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I held up a finger for the bartender. Just one. And bless old Skip’s heart, I had a shot of Jim Beam, a shot of Jack Daniels, and a new icy cold bottle of Bud in front of me before I could blink. Not that I could remember how to blink. I tried several times but only managed to get one eye at a time to close. That was okay. When I passed out, which was going to be shortly if all went according to plan, I’d hit the dirty floor of Skip’s Place, and both eyes would slam closed. Then the mess my life was in would be forgotten for a little while.
“To messes,” I mumbled to myself and tossed back my shots. They’d stopped burning five rounds ago. “I hate love messes.”
“Wow, this is a pretty sight. Not.” I rolled my head in the direction of the Goog-sounding person who just sat down beside me. It was Goog! He looked mad. Oops. “Are you trying to bring a George Thorogood song to life here or something?”
“Yep! The one about the rattlesnake hides.”
“Not as drunk as I plan to be. Give me another round or two and you’ll see a raging Tazinski drunk in all its glory.” I waved at the bartender for two more shots.
“Why are you here getting wasted?” Goog shook his head when Skip appeared at our end of the bar. “Nothing for me. I’m the one who was designated to find the shitfaced teammate and take him home to his boyfriend.”
“I ain’t got no home,” I chuckled as I thought of that kid in The Lost Boys singing in the tub. I kind of felt that way. Lost. “Also, I got no boyfriend. He’s already distancing himself from me.”
“Okay, yeah, I think you can stop lying about that, at least. Come on, why don’t we get you to Mike? He’s leaving in two days. Don’t you want to spend time with him? You should. We don’t always get to be with the people we love.”
I shook his cryptic Goog-talk from my head but allowed my best buddy to dress me in my winter coat and steer me out of the bar.
I don’t recall much of the drive. There was some Spice Girls song on the radio and Goog was talking about flatware. Or maybe not. Who knows? Before Mel B. was done telling us all what she really, really wanted, I was being handed off to Mikey amid whispers and clucking tongues. I think Mikey was tutting me.
“Why did you do this, Nick?” Mike asked while helping me figure out how to work the zipper on my jeans.
“Where are my shoes?!”
“By the sofa.”
“Oh. Okay. Hey, Mikey, I love you right. You know that.” I threw myself at him, pants half unzipped, shirt dangling off one arm, trying to grab a kiss. He deftly moved his head and I pouted.
“You’re drunk, talking shit, and smell like the inside of a whiskey barrel.” He peeled me off, stripped me down to my underwear, and maneuvered me into his bed.
“Mikey, please don’t go.” I laid on my back, my sight blurred from booze and what might be tears. Was I crying? Shit. I dashed at my damp cheeks. Fuck. I was crying. “Mikey…”
“Its okay, Nick, I’m here.” He crawled under the covers, pressing himself to me, leaving no room between his chest and my side. “I’ll be here for another couple of days.”
“Okay, good.” I flopped over to my side, elbowing him in the chin which I then tried to kiss but missed the mark and ended up smooching his shoulder, which was also good. I buried my face into his neck, my chin resting against his clavicle. “Can we live a lifetime in a couple of days?”
He stroked the back of my head and I sighed in blissful contentment. “It’s only like thirty minutes from Carlisle to Harrisburg. I’m sure if we want to continue seeing each other we can. I’m just not sure if we should.”
“Should what?” My eyelids kept slipping downward now that I was curled up with Mikey. He always made me feel sleepy and fuzzy. Happy. Yeah, he made me feel happy inside. “Love you…”
I didn’t catch his reply before I kind of passed out covering him like a cheap coat.
When I woke up the following morning, I did not feel happy inside. Or outside. Happiness was nowhere to be found but a thundering headache was. It sat right on my brow, beating my brains into mush.
Mikey looked up from what sounded like Anderson Cooper on his phone when I staggered into his kitchen, my briefs about to slide off my left ass cheek. I winced at the bright stuff flowing through the window and threw up an arm, ala every vampire in every movie, to block the sun from my eyes. I may have even hissed.
“Christ,” Mike muttered, grabbing me by the arm and pulling me down into a chair. “I’ve seen summer roadkill look better.”
“Aspirin. Coffee.” I let my head drop to his table. The pain was excruciating.
I heard him huff before turning Anderson off and getting up. Every little sound was like an icepick sliding into my gray matter.
“Here. Wash the tablets down with some water.” He tapped my biceps. I managed to lift my head enough to swallow the tablets and take a sip of coffee. Using my hand I held my head up, chin on knuckles, and tried not to cry. I had a vague memory of weeping last night. And something about Mel B. tickled the corners of my thoughts too, but otherwise things were muddled.
Mike sat there staring at me over the top of his glasses, his hands now cradling a mug of coffee, his sweet lips flat as a fritter.
“I’ve been thinking…” he said, his gaze moving from me to his coffee.
“Mikey, if you’re going to say that this whole mess is a sign that we should stop seeing each other then I’m going to have to get angry and yell. Later. Yelling later,” I winced at the sound of my own hoarse words.
“Taz.” I grunted. “Nick, it’s been fun and all but look at the shit we’re dealing with. My professional reputation has a hit, as has yours. We’re going to be working doubly-hard to expunge the damage from our careers because of a short-term fling.”
“You think of what we have as a fling?” That hurt worse than the hot daggers of sunlight frying my retinas and brain cells.
He closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and then opened his eyes to look right into my barley, rye, and wheat-soaked soul.
“Yes, I think of what we have as a fling. Sex. Great sex, but sex. And now we have to take our lumps over our inappropriate behavior and go back to our lives the way they were.”
“But I don’t want to go back to life before you were in it.”
I caught the flash of sorrow and pain flicker over his face. Then Loving Mike was wiped away, Numbers Mike taking its place. Numbers Mike was all about the calculations and the net outcome and blah, blah, blah.
“Nick, it’s for the best. I don’t want to see you anymore. Feel free to use my shower but then I want you out of my life.”
“Fuck. That. Noise.” Mike blinked. “You think pretending you don’t care about me is going to work? It won’t. I love you and I am not going to give up on us that easily. Someone once said we don’t get to be with the people we love. Wait…”
“Exactly. Life leads us in different ways. We need to cut our losses and try to rebuild what we worked so hard to achieve. I wish it could be different, but statistically this was doomed to fail from the onset.”
“Yeah, well, fuck that statistically shit too.” I shot to my feet, moaned at the pressure in my skull, and then pointed a finger at Mike. “You can take your stats and dire predictions about us and shove them into an adding machine’s asshole.”
“I don’t know, but I know that I’m not giving up on us. You aren’t either. When I get back from this stupid road trip, I am driving to Harrisburg and we are going on a date. Like a real date in public where we hold hands and rub noses and everything! So you just put that in your numbers bag, Mikey!”
I stormed off, ran into the doorjamb, cussed like a sailor, and regally tripped into the bathroom to shower and whimper, the whimpering may have come first though.
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