn't noticed, didn't even turn around to cast an inviting smile over his shoulderbut my mouth still dried up, and I had to clench my fists to keep myself from following him.